Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gamboling Lamb

Shane, who must have noted I did not get any good pictures of lambs actually a-gambol (in the process of gamboling), kindly sent me this joyous contribution. Do you like it?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Monday Reality Check, Thursday Field Trip

First thing Monday morning someone called me from the office. "How is your sabbatical going?" she inquired. "What's your agenda for today?" That didn't sit well with me. An agenda? "No agenda," I said, simply.

"I don't know if you've heard, but we decided to stay in the office. I notice you've stacked up about a dozen boxes in your old cube..."

It's true; I went in over the weekend and packed them up.... they hadn't been there on Friday. I guess that did put the others in a bind I couldn't have anticipated. Because, as my coworker said, "Today is the day we'd decided to move, and K. will be using that cube."

"So, what do you want done with those boxes? And all the stuff in the 'guest' cube - where can we put it?"

This was a hard conversation on so many levels, and not how I wanted to start my Monday. I didn't say much, but suggested another places the boxes could go and told her I'd come in over the weekend to finish sorting things out. They're staying in the office? What does that mean for me? Is there an open door for me to stay there, as well? Would I even want to? These questions are so confusing to me, so ambiguous.

Today (Thursday) I decided would be a good day for a field trip. I went back in time, all the way to 1860. Yes, the Littleton Historical Museum. Seemed a good place to seek perspective. Also, I figured they'd have some lambs this time of year, and I wanted to see them gambol. Here are a few images.

The trail around the lake

Canada geese


Lambs, curious


Farmhouse pantry


Friday, February 19, 2010


I seem to be alternating content days with restless ones. Yesterday was great! But today began rather poorly. I woke a little after 6:00, stressed out by a dream about a coworker - well, former coworker, now - who was angry at me about some horrible thing it seems I'd done. Unsure whether her accusations were justified, I was a mess of guilt and shame and frustration.

But, chill out: it was just a dream.

I'm trying to may more attention than usual to my moods and emotions, hoping to shorten or short-circuit those times of restless discontent.

How much can we trust ourselves, our perceptions, our hunches and suspicions? Can, in fact, our hearts be trusted? Yes and no. I like what Jutta has to say about this.

See also: Pesky Emotions (August 14, 2009)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sabbatical Scheming: How to Get an "A"!

Figuring out how to approach this sabbatical thing has been something of a balancing act. On one hand, I know I'm going to have to tackle it in a way that fits who I am and where I am in life, and that it's going to take some experimentation to even get in touch with that. On the other hand, many have gone before. It would be foolish not to learn from and be guided by them, right?

Also, some part of me wants to be a good girl and get an "A" in sabbatical.

Have to laugh at the thought. This isn't the SAT. It's not an IQ test. And it's not a performance review. It's something different altogether, and may be hard to measure. Probably won't work very well if I can't give myself ample "freedom to flail." Yes, this seems to be time for a little experimental innovation. I have to be willing to make this up - or adjust it - as I go.

Similarly, at last week's research-team training in Michigan I asked one of the girls to take on a difficult assignment - to serve her team as research coordinator. It's a big job. I told her I thought she could do it. I told her I thought she was the best one for the job. I encouraged her to delegate or ask for help. And, heaven help us, I gave her a 40-page training manual to read in her spare time (slimmed down from 55 pages in a previous edition!) And what did she say? "I'm just afraid I won't be able to do it perfectly!"

She could have been holding up a mirror. I don't say that out loud, but I haven't outgrown that fear entirely, myself. Well, let's just take "perfect" off the table, shall we?

What does "successful" look like for a sabbatical? How do you know you've had a successful sabbatical? When you are rested... healed up... confident... refreshed, renewed, and excited to get into what's next? Could be. Dave, one of the trainers at the sabbatical workshop I attended, answered the question like this: "When you've heard from God about your past, present, and future." Reflecting, evaluating, listening. So there's a time for reading those old journals, for healing prayer, for professional goal-setting. But you don't have to do it all at once (see below).

I've gotten mixed messages about how much I should or shouldn't be in touch with supporters or colleagues, read and retool in things related to my work, or be involved with stuff at church. What about personal processing, spiritual reading, dealing with messed-up relationships, journaling, going on personal retreats? People said different things, and somewhere along the way I realized the copy of the sabbatical guidelines I was working off of, acquired in December from some friends in another organization, was several years out of date and didn't reflect the most current thinking.

The key, say the Navs "People Resources" guys, is that there's a time for everything. They break things down into three phases, and recommend blocking out a lot of those (possibly intense) kinds of things during the first phase, which is focused on rest.

One guy said he didn't journal at all for the first two months and hardly read his Bible. (I tried to pretend I wasn't shocked!)

