Stepping Out

Last time I left the country was about 12 years ago. I had only been married for 4 years, I had no children. I went all the way to Europe, spending a week in Kiev, Ukraine, working with a small church over there to do some outreach events in their neighborhood.

The trip was a growing experience for me and probably for my wife. It was the first time that we had been apart from each other for that length of time and that geographic distance. I was in a new place where I didn’t know the language, meeting new people and trying to do my best to assimilate and blend in, something I found much easier for me than my companions on the team.

Tomorrow, I board a plane and leave the country again, this time for Costa Rica. 12 years and 3 children later, this will prove to be yet another growing experience for me, my wife, and our family. I’ll be gone for 10 days working with a team to put on a children’s camp in the mountains.

I’ll be honest, I’ve resisted this trip from the start, and I’ve been asking myself why the moment that the resistance began. While there are factors here and there that might contribute to my resistance, the biggest one has to do with my family.

For years, I never had to travel significantly for work. The furthest that I had to go was down the street or a few towns over. Over the last few years, I’ve had to travel for work more frequently, one state away, a few states away, across the country. It was hard for me whether I was gone for 2 days or 7 days, I just never liked to leave my family. But the thing that always made it easier was a phone call or a video call, the ability to hear or see my family through technology.

And that’s one of the reasons why this trip will be harder for me, aside from the day and a half in the beginning and the two days on the back end, I won’t be in contact with my family.

I’ll be about good work, God’s work, assisting in the lives of kids who don’t always have the opportunity to do what they’ll be doing. I’m familiar with the language, not fluent, but familiar enough to carry on casual conversations. I think that’ll make some of the discomfort a little easier.

What’s that phrase that’s always thrown around? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? What if I’m already fond?

I don’t know all that will happen while I am away, both where I am and back at home, but I’m pretty certain that this trip will change us, all of us, in my family. I think my heart will grow, both for my family and for the world. I think that my perspective of God’s kingdom will grow, seeing how we are connected despite geographical boundaries, borders, and ethnic variances.

Christians in the western world can too often forget that God’s kingdom is so much bigger and more expansive than we are, trips like this help to bring that into perspective. I’m excited to see what God will do, nervous and anxious along the way, but I’m sure there’ll be a story or two to write about when I get back!

 

Hopeless Romantic?

I’m not sure just what it is, but every single time my kids have a school program, I’m trying to hold back tears.

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

Fall. Winter. Spring. It doesn’t even matter what time of year it is, I’m like a basket case in my seat as I watch my kids do things that surprise and amaze me, that make me smile and cry all at the same time 

It’s not like these programs are tear-inducing programs. No hint of Hallmark here, but somehow or another, they still find ways of hitting me right in the chest.

Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that during every single program, at least once, I am wishing that my mom and dad were there. But I think it goes way beyond that. I think it stems from the fact that there is pride (not the bad kind) that wells up within me as I see my kids doing things that make them stand out. How can a mom or dad NOT be proud of their kids when they’re doing what kids should be doing? 

I’ll be honest, it’s an emotional time of year for me anyway. All it takes is one song to throw me back about 30 years. I’m transported to my childhood home with smells and sights and sounds that have been eternally etched on my brain. I can picture everything. Christmas tree. Pajamas. Presents. Green rug. Hi-Fi circa 1975 or thereabouts. Evie singing “Come On, Ring Those Bells” from that Hi-Fi stereo, complete with the cracks and pops that only vinyl can offer.

But like I said, I well up any time of year. These kids always blow me away. I guess it’s yet one more picture of grace that I see in my everyday life. I realize just what I have that I don’t deserve. I realize how far short I fall from being who I really wish that I was, and yet my kids still manage to keep plugging along without the help of therapists…..at least for now.

As I sat there on the hard bench of the cafeteria bench watching my middle child perform in his holiday play, I was just blown away. The kid can act. The kid can memorize. The kid can work a room. The kid can make a joke. While my eyes welled up, so did my pride as I thought, “What have I done to deserve this?”

It’s a time of year when you really see the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots”….at least if you really look around. As much as I keep wanting, it’s a time of year that I am reminded just how blessed that I am 

Here we are, two weeks from Christmas, and I’m blubbering at the sight of an inflatable Rudolph in the neighborhood…..it might just be a LOOOOONNNNNGGGGG 2 weeks!

