Showing posts with label vacation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vacation. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2018

Lessons From Sabbatical

Having been at Providence for over 21 years, I just finished my third sabbatical. As previously explained, sabbatical is a period of rest, research, and restoration for people in full-time ministry and other professions (like academia and counseling) so that they can avoid burnout and renew their creativity, passion, and effectiveness. Traditionally, a sabbatical occurs every seven years. The word comes from Sabbath (Greek, sabbaton; from the Hebrew, shabbath; lit. “rest”), which usually brings to mind the seventh day of the week, the biblical day of rest. Interestingly, the word is used for an entire year in Leviticus 25:1-5.
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel… For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest…”
It wasn’t just for the land, it was for those who worked the land (virtually everyone in that day). It’s a good idea. And I’m so happy that Providence instituted it for full-time ministry staff from the start.
When I’ve run into people from church this summer, I’ve frequently been asked, “How’s sabbatical going?” I try to give a short answer, like, “Great!” But it never seems to suffice. So here’s one that’s a little more complete with the top seven lessons I’ve learned from sabbatical this summer.

1. I needed some extended rest.
I’m sure there are some who decry a long break (we provide a month after seven years, and two
Darla & I in a gloating selfie after breaking the paddleball record.
The beach was great (um, after the tropical storm that hit us hard)!
months every seven thereafter). I understand the sentiment. In fact you might be saying, “I’ve been working in my job for 20 (30, 40, whatever) years and haven’t taken so much as a vacation!” While that’s a little extreme (someone actually told me this!), the truth is I understand the skepticism of those who have never had a long break from work. I could absolutely do that too because I love my job! In fact, I kind of let this sabbatical sneak up on me and had to pry my fingers away from doing ministry at Providence. It took me about two weeks to just relax and stop thinking about all the things I needed to do.
Let me say it plainly: I needed this long break. Unknowingly, my attitude, focus, and energy was being affected by what has been an unrelenting last few years, the last one in particular. As the weeks wore on this summer, I could feel my brain decompress. I found myself reinvigorated for my calling and job. If you’re struggling, maybe you need a long break too.

Here's what it looks like today.
2. Building a house is not easy. 
Ok, so I already knew that. Let’s just say that Darla and I are learning this lesson even more! After unexpectedly selling our house and unsuccessfully looking for another, we decided (after a whole lot of praying and seeking wise counsel) in June to bite this thing off and build ourselves, so we bought some property near Edgemoor Road, about 15 minutes from Providence. Whew! Making decisions, finding and scheduling subs, and getting all the details worked out is why people wisely pay contractors. And we’ve really only just begun. Seriously, we feel like we're learning a whole new trade (and I guess we actually are).
Here's the goal!
I’ve also met some good people who I would have never met otherwise and have had some great spiritual conversations. I'm super thankful for friends who are helping us and for Darla who is doing most of the contracting (especially now that I have to go back to work)! She's really organized and I'm good at shooting the bull. A great combo!!

3. Writing a book is real work. 
I’m not a writer so maybe it’s just me, but this task is HARD. I spent several days this summer researching and writing about my dad. It is exhausting! And I feel the proverbial mountain I have to climb to get this book written just keeps getting higher as I write.
A 38-year-old Ken Sparks
Some of the hardest parts include these three: 1) interviewing key people who have first-hand accounts, 2) working through the piles of articles, videos, and statistics to find what I need; and 3) fact-checking all the stuff, especially regarding some of the important games I think need to be described (probably not for the reasons you think!). And it’s emotional for me! I can watch a video on him and be in tears.
The next one is related…

4. I’m reminded how blessed I am for the earthly father God gave me. 
Ken Sparks was a great man. He lived and died well. I pray I can be a steward of his legacy and be like him in so many ways.

5. It's great to see what other churches are doing. 
This is a church in Georgia that has a similar mission & vision
as Providence that we visited. And yes, that's Dara leading!
I got to visit a wide variety (regarding style, tradition, and size) of churches this summer. All of them hold to God’s Word as true, all were fantastic (I tend to not be critical), and I learned things from each of them. I collected lots of printed material, shot lots of pictures and video, and made lots of notes. It seems I always heard from God when I went to worship, regardless of the church. That in itself is a lesson! I love that God uses so many churches who do things so differently to reach all kinds of people. I felt kinship with them all. I look forward to discussing with our staff and elders some of the things I experienced that might help us be better at Providence.
But all that visiting other churches makes the next lesson I learned even clearer...

