This summer, the Region granted me a three month sabbatical. I was hungry for some rest, yes, but I was also very hungry to find a deeper, stronger, more resilient faith. After a wonderful, restful, and fruitful sabbatical, I am pleased to return to the call to serve the Regional Church! I am grateful for the Regional Executive Committee and the Regional Board for their encouragement and support for this sabbatical time. And I am also grateful for the Regional Staff and Rev. Paxton Jones for their dedication, knowledge, and wisdom to continue the ministry as expected.
So what did I do on this sabbatical? Several things. On May 1st, Randy and I moved temporarily to a cottage on a sizable horse ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas. We brought our cat, our dog, and our two horses with us. While there, we also welcomed a feral cat, a longhorn, and a crawdad! The month of May was a muddy mess. It rained every single day!
I began this sabbatical by taking the Faith Institute’s “Teaching Healthy Boundaries 101 & 201.” While this course was intended for me to join our other trainers in preparation for teaching Healthy Boundaries to clergy, it really helped me understand more fully why self-care boundaries are so important for clergy, even during sabbaticals.
Randy and I both were refreshed in our souls by sharing many evenings with friends we have not seen in several years. Around many tables, we broke bread and drank wine. We laughed and we wept with one another as we shared our joys and lamented our sorrows we had experienced over the last several years.
We spent two weeks of this sabbatical time in Pagosa Springs, Colorado where we gathered with our children, our three year old grandson, and Randy’s sister and brother-in-law. This time was absolutely delight-full as we ate together and played together. Our adventures included fishing, hiking, shopping, and exploring through the eyes of a three year old! We also gathered as family at Lobo Lookout at Wolf Creek Pass to finally spread the ashes of our son Brook who died in December of 2018.
We also gathered with my family to finally join the ashes of my mother, Shirley Green, with my father in Arlington, Texas.
Sorrow permeated my sabbatical when Rev. Dr. Don Pittman died. And that same week, my favorite professor from TCU, Dr. Ronald B. Flowers died, and Rev. Bob Stewart died. All three of these men influenced my call to ministry in profound ways. I cling to the joy of knowing them and remembering them in simple and profound ways.
The pinnacle of my sabbatical was a surprise invitation to participate in an eight day horse conference north of Dallas, Texas. The leader would be a woman I had never heard of, Ingela Larsson Smith, a professional horsewoman from Canada, who was offering an opportunity to have “True Connection” with your horse. I had one hour to decide and pay to reserve my place. I had the time, the horse, the trailer, and the money, and a very supportive husband!
Of course, I went with one set of expectations and came away awed and fulfilled . . . let me explain, very simply. In the first lecture, Ingela shared that she was a professional dressage rider and horse trainer around the world. She has trained the Queen of England’s horses and horses for the Sheik in the Middle East. Impressive, right? But she continued to say that her performance path left her heart yearning for something more, something deeper. So she turned to the Christian faith. She shared with her twelve students that we could never have “true connection” with our horses unless we had a “true connection with God.” Full stop, right? In other words, we as humans can make horses perform and work, but for a horse to choose us as a leader, and choose to be in relationship with us, we have to find a way to be fully present.
Before we ever got to the arena with our horses, she invited us to consider our relationship with God. God’s deepest desire, or hunger, is that we will choose to be in full relationship with God. That is easier said that done and where we often get confused. For a visual, Ingela placed three chairs in front of us. One of the three chairs represented the unbelievers in the world. People who have not yet heard the good news or choose not to believe it. A second chair represented all the believers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, all those who believe in God and have a faith tradition. This is a good place to be, of course, but it is a place where we are also driven by the cultural demands of society . . . achieving, doing, ladders to success, demands. It becomes a place where we begin to hunger for more and more only to discover exhaustion and depletion.
The third chair represented God — the full, unconditional, steadfast love of God, who is fully present to us and lavishes us with love and grace when we choose to be in God’s presence, every time. This is the place to gently push aside and silence the many voices that question our goodness and to trust that you will hear a voice of blessing, and most importantly to realize that God walks with us, together. Ingela asked us, “In which chair would you like to sit?”
Of course, we all opted for the third chair because we are deeply hungry for this true connection with God, but we realized that we all, even as the best disciples of Christ, find ourselves in the second chair most often, distracted by the demands of our culture and daily work/tasks, and often lured by the critical voices in our head. To have true connection with your horse, Ingela said, you must find your way into the chair of God for yourself, to be loved without any distraction, to be fully and truly accepted for all that you are created in God’s image, and to be anointed over and over again with goodness and mercy. This, Ingela said, is the kind of presence you will need to be with your horse — fully present in your mind, in your heart, in your soul. At that moment, your horse will find true connection with you and you will walk together.
In the afternoon practical applications of Ingela’s lectures with our horses, all twelve of us found that magical and mystical moment of true connection with our horses. As you might imagine, holding on to it is another challenge!
I was on the edge of my seat for every word Ingela uttered about faith and relationships. And, feeling truly inspired and connected, equipped and empowered, I have discovered a new level of servant leadership both with my horse and with ministry. What I know for sure is that it is not all about me, it is about “we” and what we do together.
Again, I am deeply grateful for this time of rest and renewal to discover a deeper, stronger, more resilient connection with God, and I am equally as grateful to return to you as we do ministry together!
Peace & God’s Grace,