Deep down inside, I’m a hopeless romantic, but I guess I hide it well. Maybe it’s self-preservation and self-defense, but regardless, there’s way more emotion down deep than most people who just get a casual glance at me would really expect or imagine. I’m fine with that.

There are a lot of things to hope for during this time of year, but my biggest hope is that I can be half the man that my children and wife deserve. I am a blessed man, blessed beyond measure.

Now, let me go find a good Christmas movie to continue with my blubbering!!!

Grab A Hand

father-son-holding-handsI’ve been volunteering at my kids’ school as often as I can. My mom did such an incredible job of this when my brother and I were kids that she modeled it well. I consider myself fortunate that I have the flexibility to volunteer and I know that the window of opportunity for this is much more limited than most of us really consider.

Last year, my oldest son signed up for running club at the school. It’s an after school program that encourages fitness but also rewards kids for pushing themselves. The gym teacher who runs it gave out little colored running shoe keychains to mark accomplishments that the students had made in their own progress.

My oldest is fairly cerebral and would much rather read a good book or play a video game than throw a ball. He’s found some activities that he likes and we’ve done our best to encourage them. So, when he expressed his interest in this, I jumped at the opportunity to encourage him by not only signing him up, but by volunteering myself to be a part of it.

Over the years, I’ve watched those who have gone before me in their parenting styles and skills. I’ve done my best to glean good practices from them that I have seen and mark those other practices that have not proved to be quite as effective. One of the practices that I’ve seen work so well for parents of multiple children is “dating” their children. This just involves taking them out one on one to do special and fun things together.

The things that I’ve chosen to do with my kids haven’t been grandiose or extravagant. Sometimes it’s just a trip to Home Depot or Goodwill. Involving them in the most common tasks can easily help them to feel important and involved. Activities like this running club have proven to be super beneficial for my relationship with my son as well.

The other day, after the club had finished and we were all walking back from the field to the gym, my son walked alongside me and grasped my hand. At that moment, I felt like the child as I glanced around to see whether or not anyone else was looking. I wasn’t embarrassed to hold my son’s hand, but I was surprised that it didn’t seem like something that was even on his radar. We walked back to the gym, hand in hand, talking about the day and his run. As we walked, I took a mental snapshot, capturing that moment in my brain because I knew that moments like that were fleeting and I wouldn’t have them forever.

I was so thankful for that moment. I was thankful that I had established a relationship with my son where he felt comfortable, even in 4th grade, grabbing his dad’s hand with his peers all around him. I was thankful that the affection that I’ve tried so hard to pour out on him was coming back to me. Not that I poured it out to get it back, but the return was an added benefit. I was thankful that it gave me a glimpse of the future relationship between my son and I, when we move from being father and son to being friends.

It was only the grabbing of a hand, but it meant a lot to me. These are the moments that legacy is made of, how we are remembered and how we remember. They happen when we least expect it and they certainly can’t be contrived or created. I’m hoping for many more, but I won’t try too hard to make them happen, I’ll just seize the opportunities, make myself available, and hope that they continue to come towards me.

Winding Down

As my three month sabbatical winds down, it’s hard to put in words the impact that it has had on me. There have been some people who have, whether jokingly or not, assumed that it has just been a three month vacation for me. That’s hardly been the case as I have engaged in training and learning experiences along the way. Not to oversell the moment, but I feel as if the lessons learned during this time will have a ripple effect for months and years to come, both in my immediate family as well as my church family.

I’ve learned an awful lot about myself during this time, some that has made me happy and some that has made me reconsider my approaches towards things. I consider myself to be a person who is constantly assessing myself and the things that I do. I don’t like status quo for the sake of the status quo but would rather see if I can be stretched and challenged to find new and different ways to be who God made me as well as do the things that I need to do.

As I knew setting out, there were some things that just wouldn’t get done while on sabbatical. I feel like I set my sights high without going into “overachiever” mode. I have found in the past that I have often set my sights so high that my own inability to accomplish things ended up being a frustration or bone of contention to me. Instead of feeling like I was improving, I focused more on all the things that I didn’t accomplish, which wasn’t helpful for me or the process of growth.

