Rest, Learning, Jubilee

June 17, 2019
By: 
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

As you read this, I will be just a few days away from starting my sabbatical, which has been about a year in the planning and comes as I transition from my seventh year as the UTO staff officer into my eighth. A lot has happened in these past seven years (and just wait until you hear what we’ve got up our sleeves!), so as I prepare to hit the pause button, it seems like a good moment to stop and reflect.

So much has changed in seven years. When I started this job, I was excited about the opportunity to travel, to be a part of all the amazing ministries that UTO funds each year. The Holy Spirit is an amazing thing and often puts us in places that challenge us to grow, learn, and use our skills and gifts, and this job was definitely all of that when I first started. There are many things I am proud of – and some things I might have done differently. I will never forget spending weeks digging through boxes of papers and file cabinets stuffed full. As I dug through all of these papers, I began to find bits and pieces of UTO history that had been lost, forgotten, or simply buried. It was an amazing opportunity, although it didn’t feel like it at the time, and the fruit that it bore ranges from our ability to tell you every grant UTO has ever awarded to knowledge of the exact amount of money UTO has raised since the first collection. It also has helped the Board and staff remember key foundational truths about this ministry that had been lost over time. For me, these pieces helped me realize that what I was originally excited about (travel and ministry) are great, but what is really compelling in this work is trying to encourage, teach, and invite people to live more grateful lives … but more on that in a moment. We’ve increased participation in UTO; created new resources, programs, videos, and experiences; and improved our communication and support of those promoting and teaching UTO and those navigating the grant process. This isn’t to say that there isn’t more to be done but simply to note that the UTO Board and staff have been working so very hard to be creative, innovative, and responsive. Personally, a lot has happened as well, from the birth of my daughters to my move back to the West.

The Bible is clear that a time of rest is important. Referencing the Anno Jubileo, Leviticus says that every seven years you should rotate your crops and every 50 years forgive debts, return land, free slaves, and let the land lay fallow. Growing up in a farming community, I know that soil preservation is really important. Farmers still rotate crops and let land lay fallow to rest and recharge. The same is true for humans. I appreciate that we don’t all get to take a sabbatical, which honestly, I think is regrettable, but I am very grateful for my very first sabbatical. This will be a time of rest, and for me, rest breeds creativity. (Some of my best ideas have come during vacation when I think I’ve shut off my work brain.) Additionally, I’ve been accepted into Brené Brown’s The Daring Way certification course. It involves online classes, pre-testing, and then a week in Texas with Brown and her team learning how to utilize her research in our daily lives and work. What I’m deeply interested in professionally is how gratitude is really about vulnerability. I think gratitude is so important because it not only recognizes but names how, as human beings, we need each other – people we agree with or not, people we do not know or might be afraid of, and people we love – but we cannot return kindness for kindness shown, so we simply have to accept that we needed the help and receive the blessing. Several of you have asked what I plan to do with this certification when I return to work at the end of September. In all honesty, I’m not certain yet, but I definitely plan to share what I’ve learned; I just want to think about how, so check back with me this fall.

I worked closely with the UTO Board and staff to find a time to take my sabbatical that would cause the least amount of disruption to the projects and programs we are working on. A big thank you to all of Board and staff members who have frontloaded a lot of work this spring so that I could take this time away. While I’m gone, Michelle will be available to help you with anything you might need ([email protected]). And although our amazing intern, Katelyn, is beginning her transition to a new job (see below), she has agreed (as has her employer) to stick around with us through the end of July to support Michelle and the transition to the new intern and help make sure all of your questions get answered. With that said, there are so many exciting things in the planning stages, and I cannot wait to tell you all about them.

For now, it’s time to rest and recharge, learn and grow, and give thanks. If you want to come along on the journey with me, then I highly recommend reading any or all of Brené Brown’s books, checking out her Netflix special, or watching her Ted Talk. I’m also going to (hopefully) plow through a growing stack of books: Gratitude: An Intellectual History by Peter J. Leithart, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey, Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach by Jerome Berryman, and (for fun) Malachy McCourt’s History of Ireland.

I’m back in the office on September 23. All voicemail and email received during my sabbatical will be deleted, so if it is something just for me, please hold onto it until September 23, and all other things send on to Michelle or Katelyn. (I’ll have an away message up to help direct you to the things you might need as well.) Please keep me in your prayers during this time and know that all of you are always in mine. See you soon!

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