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Reflections From A Wild Sabbatical with Pastor Josh

Dear Sojourn Family,

I wanted to sit down and digest the summer with you and reflect on the wonderful gift that my family received in the sabbatical. I view this as somewhat of a memoir of the past few months of my life. So, I’m just gonna kick back and let my fingers relay what my heart feels and all the rabbit trails that my mind feels like chasing. I typically prefer to chase them all. So many epic adventures happen traveling down rabbit trails. Like this rabbit trail for instance. I am literally following a rabbit trail that is about rabbit trails. This should be fun. Let’s get into it.

First of all, I want to express how thankful and how honored I feel to have the opportunity to take a sabbatical. Honestly, I’ve never been in a church before where this happened. For us as a family, this was a first time experience. This was uncharted territory. It was such a unique gift. I started leading worship as a 14 year old in our FCA group at school and in the band at church. For the last 26 years I’ve basically been in a role of weekly leading worship in churches and ministries. This summer was really the first time I’ve ever taken a long break from it. Also, I don’t think there has been a three month season where I’ve been around Meghan and the kids as much as I was able to this summer. During normal life, I’m always leaving for work or leaving for meetings or leaving to visit people. It’s a lot of leaving, so it was really special to take a long season to just be. No appointments. No obligations. No work. Nowhere to be. Full disclosure, though – I was a little worried that my family wouldn’t be as impressed with me after they experienced an entire summer completely saturated in my presence. Thankfully as I write this today, they still love me and appreciate me being around. Crisis averted.

While I’m thinking about it, please allow me to throw out some heartfelt thank you’s. To all the pastors, the staff team, and members of Sojourn who took on more responsibility so that I could pull away and rest with my family, I want to express insane amounts of gratitude. Thank you so much.  I’m thankful to be a part of a church family that is so willing to serve and shoulder the load. I’m also thankful to be a part of a church that can exist when pastors are not present. The pastors aren’t the lifeblood of Sojourn Church, Jesus is. This is His church and I’m thankful to be a part of this family with you.

We don’t travel much. Not that we’re against the idea, but it’s just never been our thing. As we learn and grow with our little man J.R. in the world of autism, the idea of traveling through long car rides or plane rides or boat rides to unfamiliar places is typically a recipe to turn our world upside down. However, this summer, through the systematic and calculated efforts of my beautiful Meghan, we (mostly she) came up with a plan to go try some stuff. It’s not often that we get a season like this with three months at our discretion. Honestly, it kind of felt like I was a 10 year old kid again. You remember back in the day when we used to get those really long summer breaks? I was energized with the excitement of a preteen but in reality I was a 40 year old man taking cholesterol medicine and often visiting the chiropractor while belting out “School’s Out For The Summer” with Alice Cooper. It was a strange but electric feeling.

“Dollywood Or Bust!!” We never broke out the shoe polish to christen the back windshield of our Chevy Traverse, but we took off to Sevierville, TN in a blaze of glory. With Dolly’s greatest hits slapping in the car speakers we headed to the homeplace of the lady who inspired Jolene’s name. Of course, as I looked in the rearview mirror I could see Samiah and Christiana slowly slip ear buds into their ears and drift off to a land where Wande, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift fill their worlds with wonderful music. What can you say? We love music and music of all kinds. It’s also been such a joy of mine to trade music suggestions with my daughters. We get to introduce each other to so many different artists. It’s truly become one of my favorite pastimes with them in the car. Dollywood treated us well, however I made a crucial mistake in the themepark that I may never live down. I didn’t do any research, per usual. Samiah and Christiana haven’t been on many roller coasters and Jolene had never ridden one in her life. Guess who took them on the Lightning Rod – a nationally ranked roller coaster reaching 70+mph with a death defying drop of 165 feet? Yep, this guy. Even worse, it was the first roller coaster we tried that day. We literally transitioned from the bumper cars to one of the scariest rides in America. Direct quote from Jolene as the coaster mercilessly came to a stop, “That was terrible!!!” Something should have registered in my mind when the theme park employees made us read the safety warning before boarding the ride. But it didn’t. Yep, Father Of The Year.

During the summer, we also got the opportunity to spend significant time with family over weekends and on the beautiful beaches of the pan handle. There’s few things greater than being on the beach with your family playing in the sand, splashing in the waves, catching fish, and just soaking in the sun. When I have a rod in my hand in the ocean I just come alive. Nothing makes you feel wild like catching sharks in the surf and frying them up for supper. There’s just something about being a man and eating a man-eater. I know that way of flawed thinking is a byproduct of the 1975 Jaws propaganda but it gives me a rush nonetheless. We love the forgotten beaches of the rural pan handle. I mean, who wants to relax and play on the beach with 75,000 strangers. You can have Panama City and Daytona. Give me those misbegotten, desolate beaches where you don’t even have to watch your kids. There’s just nobody there. Just like God intended. We were so grateful to get to spend a couple of weeks at the beach.

