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!

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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.

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!

Love and Death and Memories

Our family road tripping continued with more adventure this summer. We started out our adventures a few weeks ago when, on our way down to Orlando in our family van, the transmission blew out on us. It was fortunately under warranty and a friend graciously loaned us an extra vehicle that fit our entire family. While it was a bit smaller of a vehicle, we were so grateful for the generosity of this friend.

We came home to find that the initial transmission replacement was not adequate, so we waited a second time, knowing that we had another road trip coming up. Once the transmission was replaced, other stuff started happening to the van. Sensors quit functioning and were replaced but lights continued to go off and we continued to scratch our heads. You know that it’s not good when the mechanic gives the car back to you and says that you would be better off going to the dealer.

After going to a dealer close to home, we thought that we were in the clear for our trip to Connecticut. After getting the car back from the dealer, I test drove it on the highway, on the back roads, and all around town, putting a decent amount of miles on it to ensure that we would be okay for our trip.

We left at our usual 4AM time slot and got about an hour and a half from home before the car started acting up again. There’s nothing like the tension one feels in one’s shoulders and back while driving another five and a half hours wondering whether or not your car is going to make it to its intended destination while packed with belongings, family, and all.

We made it to our destination and dropped it off once again at a car dealer to see if our problem could be remedied. We quickly realized the difference between the pace of life and busyness back at home in Virginia versus in Connecticut where much of our family resides. In Virginia, we dropped the car off and got it back fairly quickly. In Connecticut, we waited a few days just to have it seen.

Amidst all of this, we attended a family wedding and had a chance to catch up with family that we only see a few times a year. The wedding was simple and fun and we enjoyed our time together. That night, our adventure would continue.

I woke up the next morning to texts from my brother alerting me that my uncle, my father’s brother, had passed away during the night. My wife and I had hoped to have a chance to see him before this happened. His health had begun to decline more rapidly over the last few months and we missed an opportunity to gather with family a few months back when they knew that the time would be short until his passing. Life doesn’t always afford us the breaks and getaways that we desire, and that was one time when it didn’t. Weekends are always tough for pastors to get away.

I spent the better part of that day processing through the news of my uncle’s death. I could spend a whole lot of posts expounding on the life lessons that I have learned in the last few days, and I expect that I probably will. There is much to be shared about redemption, about reconciliation, about love, about grace, and about forgiveness. There is much to be shared about family, about brotherly love, about protection, and about stories that sometimes come to us much later than we would have hoped.

I’m looking forward to sharing in the days ahead. As I said to a friend when she privately offered condolences to me over the loss of my uncle, I have seen the fingerprints of God throughout this situation. I haven’t tried to look for God in the midst of every circumstance, he made himself abundantly known in the midst of every. single. One!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Still Turning

Life has been interesting over the last few weeks. My two oldest children finished their school year and the next day, I had nose and sinus surgery. The recovery hasn’t been awful, but trying to slow down for recovery in the midst of a busy life is always a challenge.

The denomination of which I am a part hosts their annual gathering every year in June. As it is a national organization with churches from around the 50 states (and beyond), they try to change the location up every year to accommodate for everyone. Last year, it was in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year, it’s in Orlando, Florida. They also try to make the gathering family friendly, providing opportunities for the entire family during the time together.

So, this year, we decided to take the whole family.

We also decided that we would take two days to get down to Orlando, although we could do it in just one. Last year, we came down for a Disney vacation and we took two days getting down and it seemed like it worked out well.

So, after church on Sunday, we set off on our way.

As I was still recovering from my surgery, I hadn’t contributed much to the growing list that my wife had been making for the trip. I was feeling a little out of it still and I was a little overwhelmed with other stuff that was happening around me. So, my wife had done a lot of solo planning as the day drew nearer for our departure.

With three young children, it’s not unusual for us to turn back home for something that’s been forgotten as we start our trips. It’s actually one good reason that we need to use checklists when we go on trips like this, it helps us save time in the long run.

