Picture it: Sicily. 1912.
...I mean… the mountains of Western North Carolina. September 2019.
I was attending the final gathering of a two-year Newly Ordained track of the PC(USA)’s CREDO program – easily one of the most important and meaningful initiatives our denomination sponsors.
Though I certainly couldn’t have known it back in 2017 when I first signed up to participate in the program, this particular gathering also fell just two weeks after moving to Florida to begin a brand new call. It seemed to me the possibilities would be endless. Amid the reds and oranges of the changing leaves, I found a sacred place set apart – the perfect place to reflect upon who God was calling me to be both as a pastor, and as a person.
The CREDO program is known to put participants through the ringer. Workshops, discussions, and deeply-probing reflection questions are all designed in such a way that one will likely not leave the way they came. The main project for each participant of the Newly Ordained CREDO track is to compose a Rule of Life (think “Rule” not as in “following the rules,” but rather in the Benedictine or Franciscan way of a “ruler,” a measuring stick for one’s life).
In the silence of a late fall afternoon, with a touch of a crispness to the air, I carefully drafted my Rule of Life. Within those words were hopes, dreams, and a calling so surprising and courageous that it frankly seemed almost unattainable. After writing it, I submitted it in a sealed envelope to the CREDO leaders. Twelve months later, they would mail me that original Rule of Life – as a way of measuring my self-commitments and gently reminding me of the life to which I had felt God calling.
COVID, of course, had other plans. The CREDO folks were never able to mail our documents back to us because they had been filed in offices that, in a mandatory work-from-home world, were simply inaccessible. Meanwhile, COVID also had a hand in exacerbating the dis-ease in call and in fruitful ministry that had surfaced in Florida, a time that would eventually lead to my call being dissolved much sooner than planned.
In a time of trauma, one can start to overlook hopes and dreams – even second-guessing one’s God-given sense of call – as a means of merely surviving another day.
As the pandemic inches closer to endemic stage, the CREDO folks have now safely returned to their offices. As a testament to their dedication to the program, mailing the long-forgotten Rule of Life documents back to us... albeit about 18 months behind schedule... was a top priority.
And today, having recently entered into a new new call in the Pacific Northwest, I finally got around to opening my envelope to read what was inside.
Suffice it to say, I was blown away: by God’s providence… by God’s comforting presence in the midst of painful times… and by the ways the sense of call I had felt way back in the fall of 2019 actually came to fruition in a way I never could have dreamed of just a few years ago.
I remember having to decide, as I composed a rough draft of my Rule of Life, if I would center it upon the words of Psalm 139 (‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’) or Isaiah 43 (‘You are mine. When you pass through the fires, you won’t be consumed’). As you’ll see, I ultimately chose the psalm, using a slightly different translation of the passage only because I was drawn to the word “marvelous.” :)
But it turns out, as I start to look back at my journey of the past several years, that my call has been formed both by the psalmist and the prophecy of Isaiah. Indeed, though it didn't necessarily seem like it at the time, even in the darkest days of the past few years I was never consumed by fire or washed away by the floods. Instead, I was reminded once more that I have been marvelously set apart... that God has claimed me as God’s child... that God has called me by name with a love that knows no end.
There’s no way I could have known, while gazing across the mountains of Western North Carolina on a crisp afternoon in September 2019, where I would be when I finally returned to my words in May 2022. I knew only that I was opening myself to a “daring, radical trust” in the promise that I would always be loved and protected by the God who first called me by name and then called me to serve. Imagine my surprise to discover that within those words were hopes, dreams, and a calling so surprising and courageous... yet by the Grace of God, fully attainable after all.
God is good.
My Rule of Life
“I give thanks to you that I was MARVELOUSLY SET APART. Your works are wonderful – I know that very well.” – Psalm 139:14 (CEB)
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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