5 THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN 9 MONTHS OF SEMI-RETIREMENT

Pausing to Look Back for Takeaways about How to Move Forward

I wracked my brain wondering what to post this week.

Thanks to friend and writing mentor Chad Allen, I knew exactly where to head.

His timely post about his new season of self-employment inspired me to reflect similarly on my transition.

Your new life

Last August 15 I walked out the door for the last time as lead pastor at Orlando Grace Church.

Here are five significant takeaways from the journey thus far.

One, God is faithful to provide (Phil. 4:19).

When I put a succession process into motion at OGC, it took some risk-taking faith. Like many pastors in their later years, I’m not positioned financially to retire. While I desire to keep working at my calling, the fact is I must do so to provide for my household. I marvel how not once since the OGC paycheck ended have I needed to raid the buffer fund!

Takeaway: keep on trusting that He is a rewarder of those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

Two, conflict is everywhere to steward (Matt. 5:9).

This reality hasn’t surprised me at all. I expected to find strained relationships and broken friendships in rural Idaho just as they exist in metro Orlando. But the extent of these challenges in our valley has at times taken my breath away. There is a need here for peacemaking help.

Takeaway: stay on mission helping churches and their people do their best at preserving unity (Eph. 4:1-3).

Three, help is essential to succeed (Gen. 2:18).

Nobody thrives or survives in the pastorate full-time or part-time by flying solo. We need a ton of help. Jan excels in her role as this shepherd’s wife! I don’t even want to imagine trying to serve Trinity Church without her persevering prayer, relentless encouragement, and relational skills.

I’ve also found help from my fellow elders at Trinity as well as other area pastors by joining the local ministerial association. I know next to nothing about pastoring in a rural context. These servants have much to teach me and I’m eager to learn.

Takeaway: do a lot of listening to wise counselors (Jas. 1:19).

Four, relationships are costly to build (1 Pet. 4:8).

One local pastor reminded me recently of the adage “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Stepping into a new culture and church brings the challenge of investing in relationships to build trust and connection. That takes time, energy, even money because few things build relational intimacy like sharing a meal together.

Takeaway: take initiative regularly to practice hospitality with joy (1 Pet. 4:9).

Five, time is precious to redeem (Eph. 5:15-16).

According to my employment agreement with Trinity, I’ve got 20 hours each week to spend on pastoral ministry. Our elders insist that I stay around that target, though we all know some weeks will require more time.

They want me to enjoy this new season by not overworking. How sweet is that!? They’ve got me keeping a daily log of how I use my time. At the 90 day mark of service we will review the results to take stock of my stewardship.

Takeaway: prayerfully choose each day’s activities to make the most of every opportunity (Psalm 90:12).

Whatever your vocation–full-time, part-time, semi-retired or retired–I trust these reflections apply to your realm and might help as you move forward into your future!

Question: What in this article has been most helpful to you?

PASTOR AND WIFE BEGIN NEW SEASON

Minister Emphasizes Need To Live to the Fullest, Maintain Peace

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Curt & Jan on vacation in Laguna Beach, California

 

This article by Ben Jorgensen appeared recently in “The Clearwater Progress.” It is reprinted with permission.

After living most of his life in big cities, Curtis Heffelfinger is relishing his new pastorate responsibilities at Stites.

Heffelfinger, 66, isn’t a newbie to the area having previously bought a Wall Creek property in 1999 and moving there with his first wife Nancy. However, they returned to the Orlando area soon after for what they anticipated would be a year to help their children’s families before returning to paradise. 

After becoming involved with Orlando Grace Church, Heffelfinger ended up becoming their pastor when the church leadership imploded in conflict. “All the pastors resigned. They turned to me being an interim pastor.” The concept of interim turned into 15 years while Idaho’s verdant valleys and backyard visits of elk were put on hold for a bit.

During his time in Florida, Heffelfinger learned well the value of peace and the preciousness of opportunity. In 2005, Heffelfinger developed a cancerous lesion on his tongue, eventually resulting in removal of about a third of the tongue. His treatment of chemo and radiation would surface health ramifications years later. “My oncologist said your odds are 50-50 for survival, at best,” he said.

