Sabbatical gratitude

Sabbatical is…

  • being mindful
  • being quiet
  • being with
  • breathing fresh ocean air deep into my lungs
  • considering the wisdom of my spiritual teachers
  • creating memories of joy
  • delighting in perfect peaches at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market
  • eating handmade chocolates in Joseph, Oregon
  • flying above the clouds
  • gathering with my cousins for Kuz Kamp reunion at our family lake cabin
  • getting splashed by my nephews as they jumped into the lake
  • hearing stories of hope from a German friend
  • hiking in the Wallowa mountains with a great friend
  • holding a baby
  • laughing with dear friends in a beautiful home on Cape Cod
  • listening
  • napping on couches and beds in the summer heat
  • narrating Dr. Seuss’s There’s a Wocket in my Pocket to Zella at bedtime
  • opening myself to moments of inspiration on a lakeside bench
  • paddling down the St. Croix River with Seth, Zella and Yeti
  • pedaling for hours on the Gateway, Sakatah and Cape Cod Rail Trails
  • playing games with my family
  • reading novels recommended by friends
  • remembering who I am and the people who have loved me into being
  • sailing and kayaking on Lake Francis
  • shoveling dirt on an organic farm
  • sitting on the top of a butte in the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve and enjoying the marvelous vista
  • slowing down to hear the bird song serenade at Lake McKusick
  • swimming, swimming everywhere
  • teaching Zella how to float in the lake
  • trying lobster for the first time
  • waking up to the sight of goats and llamas out my window
  • walking with friends under an expansive blue sky
  • watching strawberry juice drip down Zella’s chin and arms at the berry farm
  • witnessing my brother’s parenting prowess
  • writing to clarify what I care about most

In sum, sabbatical has been a gift of time set apart for joy and for the expansion of my soul.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for those of you who made this time possible and for those of you who shared this time with me.

Thank you!

Home Alone

I had no idea how much I would enjoy being home alone for hours and hours during my sabbatical.  Usually, I prefer to be home with someone or out working or with other people.  Before Seth and I were married, and I actually lived in this condo by myself, I was almost never here because I could not stand to be alone for too long.  I was afraid of my own thoughts and was prone to feeling a little anxious if I was home alone for more than a couple of hours without at least talking to someone.

Maybe it’s the almost seven years of working in a windowless office with lots of (wonderful) people, going to meetings, leading classes and groups and being a pastor at a large congregation that has lots of (great) people that has left me craving time alone.  Maybe it is the almost five years of sharing a home with my loving husband and the over two years of having a child that has left me longing to be in my own home by myself.  Actually, it is probably the combination of these things.

I love quietly enjoying the sunlight and fresh breezes.  I enjoy gazing out the window at the beautiful St. Croix River and the buzz of downtown Stillwater in the summer.  I am grateful to be surrounded by color, the sounds of the world around me and the comforts of home.  Having time in my sabbatical to be home alone is a wonderful gift.  I can hear myself breathe and think.  I have uninterrupted time to listen for inspiration and ideas.  I have space to write and read, plan and dream.

Most delightfully, I am finding a sense of joy in being alone with myself and my thoughts.  I am no longer afraid of myself and what I will find within in the still moments of rest and reflection.  In his classic book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes that Sabbath rest has a way of unclogging our souls and allowing us to find a deep inner peace.  He is right; that is what I am finding in these moments of being home alone.

The Good Rain

Zella loves the rain.  She had her green froggy boots on this morning and was excitedly waiting to get out of the car so she could jump in puddles.  She didn’t care about getting her clothes or legs wet.  Unlike me, she wasn’t in a hurry to get inside.  She laughed when some huge raindrops landed on her head and held out her hand to feel the water droplets land on her skin.

Her delight reminded me that rain is good.  The year I lived in Seattle, it rained almost every single day for nine months.  When it is sunny, Seattle is the most beautiful city in the country.  When it rains for so many days in a row, it can be depression-inducing.

To improve my quality of life in Seattle, I decided I need to learn how to make peace with the rain.  I read a book called The Good Rain, which helped me understand how the ecosystem in the Puget Sound area thrives because of the rain.  I learned to appreciate the rain for the sake of the plants and the trees and all the interconnected species of life.  I started biking in the rain and walking the beaches of Puget Sound in the rain.  I learned how to see the rain as good.

This morning, inspired by Zella’s rainy play and my memories of living in rainy Seattle, I decided to put on my raincoat and go for a walk.  I was the only one out walking around the lake.  Eventually, I even took off my hood and let the cool raindrops soak into my hair and drip down my face.  I stopped, closed my eyes, and let myself be fully embraced by the rain.  It was pure joy!

