Sabbatical, Day Eighty-Five

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Last night’s sunset.

One of the biggest concerns the elders and I addressed when preparing for this sabbatical was how to assure the members of our community they or their families would be taken care of at the time of a death.  Time and again we answered the question, “Who will do the funerals?”  We answered, “The pastor we hire to work during the sabbatical.”  We also reminded everyone when I am gone on vacation/continuing education the pastors on-call have been the one to officiate funerals.  We did not want to make light of the concern of the community, but we did want to remind everyone there was a time before I was pastor and will be a time after I am pastor.  We wanted them to remember their role as a congregation, the people who stay and care for each other for generations through multiple pastorates.  Even though we wanted them to feel confident we also hoped there would not be a funeral while I was on sabbatical.

There have been two funerals since I have been gone.  One for a community member, and another for a person who was a vibrant and active member of our congregation who experienced a rapid decline in health in the last year.  The funerals were held on back-to-back Saturdays.  I have heard beautiful examples of how the congregation came together and cared for both of these families.  I am thankful for the love and grace demonstrated by people I know who are willing and able to walk beside families in their grief.

I have been away before when there have been funerals of members of our congregation and community.  I have experienced the grief and guilt that come when I am not the person who stands before the community and assures them of the promises we hold dear.  I have experienced the overwhelming gratitude for my colleagues who step in when I am gone, just as I step in when they are gone.  Caring for a community is a team effort and the sharing of that work with my colleagues continues to remind me of the goodness of being a pastor.

Yesterday I walked out to the cemetery to pay my respects for the three people who have died in the last two weeks in our community.  I passed by the graves of people I have known, I recalled the words I spoke and the words I heard my colleagues speak at each graveside.  I stared at the beautiful blue sky and reminded myself at this time and in this place I have been given the privilege to care for others, but I am not the only person.  I am one of many who will spend their years among these people.  I am thankful for the privilege of this time to learn from this community how to love and be loved.  I remain hopeful the people of this community will recognize the gift they have been given in each other and in the pastors who get to spend some time caring for them.

 

Sabbatical, Day Seventy-Three

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Lake Superior

To be clear I love all the Great Lakes.  Lake Michigan has claimed the most of my time; Lake Huron never seems that far away while I am in Michigan; glimpsing Lake Erie always brightens my day; and Lake Ontario welcomed me like a long lost friend when I finally stepped into it a couple of years ago.

However, Lake Superior is my favorite.  Since I was a child this lake has captivated me with its wildness and power.  Time spent at Lake Superior always leaves me humbled, in awe, and longing to live on its shores.  As a child I was certain I would one day move north to the sandy land of Lake Superior, never dreaming I would be planted firmly in the life-giving soil of farmland.

It had been years since I had stood on the shore of Lake Superior when I returned this summer.  I returned like an old friend, with memories of other visits playing in my head, excitement for new memories to be made, and comfort in knowing where I stood.  I am certain all of us have places like this, touchstones to ground us in our lives.  Fields of crops, mountains, homes, or towns are a few of the places others have told me ground them.

The purpose of this grounding is not to weigh you down so you cannot go exploring, rather to be a place you touch down on to remind you of where you have been as you find a new place to be.  I wonder if part of the reason the world seems so hate-filled lately is because we have forgotten to return to the places that ground us. . .

I am not talking about just the horrific acts of violence that seem to come regularly around the world, or the hate-filled racism and sexism that is allowed to be spewed at anyone the speaker chooses.  I am also talking about how impatient everyone seems to be, or how easy it seems to be to justify our rudeness, or how people can justify standing in a crowd of people shouting for harm to come to another person.  I cannot understand how we as a people have forgotten who we are, unless we are purposely choosing not to remember, unless we are purposely choosing to live selfishly and hatefully.

Maybe if we remembered the places that have shaped us and we returned to them we would find echoes of our old selves, so we could see if we have lived into the person we dreamed we would become.  And if we found ourselves lacking the grace and kindness we once had, hopefully the power of that place would inspire us to try again.

I stood on the shore of Lake Superior this summer and remembered the tiny, pony-tailed, knobby-kneed dreamer who believed if everyone was kind to each other no child would ever have bruises from angry hands, or have empty bellies, or hear racial or sexist slurs used to describe them.  That child had faith people would always choose the greater good over themselves.  That child believed if adults only knew she was suffering they would step in and make life different for her and all the kids she knew.