Based on the prognosis, the couple felt he would likely be gone first. “Here I am Sunday in and Sunday out preaching the gospel and proclaiming eternal life and that dying is gain.” He said if God is not done with him then he wants to live the message of 1 Cor. 15:50-58, “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Then out of the blue, Nancy developed ovarian cancer and after an 18-month battle, died in 2016 after 41+ years of marriage. Losses seemed to come in waves. Their first born son died in 2014 at age 35 followed in 2015 with the disintegration of Curtis’ jaw caused by his earlier cancer treatments.  

His mandible fractured as a result of the radiation and he lost all his teeth on that side of his jaw. The fix involved a titanium implant the length of the side of his face, a bone graft from his hip used for a new jaw, and implants for  teeth. The treatment left that part of his face numb.

Coupled with the reduction of his tongue, it requires a dedicated effort to articulate speech.

The losses have not gotten him down, though, because he is encouraged by the goodness God has provided. He said he has been blessed with a second dynamo wife, Jan, who although she always lived in the Orlando area, was willing to move to Stites—population 228—to see what awaited them. “It’s such an answer to prayer that she is so happy here,” he said.

Their arrival at Stites was also an answer to the prayers of a group of about 30 core church goers. The two-and-a-half-year-old Trinity Reformed Baptist Church had been earnestly praying for a pastor.  “They were kinda holding on by their fingernails,” said Heffelfinger, noting “if the Lord wasn’t going to send somebody they were going to close the doors.”

He noted that the church’s confession of faith is the same as Orlando Grace where he pastored. “What are the odds?  Fifteen minutes from my property is a church with similar convictions, commitments, desires, in other words, it’s a match made in heaven.”

After a period of six months Heffelfinger was installed on Palm Sunday as a paid part-time pastor. His first full service occurred this past Sunday. “We’re so happy to be here,” he said. “This is a new season for us. We’re happy to have a church that has embraced us. I’m thankful I can preach the gospel.”

The part-time status gives Heffelfinger the chance to pursue his interest in religious writing. Based on his more than 30 years in the pastoral ministry, he penned the book, The Peace Making Church: 8 Biblical Keys to Resolve Conflict and Preserve Unity, describing the need for people to strive for peaceful interactions. The book may be found on Amazon.com.

“I write all the time on how you can guard the peace of your church, how you can support your pastors and elders and leaders and keep your people from melting down in conflict. It’s such a terrible witness when we turn on each other,” he said. He also writes a regular blog. He strives to encourage people to own the message of Matt. 5:9 about the blessedness of peacemakers.

His passion for God’s message is fueled to some degree by his brush with death. “Cancer changes your life significantly,” he said. “You see the brevity of life and the gift that it is, that no day is guaranteed. You want to make the most of the opportunities the Lord gives you day in and day out. I think the first way it changed me, I really believe, is what I preach.”

Heffelfinger intends to use whatever remaining time he has “to live to the fullest for the Lord and for His people and for the region now that I am in.”  He wants Trinity to be mission minded in the Clearwater Valley, noting that it tends to be a natural inclination for people, regardless of where they live, to turn inward.

Citing the message of Matthew 5 to let one’s light shine with good works, Heffelfinger says he is contemplating how local churches can together serve people and make a difference in their lives.

“What needs are there? How are we to be on mission in good works and wise words of encouragement, counsel, sharing our stories and God’s love in Jesus Christ? It’s not just about proselyting. It’s about genuinely loving, caring, and serving, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Trinity Reformed Baptist Church holds service every Sunday at 10 a.m. followed by a fellowship meal. It is located in a community center at 4313 Highway 13. Heffelfinger may be reached at (321) 947-8171.

BLOGGING BREAK ENDS NOW

Where I’ve Been & Why I’m Back

Golden Compass Concept

I can hardly believe my last post came 44 days ago. That’s way too long an absence from the blogosphere. But it couldn’t be helped. I lived out of a suitcase for over a month. We arrived home to Idaho just last week. Time to restore schedule order!

