Writing Sample: Lessons in Endings and New Beginnings

Every new beginning comes with some other beginning’s end.

– Semisonic / Closing Time.

Just a few months ago I preached my own take on that line from Closing Time that went like this: God is always writing new beginnings into the endings of our lives. Maybe not as cool as the Semisonic lyric but just as true for me.

It seems like just yesterday that Laura and I were going through a big transition…we were moving to Atlanta to be closer to family (which was so exciting) and at the same time that new beginning meant the ending of our time in Iowa. Iowa was the place where Laura and I got engaged. Iowa was the place where we had grown an incredible community of friends. Iowa was a surprisingly cool place to start our married life together. Iowa was the place where I grew as a pastor and leader and disciple-maker.

It was bittersweet to experience the loss of so much and yet God has written many new beginnings into that ending.

It has been wonderful to live in the same town as my sister and brother-in-law. It has been wonderful to be able to wake up surrounded by family on Christmas morning. We bought our first house. We fostered our first kid.

Through these last two years I have learned a ton but 4 things really stand out now:

Lesson 1: Don’t compare your ending to your new beginning…cultivate gratitude for both!

Besides moving to Atlanta to be closer to family, we were also moving so I could be the associate pastor at an existing Lutheran church. It’s a place with wonderful people and a bunch of potential and it’s also a place with a painful history. It had a totally different culture than my church in Iowa.

I spent a lot of the first year comparing the new and old. Apparently, it was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” He was so right! In my comparing I fell into a funk and I seriously contemplated quitting to become a teacher because of some struggles I was having.

Thankfully I pushed through…or more accurately God and Laura and some key mentors pushed me through. I stopped the “what if’s” of the comparison trap and moved to a place of gratitude for both the old and new and developed a long game mindset for my time at my new church.

Where in your life are you stuck in the comparison trap and not cultivating gratitude for all that your life has and will be?

Lesson 2: Make time to acknowledge loss and wander the wilderness.

I’ve been reading a book called Managing Transitions by William Bridges. In the book Bridges shares findings from years of research into companies that managed transitions well…and those that didn’t. Early in the book he shares the importance of remembering that transitions start with an ending…there’s going to be feelings of loss. Make room for that.

At the same time, we have to remember we rarely arrive in our promised-land-new-beginning immediately. Transitions often include a wilderness “neutral zone” that can be scary and confusing and also a time of incredible growth and renewal. Our faith can be strengthened incredibly in wilderness times.

What loss do you need to grieve? What lessons might you be learning in the wilderness? 

Lesson 3: Maintain (or build) a support network to guide you through your ending and new beginning.

In the midst of endings and new beginnings, especially ones that require moving to a different state, it can be easy to get disconnected from our networks of support and encouragement. Without Laura, my family and friends, and some key mentors I wouldn’t have made it through the transition

Who could you invite into a relationship of encouragement and support in your time of transition? 

Lesson 4: Anchor yourself in Jesus…because endings and new beginnings can’t be avoided.

Just a few months after I had settled into my long game mentality for my time at my new church my boss announced he was moving on to another church (to be closer to his family). I was convinced God was preparing me to be the new Senior Pastor. But God had other plans…something I didn’t even see coming: helping to re-start Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Decatur, Georgia. This is a group of people passionate about putting everything on the table to reach a diverse and progressive community. Nothing is off limits…not even the name of the church!

I started my career as a pastor at a church with thousands of people worshipping every weekend. This Sunday I start at a church that has about 40 people in worship! A few months ago I served at a church that had nearly a million-dollar budget. This church has 1/10 the budget. I’ve been part of staff teams my entire career, now it’s just me!

I’ve never been more excited about what God is up to and at the same time, I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t a little terrified to leave behind all the safety nets I’ve grown accustomed to! It’s an ending and it’s a God-sized new beginning.

But that’s what God is all about: resurrection, new life, writing new beginnings into the endings of our lives.

Thank God for that!

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