By Jason Wredberg
One of the many blessings of my sabbatical was that my brother’s church in North Carolina granted him a sabbatical as well this summer, so we were able to meet up with my entire family for a week of fun together in the hills of Tennessee. It was not only fun to be together, but I loved seeing my dad lead a time of family devotions every night with grandkids hanging all over him.
After our time in Tennessee with my whole family, we came back home and had just five days to move into a new house before we left for a lengthy trip out west. As you might have guessed, this was not the most enjoyable part of the summer, but we are exceedingly grateful to God for providing us with a wonderful new home that we pray and believe will allow us to put down deep roots in this area and at Redeemer.
For us as a family, the highlight of our sabbatical was our trip out west. Thanks to the Lord’s provision and our church’s generosity, we were able to spend unhurried and uninterrupted time enjoying God’s glorious creation. We visited Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and then spent several days in Denver and Colorado Springs.
I don’t think our family will ever forget this trip. It was full of laughter, long conversations, regular talks about how awesome God is, and lots of ice cream. I believe the Lord granted us more than a vacation together—I believe he deepened our relationships with each other as a family. Karen and I both enjoyed special times with the kids and had long hours to talk as we drove across Montana and Wyoming. We reflected on the last 20 years of marriage and ministry and dreamed about the next 20 years.
My favorite memory happened on a Sunday morning as we drove through Glacier National Park. The scenery was breathtaking, and we asked the kids to each pick a worship song that we could sing along with as we looked out our windows at the handiwork of God. On that morning, God gave us a time of worship as a family that we will always remember, but let me be quick to add that even this time of family worship was not disconnected from our local church. In fact, when it was Gideon’s turn to pick a song, he offered us the following build up: “I’m going to pick is a song that our church sings better than any other song, and it has a great crescendo in it.” Gideon then declared, “I love it every time we sing it at church. The song is…Truth Prevails.”
So, not only is his favorite worship song his favorite precisely because his church sings it amazingly well—but it’s also a song that only his church sings because one of our own members wrote it for us to sing together! Of course, I did have to follow up this special moment with the heartbreaking news that there is no recording of the song we can play.
There is so much more I could say, but let me leave you with four brief sabbatical takeaways:
I love my family. It has been clear to me for 20 years now that God’s gift of Karen is an unmistakable sign of his immeasurable grace and kindness to me. But somehow that became even clearer this summer as we enjoyed our first extended time away from the daily responsibilities of full-time ministry. The Holy Spirit cleared my head of constantly evaluating the past and planning for the future, and I was able to look at my bride and my four children with fresh amazement and profound gratitude. It’s hard to explain, but I felt like I saw my children more clearly this summer. Specifically, it was the things I miss in the hustle and bustle of life and ministry—their unique facial expressions, their sense of humor, or their looks of wide-eyed amazement as they behold God’s creation, and even the distinct sound of their voices. I was seeing them and hearing them like never before. I kept thinking over and over again, I am a very blessed man.
I love this church. Several friends warned me before my sabbatical began that I would face a weird identity crisis after about a month that would lead me to either decide I don’t want to be a pastor anymore, or I would experience a surge of energy and a deepened love for pastoring. I experienced the second of those options as I had time to reflect on the last 4.5 years at Redeemer and the way in which this church has become our home and our family. It was humbling to rehearse the kindness and care this church has shown to me and my family. Replaying the ups and downs we have walked though left me overwhelmed that God has called me here—to this place and to these people. I could not be happier with God’s good providence. For the vast majority of Sundays during the summer, we attended a different church each week as a family. It did my heart good to hear my kids beg me, every single week, “Can we please go back to our church this week?!”
I love the leadership team God has placed at Redeemer. My brother Josh and I saw each other at the beginning and the end of our sabbaticals this summer. One comment we made to each other is that we legitimately had no idea what was happening at our churches during our time away. As strange as that may sound, this was not a sign of disinterest, but of trust. I never, even for one second, was concerned about the leadership of this church over the last three months. God has assembled not just a godly team, but an incredibly gifted team. I don’t just trust Jason and Aaron as fellow pastors, I trust them as my pastors. And the same is true for our lay elders.
I love the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We enjoyed time with my whole family this summer, and then as Karen and the kids and I travelled some 7,000 miles together. We gathered with other bodies of believers for corporate worship and longed to gather again with our church. In all this, it hit me over and over again that nothing in my life would be what it is today had the Lord Jesus Christ not captured my sinful heart. On a scorching hot July day at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin in 1996, my life changed forever. My relationship with my family, my marriage, the dynamic with my children, my vocation, and even the way I view national parks—everything would be different apart from the love of God for me in Jesus Christ. This summer brought a renewed sense of awe and commitment to give every day of my life to making Jesus known.
Redeemer, from me and my family, thank you. Thank you for loving us. We certainly love you, and we cannot wait to see what God has for us all in the years ahead.