Wednesday, May 29, 2013

And So It Begins!

Anita is over her anxiety!  The house is clean and ready for the guest who will be using it as their home away from home—and preaching at Providence and feeding  Mike the Cat!  We are appreciative of them and hope they don’t look under that place that I was supposed to clean!
But as soon as we got to the airport, Anita relaxed.

I just got more anxious!

It all comes from an incident involving a passport that didn’t make it with me to Prague, a large man with an AK-47 strapped over his shoulder saying, “You Go Back!”  It only takes one time and you clasp your passport all the time.  (Pause while I check….yep, it is here!)

The truth is however, my anxiety has been growing over the past few days.  It started when I realized I had to be intentional about what I was going to wear, and what I was going to take on the trip.  I found myself wanting cantaloupe, because who knows if they have them in Bali.  And will I ever get a tomato sandwich this summer? 

It is not that I am not thrilled about this trip!  I am!  I can’t wait to discover places I have never been.  It is just that the routine of my life is so…. comfortable.  I know what coffee cup to use on what day, what is going to happen, what I am going to do. 

But this sabbatical?  Well, it has disrupted my life, my routine.  I don’t know what day it is, or what to do, or soon, where I am.

Which was the point wasn’t it?  TO get outside the waters that bind me, that set the limits of my life, that form the natural borders of my world. 

To pontificate just a bit, I do wonder how often that is the way we live at church.  We have our borders of right and wrong, proper and inappropriate, how we do things, and to get outside that border is just too anxiety producing to even consider, let alone doing! 

But what if we did? 

So now it begins!  I am heading into a new world (actually a very old world—going to see the Great Wall on Sunday!) and really don’t know what to expect!  It will be an adventure!

And yes, I am a bit anxious.  But I do have my passport!  Just checked again!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It was wonderful...right up to that last moment

I had heard so much about Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail.  “Have you done the trail?” people would ask whenever we were in town.  This walking/running/biking trail runs…well forever!  I know that it runs from downtown Greenville to Travelers Rest. 

I can now attest that it is wonderful!  No, that really doesn’t capture how wonderful it is!  

Last weekend Anita and I were in town to celebrate Amy Shelley and Matt Olson’s wedding.  We decided that we would throw our bikes on the car and go for a ride.

(A sideline, when we checked into our hotel the young lady behind the counter looked at me and said, “Mr. Flowers?  I am Brett Barbare…well I was.  I got married last month and now I am Mrs. Flowers!”  Brett and Alison were good friends when we lived in Greenville.  Just one of those little serendipities!  And the people at the Hampton Inn downtown took great care of our bikes—and is a wonderful place to stay I might add!)

So Friday morning Anita and I took off!  We rode north.  And did I mention that it was wonderful.  Anita turned green with envy when she saw the rubberized running track!  The trail runs through places that prior you wouldn’t have gone, but now there are little cafes that cater to the bikers and runners.  Neighborhoods put up signs that say “Like riding the Swamp Rabbit Trail?  Imagine living beside it!”  The trail has become an economic catalyst.  (Do you hear that Charleston???)

We made our way to Furman, took a ride around the lake which our children had enjoyed during their college days; ran into friends.  We ventured on to Travelers Rest before turning around and heading back for a quick lunch.  We made it back downtown and then went a little further—through Cleveland Park.

That was when Anita said she was going to head back to start getting ready for the wedding.  (Did I mention that I was officiating??)  I rode a bit further before turning back!
I got lost in Cleveland Park—ended up down near the zoo, off the trail.  I realized my mistake and turned around.

Did I mention that it was a wonderful ride?

Right up to the point that I made a left hand turn off the little bridge, never seeing the mud on the trail.

You know, it doesn’t take long to hit the ground!  Hard!

As I was sprawled all over the path, I tried to catch my breath, confirmed that I could move everything, made sure my bike was ridable.

It was then that I realized that my ribs really hurt!  REALLY HURT!

Short version, I saw Dr, Mathis at the reception and he told me what I knew. If they were broken (which I think they are) there really isn’t anything to do—just wait.

Sleeping the last few nights has been difficult.  Moving heavy stuff around hurts (so don’t do that!) I am almost looking forward to sitting on the flight, because they don’t hurt when I am sitting.

Did I mention that the Swamp Rabbit Trail is really wonderful?  I had a wonderful time—right up to that last moment!