I have found that we as a society too often move quickly from one thing to the next without fully embracing what’s before us or allowing the experience to wash over us, change us, and reform us. It’s happened far too often in my own life and I’ve seen the results afterwards. In some ways, it’s like taking the caterpillar out of the cocoon before it’s fully been formed into a butterfly. The results are not nearly as satisfying as they could be had the process taken full affect. In fact, the results can be disastrous if the process of growth is stunted or stopped.

One of the biggest takeaways for me, which I am sure will be unpacked more and more in the months to come, is about slowing down. I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have heard from parents of older children how quickly time goes. There is no stopping or slowing down the passing of time, it marches on regardless of whether or not we want it to or go along with it. Some will put the brakes on and will find themselves left behind in the wake of a changing world. Some may embrace the change so greatly that they forget that the change is not for change’s sake but for the sake of a changed self.

While I can’t slow time, I can slow myself. I don’t have to conform to the ways of harried schedules and overcommitments. I don’t have to allow myself to get washed into the stream of busyness that seems to haunt us all if we aren’t careful. I can’t slow time, but I can choose what to do with the time that I have.

I have no doubt that memories have been made in me and my family during my three months. I have no doubt that I am different than I was at the outset of this sabbatical. Like Frodo and the hobbits sitting in their local pub having come back from the journey of a lifetime, the world is different and there is no choice but to see it through new eyes, eyes that somehow look clearer and more vivid than they did before.

I don’t fully know all that has happened within me over this time, but I am going to do my best to probe and mine it, to find out what’s beneath the surface, to see the changes that have begun to take shape and form in me. My prayer is that those changes will ripple far beyond me into all those that I come into contact with on a regular basis.

Making Memories, Slowing Down, Being Flexible

IMG_2566I’m coming up to the halfway point of my cross country trip with my family. We’re about 3100 miles into the trip and it’s been an adventure. I’ve never had to change the oil on a trip before. It wasn’t because of bad timing on my part, it was because we’ve just drive THAT many miles.

We got all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico and finally had to use our camping gear that had been stored in a roof cargo bag. Turns out, with the high temperatures and high speeds that we had been driving (all within the speed limit), the cargo bag didn’t fare very well. So, we were forced to move everything that had been on the roof into the car. 5 people, luggage, a plug-in cooler, camping gear, and everything else that we had, all packed into a mini-van.

Sound like fun yet?

We’ve seen the Biltmore House, Graceland, the French Quarter, the Civil Rights Museum, the Alamo. Carlsbad Caverns, and we’ve not even gotten to Hollywood yet.

It’s been a whirlwind and my brain hasn’t been able to process things nearly as quickly as I am seeing them. My camera shutter is going off a mile a minute and I’m wondering when my wife is going to ask the inevitable question of how many pictures I’ve taken on the trip and whether I’m going to actually include anyone in those pictures.

We’ve changed our plans here and there, abandoned destinations, added destinations, been forced to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances, and tried to keep three kids nine years old and younger occupied and under control for the thousands of miles that we have driven. Throughout all of it, there are three big lessons that have emerged. Make memories. Slow Down. Be flexible.

I have been constantly amazed at the fact that the things that I think are going to capture my kids seem to be met with ho-hum responses while the things that I wouldn’t have expected would garner excitement and response are the ones to which they react to the most strongly. It’s the moments which you least expect which are the ones that will probably last the longest.

I’ve witnessed the sun rise over the desert mountains in New Mexico with my son on multiple mornings. As we watched the sun climb up the horizon, I couldn’t help but put my arm around him, hold him a little closer, and realize that we were sharing a moment together, no one else. We’ve been to gift shops galore, bought the T-shirts and the snow globes, but it’s moments like these that will make the largest mark on my kids.

Although we’ve been to some amazing places, seen some amazing things, my daughter seems to want to judge the places we stay on their swimming pools. So, taking time to swim in these pools has had to be part of our routine, as much as possible. They’re all pools to me, but they hold some kind of magic for her. Not sure why, but there’s really no point in arguing. Swimming pools on rooftops in New Orleans to swimming pools in the desert in New Mexico, they all seem to capture the eye of my four year old, and I bet she’ll remember them when everything else seems to fade away.

