Returning to a Family Sabbath

iicyiapyggi-henry-be

“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness.
They grow in rest.” — Mark Buchanan

We lit a tiny, very average looking candle at the start of Sabbath last Friday afternoon. Staring into the amber light, I was flooded with memories of our Sabbath practices from years before. When Glenn and I first started learning about the spiritual practice of a weekly Sabbath about eight years ago, we became quite zealous and intentional about it. You know the feeling that comes with any new habit that you are determined to make a part of your life… In that season, we lit a ‘special’ candle each week, dropped all our screen devices in a basket, and said a special prayer to guide us into the next 24 hours.

Sabbath was a special time we purposely set aside each week to stop and rest from regular work activity and to delight in the Lord and His people. 

Over the years, we’ve struggled to be consistent in practicing a Sabbath rhythm. Just as we thought we were getting into a regular, healthy routine something like an extended sickness or a new soccer season…or, you know, the birth of another child…would derail our rhythm. So, we’re starting again by going back to a symbolic act at the start of our weekly sabbath, lighting a candle.

For me, as a mom, in order to be able to truly rest —as much as possible with young kids— this means preparing well. Preparing well actually means doing quite a bit of difficult work. At times it seems counter-intuitive to work, work, work — sometimes in a frenzy — to finally be able to rest and delight.

Our preparation for Sabbath looks like scurrying around an extremely cluttered house, picking up books, clothes, papers, random food bits that should have been dropped only in the kitchen area…since we have a rule of only eating in the kitchen and dining area…except that I have children who don’t always listen and walk around the house humming while eating crackers and dropping crumbs along their path. Do you ever feel as though there are certain statements you say to your kids that you think you’ll be saying forever? I guess training requires repeating the same admonitions over and over and over. Maybe when they’re adults we’ll look back and see some of the fruit of our labors when we see civilized adults making rules of their own…

Anyway…our oldest girls, who are now 11 and 10, are extremely helpful in the process of getting our home organized. One daughter in particular thrives in an orderly environment so she is just as much an advocate of keepings things neat and tidy as we are. (I have to admit here, I’m more inclined to stress tidiness prior to Sabbath than on most other days. I will normally let the house go in favor of doing just about anything else. Otherwise, I feel like I will only have time to do dishes, cook meals, and pick up. This doesn’t feel like a beautiful life to me even if it might appear to others that I have it together if my house is put perfectly in order. Relationship rules the roost for us and that usually means an untidy house!)

But, for us, getting ready for the Sabbath means putting the house back to order and preparing food. Unfortunately, as my husband can attest, it’s a struggle for me to think about planning meals. If I could only point my wand and have a healthy meal appear. But alas, the magic of food appearing hasn’t happened yet. I have a strong desire to eat healthy, but eating healthy seems to mean spending endless hours making your own dressings and condiments, chopping vegetables until your hand hurts, and well, not eating any sugar. We continue to navigate some allergies in our home so this only adds to a bit of struggle when it comes to food.

So, it isn’t restful or Sabbath-esque for me to think about food! But, thankfully, Glenn enjoys cooking! His creativity comes out in the kitchen. He throws a little of this and a little of that into a bubbling pot on the stove and usually comes up with some kind of culinary masterpiece. And for this, I’m grateful. So our Sabbath meals are typically quite nice as Glenn finds it restful to experiment in the kitchen.

Maybe you’re in a phase where you wonder if taking a Sabbath could actually feel restful. I remember the days of having three kids, five and under and feeling as thought the weight of sabbath preparation was entirely on my shoulders. I recently talked to a friend who is a new mom of a young baby. She mentioned feeling like taking a 24 hour Sabbath, as the Bible suggests, was almost impossible considering all the factors and stresses of life in their current situation. But, she said she could take two hours on a weekend day, if her baby napped to find some silence, rest, and reflection. “Can you start small?” Of course, and you don’t have to do it perfectly from the beginning.

I believe the Lord will honor the time we set aside to rest and delight in him even if it’s not an entire day. He asks us to take a Sabbath not only to attend to our relationship with Him, but also to give our whole being– body, mind, and spirit– time to rest. We will have nothing to pour out to others if we aren’t first giving ourselves the gift of Sabbath rest. 

epqniyi6s7e-syd-wachs

“The meaning of the word “sabbath” is “stop, cease, desist, pause, rest.” The first question we need to address when beginning a sabbath pattern is, “What will I cease from?” Only after we have clarified that question can we move on to the second question, “What will I do on the sabbath to nurture my ability to rest in God?” — Lynne Baab

Sabbath rest can look quite different for all of us. For me, a perfect Sabbath would include elements of solitude, reading and reflection, nature, and play with our family. It would mean me ceasing from my regular work during the week such as housework, most cooking, and teaching the kids. Since we live in a fallen world and various life events can interrupt a perfect Sabbath day, I’ll take what I can get.

