Tag Archives: sabbath

Speed, Haste, Popsicles and Earthworms

“Mommy, you ruined my savoring.”

For a few years I was what you might call tri-vocational: I pastored a church, I wrote books and spoke to groups and retreats, and I parented three elementary-age children along with my husband. Life was a wonderful crazy-quilt of scheduling: writing an article at the library down the street from the piano teacher, finishing a sermon in the bleachers at swim practice.

It also wasn’t sustainable, I now realize. If you ask my kids, they’d probably tell you my two most common phrases were “Just a minute” and “Hurry up.” Ironic, eh? We still had times of Sabbath together, but they were shorter and less frequent than a few years ago. Part of that’s to be expected as our kids age. Part of it’s a by-product of a too-full life.

Now I’m bivocational, having left the sweet church I was serving. In the same time period, Robert adjusted his work schedule such that he’s no longer working in the evenings. Consequently, we have more space in our schedule, though I’ll let him speak for himself as to whether it feels more spacious. But for me, I know as I figure out a routine and my freelance work, the crazy quilt will be turning into something slightly more structured, geometric.

The problem is, I’m still in just-a-minute-hurry-up mode mentally. It’s like when you’re on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport and then you get ejected out the other side. Everything’s a bit disorienting when you take that first step onto solid ground; your brain hasn’t caught up to (or slowed down for) the new pace.

Which is why, the other night when the younger two kids were enjoying their popsicles after dinner, I hurried them along to bath time for no good reason. It wasn’t that late, and hey, these were the first popsicles they’d had since last summer… but I couldn’t help myself. That’s when the seven-year-old busted out with the quote that still makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously.

Mommy, you ruined my savoring.

People ask me sometimes how the kids feel about the idea of Sabbath time. As if it’s something we’d have to drag them into. Are you kidding? Children get this stuff in a way adults rarely do.

Some years ago I read a quote about the difference between speed and haste. It’s long gone now, but my version is that haste is speed without mindfulness. Sometimes, life moves quickly, and speed can be healthy and appropriate. If I’m crossing the street and a car is coming faster than I’d anticipated, I’d better pick up the pace. But sometimes we are—or I should own it and say I am—in a hurry without purpose.

Our 12 year old is a bus patrol, which means she leaves the house about 5 minutes before my son and I do. This morning J and I left even later than usual because it was rainy and we had to find umbrellas. Still, when we got outside and saw C on the sidewalk, she was only about two houses ahead of us. She was also walking funny. I called out to her, “C, what’s up?” She whirled around in alarm: “Be careful! Look down!!”

There were earthworms everywhere.

We picked our way down the sidewalk, point out each skinny pink wriggling thing to one another so we wouldn’t squish it. I’m sad to say that “hurry up” was in my throat, trying to escape. But this time, it didn’t. This time I didn’t ruin the savoring of spring.

One of you posted this to Facebook this week:

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I’m glad of this—it means my kids will be in my life for a good long time.

The Beauty in the Ordinary

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I am a writer today because I was a blogger first. Some 11 years ago I began a pseudonymous blog, as was the custom at the time–a place to write about my kids, ministry, and life in general. I wrote poems and top ten lists and meditations on parenting. I wrote liturgy but also cursed freely. It was a liberating space because there were no names attached, though if you knew me and stumbled upon it, you’d recognize me quickly. At least that’s what I always hoped. Authenticity, with a Google-proof veil of privacy.

Now eleven years and hundreds of posts later, I write this blog, I author books and articles for a living, I freelance for a non-profit, and I speak to groups about a whole host of things. But I don’t write as much personal stuff. Sabbath in the Suburbs has some memoir-ish elements in it, but I don’t know that I’ll publish another biographical book any time soon. My kids deserve not to be on display as they mature.

There is one place where I still write personal things. For the past few years I’ve been keeping three paper journals, one for each child. I call it The Memory Project. In it I write one-sentence entries about what’s going on in their lives. I keep it to one sentence because a paragraph or page is too much. One sentence is a small enough goal that I’ll actually do it.

My hope was to write every day, but every three weeks is more like it. I strive to record the quotidian moments as well as the milestones. In fact, I hope to write more of the former than the latter, since the latter are often easier to recall later.

This beautiful Atlantic article, The Value of Remembering Ordinary Moments, helps spur me along in this discipline:

Quotidian life seems too banal to document. Why write down routine conversations, ones we’ve had a million times and will have a million times more? Isn’t it more important to remember extraordinary moments: first steps, graduations, jobs, awards, marriage, retirement, vacations? Yet people seldom realize how fondly they will look back on days spent mundanely: a day spent reading in the bay window, a picnic in the park with friends. These things may not stick out while they are happening, but revisiting them can be a great pleasure. “Who would call a day spent reading a good day?” writes Annie Dillard. “But a life spent reading—that is a good life.”

