Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning to Let God Lead

I was standing in the parking lot of the Mamaroneck, New York train station on a warm September afternoon in 1982.  How I got there, and why, and how God had something to do about it is what this story is about.  In the meantime, how I was going to get back to New York City was the more important question.  The time table was indecipherable, and I had no idea which side of the tracks was city bound and which side went somewhere else.  
It started months earlier when I was rather forcibly offered a promotion I did not seek that meant a move I did not want to make to New York City.  I liked my life long home in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  I liked my job, my friends and the options open to me for a good future.  That I was mired in the emotional mud hole of a divorce, with two young daughters caught in the middle, was the only drawback, but one big enough to shove me into the unfamiliar darkness of depression.  Contradictions abounded, and the question of New York was an unwelcome addition to them.   Should I go and at least look it over, or should I stay and look for another job in another arena?
Who to talk to?  How about my pastor?  Nice guy, about my age, the pastor of a small Lutheran Church out in the suburbs.  Men my age were supposed to have ducked out of church shortly after confirmation to return on the rare occasions of marriage, baptism, Christmas and Easter.  We were disinterested in funerals, death being a figment of our imaginations in the far off land of old age.  For whatever reason, I was not one of them.  My church and my somewhat juvenile faith were important to me, and always had been.  But I digress.  What he said was to go ahead and scope it out, but try to let God do the leading this time.  He knew me well.  I generally did all the leading and hoped God was following.  Who could possibly know what he meant by letting God lead this time? 
Anyway, a few weeks later I arranged an early morning flight to NYC.  I’m an early riser, but not an early morning person.  It takes hours for me to be presentable in public.  Sitting next to an elderly couple, I needed a few cups of coffee and something to eat before even saying hello.  Turned out that they were also going to New York to scope out a job.  He was a linguist and professor of theology deciding if he would take on the job of translating portions of the bible into some of the dialects used by Amazonian Indians.  It would mean living in the Amazon for a time to become more familiar with their languages.  He didn’t know if he would take the job, but was determined to let God do the leading.  That’s what I learned from him.  What he learned from me was the story of why I was going to New York and why I had severe doubts about it.  Somewhere along the flight he asked me what church I attended.  I told him that he wouldn’t know it, it was just St. John’s, just a little congregation out in the suburbs.  “Indeed I do,” he said, “I was once an interim pastor there.”  “And, since you seem to be full of anxiety about all of this, why don’t you let God lead for a change.”  Apparently that was the standard line for Lutheran pastors from Minnesota.
It turned out that the office I would be running would require serious remedial attention for at least a year.  That I could handle, but not the rents in Manhattan, even for the smallest and shabbiest of walkups.  Do you know how little extra money a newly divorced man with two children has?  It’s not much even on a good salary. Someone suggested Mamaroneck, a close in suburb, a little on the blue collar side, with less expensive housing.  That’s how I ended up out there, where, as a matter of fact, I found a sublet in a co-op development that would be adequate for the short term.  Of course, as co-ops are, they wanted me to go through all kinds of interviews with the board and subject myself to background checks just shy of clearance for entrance to the White House.  I didn’t have time for that.  I had to get back into the city for an evening meeting,  another few days in the office, and then back to Minnesota where I belonged.  
That’s when this guy tapped me on the shoulder and said if I was going to the City I’d better hurry.  The train was coming soon.  So I followed him (and his wife?) across the parking lot, up the stairs and onto the platform.  He turned around.  He was wearing a clerical collar.  “Hi,” he said, “my name is Bill and this is my wife Sunny.”  
“OK, I can see you are a minister of some kind, what kind are you,” was my undiplomatic reply.  “The rector of St. Thomas’ Church in Mamaroneck,” he said, “and who are you.”  We got on the train, settled down in facing seats, and my confused story came tumbling out in the thirty minutes it took to reach Grand Central Station.  As we parted ways he told me to take the job and not worry about the housing question because he would take care of it.  
He did.  The next day I got a call from the real estate agent saying that Fr. Bill had vouched for me and that was good enough for the co-op board, the sub-let was mine for a season.  
I took the job.  Bill, being the only person I knew outside the office, and him for only a few weeks, became my only friend and confidant as we sipped beers watching football in the rectory living room.  He pointed out that I needed a long range plan, a place of my own, and, since I was both ignorant and naive about renting in the New York area, he had an idea.  There was a woman in the congregation who knew quite a bit about rentals in Westchester County.  She worked in the city and I should call her for some advice.  A week or so later I did.  
Her name was Dianna and she worked for a guy named Lauder who ran a little cosmetic company of some kind. That’s all I knew.  We arranged to meet for lunch.  Me, being on Minnesota time, made the reservations for Noon when all normal people eat lunch.  New Yorkers, not being normal, eat at One or later, but I didn’t know that yet.  I looked around the vestibule of the restaurant for the gray haired church lady whom I was expecting to meet.  No one was there but me, the maitre ‘d and a very attractive blond about my age.  Since I was ignoring her, she finally asked if I was Steve.
We talked about real estate.  One thing led to another.  Two and a half years later Bill officiated at our wedding.  We are still on our honeymoon, only slightly interrupted by the complicated merging of four teen agers into a new household.  Each had their own particular issues and aspirations of being an only child.  They are all in their forties now and doing well.  How I became an Episcopal priest is another story for another time, but it is the continuing tale of learning, however slowly, what it means to let God do the leading. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Steve,this a very inspiring story that I knew only a very little about before now, though I have been your friend, sort of, for about a decade. Thank for telling this story now. Hope your cold gets better soon. We missed you at the Study Group this morning. I wanted your comments about Bishop Spong's book "Sins of the Scriptures". Best wishes. Dr B