Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day weekend is a good time to give some thought to work-rest balance. This is a particularly difficult topic for Americans. We like to work. Many of us are happiest when we're being productive. Yet rest is prescribed by God; Sabbath is commanded.
I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about Sabbath. I didn't worry about it before I started church work because I had Sundays off, and I went to worship in the morning, and then generally goofed off in the afternoon. Eventually, I realized that I was no longer taking a whole day off from work. I felt like a hypocrite teaching confirmation and talking about the commandments - no room for smugness when I got to the Third. So I started looking around for a way to observe the Sabbath commandment in a God-honoring way.
One essential part of Sabbath is that it is holy - set apart, treated with reverence, held as special. The other is that there is rest. Orthodox Jews observe this so strictly that they won't even flip a light switch on the Sabbath, but that kind of observance would be work (not rest) for me. I believe true Sabbath is an interruption in daily life that turns me toward God, a change of routine that will actually create a restful oasis in my overloaded life.
What I finally chose to do was not complicated. I set aside 24 consecutive hours each week where I refrain from driving my car and spending money. In the beginning it was hard. Then one day I realized that in practice, Sabbath is observed sundown to sundown, and that made all the difference for me. These days my Sabbath practice usually takes place between 6pm Thursday and 6pm Friday, not a usual time but it works for me. These two simple changes slow me down and also create space for rest and prayer. I may be folding laundry, but the slower pace brings me to a place of gratitude for the ordinary. Hot water and clean towels are luxuries I rarely give thanks for. . . occasionally I slip up and hit the "buy now with 1-click" button, but on the whole, it is time away and, I believe, accords me Sabbath benefits.
As the slower days of summer draw to a close, I plan to continue my counter-cultural practice and I hope you can find your own ways to keep Sabbath. If you can't begin to imagine this - start with an hour. I would love to hear about your reactions to experimenting with Sabbath or your established Sabbath practices. Please share!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Church Friends. . .

As I prepared for the birth of my first child, far from my parents and barely planted in Texas, I went in search of a church community in which to raise my child. I visited every congregation of my denomination within a reasonable distance and finally settled upon one. The worship was lively and the liturgy familiar. I attended semi-regularly in the beginning, and eventually joined. The day I became a member though came a few months after I was officially added to the rolls. It was the day I made a friend at church. 

In fact, I made two friends at church that day. I found myself sitting next to a couple who were also expecting a child, and from the looks of things, with a due date close to mine. They welcomed me warmly and from that day forward I had someone I recognized when I came to worship. Eventually, I delivered my daughter Emily three weeks early, on Beth's due date, and she delivered Kenny 8 days later. Her son and my daughter were destined to be friends from an early age.

Fast forward about five years and Niel, Beth's husband, and another great guy from our church have started a camping ministry. By this time I'm a single parent with two kids (the second daughter was born on Kenny's second birthday.) Remembering my own joy in camping as a child I decided to sign up for the family campout. And with lots of help from Niel, and other kind church friends, we started camping a couple times a year. Those weekends were some of the best in my life. The kids had freedom and friends and sunshine and nature, and the adults had community in a way rarely seen outside of family circles. Emily and Kenny made their first communion at a campout, covered in mud and surrounded by people who they already gathered around a table with on a regular basis.

Time marches on and eventually Niel was transferred to Minnesota but our families managed to see one another and even vacationed together a couple of times. Sometime after they left, I went to work at that (now much larger) church and tried hard to befriend new people as Niel and Beth had befriended me.

When my job at that church came to an end, I decided to let the Spirit lead me, wherever that might be. And she led me to Minnesota, only 40 minutes from my old friends, who became my first friends again. And when I moved a second time, I was still close, and now living in the same town as Kenny and his wife, 1100 1150 miles north. Thanks be to God for the gift of friendship!

This entry is written in response to a Friday Five prompt. One of the five questions was "Who is your longest term church-related friend?"  I was shocked to realize that we have been friends since 1984, over half of my life. Apologies to all who have heard this story before (or other stories of our friendship and adventures over the years). And thanks to Beth and Niel for being both good friends and good role models, and for continuing to make memories with me!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Fresh Start. . .

Dear Friends, It's been a long stretch since my last post and as the summer approaches I've decided to get back in the saddle again. A group I belong to posts a Friday Five challenge which I intend to use as a prod to get me going. So - as I fumble to find my footing, bear with me, and feel free to ask questions.

As most of you know, I changed jobs again back in November. It was hard. Harder than moving to Minnesota in the first place because back then I needed a job, and a place to be useful. Blooming Prairie was the perfect transition. The people were kind, the church was and is vibrant, the pace was restful, and I really recovered from the trauma of unexpected change. I learned a lot about myself, and about where I came from. I hope and think I was useful to the congregation and the community. I made some wonderful friends who I expect to keep forever.

. . .Then the Spirit blew something new into my path and I found myself drawn toward it and after endless prayer and journaling and lists of pros and cons along with conversations with trusted advisors I decided to accept a new position 50 miles further north. . .

That decision started an eight month period of imbalance: new job and home, holidays in a new setting, some family stuff, and just the lack of community that I as an extravert require for good balance. It takes time to settle after this kind of thing but I'm determined to find a new balance this summer.

All of which brings me to today's writing challenge: make a quick list of five things you do when you need a triage of self care.
  1. I SWIM. Nothing soothes my soul or my body like time in the pool. One big bonus of the move to Northfield is the Northfield Senior Center which has an 89 degree pool open many hours a day. I joined early this year and try to make it there every couple of days.
  2. I READ. I read good fiction that takes me to other times, places or circumstances. If it's not absorbing, or if I find myself critiquing the writing or the plot, I move on to something else (I have a Kindle which allows second choices 24 hours a day.)
  3. I CONNECT. When my need for self-care is caused by too much alone time I make the effort to plan a meet up with someone else, or call someone I miss a lot.
  4. I INDULGE. Usually with a haircut, pedicure, on-line shopping, or sleep, but sometimes with a massage, a rant, or planning a trip.
  5. I CRAFT. As I haven't really set up a studio yet, this one is kind of unavailable right now (and more a source of stress than relaxation) but when I can drag out stamps, paper, tools and toys and try out new techniques and color combinations I can feel my soul settle.
The challenge offered "bonus points" for a sixth item so I will add that I PRAY in different ways: writing letters to God, finding a place outdoors to sit with God and let the wonder of creation seep into my awareness, or just good old-fashioned contending with the Almighty out loud.

So, how about you? What are your five go-to activities when you need to take care of your frazzled self? I think just thinking about this is a really useful exercise for me. It creates a plan for the time when I need to rebalance. Challenges and stress and change come to all of us and it's good to be prepared to step up and take care of ourselves. I hope you have some extra time off this weekend and can spend some of it taking care of yourself! I will be catching up at home in an effort to find a little more balance 1100 1150 miles north. . .