Can I love God without loving God’s creation?

While I do not like to project theological qualifications onto other people’s spiritual journeys, I do think that loving God’s creation is an integral, perhaps even essential, part of faith.

On sabbatical, I have tried to slow down enough to see the world and to experience God a little more directly.  Last Thursday, as I was walking around Lake McKusick in Stillwater, I noticed that the more slowly I walked, the more I could hear the birdsong all around me.  I actually did a mini-experiment.  I would speed up my walking pace and then notice how aware I was of my surroundings.  Then, I would slow down my pace and observe my connection to the world around me.

At the faster pace, I could not hear as many birds singing or see as many leaves dancing in the wind.  It was only when I slowed down to a very meditative pace that I could sense the marvelous harmonies of wind and song and could see the sun shimmering on the rippled waters and the trees swaying in the brilliant blue sky.

In this small sensing experiment, I realized two things.  First, the creation is alive with beauty and spirit like this all the time, and it is I who am missing it.   I am sure I am not the only one, either.  Second, I know that my connection to God feels a lot stronger and more real when I am paying close attention to God’s creation.  It is easier to love God when I stop to really see and hear and touch the sacredness of the world all around me.

This morning, my devotion included this verse from Romans 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.”  I think the Apostle Paul knew it, too.   Slowing down enough to be really aware of the birds and trees is one of the most powerful ways to experience God’s presence.

Sanctuary

When I was in town interviewing for the job at Trinity seven years ago, I walked around downtown Stillwater and stumbled upon River Market Community Co-op.  I walked in the doors and immediately felt at home.  I love food, and I find co-ops to be places of sanctuary where all seems good and right with the world and I can be at peace.  That day I vowed that if I got the job, joining River Market would be one of the first things I would do when I moved to town.

I got the job, and I did become a member at the local co-op.  Because I am a pastor and the church is also my place of work, I need another sacred place outside the walls of Trinity.  During the almost seven years that I have lived in Stillwater, the co-op has been my sanctuary.  I go there on lunch breaks to get a sandwich and some fruit.  Depending on the day, I go after work, before work or in the evenings.  I go when I need some more fruit or just want to be in a friendly and healthy environment.

I enjoy walking in and being greeted by name.   I am grateful for the produce manager, who shares my values and stocks fruits and vegetables that are good for the earth, good for people, and good for her own young son.  I delight in taking my cart and slowly meandering around the store to see what beautiful food is waiting for me to eat.  I find comfort knowing my food dollars are going to support such a wonderful business.

On sabbatical I am not worshipping at Trinity, but I am still making regular visits to River Market.  Today, I stopped by after my morning walk to pick up some more milk, and I found some ripe, organic peaches just waiting for me to buy them.  I bought four and brought them home to eat.  Immediately, I opened the bag, washed one and bit in.  The sweetness was delightful on my tongue, and the juice dripped down my hand and arm.  It was an almost perfect peach, so of course I had to eat another one!

Spiritual Friendships

Joy is hearing a friend tell me they love me and see the beauty of God shining in me.  I am grateful to have had friends throughout my life who say such things to me.  It is a treasure to my soul when the people who know me best, quirks and imperfections and all, gift me with these words.

I was reading my daily devotion from Madeleine L’Engle this morning when I had the insight that spiritual friendships are just as important as spiritual practices.  As L’Engle noticed, “Too often we do take God for granted.”   I often think of practices like silence, study and singing as ways to connect with God.  Practices like these, and many others, are great disciplines for nurturing my soul.  For me, though, sharing these practices with friends makes them much better.  Even silence is richer when I am with friends.

I love that I have friends who will listen to my stories, encourage me, laugh with me, and spend time with me.  Spiritual friends also help me awaken to the beauty and newness of God that surrounds me and is within me each day. With their presence, words, and actions, spiritual friends remind me not to take God for granted.  For these reasons, part of my sabbatical schedule includes time with at least one friend every day.

No Sabbatical from Motherhood

Not that I would want a three month break from being a mom.  That is not what I am saying.  I love Zella and enjoy spending quality time with her.  Three months would be too long to go without morning hugs, tickles and silly giggles, beautifully illustrated picture books, shared fruit eating sessions, conversations about shovels and school busses, and making sand mountains at Teddy Bear Park.

