For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘vacation

Yesterday was my first day back from a wonderful vacation. I met a friend at a mountain cabin for a week of reading, resting, writing, praying, singing, eating and enjoying God’s beautiful fall foliage. Although I returned to town on Saturday and even preached on Sunday, I did not yet feel ready to be back at work in the office facing so many competing demands. I was dreading Monday.

I almost never dread a work day, but I knew that my week off was about to send me careening into a pile of unreturned phone calls and e-mail, unopened mail, last-minute preparations for the night’s Council meeting and writing a stewardship letter and newsletter announcements. There was nothing in the day that I was looking forward to. I also knew that the day in the office would be full of interruptions and distractions, which I expected to leave me feeling frustrated and behind schedule.

But God is good, and sometimes sends us just what we need to remember why it is we do what we do. Yesterday was one of those amazing days in ministry, full of random happenings that reveal the workings of the Spirit and bless a pastor’s heart. A wise pastor once told me that ministry happens in the interruptions, that God lives in the interruptions. I give thanks to God for all of yesterday’s interruptions.

  • A man called on the telephone seeking prayer. He didn’t want anything else, but he said he needed us to pray for him, and that he would pray for us as well. He declined to provide details, but said it was serious, it was nothing new, and it was no big deal for God to handle. I was touched by his quiet confidence and witness of faith in the power of prayer.
  • A man rang the doorbell. He announced he was a concert pianist seeking practice space. I said that we were open to the possibility, but he would need to make arrangements with our musician. As his story unfolded, I realized he was visiting from out of town. He was looking for a place to play, just for today. His wife was a retired UCC pastor, so he sought and found our church. For the next two hours, I sat in my office and enjoyed a beautiful impromptu recital of Handel, Chopin and Mendelssohn on the grand piano outside my door.
  • One of the unreturned phone calls was from a woman whose father-in-law had been a long inactive member of the church. When he died two years ago, I officiated at his funeral. She called because she and her husband had decided to make a gift of $500 to charity in lieu of an extravagant Christmas this year. She sought my advice on local charities (including our church’s soup kitchen) and how to contribute in the most meaningful way. We talked deeply and passionately about generosity, compassion and hope.
  • A woman from across the country, who had become my friend on Facebook because she was trying to learn about the use of social media in ministry in the UCC, wrote to me to let me know that she and her husband had decided to become members of their local UCC congregation this coming Sunday. She shared her appreciation for my online friendship and openness, and for my willingness to connect with a stranger in the name of Christ’s church.
  • A young woman wandered into our building and found her way directly to my office. Her face was swollen and bruised, her eye blackened. She confessed that she had just been married and moved to town, and her new husband had done this to her. A copy of the completed police report was in her hand. Her family was ready to welcome her home, but they were out of state and she had no money for transportation. They advised her to find the closest church and ask them for help. I connected her to the local domestic violence shelter, who offered her safe haven and assistance in traveling back home. I was so grateful that our door was open when she needed us.
  • After the long evening meeting, I had the chance to check in with a church leader in the parking lot. Normally a private person, this leader is not one to seek counseling or make public family concerns. In the dark of the parking lot, a private person found space to open up about a family crisis, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes. I was able to listen, offer prayer and support, and will be able to better attend to this family’s needs as a result. I felt honored to be invited into this painful situation and vulnerable heart.

Somehow, amid all that beautiful interruption, I also managed to get the Council preparation done, stewardship letter written, phone calls returned, mail opened and a bit more. God’s work is such a gift.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in ministry, to participate in God’s work of hospitality, healing, hope-building. I give thanks for the church that pays me just to be there and attend to these moments and afforded me the privilege of saying “yes” to all these voices of need. I marvel that in our secular world full of negative images of Christianity, people still turn to the closest church for compassion, whether as giver or receiver of aid. I praise God for beautiful music, for faith in the power of prayer, and for the healing of wounded hearts. I ask forgiveness for ever dreading a day in God’s service, and ask God for many more days to do this work, and many, many more interruptions.

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I wrote a few weeks ago about an extrovert’s vacation, and my struggles as an introvert taking extroverted vacations. This week, at long last, I had the opportunity for an introverted vacation. It was wonderful.

I drove a mere hour away from home, leaving behind my church, my husband and child, and all obligations to talk to other people. I wandered around a fascinating little town, and took a bunch of photographs for future blog posts. I checked into a hotel for two nights, watched two movies and a bunch of bad shows, finished one book and read a 530+ page novel cover-to-cover. I ate lunch at a restaurant each day, where I was polite but refused to engage in small talk with the servers, even though I was eating alone. I also took a local architectural tour, which happened to include several retired clergy. I did not “out” myself as fellow clergy, because I did not want to engage in conversation that went deeper than, “isn’t that building interesting?”  I would slip quietly into my hotel room each evening about 5:00, armed with snacks and reading material, and not reappear again until breakfast.

I have returned to life feeling centered and rested. This is what I needed. This has freed me to write again. I could have stayed all week. It was a true introvert’s vacation, a vacation from people, to spend time with myself and with God.

It’s been a month since I’ve done any significant writing. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say–I have a “drafts” folder full of ideas and starters for blog posts. It’s not even because I’ve been working too hard. Although it’s been a full time at church, that has not stopped me from taking time to write in the past. It’s because I’ve been on vacation. The wrong kind of vacation has left me bereft of energy for writing.

I spent a week at a very full conference with other young clergy in the UCC 2030 Clergy Network, then a week back home, then nearly two weeks in my hometown surrounded by family. All of these were good trips, filled with engaging conversations and plenty of material for reflection and good times with extended family. But I returned from this time of vacation feeling incredibly scatterbrained, stressed, depleted and overwhelmed, and I think I have finally figured out why: I am an extreme introvert who has taken extroverted vacations.

None of these trips have been stressful—there was no family drama, no major travel nightmares (although one came close), no frantic need for sight-seeing. Neither has the workload upon my return been overwhelming—just the normal catch-up work on visitations and preparing worship for vacation weeks. The stress, I realized, is coming from within, or, rather, from the inability to spend time within.

Because all these travels have involved a short amount of time and a long list of people to see, the days were packed with one visit after another. Many of them were intense, filled with passionate conversations and deep-hearted sharing among old friends. As an introvert, these conversations themselves—while often enjoyable and exciting—are also draining. For me to make sense of them, I need time apart to process things, think them over and be alone with my thoughts. During vacation, I just piled one conversation on top of another, until they all became a big blur.

Over the last 10 days since I got home, I have had plenty of time in the evenings to sit and write, but my mind has been too jumbled. All I could manage to do was watch television, clean house and go to bed early. It has taken me a week to recover my inner voice and mental space for writing, beyond the normal writing of sermons and prayers and newsletter articles.

My writing is not the only thing to suffer, however. My patient and pleasant personality is probably the far greater victim. I have noticed for years that I get testy and irritable when I go to visit family on vacation. I try to be nice, but I find myself snippy and snarky despite my best efforts.  I think it all goes back to trying to be something I’m not: an extrovert. When I don’t take time to process, think, be silent and alone, I become a very unpleasant person.

I don’t know how to do it, but in the future I need to be more self-conscious about the impact these extroverted vacations have on me as a person and as a writer.

Now that this first piece of processing is written, let’s hope I can get back into gear and spend some time on that backlog of ideas in my drafts folder.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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