• There was a point on this trip where I had been gone long enough for the scales to fall off and was still far enough from our return that I could not see the end. That period was like flying and simply thinking about it still refreshes me to this day.

After seven years of service, my congregation allowed me to take a seven-week sabbatical. A ministerial sabbatical is a time for rest, reflection, prayer and growth. 8603 miles later, I have returned to NW Arkansas. Here are ten things I learned:

Go north in the summer. We should be thankful that we have four seasons in NW Arkansas. But it isn’t too far to head north where long sleeves are needed on summer nights.

The American west is beautiful. From the Rockies to the Pacific, this is one beautiful country. I fell in love with America all over again.

Vehicle technology is awesome. When I was a kid, we suffered through agonizing hours of travel bingo and “Mom! She touched my side of the backseat!” Today the kids can watch in-car video (with headphones!) while mom and dad enjoy satellite radio. Ahhh.

My family is a refuge. If you are in a car with your family for 6 weeks you have two choices. We chose to have fun and love each other – despite the close quarters. None of us will ever forget the great time we had together.

Claim your inner tourist. I am an unashamed purveyor of tourist traps. Prairie Dog Village, the world’s largest ball of string and the tackiest curio shops add cheesy fun to long-haul road trips.

There are wonderful people all over the continent. Fellow travelers, Park Rangers and even the ER doctor who stitched up our injured child are kind and helpful everywhere you go. As Will Rogers said, the road is filled with friends I haven’t met yet.

Going back to school is odd. Not only did I go back to school, taking a theology course at the University of British Columbia, I went to summer school. Who’s idea was it to cram a semester of learning into two weeks?

Sometimes getting near to God is not fun. I spent a week at a Benedictine monastery in Nebraska. No TV, telephone or wi-fi. Just prayer and worship. My grief from recent losses poured out every time I drew near to God. But, as always, He comforted me.

I was an amateur–status Christian. I joke about being a professional Christian. But for six weeks I wrote no sermons, conducted no funerals and attended no meetings. I was just a regular guy loving his Lord.

I have a loving congregation. I am thankful I serve a church who loves me and values my well-being. Though sabbaticals are not part of every church’s tradition, I hope your church realizes that your ministers are people who need and enjoy rejuvenation, family time and rest.