a prayer for this point of the journey

Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees;  then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
Renew my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.

– The 119th Psalm, verses 33-38

Sabbath Well

Sabbath is a gift.  You receive it.  You don’t earn it or work it.  You just receive it and embrace it.

Unless you don’t.  Unless you just miss it.

Whether it’s an every-seven-year sabbatical or an every-seven-day sabbath, there’s a choice that must be made with passionate intention: it’s the choice to receive and hold the gift.

I wrote this as the sun rose on Playa de Coco in Nicaragua with just over two weeks of our sabbatical remaining.  I hope it challenges and encourages you to pay attention and take in the fullness of this day.


A Thought on Sabbatical

When you actively plan something for more than a year…
When those you care about most are giving, sacrificing, taking-on extra responsibility to enable you to rest…
When your children are growing up – rapidly! – before your very eyes…
When there’s a back-log of important conversations – and just the experience of conversing – that needs to happen with your wife…
When you know – you can’t ever really forget it – that the swift pace of crowded days and all the demands of your regular work and schedule are awaiting your return…

…there’s a sharp sense that
    you better get this right,
    you better receive the fullness of this gift,
    you better seize every moment and be present to the life given in every experience,
    you better hear God’s voice – not to preach it – but for your own soul,
    you better breathe deep, 
                     look hard,
                     think clearly,


sabbatical :: july

In early July we said a teary good-bye to HoneyRock (northern Wisconsin) and embarked on a three-week drive westward.

Here are some of the highlights.  (I’d love to show you about 3000 more pictures, and I know you’d love to see them if you just had time, but…)

The Badlands in South Dakota.  Isaiah loved this place.  Something like 85% of the dinosaur bones found the the US were found here.  But we didn’t find any.

In Wyoming we refreshed ourselves in the beautiful, ice-cold, and best-named-creek in the country: Crazy Woman Creek.  

No sight of the crazy woman.  

We reached Yellowstone National Park where we camped for 4 or 5 days.  The “park” was massive and breath-taking.  These shots are of Yellowstone River.  

Carm and the big kids getting soaked by the Pink Cone geyser.  
We ate, slept, and escaped from wildly aggressive mosquitos here.

We spent a wonderful afternoon swimming in the Fire Hole River – still in Yellowstone.  Then we made peanut better sandwiches and laughed while Matthias identified each passing vehicle: “Bi-eek”(motorcycle),  “Broom- Broom” (car), (lower voice) “Biiiig Broom-Broom…Whoa!” (truck/motorhome).

It’s the simple memories of times like these that we cherish the most.

 Here’s Matthy in Montana.

One of my favorite moments of the whole summer was driving through South-Eastern Montana, in the early morning, along the Madison River which was just full of fly fishermen.  I wish I could have captured it with a picture.  It was such a wide and expansive scene.

Carmen in Bandon, OR.

Best camping spot: Cape Blanco, OR.

The kids loved the road trip.  But they really missed their friends and cousins.  They were excited to join the annual Oates family Beach Week in Santa Cruz at month’s end.

[Next: August in Nicaragua!]

sabbatical thoughts :: june

“How was your sabbatical?”

That is the question.  And we really appreciate the interest.

Here’s the first of three brief reflections on our summer break…

We began by driving as fast as we could to Northern Wisconsin.  We drove/ate/screamed in our minivan all day and slept in our little tent trailer at night.  It was cramped and cozy, intense and fun, long and hard and sweet.

We arrived at HoneyRock Camp on a Saturday.  The next morning I preached and began two weeks of ministry to the 80-90 college students and full time staff who run what I consider to be the most effective camp in the country.

Sienna and Isaiah participated in a one week residential camp for the first time and absolutely loved it.  They’re saving their allowance and hope to return next summer.

I taught almost every day on the temptations of Christ.  One of the results was a steady stream of meetings with college students wanting to confess sin, be honest about their temptations, and do the hard work of real, lasting spiritual formation.  It was wonderful, exhilarating work.  I experienced powerful times of prayer where God would lead me to speak specific words of direction to the people for whom I was praying.  I’ve rarely experienced this kind of depth of insight in prayer.  It was powerful.  It was exhausting.  Three weeks into our sabbatical I hit a low point and felt a nearly overwhelming need to just stop talking.

 I looked like this.  

The next two weeks we spent almost totally alone in a cozy cabin on the end of a lake.  We ate on the deck overlooking the water.  We watched bald eagles snag fish and painted turtles sun themselves on old mossy logs.  We slept a lot.  We read.  We canoed and kayaked every day.  It was wonderful.

We loved every minute and wondered how we could return to this very spot someday.

I spent several early mornings on the water watching the sun rise through thick mist and listening to the sounds of the forest waking up all around me.  These were mystical, memorable mornings when time seemed to stand still.

We’re so grateful for this gift.

[next: July: road trip!]

I Should Just Stick with Theology

I bought it for the title: In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks.
I bought it on a whim.

I was driving, listening to a conservative, Jewish talk show host who thinks and speaks with remarkable clarity, and was, for reasons I do not understand, interviewing Adam Carolla.

The Adam Carolla who has the most-listened-to podcast in the world.

The interview was funny – Adam has a remarkable ability to observe human behavior and point out the inherent humor in it.  I love this kind of work.

And I happen to agree with Adam’s basic concern about the increasing feminization (Adam uses another term) of American men.  I actually think it’s a real and serious problem.

But I should have just stopped with the title.  The content that followed (at least for the next 30 pages – I put it down and took a bath after that) was so thoroughly soaked in verbal sewage that I failed to notice the humor and human insight.  I was too busy trying to rescue my mind from the wretched imagery evoked in nearly every sentence.

I truly appreciate accurate language, so occasionally a colorful phrase is simply the best one to choose (in my opinion).  Mostly, poor language is simply laziness.  You’re not willing to put forth the effort to express yourself precisely, so you just choose from about six words and make it a noun, verb, or adjective – whatever fits.

Adam writes with such vulgarity that if the publisher were to censor the profanity this book would be reduced to a pamphlet.

Should have spent my $12 on something else – anything else – beets, even.

I Made Breakfast in Rye Patch

There’s something good and right about a dad making breakfast for his family on a camping trip.  Don’t you agree?

Guys who don’t cook…
Guys who can’t find the milk in the fridge…

Will wake up at dawn, before anyone else stirs, and create a four-course feast over a Coleman – and will love it – on a camping trip.

Something gets accessed –
Maybe its the smell of the coffee and bacon.
Maybe it’s the outdoors.
Maybe it the fact he’s wearing boots.

Or maybe its the simple goodness of providing for those he loves.