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Rick's Sabbatical 2017: Story 2

Posted by Rick Carpenter on

"Sidetracked?" (June 16 – 30)

After a visit with Kay's parents in Louisville, Kentucky, I had decided I'd better make room for my mom. So the plan was to drive to Dothan, Alabama, and spend a week or so with my mother, while at the same time, finding lots of peace and quiet for reflection and renewal through writing and reading. My mother lives alone (my Dad went to Heaven about 6 years ago), and she is the only member of her family or my dad's family still living, so no relatives to visit. I envision her home as a retreat center and my visit as a true Sabbatical Retreat.

But plans changed quickly. Our older son, Landon, was involved in a four-wheeler accident 10 years ago. He did a lot of damage to the bones in his face under his right eye—so much so that the eye began to fall because there was not much to hold it up. Docs in Dallas did surgery, putting the bones back together with titanium. But after a couple of years, an infection invaded, and docs took the titanium out. They were hoping but not guaranteeing that the pieced-together bones and the scar tissue would support the eye. They did—until about 3 weeks ago when another infection came on, and a CT Scan revealed many bone fragments were floating around. Docs believe it was one of these bone fragments that clogged a tear duct that led to the infection, which, by the grace of God, was the warning system that something had gone wrong with the eye orbit.

Surgery was scheduled, I postponed my trip to Alabama, and Kay prepared to travel to Dallas to be with Landon and his wife, Angela, who was dismissed from the hospital just a few days before the scheduled surgery. She fights an on-going battle with Cystic Fibrosis. Of course, our main goal was to help with Avery (4 ½ ) and Aiden (18 months). That's what KK did. On Sunday before the surgery, I drove to Dallas—my job was to wait with Angela during the surgery, to drive her home after the surgery, and to return with her the next day, in hopes of taking him home.

The surgery lasted 5 hours, as promised, and 3 docs and a team of about 15 performed what we would call miraculous treatment. A plastic surgeon cut bone out of the skull to form a new eye orbit; an ENT surgeon cleaned out the nasal cavity, clearing bone and infection, and the eye surgeon formed the new eye orbit and installed it, while cutting out as much as possible of what he called nasty, gnarly, grisly infection. It went well, though it would take Landon a couple of weeks to believe it. He looks like the fighter who lost. The prayer now is that the infection will be identified soon so that an antibiotic treatment can begin to eliminate it completely.

I titled this one "sidetracked?" (notice the question mark), because at first I saw it as a distraction from sabbatical plans. But now I'm giving thanks to God that Kay (a CCISD teacher on summer break) and I were available and able to be in Dallas to help, as all of us parents desire to do when our families need us. I'm constantly amazed that nothing throws God off, or sidetracks him. I believe that he was preparing us, even as we made Sabbatical plans, to be present, even as He is present, with Landon and Angela and Avery and Aiden.

As Landon got settled at home—he was only in the hospital 30 hours—Kay and I drove back to Houston (in separate cars) and on different days at the end of the week. Trying to get us back on the Sabbatical track, we were preparing to fly to Atlanta on June 27, to attend the Annual Gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. But on Monday before we were to leave on Tuesday, we decided that Kay needed to be back in Dallas. Landon and Angela were struggling, and Avery and Aiden really needed their KK. So on Tuesday, I left for Atlanta, and a couple of hours later, Kay began the drive back to Dallas.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, which means that it was birthed about the time our family moved to Houston. I first attended the Annual Gathering with Robert Creech in Fort Worth 20 years ago, and Kay and I have attended more years than not over the last 15. We love the worship, and I love the nature of the CBF gatherings, focused on diversity and acceptance, and celebrating and supporting mission efforts in areas where no one else is going. Absent of conflict and controversy, which characterized the SBC in the last decades of the previous century, CBF is a true fellowship of people who love to be together.

The plenary session speaker this year was Brian McLaren, whom I had heard much about but had never heard speak. I first attended his afternoon workshop, which was called, (Re)introducing the Way of Christ in America, a plan of action. He is rather edgy in his thinking about the Christian church and its mission, even calling for "a reconsideration of what Christianity is supposed to be," acknowledging what it currently is (he used terms such as a chaplaincy to white nationalism, a friend of environmental destruction, a weapon of mass distraction, a supporter of ignorance, and a threat to minorities. He placed those over against what Jesus and the apostles represented: agents of universal/racial reconciliation, proclaimer of the sacredness of creation, preachers of peace/God who loves all (no exceptions), challengers of ignorance, and includers/protectors of despised minorities. And he challenged his listeners to consider aligning our ways with the ways of Jesus and his apostles.

I know some of these are hard to swallow—for all of us—but it sure makes me think, and I like to think and ask questions and dream of a better world, a better church, a better me.

McLaren has written a ton of books. I picked up his latest, which is The Great Spiritual Migration. I haven't finished it, but as I told him when I got him to sign the book, I am so appreciative of his prophetic words. And when I used the word "prophet" to refer to him—a prophet in the 21st Century—he reminded me of what often happens to prophets. Oh yeah, they're despised, rejected, and sometimes killed. I'm so thankful for voices like Brian McLaren that are speaking in the "wilderness" of America in the 21st Century.

Kay and I returned home about the same time, she drove from Dallas, faster she said, than I flew from Atlanta. I'm spending some time at home writing and reading and resting in early July. In a few days, I'm going to travel to Alabama to visit my mother, and focus on some of my writings that I've created for worship over the last 45 years (I'm re-writing, editing, and organizing them for who knows what. (As Martha Tanner, who along with husband Joe hosted me on 2012 Sabbatical in Colorado said, after hearing that I was still working on those writings, "So you're still writing that book?" Maybe I am.

And guess where Kay is. Nope, she's not back in Dallas. They're doing OK there. This time, she's in Little Rock, to help Christy with Ellie, Levi, Annie, and Sweet Baby (a new foster child that they are hoping to adopt later this year), while Logan and a group from Second Baptist Church, Little Rock, are on a journey to South Africa to help with REFILWE Ministries, seeking through the love of Jesus to help children in order to break the cycle of poverty, and to empower parents. They leave July 6. We pray for them and for all who are on mission from 2BCLR, UBC, and from other places around the world this summer.


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