It’s easy to hear messages from our culture that say we need to focus on getting more, and doing more. I’m consistently asking the Lord to remind me of His words to be grateful in plenty and in little. My temptation is to look for how I can work more to gain more material things. The irony is we can even try to get ‘more’ — rest and reading and renewal— out of a Sabbath, and undermine the spirit of the Sabbath in doing so!

On the Sabbath, I remind myself of who I am as God’s beloved child and of who He is.

There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more.

Sabbath is a chance to stop and hear the wind blowing through the trees, and to and listen to my sweet child narrating a story. Last Friday, Jane and I spent quite some time playing various card games like Memory and Old Maid. It was a delight to hear her giggle in her efforts to find a way for me to repeatedly get stuck with the Old Maid. It’s possible there are some holy moments waiting for us if we take the time to pay attention. 

Advertisements

GIVEAWAY: “Journal the Word” Bible

9780718090838-jpg_2

Do you remember more when you write it down?

Do you actually remember your grocery list after you’ve written down the items you need, even if you walk off leaving it on the kitchen counter?

Do you remember the ideas of a conference talk if you take thorough notes?

Over the years, I’ve realized the Scriptures I write in my journal seem to seep deeper into my soul. When I take the time to journal my thoughts and impressions, I find I become more aware of how God is speaking to me through His Word.

Deuteronomy 11:20
“Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…”

I’m excited about the release of the NKJV Journal The Word Bible as an aid in your journey toward remembering Scripture. This gorgeous Bible with a sturdy black leather cover and elastic band around the Bible has ample space in the single columns on the lovely cream pages for you to copy Scripture, write personal reflections…or even to sketch a drawing.

Think about this as a family heirloom: your recorded reflections can be enjoyed by your family for years to come as this Bible is passed on to future generations.

With Christmas soon approaching, consider giving this Bible to a friend or family member. She will be delighted by such a thoughtful gift!

I’m fortunate to have one copy of Journal The Word Bible (NKJV) to give-away.

CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway!

On Making the Bed and Making the Most of Habits

IMG_4836

I’ve spent the greater part of the past year delving into literature that, quite honestly, is a bit over my head. From poring over a Russian novel to reading bits of Dante, I switched gears entirely and picked up a book on habits, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Glenn read it first and I followed suit as I do in many of his reading endeavors.

Duhigg distills scores of research about how habits are formed, how habits are changed, and which habits matter most. The part I found most fascinating was a concept called ‘Keystone Habits’, the kind of habits that when changed affected many areas of life. Keystone habits aren’t the same for everyone but once you figure out what they are for you, a chain reaction could occur.

“Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work.  They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use credit cards less frequently and they say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” 

I’m definitely not a naturally disciplined person, but I have to admit when certain areas of my life like exercise are consistent, I make better choices about what I eat, I feel more at peace, and I am probably just a nicer person to be around. Ask my husband!

We can’t deny that we are creatures of habit and easily find ourselves doing the same things over and over. I have found that it’s easy for negative or thoughtless habits to occur in my life if I’m not intentional about how to fill a particular space. In Colorado, it takes a proactive gardener whose willingness to tend plants regularly will possibly reap the reward of their tenacious tending. Without the attention to the plants, it doesn’t take long for weeds, deer, hail or the like to destroy them. I know, I had a vision of being a green thumb more than once and it is far from being fulfilled. (I think I’ve given up on this one!)

I would like to believe that some habits would form without considerable effort upon my part. But I haven’t found that to be true. For most of my life I’ve struggled to get up early unless a schedule demanded that I rise to the situation. In high school it was early morning show choir practice, and in recent years, a baby’s cry. I had hopes that these calls to get me out of bed would become habits. However, as soon as the season was over, I easily fell back into sleeping later than I hoped! Often, I would wake only when necessary, which put me starting the day reactively.

Although I do work well at night (it’s past 10 o’clock as I write), there is something about rising in the still quiet of the morning before the entire house is awake and full of life. Even if I’m barely awake, the habit of rising early sets me in a posture of seeking the Lord, listening to Him rather than responding usually to someone needing something from me. I wish I could say getting up before my family everyday has become a daily habit as a result of reading this inspiring book but it has not….at least yet. I working on it. I’ve been setting my alarm to rise early every day and when I do, I see the fruit of the discipline. The opportunity to meditate on Him and sit in silence to listen to His still small voice is at least a possibility. Even in those moments when I’m tired and feel like its pointless to be up that early, I’m believing that choosing to be disciplined about the habit is building something in my spirit.

