Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe, but I hadn’t played golf in a year. The dry spell ended last Friday. Finally, there were no more excuses not to play anymore. Income? Check. Free time? Check. Good weather? Check.

With more than a spousal blessing (“Get out of here and go play!”), I headed for the Links for the first time this side of the Rocky Mountains in a long time. I remember that last round fairly well. I didn’t know a soul, yet met a great guy named Kurt who was very encouraging. It must’ve been about 148 degrees that day, but it was a humid heat. I didn’t play particularly well, but it was a great escape for about four hours.

This time I played for another four hours, but I didn’t go alone. I played with friend and colleague, Amy, and with another “new guy” – George. On a rare 72 degree Washington spring afternoon (read: heat wave), we headed a few miles east to a beautiful course with a spectacular backdrop. The rivers running through the tree-lined course were dwarfed by the beautiful jagged-peaked mountains practically within arm’s reach.

I began my round with a blistering line drive at a 45 degree angle away from the tee box – but still in bounds. A sky-high approach shot landed within feet of the pin – a shot, unfortunately, not to be repeated all day. For 18 long holes, I walked, swung irons, searched for lost balls, and hit trees (once nearly decapitating myself). The best part of the day? Conversation. Walking in nature. The smell of fresh cut grass. The pinging sounds in the sweet spot of the driver every ninth or tenth shot that deceivingly prods you to play 18 again because “you’ve got potential.” The cynics will tell you the sport is named golf because all the other four-letter words have been taken. But even in the hurricane that is my current golf game, there’s a comfort, a familiarity, a joy that I find that for a few hours makes me enjoy the simple things in life.

What are your hobbies or simple pleasures that would be difficult to replace? How do they connect you to what is good in life? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly lights.” Is golf one of those gifts? It could be eternally debated, but last Friday it was for me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Growing Up Fast

Two big events last week. The first made me realize that I’m getting older at a rapid pace. The second helped me process it. (All those older than me are now saying, “You think YOU’RE old.” And those younger than me are saying, “You ARE old!”) Aside from finding old friends on Facebook and thinking, “They look old” and telling my 20-something friend about bands I used to love and hearing the response, “Who’s that?” last week I began coming to grips with a big birthday coming up later this year.

Event 1 – The Wedding. It was my gigantic privilege to officiate a wedding for a kid – scratch that – woman who was a 6th grader when I first met her and her husband. I was her youth pastor. She married a great guy at a very cool outdoor wedding (next to a river). The groomsmen and bridesmaids all had baby faces and were reminiscing about high school (from which they graduated a couple of years ago). I felt too old to dance and was relieved not to be invited to the groomsman’s brief bachelor party so that I could go to sleep earlier! To top it off, it just so happened that two of the three flower girls from my own wedding were in attendance – and one of them brought her husband.

Event 2 – The Retreat. I took a pastoral excellence class for five days immediately after the wedding – part of my ordination process. It was a week that provided personal and interpersonal growth. I met many new colleagues and made some friends. I heard their stories and the bumpy roads that led them into ministry. Simultaneously I delved into personality tests and explored any potential red flags that would hinder my work – basically, how screwed up am I? It was an opportunity to explore the past and to reevaluate the road I’ve taken to get to mile marker 39 (as in my age).

Everyday I spent over two hours commuting to and fro this class. Much time was allotted for thinking, regretting, and thanking. I met with a therapist and a spiritual director through which I was largely encouraged and given a green light to continue on this path. Whatever bumps and bruises I’ve accumulated over the years are equally considered lessons to learn from. These experiences have yielded a certain authority. Though some of my friends in ministry have been performing weddings since their early 20s, this was the first time I got to do so alone. I felt like I had come of age and that my experience was paying off.

Though returning to my desk this week has resulted into more speed bumps, there is a confidence I carry that I’ve never before owned. The personality tests revealed that I want nothing more than for everybody to “just get along.” And if I sniff conflict I want to duck and cover. But last week helped change all that. I’ve got a resource of colleagues to vent to and inquire of. I’ve got many people depending on my expertise and pastoral care. I’ve got two couples whom were married under my watch and both are still married! I’ve got the power of God on my side. (Heck, Jesus was perfect – and he ended up on a cross!) And I’ve got many years of wisdom – with a birthdate that can back up that claim!