I wrote the following as a “report” on my sabbatical.
Sabbath for Rest.
Retreats for Reflection.
Vacation for Recreation.
Sabbatical for Renewal.
As you by now know, I am back from a three month sabbatical. I’ve been thinking for weeks and weeks as to how to best describe my time away, and I keep coming back to the same word, over and over again: Gift. A gift.
The timing worked out well, and Milo was born my first week off of work. Both Ash and I got to be with Milo for his first three months of life in a way that very few parents get to do. That was a gift, and I am thankful.
During my sabbatical, it was reaffirmed to me that this church called Grace Mennonite is a gift… This community of people is a gift. I know all of our warts and all the silly things we do, we’re not perfect, but let me tell you, there is no other place that I would be, no other place that I’d want to raise my kids, than here.
Ash and I were in Chicago in September for the both the Enneagram Conference and the Why Christian Conference, and one evening we were on the 94th story of the John Hancock Center doing the touristy thing, and one of you sent me a message. You told me that tomorrow was Orange Shirt Day, a day we invited to wear orange to remember all the residential school survivors, and you told me that even though you didn’t own an orange shirt, you were going to put some orange flowers on your desk to tell the story. With tears in my eyes in front of some European tourists taking selfies, I looked at Ashley and said: I love our church, and we get to be a part of this.
While we were away, my 4 year old nephew had to have open heart surgery to fix a hole in his heart. We were told it was a fairly routine surgery, but when we stopped to think about it, it was terrifying. We were able to shoot a quick email to a bunch of you to ask for prayers, and instantly we were reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and that we do not walk alone. My nephew’s surgery went well, and all your prayers were a gift.
When I was gone I didn’t give very much of my money away to charities… Just a couple bucks to some cancer walk here or a natural disaster fund there. I wanted to reflect on what not giving money to church would feel like… It was kind of empty. I was reminded that giving some of our money every month to church is far more than simply paying for the heating bill or Mel’s pension plan. Giving money here is a one stop shop for a whole host of initiatives and community building. Here we get to have conversations on poverty and reconciliation with First Nations and mental health, here we get to go to Pauingassi First Nation for family camp, here we get to walk with people as they grieve loved ones, here our children get to have extra grandparents in every corner of the church, here we get to sponsor schools around the world and support refugee families in town and help host Soup’s On and English classes and have a free thanksgiving dinner with 200 people. When we were in Chicago, I would be talking to strangers about our church, and I would explain who we are at Grace, and who we try to be, and they would look at me and say: “You’re church sounds pretty awesome. I want to come.” I get to be here… You let me lead here… That is a gift.
When I was gone, I had some time to intentionally pray and reflect on this Christian faith that we find ourselves in. One thing I read was that the role of religion is simply, to tell us, and to keep reminding us, of who we objectively are… That we are beloved recipients of God’s grace and peace, and we get to offer that to the world. That is a gift. We get to do that!
I could talk a lot longer about all of this… I think that when I got back to work last week I was like a fire hose… Poor Mel and Audrey. If you want to hear more about all I did and learned, definitely be in touch. And if you don’t, well, it’ll come out in my sermons for the next few years.
But back to the word that I keep coming back to… Gift. It reminds me of the definition I use for grace. Grace is a gift, undeserved.
And I am grateful to be part of a church that has named itself grace. That is a gift.
PS – Plus, I built a canoe. That is also a gift.