Life is transition. And life, my friends, is beautiful.
Updated: Apr 27
It was Saturday, September 14, 2013, and I was sitting on my bed in my parents house, exhausted having just biked several miles. We had my cousin’s Quinceanera to get to, and Rachel was over in the bathroom, taking a shower, “Washing the humidity off her body”, as you do, and my phone rang. I looked down at it and it was an unlisted number. I almost didn’t take the call, as I normally don’t answer unlisted numbers, but something inside me said to take it. So I did.
The voice on the other end of the phone said “Hi, my name is Megan Traquair, and I am the Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, and it is my absolute joy to offer you the position of Episcopal Campus Chaplain for Northern Arizona University.”
I could barely breathe. As I preach this I actually feel that same feeling of excitement and disbelief hit my body once more. See, for those of you who don’t know, this was a position that I applied for on a whim on August 20th, and I had absolutely no business getting the job. Why would I? A 26 year old layperson, who very much still felt like a child myself.
After I hung up, I came rushing into the bathroom where Rachel was still showering, and she thought there must have been a spider…I don’t know why a spider, but a spider. And I just started crying. I couldn’t speak for a bit. I just had this raw amount of emotion escape me.
See at this point we were living with my parents in Missouri City, a suburb of Houston. Our two cats and us occupied my childhood room of 10 feet by 10 feet, and the cats couldn’t even roam because they and my parents’ cats decided very quickly that there would be no friendships made, just world wars. We had been there for over 2 months. We had both been applying to jobs literally at every corner of this nation with no avail. Our hope was lost. My parents had already offered that maybe we should move into one of the houses they own and rent out, and we were actually considering it…a walking distance from where I grew up.
Our hope had been dashed after a year of flying from place to place to place serving as everyone’s second choice. Our excitement of finding new ways to live one year into marriage was very much gone. We had taken up biking purely to get out of the house without spending money.
When I finally could speak, I looked at Rachel through tear-covered eyes and said, “We are moving to Flagstaff. I got the job.” At that point I collapsed into the floor in tears. I would say tears of joy, but I don’t know that I had a label for this emotion I felt. It was mostly a release of raw emotional relief. Somehow, I landed that job that I applied to on a whim because how could I not, it was my dream job.
And then, as the reality of this change began to hit me, I began to be afraid. I began to have nightmares. I began to be terrified of what this unknown future in Arizona, a state I had barely visited in the past, would hold. I began to doubt myself, the church, Jesus. I began to just doubt in general. I started to become overwhelmed by fear.
See I don’t like change. I don’t like transitions. I don’t like the unknown. It terrifies me. It petrifies me. And, I will do a fair amount of things in my life to avoid it. Trust me, I would prefer to stay hiding in the closet rather than venture out into the unknown…I know the closet…I don’t know the world.
Today we hear about Thomas. Thomas is a disciple who gets a bad rap. He was filled with grief and mourning from the death of his friend, his leader, his rabbi, his chaplain. He was terrified of what the future might hold. He knew that this old life was no longer available, and that he must change. He must embark on new things and he didn’t necessarily want to. He wanted to sit there in his grief. He wanted to stay in this point of sadness; for sadness is easy to know, and the future is terrifying.
“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’”
Thomas is caught up in the grief of departure, the grief made by the loss of his friend and his spiritual mentor. Someone who he loves and loves him so intensely. He is so caught up that he doesn’t want to hear a word of hope from his friends. He doesn’t want to believe it. It also sounds so unbelievable! So much of the time the sadness is so much more believable than a hope that follows.
I don’t think Thomas is saying that he doesn’t trust his friends to tell him the truth, even though that’s what it somewhat sounds like. I think it is more that he doesn’t trust the world and God to actually take his sadness and turn it into something else, something different. To evolve it beyond where it already is.
Jesus didn’t leave Thomas and the others, you see, but his relationship with them changed. He became more distant from them, not as physically present, but he still loved them just as intensely and he still was there to hear their prayers and other messages they would send to him, and to send them messages and words of hope as well. Jesus didn’t leave, but rather Jesus transitioned into something new, and along with that transition their relationships transitioned as well. Not better, not worse, but different.
