As I type these words I am sitting in a hotel room in a central Minnesota city where the regional body of my denomination holds its "Annual Conference" each year at this time. While it is a requirement that I, as an "ordained elder," be in attendance each year, I think I would be here whether required to be or not. I have discovered after nearly fifteen straight years of attendance that the multi-day experience helps me mark time in a way I otherwise miss in the busy-ness of my life.
There are many days, for example, when it seems like I have always been a husband and father of twelve children. I forget that of my forty-four years of life, fully the first 3/4 of those years were spent as a single person. When Claudia and I married twelve years ago, I had no idea the direction our lives would take. Oh, sure, I had some ideas. I knew that we did not want to live an ordinary kind of existence and that we wanted to do some risky things that would live the deepest principles of our Christian faith, but I really had no idea that we would mark our twelfth wedding anniversary with what amounts to one child for each of our married years.
I had no idea twelve years ago when I graduated from Bethel Seminary with my Master's degree that I would be sitting in the same location a little more than a decade letter to celebrate the college graduation (from the college side of that institution) of the person who would become my oldest son. My oldest son was already ten at the time, and I hadn't yet met him.
I had no idea twelve years ago that another of the already-born-but-not-yet-my-sons would be arraigned on felony charges within three days of his older birth brother's college graduation.
I had no idea twelve years ago that I would be awaiting word on my already-born-but-not-yet-my-daughter's most recent court hearing for another violation of her probation.
But, I did know twelve years ago that I would be sitting in a hotel room in this central Minnesota city gathered with 1,000 other United Methodist Christians in worship, decision-making, fellowship and conferencing.
I did know twelve years ago that I would sit through the annual clergy retirement celebration (it's an annual event), but I did not know that I would witness the retirement of the person who nearly fifteen years ago helped me find my way into a new denomination after my hopes and dreams were crushed in the denomination of my youth and young adulthood.
I did not know twelve years ago that I would be the pastor of one our district's most hopeful and growing congregations, but I did know that I wanted to serve God with my whole heart in this new denomination that had opened its heart to me.
I did not know twelve years ago that I would feel the way I feel as a middle-aged husband, father and ordained minister. To experience middle age is to know it, with its sense of missed opportunity and its recalibration of the next twenty years before my own retirement. With the regrets I harbor as a father as well as the joys of seeing the oldest son successfully navigate college years. With the recognition that I am not married to a perfect woman (nor she to a perfect man) but that together we manage to live lives that are changing the world, one child, one parishioner, one person at a time.
As I mark in my own mind these time passages, I am grateful that I have more to live for than simply myself. I am heartened to be called "husband," "father," "pastor," and "beloved child" of God. And while I am not always as content with myself or my life situation as I am tonight, for this moment it is enough.