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Warning or Welcome Sign?

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Gary's Faith Walk leads him to a path of transition

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—For 28 years, I was a part of the institution of the U.S. Air Force. For 17 years, I have been a part of the institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). On March 31, I formally de-couple from institutions for the first time in my adult life and officially enter “retirement.” I am anticipating major personal and psychological adjustments along with joyous opportunities of freely choosing how to invest my time and energy. It is both daunting and very exciting at the same time. Sometimes in my mind, I see a yellow triangle warning sign marked “Transitions Ahead!”

In my faith walk, I have taken much from the story of Abram/Abraham as told in the Book of Genesis. Across the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Baha’i traditions, he is known variously as a prophet, patriarch, forefather, and sometimes “Father of a Multitude.” Today, I reflect on his transition from a fixed and known life and lifestyle in Haran, a community located on a major Mesopotamian trade route, to the absolute unknowns for himself and family as he “set forth to go to the land of Canaan” answering the Lord’s call. While a man of extraordinary faith, maybe he too had occasional warning signs of transition flash through his mind. 

I write from Moscow where I am visiting church partners (Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian) for the last “official” time. Traveling with the person who will assume my responsibilities, each visit is a “hand off” from me to her. These days are filled with reflections: memories of joy and pain as churches have renewed themselves after decades of communist persecution, farewells to people I care deeply about knowing I likely will never see them again, worshipping in places and styles so different from that in our North Country, and dipping once more into aspects of Russian culture I have learned to love (ballet, borscht, blini, and much more!)

When Abram/Abraham departed Haran he was promised, “I will make of you a great nation.” Me? My goal is a whole lot simpler! I’m just looking forward to more time to be with family, tend the forest, and deepen my engagement with conservancy and living at peace with the earth. Regular readers of the River Journal know the many close by possibilities: Idaho Conservation League, Montana Wilderness Association, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness or the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, and more.

Perhaps, just perhaps, a life spent traveling and working in many nations of our world will allow me a perspective that is a bit more global. Experiences in Russia, Armenia, Germany, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica and beyond should be worth something when sorting out approaches for my next few years. While hardly biblical, there is great wisdom in the bumper sticker, “Think Global, Act Local.”

Maybe the image of a yellow triangle warning sign in my head should actually be a welcome sign, the kind we pass when moving between Idaho and Montana on Highway 200. Welcome to new possibilities. Welcome to a new phase of life. Welcome to new beginnings.

In his own way, Abram/Abraham responded to the Lord’s welcome sign when he and his family passed through their transition and arrived in Canaan. In response to the welcome sign in his head, he built an altar and worshipped the Lord in thanks. 

When the snow melts, I think I will plant a tree, a young Ponderosa Pine, to thank the Lord and recognize the extraordinary opportunities in this life’s transition. It seems a very good thing to do!

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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retirement, Moscow, Garys Faith Walk, transition

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