I stood on the shore of Lake Superior this summer lamenting the loss of that innocence and trust, while recommitting myself to being the type of adult that hopeful child needed.  I trust you will do the same because the kids of this world need us to be adults who always choose the greater good.  Always.

 

Sabbatical, Day Fifty-Seven

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Looking up on the Kaskaskia Trail.

I have passed the halfway point of this sabbatical.  I have now officially spent as much time away from the church as I typically do in a year given my vacation time and continuing education time/study leave.  All the time after this is extra time, time I would not normally have away from my daily tasks.  I remain thankful for the gift of this time.

This past week I found myself walking along a trail that was beautiful.  The temperature was the coolest it had been in over a week, the trees were a brilliant green, and the trail just wild enough to quiet my footsteps.  I was planning to spend the whole afternoon walking a loop of eight miles so I applied lots of bug spray, put on my hat, and grabbed my full water bottle.  About half a mile into the hike I was doing an invigorating rendition of the slap the bugs away dance.  The bugs were so thick and persistent I was walking faster than normal to get to the first break in the trail so I could get out of the woods.  Even protected as I was against the bugs my skin was swelling with so many bites I was rethinking ever going outdoors again.

True to form I have been thinking of all the sermon illustrations I can get from that abbreviated hiking experience.  One revelation was how the walk reminded me of my emotional state eight weeks ago.  At the beginning of this sabbatical I was deep in the woods, walking through a swarm, looking for a way out.  As protected as I thought I was against burnout I was breaking from the emotional and physical toll of the life I have been called to live.  Eight weeks ago I would not have looked up at the sky because I was barely putting one foot in front of the other to stay on the path.

Today I am finally breathing deeply and looking up.  Today I am not looking for the first break so I can get off the trail.  This feels like freedom to me.  Freedom to dream again.  Freedom to explore again.  Freedom to fail again.  Freedom to delight in the chance to serve God and God’s people.  I have missed that feeling of freedom.

I am thankful today I am getting a glimpse of that freedom again.

 

 

 

Sabbatical, Day Forty-Two

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The River Walk in downtown Spokane, Washington.

As I have traveled I have enjoyed scenery unlike the kind I see every day.  I have spent time in places were there are no people for hundreds of miles; and places where there are so many people I could not move without bumping into someone.  I have not seen a corn field or a soybean field in weeks, and very few people have waved back when I instinctively wave while driving or walking.  I have been outside of my usual habitat long enough that when I spoke to a family from the Mid West I felt my ears relax.  I had not even realized how different everyone sounded until I heard someone close to home speak.  I am still chuckling about this revelation days later. 

I love to travel.  I love what I learn about myself and others while traveling.  I love hearing other languages, watching people interact, making connections because of a t-shirt or food order or children.  I love being surrounded by strangers and finding ways to build connection.  Even if those connections are only for as long as it takes for us to take photos of each other’s traveling party.

Like water shapes rocks, those moments of connection shape me.  I want to find a way to make those connections happen for others so we can all see how connected we are to each other regardless of where we come from.  I want us to realize unless we are willing to listen when it makes our ears, mind, or heart work harder we will not experience the vast goodness of this world God has created for us.

We are responsible for what we learn and how we apply that knowledge.  My hope is that I never get to a point when I decide I am too old, too sick, too cranky, or too comfortable to learn from others.  I may get to a point when I cannot pack a suitcase and travel, but until my last moments I plan to live as a traveler looking for glimpses of home in all my wandering.

Sabbatical, Day Twenty-Nine

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Arches National Park

Yesterday I sat in the sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church of Albuquerque for the second time.  It is a beautiful building, full of symbols that I find at home or in other PCUSA congregations around the country.  Last time I visited I was greeted warmly by many people, and this time I was greeted even more warmly by some of the people who remembered meeting me three years ago.  I love sitting in the pew in the sanctuary, attempting to follow the cadence and language of this worshipping community.  I love feeling connected to others even as I am away from the community I call home.

