Sabbath 2

You find what you look for.

I’ve been thinking about Sabbath, so of course I’ve found it even when I haven’t been actively looking. Try these unintentional definitions:

Stop doing and just be here.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. You can rejoice and be glad in it. You can have fun and laugh and be peaceful about your to-do list because God is in control, and you can have total peace in Him.” Annie F. Downs, 100 Days to Brave p.162

Recently, while perusing a book about loving your neighbor, I came across this paradigm:

Put first things first.
Hack off the unnecessary.
Be interruptible.

Those three points have hung on to my imagination.

My first things first: God, family, friends, work, rest/play. So how can I not observe Sabbath if a) it’s God’s command, and He wants to spend time with me; and b) rest/play is already a priority, one that I don’t make enough time for regularly? Leaving my work email off, letting the house be less than pristine, long dog walks rather than our usual quick route, reading all the books, choosing activities that feel life-giving rather than draining–all good!

Hack off the unnecessary: The author wrote about Michelangelo carving the David and famously saying that he “simply” carved away everything that wasn’t his masterpiece. If my life is my masterpiece, my gift devoted to God, then what do I need to carve away to reveal its beauty? One example: I added a time-tracker to my iPhone. Last week it alerted me that my usage was significantly down, but still at over an hour/day. Yikes! What else might I have done with those wasted hours? Today it alerted me that my usage was down to a much more reasonable less than 15 minutes/day (still too high?).

Be interruptible: I shouldn’t be so busy that the task at hand takes precedent over something else–or someone else–God wants me to see. Sabbath is an interruption of sorts to my regularly-scheduled week, one which prioritizes God. I can choose to see human interruptions at any moment during the week as gifts from God.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Connect
What do you enjoy about your work?

Study
Read aloud Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How would it help the Israelites to remember their deliverance from slavery? In other words, what is the connection between work, slavery and rest?
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
How does the Israelites’ Sabbath benefit others?

Live
Did you take any steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice this week? If so, how did it go?
How do you define “work”?
Is it possible for you to get all your work done in six days? If not, why should you still observe Sabbath?
How does society define “rest” and how might that be different from “a Sabbath to the Lord”?
How might Sabbath benefit your relationships with others?
What mighty acts of God would it help you to remember?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Remember the ways in which God has delivered you, then ask your mighty God to help you keep Sabbath.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Deuteronomy 5:12-15 individually and with your family.
What does “work” look like in your life?
What can you do to get your work done in six days?
Ask God to help you experience true rest for one day each week.

Spring

What puts (or keeps) a spring in your step?
What helps you experience flow?
What do you do that prompts bubbles of joy to float to the surface of your life?

I knew one word wouldn’t cut it this year, so I’m playing with words again.

I started January with Create Happiness. That didn’t make January a joyride, but it helped me think through some issues and put some new, at least revised, guidelines in place.

February’s renewed focus on Connecting once again resulted in loneliness (Connect was my 2018 word, and it stunk). For now, I’m sticking with tried-and-true mutual friendships.

March blew in with a soggy, wet mess as a ridiculous amount of rain drenched Northern California. The rest of the country also had its share of unusual weather (thanks, global warming!), but NorCal is my reality. Through the darkness, I cast about for the right word, something that would get me out of my own funk, something playful and inspirational, and pounced on: spring.

Even though spring won’t officially begin until March 20 this year, as soon as I said it aloud, I knew I’d found the right word. Spring is coming, so it’s hopeful. Also, Lent (German for spring) began on March 6, the season in the Church calendar when we observe the service and sacrifice of Jesus, so it fits that bill as well.

Playing with spring makes me laugh. It’s unlike any word or discipline I’ve chosen before, and therefore feels novel.

I want to keep a spring in my step, both physically and emotionally. Which means I need to get up on my feet and move (gym time, dog walks with Guy and friends), and it keeps me mindful of what I put in my mouth that might weigh me down. I’m also aware of what I put in my mind, via books or screens, social media, even conversations that take a wrong turn, so I don’t slog through the muck and mire of unhappiness or worry, gossip or anger. Feeling springy on this clear-sky gorgeous afternoon, I hopped on our front yard swing–perhaps more swing in my seat than spring in my step

I want to flow like a spring. Not like a dry summer creek bed or a muddy winter torrent, but light and easy, conscious of healthy boundaries as I bring life to dry places and parched creatures. I flow best when I’m reading good books, both fiction and non, and when I’m writing regularly. I flow best when I take care of myself: sufficient rest, hydration, and time alone and with God to recharge. Our church has a Lenten focus on Sabbath, prompting renewed attention to what a life-giving rest might look like in my life and our home.

