The Bridges of Fair Haven by Pastor Welty

In October I spent a few days at a Christian retreat center in Tennessee called "Fair Haven".  It is a beautiful, isolated spot, without TV, internet or even cell phone coverage.  That took some getting used to, especially during the baseball playoffs.  A babbling mountain stream runs through the property and a series of trails wanders through it as well with an occasional bridge crossing the stream.  During my stay, I felt a strange attraction to those various bridges and spent hours sitting on them.  As I sat there watching the water rush by, I spent time thinking, praying, crying, worshiping, and journaling.  I wondered why these bridges were so significant to me and then it occurred to me. 

 When a person passes away, it is sometimes described as "passing over".  Jesus himself said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."  (John 5:24)  In fact some evangelistic literature uses a picture of a bridge to illustrate what happens when one enters into a personal relationship with Christ.  So on July 25, 2015, Stephanie crossed the bridge from time to eternity and crossed into the presence of God.  She crossed a bridge, and that left me to cross a bridge also, a bridge into my new life.

 My daughters sometimes use this expression "This is me now".  I asked for the source of those words,  and they told me that these words were uttered by a character on a TV show called "Bob's Burgers".  Having watched a couple of episodes of "Bob's Burgers", I don't feel it is worthy of something so existentially profound; however, I am borrowing those words because I feel that they describe me.   When your identity is wrapped up with another for as long as mine was, it's not easy to find your way on your own.  This is the first time in my life that I've lived alone.  I lived with my parents until I went to college.  Lived at college for four years, and Stephanie and I were married in September after we graduated.  But "This is me now."

 I am a widower, and unmarried man, a bachelor.  I am getting used to being alone in my "big house".  Several friends from our church or neighborhood have invited me to share a meal with them which I greatly appreciate, but there are nights when I end up eating supper alone with the nightly news or more likely "Sports Center" as my companion.  One night I was hungry for fried chicken, so I went to our local grocery and picked up a piece.  I also spotted the "Ben and Jerry's " section of the freezer, so I picked up a mini container.  As I stood in the check-out line looking at my items, I thought,  "This is what my life has come to" or "This is me now".  In my defense, I did have a salad at home. 

I am half of a whole.  I was just me for twenty-two years of my life.  Then for thirty-five years I was part of "us".  Now I am just me again.  I was half of "Jim and Steph" or "Pastor Jim and Miss Stephanie".  It was a great partnership, but now I feel like half of a whole. 

Along with that I am the odd man out.  No one has made me feel that way, but it just comes with the territory.   Whenever I sit at a dinner table with friends whether in their home or in a restaurant, there is always an empty chair.  Once when I was out with some dear friends, the man was staring at the empty chair next to me with a sad look on his face and said, "This isn't right", and I agreed.  There used to be four of us, now there are three.

I now experience tears at the drop of a hat.  I've always been a softy  inside, but now for no apparent reason, I'll be fine one minute and in tears the next.  The tears can be prompted by a song, a picture, a card or just a sense of "This is me now".

So I'm crossing over a bridge to a new life.  Fortunately I am grounded by my other roles and relationships.  I am a father to two beautiful, talented and intelligent daughters.  I am a pastor of a church that is very dear to me.  I am a brother to my very supportive and loving siblings.  And I am a friend to some very understanding and caring friends.  So I'm crossing a bridge and staying where I am at the same time.  "This is me now".