Where I’ve Been

As reported back on February 6, I needed to return to Orlando for repairs on my teeth. It took two visits to my dentist but we got things squared away. The bridge has been perfect ever since. So glad to have that in the rearview mirror!

As Jan and I suspected, the Lord planned much more for me in terms of serving others while visiting the tropics. Every day saw appointments of all kinds–several of which involved placing copies of my book in the hands of even some surprising folks.

les-and-book.jpg

My good buddy Les and I got together for lunch. We first met in our neighborhood book club. We share a love for reading. Les makes no bones about being an atheist. I take the opposite stance as a Christian theist.  We couldn’t be further apart in our world views, but we maintain a robust friendship for which I am most grateful. When he asked for a copy of my book, I was thrilled to gift him a copy!

Upon returning from Florida to Idaho, I gathered up Jan the next day to head for Los Angeles. Our new Idaho church offered to take me to John MacArthur’s 50th anniversary celebration at this year’s Shepherds’ Conference. Jan and I tacked on a trip to friends who still attend the first church I pastored fresh out of seminary.

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We thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent in Dave and Sheri’s home. Our visit to Grace Evangelical Free Church gave my bride of almost two years another peek into my history. I was greatly encouraged by memories shared with friends at the church of how they felt God used my brief time there from 1982-85.

Why I’m Back

Online I mean. I want to resume my quest for helping believers champion unity in their churches by excelling in peacemaking. I want to help more folks like this brother.

JK Peacemaker

It gave me a huge thrill to find my book at the Baker Publishing team section of the Shepherds’ Conference resource tent. I encountered John, a Southern California church planter, on the floor with my book among the stack he planned to purchase. I introduced myself and shared my delight to see him with a copy. He smiled and said, “I buy everything on this subject I can get my hands on.” To which I replied, “May your tribe increase!”

John gets the message of The Peacemaking Church from Ephesians 4:1-3. If we’ve been transformed by grace through the gospel of Jesus, then we will be eager, do-our-best preservers of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I look forward to adding to this cause in future posts as the Lord leads!

TEETH TROUBLE TIMES

Orlando Here I Come for a Dental Redo

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What else is new, right?

Ever since 2015 my choppers have given me pretty much nothing but grief.

The latest episode unfolded in the dentist’s chair at the end of my book launch trip last November. After an hour of trying to dislodge the bridge from the implants, my persevering doctor concluded:

What we have here is a failure in design. It’s time to start over from scratch. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to come back after the first of the year.

In fairness to Dr. P, last August he attempted to equip me with a span of teeth which could remain in my mouth permanently–requiring removal for cleaning only every couple of years. It proved to be problematic in multiple ways.

Worst of all the heads on the screws securing the teeth to the four implants have stripped. He’ll have to destroy the bridge WHILE STILL IN MY MOUTH in order to get at the screws a different way. Really looking forward to that. Then he will start to install Design B.

The good doctor has spent the better part of January going back and forth with the labs and consulting with various other doctors about the best way forward. Every pro says the same thing: Never seen anything like my case. Terrific!

But a new approach awaits next week. Visit number one is scheduled in Sanford for February 12 at 10 AM. Additional treatments–not sure how many–will be required to get things right. I’ve booked a return flight for February 25 to give plenty of time for any necessary adjustments. Hopefully the end result will far exceed the look of My Friend Flicka above.

Jan will remain in Idaho to hold down the fort at our home. Please pray for her during this time apart from each other and for the success of this latest twist in my RoboJaw Journey.

I will have considerable non-dentist time while in Central Florida. We’re praying about the personal and ministry connections the Lord would have me make. Some appointments are on the calendar already.

If you have a need or desire for some time, ministry, or fellowship for any reason, please reach out and we’ll see what we can make happen.

Thanks for praying!

MY 2018 JOURNEY

The Highlights, The Lowlights, and the Takeaways for Growth

annual review word cloud on napkin

Last year brought massive change in my life and ministry! That, along with the encouragement to post an annual review by my writing coach, Chad Allen,  prompted this summary of milestone events and learning experiences.

