Sabbatical Changes {4 Month Report}

I’ve had quite a few emails recently from pastors’ wives and friends, asking me what our sabbatical has been like, and inquiring about the changes that we’ve made. “Do you mind sharing what you are doing differently?” they’ve said. And I am thrilled to share what God has been doing in our family through this extended time of rest. Be warned- this is long. But when your entire world changes due to an international move, there is a lot to write about. 🙂 Sometimes it takes removing yourself from a situation in order to see and know what you can change about your quality of life. My husband and I have made changes in just about every area. These changes are specifically geared toward the personal goals we set for the purpose of our sabbatical:

1.  Take an extended pause from full time ministry in order to avoid burn out– We have been burned out before, and we were very close to burn out when we began our sabbatical. You know how you get that feeling that if something doesn’t change, something will change? That’s where we were at. It was just time to reduce the stress we were under and learn how to thrive instead of just survive. It was past time to get out of the rat race, reduce our work load and learn how to rest.

2. Nurture our family relationships– Living in a glass house has perks, but it also has struggles that are especially hard on marriage and children. Although we love being a ministry family, we have also loved being “just a family” without the added pressures and expectations. This is a brand new experience for us!

3. Heal from the ministry heartbreak we have experienced– God has placed and kept us in some unique and very difficult ministry situations over the past 10 years. Sometimes I look back and I can’t believe the variety of experiences that are part of our story. Gradually here on the blog, I am able to share more as God heals us and turns these heartbreaks into precious parts of us that can encourage and bring hope to others. We have loved being in ministry. But we know without a doubt that if we weren’t called by God to be pastor and pastor’s wife, and if we weren’t kept by His grace continually, we would have quit a long time ago. We are battle weary. And….sometimes as leaders, we have to give ourselves permission to stop and admit that our hearts hold open wounds and they need to heal. A sabbatical offered us the chance to lay out our wounded hearts before God and let Him sort out the “big ball of pain” and begin the healing process.

4. Learn some non-ministry related skills– More and more, pastors are needing to be bi-vocational. I have a skill that I use on the side {teaching piano} but my husband is solely trained for ministry. He has increasingly wished to learn a skill that he could take to a mission field or utilize in a bi-vocational church. He is working for a growing company now and is gaining some very useful skills that he will be able to take with him anywhere we go in the future. He hopes to possibly take a plumbing or carpentry course- something that would be of practical help on a mission trip/field. I am learning to play the violin and I have wanted for years to take a piano tuning course. Additionally, any opportunity to learn a new skill will be welcome to us during this time. God knows best which “tools” we need in our toolbox.

Lifestyle/Physical Changes I Have Made:

As a result of my life threatening pregnancies, I have had continued physical struggles from Adrenal Fatigue. Since I had my babies, I have not felt good at all, really. But I’ve never had or taken the time to figure out exactly why that is. Currently though, four months into our sabbatical, I am feeling better than I have in years. Did I just type that? YEARS. Having time to rest has given me time to observe my body and the effects of food and schedule on how I feel. I will be honest and tell you that as an active pastor’s wife, I spent hours and days and sometimes weeks at the church planning, decorating, and setting up for events, cleaning up from events. I have LOVED doing this. BUT most of the time I was powering through and pushing my body harder than I should have. I regret that part of it. And now that I know what I did wrongly, I will definitely do things differently in the future. Here are some of the things I’m doing differently that are affecting my health in a positive way:

*Learning what foods make me feel badly- So far, it’s gluten and sugar. So I’ve cut out all extra breads and am mostly gluten free. I usually avoid getting on a bandwagon of any sort, but….gluten makes me feel really bad, so here I am…all jumped on the gluten free bandwagon. I’m also attempting to severely limit my sugar intake and that is making a HUGE difference in sleep patterns and how I feel throughout the day. Another dietary change is that I’m consciously taking in more protein. I couldn’t be happier with how I feel these days. Fewer headaches, less brain fog, less chronic nausea, less chronic pain, more energy, better sleep, more regulated hormones….what’s not to love?!

*Going to bed early. I’m a natural night owl, so this one takes some discipline. BUT the results I’m seeing are so worth it that I am motivated every night to stop whatever I am doing and go to bed,even if it means leaving housework undone. My husband gets up early for work, so we are doing this early bed thing together. Early for us {now} is between 9:00-9:15. That means we start getting ready for bed earlier than that. There is, of course, flexibility here. If we are out for the evening or if someone comes over, we don’t stress about pushing our schedule back. But every night possible, it’s early to bed for us!

*Getting up early {as in, between 5:30-6:30}. Due to Adrenal Fatigue, I’ve always felt almost drugged in the mornings and have had a terrible time getting up early, and always woke up with a headache. But when I go to bed early it is easy to get up early. And what I used to hate (early mornings) I now love. My husband is officially amazed. And honestly, so am I.

*Exercising daily. In Canada, we ice skated weekly, but the inclement weather and the long winter made routine daily exercise {such as walking and jogging} very difficult. Here in NC it is already balmy and for the past 7 weeks I’ve been fast walking for 30 minutes every morning. I have noticed that on the mornings when I don’t walk, I end up feeling draggy. So, guess what that means? Yes, even on Saturdays and Sundays we get up early and power walk around our subdivision. When I walk alone I use the time to listen to sermons and pray. I love being able to exercise both body and soul at the same time!

