Monday, December 5, 2016

Reflections on my Sabbatical

Sabbatical already feels like it was a million years ago (almost as long as it's been since I last blogged!). Still, I felt like I would be remiss not to pause and reflect on what God did in my life between July and October.
Honorable mentions: photography, sleeping, and packing (kinda)
By far, the greatest gift that sabbatical brought was merely having time to myself. Being in a work environment where I'm rarely alone, and still adjusting to being married (I love Pat but I'm still an introvert!), I was so grateful for the many hours during the day when I could be still, be quiet, and just be.

Four of the ten books I read during sabbatical.


As I was planning my sabbatical I created a much-too-long reading list of books that I've been wanting to read for a while. I ended up reading nearly 3,000 pages (10 books) in three months. I could probably say so much more about each of them but here are a few thoughts on the ones that impacted me the most:

Quiet, by Susan Cain
Having always known I was an introvert (though as a child I didn't know the term for it yet), this book was incredibly affirming. While modern American culture favors and praises the charismatic, quick-thinking extrovert, I've always wondered if that meant I was less than or not enough. Reading Quiet helped me understand that I have a lot of gifts and strengths as an introvert, and that in fact our world is a better place because of people who think deeply, prefer to listen rather than speak, and are inwardly driven.

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton
Interestingly, this was the only Christian book I read during my sabbatical (other than the Bible of course). Similarly to Quiet, this book reinforced for me the value of solitude. Using the model and story of Moses, Barton describes the rhythms and practices that are essential to care for one's soul in the midst of exhausting, demanding ministry life. While reading this book, the Lord brought to mind a few personal situations that I hadn't had time to deal with emotionally or spiritually before. Having read this early on in my sabbatical, it helped set me up to continue using my times of solitude to rest, be with God, and hear from him, and to commit to doing that daily as I returned to work.

Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
I've been a Brené Brown fan for a while, ever since I was introduced to her widely-viewed TED talk. I was excited to read more of her work and chose this one based on reviews and recommendations. It was a pretty quick read and while there was quite a bit of repeat from other content I've seen of hers, what I took away from this book was that vulnerability is actually a display of strength, not weakness. But vulnerability is also inconvenient, disruptive, and scary. But are we willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of having relationships that are honest and real and courageous? According to this book, I would argue yes.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
Ed Catmull is the CEO of Pixar and this book is all about how he fosters a creative culture at Pixar. Other than basically just wanting to move to California to work for Pixar (don't worry, I'm not going anywhere!), the book was so insightful and inspiring as I transition to being a leader of creatives in the ministry I do. It felt like the perfect book with which to finish my sabbatical. Again the theme of vulnerability and admitting what you don't know came up, and to me this meant that in order to empower people to be creative and take risks, I as a leader need to model that I don't have all the answers, and that we're on a journey of discovering new things together. In an environment when there is often a lot of pressure to go with the safe, easy, or cost-effective route, this process can be pretty challenging. But I think when we allow ourselves to fail and make mistakes, we end up learning a lot and discover even greater creative achievements. That is the kind of journey that makes me want to get up every morning and go to work.

Some random stats from my sabbatical

The Unexpected

Of course there's a lot more that happened in that three months, but I wanted to write about just one more thing:

Pat and I bought a house!

Our new home!
This was for sure the most unplanned part of my sabbatical. We had started the house-hunting process in early summer, but had no expectations that we'd find anything this year. However, in mid-August our offer on a house was accepted! We closed September 30 and officially moved on October 9.

Needless to say this hugely affected my sabbatical. Instead of doing all the things I had planned, I ended up spending quite a bit of time packing, cleaning, unpacking, and more cleaning. After we officially moved I felt especially restless, with my home space more disorderly than normal, and without any of my regular routines to fall back on.

Even in the midst of that struggle, I reflect on three things. First, my deep gratefulness for a house. Pat and I never thought that we'd be able to purchase a house in the near future, and God's provision in many ways has surprised and blessed us beyond our imagination.

Second, I think that beyond our move, September and October was actually a pretty chaotic time. There were some family situations, some close friends who moved away, Pat broke his nose (five days before we moved), and InterVarsity was going through some major PR issues regarding the organization's stance on sexuality. All of that made those days and weeks even more chaotic and disorienting -- it wasn't just our move. Reflecting on that, I now think it's okay that I felt restless and unproductive. It seems like when things change, it happens all at once! Maybe it was God's grace that this all happened during a time that I had more time and space to process it all.

Lastly, I reflected a lot on my tendency to measure my days by productivity. I have always known this about myself, but having many days in the last month of my sabbatical where the most productive thing I did was getting showered and dressed, I felt like God was reminding me that productivity is not what gives me worth. There are days when I can simply enjoy being me and being unconditionally loved by a God who sees me not for my achievements or efficiency, but just for being his beloved daughter. While I know I will always be tempted back towards "productivity", those last days of sabbatical will always serve as a reminder that my value comes from Jesus, and in that I can truly rest.


It has been about a month since my return to work. Being in a new role, adjusting to organizational restructuring (due to having a new InterVarsity president), and continuing to settle into our home, have all kept me pretty occupied. There are days when I almost forget that I had three months of rest, and days when I question, was it really that helpful?

I suspect that it will take time for me to truly glean what God would have me glean from my time on sabbatical. And meanwhile I will patiently listen and wait.


Thank you to Pat, my ministry partners, and my team, all of who supported me and made my sabbatical possible. I'm grateful for you all and glad to serve alongside you in ministry.