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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Director's Word: Grace at the Crossroads

One of my favorite additions to the Spring and Summer is to add a bike commute into my routine. It can be a shock to the system, at first. The commute is 22 miles. But once I’ve established a rhythm, the scenic and environmentally friendly ride into work is worth the extra time and effort. I love seeing all the cars backed up for miles and thinking, “I will take this seat over that one any day!” Or, the various gas stations I pass remind me that the car ride to work ain't cheap!

For a long time, this commute has been a way to connect on a deep level with my late father-in-law, Thorpe Running, who once incorporated long rides into his routine. His commute was equally long from St. Cloud, Minnesota to the St. John’s University (although he always added additional mileage) where he taught Spanish for over thirty years. Tragically, his life was altered on one of those rides, being forced off the road and into a compromising fall that left him quadriplegic for over ten years.

New crossroads emerged as a result of his accident. Countless days in the ICU. Waiting on doctor reports and testing. Hoping to walk again. Wondering when, and if, and how God would show up and make God’s presence known. Would it be physical healing? Would there be a doctor who knew just what to do? Would there be some return of bodily movement? Arms? Legs? A finger? Hours turned into days, days to months, and months to years. Nothing. Or, so it seemed.

The miraculous physical healing that was longed for did not arrive on time or at all. And, although we remained hopeful that it would, we would be remiss to overlook the other miraculous signs of grace that we encountered at various crossroads throughout each day:

  • My wife’s mother, who gave of herself daily and embodied ardent faithfulness through tireless caregiving for well over a decade. Grace at the crossroads.
  • The church. No, not the building. Rather, people. People who show up with fresh baked muffins, and flowers, and offer to help with errands and tasks that have fallen behind back at the house; people who sit alongside in waiting rooms and rejoice with the good, and mourn with the bad. Grace at the crossroads.
  • Chaplains and pastors who enter the hospital room, not with an agenda, but an openness to enter into one’s story. We came to appreciate gentle souls who listen deeply and risk responsibly by inviting God’s presence through shared communion, a prayer, a blessing, a posture of questioning alongside. Grace at the crossroads.
  • Thorpe himself. I don’t know how you imagine yourself enduring being quadriplegic. Most of us shudder at the idea, and for good reason. Thorpe brought to each of a us a keen reminder that the beautiful and vulnerable human spirit is as resilient and powerful as you are willing to risk. He lived boldly. Teaching for four more years following his accident, publishing works and traveling to Argentina to give lectures and visit colleagues. All of this was not easy. It was arduous and at times taxing for all involved. But, the grace note in it all was Thorpe’s voice that ended each sip of water, each hoyer lift into bed, or each brush of the teeth. “Thank you.” More grace at the crossroads.

So, on my most recent bike commute home, I was patiently waiting for all of the cars to pass the busy crosswalk area. Cars kept whizzing by and hurrying along with no regard to me standing there. That was okay. I was in no hurry. Then, suddenly, an elderly couple clearly noticed me and applied their brakes. Others followed suit, and the path was open for travel. As I made it half way across the cross walk, I heard the unpleasant sounds of yelling and commotion off to my left. Sadly, the car behind the elderly couple was infuriated by their generous act to stop for a cyclist. I looked over to the elderly couple and waved. Their smiles lived for a lifetime in that moment. Their grace cost something, and did not go unnoticed.

Grace at the crossroads: it’s so worth it.

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 2 Corinthians 8:7

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