*Reducing online time and going offline by 8:00 PM. Unless I am getting a blog article ready to post the next morning, most nights I am offline by 8:00 and starting to give my eyes a chance to get tired and my mind a chance to wind down. Nothing online is an emergency. {Repeat that to yourself 3 times daily} 🙂

*Using essential oils as part of my “wind down” routine. I’ve used essential oils for about a year and a half, but only since our sabbatical began have I used them to intentionally tell my body it’s time to sleep. When I douse with lavender, it doesn’t take long at all to drift off to sleep early. I now avoid using lavender in the mornings, since my brain is learning that lavender is for sleep. 😉 I’m also using a simple breathing technique that is greatly helping my nighttime tachycardia and is helping me fall asleep more quickly.

Emotional/Mental Changes I’ve Made:

When we began our sabbatical, I thought one year seemed like a long time. Now I wonder if it is too short! We may well extend it if we feel that it would be beneficial to our family. Since I’ve begun to cultivate a lifestyle of rest, time itself feels more quality and more well spent. I wonder now why I was so crazy busy at the church, and why my mind was always so busy….for what? Yes, it was for God. But….the more I rest, the more I think that many times we do a lot more than God requires of us. A culture of rest is now much preferred over what we left behind, and we have made some choices that we hope to keep locked in for the rest of our lives:

*Learning stress management and people skills. My husband had some required reading for his job and much of it has been related to dealing with people. Several times as he read, he stopped and said, “This is really going to help me in ministry.” In the past, we found ourselves in several destructive situations that would not resolve. At times this is part of ministry, but in our case it had become a way of life. Studying a bit of psychology for the purpose of my husband’s sales job is giving us insight into church issues and people skills. And that’s a very good thing that will help us indefinitely. The first step for us was realizing that we had the freedom to choose a different life. I cannot even put into words how glad and grateful we are that we “took the plunge” and stepped into nothing. God had SO many good things waiting for us, and we are seeing Him at work. No regrets here.

*Read. And read. And read. Oh, books. They fill our souls and keep us alive inside. In the past, I’ve always hated to start a book and not finish. I’ve also hated to read a book if I only have a few minutes to read it. BUT during the past 4 months my husband and I have both been training ourselves to use small moments to read. Take a book with us everywhere we go. Here a little, there a little. It makes more of a difference than you can even imagine. Here are some of the best “restful books” I’ve read since beginning our sabbatical:

{Disclaimer- I do not necessarily wholly endorse every author or book I recommend. These are simply books that God has used in my heart lately in the areas of healing and rest. Also, a disclosure: if you purchase a book via these links, I receive a small commission.}

When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing Hope in the Midst of Faith Shattering Circunstances by Ed Underwood

The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet:Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things by Sara Hagerty

Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray

The Aierdi Miracle: An Amazing Story of Providence by Andy Bonikowsky

Breathing Room: Letting Go So You Can Fully Live by Leanna Tankersley

*Saying “no” to stressful situations and schedule overload. Thankfully, on sabbatical we haven’t had too many stressful situations to avoid. We now carefully guard our schedule, choosing only the things that benefit our family’s new found culture of rest. Life will not always allow this type of “picky” choosing, but while we are on sabbatical, God is making this choice easy and practical for us. We also know that we can’t live by feelings, but during this time we are saying “no” to the scheduled events that make our souls sag or give us a feeling of dread. That feeling is often an indication that we are doing something ‘extra’ that  could either wait until another time or that doesn’t need to be in the schedule at all. Happily, when we’re not connected by leadership to a ministry, it’s pretty easy to say “no” without guilt. 🙂

Spiritual Changes:

I thought I was feeding my soul while in ministry, but compared to now it seems like I had a pretty skimpy fare before. I’m learning that the more time I spend with Jesus, the more He pours into me. Sound like a no brainer? It is. But most of us struggle with it, especially during busy seasons. And when life becomes one big busy season….well, there isn’t much space for Him to speak or move like He wants to. So what am I doing differently now?

*Be part of a growing, healthy church. I won’t linger on this topic in this particular post. But neither can I ignore one of the biggest areas of stress in our Christian culture today- for leaders and lay people alike. I will be open here and share that we are part of a wonderful church that demonstrates a true spirit of grace and love. We know that no church is perfect. But when you have a church that you can’t wait to get to each week, it lifts the burden and changes your entire life. We could not have come close to comprehending all of the ways that this would infuse hope and rest into our hearts. Not to sound cliche….but we feel so incredibly blessed.

