I just finished reading a U.S. News & World Report entitled “Escapes from the White House, a behind-the-scenes history of presidential hideaways.” The article is based on the book From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats.
Many of our nation’s presidents had their own estates, as they were wealthy men. But others borrowed or rented homes from friends and supporters. Kenneth Walsh states, “To peer into the lives of the presidents at their retreats is to see each man as he really was, without the facades that so many of them created to obscure their private selves.”
According to the article, Washington and Jefferson would leave for their plantations for weeks at a time. When the federal government was small, I guess you could do that. Although I’ve studied the Civil War through the years, I was shocked to discover that Lincoln actually lived at The Soldier’s Home, a residence for the troops, and commuted to the White House for one-fourth of his presidency.
Every summer, from 1902 through 1908, Teddy Roosevelt basically moved the executive branch of the government to his family estate in Sagamore Hill, New York. Those of us in Georgia are familiar with Franklin Roosevelt’s fondness for the health resort in Warm Springs. He also made over 130 trips to his home in Hyde Park during his presidency.
Kennedy loved to spend time at Hyannis Port, Ike loved to retreat to his farm in Gettysburg, and Reagan cherished the moments at his ranch near Santa Barbara. Many of us remember pictures of Kennedy with his children or on the boat at Hyannis Port. We also remember Reagan riding his horse or chopping wood on his ranch.
Lyndon Johnson’s ranch was not a place of refuge. When Johnson was there, the place was full of advisers, cabinet secretaries, clerical staff, and security personnel. George Bush, Senior, loved his family estate in Kennebunkport. Bill Clinton loved Martha’s Vineyard and even went there to try to repair his marriage after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When George W. went to his ranch in Texas, he was often found clearing brush, taking walks with Laura, or entertaining a few friends.
While in the Oval Office for a bill signing in 2002, the president said, in effect, “When this is all over, I’m going back to Texas and to the ranch.” It’s a place that he obviously loves. He has built a nature trail through the canyons and is planning to build homes for his daughters so they can have some privacy when they visit. A friend says of the Bush ranch, “It’s his sanctuary.”
I know the need for a sanctuary, a place of refuge. I remember Vance Havner saying, “If you don’t come apart and rest awhile, you will come apart.” As often as I can, I head to the mountains. The crisp mountain air, the view from our back deck, and Pancake Pantry make our mountain home my place of solitude, study, refreshing and relaxation.
I’ve been going to the mountains for study weeks for nearly twenty-five years. Even in youth ministry, I would take conference time to get away and work on sermons or catch up on reading. I’ve felt I’ve been a better man, husband, father, and preacher when I’ve gotten away for a few days.
I know of two pastors who take the entire summer off to refresh, read, and renew. The most I can squeeze in is a few weeks out of the year. But I never head to the mountains when the tourists are there—too much traffic and noise, and the lines are too long at my favorite places to eat. I like to go in the off season when it’s sane.
I’ve tried other locations—the beach, a hotel in a nearby city—but I can’t get as much work done in those places as I can in the mountains. I know I’m probably in a rut. I prefer to think of it as discipline.
When my dad died, there was enough money in my parents’ small estate for us to put our girls through college and make a down payment on a mountain home in Gatlinburg. It was something we had been praying for and praying about for over 20 years. God allowed us to get a great place, and that small investment has paid great dividends for us.
I’ve met a couple of pastors who stumbled onto our place. When they arrived, they discovered the library. One met me at a revival a few years ago and said God opened the door for them to stay in our home. He and his wife had come out of a bitter church experience. They were wounded, beaten up, and discouraged. When they got to our chalet, they were rained in for four days. They read, prayed, and found the Spirit of God renewing their energy and passion for ministry. They came to the revival just to thank me for making it available.
Another pastor used our home several years ago. It was the first time he and his family had taken a vacation. I still have the letter they wrote about the week with their kids. Stories like those two, and others, remind me that our place has a ministry in and of itself.
With our home away from home, we’ve had a place to vacation and build memories with our girls. We’ve been able to minister to wounded pastors by giving them a place to stay for a few days when their ministries or lives were falling apart. At times, we’ve given it to friends in the ministry who needed a break. God has always given us rentals to make up for the time we’ve given away. You can’t out-give God. Of course, we have to rent it to pay the bills. God’s been good to us, and many of those who write in our guest book are Christians.
On that mountain, I can think clearly. I can clear my head of the day-to-day stuff and think about the bigger picture. I can sit at my desk and seek the Lord for direction in ministry and sermon series. I have a small library there and carry my laptop for study weeks. I can have a routine, but in a different environment.
I love my study in Albany, but something about being in the mountains and taking a break from reading to stare at God’s creation motivates me. When I’m there, I still have a daily routine. I’m up early and usually get to Pancake Pantry when they open. I’m back at the chalet by 8 a.m. and ready for a full day’s work. Usually I take a break about 4:30 p.m. and fix supper or run out to get a bite.
Terri has made our getaway into a home. It’s comfortable, and it’s probably the place where we will one day retire. God has not called me to serve in the mountains, but he often calls me to go to the mountains and meet Him there. I’m grateful for the time, the space, and the opportunity. I’m humbled by what God shows me there.
Everyone needs a getaway place. There needs to be a mountain or a beach or some other spot where you can retreat from the worries of the world and the pressures of ministry. Pastors need personal retreats alone with God.