I have lived in Charleston, SC since leaving Edmond, OK in 1987 to begin my college career at The Citadel in Charleston. I played soccer in college and have continued to exercise and participate in sports since. I avidly ran, walked and bicycled in the city of Charleston and at the area beaches and parks. It seemed to me that I was in good physical shape.

We left Charleston in August last year to come to Ambridge, PA for seminary at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Unlike Charleston, which is flat, Ambridge and the surrounding rural areas are quite hilly. Soon after moving into our house, I decided to go for a run. About 2 blocks from our house, I took a right turn and faced an impressive hill. “No problem,” I thought to myself and began to trek up the hill.

I had conquered no more than 20 yards or a third of that hill before I had to stop and catch my breath, an event I would repeat twice more on the way up. What a disappointing surprise to discover how out of shape and out of breath I was.

Later that week, I visited the local bike shop and learned about a good bike route along rural roads. The view outside of our town was one of the most pleasant surprises about the area. Undeveloped hills, full of trees and myriad colors of late summer were all along the roads. Then, I came to a steep incline in the road that began in a valley and climbed along the side and around the top of a hill.

In fifteen years of biking, I had not had to ride up a hill like that, but “No problem,” I thought to myself. Half way up the hill my bike came to a halt. I could no longer find the stamina, strength or breath to keep pedaling. There I was again stopped on a hill and out of breath.

One might say that these stories of exercise are analogous to my story of coming to seminary. At 38 years old, I thought I knew most of what I needed to know and had the experience of ministry as a lay person and leader in the church. Of course, I had to come to seminary for ordination in the Episcopal Church, but I thought to myself, “Seminary…No problem.” Sure I have a daughter and a brand new baby boy, but I have been to college and already earned a graduate degree. This is just something I thought I needed to get through.

As you might have guessed, the hill has been steeper than imagined, and I have found myself out of breath several times on the way up. As I realized how out of shape I was physically, I have realized how much I was lacking in my spiritual maturity and learning—my Christian shape.

God has brought my family and me on this journey through seminary by his grace and care for us. I know now that this seminary experience is essential for me and my ministry. The Holy Spirit has held my hand and ministered to me through every aspect of my life here. The learning of seminary, the community, my family, our friends and supporters have all been instruments of the Lord’s loving approach to me.

One of the most apparent examples of God’s blessing to us has come through the hospitality of the seminary community and the new friends we have met in the area. My family and I have been guests for dinner at over a dozen homes of new friends. The first invitation came our second day in Ambridge from a fellow student. We have responded by inviting friends to our home for dinner and events. In this way and in a brief period time, God has established for us intense loving relationships, the very thing we needed during this season of our lives.

These relationships that continue to grow every day have helped me to catch my breath. What sweet air there is in the midst of charitable hospitality!

By the time that the days shortened and the leaves fell this past autumn, I had built up the stamina to run up the hill and to bike up the inclines with no breaks and “no problem” breathing. The activity of seminary continues to take my breath frequently. My spiritual stamina grows steadily, though, as I stay on pace. During this season of preparation and sharpening, I am confident that God is doing his work in me, a work that is good and essential. For my help during this work, he has blessed me with a loving family and loving community that continually help me keep my eyes on the prize while anchored in love and grace.