First, let me say that there is no such thing as a good time for a pastor to take Sabbatical.
Seriously, there is always something going on in the life of the church. And there is always someone who has a need. This past month, we had someone very ill, someone who was having major surgery, more than one person in a nursing home, several people having medical tests - well, you get the picture. And these were the ones we knew about BEFORE Sabbatical started. And when one of those people is one of the leaders that is helping fill the role of the pastor, it just becomes more challenging.
Having said that, God times things perfectly. How? Let me tell you.
You see, we scheduled this Sabbatical several months ago. While we wanted to wait to take all three months together, we looked at the church calendar and didn't see a way to do that, unless we waited until after Easter. And I knew that I needed to start the Sabbatical sooner than that. I knew that I was at a point when I needed to clear my calendar so that I could come back stronger spiritually to serve Amity. So we scheduled the month of January into February. We took into account that we needed to be at worship the first Saturday of January to serve communion, and to be at the first Consistory meeting in January to oversee the part of the meeting when the new officers for the year are elected. And I say we, because initially Hal and I were both going to take Sabbatical, until he decided to retire at the end of the year. He said he was "driving Miss Daisy"...I said he was "driving Miss Crazy".
When we scheduled the time, I planned to take an online class from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary...but it was cancelled. With little time to plan anything else formal, I planned out a reading list...classics from Bonhoeffer and Chesterton, as well as current study books that I wanted to review to see if we should do a group study at the church. God's good timing? Scrolling through my Facebook wall, I came upon an ad for a FREE (the PTS class was not) online class from Dallas Theological Seminary. I am now halfway through the class, and have used information from it in a sermon already. It's the first online class DTS has offered. God's perfect timing.
When we scheduled this first month of Sabbatical, I knew that I was planning to be visiting my sisters in Mt Olive, NC, when my sister Carol was celebrating a milestone birthday (I'm not going to say which number, but it's higher than me!). I did not know that she would be seeing a doctor about a suspicious mole on her face. As we drew closer, I knew she was having a biopsy. I had no way of knowing, when we scheduled, that she was going to have to go for more extensive surgery while I was on Sabbatical. I was able to be there, to go to the motel the night before surgery and have dinner with both of my sisters and my niece Elizabeth (whose husband was out of state on a run), to hang out and play cards and laugh ourselves silly. I did not know I was going to be able go with her the day of the surgery, to wait with my sister Cathy in the waiting room, to talk with the surgeon after the procedure, to help if she needed help (except with taking off the bandage. I told her she was on her own with that!) God's perfect timing.
We went from there to visit Hal's sister in Myrtle Beach, and to visit our former home of Summerville, SC (just outside of Charleston). Hal's sister has a lovely home, and while she has not been in it very long, you would never know it - she has it set-up and decorated nicely, and Hal was able to do something she needed help with. We weren't able to visit everyone we wanted in Charleston area, but were able to visit with a dear friend and colleague, and one of Hal's former co-workers. While we had wanted both visits to be longer, something (someone?) told us to cut them short - and we were able to be back in PA before the storm that dumped over 2 feet of snow hit. God's perfect timing.
The weekend of the storm, the person who was scheduled to preach in our stead was having medical problems and was in a rehab center. While there was someone else who was prepared to preach in THEIR stead - the decision was made that the conditions of the roads were such that church was cancelled. God's perfect timing.
After the storm, Hal and I went to see Katherine. While she had to work, and had some meetings, we were able to relax at her home, to have prepare dinner for her when she got off work, and in the evenings to relax, to watch movies, and just enjoy each others' company. We dined in as a family; dined out as "Hal and Connie" while she was at work, and spent our last morning together, dining out and shopping together. Breathing time. Family time. God's perfect timing.
The next part of the plan was going to visit friends here in PA. Friends who live where cell phone signals don't reach. But that got blown out of the water. In a good way. When I called my friend to tell her that plans needed to change, the first words out of her mouth when she returned my call was "Is everything ok?"...and everything was.
When we initially scheduled the Sabbatical, we had no intention of going to visit Josh, Christy, Camden, and Keegan. We did not know at that point, that Josh would receive his "promotable" status. As the time for Sabbatical drew near, we still had no way of knowing that he would receive word that his promotion ceremony would be on the last Monday of this first portion of Sabbatical. So, on the day of the church's annual congregational meeting (yes, I cheated - but had to be there in case anyone had any questions about the Pastor's report - remember, no such thing as a good time for the pastor to be away), we attended church, ate at the fellowship meal after, and drove to KY. We spent the night, got up and went to lunch and Goodwill (got a cute skirt - no money in this one ), then went to Josh's promotion ceremony. We had a wonderful meal out with the family and some of Josh's friends and fellow recruiters, and spent the evening with family, driving home the next day. Whirlwind trip, but worth every mile to see Josh, Christy, and the grandchildren again. God's perfect timing.
So...this part of the Sabbatical is over. But in a way it's not. The lessons of this last month - the lesson of looking for God's timing - the lesson of taking time - the lesson of breathing - the lesson of being more open to intentionally talking and listening to God. Those lessons will remain.