On New Year’s Eve I took some time to reflect on my past, and to think about the new year we have just entered. The most prominent word surfacing in my pondering was “change”. Change seems to be feared by many, while being an unavoidable constant in life. I tend to break change down to two categories. Change that is thrust upon us, and change we initiate. Which kind of change bothers us the most?

Change which is thrust upon us appears to me to be the one causing the greatest discomfort. This is where we feel the least amount of control. Can we come up with many examples of change fitting this category? Aging is one I’m aware of most days. Ending of relationships sometimes falls into this category. Health issues also have a way of appearing without our approval. Two summers ago, right before leaving on vacation, one of my doctors told me he thought I had bladder cancer. This news did not excite me! Having survived one form of cancer, I knew this had the potential of bringing unwanted changes to my life. When I was finally diagnosed with a huge kidney stone in one kidney, I celebrated! This kidney stone caused me to be miserable for five months, but it felt like a win compared to bladder cancer. To keep the fun going, though, I have another kidney stone growing.

What is happening in the United Methodist Church mostly feels to me like changes out of my control. I have some small spheres of influence, while largely feeling like a spectator. The waiting to see what is going to happen has been going on for decades and is wearing us down. We are desiring a faithful solution of hope which can be embraced by all, while fearing there is a cancer we might not be able to survive. Sometimes coming up with an accurate diagnosis is the hardest step. The effectiveness of action plans directly relate to the accuracy of the diagnosis. Have we reached the point where the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation” is the right plan? We need to keep praying for the delegates to General Conference 2020 to be filled with wisdom. This is where decisions for the United Methodist Church can be made.

My personal cancer journey taught me when “the worst diagnosis possible” happens, God is still there. God has a way of working even in “worst possible” situations. Trusting this takes away the fear and makes it easier to endure the pain. Part of my thinking brought me back to the conclusion God was able to use my cancer to help me become a better person. When our best efforts of uniting the United Methodist Church have been found lacking, how will God still be able to bring good out of our situation? I’m waiting with expectation for the answer!

If having change thrust on us is harder, does this mean change we initiate is without pain? Not necessarily. Any change has the possibility of pain. The advantage of initiated change is the opportunity to intentionally choose a direction for our future. As a Christian, it’s my hope my initiated changes are in response to God’s guidance. Being sure this applies to all our choices, though, is not easy. Some of our decisions have major consequences and need to be carefully—and prayerfully—made. I was especially aware of this on New Year’s Eve.

On New Year’s Eve I sent to Bishop Hoshibata, and the Chair of the Board of Ordination, my request to be moved into retired status as an Elder, effective July 1, 2020. At the moment, I have few answers for my personal future plans. My wife and I have a desire to be closer to family, so it is likely we have another physical move coming. We are still receiving encouragements from family members for where we should relocate. What does it mean when they don’t live in the state where they are encouraging us to move?

One of the hardest parts about major changes is not being able to clearly see into the future. Are we making the best choices? Will there be regret? This is where we have to make the most faithful decisions we can at the time, and trust God is big enough to use these decisions for good.

Your brother on the journey, Mark

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