There was nothing more wild this summer than my excursion down the Ocmulgee River. I had been dreaming about doing this for years. A couple of friends and I loaded up into canoes at the Amerson Water Park in Macon and four days later got picked up at the bridge on highway 96. It was beyond epic. Being on the Ocmulgee River for that many hours and days in a row was so incredible. It was like a healing balm for the soul in many ways. None of us had ever been down the river like this so it was a "learn as we go" and "we'll find out when we found out" type of adventure. We experienced cows venturing into the campsite in the middle of the night sniffing the tarp covering my hammock. I mean, this behemoth was so close I could hear the wind vibrating the walls of its nostrils as he sniffed me out. I was worried he was going to pull my tarp off like a vacuum hose sucking up a plastic candy wrapper. We cruised passed countless alligators as we slowly paddled downstream. Once the wind blew the nose of my canoe into an overhanging wasp nest and I was forced to jump into the river with an alligator that just entered the water. No big deal. Just pretending to be Middle Georgia's version of Steve Irwin over here. We hung our hammocks over freshly rooted hog sign and tried to sleep peacefully with pistols in our bathing suite pockets. It was so wild. We were in the elements. We were living the adventure.

During our sabbatical we also took the opportunity to prioritize our emotional and spiritual health through counseling. For the six of us, we logged several hours meeting with counselors and therapists. This was beneficial for all of us, but particularly beneficial for me personally. When I entered sabbatical I was pretty exhausted. I tend to connect and empathize with people’s pain and trauma on a very high level. It’s something God has gifted me to do and I am honored to do it. Nothing makes me feel more connected to someone than climbing down into the ditch of their suffering and sitting there with them trying to hold onto hope. With that being said, my heart and soul had logged a lot of mileage leading up to the summer. I was coasting on fumes and felt somewhat hollowed out. My struggles with anxiety heightened greatly at the onset of the sabbatical, making it difficult to sleep and settle down. I was so grateful that I had the time to slow down, work with a counselor, and let Jesus replenish my tank.

One of the ways I slowed down and refueled over the summer was to log countless hours on my front porch. There in the suffocating heat, surrounded by 70 year old red oaks, I sat there like a Mayberry Sunday afternoon and read books, breathed fresh air, talked to Jesus out loud, listened to the blue jays alert the woods, watched the sun warm the dew on the pasture grass, watched the red tail hawks coast across the clearing scouting out their next meal, and things like that.

The Lord spoke to me so specifically through Dane Ortlund’s book Gentle and Lowly. This is a book about the heart of Christ. At the end of it, I literally sat back in the rocking chair and said these words audibly, “I think I’m finally convinced that God actually loves me.” I was overwhelmed with the love of God and it was completely unattached to any efforts to prove myself to Him as someone who was worthy of His love. This was one of those “sweeter than honey from the honeycomb” moments that David talked about in the psalms. Those are rare occasions but I’m so thankful to have experienced one. On that hot, sweaty porch I also read the biographies of Crazy Horse and Dave Grohl. Native American heritage is incredibly special to me and I am so inspired by much of their way of life. Also, as a music man, reading Dave Grohl’s first person account of how Nirvana took over the world back in the 90’s was pure gold. I’ll never forget hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time in middle school. It was like a portal to a new sonic dimension instantly opened up in the atmosphere. It was incredible. If only the kids these days who buy the Nirvana shirts at Target knew about how epic of a time that was. But they won’t. They typically can’t name two Nirvana songs. Shame.

I truly feel rested coming off of this sabbatical. Like truly. Rest came pouring in from so many directions: date nights with Meghan, movie nights with the kids, the front porch sanctuary, catching bass with friends, grilling steaks with friends, staring at the stars at night and often spotting Elon’s satellites, reading good books, slowing down to hear the Lord’s voice, listening to the song of nature, enjoying long conversations with Meghan, spending countless hours feeling the vibrations of the diesel tractor pulse through my body, carefully slicing fillets from the wings of a stingray to feed our family at the beach, walking in the field barefoot feeling connected and grounded by the cool grass, picking wild blackberries while the thorns scar my forearms and fingers, listening to the coyotes call role after the sun sets behind the trees, and on and on and on. I truly had the opportunity to stop and to smell all of the roses. Every last one of them.  

It was so good to not be needed. In one way it was good to not be needed so that I could take a break and rest. In another way it was good to not be needed so that the Lord could reassure me that the church rests upon His shoulders and not mine. My shoulders are weak and are not fit to carry a church. Plus they’re typically sunburned and sweaty. Not the place a church would want to sit anyways.

All this to say, thank you Sojourn Church. You gave my family a great gift and we are better for it. We are so glad to be back in the mix with our church family. We cherish the Sunday gatherings with all of you. We thrive off the local community we have with the Sojourn folks in the Byron Posse. It was good to be gone and it’s good to be back.

On behalf of my family, we love you very much.


P.S. If you’re still reading this you deserve some type of award for your perseverance. I’d love to take you out to lunch. Either that or just give you a hug. On second thought, let’s just go with the hug. Much more economical.


Kathy Dawson - October 6th, 2023 at 1:54pm

Your hugs are always great!

Sandy Smith - October 6th, 2023 at 2:42pm

Thank you for sharing your heart Josh. I enjoyed getting to know the real Josh. However, your Ocmulgee River experience sent chills up my spine. The movie “Deliverance” came to mind several times. I’m thankful you had so many new and great times during your family’s sabbatical! I’m sure you have made unforgettable memories for all of you. It is good to have you back home.

All In - October 7th, 2023 at 5:48am

Love you brother. I’m glad you were able to do that. My dad and I did the same canoe trip you did when I was 13. It’s one of my fondest memories with him.

P.s. - I want the lunch