The Highlights This Year

Led the way to a peaceful pastoral succession. After fifteen years of service as the lead pastor at Orlando Grace Church, I passed the shepherding baton to Jim Davis. From the moment I accepted the ministry challenge at OGC, I determined to gift the church a seamless transition in leadership when that time came. Nothing matches this milestone for significance and delight for me in 2018.

Launched my book, The Peacemaking Church. This highlight comes in a close second! The three-year writing project finally reached completion with publication in November. Jan and I were thrilled to return to Central Florida for a signing event hosted by Orlando Grace. The number of folks who joined us that night to celebrate the accomplishment of a lifelong goal fueled our hope for how the Lord might use the book to promote church unity elsewhere.

book signing

 

Travelled to East Asia. For security purposes I regret that I cannot say much about our experience overseas. This survey trip to encourage M workers in a challenging environment proved to be the privilege of a lifetime for this pastor and his wife. We witnessed just how much God is working in a difficult place. It was our joy to speak about peacemaking on multiple occasions for the benefit of precious servants laboring in the field.

Relocated to my beloved Idaho. With succession came the challenge of what to do and where to go next. After much prayer, the Lord led us to our five-acre spot in the Clearwater valley. A major component of that decision involved the recent planting of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church just twenty minutes from our home. Their need has brought us here to explore what the Lord may have for us in providing part-time pastoral ministry help. At the same time, He has faithfully met our needs in amazing and practical ways.

Idaho View

The Lowlights This Year

Struggled to lead well in crucial meetings. On two particular occasions before exiting OGC, I failed to execute the kind of courage necessary to love others well in conflict (Eph. 4:15). My weaknesses disappointed and hurt brothers and sisters for whom I care deeply. I will always regret the taste my shortcomings have left in some mouths in an otherwise savory final year in Orlando.

Lost partnerships with gifted servants. Closely related to lowlight one, number two involved sharp disagreements (Acts 15:36-41) leading to parting of ministry ways. While I believe these relationships are reconciled, the difficulties in navigating the conflicts resulted in lost opportunities for future ministry collaboration.

Mediocre performance in peacemaking training. I participated in a two-day advanced conflict coaching and mediation course in St. Louis. My mentor’s first question in evaluation says it all. “Have you done much of this kind of thing?” Actually, I have, but apparently still have some way to go.

Robojaw woes continued. I endured a final surgery in jaw reconstruction and subsequent multiple attempts in both Orlando and Boise to place correctly an eight-teeth sized bridge in my mouth. A proper fit to the appliance still eludes my longsuffering dentist. A trip to Orlando is right around the corner to take another shot at getting things right.

Man adjusting a rearview mirror

Takeaways for Growth

God is not done with me yet. He has opened doors for me to continue preaching and help others with their conflict. I am passionate about these things and want to continue serving others as He gives me grace to do so!

Two are better than one in doing the Lord’s work (Ecc. 4:9-12). I knew this before but time and again the Lord shows me how priceless a treasure I possess in my wife as we partner together in this new season.

My “fear of man” sins must continually be put to death with the Spirit’s help (Col. 3:5). I cannot afford to let my guard down on this perpetual threat. Too much is at stake.

Peacemaking skills require constant improvement. St. Louis was a wakeup call for me. I’m not as skilled at the mediation thing as I thought I was. I want to find ways in 2019 to get better at helping others this way.

Writing is something I can do reasonably well. Or so I’ve been told in various reviews! I want to explore additional projects the Lord might have for me in the future.

Thanks for hanging in with me for a longer post than usual. As you review your own 2018 journey and anticipate 2019, I offer these words of encouragement from January 3rd’s entry in Morning Thoughts:

Living in a world of imperfection and change, we must expect nothing perfect, nothing stable, in what we are, in what we do, or in what we enjoy. But amid the dissolving views of the world that “passes away,” let us take firm hold of the unchangeableness of God. The wheels may revolve, but the axle on which they turn is immoveable. Such is our covenant God. Events may vary- providences may change- friends may die- feelings may fluctuate- but God in Christ will know “no variableness, neither the shadow of a turning.”

