Dear siblings of Duke Memorial,
“Thank you” simply doesn’t feel like a significant enough phrase to express my endless appreciation for the gift of my sabbatical. So, my family and I want to share a few glimpses of gratitude from our experiences over the past three months to give voice to our thanksgiving to you, and to God.
It’s hard to summarize what has occurred in the past twelve weeks. To some, it might seem to have been unproductive. I haven’t written a book, or researched a thesis, or taken self-improvement courses, or cleaned out my house, or done mission work, or built anything significant. In fact, most of the projects I started are still unfinished. And I’m okay with that.
The first few weeks I hibernated; letting my mind get quiet and my body rest and restore. I met weekly with my therapist almost the whole three months. Just about every Thursday I spent hours in Greensboro with my mom and my Granddaddy. We ate lunch, chatted, and did some sorting and cleaning out of his house, which often led to hearing family stories I’d forgotten or never heard. I started making a quilt. I visited with friends. Seth and I took a restorative island vacation around our 15th anniversary, and we took Lucy and Teddy on a fun road trip to experience the magic of Harry Potter World. I only opened my laptop a handful of times, and it was only to work on Shutterfly photo albums or to write poetry. I read and read and read (I stopped keeping track, but my estimate is over 30,000 pages of fiction). If you need a trashy beach read I can recommend several! One of the few non-fiction books I read was Wintering by Katherine May, in which she writes with profound beauty about the power of rest and retreat. My sabbatical looked much like how she describes the practice of wintering: It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing those deeply unfashionable things - slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting - is a radical act now, but it is essential.
Another phrase that came to be a guiding principle of my time was one I learned through watching the brilliant Brene Brown’s newest series Atlas of the Heart (a series I recommend that all human beings watch, or at least read her book of the same title). One of the concepts she addresses is the notion of “overwhelm” which, for me, resonated with the feeling of burnout. Brene posits, alongside other researchers, that the only truly helpful and healing cures for overwhelm are nothingness and play.
Nothingness and play shaped much of my past twelve weeks, often taking the simpler forms of rest and joy.
And I bring these guiding words with me as I return to you. The past two years have been so very hard for so many people, and feelings of burnout are at an all time high. The precious and immeasurable gift of a twelve week sabbatical is not possible for everyone; and I acknowledge the privilege from which I write. But I want to urge you - no matter your age, your vocation, how full your plate is, no matter where you are in your life journey - to find ways to embrace rest and joy as often as you can. They truly are acts of resistance, as well as deeply and transformationally healing.
I return to you feeling more complete and whole than I have in years, thanks, in large part, to the rest and joy I encountered in my time away. And, just like each of you, my healing work is not complete. My therapist and I will still meet, I will be purposeful about finding (or making) pockets of time for creative writing or silly play, and I am committed to a better rhythm of rest; all with the aim of maintaining that wholeness, and living with intentionality into all that God has called me to be.
Thank you for the gift of this time and space. Thank you to the staff and leaders who have stepped up and stepped in to make it possible, in ways big and small. Thank you for your prayers while I was away, and thank you for welcoming me back. I am grateful for you, and lift thanksgiving to the God who created us for the purpose of joyful relationship, and then rested.
All my love - Jennifer
Dear Duke Memorial Family,
Thank you for giving Jennifer and our family the gift of sabbatical. We remind our children that resting enables their play; that it makes possible their growth and their development and their giving back to the world. Sabbatical has been such a time of rest and rejuvenation - a rare experience in ministry life and one we’re grateful for. Thank you for creating restful space for her and for us.
We have missed you. I especially missed you during basketball season…and Tobacco Road rivalries aside, we are excited to be back with you! It seems to me that the mark of a good period of rest is a feeling of excitement that it’s coming to an end. We are energized to play, grow, and give back alongside you as Jennifer returns to ministry.
With appreciation, anticipation, and love,
I’m glad mom got to have a sabbatical because it made things easier for everyone. I really enjoyed our trip to Harry Potter World and I’m so glad mom could go with us. It was also nice that she could pick us up from school sometimes when our grandparents didn’t and have evenings together. I loved getting to spend more time with my mom. Thank you for letting my mom go on sabbatical. I’m glad to be coming back to church to see friends and all of you again and play a lot together!
Dear church family,
I have really missed all of you during my mom’s sabbatical (I also missed the foosball table). I have learned how to sew from mom because she had lots of extra time at home (let me know if you want me to make you a pillow!) We also got to take a family trip to Harry Potter World in Florida! That was amazing and I loved it. I also enjoyed watching movies together and having relaxing family time. We also had more dinners together and I got to share sushi with my mom. Also, it has been nice that she could snuggle me to sleep many nights. Thank you so much for letting my mom have a sabbatical. I am also excited to be back at church with you.
To celebrate, here is a joke of the day:
Q: What time do ducks wake up?
A: The quack of dawn!
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