6. I love Providence Church more than I ever knew.
I really do. The church is a group of redeemed people who have covenanted together to accomplish a mission. I love our people. I love our covenant together. I love our mission. I feel more committed to Providence than ever before! The really cool thing is that our church grew (over last year’s numbers) while I’ve been away! That shows what I already knew: Providence (unlike some churches) is about much more than merely following a man (unless the man is Jesus!). There aren't many pastors who stay at churches for 21 years (my 101-year-old grandmother who was a pastor's wife is still amazed), and there are even fewer who can honestly say that there's no church in the world where they'd rather serve than the one they're at. I'm so grateful. I can't think of a godlier group of elders, I can't think of a better staff, and I can't imagine a better group of people than those at Providence. What an awesome spiritual family I have! I have missed being with my church this summer...a lot!

7. I love my wife profoundly. 
Of course, I already knew this. But this break has given us significant time together. I’ve never gotten tired of her and she never gets on my nerves (I don’t think she could say the same of me!). As cliched as it sounds, she really is my best friend. We laugh together a lot. We are totally on the same page spiritually. We work well together and compliment each other’s giftedness. She has been through more hard times in the last year than any other year in our lives, and has come through looking even more like Jesus. I am amazed by her and more in love with her than ever. I made a great choice 29 years ago to ask her to be my wife. I had no idea how great. God had something (read: everything) to do with that.

There were many more lessons learned that I could tell you about like, "Life is possible without social media," "Sugar-free gummies cause violent stomach problems," "The beach isn't fun in tropical storms," "Extroverts need people around," "Abstaining from reading/watching news makes you happier," "Beagles like skunks," and "Ticks & mosquitoes suck" (there are stories for all of these!). And many other good things happened this summer. Among them, I read some good books, hiked some great hikes, made some great new friends, ate some good food, caught up on sleep, got to watch a lot of baseball, and (most importantly) spent some great time with Jesus. Thank you Providence, for allowing me to have this time!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glamping in Miss Daisy

Most summers have a theme that just kinda happens. For us, this is the summer of Miss Daisy. Daisy is our 1967 (we think, the previous owners thought it was a 1969) Field & Stream vintage camper that we bought and refurbished in less than 3 weeks. What that essentially means is for every waking minute, from virtually sun up to midnight, when I wasn't doing my job as a pastor, I was working on that camper (and so was Darla, and sometimes our kids). And it happened to be during the hottest week of the year so far.

Here's Daisy on Memorial Day as we were stripping her down to the bear metal. Duncan taped off all the aluminum window frames before scrubbing and painting them silver. You can't really see it, but the frame/tongue/rear bumper was rusted and needed much work.

Here's the family giving Daisy her new coat of paint. We put a thick rubberized coat of waterproof roof sealer on the top, and a high-performance marine-grade acrylic on the rest of the body. I used Rust-Oleum black paint from a rattle can on the hitch and new bumper after removing at least three previous coats of old paint, sanding and grinding it to the bare metal.
Here's the camper in fresh white paint, before we put on the yellow stripe. We also had to remove and clean all the old louvered window glass, and repair the windows.
Here's the other side. Notice the ugly rusty wheels.
Duncan did most of the work on the yellow stripe. She gave guidance in picking the right shade, too. I wanted to match the camper's color with that of my Wagoneer (maroon with a wooden stripe), that was summarily vetoed. The yellow color came from the color of the faux wood molding on my Wagoneer. I wouldn't consider that a compromise. More like a not-so-veiled attempt at placating me!

Here's Daisy's old bumper. It was mangled and rusty. I designed a new one that would also serve as a spare tire carrier. I bought the metal pieces and took them to a welder so he could cut off the old bumper and weld on the new. Afterward, I painted it with several coats of Rust-Oleum. Darla wanted it white for looks, but I campaigned for black because I'm afraid white would show rust pretty soon, no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it all. I don't regret it, at the vintage camper rally, I saw several nicely done trailers with white on the bumper/hitch, and they had rust and dirt that marred the camper's looks.

Yes, that's a receiver hitch welded in the new bumper. That's for a cargo cage or bike holder. And yes, if we courageously (stupidly?) wanted to tandem-tow a small trailer, we could (we actually met some folks at the vintage camper rally who did!) but we wouldn't be able to go in reverse.
After the painting was done, we resealed all the windows and other joints and openings so that NO WATER CAN GET IN. After several rains, some quite hard, it seems we were successful. So far, so good.
Here's the finished camper! New "steelie" wheels (that I bought, sanded, and painted yellow to match). I tell you, by the time we drove to Elkmont, getting this thing ready kicked my tail.