*Let healing be a process. This one is both emotional and spiritual. But I categorized it as spiritual because ultimately God is the One Who heals our broken hearts. I will be very open here and tell you that I have tried several times to obtain therapy/counseling in order to sort out the intense pain that I’ve carried for so long. I wanted a quick fix, and solid, timely answers to get me back on track and begin to erase the pain. But every time I’ve tried, God has shut the door or just not answered it. And almost immediately upon shutting the door, He has worked in another corner of my heart {through one of His many creative ways!} to heal a portion and salve my pain. In answer to His question “What do you want Me to do for you?” I’ve asked Him to heal my heart, and to use my painful experiences to bring hope to other pastors’ wives. He has absolutely blown my mind with how He is answering that request! Little by little, He heals. He truly “heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.”  But it’s not a quick fix or a permanent answer. It’s a process that is totally in the control of my Father. And He is teaching me how to embrace the process, while clinging to the confidence that He wants to heal me, and He will, one day at a time.

*No rushed time spent with God. If I have that “rushed” feeling or we’re trying to get out the door, that is not the time to hurriedly read a passage and expect God to speak. God doesn’t work in our sphere of time. He likes to whisper quiet things when our souls are still. So we need to carve out time to be intentionally still. When my soul is characterized by clamor, I know it is time to plan for quiet. Sometimes I steal away multiple times per day and read the Word and journal to God. I’ve journaled for most of my life {since childhood} but only recently have I written consistently to God. Writing to God is now one of my favourite things to do. It’s better than blogging or book writing. It is basically free therapy. 🙂 It is the whisper of my heart to His, and the comfort that comes out of it is so precious to me.

*Spend more time listening to God, and less time talking to Him. I’m pretty sure that the art of listening to other people is one we all have to work at. I’m an introvert, so listening actually does come naturally to me. BUT when it comes to God, I want to do all the talking since I am in my own heart and it doesn’t involve a crowd or coming up with small talk. 😉 God and I can just get right to the heart of the matter…in a matter of seconds, even. I love to talk to God. But I’m learning to love listening even more. And wow….what amazing things He does whisper to those who truly listen. What is He whispering to me? Well, those things are just for me.  I’m sure He has something very special and unique that He really wants to say to you, too, if you’ll stop being so busy….or stop talking so much.

*Listen to sermons every day. I’ve always loved listening to sermons, even as a child. I also love listening to the Word of God being read aloud- it’s so powerful! As I mentioned above, walking daily has given me a chance to listen to sermons daily. I especially love listening to Tim Keesee talk about missions. I literally have some of his sermons nearly memorized, and I want it that way! His sermons are usually no more than 30 minutes in length, and he is very “to the point” yet very insightful. Starting my day with a sermon has an amazing effect on my outlook on life in general, and what God is doing in my life.

*Continue memorizing Scripture. Since Small Son and Tiny Daughter were little, we have memorized Scripture together. We pick chapters or portions of chapters {about 12 verses} and read them over and over until they are memorized. You can do this with the smallest of children- it really works! Even in the midst of major life changes….no, especially in the midst of major life changes- Scripture memory should continue as before. Do we miss days here and there? Yep. But for the most part, it is part of our routine.

If you’ve made it this far into this article, then you must be either really curious about my life or desperately in need of rest! I hope that my sabbatical experiences so far have helped give you ideas about how to cultivate a culture of rest into your schedule, and most importantly, into your heart. It has to be intentional. You have to step back and evaluate what is causing you stress and is depleting rest. Notice what brings peace and what energizes your heart. Then, based on that knowledge, take measures {sometimes drastic} in order to promote a restful life.

I can promise you one thing- You will NOT regret it. Having a restful soul is well worth making drastic changes. {Oh…and did I mention that I believe every church should offer their pastors a sabbatical?}

Our life is about to get busier as I begin teaching this summer. I’m already curious about how God will guide me into intentional rest as our pace of life picks up a bit. Stay tuned for the 6 month report!

XOXO,

A Kindred Spirit

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About Leah {Embracing Grace}

Leah Highfill accepted Christ as her Saviour and became a child of God at the age of 18. Originally from the USA, she and her husband moved to the mission field of Canada in 2005, where she served in full time ministry as a pastor's wife for 10 years. During their tenure there, they became dual citizens. Leah and her family recently returned to NC and are currently enjoying a much needed sabbatical for the year of 2015. She homeschools her children {Small Son is 9 and Tiny Daughter is 7} and teaches private piano lessons on the side. She can be found reading, writing/blogging, playing the piano and violin, or ice skating. A friend to ministry wives everywhere, Leah has a passion to inspire hope and to encourage women in their walk with God. Her first book, Expecting Grace, was published in 2013. Expecting Grace is the story of Leah's experience and survival of a life threatening pregnancy, and of many medical and financial miracles along the way. Her second book is currently in process. Join her grace-filled journey right here at Embracing Grace!

6 thoughts on “Sabbatical Changes {4 Month Report}

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! This post was such an encouragement. Praying that God will continually bless you time of rest. I love that you all have decided to take up some new hobbies and learning experiences. What a great use of time.

  2. Wow this is rich! I needed to read these words. My family and I are getting ready to transition into a different season, which we could easily fill up, given our personalities. But the reason we made this change was to find rest that we so desperately needed. Thanks for the reminder to make this next season what we need it to be… rest-filled.

    1. Danielle, I hope that you are able to cultivate the rest that you desperately need! Part of it is just consciously choosing rest when other things are calling more loudly. It is tough, but so rewarding!

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