I am interrupting my fall series of blogs from earlier years to offer a few reflections on my recovery from a concussion and broken wrist on February 16, 2022, and return to active ministry on October 1 until the end of 2022, when I will retire.
My six-month Medical Leave, which began on April 1, 2022, ended last Saturday, October 1. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that I was given to rest and recover after my February 16 fall on black ice near our home in Clive, Iowa. My broken wrist, anchored in perpetuity by hardware, is completely healed, and I continue to make progress in concussion recovery, which, I am learning, can be a bit complicated and unpredictable. My doctors and therapists have been kind and compassionate as well as direct and firm about the importance of both patience and persistence in the healing process.
If we are truthful, I suspect that clergy and laity both would admit that engaging in ministry in the name of Jesus Christ can be very stressful at times. It also seems as if the professional ministry becomes more challenging with each passing year. Resources are scarce, expectations are high, and it’s often difficult to tell if we are even making a difference. Laity expects clergy to be their “Saviors,” available to them at all hours of the day and night. And clergy expect that laity should be the heart of the church, fully committed to discovering their gifts and using them in ministry in partnership with clergy.
During my Medical Leave, I chose to embrace the opportunity for healing and introspection in order to simply “be.” I started a daily “Medical Leave Journal” and am still at it, albeit sporadically at times. I can’t say enough about my husband Gary’s total commitment to my recovery, caring for all aspects of my health and welfare.
When I finally realized the seriousness of my injury, I lapsed into a period of mild depression. This was compounded by the reality that when I fell, I had been in the midst of training for the 2022 Boston Marathon, which was to take place on Monday, April 18. Stuck like a dope on hope, however, I chose not to crawl up into a ball of despair. Rather, I had a “Come to Jesus” moment with Gary. I said, “I was training for Boston up to the day of my fall and have even finished my longest training run of twenty miles. I am convinced that I can still do Boston, despite the concussion. What do you think?”
Expecting all kinds of warnings and hesitation (and rightly so!), Gary said, “I think you can do it. It’s a straight line, so we just have to point you in the right direction, and then you’ll follow everyone else!” That was a much-needed expression of grace for me. I finished the race without incident and also qualified for the 127th running of the 2023 Boston Marathon on Patriots Day, Monday, April 17, 2023. Thirty thousand of my closest running friends will also be participating!
The rest of my Medical Leave has been a time of reading, reflecting, writing, planning, cleaning, sorting, and connecting with our children and grandchildren, all things that I never seemed to find time to do because of twelve to fifteen-hour workdays for years and years of pastoral ministry. Together, we agonized over whether I should go on disability or retire, and if I retired, where would we live? We had no retirement home of our own.
Along the journey, I have been painfully reminded that life is fragile, especially at my “advanced age.” We never know when a loved one will become ill, an accident will take place, our job will be eliminated, or a crisis will rock our world. As M. Scott Peck’s landmark book, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, begins, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead, they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.”[i]
I’ve learned a few things from my own experience of the road less traveled in the past seven months.
- Yes, life is not only difficult, but it is also an extremely fragile gift of God. You and I are called to make the most of every moment we are given.
- It was not easy to just “go for it!” by running the Boston Marathon two months after a serious concussion. However, I realized that we only get one chance at life. My advice is not to be afraid to make wise and, at times, gutsy decisions.
- Having received several hundred cards after my injury, I realize anew how much love there is in this world.
- I am thankful beyond words for Bishop Deb Kiesey’s graciousness in covering for me in the months after my fall. I am also grateful for friends and colleagues who are always there for one another. Dare I encourage you to “count your blessings” and never take them for granted?
- We live in an amazing world with so much beauty that it takes our breath away. Do your part to care for God’s gift of the earth.
- All the more, I realize anew the importance of staying connected with God and one another. Don’t be afraid to share your faith with joy!
Most of all, never forget that Jesus loves you and calls you to be a reflection of God’s love. Who will be a witness to our Lord? Will it be you? As we continue to learn and grow, may we always treasure the surprise and delight of the road less traveled.
[i] M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Way of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, Simon and Schuster, 1978.