Another, in spite of the bit about meeting with your advisor every other week and your "sabbatical support group" every month, went on the road in a motor-home and didn't come home until he was good and ready, two or three months later.

I didn't realize that was an option. Well, I don't really like to drive and don't have the funds to travel without tapping into savings. But I'll try to have fun right here, and probably take a few road trips here in Colorado. Apparently that wouldn't jeopardize my sabbatical "grade point." Might even earn me some extra credit, eh?

Wait, shake that kind of thinking! We aren't graded on this!

Back in December other friends on sabbatical told me what a relief it's been not to have to work on their personal "issues" until their sabbatical support team agrees they are well rested.

Actually, the Navs staff say that sabbaticals are frequently extended: your sabbatical advisor and support group encourage you to take more than you'd asked for - to extend the rest phase another month, for example. I don't know that all organizations would be so supportive. But for Navs, they couldn't think of any examples of someone whose sabbatical got cut short.

Their goal is to see every Navs staff take a 2- to 6-month sabbatical every seven years. That's a pretty significant commitment to their staff, isn't it? Would a secular company do such a thing? Could they afford to? No, I suppose not. Even though I could give you some good reasons why they ought to.

But here's the difference. If you work for, say, Verizon, and your marriage and family are kind of shaky, and you've lost your sense of center, and maybe you're having trouble dealing with stress, you can probably still do your job. When you are in a ministry position, it's not the same. You can't run on empty, at least not for very long. And most people don't know how low their tank is until they really stop and take a break.

My organization is just as grace-oriented. I think they could just adopt the Navs guidelines straight out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dear friends,

I miss the days when people wrote letters. Do you? I so enjoyed reading them, writing them. Oh, I was glad enough to make the switch to typing - and even to reading and writing those letters on a computer screen. But these days - well, even email and personal blogging seem a touch archaic, don’t they?

Why is that? Is it because the barriers to voice communication have crumbled? With a phone in every pocket, long-distant fees negligible, Skype, Vonage, and the like, a phone call may just be the way to go.

And if not, we have all these new options: texting, tweeting, social networking, etc. All of these media are more interactive, convenient, efficient. They don't seem to take as much time.

But they do discourage the artful telling of stories and the careful exposition of ideas.

Shall the age of thoughtful, insightful, and engaging letters - ones more than 140 characters long - be forgotten?

I’m reading a book made up of letters between the various characters, and I love it. The book was recommended to me by a great friend from college days. Incidentally, think I still have some of the letters Gretchen sent me when that was our main means of staying in touch, back in the 1990s. Now we leave comments for each other on Facebook.

In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet Ashton corresponds with her editor, his sister, and a group of people who form that Society to which the title refers. Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands (British islands off the coast of France). At the time the book has set the islanders are struggling to emerge from years of German occupation and isolation from the world. And through a strange twist of events during those dark days, their lives were intertwined and they discovered books. Juliet asks them how, and they write her letters. I think my favorite letter so far is from one Clovis Fossey, of Guernsey, who explains how his literary interests dawned:

4th March, 1946

Dear Miss,

At first, I did not want to go to any book meetings. My farm is a lot of work, and I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never was, doing things they never did.

Then in 1942 I started to court the Widow Hubert. When we’d go for a walk, she’d march a few steps ahead of me on the path and never let me take her arm. She let Ralph Murchey take her arm, so I knew I was failing in my suit.

Ralph, he’s a bragger when he drinks, and he said to all in the tavern, “Women like poetry. A soft word in their ears and they melt – a grease spot on the grass.” That’s no way to talk about a lady, and I knew right then he didn’t want the Widow Hubert for his own self, the way I did. He wanted only her grazing land for his cows. So I thought – If it’s rhymes the Widow Hubert wants, I will find me some…

If this tickles your fancy, pick up the book. And/or write someone a letter?



P.S. Did you think I was going to tell you how the life of leisure is suiting me? I think it's going to take some time to unwind and really enjoy it. And I'm still trying to push back the work-related things that don't want to stay at bay. Tuesday, though, as I sat in the afternoon sun with my cup of tea listening to Mozart and reading this delightful book, I got a glimpse of what contentment might look like.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February Newsletter

Slightly sanitized version of an email newsletter which I sent out today.

Lucy and the Magician's Book

Have you read C.S. Lewis’s "Chronicles of Narnia"? Maybe you remember in "Dawn Treader" when Lucy is sent to find the magician’s book. In it she finds “the infallible spell to make beautiful beyond the lot of mortals her that uttereth it.” Would you be able to resist? Lucy does, but says the spell that allows her to eavesdrop on what her friends say about her. A risky move!

