Shake it Off, and Take a Step Up
One of the great privileges of my adult life is to live in close proximity to my parents. My dad’s three-decade pastoral adventure led him from northwest Missouri to churches in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio. Now with him retired from full-time ministry, I count it a sweet and extraordinary blessing that they have permanently landed less than three miles away from my home in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had extra opportunities to hang out with dad – even if they weren’t under the best circumstances. Long story short, a quick trip to the doctor uncovered a series of extreme and scary medical issues that resulted in two surgeries and a week-plus stay at the hospital. Even as I write this, we’re still not sure what the long-term outcomes of this all will be.
Between our boisterous family and numerous visitors from church, dad’s hospital room often felt more like a party than a place of healing. The nurses came and went smiling, telling us dad was their favorite patient. More than one visitor later commented to me how surprised they were by the consistently upbeat atmosphere, given the severity of dad’s health concerns. But then, they must not know my dad that well.
Dad’s confidence and joy have never been dictated by his circumstances.
Through the Ups and Downs
There were a few rare moments where the stream of visitors stopped, dad wasn’t napping and mom ran home to take care of a few errands. Left alone, I would look dad in the eyes and prod, “Dad, are you scared?”
“No, not really,” he assured me each time. And each time, I knew he really meant it.
One afternoon I will not soon forget, dad recounted for me out the ups and downs of his ministry, and how God has been by his side through it all.
With tears in his eyes, he told me about the day he’d given his heart to Jesus, and of the day he accepted the call to preach. Then one by one, he recalled the churches where he’d pastored, verbally walking me through the highlights and struggles from each era.
Dad laughed as he shared funny stories from his early days as a leader, and he smiled talking about the people who had been saved under his ministry. He solemnly described times he’d been betrayed by close friends, and times when he had to make difficult decisions he knew no one would fully understand. He talked about the weight of carrying an entire congregation’s spiritual and emotional burdens. He shared about the times when he’d stepped in to protect us as kids, and of other times when love meant holding parishioners accountable for their actions.
Over the years, I thought I’d heard all my dad’s stories, but that afternoon, my dad was transparent in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before. It was a gift, both as a daughter and an aspiring leader.
In every story, his love for Jesus was the constant. Jesus provided my dad the passion, strength, joy and peace he needed – regardless of whatever situation he faced as a leader.
Take it from the Mule
Barely home from the hospital, dad was quick to resume his daily responsibilities. Among them, he needed to send a devotional to adult college students he has served for the past couple of years as a part-time chaplain for Olivet Nazarene University.
This is what dad shared:
“I returned home from the hospital this past week to a series of ‘Bad Luck’ events. I had procedures done to both legs to restore quality circulation to my feet. These procedures will require some major recovery time where I must stay off my feet.
“The day I was released from the hospital, our air conditioner broke down and required over $300 for repairs. While fixing the air conditioner, the workers discovered that our gas main had been broken, and we had a major gas leak. They called the gas company, and the gas company red flagged our meter and shut our gas off – no hot water for showers or dish washing. It just really felt like everything was going wrong all at once.
“Then I remembered a story I had heard several years ago.
“A mule had fallen into the farmer’s well and could not safely be saved. The farmer decided that that the humane thing to do was simply fill the well with dirt and bury the mule. So he began the long, tedious process. He would throw a shovel full of dirt into the well – but the mule did something the farmer did not expect. HE WOULD SHAKE IT OFF, AND TAKE A STEP UP! This process continued for quite some time, until the mule was simply able to step out of the well.
“I was reminded that sometimes, all we can do is shake it off and take a step up!”
“Romans 2:7: ‘To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.’”
The Choice We Make
My dad has taught me countless lessons in my lifetime, but none more authentic than this.
As leaders, we will face set-backs, heartache, betrayal. We will make difficult decisions no one will understand. Our shoulders will feel heavy, laden by all the concerns of those we lead.
In these moments, we make a choice: We can either stay in place, buried by our burdens. Or, we can shake them off and use them as an opportunity to step up.
I know which choice my dad would make – because I’ve witnessed him do so a thousand times before. Dad’s ministry has been marked by joy, determination, and countless lives changed because of his unyielding pursuit to go wherever God leads him.
Inspired by his example and through the power of Jesus, I pray I’ll always do the same.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
Written by: Heather Day