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Personal reflections on my three month sabbatical and dad's life challenging us to love God and each other

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Sabbatical Reflections

It is really good to be here this morning… and good to be up here again! This morning’s message is more like an extension of share time… a personal reflection and testimony of what God has been doing in my heart the last several months
It also has been a real blessing to have a three-month sabbatical break from preaching and church leadership responsibilities.
Last December 15 marked twenty years since I have been ordained to the ministry
These past three months have been the only break I have had since being ordained
I want to graciously thank Nate and Ivan for encouraging and making this happen… in doing so, it increased their responsibilities over the last three months… from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
I also want to thank the congregation for the support I have felt during this time.
As the sabbatical approached, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a break like this. I know the purpose was to rest and rejuvenate, but how does one do this with ongoing job responsibilities. As I thought about this, I began envisioning what this break from church responsibilities may look like
Time to read multiple books on my perpetual list
Time to contemplate and pray… specifically for the church as well as each and every member individually…
A time of renewal of passion and vision for the church
Time to visit several other congregations
Time to connect and interact with and learn from other church leaders
Time to get away by myself to personally rest and rejuvenate
Time to do some biking and hiking with my wife
Complete a number of projects around the house
Take a 9-day vacation to Ireland (rescheduled from last summer)
For reasons mostly beyond my control, it didn’t happen anything like I envisioned or dreamed… the only thing on this list that went according to plan was our delayed 25th anniversary vacation to Ireland. Other plans that we had penciled in on our calendar were replaced with other more urgent needs
Over this time, we did have the unique privilege of spending more time with and caring for both of our parents.
In April, both Simon and Polly had infected toes removed and Simon was hospitalized for several days prior to that. We are grateful their recovery went well… for this we are very grateful!
One week after returning from Ireland and the day before Mother’s Day, my Mom was hospitalized in Wichita, KS with a kidney infection and sepsis.
Early the next week, Dad was not feeling well. Mom came home from the hospital Wednesday and Dad was admitted to the Hutchinson Hospital on Thursday with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. By Friday evening, my siblings said the doctor did not know whether Dad would make it through the night since he was not responding to the medications being given to improve his condition. We scrambled late Friday night and bought one-way tickets for Vonnie, Marcus, and I to fly to KS on Saturday.
When we arrived early Saturday evening, adrenaline must have kicked in because Dad was so excited to see us and had more energy and talked more than he had the previous several days… but he was on 10 liters of oxygen and his breathing was extremely labored. My brother Joe and I spent the night with Dad… taking turns staying awake just in case. Sunday his body started responding to the medications and we could see a gradual improvement. Since he continued to improve Monday, we bought return tickets for Wednesday...
While Dad was improving, Mom seemed more pale and weak. By Tuesday, she was much weaker and nearly collapsed while getting ready for bed. We took her to the ER about 10pm Tuesday night. After a few tests, they determined she was bleeding internally and needed at least two units of blood. She was transferred by ambulance to Wichita - an hour away - and admitted to the ICU. On our way to Wichita about midnight, Vonnie called the airline and explained the situation… they said we could cancel our Wednesday flights and have full credit toward a future flight. What an answer to prayer! We were there with Mom all night… they gave her three units of blood, and they cauterized the bleeding ulcer in her small intestine… we returned to Hutchinson Wednesday evening having only grabbed a few minutes of sleep here and there.
While Mom and Dad were both improving, they were both hospitalized an hour apart. I did however enjoy meaningful interaction with both of them. Mom was discharged home on Saturday and was definitely doing much better… although she was using a walker to get around the house. We rebooked our tickets and returned home on Sunday… arriving in time to attend the Gainesville Community Choir concert that Darren was a part of.
Over the next ten days, Dad continued to gradually improve. He was moved to the skilled nursing unit in the hospital… with physical therapy and occupational therapy working with him to rebuild his strength and confidence to go home.
Prior to my parents getting sick, Vonnie and I had decided to make it a priority to go to my Dad’s family reunion in early June… my Dad’s eight living siblings are aging and most are not in good health. Vonnie & I flew back out to KS on Friday about 11 days after coming home.