My favorite, though, is the spell for the refreshment of the spirit. It turns out to be a beautiful story, the loveliest Lucy has ever read or ever shall read in her whole life. Later, the great lion Aslan promises Lucy that he will tell her that story again for years on end.

Finally, Lucy reaches the spell she was sent to find, the one for making hidden things seen. This makes Aslan visible to her as well. He’s been there all along.

After years of hard—though often pleasant—work, I’m ready for Lucy’s spell for the refreshment of the spirit. And could it be that there are some hidden things within or around me that ought to be made visible, too?

A six-month sabbatical may sound like vacation, but if that’s all it is, I don’t think it will do the trick. My hope is that by pulling back from the activities of “full-time ministry” I’ll be able to intentionally invest in the kinds of self-care things I usually pooh-pooh, but that could make me able to serve, and more effectively, for years to come. Things like getting together with people I don't get to see enough and listening to what they have to say. Leisurely time to pray, and read, and write.

I find enough of my sense of self in work that laying it down is really hard! I’m expecting to struggle with some boredom and blues, and feel a loss of purpose and identity. If I’m not working, then who am I? That question sounds like a sign I’m taking myself (or at least my work) too seriously. I tend to be more careless about my health, character, and personal growth. It will be good to pay more deliberate attention to those things.

Will you pray for me? I do turn 40 at the end of this year, and I’d love to reach that milestone being a wiser, more balanced person.

Future Ministry

Since I’ve been in ministry for 15 years and tried a lot of things, I have a pretty good sense of what my best contribution is, what my strengths and passion and calling are. Yet this is a great time to stop and put it all on the table, reflect and evaluate, and see what God leads me to do this next season.

Even if, as I anticipate, the answer is "more of the same!" I have some decisions to make about how I’m going to carry out my ministry, and with whom, and what is needed to make that work.

With our office closing, much may depend on whether I can be happy and effective working independently (out of my home?) as part of a virtual team. Good idea? or bad one? I may not know until I try it. The sabbatical will give me a taste of that, though, and help me make a wise decision when the right time comes.

I can see several possible ways to continue my ministry within our parent agency as well as other ministries to consider. Looks like I’ll have some options. So I’ll try to rest in that, trust God, and leave those leads for later, after I’ve had some time to rest and reflect. To protect the integrity of the sabbatical, I’ll hold off on making promises to myself or anyone else about where I’ll be or what I’ll do when this season is over.

Now, it’s time to pry my fingers off the job and let go. I really appreciate your prayers, support, and friendship in an ambiguous time.

Sabbatical Plan

Phase 1: Rest and recovery | February 15 to April 14

Establish margins and seek refreshment. Take a full break from work activities to make room for play, relaxation, and balanced living.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:1-2 (NIV)

Phase 2: Reflect and refocus | April 15 to June 14

Use increased margin to seek perspective on the past and focus for the future. Listen to God, look for patterns, and seek renewal.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3 (NIV)

Phase 3: Realignment | June 15 to August 14

Consider what’s next. Review and reaffirm my values and calling in order to maximize my contribution in the next season of life and ministry.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message)

Research Expedition

Last week I spent five days training five young Midwesterners on their way to a Muslim community in South Asia to conduct six weeks of ethnographic field work. For the rest of February and March they’ll be drinking tea, making friends, asking questions and hearing stories. I’m always glad to help with projects like these. Even in the missions world, not many people get seasons like this where their job is to listen and learn.

It’s a young team: The team leader is 25, but the rest are only 20-22 years old. Two are “MKs,” missionary kids, and spent a good chunk of their lives in North Africa. All of them have at least a bit of cross-cultural experience. This trip will likely require more of them than most anything they have done before. Several are wondering if they might have a long-term part to play in this part of the world; this experience may clarify that as well.

I’m praying for the team’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health in the midst of challenging situations, and for humility to love and empathize with those they meet. I’m asking God to knit them together as a strong, balanced team. I’m praying for great connections with people in the host culture who can be their friends and introduce them to their way of life.

These five will be in South Asia February 15 to April 7. Pray they’d have a wonderful time, get an insider’s point of view on their host culture, and really give the people they meet the gift of being heard!

Winter Morning

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Couple More Days

A few days ago I had lots of blog post ideas floating around my head, but just now the lil' ol' head is full of other things. Until Saturday afternoon I'm in Michigan, busy training a research team bound for South Asia. I'm training solo, and mentally, this is taking all I've got.

Wish I'd been a little better prepared. Some of it couldn't be helped. We hit a number of roadblocks getting this far which slowed things down. Still scrambling to figure out research goals, living situations, etc.

