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Life’s Rearview Mirror

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran ChurchBy Laura Shally, Pastor

It’s all much clearer looking in the rearview mirror. I have been guided and shaped throughout my life by a series of transitions that now bring me to East Tennessee. Yet I recall a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that says “Life is a journey, not a destination.” So, I also realize, as I look into the rearview mirror, that I am not yet finished!

As a kid growing up in a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I never imagined the journey that was ahead of me. Yet each of the transitions seemed obvious when the time came for them to happen. As the oldest of four children, it seemed to make sense that I might attend and be a resident assistant at the Mansfield University of Pennsylvania watching over students in a dormitory. Mentoring and walking with them in this life’s transition seemed natural. But, I was also there to study geriatric psychology, as my love had always been in working with older adults. What wild side I had was pacified by being in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program. When it came to choosing my initial career path, I elected to go on active duty with the Army and gain some of life’s experiences.

My military career began with skill training and a four year assignment to Germany. I was given a small unit of soldiers to lead as we engineered and installed communications equipment so Army units could communicate as they moved throughout the countryside. It was during these four years that I met another Army officer, Tim Shally, who would become my husband and who would help shape as well as experience future life’s transitions together.

For the next 20 years, Tim and I would move every three to four years between Europe and the Washington D.C. area on military assignments. Commanding units of ever increasing size and responsibility, managing the career moves of senior officers, serving in the National Military Command Center and on the Joint Staff, and deploying numerous times throughout these 20 years provided many unforgettable life lessons while creating more transitions.

For example, when in Africa helping to provide life sustaining water for refugees caught up amid tribal conflict, one learns just how little a person really needs in order to be happy. True happiness does not come from having power, wealth, or fame. Those are temporary and unfulfilling things that demand us to seek them more and more, in spite of the fact that they never fill that empty spot inside each of us. While in Iraq, one learns just how fragile and precious life really is. No day should be taken for granted or squandered on unimportant things. When responsible for the lives of soldiers, one learns that everyone has a story. Each and every one of these stories is important and has shaped each of us. We are our stories.

At some point, and probably while in Iraq, these life lessons came together for me, and I realized that early promotions, prestigious assignments, and being involved in or responsible for major accomplishments or changes wasn’t what was truly fulfilling. Soon thereafter I followed my husband into retirement. It was another time of transition, but again, one that seemed right.

Tim and I moved to an active retirement community, and I returned to my love of working with older adults by volunteering for a non-profit hospice. I walked with people as they prepared to transition from this life. I walked with their families as they began a difficult journey of waiting, watching, and preparing. Through the church, I walked with people in crisis as a Stephen Minister and Stephen Leader. I became an advocate at the courthouse and an election official. Of course, that wild side was still there, so I trained and became a volunteer firefighter and later attended the state fire academy where I became state certified. Many additional volunteer activities occupied my time as I tried to discern what it was I was to do in this new phase of my life.

But that too came to me through the help of a retired pastor who would say, “You are busy in retirement, Laura. When are you happiest?” It took me almost two years to figure out what he and many others of my church family had seen – I was being led into yet another transition. I was discerning a call to public ministry.

For the first time, my transition was not as comfortable or as natural. I was too old to begin a new vocation, it was costly to go to seminary, learning Greek and Hebrew was both difficult and required, and it would involve moving again in spite of the fact that Tim and I had just built our retirement dream home. But God has ways of getting through to us, and all of these things I thought were “show stoppers” fell away. A minister who began seminary at an age far older than I came to our church and was not at a disadvantage for starting late in life, the G.I. bill for Iraqi veterans was enacted and would pay for a portion of my seminary tuition, and that new home sprung a water leak, flooding the garage and taking a little luster off what had seemed so perfect!

During the first two years in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seminary, students spend each Sunday at an assigned “field church” getting hands-on experience in a ministry context. I was sent just outside of the city of Columbia, SC, to a new mission start. There I quickly became acquainted with the fine art of being a church planter. With a young, perky, polar opposite pastor, I enjoyed the best experiences seminary had to offer. Biblically grounded, theologically sound, and having passed the Greek and Hebrew languages, I was sent just outside of Detroit, Michigan, for a year of internship at a 1,000 member church. There I spent an entire year in full time ministry and validated all that I learned, and I finally came to realize that I was indeed called to this vocation. No longer was this transition so uncomfortable and so uncertain. I had been equipped and well prepared for that which God was calling me to do.

Upon graduation from seminary and affirmation by the ELCA, I was asked to consider going through the discernment process of becoming a mission developer or church planter. Upon affirmation of the skills for that ministry field, I was asked to consider developing a church in a community of mostly retired older adults in Tellico Village. They had been worshipping but needed a full time pastor and mission developer to help them grow the church.

The rest is not yet history, but in looking back, you can see God’s fingerprints all over my story and every step of the way. God has been preparing me in some subtle, and many not so subtle, ways to walk with others on their journey. What a gift it is to be able to do that with mature adults who are ready to give back to the community and be God’s hands and feet in the world.

But the real truth of the matter is that I am a part of God’s story. We all are. That is what I have the pleasure of sharing with people and helping them understand. As we make our way through the transitions of life, it is not without reason or purpose. We have a much bigger purpose in life than what we might have ever expected as we work day-to-day at our jobs and at raising families.

Each day I put on a bracelet with a quote by Mother Theresa. It reminds me that “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” Each Sunday and at other times through the week, the family of God comes together to be reminded of how we fit into God’s story – a story of salvation, redemption, and extraordinary, unquantifiable love. We share with one another acts of great love and pray that others will come to know the joy that comes not from this world, but from embracing God’s story and sharing it with others.

I invite you to join us for worship at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church on Sundays at 9:00. We worship at 143 Chota Center in Tellico Village, across from the Property Owners Association offices. All are welcome. Please come, as the story is not complete without you.

Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church
143 Chota Center
Loudon, TN 37774
(865) 816-4756

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