Friday, May 27, 2016

A Bit of Child's Play

The end of May seems to be right smack dab in the middle of the second busiest season of the year for us; the first being Thanksgiving/Christmas. It is the season of graduations, Mother's Day, birthdays and Father's Day with an occasional wedding thrown in the mix. I am feeling desperate for a vacation. This year due to a couple of unplanned events we have gotten a late start on deciding the what, when and where of vacation. As we jockey for a position between co-workers' vacations, we penciled two possible options on the calendar from which to give ourselves a week of renewal. One of the seven-days-in-a-row time frames has a family event attached to each end of it. Then we have to wrestle with the idea of missing one or book ending our much needed week with celebrations. Those of you who know my husband and I know we like to be at family events, but rarely mix these gatherings into a recipe for vacation.

Vacation means something different for everyone. When I was a kid it mostly meant parents took a week off of work and did projects around the house; we didn't go on vacations. Summer vacation was a reading fest for me; it was a time to roam outside and daydream. Childhood summers were filled with helping my grandma in the garden, snapping beans and pitting cherries, visiting cousins in Cincinnati, family reunions and going to the county fair. We didn't go on trips, but I dreamed of seeing the world one day.

Not only have I not seen the world, I haven't even left the continent of the United States and I dont have a passport. No pity here. I have taken vacations though. You know, gone places and done things. I rarely do a stay-cation. I like to get out of town and mill around someplace with which I am unacquainted. I love tucking away the part of me that cares so much and rest. Resting for me is reading, discovering quaint shops, used book stores and lovely little hikes. Discovering unexpected treasures apart from the plan is one of the best parts of a restful vacation.

One year Jim and I drove north on the coastal highway, a beautiful experience; at one point I spotted a whale spout, then another and another. We finally pulled over and watched for spouts as my excitement grew and awareness dawned; the gray whales were migrating north. I loved the idea of joining them. That particular vacation was packed with all kinds of adventure and, to my husband's surprise, my greatest joy was in seeing the whale spouts off the coast and the feeling of connection to the whales' migration.

Now when you are going on vacation with someone else it is no longer just about what you need or want. My husband and I like similar things, but the differences do stretch me. He likes to go help someone (selfishly, I just like helping myself) and he likes to see things more than I do and with more intensity; he is task driven. For me, vacation isn't a task, it is an attitude of being present with myself, with him and in the moment. It is chill time even when family factors into the experience. And I love just being alone with my husband and no one else. Part of the dilemma of planning our vacation is agreeing on one in which we both have our needs met.

I do love going and seeing. I love road trips, but I miss summers off and just being a kid. Fortunately at this time my schedule is somewhat flexible, but I have some extra work pressures right now related to licensing. So just in case I don't get enough of the kinds of things I need on vacation (How can I, it is just a week?), I am making a list of ways to insert mini-vacations into my summer. I will have to discipline myself to work these in, but me thinks this may work in conjunction with my efforts at Sabbath rest. Here are a few things that give me a dose of the good ol' summer time kind of relaxation, as well as remind me of my grandparents.

  • Nurture potted plants on the patio and throughout the yard. Even planning on a herb pot outside the kitchen door.
  • Reread childhood favorites like:
    Professor Diggins Dragons by Felice Holman (Has anyone else read this one?)
    Up the Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
    Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
    Heidi by Johanna Spryi
  • Sketch and color
  • Blow bubbles (I know some of you are laughing right now, but bubble blowing is calming. Maybe you should try it.)
  • Sew a fun project (nothing necessary or serious)
  • Make a picnic like grandma: fried chicken, potato salad, sweet pickles, cheese, and sugar cookies
  • Visit the nursery that has farm animals
  • Eat ice cream at the beach
  • Better yet, make homemade ice cream
  • Fly kites

What are your vacation plans? What are the summer time activities you find relaxing and reminiscent of childhood summers?

P.S. Photo looking through the gate at my grandparent's home was taken by my niece Kadi J. Love.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Need Rest? No Excuses Necessary

The fast pace of the opening verse in Jonny Diaz's song, Breathe, expresses well the day to day style of living we find most common in our culture. But when he sings, “Breathe, just breathe. Come and rest at my feet And be, just be” the words seem to hang, suspended in air; the pause is palpable. I long to stay suspended in between the fast pulsing verses right where the pause eases me down into a soft, restful place.

In her book Sabbath Keeping, Donna Schaper says, “Not to keep sabbath is like receiving a beautiful gift and forgetting to say thank you. It is like staring at a banquet and complaining that there is nothing good to eat.” For me it might be like believing there is never enough time for renewal while wasting time depleting my energy with mind numbing activities.

Several years ago I invested a chunk of time studying Sabbath rest (the fourth commandment) because I was in great need of rest and curious if it was still relevant; so few people practice it these days I had begun to think it had gone out of style. Is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy meant for us modern folk with our increased sense of importance? I believe The Ten Commandments are for all time, so then remembering the Sabbath must still be relevant. Besides have you noticed four verses are used to cover the fourth commandment while the other nine require one verse each? I don't believe this means it is more important, but I suspect it is because it would be the easiest for us to rationalize ignoring it.