I'm a natural trouble-shooter... and I can anticipate all kinds of ways these guys could get into trouble on the ground! Not because they're a bad team, but every team is vulnerable. Of course one doesn't know which of those possible trouble points will materialize.

I feel uneasy not doing my best to prepare them for every eventuality. We only have a few days, though, and it is what it is. Probably the best thing I can do is to express confidence and hope, give them tools and ideas.

Time to breathe and remind myself: things are going to be OK.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sabbaticals for Christian Workers

What do you think of when you hear the word, "sabbatical"? It’s a rather large cover term, so a multiplicity of responses is fine. Before the meanings and models diverge, though, I think they have a few things in common. Whatever it is, sabbatical is an extended withdrawal (at least a couple of months, perhaps a year) from whatever it is a person does most of the time. And it is probably designed to help the person come back to work better equipped (one way or another) when the sabbatical is over.

After that, I think the ideas diverge. Two of the basic trails that emerge are rest and professional development. Maybe that’s why I’ve had a hard time, in casual conversation, communicating about mine. Because I’m not just taking a long vacation, nor am I going somewhere to take classes.

Why not? Wouldn't either of those things be helpful? I think they probably would, but I think there's a better approach for someone in my situation.

I suppose personality and purpose both come into play. My company’s sabbatical policy is only about a paragraph or two long but provides some clues about purpose:
  • “The request for sabbatical time must also include a purpose for the time.”
  • “Sabbatical time is for reflection and renewal and should not be considered vacation time.”
  • “The purpose of a sabbatical is to renew and refresh the employee so that they stay motivated and excited about their role in [company].”
I think the path I will follow these next six months is more like the one Eugene Peterson suggests for pastors and Christian leaders in an article he wrote some years ago. He starts by looking at the academic approach:
"The sabbatical is an entrenched tradition in academia. University professors, committed to the life of the mind, get them regularly every seventh year. And well they should. This life of the mind, teaching and thinking, is strenuous. The mind tires, grows stagnant, begins to repeat itself. The annual invasion of students, their curious and questioning minds strangely mingled with ignorance and sloth, constitutes a formidable challenge to a professor.

"Academia exists to protect and develop knowledge, but knowledge is not a dead thing in a book. It's a living dialectic; it requires fully alive professors to maintain it. If knowledge disintegrates into cliche or soddens into data, intelligence is betrayed and the mind dulled. And so the schools provide for regular renewal of the professorial brain cells by providing sabbaticals."
These days, he points out, churches are borrowing back the sabbatical concept from academia and giving their pastors study leave. But that's not what they need, says Peterson. What they've been giving out of is less in the world of book knowledge, much more soul-stuff. Their need is less for a renewal of the mind and more for a renewal of the spirit. He says we should give pastors (and other Christian workers, I would add) a sabbatical more closely rooted in the idea of the original source, the biblical Sabbath day or Sabbath year:
"If we are going to take sabbaticals, let them be real sabbaticals: a willed passivity in order to be restored to alert receptivity to spirit – prayer, silence, solitude, worship. It is outrageous that we acquiesce to the world’s definition of our word and let our unique, biblical sabbatical be put to the use of career advancement, psychological adjustment, and intellectual polish – with all the prayer and contemplation laundered out. The original intent of Sabbath is a time to be silent and listen to God, not attend lectures; a time to be in solitude and be with God, not “interact” with fatigued peers. If help is to be given to the pastor in mid-course, it is not going to come by infusion of intellect but by renewal of spirit.” Eugene Peterson, Leadership, Winter 1988, pp. 74-75
See also my previous post Sabbatical: Defining Terms

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Our office is moving along in the process of closing down. You can read the official announcement on our website. One team has already moved out; another team is waiting to see if their offer on another space is accepted. And the third is hunkering down in the same building, moving into a smaller section of the space we've had all along.

And while I don't belong on any of those three teams, I'm free to leave the question of where I fit up in the air while I take a six-month sabbatical and seek direction. I'm writing from a sabbatical workshop in Colorado Springs. It's been really helpful.

Monday, I leave for a week in Detroit, where I'll train my twenty-eighth research team!

So, that means yesterday was my last day in the office on Dry Creek Circle. After 15 years! I left some of "my" stuff there; didn't finish sorting it all out. But most everything else came home and it's divided between the garage and the basement. I'll have to return to finish with the rest of it.

At the moment, I'm feeling optimistic about the future: thinking that this sabbatical will be a fruitful time ... will renew me and give me perspective. And that good things will come after. That #28 won't be my last gang of researchers. That I'll be able to keep the ezine going strong. That I'll do more teaching and training, and start writing another book this year.

Time will tell. God's in control.