Question: What’s one highlight from your 2018 journey?

PURSUING PEACE FROM THE PACIFIC NW

A Personal Update after a Relocation Marathon

Idaho View

This post marks my first blogging effort from the famous potato state. While Jan and I miss our families, church, neighbors, and friends back home, we thank God for bringing us to this gorgeous place on our latest adventure.

I last posted on August 15. You can read about peacemaking lessons gleaned from my fifteen years at Orlando Grace Church here.

The challenges of moving from the tropics of Central Florida to the wilds of North Central Idaho put any writing assignments on hold longer than anticipated. Time to blow the dust off the blog again.

“Move” is a four-letter word.

The image above shows the view to the west from our new street address. Just to the right, a 1/4 mile gravel road leads down to our doublewide home.

Talk about a whirlwind change!

In forty-five days, Jan and I left OGC, visited my Pennsylvania roots, held an estate sale, closed on our home, flew to Boise, bought a vehicle, and turned a vacation house into a permanent residence.

Where do we go from here? Three things:

One, rest. We plan to make no decisions about the next season of ministry until the end of the year. The succession push took its toll. We welcome some quality downtime.

Two, wait on the Lord. He knows what the future holds in terms of my employment. Proverbs 3:5-6 defines our agenda on a daily basis.

A small church plant in the area has expressed interest in me as a part-time pastor. I will preach there for the first time this Sunday. The need there played a significant role in influencing Jan and me in the decision to move to Idaho.

Three, strengthen the platform for my book.

FBheader

Baker Publishing Group has confirmed that TPC will hit the shelves on November 20. They produced this Facebook header for me along with a similar version for Twitter.

All that to say, the emphasis for now involves resuming my online presence and other means for getting the word out about the book. Prayers are appreciated.

Jan and I don’t know how the Lord might work to guide our future through the book’s release, but we are asking Him to use it to help believers to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches (Eph. 4:1-3).

His will be done!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

OPERATION ROBOJAW COMPLETE

A Survey of My Unimaginable Journey

New Teeth

I’ve waited a long time to log this post. It required an image of my nine-teeth-brand-new-bridge in place before writing.

What a beauty!

The sheer joy of biting down on a sandwich again. The exquisite pleasure of chewing on the right side of my mouth again for the first time in years.

It has been three years to be precise.

My jaw started to fail in May of 2015. An implant inserted to replace a failed root canal dislodged over breakfast one morning. Little did I know what dominoes would fall from there.

My PCP, fearing a recurrence of oral cancer, sent me to a local oral surgeon. He hit me with a diagnosis I never heard of before–osteoradionecrosis–bone death by radiation.

They fried my jaw back in 2005 to save my life. I’ll live with the tradeoff. Pun intended.

After hospitalization for excruciating pain in December of 2015, a CT scan revealed a pathological fracture of the right mandible. I would need a jaw transplant. Gulp.

Fortunately for me the main man for this kind of herculean undertaking works for UHealth in Miami–Dr. Robert Marx. What a gifted, skillful healer.

We got to be buds over the next two years. Talk about someone who knows you inside and out.

February 2016. Eight hours on the table to remove half my jaw and insert a titanium implant. No fun at all.

A total of 45 hyperbaric dives before and after that procedure ensured needed wound care. No fun at all.

November 2016. Six hours on the table for bone graft surgery to rebuild the mandible in preparation for teeth. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks while the graft hardened. No fun at all.

March 2017. Two plus hours on the table for a hip debridement procedure. Inflammation caused the wound from the last surgery to open. Nothing else could close the incision.

That procedure occurred two weeks before my wedding to Jan Leslie. No fun at all. Not the wedding and honeymoon, of course–sutures in the hip notwithstanding.

August 2017. Another couple of hours on the table at Jackson South to sink four implants in the rebuilt jaw. Four more teeth were extracted. No fun at all.

