There is a line in the song “Stop and Stare” by Onerepublic, “…I know that everyone gets scared, but I’ve become what I can’t be.” There come times in each of our lives when the place we’re in has become so toxic to our survival that the only choice that is available is the one that is often most difficult to make – the choice to leave. To tuck tail and run as far away as you can and let the pieces fall where they may. It is a heartbreaking place to be and a tough call to make but in that moment, the only call.
Several years ago I was a young pastor serving as best as I knew how in a place that I had always and will always call home. My wife and I had been married for six years and had a four year old and two year old at home. I had been a pastor for a year and a half but been ‘in ministry’ for nearly eight years prior at this same church in this same town that I consider home. Upper Michigan, the Keweenaw Peninsula in particular, is never very far from my thoughts.
One Tuesday morning in early August while reading in my office our senior pastor came in wanting to know how the week had gone since he had been on vacation. We chatted for a bit and then he asked me what my plans were for the future. My wife and I had just been talking about the issue the weekend before since it was our wedding anniversary and I shared with him that we planned to stay in town at this church and serve as we always had felt let to. We did not feel led anywhere else. His response was, “I don’t see it that way.”
He was firing me. He used phrases like, “you’re unworthy to serve”, and “you’re leading people astray”, and told me that I was “defiantly resistant to what the Lord wanted to do in the church and in my personal life”. He went through a whole list of my faults and failures and told me that I needed to leave the church, (and suggested that I leave town altogether), by the end of the month. In that one twenty minute meeting he stomped on my heart with no remorse or regret and to this day, some 14 years later, I still do not understand what I had done wrong. A week later my family and I left the church. The congregation was told that I had ‘burnt out’ and that the Lord was ‘doing a work in me’ but to leave us alone so that work could be completed. They did…we were left utterly alone. There is more to this story that I can’t write here but this event was the root of years of confusion, frustration and pain as we tried to understand.
The first few years after were very difficult. Most in the church knew something had happened but were fed a line about what and why. We began to dread going out in town because if we saw someone from the church we would be met with looks of either fear, disappointment, or confused, uncomfortable, and hurried conversations. We were spent goods and no one seemed interested in the why. Everywhere we went became a memory of what had been and a future that might have been, but could not be. Every sight of someone we knew became like digging the dagger in deeper. We were becoming bitter and angry, fearful and paranoid, hard-hearted and resentful; we had become what we just could not be. Home had become a prison and memories and silence were the wardens.
During this time is also when it was discovered that I had Lung cancer and had half of my left lung removed. Just more bad memories to add to the pile and yet another reason staying in the U.P. had become so difficult. If home is where the heart is what do you do when your heart can no longer be at home? After six years we could bear it no longer and realized that the only way to find freedom from the barrage of memories and shattered dreams and find some hope for our drowning souls was to leave. Some thought we were running away but from our perspective we were running for our very lives. While it has taken many years, I’m finally at a place where I can look back and see the Good Lord’s hand. I still do not understand any of the ‘why’ but the pain doesn’t linger any longer and the sadness isn’t so sad.
I can honestly say now that life away is better than the life we were living in. We have found success and safety and contentment. We have hope again and dreams for our future. We are older and wiser and have more compassion for those who feel trapped in lives they did not choose.
This is a part of why I write and, I hope, a part of why you read.