Although this is is a break from my regular theological reflections, it is about my journey, so I hope you will forgive my brief repose!
It is July 3rd, 2011 at about 11:00pm Mountain Standard Time. I am sitting in a rocking swing outside of my unit at the Copper Spring Ranch bunkhouse. My new friend, "Franchesco" - a young male ginger cat is tired from chasing gophers and is at my feet. It was a warm day in the Gallatin Valley - about 94º at its peak. Now, close to midnight, it's a lovely 64º with an ever so slight breeze. Hannah, my daughter, is fast asleep and Melissa is reading.
From my vantage point at the foot of Pine Butte, in Gallatin County Montana, I am situated perfectly to the southwest of the city of Bozeman and to the southeast of the city of Belgrade. I know the picture to the left isn't great, but I am located just to the left of the picture. The butte is located on the ranch. Anyway, my elevation allows me to see the lights of both cities. The scene at 9:00pm was incredible. The Bridger Mountains to the north were like huge shadows, that provided an almost eery backdrop for the Independence Day festivities that had begun two nights ago.
Tonight, I sit here in the swing, listening to the flow of the Gallatin river and the occasional 'whump', 'crack' and 'fizz' of the fire works. The breeze is nice. It has given me an occasion to think and reflect just about me and my last 24 months. It has been a whirlwind. Two years ago, the summer of 2009, I was in Bellingham, Washington on a mission trip with the First Baptist Church of Brownwood. Last year, I was in Bellingham, but this time with Coggin Avenue Baptist Church of Brownwood. This year I am on a new adventure - not with a church from Brownwood, but as pastor of a church here in the valley - Bozeman First Baptist Church - now a part of Bridger Community Ministries. BCM has as its component ministries First Baptist Church, The Rock Youth Center, and, eventually, The Montana Center for Faith, Adventure and the Arts. As I think about it, all I can muster is, 'wow'....
The hard part for me has been missing my friends. As I get older, I realize more and more how dear my relationships are. I miss my close friends. I miss my afternoon talks with my good friend and mentor Wallace. I miss my friends, the McCutchen's. I miss my colleagues in the School of Christian studies. I miss my friends in Bangs and in De Leon. I miss my students - I found out today that one of my favorite students this past year is leaving HPU to go to nursing school at a university in San Antonio. I know that this is life though.
As I sit here, I realize that although I miss my friends, this was absolutely the right move. God's finger prints have been all over it! I have connected with the people here in a way I could have never imagined. The church is growing. We literally add new people every week. I am able to mentor students here and I have intellectual colleagues that satisfy my thirst for dialog. My time in Brownwood and in Bellingham have been preparing me for this stage in my life.
I think the hard part for me is realizing that this may be my last real challenge. I love the challenge, I love this place of incredible beauty. I miss my friends and my daughter Catherine - tremendously. But I realize that I am closer now to 50 than 40. I am the mentor. Although I have many projects, I can only tackle them one day at a time. I love each and every person that comes into my sphere of influence. I pray that God continues to lead me and to open doors in this ministry.
I miss all of you though. Rob, Monte, Corey, Wallace, Carol and the rest. Keep me in your prayers as I seek to follow Christ in this challenge. Oh, and visit when you can!