• My Sunday letter returns today after a two month Sabbatical from writing it.  
  • When I last wrote, some plots were still dangling.  My dad, recovering from a stroke, has made very slow progress, fallen a few times, went home for a few weeks, fell, and went back to rehab for some more intensive therapy.  He gets around (shakily) and has trouble with conversations that require him to give more than half a sentence in response.  He is aware of most things, wants to respond, but has trouble with short term memory and completing thoughts coherently.  
  • Jie made her annual trip to China and returned (June 21).  Her family is doing well.
  • Mindy had a great run as "Kate" in Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" at the Station Theater in Urbana.
  • Grandchildren, Maple, Isobel, and Sean, 4 months, 10 months, and 3.5 years, continue to surprise with new accomplishments each time we see them.
  • The letter below consists of reflections about why I took this "Sunday-Letter-Sabbatical" and what I have observed during that time.

July  7, 2019
Hello Again
When Easter arrived this past April, I was feeling exhausted. Exhaustion for a pastor at Easter-time is not news.  I've been a pastor now for 47 Easters, and every one of them has left me with a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion.  

But this year the exhilaration part of that mix was nearly absent.  There were several reasons for this:  

Jie was struggling at that time because the conference no longer is making ministry to Chinese a priority and they eliminated all the funding for her mission at the Wesley Foundation.  All spring she was in the middle of trying desperately to find some full time work that would be meaningful for her.

Mindy was also looking for work, after Champaign County lost the grant money they had used to lure her over to her new job there.  

My dad's stroke entirely destroyed the life he and my mom had been living, and even though he was making some progress, it was all too little to make anyone honestly happy.  

The denomination was in the midst of a nasty fight over whether to open our doors all the way (or only part way) to LGBTQ+ persons.  

There were no more than the usual number of unhappy people causing me pain in my congregation, 
but I was having more and more trouble finding patience and tolerance for them.

And just before Easter, I started working with a group of new pastors, teaching them "Administration" in the church.  This is my fourth year to teach the class.  And this year, I decided to do something different.  I designed a simulation game for them to play with me.  I send them a problem (the kind pastors encounter in congregations) and they send me back what THEY would do about it.  In round 2, I let them know the different ways that their solutions caused ADDITIONAL problems, or made the first problem worse. The game goes for four rounds. It gets more complicated for the students each round.  I didn't make up anything new:  I just gave them problems that I have encountered myself through the years...or problems that my close friends have encountered.  I only changed the names...usually.

Playing this simulation game with19 students at the same time, giving each one a unique and different problem...turned out more emotionally taxing on me than I imagined.  First, it felt like playing 19 chess games...simultaneously.  Second, it brought back more painful memories than I was prepared to deal with.  And third, most of the students came up with answers that would take a bad situation and make it worse...much worse!  Lord, have mercy!

And this leads to the final pity I'll share today.  Three different ophthalmologists told me this spring that my suddenly deteriorating eyesight (starting in early March) was caused by too much stress.  Since March, due to vision problems, I have had trouble reading, writing, and driving.  And since 95% of what I do for both work and pleasure involves reading, writing, and driving, my productivity... and satisfaction... slowed to a snail's pace.  And the stress went higher.

In the middle of May, Jie went to China, and I took the remaining weeks of vacation I had and tried to get caught up with everything.  At a much slower pace than normal, I got my backlogged church work done, caught up on my writing, finished critiquing a novel for a friend, got caught up with my students and their simulation games, built a raised garden bed, visited the grandchildren, planted the garden, listened to audio-books, organized my desk and my closets, and tried to get rested up.  

The only thing I could totally walk away from during this time was my Sunday letter.  And as much as I get satisfaction in writing it, it also involves an enormous amount of reading and writing (by the time I edit it like I want.)  And so I took a Sabbatical:  didn't even write to all of you and ask if I could.  I knew you would let me...even encourage me.

In the meantime, Jie was given two new churches.  They are moving her from a 10 hour a week job at the small church in Pesotum (35 minutes from here) to a 40 hour a week job being pastor of a church in Sidell and another one in Chrisman.  The churches and the district superintendent want her to live in Sidell, an hour away from Mattoon.  She'll give it a try about three nights a week.  But it doesn't feel like it will be any less stress for us.

Mindy still has job applications out there...all over the country. And my parents are taking it a day at a time.

The eye issue (four different problems with the retina) is being addressed, with medication for right now.  Time will help two of those four problems...but it may cause the other two to get slightly worse.  

To be fair, many people have worse eyesight problems than I do.  But because I tend to take on 25-30 reading and writing projects EVERYDAY, and eyesight is so central to what I do for people, I'm having to learn how to adjust.  And sad to say, I'm a really SLOW adjuster!

If you see me driving down the road, don't worry.  I have no trouble seeing you.  I just can't make out the name of the street sign you are standing under...until I'm about 30 feet away.  

In the meantime, the eye doctors have encouraged me to believe I will be able to resume a more normal (for me) reading and writing schedule in a few months.  Until I get back up to speed, I'm taking on less new projects.  This Sunday letter starts again... because writing this... and staying connected with the people I care about... and offering you a little something each week... is good for my soul.  

Next week, I'll not be such a downer for you.  I promise.  But this week, since my relationship with my readers is built on openness and authenticity, I wanted to give an account of where I've been...and to let you know that I'm glad to be back. SEE you around!

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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