Memories can’t be forcefully made. I’ve had to remind myself of that over and over again. As much as I would love to create moments along the way, the ones that stick are the ones for which I never planned, the ones that sneak up on me, the ones that just happen, without any pre-planning or contriving. Those are the moments that make for the best memories, and you just have to go with them.

There have been moments when we’ve had to put movies on the DVD player for the kids. As much as I would love for them to be as enamored with the landscape as much as my wife and I have been, I know that they just aren’t and I can’t force it. One of the films we brought along for them to watch is “Cars,” the Pixar movie. The more I watch that movie, the more I fall in love with it, and although I didn’t actually watch it (I just listened to the audio as I drove along), I couldn’t help but have my heart strings tugged when James Taylor sings about “Our Town” and I began to realize yet again how quickly things can change around you.

At one point in the movie, Lightning McQueen (the main character) and his love interest, Sally, go for a drive. It’s something McQueen isn’t familiar with, after all, he’s a race car. The idea of just going for a drive on a country road doesn’t really make any sense to him…..until he does it. Sure, his motives weren’t pure at first, but then he realizes what can happen when you just slow down.

I’ve found the same thing. When I stop rushing around and slow down, I see things that I didn’t see before, I hear things that I hadn’t heard before, the world just looks different to me. Slowing down means that I can’t pack my schedule so tight that there’s no breathing room. When my schedule is so jam-packed, the inevitable response from me will be frustration because there is no margin of error built into my schedule. Plans are good, but planning too tightly will simply result in frustration and, eventually, anger. That’s never a good place to be.

Finally, I’m learning to be flexible. I’m learning that it doesn’t matter if we take a detour. I’m learning that you can’t see everything and that the things that you want to see might not be what everyone else wants to see. Flexibility is not a family trait that I have inherited (I’ve blogged about it before), so I’ve got to work a little harder at it. But as I work to be more flexible, it leaves the space that I talked about above and it also leaves space for the memories to be made.

I won’t lie and say that there hasn’t been any frustration on the trip. There has been shouting. There have been tears. There has been anger, but I think that should be expected considering the circumstances. But we’re doing our best to make this trip of a lifetime really live up to what we’ve been calling it all along. The. Trip. Of. A. Lifetime.

We’re so incredibly grateful for this time as a family and I don’t even think that we will fully appreciate just what it’s meant to all of us for months and years to come. We’re reaching the halfway point and I can’t wait to see how this adventure goes!

The Adventure Begins

griswoldsFive people. One mini-van. Over 3000 miles. Over a dozen states. Three and a half weeks. That’s the adventure.

In some denominations, it’s traditional for pastors to be given a three month sabbatical every seven years. Having been in my current context for nearly nine years and having experienced significant transitions in life and ministry over those past nine years, the leadership of my church graciously recommended a three month sabbatical for me and my family.

Over the past two months, I’ve visited other communities of faith, spent some significant time with others in ministry, attended some training to become a Strengths Communicator, read, written, and rested. I’ve traveled to Minnnesota, Connecticut, North Carolina, and now, the adventure begins with my family.

Road trips were my vacations as a kid. We didn’t go on any expensive vacations to exotic locations, my parents just couldn’t afford it. We went to Disney here and there, but for the most part, we just traveled up and down the east coast. Growing up, we had relatives in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. We would take trips during the summer to spend time with these family members and although I don’t recall any big expensive experiences that we had, I have vivid memories of all the things we DID do.

Now, my family and I are in the midst of our own road trip and adventure, traveling across the United States, seeing what we can see, connecting with old friends from days gone by, and making memories as we go. The final destination: Los Angeles. After that, we head back home in a roundabout way.

As we’ve planned for this trip, I’ve smiled at how everyone has an opinion of what we should see. Others give us that look that says, “Are you crazy?” One high school friend of mine even claimed that the idea of being stuck together for three weeks in a mini-van was her idea of hell.

Regardless of how crazy we are or how many landmarks, parks, and other things that we DON’T see, we’re still going to have a blast. I expect that we’ll miss some things. There will be arguments along the way. There will be times when we’ll probably want to kill each other, but at the end of the day, there will be stories.