February 2018. Two more hours in surgery at my Miami home away from home to expose jaw tissue for placing healing abutments on the implants. A nightmare splint held them in place for three miserable weeks. No fun at all.

March through July 2018. Several trips to team Tiralossi/Pileggi dental reached the finish line of this marathon.

After wearing a temporary bridge for several weeks, the final product pictured above got screwed in place. No fun at all–except that it is finished.

Lessons I’ve been learning? Among them . . .

One, life in Jesus is a perpetual test of faith (Heb.11:6). God’s promises sustain through trials from start to finish (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

Two, suffering of any kind promotes humility and dependence upon God’s care for persevering over time and awaited outcomes (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

Three, the help of others at strategic points along the way eases the burden and lifts the spirit (1 Sam. 14:7-14).

Nancy, Jan, Chuck, Rob, Ryan, Ross, Dan, OGC, my family, my doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, et al carried my armor up the mountain to slay my personal Philistine.

I am forever grateful.

Four, I am learning–always learning–to run with endurance the race set before me looking to Jesus who alone sustains and empowers us to the finish line (Heb. 12:2).

Question: What lessons has God taught you through a challenging season of life?

ROBOJAW 3 REPORT

Update on My Most Recent Jaw Reconstruction Procedure

Dr. Marx

Last Thursday, August 10, I underwent the third in a series of surgeries to rebuild my right-side mandible.

Radiation treatment in 2005 eventually undermined the integrity of that bone. I suffered a pathological fracture as a result in late 2015.

Tongue cancer was painful. A broken jaw was excruciating. Worse than that, one can’t chew anything. Something had to be done.

Fortunately Dr. Robert Marks, an oral surgeon in Miami, knew just what to do for me. He is one of a kind. I’ve complained about having to travel 500 miles round trip each time I see him. But then I thank God he doesn’t operate out of Seattle.

Robojaw 1 took place in February 2016. They removed half the mandible and replaced it with a titanium plate.

After six months or so of healing, Robojaw 2 occurred the day before Thanksgiving that same year. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks to keep the bone graft to rebuild the mandible fixed in place until it was hard enough for me to safely chew again.

Another six months gone by brings things to the present with step three. Dr.  Marx removed four additional teeth in the lower front of my mouth. They would have eventually died from radiation treatment as well.

He also placed four implants below the jaw line. All this acts as a prelude to getting some teeth back in my mouth so I can chew food on that side, speak better, and prevent the upper right teeth from growing down and falling out since they have nothing to bite down on.

The surgery went well. It lasted about two hours. They were so pleased with the ease that they discharged me that very day. There was no need for an overnight stay for observation. I’m sure that made the insurance company happy.

Next Tuesday I will make yet another Miami trip for my two-week post-op check up. At that point I hope to confirm the timing for Robowjaw 4, six months from now and what it will involve.

By next February the implants should have become integrated with the bone. They will affix posts to the implants. These will set above the jaw line.

After three weeks of wearing some sort of mouth guard to keep them in place, the climax will happen. I will get eight teeth where now there are none.

I’ve already got a celebration plan mapped out. We’re sitting on a wedding gift card to Ruth’s Chris. I’ve never been. Might as well take those new teeth out for a ribeye spin and see just what they will be able to do.

Thanks for all for your prayers and support!

DIFFERENT DAYS & ASSIGNMENTS

How Ecclesiastes 7:14 Informs Choices in Plenty & Want

In recent years I have returned to this text time and again:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Adversity has characterized the better part of my last three years. Great loss, grief, physical sufferings and more have visited my household.

assignment

The wisdom writer calls for different responses for different days. Adversity necessitates reflection.  Consider is the assignment. God brings both plenty and want into our lives. He is sovereign over all. We ponder this truth that we may not find out anything that will be after us.

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry observed:

Day and night, summer and winter, are set the one over against the other, that in prosperity we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in adversity may weep as though we wept not, for we may plainly see the one from the other and quickly exchange the one for the other; and it is to the end that man may find nothing after him, that he may not be at any certainty concerning future events or the continuance of the present scene, but may live in a dependence upon Providence and be ready for whatever happens. Or that man may find nothing in the work of God which he can pretend to amend.

