Photo: Alex Markovich. Camera: SONY DSC-R1. July 2014.
As he shook my hand, Mark, my friend and the pastor of St Andrew’s Lutheran down the street, said, “Brian, I cannot make the next lunch, so this is the last time I will see you before you leave on Sabbatical. Have a life-changing trip. I’ll see you when you get home.” I was stunned!
It was five years back that Mark and Curtis, both Cedar Hills pastors, first began to encourage me to take a sabbatical.
Then it was in January of 2014 that idea of walking the Camino first was dropped into my heart. And then in August 2014 the church and I began to plan toward that very event. Two years of planning, the Lily Grant, and now, I am down to the countdown. “This is the last time I will see you…”
I’ll preach just 7 more times. My worship design team will meet just 5 more times. Many that I see at Annual Conference this week I’ll be seeing for the last time. The board I am on for the nonprofit called “Be One Church” has planned a special send-off dinner for June 23rd. I met with the Camino Planning Team for the last time this past week.
All these “last things” remind me of the message preached by Jimmy Gibson, March 31, 1983, called “The Importance of Last Things” in which, among other “lasts” he recalled his departure from his beloved Ireland, and kissing his mom goodbye “one last time” before boarding the ship that would take him from Ireland and her. He would not see her again before she died. That was the message that God cemented in my mind (who remembers a message from 33 years ago?) in order to use it as a part of my call into ministry that year. Now all these new, important “last things.”
These endings and countdowns at first brought fear! The “What ifs” paraded through my heart: What if it doesn’t achieve what I’d hope? What if the Camino doesn’t change me? What if I return just as spent as I feel now? What if the church doesn’t regain their spiritual fire they seek? What if all this work becomes like chaff, blown away by the wind?
Then, Friday night, a week back, at dinner with my wife Karen, she shared into these questions, and God used her words to shift the pendulum in my heart from fear to joy and a deep-seated confidence in God’s great plan.
Suddenly the narrative became: “Wow, Lord, what are you going to be able to do with this massive commitment?”
We have plans for the church, including part-time Pastor Bonnie Vance coming on staff and a great line up of some nationally known sabbatical speakers. Walkers are planning to race to the coast in the Portland-to-Coast relay, the church plans to reach beyond my 1,000,000 steps on the Camino by all walking here, dinner groups will meet, book studies will be in place, a craft show and a women’s retreat are planned.
On the flip side of this activity, I’ll be paring down my life. First, I’ll be playing with my family for a week at the coast, and then be walking, eating, sleeping and praying, listening for God to speak into the silence of my soul while walking the Camino in Spain and then I’ll stop, paint and pray in Ireland, seeking God in those “thin places” there in that land. I’ll end with family, as Karen comes to join me for the last three weeks in Ireland and then England for our 35th wedding anniversary.
God is going to use this intentionality.
So—I’m going to rejoice. I’m going to enjoy the countdown and the goodbyes and these days to departure. What a great adventure awaits and is occurring along this Camino!