Life is a constant journey. Just when you think you got it all figured out, you realize how far away you still are from having it all figured out. But before becoming discouraged, it is important to realize that it is okay to not have everything in life figured out. As we keep trucking on this road we call life, God continually places us in positions to keep learning, growing, and drawing closer to Him. Two years ago today, on February 6, 2015, I was ordained a deacon. It is hard to believe that it has already been two years, and I am quickly approaching my first year anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in May. As I think back to my two year younger self, I could not have imagined then being where I am today. St. Stephens Indian Mission was not on my list of expected appointments as a newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Cheyenne, and yet here I am. I am not at all where I expected to be, but even so, I am exactly where God expected me to be. And even more, I am where God wills me to be. In His Divine providence, God placed me in the unlikeliest of places as a newly ordained priest in order to keep forming me into the priest He has called me to be and to keep drawing me closer to Him. He sent me a friend and brother, Deacon Bryce, to journey on this road together and through these past many months, I have continued to grow and learn more about the priest God is forming in me. It has been far from easy, but then growing in holiness never truly is easy because it requires a continual death to self, a continual giving of oneself with a love that is free and doesn’t grasp, which, in our broken humanity, is difficult.
I laugh at myself now because I mistakenly made the assumption that as soon as I finished seminary I would have it all figured out, primarily I thought I would have myself figured out. I now realize that my time at St. Stephens Indian Mission, as much as it has been about me ministering to the wonderful people here, it is also about God ministering to me in and through this place, specifically. As I administer the sacraments, God, in turn, administers experiences to me that are helping me grow into the man God calls me to be. St. Stephens is a very unique place in the Diocese. It is not at all a typical parish, but it is a Mission on the Wind River Indian Reservation. As such, this place holds many experiences that cannot happen elsewhere since the Mission is basically in the country and has a ranch-like feel to it in addition to the Church and sacramental ministry: our neighbors who run the St. Stephens Foundation also have bison and horses right here on the land. This reality has given me experiences that are teaching me more about who I am than I could ever have expected. I have ridden horses, fed bison, helped restore a sleigh and drive it, helped load and haul hay for the horses, ridden in a semi-truck, and just today I got to go snowmobiling in the Wind River Mountains. From a certain perspective, these things seem pretty superficial, and yet to me they have been transformative experiences.
As we were up in the Wind River Mountains today on snowmobiles, I couldn’t help but notice how the ride seemed to reflect my own life and my growth. As we grow up, there comes a point when we are no longer children, but we become men. This growth is a process we are all called to go through, even St. Paul attests to it when he said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). With the growth into manhood comes a confidence in oneself. I realize I am still right in the middle of that particular journey (as are many of us!). My own confidence in myself has been slowly building up and particularly it has been helped by my experiences here at St. Stephens. Today, as I was riding, I managed to tip my snowmobile on its side on three different occasions, but rather than wait helplessly for one of the others to come to my rescue, I took up the challenge and flipped the snowmobile back upright and got myself unstuck on my own. I had confidence in myself that I could persevere and fix the problem myself without needing to wait for help, even though in the moment there was a temptation to panic. Yet, once again, God was in that moment, ministering to me and giving me an experience of confidence that is shaping the man I am becoming. The rest of the ride was just as eventful, I felt like a kid relishing the exhilaration of speeding atop the snow and later, one of the snowmobiles broke down, but thankfully we got it fixed after a bite of lunch and headed out of the mountains just fine.
So if you’re reading this and you wonder where God is in the midst of your current situation in life, know that God is right there in all of it. He has you right where He wants you and He wants to give you so much grace in the exact situation in life you are currently in, even if it seems like it is the most unlikely thing imaginable, you just need to be open to receiving it. It’s difficult, but ultimately it is the only thing that is truly fulfilling. Trust me, I am living proof of that.