The following post is from CBF-endorsed chaplain Stephanie McLeskey who serves as chaplain at Mars Hill University in N.C. She is married to painter and woodworking artist Ken McLeskey. Together they enjoy “getting out into nature” and playing with their two dogs.
The drive to the hospital takes about 25 minutes – less in the middle of the night, but fortunately there haven’t been too many of those trips in the two-plus years I’ve served at Mars Hill University. I’ve visited with sick and injured students and staff members, sat with parents waiting for their children to come out of surgery and on two occasions, waited for parents to arrive under tragic circumstances – the stuff of nightmares.
On this day’s visit, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The young athlete in the hospital had been injured on the field and wasn’t yet sure of what the outcome would be. I recognized his name, but was having trouble conjuring up his face until I opened the door to his room and was met with a broad grin. I did know this guy – he had started attending weekly chapel services in the spring, and although he never stuck around to chat after the benediction, that smile was memorable and he shared it liberally.
We talked for a while. He insisted that he wasn’t in much pain, although he grimaced when he shifted position. He confessed that he was worried about what his future would hold now that he would have to be away from the field for a lengthy period. His face grew serious and his voice quieted as he told me about his rocky start in his freshman year, and then about his salvation experience that spring. He said that his sport was his gift and his ministry, and he wasn’t sure now what he would be able to give. His smile soon returned, though, and he shared the source of his courage – he said, “I keep thinking of the lady from the Appalachian Trail and the story she told in Crossroads. She had all kinds of obstacles and kept going anyway. If she can do it, I can, too. I’ll be okay.” In that moment, I was receiving far more than I was able to give. We shared in prayer and said our goodbyes.
On the ride home, I confess I let more than a few tears fall. He had given me a gift to hold on to – a fresh understanding of my role and my calling. This young man, still so new to Christ, lay in a hospital bed in pain and uncertainty, alone for the most part (his mother hadn’t been able to travel up yet) and holding on to a chapel message given by Jennifer Pharr Davis six months before to get him through the fear. And so, perhaps spurred on by pregnancy hormones, or perhaps by something more holy, I wept with gratitude at this renewal of my own vision.
I’m not in this job for the meetings – though there are plenty of those. Meetings with local pastors, student organizations, faculty and staff committees, administration, student leaders. Meetings about policies and procedures, community engagement, opportunities for study and service abroad, sustainability initiatives on campus, strategic planning. There are weeks when meetings take up the majority of my time, which I know is a common theme for those of us who follow a call into vocational ministry. Like in all ministries, though, while it is not unheard of for these meetings to have their own blessing within, they are not why I followed the call. That is found elsewhere, sometimes by design, and sometimes in breathtaking moments that appear suddenly out of the spirit-soaked air.
I followed this particular call to Mars Hill University because I knew that I would be planning chapel services, providing pastoral care, teaching classes, and advising student groups. I knew that this position would allow me to play to my strengths in ministry.
But, I could not have imagined the way my heart would swell to near bursting upon the graduation of a student who has both given and struggled so very much during her time here, and is now putting aside her own long-held plans and following Christ on to amazing new adventures in the wider world.
I could not have imagined the gratitude I would feel for the opportunity to travel with a student on her journey from the first handshake with a seminary admissions representative all the way through to the acceptance letter and beyond.
I could not have imagined the way my voice would catch as I offered communion to a colleague who has shared his painful story with me in the quiet of my office, but who continues working daily to enrich the lives of students with his wisdom and strength.
I could not have imagined how often this calling would bring me to my knees in both prayer and praise, and how deeply these words would resonate: I wouldn’t trade it for the world.