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In my last post, I wrote about my recent sabbatical/silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was my second retreat there in as many years.  Among other blessings, the week provided me with an opportunity to work through some inner conflict, turmoil, and anxiety that I didn’t even realize were affecting me so significantly until I was in a context where I could be still and focused long enough to reflect on it and face it.  I spent a lot of time in reading, prayer, reflection, and introspection.

Among the issues that I wrestled with that week was the concern that I feel for Kim and Coleman while I am away from home.  While Kim has been nothing but encouraging and accommodating over the last nearly 21 years of Coleman’s life in regard to my traveling great distances for mission trips, revivals, seminars, and now sabbaticals, I always experience a sense that I have left her with a significant weight of responsibility to bear alone.  We are so blessed with dear friends and church family members who would be there (and have been) at the drop of a hat to assist in whatever ways may be needed, but that does not alleviate the sense of responsibility and angst that I feel.

My resolution of the conflict was to determine that, for the foreseeable and indefinite future, I will not make foreign mission trips.  Foreign trips, of necessity, require a greater amount of time away from home  than do domestic destinations.  Also, the time and logistics of returning home in the event of an emergency are just too great.

I have been greatly blessed over the last 30 years to share in the work of Christ and His church in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, England, Scotland, Mexico, Honduras, Nigeria, South Africa, Estonia, and Ukraine.  Seven years ago, I had the joyful and enriching experience of traveling to Israel with my daughter Hannah.  Even if I never travel abroad again, I will be extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had up to this point in my life.  Our son’s special needs and unique circumstances just necessitate a change of itinerary.

There are so many other people who can go (and will gladly go) to minister to others in the name of Jesus and share His love and message of salvation.  Not only can they accomplish exactly what I would hope to accomplish, they can likely do so far more effectively, creatively, and fruitfully than I would be able to do.  I will focus more in the months and years ahead on supporting others to go and encouraging those who have been sent.

Kim has already tried to get me to reconsider this decision.  That is noble of her, but her efforts will be unfruitful.  There is so much that I can do here and from here.  I currently teach via Skype each week with a small group of Christians in Guyana, with plans to add a second congregation later this week; no airfare, no ground expenses, and no travel time required!  Domestic mission destinations, seminars, sabbaticals, etc., will remain on the books, but only to places from which I could be home in a matter of hours versus days.

Is there any disappointment in this decision?  Only that I may not have another opportunity in this life to personally see the smiling faces and enjoy the sweet fellowship of people that I have come to know and love in other places, most recently in Estonia and Ukraine.  I had also hoped to return to Nigeria this year or next and to include a stop in Liberia where I lived for a while when I was a boy.

So, yes, a bit of disappointment, but no sense of defeat.  This is just another lesson in learning to live joyfully and gratefully within my limitations.  It’s simply a situational adjustment, just like the multitude of adjustments and accommodations that all of us have to make in response to circumstances in our lives.

Just keeping it real (for me) and close to home (for now)!

Yesterday, after a lot of prayer and thought, I determined that I needed to suspend my graduate studies and formally withdraw from the M.Div. program that I began last fall.  It was not an easy decision, but it was a necessary one.  I had been overly optimistic in thinking that I could get back in the classroom without impacting my ministry and family responsibilities.  My ability to juggle the additional work load is apparently not the same at age 49 as it was 25 years ago. 

In the past, I ignored the signs and symptoms of being spread too thin, being far too proud at that time to admit that there was anything that I couldn’t do.  So, I insisted on pressing on, and paid a dear price as a result.  I was beginning to recognize the signs and to sense the familiar symptoms and stresses.  Experience has convinced me that I cannot afford to travel down that road again.  Graduate study was the variable in my life’s equation that could be altered.

There is a sense of disappointment, but it is a “good” disappointment, knowing that it was for my greater overall good, along with that of my family and ministry.  I have accepted the blessing of having had the opportunity to earn B.A. and M.A. degrees in theological studies, and can now be contentedly resigned to the fact that the pursuit of additional academic degrees does not fit within the framework of my life and the limitations of my circumstances.  I have the satisfaction of having tried and failed, rather than a perpetual, nagging, unanswerable questioning of “I wonder if I could have.” 

I take comfort in knowing that my foray back into the classroom, brief though it was, has rekindled some fires and re-whetted my appetite for ongoing learning, to which I will remain committed throughout the years ahead, though not in a formal graduate program.  The level of instruction in Oklahoma Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology is outstanding, and I would highly recommend the program to those who are seeking to further their ministry training and theological studies.   I am grateful for the knowledge gained, the new connections made, and the old relationships renewed.

Inspirational messages and anecdotes from great orators and motivators can convince us to defy boundaries, refuse the confines of limitations, and burst through barriers to achieve greatness beyond our imaginations.  As you have already surmised, this is not one of those messages.  For those people who can and who do, God bless you and strengthen you; I’ll stand with the rest to praise your achievements and victories. 

However, my decision to discontinue my graduate studies serves as somewhat of a counterweight and a reality check that sometimes we have to recognize, accept, and live within our own limitations, and to do so with contentment and without regret.

That is a blessing in and of itself!

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