All is Gift: Return from a Two Month Sabbatical

I returned this week from two months of sabbatical. (You can read a bit more on the purpose of this time HERE.) I’ll confess I feared re-entry might carry a massive case of the “Monday morning blues.” But it’s the opposite. My heart is full — of gratitude for what lies behind and enthusiasm for the work ahead and the remarkable people with whom I serve.

On the first day of the sabbatical, I penned a prayer in my journal. It began, “Lord, help meIMG_3146 receive every part of this time as a gift from You, both those that are all that I’d wish and those that look nothing like I’d imagined. This is not my two months, but rather Your two months, of which You will give me a part every day – each one a unique gift…”

I began and ended the sabbatical with time in the mountains, alone with God. The first five days I backpacked in the Yosemite wilderness. The last day I returned to the Sierra Nevada for a final 24-hours of solitude.

Truth be told, I’d wondered if those first five days alone might be too long. Would I go stir-crazy? I didn’t. Instead, I felt the merry-go-round of daily life slowing. Dizziness steadied. The blur came into greater focus. I sensed my body falling into sync with creation. The quickening at dawn. The slowing at dusk. There were no beeps and ringtones to yank my mind this way and that. I prayed and listened, reflected and journaled, read Scripture and sang. When I emerged from the woods, I felt quieted. I felt I had been in God’s presence as rarely I have.

The remainder of the sabbatical was colored by that beginning. Some of the time my family and I spent at home; some in special places far off. Some moments felt exotic; some pedestrian.

Certainly, my sin nature was there, too. I was amazed at how I could still slip so easily into fighting grumpiness when short on sleep…irritation at the explosive weeds in my lawn…desire to fire sharp words at the telemarketer.

But wrapping around it all – both the highs and the lows – was a pervasive sense of what I’d prayed for on the first day, that all is gift. I believed – and  felt in a way I often miss– that God was giving each experience to me: to refresh and revive; to humble and refine; to nurture clearer vision for my own life and for CAFO; to draw me closer to Rachel and our children; and most of all to grow me nearer to Himself.IMG_3541

IMG_3248These gifts arrived in both the highs and the lows. There were sublime draughts of peace in the mountains. Jubilant games with the kids on the California seashore. Conversations and kisses with Rachel that I’ll not soon forget. But also frustrating reminders of my own deep need for grace: how self-absorbed I can become when I miss a meal…or mad when the bank charges a fee that feels unjust. Yet I knew that all was gift – each one precisely what God knew I needed in that moment to mold my heart to become more like His.

As I returned last weekend to the Sierra Nevada mountains for a final 24-hours in solitude, I sought to crystallize in my journal many things I felt I’d seen with special clarity during the sabbatical. And I prayed that I will continue to draw life from the countless gifts received during that priceless time.

But most of all, I prayed that I will continue to see and feel the giftness of each experience of life. Sabbath rest and the daily task. The exotic and the pedestrian. The sense of God’s presence and even feeling of His absence. The obvious blessings and those disguised in pain or disappointment. In some mysterious sense, all is gift, working for our good. And this is not merely the small good of our comfort or pleasure. But the great good of a life that shares the goodness and beauty of Jesus more and more with each day that passes.

That was God’s gift to me over the past two months. It is His gift to me – and to you – today as well.