I want living water to spring up in my soul. I hear Sunday school songs from my childhood: “Spring up, o well, within my soul / spring up o well, and make me whole…” (Numbers 21:17) I think of the woman at the well, to whom Jesus offered living water so she would never be (spiritually) thirsty again (John 4). And during my Ash Wednesday personal spiritual retreat, I came across Isaiah 43:13-18 in which God encourages His people:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

In these uncertain times, on days when I’m more inclined to stomp than spring, I can drink deep from God’s spring of fresh, clean, living water, then lie back and rest as He floats me through the wilderness on His own currents.

Image by 이룬 봉 from Pixabay

Meatless Monday – Berry Muffins

Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).

We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.

I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.

Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!

Berry Muffins

1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional

Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Sabbath 1

As we enter Lent, the season in the Church calendar in which we focus on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for love of us, we begin a wild and wandering conversation about Sabbath.

What does Sabbath mean to you?

Sabbath, #4 of the 10 Commandments, seems to be the one the Church feels free to omit. To our detriment. We have bought in to our non-stop culture and left God and our all-around health (spiritual, emotional, and physical) as sad and shrinking images in the rear-view mirror. In love, God takes us where we’re at, and our lives make do, but to be sure it’s not God’s best for our lives.

In the Bible, God says both to “remember” and “observe” the Sabbath. Lauren Winner (in her oh-so-helpful book, Mudhouse Sabbath) explains that for a few days we remember the last Sabbath, and for a few days we prepare for the next Sabbath. Sabbath becomes the guiding light in our conception of time.

It’s also about trust. Do I trust that the world depends on God, or do I act as if I believe the universe requires every ounce of my energy every minute of every day to keep spinning? Oh my, do I ever want to believe that the universe rests in God’s hands and not mine! But do I live into that truth?

I believe that Sabbath-keeping is good, as God ended each day of His creation of the world by declaring it “good.” When God was done with six days of creation, He rested. He modeled for us that, even though God–the all-powerful spiritual Being that He is–could not possibly have needed physical rest, He still took a restorative day-long break.

Obvious fact, and one I’ve missed for way too long: God created humans on Day #6. On Day #7, both God and His people rested.

What could it have meant to those first humans, that their first day on this pristine planet involved rest?

I think of my babies. Birthing, post-Eden, is laborious. Mama and Baby (and Dad, because he was all in) needed post-partum rest. For more than just a day, our world was reduced to basic survival: sleep, eat, snuggle…eat, sleep and snuggle some more.

Adam and Eve didn’t experience that birthing trauma, and they still got to rest. And enjoy companionship with God right off the bat. Hmm, jealous!

I don’t know what Sabbath looks like for you. I don’t even know what it looks like for me! Currently, my husband works way too many hours as a pastor. I work two part-time jobs for a wonky schedule. And we parent two teen/young adults. Not for the first time, Guy and I have begun conversations about what Sabbath could look like, for us as individuals, a couple, and a family. We believe God has good things in store as we ask the questions and begin taking steps toward a Sabbath practice.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Genesis 2:1-3 & Exodus 20:8-11

Connect
Reflect on one of your favorite leisure activities.

Study
Read Genesis 2:1-3
Why did God rest?
What did God do on the seventh day?
What does this passage tell us about God?
Read aloud Exodus 20:8-11
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How does God’s work differ from ours, and what does that tell us about work and rest?

Live
God created humans on Day 6, then rested on Day 7. What do you think it meant to Adam and Eve that their very first day was one of rest?
What has been your experience with Sabbath-keeping?
Why does Sabbath seem to be the one of the 10 Commandments that the Church forgets?
What makes Sabbath-keeping difficult?
What might Sabbath look like in your life?
What would it take to implement a Sabbath practice?
What is God saying to you through this study, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you take steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice.

Family Share
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 20:8-10 with your family.
If you had a whole day to do anything, what would you do and why?
What could you do to help your family get work done in six days so you could enjoy a day off together?
Ask God to help your family take a day off work.

Will Someone Care?

Following my last blog post, Talking with Teens, I asked Guy if he knew what scares Q14. Clowns, we knew. Spiders? Maybe he’d outgrown that one.

When Q climbed in the car after school, we asked him. Clowns and spiders. Probing deeper I asked, “Okay, but when you think about your life in the world, what scares you?” He didn’t have to think long: “After I die, will anyone remember me?”

Ouch! Talk about a stab to the parental heart!

My fear is similar, but different.

When my kids were small, we had a neighbor named Frank. His picture ought to appear under “curmudgeon” in the dictionary. He had lived alone for many years after his partner had passed. He had a niece, but they weren’t close. He did nothing to ingratiate himself with neighbors. The opposite, in fact, as he was always cranky and not afraid to share.

One day Frank shuffled up to our doorstep with a heavy white lunch sack. He received senior lunches delivered to his home everyday and, although he was lactose intolerant, the service wouldn’t modify his order. They brought him a school-sized carton of milk five days a week.