Jesus also didn’t just leave Thomas without giving him the help only Jesus could provide:
“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’"
It was October of 2020, and the pandemic had been raging hard. Those first few months were so full of work and such, at one point I didn’t take a day off for 60 days straight. How could I? I had a flock to care for. I had to make sure everyone was okay. I had to ensure that our ministry could survive.
I woke up one morning at 5 am with this visceral urge to leave. I needed to get out. I felt like a trapped animal. I had to get out. I began googling “get out” and “leave” and “Where can I go” and I read that the previous day Hawaii announced a plan to begin welcoming tourists once more in a safe way, and by the evening I had booked us tickets for a two week trip to Honolulu. I began to breathe a bit better because there was an out in sight.
Sometimes when you love what you do so much, you end up doing it so much that you don’t breathe. You don’t take care of yourself. You don’t stop to look around and see what is going on until it feels like it is too late and you look around and realize your life is barely holding it together. Sometimes people get burned out not from a lack of passion, but from a passion burning too bright. Too strong. Too intensely. Sometimes, what you love tries to kill you.
Thomas adored Jesus, and Jesus adored Thomas, and watching Jesus die right in front of him on that gruesome cross, in that Roman state-ordered execution, must have felt like death to Thomas. Not a physical death, but Thomas must have felt like he died right there, and when he walked away from the death of his friend, once it was finished, Thomas must have felt like he was empty and hollow, not really alive, with no soul left. Terror and oppression and violence and aggression can do that to you. It can drain you of your hope. All Hope. That is its goal, after all.
And here Jesus was, showing up again, showing Thomas the wounds, embracing Thomas, telling Thomas that he will always love him and that he will always be there. Just, differently. In a way only Jesus could do, he was building back Thomas’s hope. He was putting his heart back into his body, and reminding him he had reason to live and to be and to love. And, that Jesus still loves Thomas so intensely.
It was late November of 2020, and classes were over. This year they ended early due to Covid and students left for Thanksgiving not to return until January, and we left for Hawaii not to return until two weeks later. We needed a break. We needed the sun. We needed warmth. We needed to be reminded about hope. We needed to be reminded about who we are, and whose we are. We needed to put our hearts back into our bodies, for this pandemic has been brutal and we needed a break.
Rachel doesn’t normally wake up early in the morning even on a regular day, so on vacation…well….she enjoys her sleeps. That said, Hawaii is 3 hours different than us time-wise during the Winter, and I never got my body to realize that. So, instead of just being upset about this, I embraced it. Every morning, before Sunrise, I got up, showered, and went out to Waikiki Beach where I was almost completely alone, and I sat. I sat and breathed in creation. I sat and watched the sun rise, and thanked God for making this world. I sat and watched locals enjoy their beach for perhaps the first time in their lives, and I thanked Jesus for the redemptive works of the cross, for changing humanity's collective nightmare into a hopeful dream, where potential and hope and love can live.
And, most importantly, I listened.
I had been doing this for 4 days, and on that 5th day I went out and I heard God speak to me. I had finally given myself enough time to detox that I could hear God’s voice in my mind again. I could feel the words of hope and love as bright as the sun before me drip down through my body, mind, and soul. And I was stunned at what I heard.
Let me specify that I don’t normally have verbal conversations with God. God communicates, with me at least, more through feelings and thoughts and things like how I sit down and write my entire sermon almost every time in one hour with just words flowing through my fingers from some source beyond me…like this sermon….but that day I had a conversation with God:
I heard the words: “It is time to go.”
I said “Go where? I’m already in Hawaii…” I began to think that maybe this was just my exhaustion creeping back in, as it does.
“No. Brad. It is time to go.”
I began to understand what these words meant, and I began to cry.
“But I don’t want to go. I love my students. I love my work.”
“But it is time to go. It is time to allow someone else to come in and love them just as much as you do. It is time to go. It is time to go do what you need to do in your life for you, for me, for the future. It is time to go.”
I then bargained with God.
I sat there, in tears, terrified of the future. I had gotten this job, my dream job, and I didn't want to let it go. I had no intention of letting it go. Not yet at least! No! This was my world.
But, I also knew that God was right. I knew that I had been hearing this message for a while and I had refused to listen to it. I had refused to hear it. I had refused to believe it. I had lived in denial, lived as if I would just keep my eyes closed I could stay here forever.
