Sabbatical Surprises {6 Month Report}

I came to this writing place three weeks in a row to give you my promised sabbatical update. But no words came. If you’ve followed our sabbatical, you know by now that it has been an evolution of sorts- a time that keeps changing and shifting and teaching and shaping. A lot has changed just in the last two months. Hence the title “Sabbatical Surprises.” There have been many of them. I usually try not to write from a place of deep pain {I know that my perspective is different then.} Yet I have committed to share honestly during our sabbatical {and many of you have begged me to do so.} And so here I draw my deep breath and let you in on this phase of our ministry respite:

1. We’ve been surprised at how much our children have struggled with culture shock.

{Obviously, this is an area that is unique to us taking our sabbatical in another country. Thankfully, most pastors and wives would not have as much of a culture aspect to deal with if they remained in country. Our situation is further complicated by the fact that we are going through reverse culture shock, but our children {born in Canada} are going through initial culture shock.}

Kids are flexible, right? In my earlier sabbatical reports, the answer to this was a resounding “yes.” But as time went on and we settled into a life routine, both Small Son and Tiny Daughter began to whine for Canada daily. Their spirits were clearly sagging. They miss their friends and everything that is familiar and Canadian. So we decided to put them into day camp for the summer to help distract them and to get them involved in forming new relationships with adults and children alike. It has not been without its challenges {American kids are very different than Canadian kids in so many ways!} but it has been a good stretching time for them and has given us many opportunities to have good conversations about relationships and navigating new things in life.

2. We’ve been surprised at how much we as adults have struggled with reverse culture shock.

We somehow thought that we might escape culture shock since we are originally from the USA. But the USA has changed a LOT in ten years. We’ve been amazed at every turn. And in true culture shock fashion, the six month mark brought an intensity of cultural struggles. We remember going through this in Canada. But we are finding that reverse culture shock is actually harder than initial culture shock. Most missionaries can attest to this as well. We had a time right after we moved here when we were energetic about forming new relationships, but lately we’ve preferred to keep to ourselves more. We have realized that we think like Canadians and we need to give ourselves time to ease in to all the newness of the less passive American way. At the moment our favourite people to be around are fellow missionaries because they really get the culture stuff. Recently we hosted a sweet missionary family in our home for one night. The plea went out on Facebook for a home for them, and right away our hearts reached for this opportunity. Our time together was short, but we felt so at ease with them, even though we had never met.  These times soothe our hearts and let us know that God arranges these meetings on purpose for mutual encouragement! We’ve also had several visits from dear friends and “almost family” from Canada, which have done wonders for our hearts. In little ways, God has brought Canada to us during our sabbatical.

3. We’ve been surprised at how much grief we are processing after leaving our church.

We’ve faced this before, in between ministries. But now it seems that we are processing our entire ministry past as a whole. Ten years of hurt take a long time to heal. And just when we think we are making progress, new dynamics appear within us that we have to navigate.  I’ve had more tears in the past two months than I have in several years. I’ve felt despair and emotional weakness, and have found it ironic that one whom other pastors’ wives come to for encouragement could taste such depths of hopelessness. Which is why I can do no other than to point myself and others to the hope that is found in Christ. I know that God is faithful and this is not a grief without purpose-

God is at work, and we will fiercely believe that He can take a traumatic past and turn it into a tremendous future.

He is preparing us for something- this we know. Satan fights pastors and wives not just while they are actively pastoring, but in between as well, to disorient them and keep them from pursuing ministry again. And so we find ourselves broken….yet we are believing.

Many of you pastors’ wives are in this “in between” time as well, and you’re feeling lost and broken, even hopeless. Reach out for prayer support, beg God to keep your heart soft, and just take the next breath. Simplify your life so that it is manageable and avoid things that want to pull more from you than you have to give.

4. We’ve been surprised at how good our sabbatical has been for our marriage.

No, we aren’t in trouble. But we have never known marriage apart from the added dynamics of full time pastoral ministry. This is a fresh feeling, much like a second honeymoon. I get to sit with my husband during every church service {a rare heaven on earth for a pastor’s wife} and we have been able to connect better in our brokenness. Moving away and living in a country alone and 2,000 miles from family was the best thing we ever did as a couple. We went through life threatening illness, financial struggle and personal attacks with no one around to come to our aid. We weathered it all together by the grace of God. But now we are drinking in this time of respite together, dreaming together, just enjoying being together with a lot less pressure and stress to navigate.

Pastors and pastors’ wives, if for no other reason, you should consider taking a sabbatical to fortify your marriage. I know for a fact that this is a desperate need in many pastors’ homes. Be proactive and don’t let ministry wear your marriage down! No church is worth giving up your most treasured earthly relationship.

5. I’ve been surprised at how my ministry to pastors’ wives has exploded.

When we began our sabbatical, I thought for some reason that my ministry to pastors’ wives may end. I gave my dreams to the Lord again, not knowing what our future was. But the exact opposite of what I expected has happened. God has grown this ministry of His own accord while I sat back and prayed over it. Several of my articles have gone viral. Several pastoral families have been gifted a sabbatical by their churches as a direct result of “7 Reasons Every Church Should Give Their Pastors A Sabbatical.” I’ve gotten reports of church people getting right with God and apologizing to their pastors after reading “You Don’t Own Your Pastor.”  And there are now about 300 pastors’ wives in 9 private Heart-to-Heart groups {and there’s room for more!}. My email subscribers list has nearly doubled without my even trying {apparently a lot of pastors’ wives need hope and encouragement.} And….my exciting announcement…a long time dream is being born: Lord willing, myself and my team of administrators will be gathering in Indiana in November to plan a retreat/conference specifically to encourage pastors’ wives. I could write a whole post about the specific answers to prayer regarding how this has come about, and of the ways that God has clearly directed our steps in giving life to this dream. It is His work, and I am at times overwhelmed, yet humbled and excited to be used by Him in this way! There are other exciting things in the works as well- projects that are “in process” and I will be able to share as God unfolds His plan.

I’m continuing to receive many emails from pastors and pastors’ wives, sharing their stories and finding hope. Will you join me in praying for pastors and pastors’ wives? Some of them are in heartbreaking situations, marriages that are crumbling, or have devastating ministry hurt to work through. My mission and passion at Embracing Grace is to impart hope through Christ and to walk alongside pastors’ wives so they don’t have to journey alone.

And? One of the best things about blogging is that I don’t have to journey alone either. I am so blessed by the many emails I receive from you, my readers….my friends. The mutual support and encouragement that is found in this community of pastors’ wives is a balm to my heart!

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!

5 thoughts on “Sabbatical Surprises {6 Month Report}

  1. We are currently in “retirement/sabbatical” (I’m not sure what to call it as I believe God is not finished with us yet), but I too agree with your comments about how the Lord has restored our marriage in the six months we have been able to be together without the pressures of leading and pastoring a church for 10 years. I personally am still very dry and thirsty for spiritual nourishment, but very patient to see where and how the Lord fills me up; Embracing Grace is such an important element in my “well”. God Bless You, you are definitely not alone.

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts. They have been a blessing to me. Thank you for sharing your heart, and encouragement from God’s Word. I will be praying about this retreat/conference you mentioned. I think it’s a wonderful idea!

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart as always. You are in my prayers! As a missionary child, I do understand culture shock. Changes can be challenging! God bless you for giving of your heart to us!

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