As I sat down on my first full day back in the office (I snuck in Monday afternoon without alerting anybody), I began to imagine all the many conversations we’re likely to have. I can’t wait for them. I’m excited to hear from you and to share some of what I did over sabbatical. But, it occurred to me that it’s 10 weeks! A lot happened! It includes delayed flights, COVID, skunks, churches, chickens, and a lot of Panera coffee. In other words, there’s more stuff that I’d love to tell you about than will fit into a comfortable conversation.
So I imagined this – a series of blog posts that will be published here on the website to give you an idea about what I was up to during that 10 week break. It won’t be a play by play or anything. I won’t bore all of you with all the details, but for those who are interested, some details will be available.
One last thing before I begin the first entry here. I must express my sincere and humble gratitude for the time. Sabbatical is a privilege and I understand that very well. I’m grateful to the Personnel Committee for approving the time, the staff for their extra efforts in the weeks while I was away, and to the congregation at large who was so supportive and encouraging. I’m better for having had this time and my earnest hope was that the church is better for it, too. Again, thank you.
The first thing we did on sabbatical was leave and we left hard. We spent 8 or 9 nights (no, I don’t know and yes, there’s a reason for that) on the island of Kauai in Hawai’i. Gigi and I were fortunate enough to have parents cash in frequent flyer miles and other things to gift us a cruise around Hawai’i for our honeymoon. We enjoyed it and wanted to go back eventually. We booked flights and a VRBO when the pandemic had scared almost everyone off of travel (but we did buy insurance in case of cancellation). We got really good rates that made it possible and we actually got to go!
We explored most of the beaches around the island, we ate a lot of fish (poke in my case) and shaved ice, we rode horses and saw “those mountains” from Jurassic Park and every other movie, and we relaxed. It was pretty awesome! We ate doughnuts made of taro root, we watched sunsets at the bay, and we dodged the daily rains. We hiked trails, we got to see massive sea turtles up close both on the beach and in the water, and had fruity drinks with colorful umbrellas in them. We even went to a local church on the Sunday we were there. Their pastor was a bi-vocational taro farmer and the church was mostly a bunch of retired mainlanders. Such a unique experience!
After church, Gigi finally went to an urgent care kind of thing because she had a few nagging symptoms that we all assumed were allergies. The doctor thought the same until the COVID test came back positive! Gigi had successfully dodged COVID for two years, even working with all the germy kids at school and finally got the ding dang thing in Hawai’i! Susanna did, too. Fortunately, both of their symptoms were very mild and they didn’t suffer all that much with it. Also, Hawai’i is an outdoors kind of place. Most buildings don’t have AC because the winds are so constant off the coast. Everyone just keeps their windows open, has a bunch of outdoor seating, and generally lives outside. All told, we weren’t hindered all that much.
One of my favorite things about Kauai is that it’s known for having a huge, uncontrolled population of wild chickens that just run around everywhere. You can hear roosters crowing constantly from about 4am until 9 pm. They are in parking lots, they get chased out of supermarkets, and they’re on the beaches. Beautiful, colorful, and funny little guys. They’re kind of the unofficial mascot of the island.
Our time finally came to an end and so we packed up, left our little condo that was our home for a week, and drove around the island one last time. We checked in for our flight that morning with the airline app, dropped off our rental car, and got to the airport 3 hours early for our 10pm flight. That’s right. 10 at night. Want to know the kicker? The flight was delayed until 8am the next morning without warning! They had loaded our bags onto the plane before they unloaded them and let us know. We thought about just staying in the airport that night, but they closed the airport and wouldn’t let any of us stay. So we had to find the last room on the island near the airport and arrange taxi services for 5:30 in the morning! Our connecting flights were all missed and we had to spend way more time in the Phoenix airport than anyone should. It’s the reason I can’t say with any certainty just how long we were in Hawai’i or away from home because it’s all a bit of a jet-lagged, sleep-deprived blur at the end there. It took a long time, but we finally made it home.
So, our vacation was like most all vacations, I reckon. There was a lot of stress and frustrations about things big and small. But we were together and free of responsibilities to anything except sunscreen. For all of it, we got to have experiences and make memories that will last. As the years pass, I hope that we’ll tell those stories and remember the hard times with the good ones.
And I’ll never fly with that stinking airline again!
One of the reasons that I wanted to start this sabbatical with a big deal vacation is that we usually don’t do them. The biggest things we’ve ever done are something like a 4-day Disney trip or 5 days in Florida. The girls have never been on a plane until this one, had never been outside of the Southeastern US, and had never been away from home that long.
The other reason that I, Rory, needed to do that vacation right out of the sabbatical chute is I needed to repair. I try not to talk about it too much, but a big part of the job of being a pastor is taking on people’s pain. And don’t get it twisted, I don’t mind that part of the job. Matter of fact, it’s one of the aspects that I value the most and that I think I’m pretty good at, if I say so myself. Pastors visit folks in hospital rooms or sick beds or waiting areas or funeral parlors. I’ve lost track of how many funerals I’ve performed even though I attempt to make each one count. By and large, I’m pretty good at not carrying that stuff around with me. I care, but I also have a pretty good boundary internally that keeps me from absorbing it like I’m family because I’m almost always not. I’m just a minister. I care, but I’m allowed to leave. I can put it down and pick it up again later if I need to.
But here’s what I’ve found after almost 10 years straight of doing that work: I can’t put down all of it. I’m keeping some of it. It’s not much, but it’s happening. I’m not hurting the way that a grieving family is hurting, but I do have a smaller hurt that I’m working on. And then another. I don’t have another one that gets me for a few months, and then I get another one. After that long period of time of doing that, and not really getting a chance to fully heal because there’s always a next one, I was hurting.
I had to go to the middle of the Pacific Ocean right away because a big part of the work I needed to do during sabbatical was healing. And that work for many of us, and absolutely for me, looks like a whole lot of nothing. It looks like wearing cargo shorts for 10 weeks straight. It looks like body surfing in the ocean with my daughters. It looks like sharing passion fruit shaved ice with my wife. It looks like reading goofy fantasy novels and watching a bunch of Spider-Man movies. I needed time to heal and you gave that to me. I’m grateful for that. And now, I feel like I’m ready to do that part of my work again.