See, this sabbatical stuff isn’t all wonderful! Life does go on!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dancing lessons from God

By Anita: 

       Look out world!  I have a international drivers license!  I can drive in 179 countries around the planet  - from Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria and Azerbaijan  to the UK, Uzbekistan, Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam, Western Samoa, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  But most importantly,  I can drive in Indonesia... well, I’m licensed to drive now in Indonesia.  We’ll see about the actual experience. 


That’s just one of the many details I’ve checked off my very long to do list.  Trip prep has taken up a lot of my time in the last few weeks.   The reality is that we’re leaving the country for two months.  We’ve done visas and immunizations.  What do we have in the way of travel clothes and what do we need?   Most of our suitcases have wandered off to Texas and China.   Do we need new ones?  What about phones, money, insurance, bug spray, contact solution?  How do we get Don’s “must be refrigerated” medicine (in needle topped syringes, no less) to Bali?  And the big question.... do I pack my running shoes? 

Then there are the practical matters on the home front.   How am I going to pay our regular bills while we're gone?   Who’s going to cut the grass - and how do I pay them?  What about my finicky ferns on the back porch?   Several friends will be vacationing at our home in Charleston and feeding Mike the cat so, of course, I’m in serious cleaning mode.  Details. Details. Details.  Not what I do best.  

But it will be worth it!  Kurt Vonnegut once wrote “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”  My unfinished to-do list reminds me that I can't arrange and manage every tiny detail for every minute that I'm away.   It’s almost time to begin the dance.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's Not Just About Me

I will be the last person in the world to ever say that the opportunity to take a sabbatical is not an incredible gift, perk, benefit, extravagance—you pick the word!  It is wonderful!

But it isn’t just wonderful for me!

It is also an incredible gift to my family. 

I am aware that I have a lot of flexibility with my weekly schedule.  If I have a doctor’s appointment I just go.  If I need to run out to the bank or the grocery store during lunch, I can.  That is wonderful.  I often wonder when normal people go to Wal Mart.  (OK, lets be honest, I don’t go to Wal Mart anyway.  Anita makes that run, but you understand what I am saying!) 

But the flip side is that I work during normal “family time.”  Weekends are full—either with weddings or more often just getting the sermon finished.  Sundays are full.  We can’t plan a trip away…because Dad has to work.

But a sabbatical!  It is extended family time!

I realized that the first time I ever took a sabbatical.  The girls were young then, but as the time came nearer they got more and more excited.  They looked forward to the time.  “You mean you won’t have to go to work?” they asked.  “You can come and have lunch with me at school?”  “You will be here when we get home?”

During one of the most memorable sabbaticals we have ever took the whole family went to England.  We got to see so many sites, created memories that fuel stories that we still tell.

That was gift!  It is gift! 

Even now…now that the girls are all grown up.  This sabbatical is gift to them!  Savannah was home from Austin last week.  We laughed and went to the beach and had fun and never got interrupted with “work.”  Next Wednesday we will leave to head to Beijing for a few days with Alison and James. 

It is even more!  I spent a few days this week at home in Cherryville.  I mowed the “Lower 40” (actually just about 2 acres) helped Mom make some decisions, and just relaxed in the old homeplace. 
On the way back to Charleston I stopped by to see my father. All of that would be next to impossible during “Normal” time.  But sabbatical time…

So on behalf of my family, thank you!  It is gift to me, but also to them!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The visas have arrived!


     Several of you have asked if I (Anita) will also be blogging about the trip.  The answer is yes... Don and I will be co-blogging from this website and hopefully, our marriage will survive it.   

     We're prepping for a two month trip to the other side of the world - China, Indonesia and Australia.  Until you are in the middle of it, you don't realize how much work it takes to get there!

     I spent several mornings talking to the Indonesian consulate  and Chinese visa service and locating the documents we needed.  Because we’re going to be in Bali for six weeks, we had to apply for a social-cultural visa for Indonesia, which meant we had to send in a thick stack of paperwork - including a letter of invitation from a sponsor in Indonesia, that person’s identification papers, our travel itinerary, a copy of our bank statement, a U.S. letter of employment, and our U.S. passports.  Mailing off our two passports to the Indonesian consulate in NY just weeks prior to a trip was a little anxiety producing - and we were going to have to do it twice!  You can’t do it too far in advance because you have to use the visa within 90 days.  Thankfully, the Indonesian visas arrived back within a couple of weeks, stamped neatly inside our passports.  The next day, I  loaded a second mailing envelope with another stack of papers and, again, our passports,  bound for the Chinese consulate in Washington, DC.    And today, the wonderful FedEx delivery person showed up at the front door with our passports and Chinese visas.
       Thanks be to God that Australia has entered the digital age.  For an Australian visa, we just had to log onto the Australian government website, fill out a form with our passport information, give them our travel dates and our credit card number and Boom!  We have  electronic Australian visas.   