Here are some pictures of the inside. We put in new faux wood floors, ripped out any water-damaged surfaces, and repainted or re-surfaced everything. This includes tile backstops, plastic antique-tin-looking wall covering, re-stained original birch ceiling, and aluminum trim. We tried to keep the vintage countertops and appliances (and many of them required repairs).

Thankfully, the previous owners reupholstered the seats and made expensive new curtains. They also tried to salvage the original stuff. Daisy's whole color scheme

Here's the backsplash tile. Also notice the original stove and ice box. I just bought an old gas-powered refrigerator that I plan on fixing and installing where the ice box is. Note also the original gas lamp on the wall above the stove.
One of my favorite parts of the trailer is the birch ceiling. I'm so glad we were able to keep it. There were some rough places where previous owners had peeled chunks of it off, and some areas that had been stained by water. We did our best to either hide or re-stain the damaged parts.

Notice the antique fan on the shelf, the baskets we turned into handy shelves, and all the vintage daisy-themed stuff. It's kind of been fun to look for daisy stuff at yard sales, thrift stores, and online for cheap.

Perhaps the hardest job of all for me on the camper was cutting and attaching the new wall surface. All pieces of the white tin-looking tile had to be perfectly matched and cutting to fit the rounded-corner ceiling was really hard. It looks great, though.
Here's the sink area. Darla did a great job decorating. Duncan painted all the cabinet drawers and doors grey. Darla bought a new hand pump online for the faucet, installed it herself, and it works! It's for when we camp places where there is no hook-ups. We camp more where there are no hookups more than where there are. That's another reason we want to get a gas refrigerator. Then we will have water, light, and refrigeration for food.

After working to fix all these things, we still have some small leakage in the "hook-up" water pipe, and in the drain pipe, but not much.

Other tasks we accomplished include rewiring all the trailer harness lighting and some of the 110-volt system (thanks Drew Sparks), repairing the gas lines, removing the rusty old double-LP-gas-tank-holder and restoring the original one-tank holder.

As I write this, it's the end of August and we've camped in Miss Daisy 4 times. Here's a brief recap:

June 20-25 at Elkmont near Gatlinburg, TN.
After speaking at a marriage retreat for Coaches Outreach in Black Mountain, NC, Darla and I brought Miss Daisy for her inaugural (with us) trip to our favorite family campsite. We put up the usual huge brown tarp (which requires some engineering prowess on my part with ropes and trees). We decided we needed to retire the tarps. Too much hassle and time.

We camped next to the Hicks and the Childresses as we have for the last several years. We miss the Sanders family who moved to Washington state.

July 1-2 Elkmont
My sister had reserved more days than she could use, so instead of canceling the extras, we paid her for them and spent a couple more days (without kids) in Elkmont, moving only a few spaces upstream from our usual spot.
As you can see, we didn't have an awning yet. We had ordered one, but it was being made.

July 17th at Gee Creek Campground between Delano and Reliance, TN.
Darla and I escaped for a weekend next to one of my favorite rivers. The Hiwassee. Darla was gracious and allowed me some time to fish. Both days I caught a limit of trout! Thanks for that good time, God (and Darla).
We had a few new additions with us: a new canopy from Walmart, and an awning we'd ordered from California, and a Dutch Oven. The oven was fantastic! The awning, on the other hand, while practical, was really the wrong color of yellow. This didn't bother me, but Darla couldn't stand it. She thought it clashed. So she sold it on eBay, and bought one made by a lady in Georgia for less!

Thankfully, we haven't needed air conditioning yet. Elkmont is always cool, but we were afraid we would be hot at the Hiwassee. All turned out well. We couldn't have used it even if we had it (because there were no hook-ups). Gee creek is clean and pretty nice. But there's no easy access to the river, and there's poison ivy everywhere.

August 25-27 Near Hiwassee, GA.
We did our first vintage camper rally at the North Georgia Vintage Trailer Rally at the Riverbend Campground.

As God would have it, we got a spot between two senior couples, on one side was the lady who made our new green awning!! Everyone was nice (with a few exceptions), and we learned so much. I got most of my questions answered, like: how do I install an air conditioner without cutting a hole in the side of the camper. We don't want a roof camper, we want one that can sit inconspicuously under the bed or somewhere else.

I also got ideas on how to build a wooden screen door. I will have to fabricate some hinges, but that's going to be a fun challenge.
We went all out and brought old stuff to glam up the camper: vintage suitcases, old-fashioned lawn chairs that we got cheap (that I have re-webbed twice), and several other things. We also had a new green rug to match the awning, and a new coleman canopy over the picnic table.

