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!


Fiona L Cooper said...

Your sabbatical plan sounds very healthy and restoring. I'll be praying it works out that way in reality too.

Marti said...

Thanks Fiona! We shall see. I hope your transition is unfolding in a good way, as well!

Megan Noel said...

i don't know why all professions do not recognize the need for sabbaticals. i am 5 and 1/2 years overdue for my 1st fine art sabbatical - or 3 and 1/2 years early for my 2nd. good luck learning to just be.

Marti said...

I suppose few people get sabbaticals as a gift from their employers. The fact that the finances work a little differently in the nonprofit world helps. And so does the fact that, like teachers and profesors, we're not much good at all if we're burned out. Some people get an involuntary sabbatical: sacked for example. Or they have to leave their work due to illness, caring for a relative, etc. If you were given a sabbatical - and if you couldn't just treat it like time off to do what you want, but had to write a proposal for how this was going to renew and refresh you and bring you back to your company with even more to offer - what would you say? How would you use it?