It wasn’t a surprise for us then, when we made it two blocks and had to turn around. It was a little bit more of a surprise when we got just north of the City of Richmond and we headed home for the camera. I’ve made enough trips in my day to begin to be a little bit more patient with myself and with my family for forgotten items. Some things can be replaced at Target or WalMart for a limited price, but others just require you to turn around and go home. I thought that the camera was one of them.

When we finally got on our way the third time, I settled into the driver’s seat and called a friend who is contemplating a move to Richmond. As we were talking, I noticed smoke in my rearview mirror that seemed to be coming from our van. I also noticed that the van was revving much higher than normal.

I excused myself from my phone call and pulled off the highway. As I made my way into the gas station that was conveniently located at the end of the exit ramp, I smiled to myself as I pulled out of my AAA card at the fact that I had actually looked at that same card weeks earlier and asked myself, “Does it really make sense for us to keep paying for this?” Little did I know!

A tow truck came in about 20 minutes and drove us back home. Because of our multiple false starts, we were actually closer to home than we would have been had we not forgotten cameras and other things. I also realized that my rebuilt transmission was most likely still under warranty.

I was remaining surprisingly calm despite the unexpected and unpredictable circumstances, fairly uncharacteristic of me. Our tow truck had his wife with him and they were both very cordial to my family.

While I was more calm than usual, my kids were panicking a little bit. They didn’t really know what I was going to be up to for the majority of our trip, all they knew was that the trip would end with them at Lego Land. My youngest was the most distraught, not completely understanding that other options were available for us to get to Florida.

One thing that my wife and I have said multiple times in multiple circumstances over the nearly eight years that we have been in our community is that we have never experienced anything like it before. Having had two of our three children in those eight years as well as finishing seminary, losing both of my parents, going through a church split, and experiencing various other events, we have always, always, always experienced the grace and generosity of the people with whom we are closest……and even some who we haven’t really had the chance to get to know well yet.

Within an hour of getting home after being picked up at the mechanic from my lead pastor, we had four different offers for vehicles to take to Florida. Four.

Four.

Different.

Offers.

People knew where we were headed, and they still were willing to let us take their various vehicles on this Griswold-esque road trip.

While three of the offers were from closer friends, one was from a friend who I’ve only begun to get to know. He has actually gone through a lot himself in the past year or so, yet his willingness to be so kind and generous had left me speechless. He was willing to give to our family to get us out of a bind.

Like so many things in life, there’s way more to the story than just that, but the bottom line is that less than 24 hours after being delayed, we were back on our way. Another 24 hours after that, I received word that our transmission was indeed still covered under the warranty.

As I made my way towards Orlando after that phone call, I recounted the past days of events. Detours and delays. Acts of kindness and generosity. It all made me smile and I found it hard to believe that someone might think that there was no such thing as God.

Why, Part 2

It’s funny how life can imitate art commentating on life.

Yesterday, with no hint of what the day would hold, I wrote a post called, “Why?” I never realized that by day’s end, I would find myself uttering that question and wondering about the timing of things in life.

My wife and I had been eagerly waiting to get the nickel tour of our former church from my father-in-law. He had done a good deal of work on their new building and had overseen a large portion of it as well, so I (as an engineer) was anxious to see and hear all about the building. We waited until after we had run some errands in the morning and after we had eaten lunch before we headed down for our tour.

While innocently driving in our minivan, three kids in the back, we were all shaken up a bit when a piece of flying debris shot from a State Department of Transportation lawnmower hit the back window next to my shattering it. We were literally hundreds of feet from our destination, the church parking lot. So, we pulled into another parking lot before getting to the church to assess the damage. Thank God for class that doesn’t shatter upon impact, otherwise, my son would have been injured badly.

After calling 911 and being told to call the DOT claims line, I walked down the street to find the man who had been driving the lawnmower to alert him of what had happened. He called his supervisor and the waiting game began.

