I was ordained July 28, 1990, which means that this year I am marking the 30th anniversary of my ordination. A couple of weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women, I shared my call story, so as I commemorate this important anniversary, I thought I would share a story of how God reassured me that I was supposed to stay in a teaching and preaching ministry.
In 2013, I wondered if I would remain a pastor. I was bruised and battered after a painful ending to a 20-year ministry as I was dealing with the death of my children’s father and then my dad. The one thing I knew was that I was going to remain in the town where I was serving, Casselton, N.D., until my sons graduated from high school. Having lost their father and their church community in the same weekend, and seeing the dark side of life when we were at our lowest, I knew they needed some stability and the support of true friends.
Thanks to the incredible kindness of a couple to whom I will forever be in debt, who bought the parsonage in which I lived and then rented to me at an unbelievable rate, I was also able to remain in the only home the boys had ever known. In the midst of all that upheaval, though, I did not know what I was going to do.
That summer, Duncan and I took a trip for which I had saved for years. I told the boys if they “lived Godly, righteous lives and made good choices” the summer between their junior and senior year I would take them on a trip anywhere in the world to teach them how to travel. Duncan picked a grand European tour, and it was a marvelous chance for me to reflect on “what’s next.”
I remember vividly the day while we were on the trip that I knew I was going to remain a pastor. We were in Luca, Italy, and Duncan was sleeping late, so I woke up early to read the help wanted ads in the Fargo paper, trying to figure out how I could use my skill set.
But as I kept reading, I got more and more depressed. Not because I didn’t think there were jobs I could do but because I knew deep in my heart there was only one thing I was called to do. So when Duncan woke up, I looked at him and said, “I want to be a pastor. It’s all I ever wanted to be.” And since that moment, I’ve never looked back.
Fast forward two years, to the summer of 2015. I had spent two years as an interim pastor, helping form the Northern Cass Parish, which combined two parishes and the The Good Samaritan Center. It was a time of renewal for me as I rediscovered the joys of pastoral ministry, serving wonderful and supportive people who were faithful and kind.
However, I was at a crossroads. Ian was entering his senior year of high school and I knew he wasn’t going to stay in North Dakota to go to college. It was time for me to begin to think “what’s next?” I knew I was going to remain a pastor, but I also knew that there were many ways to serve as a pastor. I could pursue chaplaincy, which I loved; work for Hospice; become connected with a college in some way, or a not-for-profit connected with Lutheran ministries and outreach, by working with refugees or the homeless or world hunger; or I could consider Global MIssions. I had so many options and opportunities and I wasn’t sure as to which direction I should turn.
So I hatched a plan. That summer, I took a 4½-week trip to Italy, Greece and Turkey with Duncan. It was part vacation, part continuing ed for me, as my plan was to visit all of the cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation and explore the catacombs in Cappadocia and the Island of Patmos, where John was exiled when he received the revelation that became the Book of Revelation. I called my trip “Revelation in Ruins.”
My plan was to go to the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John received the Revelation from God, on the 25th anniversary of my ordination and pray and reflect on what form my ministry should take next. All I wanted was the cave to myself for a short time — I figured that wasn’t too much to ask.
Patmos is usually a quiet island, not a main tourist destination for people cruising the Greek Isles. Unfortunately my ordination anniversary fell on a Tuesday — the one day that cruise ships land on Patmos.
I was initially frustrated by the larger crowds from cruise ships, as I kept driving to the entrance of the area where the Cave was, again and again during the day. It was a never-ending cycle of crowds of what I call “Paddle People” — those huge tourist groups following a leader hoisting a large paddle with a number on it.
I waited all day for the crowds to dissipate. FInally, as it neared the end of the day, I figured I would just have to go and hope it wasn’t too bad. Fortunately there weren’t as many groups. However, when I went into the cave, even though there were only a few people, I was nonetheless aggravated by the noise they were making. I wanted quiet so I could pray and then listen for God to tell me what was next. I wanted a time of silent devotional reflection.
But then, as I was praying, I heard the two men next to me talking to each other about the cave. One of the guys asked the other guy about the cave and he told him that John the Baptist had heard a message from God there and began a completely inaccurate story of how the Book of Revelation came to be.
Me, being me, I couldn’t just sit there and listen to such inaccurate information. So I started talking to them, telling them all about John of Patmos, and gave them as historically accurate an account of the background of the Book of Revelation as biblical scholars are aware, pointing to things in the cave, like the crack in the rock where tradition says John heard the Revelation and explained to them my theological interpretation of the book.
By the time, I left I had a huge crowd around me asking questions as I was teaching people about the story of Revelation and John of Patmos, as other groups had come into the cave and thought I was a tour guide or worked at the cave.
The Greek Orthodox priest, who was at the entrance and spoke no English, was giving me the evil eye, but everyone else was appreciative of the Bible study and theological interpretation I was providing.
Upon leaving, I realized that, although my plan for a quiet time of reflective prayer in the Cave of Revelation alone to discern what God wanted me to do next was foiled, God nonetheless answered my prayer in the most unexpected way.
When departing that day, I knew that God had created me to be a teacher, a preacher and a theologian, and that even if I tried to avoid it, I would be called back to do what I was made to do. I had received my Revelation from God.
That’s how it works with God and prayer. We may have our own agenda for what we want and how we want it, and that may not always work out. But if we listen, with open hearts and open minds, God will always speak to us in that still small voice, providing us with the direction we need. For we serve a God who still speaks and continues to provide us with revelations, when we take the time to hear what is being said.
Oh God who still speaks, help us to open our ears to what you are saying to us and to see where you are leading us. Allow us not to be so blinded by our own agenda that we miss what you are trying to say. In the midst of the chaos around us,thank you for still speaking in a still small voice and sending your Spirit to guide our paths as we follow you. In the name of the one who Revealed your love we pray. Amen.