The “normal” time of moving in our Annual Conference is July 1st. It’s that way in most United Methodist Churches. Around this time of year thousands of UM pastors are saying goodbye to churches and getting ready to say hello to others. So, when I said “yes” to moving to serve the churches at Seward and Moose Pass beginning in January of 2013 we were very aware that this was an irregular moving time for us. We knew that this would mean Seward would have an interim pastor for 6 months as they waited for me to arrive in January of this year. And we knew that Girdwood Chapel would have six months with an interim pastor before a longer-term pastor was assigned in 2013. At the time it looked like the best option for the churches involved to keep ministries going.
However we knew that it would involve (sort of) living separately for five months. I would call Seward my “home base” starting in January and the family would move the 90 miles south with me after the school year was out…just last week. It made sense to let the family finish out the school year with a son who was a senior in High School and a wife who was a teacher at the local elementary school. Anyone who is wedded to a traditional school schedule can understand our desire to let the kids have a full year of school.
At first we thought this wouldn’t be all that bad…really. In our minds I would try to take a couple days up in Girdwood each week, being “dad” to the kids, running in to Anchorage for things we needed for the houses, trying to go to recitals and concerts and such. And, in our minds, each weekend the family would hop on down the road to start becoming part of the Seward and Moose Pass communities. So it looked like four days together each week with only three days apart. That seemed entirely doable.
It didn’t quite work out that way. There were quite a few weekends where the family couldn’t make it down. Kids got sick. School events were planned. And a few times the kids just really wanted to be with some of their friends in Girdwood. And there were a few weeks where I couldn’t work out much time back in Girdwood. I had meetings down here and other commitments. In short, it was harder than expected to make it work.
But I did learn (or was reminded of) a few things as this separation wore on:
1) My wife is awesome…holding down a job and taking care of all the “mommy” things. I’m not sure how I would have survived if the tables had been turned and I was trying to hold down the job while acting as a single parent. (She is also very happy that she made it to the top of the list!)
2) I love my dog. The dog stayed with me, traveling back and forth, my constant companion in the Seward home. He gave me “someone” to talk to and gave me an excuse to get out and walk about my new home. Because the dog was with me I had “someone” to come home to, which was nice.
3) It’s hard for me to be in community ministry without my family. So much of my community involvement revolves around my family. Without them I wasn’t involved in school programs and playing at the park and meeting with other parents of kids. At times I felt lost without those normal activities. It was kind of like doing ministry with one arm tied behind my back. This is one of the big warnings I’d give to our conference leadership as other pastors make mid-year moves in the future and I was truly unprepared for this.
4) Quiet is appreciated. In a house with seven people there’s not a whole lot of quiet. Without the family around I sometimes found the quiet to be stifling. But, it also cut down on distractions when I needed to get things done. When I needed to focus I could.
5) Absence DOES make the heart grow fonder. I loved getting those text messages on Fridays when the family would let me know they were going through Moose Pass on the way down to Seward. It let me know they were just over a half hour away. And there were some days where I’d stand in the kitchen, doing dishes, watching for the car to pull in to the driveway. It was very good to see them again. It’s a good reminder of how much I love them. It’s not just my wife who is “awesome.”
6) Communication is hard when living apart. Sure I talked with my wife every day and my kids most days. But there were things that happened over the last five months–minor traumas, events, and blessings–that I didn’t know about because they never came up. Because our day-to-day experiences were separate for stretches of time, I sometimes assumed my wife knew what had gone on in my life down in Seward or that she had been part of some conversation which she knew nothing about. Occasionally, we had some difficulty as we failed to connect the dots and our assumptions were shown to be wrong. My wife said our communication “shorthand” took a hit. Even though we worked hard on sharing our lives as much as we always do, there were parts (nothing major) that went unshared…which was new to us.
7) I’m OK without a whole lot of chaos and clutter. Granted, most of the time the messes at the Seward house were my own and they were my responsibility to clean up. But, with just me living there I never let it get too messy. Most nights the kitchen and dining table were fully cleaned before headed to bed. I stayed on top of laundry. My bed was made most every morning. It’s a whole lot easier without seven people in the house going at 90 miles per hour all the time but I’m hoping that we can keep the chaos and clutter to a minimum now that we’re all here. The fact that we’re in a parsonage now and we’ll be having church folk over more often is an added motivator for all of us.
8) I’m a creature of habit. One of the things I had trouble with is getting on a regular schedule. It seemed, for a while, that I didn’t know what days I’d be in Girdwood, what my week would look like in Seward and Moose Pass, whether or not the family would come on down, and what the rhythms of the town were. Just when I thought my week was planned out, it seemed to change. I like having a rhythm to my week.
9) I don’t think I’d ever agree to a voluntary separation longer than this. I think those who know me know that I’m very family focussed. While I’m very social in the community, I’m very much at home with my family and appreciate them. They round out my life. As the five months wore on I think it was becoming clear to those around me that the separation was wearing on me…even if we still saw each other most every week. We kept lifting up prayers for our family on Sundays and, as of a week or so ago, I was DONE.
And, so this separation time is now done as well. We’ll still be moving. We will still spend days in Girdwood getting the house ready to be sold. We have a lots of stuff to get on down to Seward. But the older kids are starting jobs. We’re living into the community.
And, for the foreseeable future we’re together again.