I have done my fair share of considering of late. That has been true even most recently as well. It explains in part the absence of blog posts for more than a month.

I developed a post-op infection in my hip following my November 2016 jaw reconstruction surgery. A draining wound has plagued me ever since. Doctors finally determined the need to debride the hip on March 10. They feared the presence of bone infection that would necessitate continuous IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks.

This past Tuesday proved an occasion for rejoicing. Frankly, I prefer this assignment. Who doesn’t? My Miami surgeon gave me a good report about the incision. He removed the stitches. He does not think I have any lingering infection. I should be fine. Talk about a day of prosperity!

That, in conjunction with my marriage last Saturday to Lady Jan, has brought me into a season of great joy. I’ve not been this happy for a long time. Thanks be to God.

Still, I remain mindful that I don’t know what providence will bring in the future. Different days will require different responses.

May God give grace to rejoice or consider as assigned.

GOD OF THE NEW THING

The Best News I’ve Had in a Long Time

A dear friend recently encouraged me with these words from the sacred text:

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43:19).

The purpose of this post is to report a new thing, a good thing, I perceive the Lord doing in my life.

Development business concept

Recently I’ve begun to get to know personally a godly woman in my church.

Jan Spence has been a covenant member at Orlando Grace for a couple of years now. I approached her a month ago with the notion of entertaining something more than a shepherd/sheep relationship between us. Would she even consider praying about it?, I asked–half expecting to get shot down in a ball of flames.

Though my initiative shocked her somewhat, she chose not to run for her life. She prayed. Then she hit me with some forthright, understandably necessary questions. I answered each honestly before the Lord. And then she said, “Yes, I’m willing.”

Well, what in the world to do now? Needless to say, I’ve not swum in these for waters for decades. And Jan has been quite content in her singleness for the last twelve years. We decided to talk on the phone initially keeping things between the two of us.

The more questions we asked of each other and responses we shared, the more our mutual attraction began growing. We quickly discerned the wisdom of confiding in the elders of our church for their protection and counsel. Much guidance has come through them. We welcome their ongoing accountability.

Our biggest puzzle has been how to go public with the news. Both of us want to love our church and friends well. My role as a pastor requires extra care here in guarding the welfare of my church to the degree that I can. Jan wants that very much as well. We have no peace about people learning this piecemeal through here-and-there conversations.

So, the more we prayed and counseled, the more we settled on my doing what I always do. Blog. I’ve sought to cultivate my author’s voice through this medium for years now. It has served me well both in keeping folks up to speed with my health issues and my family losses.

We simply cannot think of a better way to inform as many folks at the same time as possible. Furthermore this creates a written account of things so that those who hear secondhand have a resource to access for the firsthand version.

Jan wisely asked me about my grief process in mourning Nancy. I don’t know that the sense of loss attached to losing someone so special in your life ever completely ends. Honestly, I have wondered myself at times about the place of contentment I found on the other side of my bereavement leave.

I attribute that to God’s grace, enormous support, confidence of Nan’s eternal destiny, focusing on the great marriage we had—almost 42 years I never deserved—and, finally, the anticipatory grief I experienced for fifteen months, which I spoke about in my last post.

But there comes a time for moving on when spiritual, emotional, and mental health permit. Those who know me best validate that God has done a work in helping me in this regard.

The affirmation Jan and I have received from our spiritual leadership, closest confidants, and our extended families has given us great encouragement to continue down the road of exploring what God has for us.

With all the heartache and suffering of late, I welcome this providence as God’s gift and could not be happier for it. Perhaps Psalm 30:11-12 best summarizes my sentiments:

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

In case anyone at OGC is wondering . . . I have asked Jan if she will sit with me on Sundays at church. Though the challenge of assuming a seat once occupied by Nancy is not lost on her, she has agreed to that as well.

Please pray for us to abide in the will of God at every turn as we wait on Him and continue to get to know one another. Thank you.