All in all, while the shattered glass wasn’t pleasant, there were no injuries. The DOT should cover the cost of the window. I was able to spend more time with my brother who I don’t get to see very often. We were close enough to my in-laws that I was able to get the kids and my wife taken care of so that they didn’t have to wait with me. Not an ideal situation, but it could have been so much worse.

I half snickered and half cursed when I thought of my blog post from yesterday. I thought about the timing, even reminiscing about the beginning of the film “Magnolia” where all of these coincidences were described. I thought about how we had been delayed going down for our nickel tour of the church. I thought about how we happened to be passing that lawnmower on the other side of the road at just the right time when there was no traffic heading in the opposite direction to be hit with the debris. A few seconds earlier or later, we would have escaped without harm.

As I thought about the “why” of the situation, I had to ask myself, “What?” What was I supposed to be seeing in the midst of this? What was I supposed to be doing?

I’ll be honest, the town where it happened can kind of be uppity, if you know what I mean. Some of the people who live there are rich and have an incredible sense of entitlement. I thought about my own need to distinguish myself from someone like that. I was going to be as calm as possible with these guys. In turn, all of the DOT workers who I came in contact with were incredibly cordial and helpful to me. Again, not an ideal situation or one that I would have chosen to happen, but it could have been very different.

I also snickered as family and friends were alerted to this and began commenting about the “adventure” that seems to follow our family wherever we go. I think we can do without that sense of “adventure” for a little while. I’ll take boring for a season because my heart just can’t seem to take too much more “adventure.”

Like I said, there is a lot to be thankful for in the midst of the accident. Heck, it could have happened on the New Jersey Turnpike while we were 3 hours from home and 3 hours from our destination in Connecticut.

But it didn’t!

Yes, it would be easy to ask, “Why?” But would it be beneficial? I saw growth in myself, reacting in a different way than I might have years and even months ago.

I’m not sure why it seems that I’ve always got major lessons to learn. I guess I can chalk that up as another question to ask God when I see him. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can learn through these challenges. I’ll see if I can grow. I’ll see if I might react differently than I would have before. And that, quite possibly, could be the whole reason for all of this “adventure” in the first place.

On the Road Again

After my last few weeks, I have a new appreciation for anyone who has to travel a lot for work. While there might have been a draw to it when I was in my 20s or 30s, it just doesn’t have that same draw anymore. But traveling up and down the east coast has got me longing for my own bed in my own house with my own family around me.

I wonder how people who travel every week for work are able to manage. How do they even remember where they are? Do they wake up in a different city and forget where they are, not because they drank too much but just because they’ve traveled for such a continuous stretch that they kind of lost track along the way?

I remember the days of being single and how romanticized the notion of travel was to me. You could make plans at the drop of a hat, fly off somewhere or go on a road trip without getting permission, without worrying about childcare, without even knowing exactly where you were going. But let’s be honest, I just don’t think that there are a lot of people who actually did that. Sure, you’re out there, you adventurers, but for the most part, those were dreams that were never fulfilled.

I’m getting used to the 95/85 corridor from Richmond to Charlotte. When you stop at an eatery in Charlotte and recognize the worker from the last time you were there, you know that you’ve been here more often than you thought. For those of you who have traveled or will have to travel that route, beware, it’s heavily populated by Virginia and North Carolina’s finest. I appreciate what they’re doing and they’ve put a fairly healthy fear into me, so I hope to not meet them face to face.

I’m still up for road trips, but now, I’m making new memories with my family. I’m remembering all of the road trips that my family took when I was a kid and trying to instill in my kids the same love and appreciation for travel that I had when I was their age.

But road trips with friends can still be just as fun. What an experience to drive and laugh. There’s just nothing that seems to draw people together like being stuck in a car for hours at a time. I’ve grown to appreciate some of my friends even more over the past year as I’ve driven this route with them and laughed.

Road trips can still be fun, but for right now, I think I’m going to take a break from the road for a while. It’ll be nice to get back home and even nicer to be able to stay there for a while.