I wonder if developing habits— actions that no longer require conscious thought or choice— actually gives us space to see God’s goodness, truth, and beauty. The more I have life-giving habits in place, the more space I have to see to what He is doing. If some practical habits are in place like morning routines, I actually have to think less, makes fewer decisions about things that seem less significant. If my children and I are following our routine— which I hope will become habit— then there is room to stop and step outside to see his creation rather than me spending that energy to remind them once again of what they should be doing. If I don’t have the habit of giving attention to the things God has placed right in front of me, how can I learn and grow?

One other Keystone Habit Duhigg mentions is making your bed. Even if the rest of our upstairs is in disarray something about made beds brings peace. Sometimes its the little things.

8 Ways to Make the Most of Summer

IMG_2477

Keystone, Summer of 2014

Beautiful beams of sunlight came beating down. My entire being felt overjoyed at feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. At last! How could we not spend most of the day outside? I stole away for 30 minutes alone in the sun to read and take it all in. Then we all went to the pool!

Yet as glorious as these summer days are, we may sometimes wonder how we going to make it through weeks on end with our kids around all the time and few fixed activities.  As a mom with four kids, I wonder how I can structure our days not just to fill the time but also to align (at least loosely!) with our family’s goals. We want to rest; but we also continue to live intentionally and with purpose.

Here are a few ideas…..

  1. Take a true break. Despite my natural desire to constantly create a learning environment for my kids, I need to let them truly rest. Sometimes the mental break from piano scales, math facts, or phonograms can actually help them return to those things with more energy than if we had kept going. I’m also often surprised at how much they learn in various environments even when there was no intention of getting them to learn something specific. If you’re visiting a new state park or venturing into a museum, let your kids and yourself just take it in. Learning can happen best when it happens naturally and ‘immersively’.
  2. Create a summer schedule. This may seem contrary to the first idea, but there may be portions of the summer where you want to completely rest and other portions where you need more structure. I’ve been feeling like we need a ‘new normal’ as much of what we were doing during the regular school year has ended. If we’re home for a decent portion of the day for the next few weeks, my kids know to look at our chalkboard for the daily schedule. It’s meant to be a guide so that they know what to expect– and so I’m not going completely crazy from the lack of any structure! A few ideas for creating blocks of time are: devotions, chores, read-aloud, Bible, stations for art activities, rest time/reading, and of course free time.
  3. Do something that doesn’t fit into the school year. My older girls really enjoy theater but we couldn’t quite fit it into our school year routine so they’re going to a week long theater camp. Oh, and swimming lessons of course. They all need to know how to swim!
  4. Read. If you don’t know what to do, it’s always a good choice to read! I created summer book lists for my girls according to their reading levels and interests. They can choose what to read from the lists…And there are rewards the more they read. (Who says you can’t incentivize them for a good cause!) It’s definitely working. For someone like me who loves reading, it is a true joy to see them devouring all kinds of books as we embark on this summer break.For me, my goal is to be reading fiction along with something deep and difficult that challenges both mind and heart. For the moment, I’m finishing Confessions by St. Augustine, starting The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and about to start #4 of the Harry Potter Series. If you’re in a season where you feel like challenging books are hard to pick up, but you want to stretch yourself, take a book like Confessions and just read a short section from it each day.  It may take longer than you want to get through, but the depth of content will nourish your soul.
  5. Get some serious sunshine. Vitamin D is good for all of us! Plus, if getting sun is our goal, we’ll also likely be going on adventures like hiking, camping, biking, soccer playing, swimming, and all things outdoors. (Or, maybe seashell hunting and surfing if you live in Florida!)
  6. Try something new. I would really like to learn how to sew, even just a bit. And for my girls to learn too. We’ll see if we can find a willing friend or teacher!
  7. Spend time in community. As a person who attempts to structure our lives in a very intentional way, I continue to feel like there is never enough time to spend with our friends. Somehow the windows in the school year seem small amidst the regular schedule. We are trying to be intentional about spending more time with friends in our community this summer.
  8. Take time to plan. I’ve been feeling the tension between rest and planning for the next school year. I’m committing to resting at the moment but am also taking bits of time here and there to be prayerful about the future. Along with praying, I’m also asking for input from my husband, friends, and mentors. I’m asking the Lord to gently nudge me in the direction of things and relationships to pursue and to help me sense other things to take a break from.

What about you? What are some of your favorite ideas for making the most of Summer?

