I turned 60 this year. I knew that milestone was coming. I was ready for it. I was not ready for all the other transitions 2021 would bring.
A chronic disease diagnosis, an unexpected job and career change, losing my best friend to cancer. These unforeseen shifts made this one of the most challenging years of my life. I had never personally experienced any of these types of events before. My faith was tested, my perspectives were challenged, and my emotions were deeply conflicted.
I found myself dipping deep into the reservoir of resources within me and around me to help me navigate these new waters. I am now more keenly aware of how blessed I am to have experiences and relationships that have poured into me over the years that I could draw upon to get me through these new challenges, including the experiences and relationships from MEA years ago in 2019.
Ironically, I have guided dozens or even hundreds of others through similar storms. I was a pastor for 37 years. I am very experienced at listening, comforting, supporting, and offering counsel to others facing health issues, unexpected life circumstances, and loss. However, personally, I have been blessed with excellent health, I have never been asked to leave a job, and I haven’t experienced the loss of someone intimately close to me since my grandparents died several years ago.
I was a college athlete. I work out regularly, eat healthily, and stay very fit. There is no history of serious health issues in my family. So, I thought the tremor in my right hand that developed late last year was the result of stress as I helped lead our church through some very challenging times resulting from several factors including the pandemic. When I finally decided to visit a neurologist to confirm my self-diagnosis, I was not prepared to hear his confident assessment that I have Parkinson’s Disease. Thankfully, medication is keeping my symptoms in check and it appears that its progression is very slow in my case.
I had been a pastor at the same church for 26 years. It was a large church and I had been the Executive Pastor for 15 years. I had recently overseen the five-year development plan of the Senior Pastor’s successor. The transition of leadership took place in the middle of 2020 with the intention that I would serve as a mentor to this young developing leader for the next five years or so, at which time I would find my own successor.
So, I was blindsided by the new leader’s decision to eliminate my position and move the church in a new direction. I was also left in the precarious place of being almost 60 and jobless, with a resumé that included only pastoral ministry in a church. Amazingly, a casual acquaintance who is a CEO and was familiar with my circumstances invited me to join his company. I am now working for a growing company in the corporate world after 37 years of working in a church. This is not an easy transition, but one that is strangely bringing me new life and joy as I seek how I can have the greatest impact in my new role.
While I was processing and adjusting to these new realities, my best friend was fighting for his life. He was diagnosed late last year with a very aggressive and deadly cancer. He bravely faced down chemotherapy and radical surgery to extend his life against grim odds. We encouraged and supported one another through our parallel journeys. Sadly, the odds proved to be accurate, and cancer took him from his family and from me less than a year after his diagnosis. The timing and circumstances of his death brought about a poignant intersection of my personal life transitions. On my 60th birthday, I entered the church where I had served for 26 years for the first time since leaving eight months earlier, to speak at my best friend’s funeral. I felt like a complete stranger, but I felt like I was home. I have never felt such an internal conflict of emotions.
So, as 2021 draws to a close and I reflect on these life-altering events, I am grateful for the reservoir, or the Wisdom Well, that was available to me. This included old and new relationships, and a mindset shift that was the result of being at MEA nearly three years ago. My compadres from my cohort have walked through some of these waters with me, listening and encouraging me. And two big takeaways from MEA for me have been on sticky notes on my desk since I returned from Baja: “I do not need to be a pastor in a church to fulfill my calling, purpose, or destiny.” And “I will take action to transition to my next vocation."
That encouragement and mindset helped me to respond to all these unexpected transitions by choosing to feel blessed rather than bitter. I am blessed to have had great health all my life. I am blessed to have served at a great church for many years. I am blessed to have had such a great friend for many years.
The new year is almost here. I obviously do not know what it will hold for me, but I know that there is a deep well—a reservoir—accessible to me from which I can draw wisdom and perspective and strength. That well is full of people, experiences, lessons, truth, hope. Regardless of what 2022 brings, I will choose to feel blessed.
Chris Shore lives in Noblesville, IN, a northeast suburb of Indianapolis, and is married to his high school sweetheart (celebrating 40 years next June). He has four children and four grandchildren. After a 37-year career as a pastor, Chris entered the corporate world as an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant with iA (Innovation Associates) in Indianapolis and will transition to a full-time role this month. He attended MEA in March 2019 and returned for Alumni Week in the summer of 2019.