But what does it mean to remember the Sabbath, keep it holy and rest on the seventh day? And how does this translate into my life in this day and age? Interestingly I was pressed to study the Sabbath rest just a few years before attending graduate school, a time when my schedule was stretched beyond anything I had ever experienced or believed I could manage.

Fast forward through a graduate degree, including an internship while working full time, to a career change, two moves and a wedding; I married a man in ministry. All of these changes had turned my routine inside out. In the midst of all the changes while attempting to regain some form of equilibrium, my Sabbath rest thinned out and without notice disappeared. I had become oblivious to what rested and renewed me; when overwhelmed I found a culturally acceptable means of escape: social media. Ugh! I soon found myself both frustrated and bored as I escaped stress by zoning out on the Internet. How had I become so disconnected from rest and renewal? How had I gotten off course?

As a counselor I come across many articles on mindfulness: a way of staying present and focused. Recently, a longing grew within me to be more present to the presence of God and more attuned to what He desires from me in the moment. I've returned again to the discipline of Sabbath rest and discovering ways to make adjustments to my week so I can experience a deepened awareness of God and renewal.

Keeping sabbath is a decidedly different way of living: it is deeply counter-cultural. It is living out an intentional witness, a resistance to the way things are. When we live differently, we live with God,” writes Donna Schaper. It is true: to live the way of God is counter-cultural. In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Donna's words challenge me: “We say 'no' to a scripting of our life that is without play or rest or grace. We say 'yes' to a life that is grounded in God's grace, and then we receive more than we could ever have imagined of rest and play. For sabbath keeping allows us time to love, and thus restores to us the joy of our salvation.”

I have to ask myself:
  • Without pause how will I know if all I do is for God or for me?
  • As Jesus multiplied a little boy's lunch to feed 5,000, can I trust Him to multiply my acts of service on the six days given for work? It isn't all up to me, though sometimes I act like it.
  • Do I want to restore the joy of my salvation, or do I want to grind my teeth and harvest bitterness from burn out?

As I return to a routine revolving around a Sabbath rest I experiment with what slows me down and refocuses time on God, relishing in the week's accomplishments. Without stopping to enjoy the completion of tasks, we are driven to do more, thinking we've done less. Does that make sense? It does to me. We take for granted all we do not stop to appreciate.

What kinds of things do you do to create Sabbath rest? What activities are restful for you? Some things I find truly restful: reading, watching a movie with my husband, sitting outside and listening to the birds, a walk in the woods or by the lake, planting flowers, or drawing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mother of the Year

When I was a teenager living in Colorado Springs, our youth group decided one Mothers' Day to vote for “Mother of the Year” and honor her during the Mothers' Day service. We voted by ballot. My brother and I confessed to one another we voted for our mom. When Mothers' Day arrived and the time had come to announce the “Mother of the Year”, our mom was chosen. Mom was surprised, but so was I. How wonderful it was our peers, without knowing her as we do, also saw her as the one to honor that year. For some reason we never had another “Mother of the Year” vote, so in my mind mom still holds the title in a particular church in Colorado Springs.

She was, and still is, the woman who notices those on the fringes in need of a friend. It was from my mother I learned to reach out and befriend the person ignored by others. Mom is a cheerleader for the one facing a hard thing and she prays. There has hardly been a holiday when a stranger didn't join us for a meal, someone lonely and in need of my mother's love and care. This is a woman with more ideas than days, energy far greater than most young people, and a great ability to laugh at herself. And she has given herself much to laugh about. My mom, my friend.

It was her prayers and determined encouragement that carried me through many hurdles. As the child who probably baffled her most, I am grateful for the ways she stood by me and believed in me. We are in many ways different, but we share the same passion for homemaking, the hurting, and for relationships. All three of her children inherited her appreciation for antiques. Her faithfulness to God and her loving, good intentions had a marvelous influence on the decisions we made to live for Christ.

Today my seventy-five-year old mother is driving home from Colorado Springs; she has been on an unusual journey. In early April my husband and I made the long drive from San Diego to Hereford, Texas for my step-dad Alton's funeral. It wasn't unexpected. We were relieved for his sake because he had suffered much the last months of his life; and he suffered bravely. Still it has been sad.

Jim and I planned on staying with my mom for a few days and to help her take care of things, but the time was shortened. Two churches Alton served over the years held memorial services and wanted my mom to attend. So with her van packed with mementos and clothes for every kind of weather, she took off for, what my husband lovingly calls, “The Alton Tour.” Mom drove to Fort Collins, Colorado for service one, and then flew to Cincinnati, Ohio for service two. While traveling she made time to see family and friends. And today, almost three weeks later, saturated with fellowship, she is going home. Home to a different life, a life without the man who poured love and adoration into her brokenness, the man who insisted she see places and entertained her on the journey with his wit and books.

 Now this blog is really about my mom but I couldn't write about her without saying something of what she is going through today. It seems weird to think of mom without Alton, but this new chapter will one day become the new norm, though we will never forget the man who stuck close to her side for nearly 24 years. My mom can be amazingly resilient and resourceful. Her children are watching to see how she writes this chapter; she always surprises us. We will be close by to support her.

I am praying for her today as she makes the six hour drive home and for the next chapter of her life. Mom, may you fully embrace the love and care others have for you as you go into a different sort of future. We are all here for you. Jesus is here for you. Happy Mothers' Day to my mom, “Mother of the Year” every year!