The Beginning of the End, 5: Unravelling

A half mile. I only needed to make it a half mile.

The words echoed over in my suddenly frozen, utterly numb brain. My body moved, but the wheel was unmanned. Luckily, I’d walked the path between Campus House and my home so many times I didn’t need to pay attention, just to keep moving.

Past the dilapidated Spanish villa . . . past the University greenhouses . . . then the house with the “You honk, we drink!” sign on the porch . . . the driveway with the Gatorade-logoed basketball court . . . just one block, almost home . . .

As I drew nearer, the tears started to come. “Oh Lord, let me just get inside. Please let me just get inside.”

I cut across the yard and burst in the front door. Sitting on the couch, Mikala looked up in surprise, barely able to form a question as I dropped the letter in her lap and kept walking, unbidden tears leaking out like a ship with growing gashes in the hull. I ran to the room and shut the door as the dam burst.

And then I fell apart.

Collapsed on the floor, sobbing hysterically – flat out ugly-crying. Uncontrolled wails, snot, the works. I don’t know how long I was there: minutes, maybe an hour; then Mikala walked in, helped me up and held me as I wept into her shoulder.

She gently asked, “What happened?”

“It’s over. They fired me.”

“I know. What happened?”

“Did you read the letter?”

“Not all of it.”

Minutes later I took a breath and, between post-hysterics hiccups, explained how the world came crashing down.

About four hours earlier…

Mikala and our new hire, sat in my office for the weekly staff meeting, discussing the previous day’s service and successful early-semester activities. We talked about the upcoming retreat at The Farmhouse for our student leaders and early local church interest when my phone rang. Surprised to see my friend from the Board’s name, I answered.

“Hi Josh. Do you have time this morning for [the chairman] and I to stop by?”

“Well we’re in a staff meeting now, can you swing by after lunch?”

We hung up and I looked curiously at the other two and wondered aloud what this was about. As we prayed to end, I casually asked for them to keep the impending meeting in mind and we broke for the day, then turned to the next week’s sermon while Mikala went home with the kids. Try as I might, though, something didn’t sit right.

Was that the moment I knew?

When the two Directors finally arrived a couple hours later, I greeted them warmly, but the words died in my throat when I saw their faces. The face of my friend was particularly disturbing: I had no idea he could look so deeply sad.

Was that the moment I knew?

I moved so they could shuffle past, the chairman handing me a sealed envelope as he did so, and they found a seat across the room. Feigning nonchalance, I forced a smile and fumbled with the envelope; it took years to open.

Was that the moment I knew?

Nearly ripping the letter itself, I finally extracted it from the mangled envelope and began to read. August 29. Had they just written this? How did they get our letterhead? – I thought they hated that logo . . .

Dear Josh,
The CCH Board of Directors met on August 24, 2016 to discuss our grave concerns over the current teaching and direction of the Campus House. . . .

My blood drained as I read. The letter took an entire page to make its point and I was painfully aware of the two men watching me the whole time. Once I finally made it to the end, I was numb, utterly unable to string together a unified thought. I tried to protest, to ask why, to say that I thought we had an ongoing conversation about these things – that our disagreements had been positive.

The chairman tried to argue the point and a broken dialogue began until the man whom I had for so many months taken for a friend croaked, “Josh, please stop.” His eyes wouldn’t move from my feet but he repeated, “Stop. Not now” and the words died in my throat.

The men left without another word and I, after showing the letter to our new guy and satisfying myself that he too was taken by surprise, packed up as quickly as I could and started the half mile walk home.

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