This weekend was the first full weekend of my sabbatical, which means that I had three full days with Zella without the interruption of work.  I did notice that by Saturday night, I was more exhausted than usual.  I think it was the cumulative effect of just a few more twisty-turny diaper change wrestling matches, car seat in-and-out battles, drawn-out bedtimes and “Mom, I need you!” exclamations that did it.

I’ve come to realize that being a mom, in my limited two years of experience, requires a deeper well of patience and compassion than anything I’ve ever before needed.  I think I have a fairly deep well to draw on, but when the well dries up during a particularly trying situation or at the end of a long day, it is hard to be the kind of mom that I want to be.  I don’t want to be crabby, frustrated, and short with Zella.  I don’t want to yell and scream and stomp off, even if that is what I feel like doing in certain moments.

I know I am not a perfect mom.  No one is.  Being perfect isn’t even the goal.  But I do know that cultivating my spiritual life with intention helps me refill the well of patience and compassion so that I can be a loving mom on most days, even during my sabbatical.

Spiritual guides

I have had many spiritual guides during my life.  Some are people close to me: family members, friends, teachers and co-workers.  Others are people who I know only through their writings: theologians, novelists, mystics, and poets.  By sharing their widsom and experiences, these people have helped me along on my own spiritual journey.  When I feel stuck or empty or in need of inspiration, spiritual guides have helped me find clarity and peace.  They have also led me into a deeper connection with God.

During my sabbatical, I have decided to spend time each day with a spiritual guide.  The one I have chosen is new to me, though many of you know her: Madeleine L’Engle.  (No, not Sawyer from Lost!  Though he did read her famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time, in several Lost episodes.)

I don’t remember if I’ve ever read A Wrinkle in Time or any of L’Engle’s other novels, though I think not.  What I wasn’t aware of is that she also wrote volumes of her reflections on the spiritual life.   Daily, now, I am reading from a book entitled 40-Day Journey with Madeleine L’Engle.  In the introduction, the editor introduces L’Engle by saying,

Madeleine walked this journey herself, leaving us her personal legacy as a witness to the ‘million surfaces’ of the Christian life, accessible in varying degrees to any who also take this journey.  Seeking not only a life of prayer and reflection and love, but also one of maturity, is the overriding theme of these pages – as her quotes express the fine distinctions that a soul must deal with in the exigencies of life.

I will share insights from my journey with Madeleine L’Engle over the summer.  Who are your spiritual guides?  What have you learned from them?  I am interested to hear about your experiences.

Unplugging…a little bit

In making the transition to sabbatical living, I’ve been thinking about the role technology should play in my daily experience.  I debated about whether I should take a break from all forms of social media, or a least from Facebook, but I decided against it.  That would be too hard and actually work against one of my sabbatical goals of having more time to connect with friends.  Social media stays.

What I have decided to change is the way I interact with my cell phone.  I have an HTC Evo (Android smartphone) with all the fun apps and gadgets.  The most distracting and addicting feature is the everpresent email alert.  Anytime one of my email accounts has a new message, my phone beeps and little mail icon appears on the phone.  I confess to being rather undisciplined in the constant checking of these email messages.  Something important could have happened!  Someone may have interesting news!

I have now turned off all of the alerts and moved my work email icon off my main page.  I have been living alert free for two days, and I can already feel the difference.  No more little “dings” tempting me to look at my email means sometimes I don’t look at my phone for hours!  Yes, hours of phone free time is good for my mind and spirit.  It gives me time to rest, reflect and live without wondering every minute who might need something from me or have something for me.

This is a small, simple change.  Unplugging, just a little bit, is part of my sabbatical living.  It helps me savor time and be swept away by the moment that is right in front of me.

The Perfect Peach

Joy is eating the perfect peach.  Those of you who know me well know that I love to eat fruit.  Savoring a ripe, sweet, juicy peach is one of life’s greatest delights.  For several years, I have had the idea to create a blog called The Perfect Peach.  I set this blog up a while ago but haven’t had the time or creative energy to write on it.  Now that I am on sabbatical, I thought this would be a great time to invest in this blog.

Sabbatical is, in essence, time set apart to nurture joy.  When I think of the sweetness of the peach –  its beautiful form, its colorful flesh, its uncontainable juiciness, its earthiness, and its simplicity – I also think of my hopes for this sabbatical time.  During the next three months, I hope to live a little differently so that I might cultivate a deeper awareness of life’s simpler elements, create and enjoy beautiful things, and be renewed by tending to joy.

I hope to write on a regular basis about insights I have from savoring the sabbatical life.  Join me if you like.  I’d love to have some friends be a part of this journey with me.