Visas done...  and then there were the shots!

      We spent an afternoon at the MUSC travel clinic and found out again that the medical staff there really know their stuff.  We had used the clinic before we traveled to South Africa in November and were very impressed with their knowledge and helpfulness. So, there we were again, getting immunized against everything from typhoid fever to hepatitis.   Don hates getting shots so he was relieved to find that the typhoid vaccine is an oral medication that you take over a period of days.  We also were given prescriptions for anti-diarrheal medication and assured that we would definitely need it.  The travel clinic gave us recommendations for mosquito repellent,  a list of places where the water is not safe for wimpy American stomachs (pretty much everywhere we are going!) and other travel recommendations.

Visas done.

Immunizations done.

Packing.... well, that's next.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Waters from Which I Came

For a few wonderful months while I was in seminary, I had the great privilege and joy of having Grady Nutt as my Sunday School teacher.  Words just can’t describe how much we laughed, and learned. 

One Sunday, as he was finishing up he became very serious.  He looked at us and said something that I so needed to hear, and something I have never forgotten.  He simply said, “I have never met a mature person who was ashamed of where they came from.”

Saturday night, I took the time to go “back to where I came from.”  Oh, I didn’t go home to Cherryville, NC.  I went to Darlington!

You need to understand.  I was a NASCAR fan before being a NASCAR fan was cool.   It was hereditary.  My father and uncles would make pilgrimages to Charlotte and Darlington and Daytona and the stories of those trips have become family legend.  I remember the first time I went to the infield of the World 600 in Charlotte, sitting on towers that would never be deemed safe by OSHA or my mother or any sane person! 

I met the King as a young boy (and if you don’t know who that is you will not understand anything that follows!!!) and thought I might as well die then!  Could anything better EVER happen???  I can talk to you about Fred Lorenzen, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, Junior Johnson, and about Cale Yarborough and his infamous 1979 fight with the Allison brothers at Daytona—a race The King won I might add!.  I learned early in life that you were either a Ford man or a Chevy man or a Chrysler man and you didn’t change!  (I still can’t buy a Ford, although I recently rented a Taurus and it was incredible!!!)
A few years ago Richard Nunan, made me an offer.  We would go to the Saturday night race at Darlington and he would drive home so I could be ready to preach on Sunday.  (That is a Sunday in which I PREACH REAL LOUD!)  It has become a tradition. 

You have to understand that Richard is the last person in the world that you would suspect of being a race fan.  He teaches philosophy at the College of Charleston, is prone to wear a T-shirt to the race that says “This is what a Feminist looks like” and brings wonderful vegetarian pizza to eat.  Last night we had a wonderful conversation about time travel and the philosophical implications.  He is teaching an honors course next fall that you really should take—even though you can’t!  Richard grew up near Hueytown Alabama, a point of contention that I have gotten over!  (How could you pull for the Allisons???)  He is a Mark Martin fan and dreams of living long enough to see him win again.
Sorry Richard!  You’ve been outed!)

I am a Baptist minister who serves a church on Daniel Island, drives a Volvo and loves going to the ballet.  I have a degree from Wake Forest, Southern Seminary, and Emory, and have been accused of being rather liberal in my politics and theology.  Not the kind of people that you would expect to be sitting in the Pearson Tower at the Track too Tough to Tame on a Saturday night listening to country music, Republican senators and the roar of engines!

But there we were!  Pearson Tower.  Section H, Row 24, Seats 23 and 24. 

We’ll be there again next year. 

Sometimes you have to dip your toes in the waters that birthed you.

Sometimes you have to remember not to be ashamed of where you came from. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What I Have Learned/Admitted So Far

Just before my first sabbatical, which was delayed a year due to moving into our facility, I had a very poignant dream.  I was at a going away party that the church was giving.  We were moving somewhere.  There were nice decorations and cake and punch.  Everyone was coming by and saying nice things to me.  In my dream Joe Goodson, who was our moderator and a friend with whom I had shared many road trips to SC CBF meetings came up to tell my how much he was going to miss me.  I remember looking at him and saying, “But Joe, I don’t want to go.  It’s just that I am so tired!”

This was our view--if I had been awake!
Already, less than a week into this time I am recalling that.  A friend asked me what I have done and I replied, “I have slept.”  Anita and I went to Hilton Head for a few days—and I slept.  2 naps in one day. 