But that wasn't the case.
It was time for me to go.
At this point I had been in discernment for 6 months, again for the third time. Third time’s a charm, right? But really, something inside me told me this was the time. Something inside me told me that this was the time that the Church was going to see the call I have felt so strongly inside my very being ever since I was 15 years old and say “Yes, you are called to be a priest in God’s Church.”
“BUT I COULD GO TO SEMINARY ONLINE!” I screamed at God,
and a few very confused passerbys. “I could do this all online and I could still be there for my students and live in Flagstaff and love them and care for them. I could do this. It wouldn't be that hard.”
“Brad…it's time to go.”
“NO,” I cried. “I don’t want to. This is my world. I can’t even fathom myself as anything other than a college chaplain.”
I then cried harder.
Until, again remember I was in the bargaining phase, I thought of a deal. I would strike a deal with God. I would push this off into the future. Future Brad could deal with this!
“It’s a pandemic." I proposed, "What about if I were to stay one more year, and see this ministry through to the other side. See them to an in-person world again with new students. What about if I did that? Then I could go in 2022.” God didn’t reply. I HAD WON.
And not just because God was giving me the silent treatment….I truly felt it in my body. I had won. God had relented. But, I also knew that God was going to hold me to my deal. But it was 2020. That was 2022. Whatever. I would sell my inheritance for soup after all, I have no grasp on future needs.
I came home, and I felt invigorated.
The spring hit, and I had a conversation with Bishop Reddall.
She called me, and she asked me if I would stay in Flagstaff one more year, and then go off to residential seminary in the Fall of 2022.
I sat there stunned. I had won! God was at work here.
Of course I would love to stay one more year!
So I set to work. I got the board readied for a new chaplain. I combined the ministries into one. I combined the boards into one. I went out on campus with Allie and we built a brand new campus ministry community. I ordered 10,000 stickers. We created a new 20s and 30s group. I met new students. I met new young adults. We created a search team.
I did all of the things. This past year has been one of the best years of my life.
And then the sadness hit me again.
I was sitting alone in the chapel about a month ago and God spoke again.
“Brad. It's time to go.”
And I wept.
Because God was right and I wasn't ready and God was right.
I am not Jesus, but I think Jesus lived the life he lived and experienced the things he experienced, and it was documented, so that we would know how to face things we don’t think we can face.
I knew deep inside me that Jesus understood the things I felt. God understood what this was doing to me. God knew what I was going through. God would be kind to me. It was time to go, and things will never be as they have been, the life I have lived in Flagstaff would never be replicated again.
I began to see hope through the tears. It is still hard. But I see this hope of knowing that there is a future out there that is bright and beautiful, for me and for you. For this is not the end, my friends, my siblings in Christ, this is simply a transition. This is simply a change.
Come this past Thursday, and I texted Spencer. I asked them if they might want to be baptised. I don’t know why, but I had this feeling come over me that evening that I needed to ask Spencer. The Holy Spirit was nudging me, poking me, telling me to text them.
Here we are today. Spencer is getting baptised. The old is dying away and a new creation is born. Lynn is about to pour water over Spencer's head, as the church has done for thousands of years, and say, “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is the entrance rite of the church. It is an outward and visible sign that represents what God is already doing inside us. Inside Spencer. It is a welcoming of Spencer into the church, a community of trillions which exists outside of time and space and includes all that come before us, are here now, and all that come after us.
Baptism is the welcoming into a new family, a new community, one that you can count on time and time again for the rest of your life. That is what baptism is.
That is what being a Christian is about, being a part of the Body of Christ. It is being there for each other and loving and laughing and being with each other in the times of brightness and in the tenebrosity of pain and terror. It is taking a commitment on to ourselves to stand up against evil and terror and say no more. To stand for what is right and beautiful and merciful and from God.
And in all of this, I found hope again. Maybe you will too.
That scared 26 year old is now a terrified 34 year old about to go back to school after 10 years have passed since their last exam. And they are excited and sad and exhilarated and terrified to say goodbye.
This isn’t an end, and the end of this semester isn't a goodbye. We do not say a final goodbye but rather bid each other well on the journey we are to take.
By the way, this past week I checked the policy page on the Diocesan website, and I don’t think we have to say goodbye and be dead to one another and never communicate again.