Frank asked if my young children could drink the milk. He didn’t want it to go to waste.

I hate food waste, so I accepted his generosity. Most days after school, I’d send one of my kids running to his door to pick up milk.

Some months into this new routine, Frank showed up looking much worse than usual. He’d had surgery on his eyelids and couldn’t see to apply his ointment. Would I be willing?

I’m not a nurse. I’m not even currently CPR trained. The whole thing skeeved me out, to be honest, but Frank was alone and in need. I felt sorry for him.

Twice a day for a week, I squeezed ointment from the little sterile tube onto his eyelids, then once a day for another week. When the process was complete, he showed up at our door again, this time bearing wine.

We worked toward an awkward friendship of sorts. We invited Frank to Easter dinner at the neighborhood pool. Guy barbecued while our kids swam. Frank brought us a bottle of wine now and again when he took the free senior bus to Trader Joe’s. He asked for our reviews, and asked about restaurants we’d visited or other San Francisco sites we’d seen. He clearly missed being out on the town with his partner.

Eventually, we moved across town, but we still stopped by once a week to see Frank and pick up the milk. By then, we’d realized Frank’s refrigerator wasn’t working well, so the kids didn’t drink it. We just used it as an excuse to check in on Frank. A hoarder, Frank never let us past his doorstep.

The neighbor who shared his wall called one day; she’d heard a loud crash in Frank’s condo and come running. When he didn’t open the door, she called 911. Frank had taken a significant fall. Not long after, we got a message on our answering machine. Frank said his niece was moving him to a senior care home. We had been on vacation when he left the message and we had no way to get in touch. We never heard from Frank again.

The cast of the musical RENT, facing the AIDS crisis of the early 90’s, sings: Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? I hear the melody in my head and I think of Frank. I don’t want to outlive my family, be estranged from others, and become a curmudgeon. I’m sure that sounds melodramatic, but then again, I think it might be more common than we recognize. Beyond something tragic happening to my family, being alone and unloved is my biggest personal fear.

How about you?

Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Found It!

Most visitors to Año Nuevo State Park this time of year are looking for elephant seals. Our family went in search of a snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake, to be exact, an endangered species that makes its home in that area. C20 has been desperate to find one.

We decided to make this President’s Day holiday a family day which, for us, almost always involves a trip to the beach. Facebook memories showed me a picture from our last trip to Año Nuevo, years ago, and that influenced our destination.

We couldn’t have ordered a more beautiful day. First stop: Santa Cruz, where we picked up lunch at Pizza My Heart to eat on the West Cliff Drive seaside bluffs. From there, we drove to Natural Bridges State Beach, hoping to see wintering Monarch Butterflies; we only saw a few flitting on the breeze and not the thousands that sometimes shelter in the eucalyptus groves.

Back in the car, we took Highway 1 to Año Nuevo, with ocean views to one side and fields of fluorescent yellow mustard and sour grass flowers on the other. On our way home, we stopped to take a picture in one of those fields and sank ankle-deep in mud. Wet and smelly, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

As we paid our park entrance fee, the ranger asked if we had a reservation for a guided seal walk, the only way you can access the seal breeding ground area. We said no, we were looking for a snake. She cocked her head in amusement and explained that snakes don’t often come out on chilly days, but that they’d be near the pond if anywhere.

Walking the path towards the pond, I muttered to Guy, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was the one to find a snake?”

Guess what? I did!

I stopped to look at a vine with a distinctly violet hue–I’ve never seen a naturally purplish thorn bush before. As I leaned forward for a better look, I saw a tail slither away. I shrieked in surprise, which brought Guy and C running.

The shriek shook my Cool Mom I’m-so-good-with-snakes vibe, but I honestly did not expect to find the snake. I didn’t even expect that C would find one, though if anyone could find an endangered and elusive wild snake in the thorn bushes along a pond, it would be him.

The rest of us went to the beach while he just about crawled along the path. We saw a number of sleeping elephant seals, and someone did tricky aerial maneuvers in a biplane–disruptive to the beach-calm, but cool nonetheless.

When we had walked the length of the beach in both directions, photographed the log-like seals and some beautiful pebbles, and breathed in deep the salt air, Q14 came down the stairs to wave us back up.

Because he’d done it: C20 had found–and caught–a San Francisco Garter Snake.

Two surprises: 1) the snake is far more stunning than I could have believed, and 2) the snake appeared super chill that this strange dude was holding him and showing him off to passersby. C said the snake knew he wasn’t a threat, and it sure looked like the truth.

The snake may have been calm, but my kid buzzed with happiness. To all the detractors who think I’m nuts because I encourage his passion for creepy-crawlies, we do a lot of things that might seem crazy for the sake of love. And today we got a crazy-fun family day out of it.

P.S. No snakes were harmed in the making of this story, and we left snakey-poo right where he’d been before.