I could not believe the letter I was reading. My long-time friend, one of our elders, had resigned and written a scathing critique of my theology and sermons. Just last June we had gone fishing together in Idaho. Now he was informing me that he had officially contacted the bishop, seeking my removal.
"How could he do this to me?" I muttered, trying to decide if I felt more despair or anger.
Just the week before, I had learned that my next door neighbor was suing me and the church. He was naming me a defendant in the case over an incident that had occurred in the driveway shared by his house and our parsonage. Our son had accidentally hit the neighbor's car as the two of them were backing out together. The neighbor had for years complained about the on-street parking problems and noise whenever we hosted gatherings in our home. This was his perfect opportunity to exact revenge.
The suit named both me and the church since the parsonage driveway was church property. He claimed the accident had resulted in neck injuries forcing him to miss work. He had hired a downtown law firm that specialized in personal injury suits. The amount they were asking for in damages was twice the church's annual budget.
It wasn't just the neighbor who was now experiencing headaches. The migraines I'd struggled with in college returned just after the first court appearance.
Finally, one Sunday evening, after a particularly encouraging morning service, I received a phone call from my younger brother Philip on the West Coast. With a quiet voice he told me the heartbreaking news that he'd been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
I felt myself sinking under a weight of anxiety and discouragement I simply could not bear. The thought of getting up and preaching ...