Seven years ago my husband Bryan and I traveled to Greece…a place he loved and wanted to share with me. After that trip it became Bryan’s greatest dream to travel to Greece as an entire family. As my children and I talked about a way we could honor Bryan’s life, after his death last year, we decided to travel to Greece together, as he had hoped, and memorialize him there.
When I traveled to Greece with Bryan I didn’t love the food. I think falafel is simply awful. I am not a huge fan of seafood so I had Greek salad for every meal until I got tired of that. I couldn’t wait to go to Greece with my family but I dreaded the food.
What I learned by traveling to Greece with four millennials is that food is the highlight. All of them know how to seek and find the best food around. They wouldn’t let my preconceived notions of what I liked and disliked rule the day. I tried new tastes I never thought I would try and I loved them. We ate fresh fish, caught that day, grilled to perfection and covered in cups of melted butter. We ate tomato fritters grilled on the back of a sailboat after swimming in the caldera in Santorini. We ate quince and oats, covered in Greek yogurt and drizzled with honey from the island of Skyros.
Bryan’s greatest wish of showing Greece to his family was fulfilled, but my children allowed me to taste Greece for the first time. Our world is filled with taste and beauty and most of the time we miss it because of our preconceived notions. Just like our Bible is filled with tastes and beauty and we often miss it because of our preconceived notions.
In the third chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet has a vision in which God hands him a scroll of scripture and tells him to eat it. Ezekiel does and he finds out it tastes like honey.
I have people tell me all the time that they don’t read the Bible because it is filled with violent, made up stories. It is true that the Bible is an earthy book. It can be pretty messy sometimes. It is also filled with truth and realness…poetry and music….awe and refuge.
I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?
It comes from the one who made the heavens and the earth.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
There is a time for every season, under heaven.
Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.
O, taste and see for the Lord is good.
The Bible is a library of sacred texts that grows stale on your bookshelf but when opened and read brings taste and insight, comfort and challenge, beauty and worship. I invite you to learn to taste again.
I had lots of dreams and goals for my sabbatical – more than would fit into 9 weeks. I wanted to clean out my garage….didn’t happen. I wanted to go through two grocery sacks full of sympathy cards that I couldn’t fully take in when I first got them…still too soon. Mostly, I was determined to clean out my emails. So in between fabulous trips and recovering from jetlag I slowly and determinedly went through the emails on my work computer and home laptop.
You see, at the beginning of my sabbatical I had over 25,000 emails on my personal account and over 20,000 on my work account. I know what you are doing right now. You are judging me, just like my children did every time they peered over my shoulder when I was checking email on my iPhone. They would say things like, “Are you kidding me?” Or “I feel nauseous seeing how many emails you have.” Or “25,000 emails in your inbox? Hey everyone, my mother has 25,000 emails in her inbox.” I know what it feels like to be judged about this, already. I see the look on your faces. I can see you from up here, you know.
During my sabbatical I slowly deleted and archived 45,000 emails. My children wanted me to just delete everything before 2017. I couldn’t do it. I went through all of them. As I did I relived times in my life…the death of my father and then my husband. I found 109 emails from my son Matt. Some were photos and videos. Many, many of them had a song Matt had written attached. Most of them were emails back and forth between us about myth, faith and the Bible. There were quite a few emails back and forth between my son Brett and me. They were filled with recipes and his thoughts on food. As I read these emails I thanked God for my family, I noticed how different and alike my sons are and I prayed for them.
As I cleaned out my work email I relived the life of this congregation for the last five years. I progressed from an email introduction I sent to a new visitor to the church to their decision to join the church and I was filled with love as I prayed for our newest members. I journeyed through conversation after conversation with families working with me to plan a memorial service. I thanked God for the saints of this congregation that have gone before us. I found emails from people who were making decisions about a wedding ceremony and I prayed for people’s relationships. I saw the work of the commissions and I was moved by the volunteers in this church who give countless hours to make this a better world. I saw all the prayer concerns, Intercoms and the countless emails between me and others as we tried to schedule a meeting. I relived the highs and lows of our gathered life together and I prayed for this congregation that holds together in such incredible ways.
I don’t recommend this form of email management. It was an overwhelming and exhausting process. It caused stress and some nightmares…and yet it gave me opportunity to pray. Actually, I have found that everything gives me opportunity to pray. What made this different was that I got to see how most of these email conversations turned out. I saw the importance of family, the wisdom of elders, the sanctuary of community and the hand of God.
I Corinthians 13:1-8a
Over the years I have had people remind me of the importance of taking Sabbath rest…a time to renew and recharge. The truth is that when you tell me to take care of myself, I add it to my to do list.
#10. Take care of self.
What I learned in this sabbatical time was what truly happens when you take care of yourself…when you rest and pray and meditate and give yourself space and grace you not only renew you re-love. It wasn’t that I had stopped loving. Absolutely not. But I am a doer and busyness can consume my life. Busyness can keep us from noticing what matters most in this world. I had time to notice and remember and hold onto and let go of and love.
One year ago on April 23 my husband died suddenly. On the first anniversary of his death I was traveling from Assisi, Italy to Florence, Italy. I knew I wasn’t going to be with my children on this painful day. So the night before I sent them each a long email in which I said to them:
I wish I could tell you what your father would want to say to you today if he could. But I have never been able to channel his wit and wisdom. However, I am sure the man who saw us fully and loved us wholly still loves us. Just as energy never dies, I believe love never ends. He loves us still, just as we still love him, because love never dies.
On this sabbatical I had time to move away from the trauma and memories of the night Bryan died. I had space to remember vacations and love and wisdom and humor and companionship and joy. I had freedom to celebrate rather than just experience the painful grief that forced its way passed my busyness.
Bryan’s favorite place in Greece was the island of Santorini. So while my family of five was enjoying the beauty there I rented five hours on a wooden sailboat for a private charter. I had originally planned to take Bryan’s ashes and spread them there in the caldera but the Greek Consulate told me no.
So before I left for Greece I looked around my house for some small memento that would remind me of Bryan that I could take with me and leave there. I had a small glass heart that Bryan would use to convey his love for me. After he left in the morning I would find it on my pillow, or next to my laptop, or by my sink in the bathroom….just one of Bryan’s many wordless ways of letting me know I was loved. I slipped it into my suitcase and I took it with me on the sailboat.
Sailing on the caldera was the highlight of the trip for every member of my family. That would have made Bryan so happy. We swam in the warm waters of the volcano that bubbled up from below the water’s surface. We soaked in the beauty of the white cliffs and took way to many photos of the blue, blue Mediterranean waters.
Just before the sun went down we sat at the front of the boat and we told stories of all the ways Bryan showed his love for us. It wasn’t hard. The last year has been hard but remembering Bryan’s love for us is just pure, unadulterated joy. We wouldn’t make it without that love…that love that never dies.
Just before the sun set I threw that glass heart into the caldera at Santorini. It wasn’t my way of saying good-bye to Bryan for love never ends. It was my way of remembering and re-loving.
The Bible says, “On the seventh day God finished all the work of creation and so, on the seventh day, God rested. God blessed the seventh day, and called it sacred…”
Sabbath. Even God rests. We all need Sabbath to rest, remember and re-love.