What a difference a month can make! While it has been refreshing to be away, it is also wonderful to be home. In the days and weeks ahead, I hope to share many of the rich truths that the Lord has recently taught me and reminded me of. In the mean time, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the notable, but “less spiritual” moments of my time away. Here are a few random sabbatical highlights.

 

I grew a beard.

Extolling the patience and self-discipline required in the growing of facial hair, G.K. Chesterton once said,

“You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.”

Too true. A woman can buy a purse, earrings, or a necklace on a whim; but a beard is a manly accessory which takes time and commitment to cultivate. Charles Spurgeon, the famed Baptist preacher, went even further than Chesterton in his admiration of beards. Attributed to the wooly-faced Spurgeon is the somewhat humorous observation,

“(Growing a beard) is a habit most natural, manly, Scriptural, and beneficial.”

That Spurgeon sure had a way with words and with beards.

      Over the past month I have discovered that the donning of full-grown whiskers has perks. I spend less time in the shower (no shave required, just the occasional trim.) I have a natural, ever-present toy for Josiah to play with. (He finds it itchy and scratchy and fun). Also, when I’m in public and I see other bearded wonders, I feel a kindredness to them. It is as if I have been inducted into a secret society which openly celebrates primitive culture and distinct manliness.

You know how motorcycle riders discretely acknowledge each other on the road? We bearded guys do too. As we pass in Wal-Mart we exchange a glance, sometimes a stroke of our chins, and an almost imperceptible nod that unites us in the fraternal bonds of beardedness. I may be the newest member of our club but so far I like it. Beyond that, my wife does too.

 

I was violently ill in 3 different US States (FL, VA, CA).

During the 5 weeks that I was away, I spent a little more than 3 of them sick to my stomach. Thankfully, I only missed one day of the Shepherd’s Conference (though I watched it online in the hotel room.) Despite the tests and examinations, my doctor still assumes that it was just a stubborn virus and nothing more. I sure hope so.

 

I met a celebrity.

After landing in Los Angeles, I parked myself and my bags at a bus terminal to catch a ride over to the car rental office. I stood next to a much older gentleman wearing a jacket and cap both decorated with military badges and icons. Next to him was a woman who, because of her age, I assumed was his daughter. She was quite annoyed at how late the bus was at arriving and wanted everyone else there to know it. Since we were waiting for the same transport, I struck up a conversation with her. She vented. I listened. He stared off into the clouds.

Once we boarded the bus, she finally calmed down a bit and asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I told her. She replied, “I suppose that’s why you were so patient back there. As a minister, I guess you have to be.” I volleyed the occupation question back to her. Curiously, she just pointed to the old gentlemen who was now staring aimlessly out the bus window. I didn’t quite understand what her gesture meant. Just before I asked, she said, “That’s Chuck Yeager. He’s my husband.”

I’m not going to lie. Until that moment, I have never heard of the name Chuck Yeager and was frankly not sure why I should be impressed. Not wanting to show my ignorance, however,  I hesitantly said, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Apparently, I am not as good at hiding my ignorance as I think, because she quickly perceived my lostness and explained, “He was the first man to break the sound barrier flying a plane.” Tilting my head, I took another glance over her shoulder at the leather-skinned, neatly dressed man staring into the blue sky. Again, I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t sure that I believed her.

A bit latter the old man and I found ourselves sitting across from one another on two park benches outside the car rental business. We began to talk about the surprisingly cool California weather.  I found out that he was from West Virginia. He found out that I was from Virginia. We both found out that neither one of us like to the taste of venison. Not surprisingly, he still had the kind of colorful vocabulary that you might expect to hear in a foxhole. Even still, he was a very pleasant gentleman and a good conversationalist. At 89 years of age, I could tell that he was, in some ways, merely a shell of the square-jawed military man that he, no doubt, once was.

A few minutes later, she helped him into their rental car. Even though, some 65 years ago, he sat in the cockpit of a rocket powered Bell X-1 plane and flew somewhere in the neighborhood of 600mph, he now sat in the passenger’s seat. As they drove away in their small, red coupe, I glanced at him one more time. He stared up and out the window. I think he was trying to see the clouds once again.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel room, I opened my laptop and immediately clicked over to Google. In the search box, I typed just three words: “sound barrier chuck.” Lo and behold, staring back at me from the right-hand column of the Wikipedia entry, was a 30 year old photo version of the man I had just said good bye to. I called Rebecca and said, “You’re not going to believe who I just met!” Acting like I knew who he was all along, I told her that I had met Chuck Yeager. My news was met with silence. At first, she too was not impressed. “Who’s that?” she asked. So I introduced her, over the phone, to “Sound Barrier Chuck.” Looking back, it was an honor that I will not soon forget.

Beyond these…

I also:

  • visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.,
  • received 31 free books for preachers and pastors (YEAH!),
  • found out that hardly anyone in California has ever heard of Liberty University (Yeah, I was surprised too.),
  • saw Grauman’s Chinese Theater (with all the celebrity handprints outfront),
  • flew 2,154 miles,
  • drove 2,494 miles,
  • spent a day introducing my sons to the Atlantic Ocean,
  • subsequently suffered from a mild but persistent sunburn,
  • ate at the famed In-N-Out Burger,
  • and sat in Mark Dever’s living room. All in all, it was a wonderful, time.

Thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart!