Milestones & Friends
"There are places I remember
All my life, though
some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and
~Lennon & McCartney~
Definitions & Introductions
Milestones were originally fashioned out of granite, marble or slate, and were an integral part of the Roman Empire’s communication network. They were placed at mile intervals along the roads, providing a frame of reference to inform or assure travelers.
Life is a journey along a road that comes with dips, curves, detours and dead-ends. It seldom has vast distances of straight-aways that are well paved with no surprises or potholes. We often require information or assurance to stay on track and make necessary course corrections along the way. Milestones have become those significant events we acknowledge as achievements.
Recently a good friend came upon a consequential milestone; it was my distinct privilege to participate in the celebration.
I met Rita Wolf in late January 1997. There was an undercurrent of tension in the introductions because she was a member of a search committee interviewing me for a job. As it turned out I passed muster and had the honor of sojourning with that family of disciples for almost eleven years, forming many lifelong friendships along the way.
Rita was born and raised on a farm west of Morrison in northwestern Illinois. Her birthday is the same year as mine, but in a longstanding joke between us she is much older because hers arrives in August while mine comes in October.
One Sunday morning in 1989, while sitting in a pew and minding her own business at the Morrison BIC Church, God got her attention. She sensed a call to pastoral ministry. Not sure what was happening or what to do with the burning sensation in her heart she knelt at the altar and prayed.
It was a heavy idea to think about and she began to explore the possibilities, but there appeared to be too many obstacles and roadblocks. Given the fact that she had three growing children and an overloaded schedule, taking on a new challenge seemed to be out of the question.
Trained as a nurse, the call was simply a bridge too far to cross, but no matter how often she tried to dismiss it, God would not let up. He kept bringing it to the forefront of her mind and she tried to dodge it. There was much turmoil and restlessness in her soul; an anxiety of struggle became so powerful that she came to know the only way she could silence the call was by confronting it.
The BIC had developed a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program as a bridge to accommodate those whose life circumstances would not allow them to pursue a conventional academic course. Rita enrolled in it and quickly discovered that she had lots to learn and miles to go, but now she had purpose and a plan. She poured herself into the assignments.
In 1992, she had an epiphany while taking the history core course taught by Dr. E. Morris Sider at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. It came with a clarity that she has never been able to shake; she knew that she knew that she knew that the call to pastoral ministry was as real and relevant as real and relevant can ever be.
The next year, the call became almost unbearably intense when she took a Clinical Pastoral Education course at Rockford (IL) Memorial Hospital. This was an eye-opening and horizon expanding experience for her, which led to a shift in her nursing career. She joined the staff at Hospice of the Rock River Valley serving as the Bereavement Counselor.
In this new role she found fulfillment and for a few years thought that she had answered God’s call on her life. As her new duties took center-stage she packed the TEE program into a box at the back of a closet.
However, there was an ongoing work of God happening in her life; apparently all her growing and stretching was merely preparation. By Divine appointment, people kept coming into her life to plant seeds that kept her heart stirred up. The call to pastoral ministry was always there nipping at her.
After flexing and developing ministry muscles, the call became overwhelming. In 2003, having no release from God, she jumped back into the TEE courses with a fierce determination, completing all the required work at warp speed.
Then in 2007 an opportunity arrived at her doorstep that could only be the result of God’s provision; Rita joined Bruce Johnson as Co-pastor of a unique church plant at a coffeehouse ministry called Beans, Books & Beliefs in Sterling, IL. The church is called The Bridge @ Beans.
On Sunday, December 20, 2009 The Bridge @ Beans was wall to wall friends and family gathered to applaud and encourage Rita Wolf; she was officially ordained to Christian ministry by the BIC. The fact that the milestone was accomplished is a tribute to God’s faithfulness and Rita’s perseverance.
Along with all the usual hard stuff of life, because of something as natural as the way God created her, Rita had to overcome manmade barriers and expectations; praise God that she had the grit and character to do so.
Rita reacts to people in pain from her heart and gut; her response to the physical, emotional or spiritual pain of others is immediate compassion and empathy. She reaches out to others with genuine caring because deep in her bones she knows that the marvelous grace of God that rescues and enriches her life is for everyone.
GRACE IS FOR EVERYONE: Even for murderers; even for skeptics; even for those who are fed up with church; even for those whose theology is all screwed up; even for those who claim they want nothing to do with God; even for those who are so full of religion and judgment that they are spiritual sourpusses.
GRACE IS FOR EVERYONE. Rita wraps this truth around her like a brightly flashing neon sign that cannot be missed. As Chaplain at Hospice of the Rock River Valley, she has a profound understanding of our common humanity; out of her own brokenness she comprehends what it means to be broken. God has gifted her with strengths that allow her to connect with individuals at their point of need.
Rita's family has kept pace with her every step of the journey. The howling five, along with various in-laws and outlaws, are friends of mine. And friendships of this rare variety are milestones not found around every bend in the road.
- Brethren in Christ Denomination
- Hospice of the Rock River Valley
- Beans Books and Beliefs
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
- Let It Rain
John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival raised a profound question: "I want to know, have you ever seen the rain comin' down on a sunny day?" A couple old friends cover the timeless classic at a place called Beans, Books and Beliefs...
- A Hospice Story
It was a place of pain. That fact was palpable; it knifed into me the moment I entered the house from the garage. My eyes watered a bit from the smoky haze hanging in the dimly lit kitchen. The smoke had an eerie effect...
- Wows and Big Wows
There is a traditional blues tune called Gospel Plow. It contains these rather cryptic sounding lyrics: "Matthew, Mark and Luke and John...All those prophets are dead and gone...Keep your hand on that plow...hold on!"