Friday, January 16, 2009


The past year has been filled with difficult departures for me. On December 23, 2007, my father died after a sudden and precipitous decline from what seemed like pretty good health for an 87 year old. In my last post (“God’s Adult Children”), I made a brief reference to the effect his death has had on me, but I suspect I will be dealing with it for quite some time to come. One of its most telling consequences has been the impact on my mother’s life. Pop's strong will and sure hand in managing their household affairs right up to the end disguised the extent to which she is losing her grasp on the world around her. Whether we attribute it to Alzheimer’s or just old-fashion dementia, she is slowly but surely “leaving” us as well.

Then, in the early fall, our 25-year-old son moved to another state to start a new job. I helped him pack the truck, made the trip with him, and helped move him into the new apartment, so we had lots of time together. Plus, he’s been back home to visit for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we have always been very close, and we’ve never been apart for such long stretches of time or separated by so much distance. He occupies a place in my life that no one else can fill, so even though I’m proud of what he’s doing and glad to see him get out on his own, I miss him very much.

At almost the same time, I “broke up with” my best friend of 18 years. Hurt feelings and hard words dominated our last bits of communication, and we haven’t spoken for over 3 months now. I told him the friendship had become toxic to me and urged him to take the steps necessary to heal it, but he couldn’t see what I could see, so he walked away. I miss him.

Which brings me to yesterday—the effective resignation date for my #2 at the seminary. I hired him 4½ years ago to help me achieve a bold and ambitious vision. We celebrated quite a few victories along the way, but we had our rough spots too—mostly because our styles are so different. Recently, though, he felt himself being called in a different direction, and I knew I couldn’t stand in his way. We tried to avoid talking about his imminent departure, and we got through the day yesterday without being too emotional. He left as he arrived—a trusted and valuable member of my team.

This is not intended to sound like a Pity Party Post. I’m just reflecting on an experience that has not been all that common for me. Historically, I have been the one who left—whether restless, ambitious, detached, or just idealistically seeking greener grass somewhere else. When you’re the one who leaves, you don’t get much practice at being left. And at this point, I’d have to say I don’t particularly like the experience. But, as I reflected on all of this on the drive home last night, I realized the other meaning buried in my title.

“Leavings” are also what’s left behind, a residual effect, a lingering presence. All five of the persons in this story may have “moved on” in some way, but there is a residue that remains—what Stephen Schwartz’s amazing lyrics call “a handprint on my heart.” To some varying degree, I am who I am today because of each of these people who—at least for now—have left my daily sphere of living. And their influence will continue, not only through their “leaving,” but also through their “leavings.”

I think God made us that way on purpose. And if I’m right, then Jesus would certainly GARAAT.


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