I write these journals because I hope my kids will want this window into their childhood some day. I write because some things are too precious for Facebook… and other things are too mundane for it. But according to the article, it’s the everyday experience that we crave:

The people in the study were most interested in rediscovering the mundane experiences. Asked to write down what they were doing on an ordinary day (a few days before Valentine’s Day) and then on an extraordinary day (on Valentine’s Day), participants had more pleasure reading their entry about the ordinary day three months later than their entry about the extraordinary day.

When I reflect on my childhood, I remember the Christmas I got the entire series of Sweet Valley High paperback books (at least, the mere fifteen that had been published at that point). I remember the family trip to Colorado and the sooty chug-chug of the Silverton to Durango train. I remember my baby brother getting into my prescription medicine when I had the chicken pox and watching from the upstairs window as the paramedics drove away with him to get his stomach pumped. But I don’t remember what my random Thursdays were like. I don’t remember what our go-to dinner was on busy nights before my mother led the Girl Scout troop. I don’t remember shoe shopping.

My favorite movie of 2014 was Boyhood. Many people appreciated the cinematic achievement of following the same actors for seven years, but thought the story itself was boring. I agree that the movie was about the in-between moments–the fight before the divorce, the party after graduation–but I consider that a feature, not a bug. The scenes of a mother driving her son to school or a father taking his kids for pizza–those are the precious places of everyday grace.

Those moments are what make up a life. That kind of vision, a vision of the sacred in the ordinary, is what I mean when I talk about living Sabbathly. Living Sabbathly means we are awake to our life as it unfolds. And life unfolds primarily in ordinary moments.

 

Spiritual Snow Day

Here in northern Virginia, we’ve had a few weather delays and closings this winter, but they’ve mainly been due to extreme cold or wintry mix. All of the hassle, none of the charm. Finally, though, it looks like snow is coming. Five to nine inches if the reports are right.

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Here’s an excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs that’s been on my mind as we prepare.

Every swept floor invites another sweeping, every child bathed invites another bathing. When all life moves in such cycles, what is ever finished? The sun goes ’round, the moon goes ’round, the tides and seasons go ’round, people are born and die, and when are we finished? If we refuse rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die.

—Wayne Muller

It’s Sunday afternoon, and my children are watching the sky. It’s tantalizingly bleak, heavy with gray clouds, but . . . no snow.

“It’s happening again. I don’t get it,” I say to Robert. “Eastern Pennsylvania is getting socked. Areas all around us are getting inches of the stuff. But here? Nothing.”

“It’s a snow bubble,” he says.

People in our area (and our own household) are a little weirded out by the lack of snow this year. We’ve had a couple of flurries, but nothing substantial. Meanwhile areas all around us have gotten hit by snowstorms.

Not everyone loves snow, and it comes with serious downsides— dangerously cold temperatures and occasional power outages, not to mention the impact on the elderly who live alone or people without homes or adequate heating in those homes. But it also gives our area a pause. The DC region seems to depend on one or two moderate snowstorms to release the pressure valve. Schools and the federal government close, and many businesses follow suit. Snow provides a spiritual reset in this fast-paced culture.

The previous year we had a huge snowstorm, dubbed Snowpocalypse or Snowmaggedon depending on the news network. More than two feet of snow fell and the area shut down for the better part of a week. Snowpocalypse was a lot of work, but it also blanketed the area with peace. As a friend wrote on Facebook, “I wonder if snow days are God’s way of saying, ‘If you won’t take a Sabbath for yourself, I’m going to enforce one with this cold manna-type stuff. Have some cocoa and relax, will ya?’”

I love the story she’s talking about: God provides the starving people of Israel with bread in the wilderness, a “fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground” (Ex. 16:14). I’m struck with how improbable the story is. Manna in Hebrew literally means “what is it?” and I laugh to think about the Israelites looking confused but delighted as the desert sky rains breadcrumbs. (As a child, I always pictured it looking and tasting like yellow cake.) Then I picture them scooping up handfuls of the flaky stuff and throwing it at each other . . . a manna-ball fight. Followed by a manna-man-building contest. Then manna angels.

God provides in such eccentric ways. Bread from heaven that feeds a people. A day of rest, cold and crystalline.

Having grown up in Texas and made exactly one snowman as a child—a Yoda-sized thing studded with bits of grass since the dusting of snow was so slight—I can’t get enough of the stuff. I miss it this year, because who doesn’t love a bonus Sabbath? But I’m also glad that we have set aside Sabbath each week. Our calendar will remind us to pause and rest, even if the sky stays clear. We’re never more than six days away from a spiritual snow day.

Day 4 of #BoredandBrilliant: Take a Fauxcation

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_ButterflyIt’s day 4 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my reflections on the project.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an “I’ll be back later” text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

I haven’t taken part in today’s challenge, since I do something very similar on tech Sabbath days and feel like I get it. But I have lots of friends who use their email signatures to communicate their email habits: “I respond to email only twice a day,” “I don’t check email on X days.”

