Sabbath Mode

Saturday afternoon, my fridge stopped working.

I was bewildered. The freezer was still humming away. The power wasn't off. No fuses had tripped. What would make the fridge go dark?

I turned to Google. And while it didn't help me solve the problem, I learned something unique about my appliance: It has an optional Sabbath mode, which puts the fridge in a temporary shut-down state. When the Sabbath mode is on, the fridge's lights won't turn on, the compressor won't run, even the ice-maker won't function. In this way, an orthodox Jew can still open the fridge to get a drink without causing the fridge to work and thus breaking the commandment to rest on Shabbat. Even ovens, dishwashers and lamps can be sold Sabbath-observant, I discovered.

I love my Jewish brothers and sisters, and their centuries-long commitment to keeping the Sabbath. They have sustained something mysterious and beautiful and dedicated to God's commandment. I believe that the Church has missed something precious by walking away from the Sabbath ritual.

But I also think, an over focus on the law causes us to miss the heart.

Sabbath, to me, is more than rest. It is restoration and renewal.

Yesterday, I celebrated Sabbath. I didn't take a nap or bake a cake or sit quietly and contemplate.

Instead, I cleaned my house.

The last two weeks, I've had family here from Colorado. We spent days at the beach and evenings at the park and we swam in the pool and ate ice cream after every meal just because. We picked strawberries and made pie and went to bed only when it was dark and drank strong coffee when the little ones arose with the sun.

It was the best kind of exhausting exhilaration.

And today? Today marks the beginning of VBS at our church. So I will be out the door early every morning this week, herding my own children to a building with 200 others so we can praise God together.

So yesterday, I needed a day in-between. I needed a day to right the ship and restore order to my world. I needed some soul quiet, a chance for me to encounter God in these quotidian mysteries.

So I washed sheets and towels. I cleaned toilets. I wiped my hair off the bathroom counter and dog hair off the floor. I scrubbed milk spots off the oven doors and I deadheaded the petunias. I pulled a lasagna out of the freezer, put there for just such a day, and baked it for dinner.

And then, when the work was done, and I was sweaty and sore, I put on my bathing suit and jumped into the pool with the kids and laughed at Kieran's belief that he can swim and clapped at Teyla's new doggy paddles. I cheered Connor's cannon balls and marveled at Natalie's lean legs standing straight up in the air during an underwater handstand.

Corey helped me carry plates and cups outside for dinner, and we ate lasagna and salad and strawberries on the patio as the sun set behind the pine trees. And the kids ran around on the lawn and tackled each other and shrieked in delight (and sometimes in frustration, let's keep it real).

By nightfall, when I took a shower and climbed between clean sheets, I was completely refreshed. Even though I hadn't stopped moving all day.

It was a great Sabbath.

Last year, my word was Sabbath. So I wrote about it, a lot, including the entire month of October, which you can read by clicking on the 31 Days of Sabbath button on the sidebar. But apparently, I'm not quite done.

The Gift of Daddy

I wrote this five years ago, but if anything, it is more true today. One of the sweetest, most beautiful miracles I have ever witnessed is the transformation of Corey into Daddy. I wanted to share it here again, to honor God's grace. Just ignore all the dated time references, and pretend that I've written touching things about Corey interacting with Teyla and Kieran too. I trust y'all to be that awesome.

My husband has one of the most unique stories of anyone I've ever met.

He was adopted from a foreign country at the age of ... well, we don't know his age. He thinks he was about eight. American doctors put his age at six. ("No, wait, maybe seven. Could he be eight? Oh, let's just stick with six.") His earliest memories are of living on the streets as a gutter rat. He stole food to survive and didn't have a home or a family. He was also subjected to constant abuse and scorn because he is a half-breed and the son of an American solider.

It was truly a miracle when a kind woman alerted an Lutheran orphanage in his city that a child who looked part American was living on the streets. Shortly after he was taken in by the orphanage, he was adopted by a couple in Minnesota.

