It’s our vacation time. It’s that window of fresh air that comes every summer where we as a family steel away from our work and pull towards one another. We are, perhaps officially, desert rats now. And 116 degree days here mean you need to somewhere out there. Last summer was the stuff of stories. Northern California. Afternoons on the lake. Nights watching Hamilton in San Francisco. Sacramento midtown foodie mornings. Horseback rides. And hangin with my boys from Bayside. But the magic happened nightly when we watched the sparkle in the eyes of children who light up every time they walk into a new AirBNB, bask in the warmth of their GaGa’s arms, and sink their teeth into a Summer Sno Cone. Our Prayer was Psalm 23 — and God indeed restored our souls.
But it’s 2020. And there’s no need to remind you of what’s happened this year. We’ve lost school. Church as usual. Jobs. Finances. Comforts. And concerts. To be sure that’d mean that vacation wouldn’t be as good either, right?
So I headed into this year’s vacation exhausted. Usually I try to go into it not being too tired so I can ‘do’ some things. But it’s Covid and 2020. So like everyone else in the church world we worked more in the past 6 mos than we’ve ever worked before. Went from preaching every weekend to, literally, preaching daily. Preaching on the zoom instead of the room. Trying to encourage our staff when we ourselves were fighting the weight of sadness and depression just like everyone else. Then Ahmaud Albery happened. Then George Floyd. Then Breonna Taylor. Then protests. Then riots. Then politics. Then whatever in the world has ensued now that fake news is listened to more than real news and all that goes with such cultural madness. And that’s when it began to affect me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I can’t begin to tell ya how lonely this year felt. Not saying it ‘is’ lonely. Just saying it felt more lonely than it ever has. My heart is so very, very heavy.
My mentor Kenton taught me that ministry does damage to us. It does damage to our family. Damage to our marriages. Damage to our kids. So take vacation seriously to repair or else you won’t make it.
Don’t hear me complaining now. I know what I asked for. There’s unbelievable joy in ministry. Salvation. Couples being reconciled. The poor being blessed by the church. Nothing like it. Truth is there’s also unbelievable pain. Decision making constantly. Budget realities you couldn’t have possibly imagined. Staff restructuring. About 8 times. And the sheep of the fold are hurting. And scared. And mad. And uncertain. A shepherd’s heart doesnt’ know much peace when the sheep are suffering. There’s a just a weight to it. I can’t really explain it. But there’s a weight. The ins and outs of the church’s well being have consumed many a date night’s conversation. It’s interrupted way too many an outing with the kiddos. It’s because there’s weight to it. You’re never really ‘off’ see? Lives are at stake. And yeah, there’s some ego in there too. My point is this — there’s weight. Ministers are ALWAYS second guessing themselves. But I can’t begin to tell you how much the winds are shifting for too many churches and too many of their pastors. If you know a pastor, pray for him or her. Often.
Saying all this to say as we geared up for this year’s vacation I’d let the enemy deceive me to believe, “There’s no break for you this year. Take advantage of some time off. Give the kids some good recreation. Get out of the heat a bit. And let that be good enough for you this year. It is what it is! It’s Covid don’t you know? It’s the worst political season ever don’t you know? There’s too much uncertainty. Too many more decisions to contemplate. TOO MUCH! Ricky you will NOT get a true vacation this year.”
And so God lost my keys.
For the past two weeks I’d been going through the motions. Couldn’t really let church go. Couldn’t let the weight of this cultural moment go. Couldn’t let my convictions about the racial climate in this country go. Couldn’t let my worrying (this is my greatest weight) about what REAL families are gonna do should more layoffs and economic downturns continue. We made it to a house up here in Apple Hill, CA. It’s beautiful. But I’m a vacation curmudgeon see and I refuse to let myself rest. This was to be our last day here.
So we took the kids to a pond just down the road. It’s stocked so supposedly you get the worm in there and the fish will hit it. We’d caught about 2 or 3 fish. The scenery is pristine. The boys and my daughter are consumed with laughter and smiles. The air is fresh and the sun is bright. I’d begun to really disconnect from it all.
Now we’d brought our stroller. It’s not a corolla stroller. It’s a Cadillac. More like a tank! With all our stuff in it—wallet, cooler, stuff, and our keys. Well we’d been fishing for an hour. We looked at the top of a little hill where we’d parked our stroller an hour before. Well. It started moving. We all watched helplessly, and in utter disbelief, as our stroller rolled towards the pond. Towards this muddy, thorny, sticky pond. The stroller rolled completely into the pond.
We were able to save the wallet and the cooler. And the stuff. But the keys (the kind that cost $400 to replace) were lost. You can imagine the chaos of the next 30 minutes of course. Wading through mud. Traversing all the thorns. Even tried a magnet. Those keys will be there until Jesus comes. Well a friend is gonna ship our spare from our house. But that means we’re here a bit more. The owner of the house where we’re staying then said to me, “You guys are welcome to stay another day.”
And that’s when I realized what my Father in Heaven had done for me. I’d finally begun to break away from the weight. Then God lost my keys to make sure I spend another full day enjoying the magic of what happens when we get in nature, turn off the world, and turn on our fellowship one with the other.
This afternoon God has spoken volumes to me. My heart and mind are open for refueling and refreshing. I’m hearing His voice about moves to make, conversations to have, and tables to invite others into for God’s work. I’m getting reignited to work towards racial reconciliation. Justice. The fame of Jesus Christ in the earth. And all that cool stuff.
Indeed this coming year may be the hardest you and I have ever seen. But today was a reminder that this year will be met by the mighty one of Israel. And He will again be the victor.
You may be in the middle of your own situation whereby the proverbial stroller has rolled into the pond. But step back and listen for His voice. Maybe God is going to use it to bring you to a place you weren’t before willing to go for yourself. I think in Heaven I’ll meet the angel whose assignment it was to move whatever soil was holding that stroller in place. When I meet that heavenly sentinel, I will be sure to say, “Thanks for what you did for me. Nice work.”