Sabbatical Reflections

Sabbatical Reflections

Exploring a cave in Brazil

Highlights

  • I enlisted a spiritual director in June 2023 to guide me for the preparation and experience of sabbatical. This was enormously helpful. 
  • The pinnacle of inner healing for me came during a 4 day silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat center in Georgia. 
  • I got to worship at 15 churches in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates. 
  • I read 9 books, including fiction, biographies, and spiritual growth. 
  • I got to spend extended time with family and long-time friends. 
  • Nature served as a great dose of medicine with hikes in the woods, camping, running on the beach, and just reading on the front porch. 
  • I flew more than 47,000 miles visiting 5 countries on 4 continents, experiencing new cultures, amazing food, natural beauty, and visiting friends. 
Creating the Redland Hills blend in Tanzania
  • One of the encouragements I received was to enlist a spiritual director to assist me on the journey.  If you are unfamiliar with the term “spiritual director,” it has similarities to a counselor, but is more like a spiritual friend trained to listen and discern what God is saying and doing in your life.  I met monthly with her in the lead up to the sabbatical and biweekly during the sabbatical. She is also assisting me post-sabbatical to maintain healthy rhythms. 
  • One of the primary activities I circled on the calendar was a 4 day silent retreat without any digital devices.  You might be thinking, “that sounds terrible!”  This extrovert had much anxiety thinking about it too.  However, when I got to the time for it, my spirit was ready to receive the quiet.  I chose a beautiful retreat center which hosts these multiple times a year.  There were about 25 of us together at a Jesuit retreat center on a 20 acre property on the Chattahoochee River with walking trails, water falls, quiet spaces, and delicious food.  I had my Bible, my prayer journal, and a book on prayer with me.  The silence creates space to be with your thoughts and attend to the still, small voice of God.  Surprisingly, I was at peace during the entire experience.  I have decided to be purposeful with intentional days of silence a few times a year. I would highly commend this experience for your own renewal with a 3, 4, or 5 day time of retreat. 
The lobby of Connect Church in Sevierville, TN with windows overlooking the Smoky Mtns
  • Since I work at a church, I rarely get to just go to church and enjoy being a participant.  One of the things I was anticipating the most was getting to visit a variety of churches near and far to learn, get ideas, and experience what you experience every week.  Every Sunday I wasn’t on an airplane I got to attend (usually) two or three churches in a single day.   I worshipped in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Brazil, and the UAE for a total of 15 different churches.  I took notes of what stood out to me, how I was greeted (or not), and what was ushering in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  My first Sunday on sabbatical was just what the doctor ordered.  I was in Dubai and happened to find a church meeting in a hotel one metro stop away from my hotel.  It was a beautiful experience of worship in a the most multi-cultural church environment I have ever been a part of. There were Chinese, Thai, Indian, Nigerian, Europeans, Brazilians, North Americans, and more.  It was like a taste of Revelation 7 and so encouraging to my spirit.   
Visiting Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California
In the Oval Office at the Carter Presidential Library in ATL
  • Although I did stay on the road a lot, the majority of days were at home doing ordinary things.  Especially during the cold January & February days I would light the fireplace and settle in with a book.  The first few months during my decompression phase was more biography, history, and fiction.  These last few weeks I began to circle back to spiritually focused books as I began to think about this next phase of ministry.  I rested and enjoyed the quiet, slow pace of the average day.  But even at home I had some enjoyable experiences.  I got to attend a travel lecture and meet Rick Steves, the European travel guru on PBS.  I attended the SEC Swimming & Diving Championships in Auburn with my son. I also made a day trip to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta (as I am in process of trying to visit all 15). President Carter’s work on Middle East peace seems relevant as ever. The staff gave me a private flight lesson for Christmas, which enabled me to circle over the church and my house. 
A flight lesson over Montgomery
  • These weeks also allowed me to spend time with family and friends. My family took a couple of trips (more on those below), I visited my mom and grandmother in Foley for several days, and spent time with some college buddies I have remained close to.  My circle of relationships is normally large, so the smaller circle helped me to more deeply enjoy the presence of those I was blessed to spend time with.  
At the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai
  • A big part of my sabbatical plan was travel.  I used my frequent flyer miles, credit card reward points, Amanda’s travel agent discounts, first responder discounts, and stayed with friends on several occasions to stretch our travel dollars for some amazing experiences.  My goal was to avoid winter as much as possible!  We had originally planned for all four of us to go to Jerusalem right after Christmas, but we pivoted for the nearby country of the United Arab Emirates.  Dubai and Abu Dhabi did not disappoint.  The 80 degree temps were perfect for exploring and enjoying both the big city and the desert.  We enjoyed the world’s tallest building, the world’s fastest rollercoaster (0 to 158 mph in 4.9 seconds!), and camel rides across the sand.   A layover in Paris on the way enabled us to eat chocolate croissants watching the sunrise at the Eiffel tower.  A quick layover in London on our return offered us the chance to explore Westminster Abbey and its vast history. 
Camping by Lake Natron on Maasai pasturelands with an active volcano in the distance
  • At the end of January I used my frequent flyer miles to fly south of the equator to visit a close friend in Tanzania.  I got to sleep at a lodge on the shoulder of beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro a few nights, camp in the Maasai country with giraffes and zebras, and soak in volcanic hot springs.  I got to also visit a coffee farm and learn about growing, harvesting, and roasting beans.  It was heaven for a coffee drinker!  I took the opportunity to custom craft a special blend just for Redland Hills, which I am sharing as a thank-you gift this Easter. 
Camping in the Amazon rainforest
  • In March I had promised a father/son trip for Taylor during his spring break to the destination of his choice, which was Brazil.  We hand glided over Rio de Janeiro (video clip at the bottom of the page), fished for piranha, and slept in hammocks in the Amazon rainforest
  • For Lilly’s spring break we journeyed to Los Angeles to experience Disneyland and attend a taping of America’s Got Talent.  We’ll let you know when the episode airs. 
Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro
Hand gliding over Rio de Janeiro