His parents loved him dearly, and his father in particular made sure my husband had "boy adventures" growing up. He got to spend countless weekends in the wilderness, exploring, camping and fishing. He played every sport imaginable. His dad never missed a game.

Yet, for all the love, my husband and his dad are incredibly different people. His Dad is a phlegmatic through and through. Until he retired last year, he had worked at the same job his whole life. He lived in the same house for more than 30 years. His main motives in life are peace and quiet.

And my husband? Who skydives? And scuba dives? And has broken almost every bone in his body while becoming a black-belt in martial arts? And who hasn't worked at a company for more than four years, since he thrives on starting up new ones? Needless to say, he's not phlegmatic.

Put it all together, and you end up with two males who love each other but don't understand each other. My husband loved (and still loves) his Dad, but they are so different, they had a had time relating outside of sports and fishing.

Skip ahead about 20 years, and you'll find my husband today.

It would be completely understandable if my husband struggled with fatherhood. He would tell you himself that he's just now comprehending what "family" really means. After 14 years of marriage, he's starting to learn to trust me and let me in. He never really knew the innocence of childhood, so who could blame him if he was impatient with the quirks of young children?

But when our daughter was born five (almost six) years ago, I watched the most amazing transformation. I watched a man who had been completely alone all his life -- even in his adopted family, even in our marriage -- fall completely in love with our baby. From the very beginning, he was wrapped around her little finger. He was stunned by the protective feelings he had for her, by the delight he would feel just by watching her coo.

She was the only person in the world that he knew that was "flesh of his flesh."

And then our son came along, about two years later. And I watched him fall in love all over again.

Today, he is one of the best fathers I know. (And that's saying a lot, since my Dad did an incredible job raising me and my three siblings. We grew up in a virtual cocoon of love and protection, where we were stretched and strengthened and known.) My husband is the star of our family. Our kids think he is the biggest goof ever. ("I told you he was funny," our daughter shrieked to her kindergarten class when my husband put on small sunglasses.) When they hear the garage door go up on the days he's coming home, they shout, "Dad's here!" and they run for the door and throw their little bodies at his.

Our daughter recently started wearing dresses, because my husband said they looked so nice on her, and every time she puts one on, she runs to get his approval. "Do you think I'm beautiful, Daddy?" And he gets down and gives her a big hug and says, "You are beautiful, Natalie."

And our son, who is three, loves to wrestle with Dad and race Dad and explore outside with Dad. He delights in beating him in a game. (In our house, Dad always loses.) They have their own catchphrases.

"Dude, you rock." "No, Dad, you rock."

"Dude, you're a stud." "No, Dad. I not a stud. I Connor."

And "Shell. Noggin. Dude." (From "Finding Nemo," a favorite in our house.)

I'm so proud of my husband and the father he is to our children. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job.
And because it wouldn't be a Father's Day without me including a picture of me and my own father, here's one circa 1972. Love you, Dad. Thanks for building a foundation of God for me. On it, I stand strong.

Love is the Gift

image courtesy via Pinterest
Some close friends of mine are looking for a new job. One position that piqued their interest was at a church. But this week, when they got to round two of the application process, they were asked to sign the church's code of conduct for ministers which includes, among other things, enforced 10% tithing. The church doesn't take money directly out of your paycheck. But they do clearly state they will be watching how much you give to the church to make sure it is at least 10% of what you earn.

And that made my internal alarm go all Def-Con 5, complete with whooping sirens and robots waving their arms saying, "Danger Will Robinson! Danger" (Which is weird, because I'm too young to have ever watched "Lost in Space." But apparently, I soak up pop culture like a sponge.)

First, let me say: I'm a pastor's kid. I believe passionately in the local church, and I believe the people who work there deserve to get paid, and not get paid at the poverty level. (Which is actually why my friends are looking for a new job. They work at a church right now, and a fairly big church, and they get paid so little, they qualify for WIC.) So yes. I think it's important that those of us who belong to a local body support those who give to us.