Most of the day on Saturday, people from all over came to the campground for the show. Hundreds walked through our and others' campers.

Having power and water was pretty convenient. But now we know we need air conditioning! My list is growing of future improvements for Daisy! Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Amazing Time.

From my high school days I dreamed of going to the Rockies on an outdoor adventure. When Drew was seven years old, I shared this dream with him after reading a book about the western wilderness. He said, "Maybe we can go together sometime, Daddy." We decided that night that we would when he was old enough (if he still wanted to). Drew LOVES hiking, backpacking, and experiencing the wilderness. It has always been his thing. And it is something we both love.

I am profoundly grateful that our church has from the start determined to give full-time staff a sabbatical after every seven years. Pastors in particular tend to get buried in their work and sometimes burn out; or perhaps worse, burn out their families. I could give numerous examples. This policy helps us keeps family first and rekindle the burning passion for Christ--both necessary if we are to lead people spiritually. It is because of this intentional policy that I was able to fulfill my and Drew's dream, and spend some invaluable time together before Drew goes to college in a couple of years (I dread the thought!).

Many months ago, I blocked out July for the trip. I didn't know where the money would come from, but I knew God would provide. He answered my prayers. I was able to save a few hundred dollars over the last year, and without ever mentioning the need to anyone, a couple of wonderful people from our church gave me gifts that made it possible to go. I am so grateful.

We flew out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming on July 4th for 23 days. There is no way to tell every detail. We backpacked and camped in the Tetons, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Yellowstone, the Winds (a desolate high mountain range south east of the Tetons), the canyon land of Utah, the Colorado Rockies, and other places. We saw 7 states (not from Rock City): Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and (barely) New Mexico and Arizona. It seems most spots had their particular plague: cold & snow, mosquitoes (often), gnats, no-see-ums, horseflies, heat, bears, or something else! But believe me, the beauty and exhilaration of each place far outweighed these tolerable negatives. I'm sure you Providence folks will hear stories in the future from the wild and wonderful adventure Drew and I had together.

The one thing I will say at this point is this: I would not trade anything for the time spent with Drew. I love my son. Yes, we had some good deep conversations--sometimes about very spiritual things. Yes, we had to depend on each other. But perhaps best of all we were TOGETHER; laughing, hurting, stinking, and experiencing amazement. I (intentionally) did very little reproving. We are completely different in many regards, but we are also very much alike--a fact that I focused on. We both like to eat well. We both like to read. We both like to observe the plant and animal life around us. We both like tech stuff (computer and cell phone related in particular), we both like the same styles of music, we both like to talk about politics. We both like our sweet tea.

One of my daughters was going through a rough-spot a while back. A Christian friend Darla and I respect gave some advice. "Enjoy her. Let her know you delight in her." I took the advice and it made all the difference. As parents we can easily become negative. In this I am guilty. Drew is our oldest, and the fact that he's a son makes him even more the victim of my high expectations. Of course, I have his best interests at heart and only want him to experience the benefits of wisdom. When he resists wisdom, I can become negative. Sometimes negative communication can be inferred as, "You're a failure." ESPECIALLY if a kid does not have the confidence of knowing his parent delights in him or her. My brother-in-law wisely said it this way: "Reproof without relationship equals rejection and rebellion."

Relationship is the key. There is no substitute for time spent doing what your child loves to do--encouraging them and delighting in them and with them. I challenge you parents to MAKE THIS HAPPEN. Consider this a great task you must accomplish. It is not complicated. It is invaluable.

Here are a few pics of our trip.

Hidden Falls in the Tetons:

Cascade Canyon:

Fixing lunch after a cloudburst next to Cascade Creek.

Hiking on snow in July:

A hill of flowers with quite a view:

The beginning of our hike around this lake (Green Lake) to the top of one of the mountains in the back.

This is Slide Lake which is a several-mile hike into the Winds range. Incredible!

(Above) Climbing the talus (rock slide) above slide lake on our way to 12,000+ ft. Flat Top Mountain. There's no trail here! We call this "the Epic Hike."

(Below) We are probably 80% of the way to the top where we rested and ate.

Canyon country near Moab, UT.

Gemini Arches. Look closely to see that we are hundreds of feet from the floor! There was a monument there of a guy who died here driving his Jeep. I can see how.

This is a great campsite Drew picked on a mountain across the "hole" from the Tetons. Perfect (except for the horseflies and mosquitoes)!

Red Mountain in Colorado, above the famous "Yankee Girl" silver mine. We camped on the mine site.

Different from Red Mountain is "Red Hills" in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Our last night was spent near here.

Buffalo. Umm...I mean, "Bison."