Then there’s the person whose vacation message says “When I return from vacation I will delete all the messages I received while away. Please re-contact me then.” I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or jerky. Or both.

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to unplugging from the constant nag of email. But many more do than we probably want to admit, especially if you’re talking about a matter of hours rather than days. And as the podcast makes clear, breaking away from the tyranny of the urgent is important for our thinking and productivity.

One way to dip your toe into this practice if today’s challenge seems too hard: take a faux-cation from responding to messages, if not reading them. I check email throughout the day–I’ve never been able to break myself of the practice. Truly urgent messages are dealt with as soon as possible. But I respond to everything else the following day. I find batching them makes them go faster, and often the issue has resolved itself in the meantime. If someone really needs an answer quickly, I find they’re quite resourceful in getting ahold of me.

What do you think? How does a fauxcation, or a tech sabbath sound to you? Check out what people are saying about today’s challenge on Twitter.

Does Your Life Feel Too Jam-Packed? That’s Perfect.

 

Robert and I attended an event last Saturday evening. It was the final thing in a long string of almost back-to-back events that day. When we got in the car and fired up the GPS, we saw it would take 40 minutes to get there.

The event began in 40 minutes.

That’s a terrible feeling.

It worked in this case, despite bad weather, DC traffic, and the need to find on-site parking. A bit of a miracle, honestly. But it could have been otherwise. In this case, being late would’ve meant awkwardly slipping into a pew before the bride walked down the aisle. Not a good situation.

I write a lot in my Sabbath musings about the importance of margin. So many of us live lives without any margin. We schedule back-to-back events, overstuff our days, and hop on social media at every idle moment. This takes a toll on us physically, mentally and spiritually.

We need space to pause and breathe. We need a buffer to absorb the unexpected, the things that don’t go according to plan.

But the opposite is also true. Sometimes there is no room for margin. We have to adapt to life without it. And doing so can even be energizing.

I’m reading a book about Charles Lindbergh. (It’s Bill Bryson’s delightful One Summer: America, 1927, so it’s also about Babe Ruth and other amazing figures and events from that time.) One of Lindbergh’s big challenges was to reduce the weight on his plane so he could save fuel on his trip across the Atlantic. He took absolutely nothing he didn’t need. He even trimmed the pages of his flight book, eliminating the white spaces on the sheets of paper.

No margin.

For Charles Lindbergh, this was a deathly serious process—nobody had pulled off what he was attempting to do—but there’s also something creative about such an effort. What do I absolutely need? What can I get away with not having? It reminds me of the few times I backpacked as a Girl Scout. There’s something profound about whittling down the essentials so you’re not carrying around extra weight. (Don’t take the entire tube of toothpaste. Squeeze what you need into a ziplock bag.)

This metaphor could apply to time in one of two ways. On the one hand, you might consider what’s weighing you down, the ballast in your life that needs to drop. But today I’m intrigued with the other side of that image: to eliminate all margins such that there is no time to “spare.” To live a life as precisely calibrated as Lindbergh’s plane.

Today was one of those days in which one thing bumped up against the next such that there was no slack time. I could have dropped a bunch of stuff to allow for some margin, but instead I decided to go for it. It all worked beautifully, to my amazement. I had just enough time to pick up a few groceries between kiss and ride and the pastoral visit. And when I got home from clergy group, I managed a short run, breezing past my kids walking home from the bus so I beat them to the house. Of course I was ready to adjust at any moment, to jettison my plans if something went awry. But it didn’t. And it was a full, lovely day in a full, lovely life.

There’s a big caveat here. Be mindful of the impact your lack of margin has on your mental health—and on others. Making people wait because of your chronic lateness shows a lack of respect for other people—and I say that as someone who has made people wait because I’ve tried to do too much stuff in too little time. But if others will not suffer, why not go for it? Cram your life full! You may discover hidden resources and creativity you never knew you had. (The only time I made the honor roll in college was the semester I was working three part-time jobs. Of course, I got pneumonia at the end. Maybe the trick is knowing when you need margin and when you don’t.)

I know a lot of people who feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. Like the 40 minute trip downtown for an event that starts in 40 minutes, that can be a terrible feeling. And sometimes we do it to ourselves—holding on to standards of perfection we could let go of, refusing to let other people step in to help, keeping ourselves busy in an attempt to feel important.

But the truth is, a crammed-full life is a privilege.

Yes, sooner or later our busy lives catch up to us. We need breaks.

But it’s a gift to be needed. It’s an honor to have people counting on us. It means we are connected, that we matter to our families and our communities, that we have skills that are of use to the world around us. As much as I celebrate the gifts of Sabbath, I celebrate the gifts of a crammed-full life too.