We’ve already started to create our own stories and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Telling the Stories

While visiting family in Connecticut the other night, we all found ourselves sitting around a table listening to my wife’s grandmother tell stories. She told stories of trips that she took when my wife was young, stories of trips she took when my father-in-law was young, and stories of trips she took when she was young. We all laughed as mental pictures ran through our minds.

As I sat there at the table listening, I was struck by the fact that I was participating in something special. It was something that has been going on for generations and generations. Stories were being passed on, not by writing them down, but by the oral tradition of storytelling.

I wondered how many people before me had done similarly. Many of them might have done it around campfires or candles or lanterns that barely lit up their meager homes. Here I was taking part in something special.

After my mom and dad died, I didn’t have any major regrets. Our relationships were good and there was nothing between us that had been left unsaid. There was no bitterness or anger, no resentment or animosity, there was simply love, respect, and appreciation. If there was anything that I regretted it was not paying more attention when I came across situations like what happened the other night. I regretted not having asked the millions of questions that run through my mind even now. I regret not having heard, ingested, and memorized the stories that I so desperately wish my parents had passed on to me.

Not too long ago, one of my kids had taken to asking my wife and I to tell him a childhood story every night when we laid down with him before bed. It was a bigger challenge than I thought that it would be. At first, I kind of thought that it was a drag, what did he care what I did when I was his age. Then I began to realize just how important these stories were to him, to the point that I found myself thinking about what story I might tell him that night as I daydreamed throughout my day.

Stories are important to us. We are storied people. We can write things down and pass them on that way, but there is something about the oral tradition. There is something about hearing a story weaved out before you. From my own experience, I think some of my stories grow when they are told orally. The fish might be bigger, the car ride may have been longer, the rain may have been harder, and every detail that I tell may just grow a little bit with each telling of the story. That’s part of the fun of it.

All of this talk of story just solidifies in my mind how important the next few weeks will be for me and my family as we go on our adventure. As we weave our way across the United States, I wonder what stories will stand out the most to my kids. I wonder how they will tell them a few weeks from now, a few months from now, and a few years from now. I wonder how they will grow. I wonder how much longer the journey will get as they pass these stories on to all who will listen.

I’ve got to find a way to remember some more of the stories of my childhood. I know that they’re there in the recesses of my mind, waiting to be mined and dragged from their hiding places. I’ve got to give them some more thought and make sure that I share as many of them as I possibly can, after all, my kids might not always ask me to tell them and there will eventually come a day when I won’t be around to tell them all the things that I never had the chance to.

Expect the Unexpected

When I began my sabbatical a month and a half ago, I went into it with a plan. There were three goals that I had, there were books to be read, training sessions to be attended, and meetings to be had. Over the course of the seven weeks of sabbatical so far, some of the best things that have happened have been the things that are unplanned, unexpected, and unscripted.

It’s taken me quite some time in my life to come to a place where I embrace Plan B. I like structure, I like the familiar, and I like control. Flexibility is not something that runs in my family, anyone who knew my father knows that well. Happiness is a warm and familiar blanket, even if that blanket is tattered, worn, and falling apart.

My family has been visiting with family over the last week and a half. Family has always been important to my wife and to me. We both have had good relationships with our siblings, our parents, and our extended family. We’ve been truly blessed in that regard as we know that isn’t the case for all of our friends. I’ve often silently rejoiced in the relationship that I have with my in-laws, well before I lost my parents even. Family is something that you can’t choose, but it’s also something that is too easy to take for granted until you lose it, which I know from firsthand experience.

Among the adventures and events that we’ve been a part of in our time away, we were able to spend time at a family gathering last week with family that we don’t get to see or talk with all that often. In talking with one family member, I felt that the conversation had only just begun and that we needed some additional time to unpack some things together.

The other day, I was finally able to connect with this family member. We met up and spent a few hours together and at the end of that time, I marveled at the unexpected blessing that the time was for me. I told this family member that our time together wasn’t even on my radar screen last week when we got here and it certainly wasn’t on my radar screen when I started my sabbatical. The time spent together was encouraging, challenging, convicting, and insightful. I’d like to think that I’m different than I was before we got together.