Evidently I've reached the max of photos I can publish on this post. There are literally hundreds more!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last Nevis Post...What a Trip!

Well, we've been back in Knoxville less than a week and life is crazy busy once again.
Ok...I've been told we've made people mad and some have kidded us that we've been gloating. I feel bad if that's happening (we're NOT gloating, just sharing a joyful time with friends!), cause we certainly don't want anyone getting mad!! I pray that you ALL will have the opportunity to BE MARRIED FOR 20 YEARS TO A PERSON SEEKING CHRIST. THAT'S the REAL blessing! The trip was really just a celebration and rekindling of our most important earthy relationship.

Here's a FEW shots of our final two days on Nevis...

This pic was taken on May 12, the day of our 20th anniversary. We decided to eat at Coconut Grove, a restaurant in which we had eaten lunch one day earlier and really liked. We had met the owner, a Frenchman who had also lived in New York before selling all and moving to Nevis 5 years ago (he looks kind of like George Clooney). Awesome fish! Darla had some freshly caught local grouper that was INCREDIBLE! The restaurant's claim-to-fame is that it has the best wine cellar on the Island. But like a couple of nerds, we brought some non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice that they gave Darla at the Baptist Church for Mother's Day! We didn't care and neither did they. We couldn't take it home. It was a great time!

The view of the beach at twilight was so good. The gentle cool breeze was perfect! A quintessential group of wealthy Brits were there. It was so fun listening to them! It could have been a SNL skit! We were cracking up.

Really, for our last two days, we wanted to spend as much time on the beach as we could. So on the 13th that's what we did until lunch when we decided to go back to Peak Haven where we had eaten after our hike to Nevis Peak.

Here I am looking through the telescope.

I know it is funny, but Darla was always wanting to take pictures of the food we were eating. She took this after I had already eaten half of the chicken. IT WAS SOOO GOOD. It was a Nevis favorite: Curry chicken cooked in a stew. The cook's name is Llewellyn. He used to work at the Four Seasons resort. Such a nice and gentle man, and a great cook! Also on the plate are some yellow Nevis-grown sweet potatoes and other local veggies. I wish I could convey how good it was. Darla had a chicken sandwich made with Llewellyn's homemade bread. Mmmmm. And what a view while we ate. We conversed with the owners there too.

Afterward we decided to pop over to a place we had heard about from several sources: Golden Rock, a restored sugar plantation which has been turned into a restaurant and hotel. All I can say is...Wow. Darla and I were sad that we had not come sooner and eaten there. All these pics will perhaps show how excellent this place was. They had restored the original stone buildings and had added some water features and allowed the tropical plants to grow in just the right places.
Their specialty is their lobster sandwich. We had heard about it the whole time we'd been on Nevis but never went to try it. While walking around, one of the servers walked by with one. HUGE! Homemade thick-sliced bread LOADED with chunky lobster salad (yeah, like chicken salad)! Perhaps my only regret for our whole trip! We should have eaten here!! Even some of the rooms are in the remodeled ancient stone structures. I wish the pictures did this place more justice.

This pic is of the most desirable room there, the honeymoon suite, converted from a sugar mill tower. Darla (always curious to see how the inside looks) went up to the front door and nervously cupped her hands around her eyes at the glass to see inside. Assuming no one was there, she started oohing and aahing about how nice it was. I couldn't resist. I spoke loudly, "We're sorry, we didn't know anyone was in there--sorry!" Darla just about swallowed her tongue!! I wish I had a picture of her face! It was great.

Well, the dreaded day finally came when we had to leave Nevis. Here are some shots from the ferry as we departed and went to St. Kitts to fly home. We met a nice couple on the ferry from Boston who are attending seminary at Gordon Conwell. Great folks, and it was good to talk to some Americans.

It was truly sad to say goodbye to a little island we had grown to love, which has such kind people. Nevisians (pronounced Niv-EESH-uns) are almost all helpful and smiling. They speak perfect English and are very proud of their education (highest literacy rate of all western countries), low crime, rich history, and Christian heritage. They are hard-working people who have made their island great.
We boarded the ferry and took pictures all along the 45-minute ride to St. Kitts. We passed a big old freighter, a Carnival cruise ship, and other craft as we approached the port city of Basseterre. It is interesting that frequently while on Nevis, the Nevisians expressed disdain for St. Kitts. One Nevisian called Basseterre "thug city."

How to end...
I can't express how glad I am that we did this together. We'll be paying for the splurge for a while, but it was SOOO worth it. And Nevis couldn't have been better. I'm recharged and ready for another twenty and beyond!