But by demanding it, this church gets it wrong.

And it grates on me. Because it's a subtle shift. But this misguided focus is what almost caused me to walk away from my faith.

Imagine being invited to a birthday party. The host clearly states the only way to get in the front door is to have a relationship with him, to love him completely. That's it. That's your ticket to admission.

But this is a big birthday party, and we do love the host, so naturally, we want to bring a gift. So we get out and search for ways we can demonstrate our love. Because sometimes love is so intangible. We want proof! We want something we can bring with us to the party that says, "Here! This is how much you mean to me! I love you this much!"

That's not necessarily a bad thing. If we are motivated by love, a gift can be a beautiful outpouring of our heart.

The problem comes when we the gift becomes required. It's easier to quantify, after all. We feel more comfortable standing in that receiving line when we know we are with other invitees who love the host. And how do we know that they love him if they don't have a gift? So we, as guests, start to impose gift standards on everyone else.

"If you really love the host, you will bring a gift. It should be wrapped with rain-forest safe, organic paper, to prove that you care about the earth He made. It needs to have a I-give-lots-of-money-to-the-poor bow. Ideal gifts include: an I Don't Dance t-shirt, an I Never Drink Alcohol carafe (getting it engraved with the words "I drink from The Well" is a nice touch) and a one-piece swimsuit, to demonstrate that you never wore a bikini."

The problem with gift standards (aka laws) is that they take our focus off the love and put it squarely on the gift. Instead of measuring our love, we measure our gift boxes. Instead of deepening our relationship with the host, we spend our time comparing our gift with the other invitees. "Mine is nicer than that one. But wow. I could never get a bow that big."

And in doing so, we completely miss the point.

The amazing, terrifying thing about this host is: He can see our hearts. He can see our love without a gift. The gift is nice, if it's an addition to love. But if it's become our focus to the degree that we no longer love? We aren't getting in to the party, no matter how beautiful the wrapping paper or how gorgeous the bow.

I grew up surrounded by people who wanted me to get in to the party. So they trained me to work on my gift. I was taught how to hand dye wrapping paper and the intricacies of bow making. I was given catalogs of gift suggestions and I was subtly taught to value some gifts more than others.

By the time I was a young adult, I was sick of my gift. It wasn't looking as great as others (although it did look better than a few, thankfully). I was weary of always working on it, trying to perfect it and make it better. I started to wonder why I would want to go to this party anyway.

And then I met the host. And I fell in love with Him.

And I stopped caring about my gift.

Love that is forced, is not love.

How The Bunk Beds Changed Me Forever

Want to know how to turn a neatnik into a slob?

Get her a bunk bed.

That's been my experience. Remember a couple of year ago, when we got the kids bunk beds, so we could fit our family of soon-to-be six into a three-bedroom townhouse? It was a move born of necessity, but it proved very popular. The kids loved the bunks. Connor and Natalie were proud, even a little cocky, about sleeping up so high, and Teyla, just 2 the time, adored sharing a room with her big sister. And they looked good, I will admit that.

But immediately - and I do mean IMMEDIATELY - I discovered the bunk beds' tragic flaw. They are impossible to make. Before bunks, I had the kids make their beds every morning. And I do mean EVERY MORNING. After all, I'm the person who will make my bed 10 minutes before I get into it at night if I find it's been left disheveled all day. (Do you remember last summer, when I came home from a two-week road trip to discover my bed had been unmade the entire time?! It still makes me shudder.)

But bunk beds? You can't just pull up a quilt, smooth out the wrinkles, fluff the pillows and call it good. Making a bunk bed involves tugging and pulling and jerking and grunting. At some point, the mattress will have to be lifted so sheets can be tucked tightly, and it's possible the whole bunk frame will have to be shoved aside so you can disentangle the stuffed animal that has lodged itself next to the wall. Putting on a fitted sheet is a Sisyphean task: even if you manage to get one elastic corner tightened beneath the mattress, it will come springing back at you like a rubber band the minute you try to stretch the sheet toward another end.