Yesterday, I sat swinging my legs in the pew because I am too short for my feet to reach the floor if I sit back in the pew.  The act of swinging my legs was as delightful the second time as the first, I felt like a child enjoying the moment.  I was seated between a friend who has walked beside me all these years as I learn to be a pastor, and my second child who has only known me as a pastor. I sat between these two people I love, who love me, and I listened to another  friend lead a worship service that felt created for me to find God.  The announcements, joys, concerns, and an update of the asylum seeker and refugee ministry were all the things I needed to hear.  The prayers and hymns in Spanish and English felt as if they were cracking open my heart so the words of the sermon could be felt.

Most days, I create worship services for others.  I know the limitations of a pastor in creating a worship service; and how easily Sunday becomes a habit instead an expectation of having your heart cracked open so you can feel.  Understanding how easy it is to forget to expect I will encounter God in worship, I treasure the moments I get to follow instead of lead because it changes my perspective.

Yesterday, I was given the privilege of sitting in a pew, a privilege I do not want to waste.  I learned how another worshipping community is living their faith and call to serve God and others.  I was reminded that I too am loved by God in all my brokenness, and in fact my brokenness is often used for good.   I tell this to others daily, but to hear it spoken to me was life giving.

Yesterday I was told I was loved by the God who created the sandstone beauty I saw and touched today.  I am not sure how to explain how I needed to be reminded that words I regularly proclaim to others are also for me.  But I did.

Thank you to the pastor and the community who welcomed me and reminded me I am loved too.

Sabbatical, Day Fifteen

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Some of the books I have read so far; the others have been loaned out.

Based upon all I have learned from more experienced clergy and read in books my current state of being is just fine.  I have mostly stopped jumping out of bed thinking I am behind schedule.  I have reduced the number of to do lists I have been scrawling on scraps of paper.  I have experienced the crushing emotional weight when I realized I could not answer the hospital call I received.  I have felt the guilt that comes when others make comments about not having adequate vacation time, let alone employment that allows them to receive the gift of a sabbatical.  I have even cleaned some parts of our home that had not been cleaned in some time.

Seven months ago when this sabbatical was approved I was shocked when I did not immediately feel refreshed and restored.  I laugh in disbelief at myself then and laugh still.  For whatever reason my mind believed once the sabbatical was approved I would feel as if I had taken a sabbatical already.  That same kind of thinking followed me all through the planning stages and into these first weeks.  For some reason I thought handing over my keys and shutting off my cell phone would make me feel completely rested, even when logic tells me this is not likely.

Since I am slow in slowing down I have managed to read half of the books from my sabbatical reading list.  Though it has felt luxurious to finish one book and pick up another without worrying about what tasks I should be doing instead.  It has felt wonderful to be in conversation with these authors.  As we have traveled north and south to join some of our dearest friends in their celebrations the landscape and time have given me ample opportunity to ruminate on what I am learning.  I am looking forward to the rest of the books in my pile and maybe discovering a few new books.

I am also hopeful the next two weeks will find me enjoying the rest I have been given.  I believe it is possible, even if I might have to create a to do list for how to make that happen.

 

Sabbatical, Day One

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The view from under our lilac bushes.

Today begins the gift of a fifteen week sabbatical.  I have committed to posting every other week so I begin today. 

This morning I awoke with a jerk and immediately thought I was late.  This is funny because today is a school holiday so there are no sounds in the house or outside of children preparing for school.  There was no reason for me to bolt upright in bed worried about the day.  My arrival downstairs shocked my always early rising spouse and our dog.

I am not surprised by my early rising today, I expect this will last most of this first week and into the second.  I have an excess of energy and my mind is rushing with all the tasks I think I need to be doing; those tasks I have handed over to others to do for this sabbatical.  I know this feeling of needing to get things done will settle down as I ease into the rest of this sabbatical.

To help slow me down I am learning a poem today.  I am memorizing “The World I Live In” by Mary Oliver, found on page five of her book Devotions, published in 2017 by Penguin Press.  I am struck by the reality that I have lost some of my sense of wonder and am not watching for angels.  Yesterday at our monthly session meeting (church board) the elders talked  about watching for God and I realized how much I missed watching for God myself.  I tell people about God all the time, I mention how I see God working in their lives daily, but I have lost the sense of wonder in watching for the Holy Spirit to work.

This first day of this sabbatical gift I am confronted with how I have closed my eyes.  I am committed to opening them again so I can see the wider world.