[Posted on Bakery by Richard Evans, March 5; uploaded to newSpin, with permission, by Bill Lewellis]
I found the Episcopal Church about 15 years ago in Florida in an attempt to break away from the walk in the desert that comes after a divorce -- and what an oasis it has been! I was fortunate to find the best pastor I am likely ever to meet, and he took the desert once inside me and gave my life renewed meaning in Jesus Christ. Father Jim Shortess is with God now, lifted high by his own faith and the many lives he saved for Christ.
Just a little more than 13 years ago, I ran in a marathon, one of the great physical challenges in my life. I had trained for it rigorously on a beautiful 5 mile course that looped around a chain of lakes in Maitland, FL. The only variety in my training was whether I would run the loop once, twice, three or four times in a training session. The run always ended where I parked my car at the Methodist church on the lake. It had an outdoor worship space right on the lake. It became a habit of mine to finish by stopping at the kneeler directly overlooking the lake and giving thanks while endorphins were still pumping through my body. Each visit made me feel at peace with God and his glorious creation!
About 6 years ago, my financial and professional life burst apart in the great recession. Trying to rebuild my net worth after divorce and parental duties and for a rapidly approaching retirement, I had earlier turned to real estate. All was well until the housing crisis hit, and in Florida, it hit hard. All of a sudden, my retirement plan was in ruins. So back to Northeastern Pennsylvania with nothing but a car, a computer and a few personal possessions. And back to living with Mom after all these years away. And back to the weather that would make my arthritis agony.
Those who have come to know me in the last few years might not guess about my exploits as a marathoner, or my love of nature and backpacking, especially on the Appalachian Trail, because you watch me hobble along with my arthritic neck and hip and overweight frame, prevented from doing the hobbies I love so much. So much has crumbled away in what I might have imagined my life to be about at age 60, but I am not sad. It would be great to have health insurance and have my problems attended to, but I do not despair. It would be nice to have enough money to file for bankruptcy and rebuild my credit rating, but there is more to life than a credit score.
In some ways, the last 6 years have been like a prolonged Lent for me, but I do not feel the privation as much as I feel sculpted by those desert winds of change, seeing the excessive parts of my former life blown away as so much dust, exposing an inner core of simplicity and peace, knowing that with Christ, our walk in the desert need never be a lonely one. My focus is greatly narrowed, and in the simple life, I find so much wealth!
I walk among you, my fellow diocesan brothers and sisters, and all of the things I have lost in one sense are restored in another. I am no longer employable in the traditional sense, but you allow me to serve on the Council and the Trustees and help with your parish audits. I can no longer walk more than a few hundred yards, but together we embark on the most sublime journey. I no longer can afford the finer things in life, but in worshiping together, I have found those precious rewards money cannot buy. I had to leave lifelong friends in Florida, but I'm greeted by so many hugs at our conventions! The blessings in our Lenten journey together are greater than any material objects of desire. Be not afraid: let the desert winds of Lent sculpt you!
[Rich Evans is a former Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant. He is a member of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Mountain Top where he serves on the vestry and finance committee. He is also a member of the Diocesan Council and the Incorporated Trustees. His ministry is helping parishes with their audits.]