Last day of my Sabbatical...
I have mixed emotions this morning.
These last three months of sabbatical have been more than I could have ever dreamed. I was fearful that I would go berserk, all antsy and fidgety. My wife even told me last week that she was afraid that I would slip into a depression without the rebar of work holding me together. But what I found both surprised and comforted me.
I wasn’t unnerved. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t lost at all.
I was almost immediately relieved, free, and present. I wondered if I would remember what I was like when I was young and return to that place, and I did. I loved being in the woods for hours, the honest toil of manual labor, the spacious places to take long walks, the love for thinking and writing, the joy of spontaneous laughter with family, the pleasure of athleticism and challenging my body to overcome pain, the wanderlust of venturing to new places drinking in the adventure, the playfulness with my children, the enjoyment of good books and good movies soaking in the salve of story, the appreciation and affection for my wonderful and wonder-filled wife, the bent to talk to strangers and encourage them, the love of rivers and streams and waterfalls, the ability to do nothing and enjoy it…these things and so much more came rushing back. I was no longer left to wonder.
One of the things I wondered was whether I loved God and His Word or if it was simply part of my job, a duty or an obligation. There were even times when I would hear in my head: “If you weren’t in ministry you wouldn’t even read the Bible.” I suppose there was a part of me that questioned that part of my heart and the last three months was going to answer that question…I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
But my love for the Word grew ever more white hot. I loved reading stories in the Bible without the pressure of putting together a message. I would start a book of the Bible and read all the way through it jotting down things that surfaced as I was reading. No pressure to preach. Just the joy of learning the heart of God for me and my life and drinking deeply from the Well of His Word.
I will tell you that I haven’t missed preaching one bit. That surprised me. I thought I would have some withdrawals from that removed platform, but I haven’t. I think that’s been good to know that I love the Bible and would read it even if I wasn’t a pastor. I think it’s an amazing book with such gold to pan. I’m sure I will come to love preaching again, but I won’t need it to keep me disciplined. It won’t be the only reason I’m reading the Bible. I know that now.
One of my deepest desires heading into my sabbatical was a deep connection with my sons. When we adopted them nearly four and a half years ago, I didn’t bond with them like they did with me. Things like my father’s liver failure and near death, moving out of our house for a year while our new house was being built, and starting a building expansion campaign at our church dominated my mind and, I believe, caused me to hold back a part of my heart and life from them. I knew I deeply loved my girls…that came easy, but my affection for my sons was different; I didn’t like what I felt.
I set out to release the deepest part of myself to them. To not hold back. To love them fully. To play with them and spend time with them. To talk with them and tell them stories at night. To wrestle them and snuggle with them at night. The difference it has made in their countenances and behavior has been marked. The day before my sabbatical I sensed God say to my heart: “You have not released your heart to your boys.” I wept as I drove my car from the coffee shop to the church office. I can say today that I have released my deep heart to them and look forward to the future as their father.
It was also Kami’s last summer at home before she left for college. I wanted to be fully present for her graduation party and for the final stretch of this fading season in her life. To have great talks with her, to hold her in my arms, to spend quality time with her. What a gift it was to be completely free in her final summer with us. Last week just she and I went to Detroit for a couple days to be together…an extended daddy-daughter date if you will which was extension of 100’s of dates I’ve taken with her since she was a little baby. (I would take her in her car seat to McDonalds and share a shake with her before she could even talk…this tradition goes way back.) We ate in little quaint restaurants together and bought her college computer (she was overjoyed) with her technologically savvy uncle Tim. We spent time walking the streets of the city and stopping in coffee shops. My favorite moment was going to Comerica Park and watching a Tigers game on the most beautiful night of the summer. We got a hot dog and some ice cream and watched the cityscape light up as the sun went down. I will never forget when she grabbed by arm, hugged it tight, and stretched her neck up to give me a kiss as we were walking in the freedom of a specific moment on the trip. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the space this season afforded me to enter into every moment with complete solidarity. All I can keep saying is that it’s been a “gift”…an unspeakable, unbelievable gift.
I’ve spoken of this in another writing, but my time with all my girls has been priceless. The time at Disney with my whole family allowed for special moments with each of my kids that I wish I could just stop time and capture forever. But these memories are branded into my soul and I will never forget them. My arms wrapped around Taylor watching the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom and feeling her arms pull me close. Looking at my daughter Aly singing all the words to her favorite Disney songs with tears streaming down her face knowing how it was all landing in her nostalgic heart. Taking great joy in watching Kami dance her heart out in Tomorrowland as she and her sisters circled up around their brothers and got lost in the music. I don’t know how to capture these moments in adequate words, but I will never forget them in my mind where words aren’t required.
And my wife…our trip to Italy was otherworldly from start to finish. Perfect weather, awesome tours of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen, laughter together free from the pressing needs of anything or anyone…it was like a honeymoon where our hearts were reborn to each other and to life all over again. She is my best friend and the one I love to share everything special with…she is first and foremost in every category of companionship. This 3-month window has left me without a shred of doubt in the strength of our love. If ever I wondered where she stood in my life, there isn’t a close second to the place she has in my heart. If I never did anything but spend time with her for the rest of my days, I would be utterly fulfilled. Our talks about God, life, our children, the kingdom, the beauty of the earth, our blessings, our heartaches, our dreams, our fears…priceless. If I was wondering what my relationship with God was like apart from ministry, I was also wondering what my relationship with my wife would be like apart from ministry. How wonderful to find that I couldn’t get enough of her.
I could say more, and in the days and years to come I’m sure I will. But for now as I turn the page from my sabbatical to reentering life in ministry, I never want to forget all that God did and showed me in my time away. I am sad that it is ending and glad that I’m entering…entering my calling afresh.
That is why I have mixed emotions. That is why today is bittersweet.
That is why I’m grateful to be alive.