It isn’t just getting old.  (Well, it might be!)  I think that most of the time I never allow myself to admit how tired I am.  There is always a sermon to be written, phone calls to make, articles to write, a wedding to celebrate, a funeral that you didn’t expect.  There are always people who stop by “just to talk.”  That is what I do!  That is my job!  That is what I love!

But I never admit how tiring it is. 

I don’t think any of us do.  Especially now with our cell phones and laptops and IPads, it is easy to work at home, on vacation, while watching TV.  Just stopping and doing nothing?  We just can’t.  

Admit that we are tired?  Not going to happen.

But right now, with nothing else to do….I can.  I have.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You Get What??!!!

There are times when I am almost embarrassed to tell colleagues that I get a sabbatical.  The envy is almost more than I can bear!  It is even worse when I tell my “non-clergy” friends.  Their reaction, even if in jest, is always, “But you only work one day a week now!”  (I remind them that I also work on Wednesdays, thank you very much!)  What many want to know, however, is how.  How did I get a sabbatical?

It was very easy!  I asked.

There was a bit more to it.  I moved to Providence 17 years ago from a position at First Baptist, Greenville.  At that time I was granted a 2-month sabbatical every 4 years.  So when we began having conversation with Providence, I just asked for 2 months every 3 years.  I can only imagine their thinking.  “He is taking a pay cut to come here, so we should be nice.  But seriously, the average tenure of a minister is barely 3 years, so this probably won’t ever cost us anything!  Let’s throw it in!”

This will be my 5th sabbatical!  It is the secret to my longevity.  (Well that a an occasional walk on the beach and fresh shrimp.)  In all seriousness I cannot imagine doing this job without the knowledge that there is a time when I will be able to just set everything down and just be...

A sabbatical is gift from our church to my family and me.  These weeks give us time to just be, to reconnect, to vacate.  But it is also a gift to our congregation.  Providence is unique in that we have 21 ordained ministers in our congregation.  (We only have about 350 members, so you do the math!)  While I am away our congregation gets to hear a different voice.  This time we also have the gift of several friends “from off” who are coming to lead in worship.

But this sabbatical is also a gift from the Lily Foundation.  Several years ago they became concerned about burnout in ministers, how many were just walking away to do something else.  They created a program that would allow ministers time away to renew their souls, to do things that would make their hearts sing.  I had applied several times before, but to no avail.  I applied again this year (actually last year) expecting the same result! 

But surprise!

So over the next 12 weeks (I am using all my vacation time this year) we will be resting at home, and then off on a wonderful journey.  We are going to Beijing, China to see our daughter and son-in-law; then to visit/work with friends in Bali and then home via Perth, Australia where we going to check up on church members. 

None of that would have been possible without this grant, for which I am so grateful; without the gift of the time from Providence; without the extra work and ministry by my colleagues.  It really is gift.  I really am grateful.

My guess is I don’t know how grateful yet.  That will come over the next few weeks.

The Waters that Bind Us


     I am the pastor of a Baptist Church on Daniel Island, SC.  My world is defined by water.  Geographically, we are surrounded by the waters of the Wando and Cooper Rivers.  Spiritually it is where we begin, as we go down to the Wando for baptism.  Water binds us together. 

     But it also binds us.  The rivers around Charleston not only give us beauty, but also boundaries.  You live East Cooper or West Ashley or James Island, or Daniel Island.  The waters give us a geographical, social, and many times economic identity.  Providence is on Daniel Island—an absolutely wonderful setting. We live in Mt. Pleasant—east of the Cooper River.  We have talked about making the 6-mile move to Daniel Island.  It would be so nice to walk to everything, to get rid of a car, to be more a part of the community.  But my fear is that if we did move, I would never leave the island! 

     Which is why this sabbatical journey is so important!  During this time we are going to explore the waters that bind us—in ways both good and bad.  How do we allow barriers to bind us into routines that keep us from one another?  What are the commonalities that bind us together—even when we don’t recognize it?  For the truth is we are all bound together by water.   

     A few years ago I came across a wonderful little book by Maruso Emoto called The Hidden Messages in Water.  He writes, “We start out life being 99% water, as fetuses.  When we are born we are 90% water, and by the time we reach adulthood we are down to 70%...In other words, throughout our lives we exist mostly as water.”

     This is a journey to break out of the confines of my life, to go places both physically and spiritually that I have never gone, but also to discover the ways that we really are bound together—by our common humanity, by water.  It will be the journey of a lifetime.