I stepped off of the platform yesterday morning after preaching a sermon on Mother’s Day, a particularly hard day for me since losing my mom five years ago. A friend had said to me earlier, “How do you always get stuck preaching Mother’s Day?” I smiled at him and actually thought about the privilege that I would have to share a little bit more of a glimpse of my mom to whoever happened to be inhabiting the chairs and listening.
As my body dropped into my chair, I was exhausted. It wasn’t just the weight of this day that I was feeling, it was actually the weight of the past five years. I had recounted January 31, 2011, the day my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but less than two years after that, my dad died. I was involved in a very difficult process with a church after that and a large group of us launched out on our own.
As life continued to pass me by, I was fortunate to hear about the potential of a reprieve coming my way. In my particular denomination, there is a practice of giving pastors a three month sabbatical every seven years. I was secretly hoping and praying that an exception might be made for me despite some of the technicalities that may cause people to scratch their heads. I was ordained in another denomination twelve years ago this month. I’ve been in my current position (in some shape or form) for the past eight and a half years but did not transfer my ordination fully until a few years ago.
Imagine my excitement when I found out that I would be granted a full sabbatical this year! I could hardly contain that excitement, but I was pacing myself to the time when it finally began.
Now, I sit a week away from that sabbatical, and I feel like I’m sputtering to the finish line. It’s been a rough five years and I could recount the many things that made it that way. Like the Israelites, I seem to find the most meandering route to my destination, a route that hardly seems to be the easiest either. And despite those around me asking me for the countdown until the beginning of my sabbatical, I hadn’t really been keeping track of the days myself…….until the last few weeks.
Sitting in that chair after preaching an emotionally draining sermon on Mother’s Day, I lifted up a silent prayer of thanksgiving for what was to come. I need a break.
Despite popular belief, a sabbatical isn’t an extended vacation. I’ve got lots of plans for that time period. In fact, I wrote up a five page report to present to our Human Resources committee to explain just what would happen during this time. While rest is a big part of what I hope to experience during the time, I also expect to do a lot of learning.
I’ll be spending some time at a sister church just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. We’ve gotten to know some of their staff well and have been intrigued at what God has been doing in their church. Spending a few days with them will be energizing, encouraging, and enlightening.
I will also be attending some training for becoming a Strengths Finders coach. Strengths Finders is an assessment that has been a huge part of my life over the last fifteen years. It has helped me to understand myself, my wife, and those around me. It’s helped me to extend grace when my instinct is to not do so. It’s helped me as I’ve discipled others and tried to point them in a direction towards things that will energize and invigorate them. I am hoping that the training will further enhance my ability to coach others towards using their God-given gifts to serve.
I’ll spend some time with a cherished mentor who has been an encouragement to me over the last few years. There are other various trips that I will take all culminating with a family cross country trip at the end as my family and I make our way to California and back, staying with friends, in hotels, in tents, and various other places along the way.
This will be an adventure and I can’t wait to see what God shows me over the course of this adventure. I plan to do my best at writing out my thoughts and insights along the way. It will help me to stay connected without really staying connected.
Just one week to go, and although these last seven days leading up to this time may seem to crawl along, when the time comes, I’ll drink it in and enjoy the moments set before me.
I’m looking forward to sharing and hope that you’ll stick around to read what insights God might give me along the way.