Most ministers have this experience early in their careers, when they are young, full of energy and promise. For me, it happens as I look at the other end of a career, facing the realities of senior adulthood and retirement. I had thought, at this late date, that such an event might be fairly perfunctory … but I was quite wrong! The process has been deeply moving, profoundly affirming, humbling and exhilarating at the same time.
As part of the planning for the service, I listened again to Ken Medema sing the story of Moses. Perhaps the reader remembers this biblical character: He’s the one with the rod that became a snake when he threw it down, a “normal” rod when he picked it up again, and provided powerful salvation when he wielded it in God’s name. (Bible scholars, check out the story in Exodus 4). The distinct message in Medema’s song, for me, was to take whatever is in my hand and let go of it, trusting God to bring something powerful from it. “So,” I thought, “What do I have to throw down? My teaching career apparently has gone by the wayside, and I am left, it seems, with only the reality of Parkinson’s … is this my ’rod’? What happens if I let it go? Is it possible for good to come from the devastation of this illness?” I am vividly aware that had I not, of necessity, laid down a beloved position at the organ bench, Sunday’s events would probably never have happened. I would also almost certainly not be serving a joint ministry position with the man I married so long ago.
And so, I entered the events of yesterday with a jumble of emotions, aware that what we were doing in that service was much bigger than I anticipated … and painfully aware that I still have feet of clay with much to learn. Someone suggested that I probably would feel no different … but that doesn’t seem to be true. Today, I sense a new soberness of purpose, awareness at the very core my being that the powerful acknowledgements recently bestowed bring a responsibility that wasn’t present before. Yet, it is no accident that this is coupled with a sense of the wind at my back, a lightness in my step, and acceptance of a yoke that fits.
There are details that I want to tuck away in my memory before they get lost in the rush of life: the touches, smiles and affirmations of so many friends. Tears and quiet affirming words of my friend and colleague, Susan. The call to renew a commitment from years ago, making it new all over again. A lovely, delicate cross, from my friend Pat, to wear not just today, but every time I need reminders about who I am. The surprising jolt that hit when reading, for the first time ever, “Rev. Kay Spencer,” handwritten so carefully on the envelope of her card. There was a white towel, soon to be engraved with my name, a symbol of God’s call to service. The church’s gift of a hand turned, wooden communion set, crafted by my friend Richard. A beautifully simple image of a cross that will become a place of meditation as I follow this old-yet-new path. A sweet box of chocolates to share over coffee with family who came in from 4 states.
I need to remember quiet words of prayer, affirmation, encouragement, peace and blessing as I knelt, the hands of so many that I love laid on my shoulders and head, gentle and strong, voices from those who have shared the journey with me. Our choir, returning after a quick lunch, to sing anthems that gave voice to my thoughts and prayers. Reminders and thought-provoking ideas from a dearly beloved friend who has been Pastor to me for most of my adult life. The music making of a master musician whom I am privileged to call “Husband and Friend.” A reception with time to celebrate with friends and family, masterminded by ladies who are today’s version of the biblical Martha. It was a day full of symbolism, stirring feelings deeper than words.
Today, it is a profound relief to set aside the last 40 years of questions, often- apologetic explanations about being a minister – 40 years of frustration, of doggedly following a path that sometimes seemed futile, was often lonely, and was most often misunderstood. Today, I accept with joy and anticipation, the title of “Reverend.”
Note: “What,” some may ask, “does this have to do with Parkinson’s and DBS?” My answer is, “Everything!” The proverbial thorn in my flesh keeps my feet on the ground, aware that I dare not take life and health for granted. The very real reprieve DBS is affording is a Gift. The Journey continues, and I will not be dismayed.