There are moments in life when I get a strong sense deep inside that I should be doing something or should stop doing something. As a follower of Christ, I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit that is prompting me along the way. What constantly amazes me (although it shouldn’t) is when things that I have held deep inside are confirmed by people who have not been part of the ongoing conversation, with whom I haven’t shared anything. The fact that they are able to offer relevant insights without knowing the specific situation is a testament (in my opinion) to the fact that there’s something else going on beneath the surface, forces at work that go far beyond me.

It wasn’t just this conversation, although this conversation was certainly a highlight, it was lots of conversations along the way. As painful as it’s been for me to lose my parents, it’s been a reminder to me that there are still others that I have that are valuable to me and who can offer insights. I’m not trying to replace my parents and what they brought to my life, but I am trying to appreciate what I still have right in front of me. Conversations over lunch, conversations over coffee, conversations at the end of the day, these are the things that mean so much to me, the things that aren’t scripted and yet give such life to me.

I’m growing to expect the unexpected, but the only way that can really happen is to live life with an openness, with open hands and open arms. Yes, it’s important to have a plan, but it’s in the space around those plans that we can learn the most, that we can find the most life. When we plan things so rigidly and pack our schedules so tightly, we don’t leave room for the unexpected to take place, we’re simply rushing from one thing to the next, becoming zombies and slaves to the schedule.

During my time away, I have found my own need for space, for breathing room, for rest, for openness. The conversations and moments in life that I have appreciated the most have generally been the ones that haven’t been planned, that have come on unexpectedly.

Here’s to expecting the unexpected, it’s in those little crevasses along the way that we can find life.

Sabbatical – Week 1

Here I am, finally at the sabbatical for which I have been waiting. The hours leading up to it seemed harried, stressful, and somewhat surreal. It’s very hard to step away from something in which you’ve immersed your life, all the while knowing that rest and reinvigoration need to be a part of our lives if we think we’re going to stick around for any length of time.

I continue to be grateful for an opportunity that my father never had before me. Although he was a pastor for over 40 years, he never had a sabbatical. While there are some who think he would have gone stir crazy during a sabbatical, I think that’s one of the main reasons why he should have had one, to learn to be still.

Despite popular belief, a sabbatical is not a long vacation. In order to get to this point, I had to put together a plan with goals. Just like stay at home moms don’t sit around and eat bon bons all day, I won’t be sitting at home during these 13 weeks or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool all day long. Rest is an important part of this time, but so is reflection and learning.

I’m excited to spend some time at other local churches that I’ve wanted to visit for years. Having been in this area for nearly nine years, my visits to other houses of worship have been limited…very limited. We’ve had some invites to some other churches where our friends attend and are looking forward to taking advantage of this time to do this. There are also other places where we have been wanting to visit where we don’t really know anyone, so it will be an exciting time to take that all in.

I’ll be heading to a sister church for a few days to spend time with their staff and pastors. We have gotten to know them a little over these past few years through our denominational meetings. They’ve been incredibly gracious in setting up a fairly full schedule for me while I am there. I am looking forward to hearing them share their insights and wisdom that they have gained since they were planted fifteen or so years ago.

I’ll be spending some time with a dear friend and mentor who has extended invitations to me to come visit him in Lynchburg, Virginia. I look  forward to spending time with him as I always do. We usually meet up for lunch in Charlottesville, so this will be a nice change and opportunity.

I’m heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota for four days total to be trained in StrengthsFinders. As that time grows closer, I will be updating this blog about my takeaways and insights. StrengthsFinders has been a valuable resource for me and my wife in our nearly fifteen years of marriage. I’m looking forward to digging deeper and helping others to see the potentials when they can better understand their strengths.

Our sabbatical will end with a cross country trip. Two adults, three kids, one mini-van……it’s will be an adventure, if nothing else. We’ll get the chance to see some good friends along the way. Friends from many different chapters of life spread out across the United States. Texas. California. South Dakota. Ohio. We’ll throw some family in here and there in New Orleans, North Carolina, and it will make for a full trip.

In the time leading up to my sabbatical, God was already beginning to show me some neat things. I’m still processing those out, but I plan to share them as they take shape in my head.

Looking forward to this journey!

One Week To Go

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.