Several years back my wife Yvonne shared a desire to travel around the country in an RV for a year. We were carrying a lot of pressure and responsibility at the time. She reasoned – “We need to go now while we have the health.”
The relatively large church my wife and I have been part of for 42 years went through a decade of turmoil: denomination and leadership changes, lawsuits, church splits. Near the start of this ordeal, I, along with ten others were brought on as “non-staff” pastors, meaning non-paid. I prefer the arrangement. Not receiving a paycheck encourages impartiality.
Providentially, I was ordained within a week of retiring from 30+ years working for the Pepperidge Farm bread company. I started as a bread delivery worker in downtown Washington, DC, eventually becoming a director of operations responsible for bakery distribution in seven states, in addition to calling on the NE Costco clubs and working with Human Resources. I was used to hard work and long hours.
Although retiring at 55 was a six figure drop in income, our place in life allowed us to get by rather comfortably, and freely focus on others. In addition to the many facets of pastoral care – mentoring, praying, teaching – my wife and I had been counseling for several decades. In the last decade we found ourselves involved in more tumultuous situations: spousal abuse, trauma, sex trafficking.
We can attest to both amazing grace for things God led us into, as well as the significant toll of ongoing ministry. Someone wisely worked into our very new church constitution the stipulation that after two four-year terms, non-staff pastors must take a one year sabbatical. A year ago that seemed improbable. The congregation was doing well, but three of the seven pastors were non-staff. Now there were several men, staffed and non-staffed, who were serving and/or in the pipeline as pastors. I remember vividly the elder retreat in April 2022 when we discussed the non-staff sabbatical. It became clear it was a God-directed, and very good part of our constitution. That weekend I knew – come January 2023 I would be releasing my role as pastor, and Yvonne’s dream might become reality.
Our initial plan was to travel around the country with a combination of tent camping and Air BnB. It was November when I realized: “There’s no way to fit a year’s needs in our car and function day to day.” Which led us to our good friends Dave and Terry Mayo, A-Liner aficionados. They had traveled 90,000 miles the past nine years canvasing Canada and all 49 continental states. Dave gleefully took me under his wing, helping me purchase, improve and outfit an A-Liner Classic while giving me a crash course in everything needed for the maximum care, maintenance and comfort of our camper.
Simultaneously, Yvonne had sensed we should downsize our belongings and fix up the house. We had thought: “Wouldn’t of be great to rent our home for the year to help fund our travel?” In mid-December someone we knew and trusted called us. He did Air BnB management and was willing to list and manage our house. It would take additional expense and preparation, but it seemed ideal for our purposes. So that was added to our plate.
The busyness of the holidays was mingled with painting, caulking, and electric work while sorting, discarding, and packing our home. With the A-Liner prep and the completing/transitioning of ministry responsibilities, life hit a pace where I felt I could implode at a moments notice. But there was a wind carrying us. I shared with others, if that wind stops, we’re going to drop far and fast. But we were sustained and helped by God and many people, in many ways, some quite surprising.
There was an uncanny, almost daily experience in our six weeks before departure. Something would go way wrong, and somehow we’d be surprisingly helped. One example – on one day Yvonne (who is always healthy) got a respiratory infection, a pain in her jaw and numerous bites or swellings all over her back. The respiratory struggle continued for weeks, the jaw turned out to be a root canal, and the swellings… who knows? On the morning of the root canal, the endodontist called our dentist to have the crown work done the same day, who in turn got the final cap to arrive three days later to hit our January 21st departure date.
Above, below, around all of this activity was a strong conviction that God was calling us away. We have learned about ourselves that neither of us has a good governor on when to say “No.” We both respond quickly to need. One of the final commitments we made was to take a precious couple through premarital counseling in the fall. They asked me to do their wedding January 7th. Working on a shoestring budget they were converting a church sanctuary into a wedding venue when we arrived for the wedding rehearsal the night before. We jumped in and for the next three hours were stringing lights, moving furniture, making a shopping list of items needed for the next day’s wedding. It was an amazing celebration!
So we knew that for us to rest we needed to totally disengage and leave town. I even stopped my weekly prayer posts after four years so there’d be no deadlines or commitments. We believe that God is calling us away to Rest, Restore and Reset. We are traveling primarily to listen, to hear, but we are aware that we’ll need first to stop, wait, and heal. In my wife’s words, nature and beautiful things are our best medications.
Now we are walking through a door. We have almost zero clue what is on the other side. Almost everything is unplanned, except to circle the continent south, west, north and east. It is with both anticipation and trepidation we step out. I, in particular, who likes the known, the familiar, the scheduled.
What is on the other side of that door? I don’t know. But I hear my Savior calling me to come and find out.