Making a bunk bed is a workout which requires the flexibility of a Cirque de Soleil acrobat, the patience of Mr. Rogers and the limbs of Otto Octavius.

I learned quickly I wasn't going to get anyone to do that every morning, least of all me.

And just like that, I went from changing the sheets weekly to changing them quarterly. (That is NOT an exaggeration.) I went from fussing over the Pottery Barn Kid quilts to shrugging when the kids slept on top of them, instead of beneath them. I let them keep Legos and books and a scrum of stuffed animals on their beds and sometimes even markers, and I sigh resignedly when I see that their top sheets are scrunched in a ball underneath their blankets at the foot of their bed.

In fact, in the interest of keeping it real, here are pictures I took of my kids beds just a few minutes ago.

Before, that kind of mess would have sent my faux-OCD into hyper mode. "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!"

But now? Eh. It's easier just to walk away.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It sounds trite, but I'm serious when I say that letting the bunk beds go has helped me let go - of control, of impossible standards, of self-imposed ideals. It's reminded me that my life is not summed by a bed well-made but by a family well-loved.

Besides, I still have my bed. And it gets made every day.

Some things will never change.

FREE Things I've Learned This Weekend

1. If you put the word "free" in the title of a Craigslist ad, you will get inundated with emails. "I can take it! I'll be there in an hour!" "Call me! I want it!" "I just need to borrow my mom's car! Have you given it away yet?!?"

Less than two hours after I posted an ad last night, I had to remove it, lest my head explode. (Note: The side of our garage will not look like this after today.

Lesson learned: I should put the word free in all my blog posts and see what happens.

2. A few weeks ago, our backyard looked like this.

Then, it rained. Like, a lot. As in, we got a whole summer's worth of rain last month, almost 10 inches.

And my lilacs were no more.

I wept.

But. We have a tree in our front yard that everyone calls a lilac tree. The heavy white blossoms on it are just starting to open. Their fragrance isn't very lilac to me; they smell more like honey. I assumed the tree got its name because its flowers look like lilacs, not because it was actually related.

But last night, curiosity got the better of me (it does that a lot; I can't imagine a word without Google), and whadda know? It really IS a lilac tree. It's not just a colloquialism. 

So welcome back lilacs. You might not smell the same and you might not be purple. But I'm glad you're here.

Lesson learned: Google knows everything.

3. I think I'm becoming an accidental vegetarian. Not only am I squirmy about the viability of sustainable meat (I'll explain that sentence at a future date, if you're curious), but I'm honestly just tired of eating it. I'm bored with it. It makes me feel too full, especially in the summer, and I don't really miss it when it's absent from a meal.

This past week, I experimented with eating only side dishes at most meals, and I was surprised at how easy it was.

I do not see me ever giving up sugar, though. Some things are just too crazy, even for me.

Lesson learned: Meat. It's NOT for dinner.

4. We got Kieran a big boy life jacket this year. (It's perfect for his weight, but in true toddler form, it barely zips over his big boy belly.) We weren't sure if he would like it, if he would wear it, if it would work.

We needn't have worried.

Lesson learned: Freedom is a life jacket.

5. Last week, I was vacuuming like mad. In the sunroom, I peaked behind the red chair, checking for dead bugs. I saw this:

My first instinct: I gasped. WHAT THE NASTINESS?!?

Then I looked closer and rallied it was yarn. Hair. Dora hair.

I held my tongue.

That night, I held Teyla's newly shorn Dora doll up to Corey. Before he even had a chance to notice anything, Teyla chimed in rather frantically, "I didn't cut her hair!"


Lesson learned: I am smarter than a preschooler.

6.Lesson learned: Pepto Bismol tablets color vomit a startling shade of pink.

And that's all I'll say about that. You're welcome.

What did you learn this weekend?