When we arrived at the hospital to see Dad that afternoon, he looked well! Earlier in the day, he had walked around the unit several times, they had taken him outside to walk around a bit, and they had worked with him to walk up and down several steps. His oxygen levels were down to 3-4 liters compared to ten liters when we had left. He had really wanted to be at the reunion on Saturday/Sunday, but that was not possible. Instead, Friday night, Dad’s six brothers and two living sisters came out to the hospital for dessert with Dad in the dining area on the skilled nursing unit. He wanted to make sure we took a lot of pictures, especially of the seven brothers, all the siblings, and the siblings and spouses. Dad thoroughly loved that evening… a couple of hours of being up in a wheelchair and interacting with his brothers and sisters. He commented afterwards how much he enjoyed it but was tired - a good tired!
Monday afternoon as we were getting ready to head back home, the physical therapist and occupational therapist were saying it looks like he will be discharged home by Thursday. Dad had showered himself that morning and was walking well with a walker. He was a bit nervous about the thought of going home, but also excited. We said our goodbyes fully aware we may not see each other again… Dad commented that one of the hard things for him to accept is that he won’t visit us here in VA again… and he won’t get to see the people here at Faith Christian again.
The very next evening, Tuesday evening, Darren was able to go see Dad in the hospital. He was on tour with the Shenandoah Christian Music Camp Chamber Choir, and their first concert was at Mom & Dad’s church. Even though Darren didn’t have a lot of time with Dad, it was meaningful to both of them… he was able to stay with Mom for the night before continuing on their tour.
Wednesday morning, things drastically changed! His oxygen needed to be increased from 3-4 liters to the maximum 15 liters. Even at that level with no activity, his blood oxygenation levels remained in the 80s… instead of 90-100. He said he felt good, and even felt like he should be able to get up and walk. The doctors told us that with this change there was nothing more they could do for him… and he would not be able to be discharged home with those oxygen levels. Dad stated he would like to be moved to the Hospice House… a facility in which he had volunteered in the past.
At some point on Wednesday, Dad told my sister Beth what happened Tuesday night… during the night he was feeling a bit overwhelmed and apprehensive about the thought of going home… would he be able to handle it? would Mom be able to care for him? would it mean us children helping out with his care? He then sheepishly told her that he prayed if it would be better for him not to go home, God would make it clear. He then said, God answered his prayer, and made it very clear!
Later, we learned that Dad’s outlook and attitude about the drastic change in his health was a powerful testimony to the nursing staff. He graciously accepted the fact that he was not able to go home because he was getting better, but rather facing imminent death in hospice care. Typically, the reaction to such news is anger and frustration… Dad accepted it as God’s will, and even helped make the decisions about hospice care - in a rational and helpful way.
When we learned that rather than going home, he would be transferred to the Hospice House, Brandon promptly made arrangements to fly out early Thursday morning. My brother Joe decided to not tell Dad or my other siblings that Brandon was coming so he could surprise them.
Thursday morning I called my sister and said I would like to talk to Dad if he is up to it. He was sleeping at the time, but Beth said he would like that as long as it was on a speaker phone and he didn’t have to do all the talking. I told her to call me back when it was a good time for Dad… When she called me back, we chatted for about ten minutes when I realized Brandon should be getting there… I texted Brandon and he said they were walking into the hospital just then. It was such a privilege to hear Dad’s surprise and delight to see Brandon walk into his room… Within the next hour, Brandon got to ride in the ambulance with Dad as they transferred him to the Hospice House.
Thursday, June 15 — instead of going home, Dad was moved to hospice… this was also that very day, 26 years earlier, when Vonnie and I were married, and Vonnie’s birthday! Talk about conflicted emotions...
Brandon flew back home Saturday night. Dad continued to feel well… he had no pain, he was coherent and alert, he was comfortable and not suffering. When I called to talk to him Sunday morning - Father’s Day - I could tell a distinct difference from my conversation Thursday. Talking was took more effort for him and his breathing was more labored and shallow. I realized as our conversation ended that it may be the last one we have - and it was.
During the first few days in hospice care, Dad made arrangements for his funeral. The one thing he emphasized several times was that he did not want it not be a long service, and that there would not be extensive tributes about him.
Dad loved visitors - especially while in hospice, and even though he was tired and sleeping more, he fought sleep afraid he would miss a visitor… after my siblings promised they would wake him if visitors came, he slept much more Sunday and Monday. On Monday, his talking was noticeably weaker… by the end of the day, not much more than a whisper.
Tuesday we are not sure how aware he was of what was going on. He slept much more and when he talked it wasn’t really coherent… at one point he said it’s all so confusing. They did give him some morphine to relax him. Several times he tried to say something but they couldn’t really understand him.