Being Fully Present Today

It’s now a tradition. For the past five years, Glenn and I have embarked on a prayer and planning retreat around the new year somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

IMG_0001As we sat in silence looking out the window at the snowflakes fluttering to the ground, I sensed the small, still voice of the Lord inviting me to draw near. With no children running in the background or cries to attend to, I had a moment to be still. Actually, be still. My desire of the Lord in that moment was to hear something from Him. Maybe a word that would lead me into his calling for me this year. No sooner than I asked, I heard. And I don’t often hear so easily. Oh how I wish I took the time to be still, to listen more often. But what matters now, is that I’m listening.

And the word that I heard was, Abide.

Packiam-50My babies are growing up. It doesn’t seem long ago that most days were filled with nursing, cuddling, and rocking them. My youngest is now two and half. And yet, I’m entering a new season of sorts, one that might give me a little space. Space to step out, even if just a bit, to attempt to lead, teach, and maybe write. But at the center, He is stirring me to abide. To be rooted in Him, founded in Him rather than being caught up in what others are saying or doing.

His question to me…What have I called you to?

As I abide, I’m choosing to live intentionally, choosing to be fully present each day. And isn’t it a choice we continue to make every single day? As with so many things in life, we want to decide to love, to be at peace, to be present once and for all but it just isn’t so. As Kathleen Norris says in The Quotidian Mysteries, “When humans try to do everything at once and for all and be through with it, we court acedia, self destruction and death. Such power is reserved for God, who alone can turn what is ‘already done’ into something that is ongoing and ever present. It is a quotidian mystery.”

In this new year, I’m asking the Lord, “How can I live fully each day?” I can’t, without Him giving me eyes to see Him and ears to hear Him.

If it’s the only prayer I offer at the start of each day, it might sound something like:

“Lord, help me to truly see you today. Help me to be fully present today.” 

So simple and short but it’s a prayer that focuses and grounds me.

IMG_0002I’m asking the Lord to awaken wonder in my heart, to see this world as He sees it. I don’t want to miss the brilliant, white snow falling to the ground this season or the opportunity to draw my children to the miracle of a snowflake. Or the moment to engage in a meaningful conversation when my child asks a question as we read books aloud. Or taking the time to lay down with my two year old when she calls out, “Mommy, I need you.”

Lord, help me to see what is truly most important. None of us can escape the menial tasks of life, but we can choose to believe that God is truly everywhere, in every moment with us.

“Let us remember that the life we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life. We can, each of us, only call the present time our own….Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.  ~ Gregory of Nyssa

Let’s be present, fully embrace each moment…even in the piles of laundry, dishes stacked to the hilt, muddy footprints tracked through the house, popcorn trails from the living room.

Let’s abide.

He Was There

10885426_10152979976169553_236860240771748331_n

I thought since I had shared all my goals and desires for the Advent and Christmas seasons that I should also share my struggle and the unexpected joy in retrospect, even though we’re well into a new year now.

It was Christmas Eve.  I was fighting an inner battle.  Fighting the sad feeling of what felt like loss in the two weeks prior.  Like so many, we had been sick with the flu and croup.

As I blogged about earlier, I had high hopes, a vision for the Advent season.  But my memory of many days during the Advent season— even now—was resting, laying cold cloths on my children’s heads, emptying bottles of essential oils in our diffuser, filling humidifiers, washing germ filled bedding and on the list goes. It can feel like lost time, lost memories, or even lost meaning.

I have a choice— even now— to see those weeks as lost or to ask, “Was God there? What was He doing?”

He was there.

He was there when I woke early to the glorious pink and purple sunrise after a restless night of little sleep. Oh how that moment spoke to me of his love, beauty, and care for me.

He was there as I lay awake at night with my two year old cuddled by my side listening to her barking cough and praying she would breathe steadily through the night.

He was there when I lay in bed with my two younger ones for days when we didn’t have the energy to stir.

He was there when we dragged our sluggish bodies to the table for a short evening of catching up on Advent readings.

And in the midst of it all, however lovely or unlovely I felt, I was reminded of His unfailing love.  In the midst of our weakness and sickness, our frailty and brokenness, He came…to rescue, to redeem, and to bring new life.

Did I see it then?  Not always. Often, I felt the sadness of not being able to fully engage. But as I ponder now, I see how how the whole family came to one another to serve, to love, and to sacrifice. We slowed down and looked in each others eyes, and asked, “How can I help you today?”  My sweet husband— spared our sickness— was always there in an instant to bring us soup or get up in the night to the aid of a crying child.

Just before Christmas, I had a tearful moment of feeling depleted and despairing about what felt like a loss of a meaningful Advent season.  As my husband gently embraced me, his thoughtful words stilled my anxious heart.  Glenn whispered, “You know, I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt on that night their blessed child was born?”  The first Christmas, after all, wasn’t a perfect scene.  And yet, there was peace.  He had come.