We decided to leave by noon on Wednesday to drive back out to KS… not knowing how long he may still hang on.
After a torturous night for my Mom and siblings watching Dad fight for every breath, Dad took has last breath about 5:30am CST. We promptly accelerated our departure plans and left for KS the third time in less than six weeks by about 10:00am… driving through the night and arriving at Mom’s house about 6:30 then next morning.
These past three months were drastically different than what I had anticipated and hoped for.
One thing that was difficult for me was related to my job responsibilities… While in KS the first time with my parents, Rosalie moved and had her first day in accounting… and then, the day of Dad’s funeral was Carlin’s last day at Choice Books… I am grateful God’s grace was sufficient for them (and me). It was not easy...
In some ways, I was quite disappointed how my sabbatical developed! My first break from preaching responsibilities in over 20 years, and I have very little time for myself… very little time to recharge and refocus
In many other ways, I am so grateful for these past three months… the unexpected twists and turns and all!
I can see God’s divine hand in it all… I really could not have planned that my Dad’s six week hospitalization and death happen while I was free of other responsibilities here…
I was able to be in KS four out of six Sundays with full confidence that things were being taken care of here
We were able to give both or our parents more attention and focus because of this sabbatical
We were able to spend almost two weeks with Dad - in the hospital. We had time for good interaction… we could both enjoy relaxed conversations
Not feeling pressure to rush back into things after the funeral was also a real blessing. We were able to stay with Mom until about Tuesday noon before beginning our 1,300 mile journey back home again.
I am reminded that God’s ways are not our ways… they are superior and better (ultimately)
Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Last weekend I felt the need to get away for several days by myself with God… I was emotionally depleted and physically exhausted. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I spent time alone in nature along the Potomac River in Loudon County. During the day on Friday, I was sitting at the base of Ball’s Bluff by the river praying aloud, when I sensed someone else’s presence… someone had approached and was standing about 10 yards away. He asked if I was praying… I said yes… and we started chatting. Ian is also a believer and was an encouragement as he asked how he can pray for me. I talked about the loss of my Dad and Sheldon and Lovell’s deaths. I don’t expect to ever see Ian again on this side of eternity, but it was such a good reminder of God’s care for me — even now!
The one thing I am learning is that I need to find ways to sabbatical - to rest, be refreshed, to rejuvenate - in my day to day living. I need supernatural wisdom from above to do this - I don’t know how to do it on my own… but I sense that is what God is calling me to do!

Reflections about my Dad

Dad was a godly man… not perfect, but a godly witness and example to those who knew him.
Dad was born and raised in the Old Order Amish church. It wasn’t until he was 16-17 years old that the church in Kansas started out of the Amish church.
As a young man, he gave two years of volunteer 1-W service at Hillcrest Nursing Home in Harrison, AR instead of joining the military.
Dad selflessly sacrificed to serve others. Shortly after they were married, Mom & Dad both went back into volunteer service at Hillcrest … Dad was the Unit Leader and Mom was the Matron. During this time I was born and a year later my brother was born. They served for four years in these roles, and when I was two years old in 1968, they moved back to KS.
In 1970, Dad was ordained as minister… I only vaguely recall the ordination and cannot say I remember what life was like before he was ordained.
While living in Kansas, Mom started a Christian bookstore out of a small room in our house… later, we moved and there were two houses on the property, so one was used for the bookstore. Dad went into partnership with two of his brothers selling, installing, and servicing DeLaval milking equipment for dairies up to 100 miles away. These provided sufficient income for our family… by 1972, including another brother and a sister.
In the summer of 1976, when I was ten years old, our family pulled up roots in KS and moved back to Harrison, AR. Dad had been asked to serve as pastor for the staff of about 40 young people in service there. We were the only Mennonite family not involved directly in the work of the nursing home. Dad was about 40 years old at this time - in many ways in the prime of his life for earning money. Instead, our family was partially supported by a mission board and Mom & Dad started an upholstery business for some additional income. He sold his share of the partnership and they sold the bookstore after trying to have someone else manage it for several years. We were there for the next twelve years… . Dad was responsible to preach every week (except when a visiting pastor agreed to do so). I never heard him complain about that continuous load… in addition, he started and was administrator of a school that started with five students.
These were not easy years for Dad… he faced unfair criticism, yet forgave repeatedly encouraging us teens to do the same. As teenagers and youth, we faced our own challenges of not really having close friends. We made hundreds of acquaintances and friendships - but after a year or so, they would leave and go back home. Over the course of these twelve years, an average of 3-4 new people came into our lives every month, even as 3-4 of the ones we knew best were leaving.
When Mom & Dad decided to move back to Kansas in 1988, I was 22 years old, and wasn’t sure I wanted to move there. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I decided to go into volunteer service somewhere and give it some additional time before making a final decision. I don’t know when or how I heard about an opening with Choice Books, but ended up in Fairfax, VA several weeks after my family moved to Kansas. At that time, I knew only several people here… with KS and Hillcrest connections.
Dad was over 50 by now and really did not have much job experience to help him find steady work. Sixteen of his prime earning years had been invested in serving others. He held several different jobs over the next twenty years, but the income was not really adequate to support the family… so Mom continued doing upholstery into her 70’s. God provided enough for them, but they never had extra.
When invited to go on trip to Ireland last fall with close friends/relatives, they declined… saying they really can’t afford it. Mom’s niece (more like a sister) and her husband were planning on going and wanted Mom & Dad to go along. After checking with each of us children, we all emphatically encouraged them to go - they would likely never get a chance to do something like this again! They went… and they throughly enjoyed it… and little did we know that it really was their last opportunity to do something like this.
People who knew Dad over the years commented again and again how much Dad loved people… and he did! He took a genuine interest in others… regardless of their popularity, their background, their social standing, the color of their skin, or their financial status. Mom & Dad both did… I can recall times when we would have six months or more of consecutive Sundays with guests in our home for Sunday dinner… More people than I even know claim Mom & Dad as their second parents.
However, I believe it was deeper than just the fact that Dad loved people… He loved people because he loved God!
Mark 12:28–31 ESV
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Over the past several weeks it seems God keeps reminding me of this basic truth...
The most important thing/command in the world is to love God...
We are also commanded to love our neighbor…
Who is my neighbor? I believe our neighbor is the people God places close to us… specifically fellow believers in the local church, but then beyond that as well
sometimes it is most difficult to love those closest to us because we know them so well
One reason loving each other is a challenge is that that loving requires frequent forgiveness
I am finding that as I genuinely love God, I also have a deep love for the people God places around me
Genuinely loving our brothers & sisters in the local church is a powerful testimony for Jesus Christ to those outside the church
John 13:31–35 ESV
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
BY THIS ALL PEOPLE WILL KNOW that you are my disciples… if you love each other!
Jesus is talking to the disciples here… they knew each other well - quirks and all
John continues to reinforce the connection between our love for God and our love for others in his epistle
1 John 4:7–8 ESV
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
If we don’t love each other, it reveals how little we know and understand God
1 John 4:19–21 ESV
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
It is impossible to love God and hate others… it is a complete contradiction
Like the law of gravity – what goes up must come down
When we love God, we will love each other… if we don’t love each other, it shows a lack of love for God
Jesus, in His final teaching to His disciples, ends with the High Priestly prayer… while love is not in the vocabulary used, it is quite evident love is an integral component to being one...
John 17:20–23 ESV
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
When we follow these two great commands Jesus gave and genuinely love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all your mind, with all our strength… and we genuinely love each other as we love ourselves, we are becoming one!
RESTATE V. 23: Jesus in believers and you God the Father in me Jesus, that believers may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that God the Father sent Jesus and loved them even as you loved me.
Notice the result… As we are one with Christ, this will let the world around us know about Jesus Christ… the message of the gospel is most clearly shared by a consistent life of believers loving God and loving each other
I believe this is the most effective evangelism tool we have…
My challenge to each of us is to make these two great commands the focus of our lives...
not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, not next year
Ecclesiastes 12:1 KJV
1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
Remember NOW… your Creator…
Remember NOW … your God
On the day of my Dad’s funeral, Sheldon was on his way to Baltimore to surprise his mom for her 50th birthday… in a split second, he was in a tragic accident that claimed his life several days later
An ordinary day for a young man in the prime of life is suddenly escorted into eternity
the decisions he had made the previous month, week, and the day before were his final indicators of what was really important to him… his true heart priorities were evidenced in ordinary every-day actions…
We don’t have the promise of tomorrow… we don’t have the promise that we will live through today… In that moment we face death, we don’t want to have regrets for what we did - or what we didn’t do - while we had time.
Let’s intentionally follow Christs commands...
to LOVE GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength
to LOVE EACH OTHER as we love ourselves
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