More important than my hope or desires for the Advent season is the radiant truth that Jesus came.  And he comes to us still, in our chaos and disappointment, in our sadness and sickness.

And I’m so grateful he does, in Advent, in Christmas, and beyond.

Celebrating Advent with Kids

Fisher_advent_candleThe Advent season is nearly upon us. Tis the season when we yearn, groan, anticipate, settle in to a kind of holy waiting. We echo Isaiah’s ‘How long, o Lord?’ as we wait for Simeon’s ‘At last…!’

Life with children is lively and wonderful, but every once in awhile I feel the expectations pressing in from all sides. Today, I found myself attempting to organize the attic, while at same time instruct my children (in a nice, calm voice, of course) to stop turning our living room into a gymnastic studio,  to please put all the furniture back where they found it, and to please return all the bath and pool towels to the closet. Oh and Jane, Please stop turning the faucets on in every room of the house and draining the entirety of the water supply from the refrigerator water spout.  After each incident, Jane mournfully confesses, “I sorry mommy, I won’t do it again”, only to turn around and do the very same thing exactly one minute later.

Our home is filled with erratic moments like these and today, like every day, I am yearning for Him to come near.  I’m anticipating his coming. I’m ready for Advent.

So, what is Advent? Is it just the month of December?  Is it an excuse to give a child a gift each day from the Santa Advent wall calendar?

Advent is different than Christmas. Advent is like the 37th week of pregnancy; Christmas is delivery day. In Advent, we are waiting; we hope. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”.  We are in the season of anticipating Christ’s birth, His coming to us.

How do we actively participate in this holy time of year? If we are not intentional, the season slips away and we wistfully recall the scurrying, the busyness, the hustle and the bustle…..And miss the joy and the miracles all around us.

Lately, I’ve been pondering our past Advent seasons and remembering the numerous ways we observed Advent and the church calendar as a family. As the ground yearns for the precipitation of the first snow, I long to begin each Advent season prayerfully and thoughtfully, or at least as much as is possible for a family of six! And then there’s the ever-present temptation to plan, attend, holiday parties. Christmas celebrations are extremely merry and yes, we too will joyfully host one.  But, I try to be vigilant about directing our attention toward Christ and helping our children to think of ways to give to others.

A few years ago when all of our children were younger, we were doing well if we managed to read an occasional Advent devotion, to color an ornament for the Jesse tree, and to light the weekly Advent candle (all while enduring meltdowns, children reaching for and blowing out the candle, and even climbing on the table to take the candles out of the Advent wreath). This year, now that the children are a little older, we hope to add to these practices.

Life can feel crowded, but I wish to inspire you to guide your family on a journey that will shape their souls and imaginations and lead them to truly behold the beauty of Christ during Advent. Remember, these aren’t legalistic rituals to impress God; these are life-giving practices that adapt to the unpredictable nature of family life.

Here are a few ideas I’ve culled over the years from several places:

  1. Thank You Notes: Each day, write a note to someone sharing how he or she has touched your life.  You may want to place cards and stationary in a visible location (our kids are putting together a basket) so all family members are reminded to write daily.
  2. Gratefulness List: Hang a sheet of paper or use a chalkboard to write an “I’m grateful for” list and ask all family members to write how they have been blessed this year.
  3. Advent Devotional: Gather the family for a daily Advent devotional, discussion, and craft.  Family read-aloud favorite: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.
  4. Acts of Kindness: Each day, commit to engage in an act of kindness toward a family member, friend, or neighbor. (Spend focused time with a child, bring a hot drink to a friend, deliver a warm meal to a family, give a baked good to the mailman)
  5. Serve Locally: Commit to serve a local organization, like a Rescue Mission or a Salvation Army or a shelter. You could also gather a group to go caroling at a nursing home.
  6. Give Globally: Give something to an organization that serves people in need around the world. Last year, our kids chose to give a goat and chickens to a family in Africa. Organizations: Compassion, World Vision, Children’s Hope Chest.
  7. Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, joy, and love.
  8. Consume Less: Consider discussing how shopping less and giving out more to others could make this season more holy and Christ-focused. Encourage your kids in giving to others rather than thinking about what to add to their Christmas list.

These are just a few ideas. For a bit more on the ‘why’ of Advent and the Church Calendar– along with some prayers and further reading, here’s my husband’s Advent 2014 resources post.

What about you? I’d love to hear what practices have helped you and your family prepare for Christ’s arrival and engage the season of Advent with expectation and hope.