Sabbath is Flexibility

I am realizing that one of the gifts of Sabbath is the space to be flexible. When spending some time with my sister and her husband recently, it came up in conversation that both my husband and my sister’s husband had “always wanted” to go to Havana. Normally, a trip like this would take a good bit of planning ahead, but a quick look at airfare and calendars told us the price was right and that all four of our calendars had nothing that couldn’t be rescheduled for four days just a few short weeks after the conversation. As I write this, I am sitting on a small second floor porch in Vedado, Cuba, after a few days of supporting the local people, and just a few hours before we leave for the airport to head back home.

JkL1gBlHSD+5xIojXY5MFQ

On a larger scale, we are rescheduling our biggest trip of the year! We planned to drive the skoolie out west this spring for 5-6 weeks. Our hope was to see everything from Mount Rushmore to the Redwood Forest to Santa Fe. (For someone who likes Rent, likes to sing, and likes to start new initiatives, Santa Fe has been on my wish list for years. “Let’s open up a restaurant in Santa Fe!”)

As a family, we’ve been experiencing transition fatigue. Going for a few weeks, staying home for a few weeks, going for a few weeks, staying home for a few weeks. So, we decided to condense our travel to one semester instead of spreading it throughout the year.  As we began to complete the necessary planning and arrangements to head west before winter sets in, we quickly found out that winter is already arriving in Yellowstone National Park, one of our destinations. We also learned that winter will still have things shut down during our originally planned spring timeline. Basically, in a skoolie, there will be no safe and enjoyable way to get over the western mountains during November – April. So, we must throw away both original plans and figure out if we can do a western tour as the grand finale of our Sabbath year, in May and June.

I could never have done any of this during the past six years of my life. Work schedules and school schedules had us locked in. Sure, we could travel some during school breaks, but not weeks on end. And we certainly couldn’t have played with three different months and had the flexibility to make any one of the three work. This flexibility alone is a form of rest for me.

Sabbath is Pruning

I spent a couple hours pruning trees and bushes on our property recently (contrary to true agrarian sabbath practice).  I had forgotten how much God speaks to me through gardening and how much this type of work renews my mind and spirit.

Pruning is always hard for me – in my gardening and in my daily life.  Something doesn’t feel right about cutting off pieces of a plant, and it feels so wasteful dragging piles of limbs and branches to the waste pick-up pile.  But it is exactly what the plants need.  John 15: 2 says, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  I sometimes find entire branches that are dead, and their removal increases oxygen flow.  I sometimes find branches that are growing into the space another branch needs to grow and develop.  Leaving both branches will cause neither to flourish.  I sometimes clip branches growing in the wrong direction, taking nutrients from a tree’s main trunk that are needed further up in the tree.

A lot of pruning has been going on in my own life as well, some things intentional and some things unintentional.  Of course, the obvious is choosing to step out of the day-to-day leadership of the school so that I can breathe, reflect, and restore my energy.  There have also been activities and relationships that I thought I would dive back into and find nourishing but instead found out there were reasons I didn’t prioritize some of those things over the past several years.  I find myself letting go of certain things indefinitely, even beautiful branches that hurt to eliminate, because they are not life-giving and are not a good fit for me.  I also reflect on the process of letting go of branches or relationships that had died and needed to go in order not to kill the whole plant.  This has been and still is a painful process of self-reflection, intentional pausing, and soul-searching.

Pruning is a painful process that restores life and health, and I am still in the midst of learning sorting this all out.  One thing I know, tending to my little plot of land helps me reflect and feeds my soul.  I guess I won’t be pruning that out anytime soon!

Sabbath Year: First Quarter Reflections

Like most spiritual practices, Sabbath has subjective elements to it and is interpreted differently by different people.  A few weeks ago, someone told me that my current schedule isn’t really a sabbath – that it’s normal, a manageable schedule.  You see, when I’m home in Muncie, my schedule looks like this.  I get up at 7:15 a.m. and get my kids up and moving so that they are start school by 8:15 a.m.  From 8:15 a.m. to around 3 p.m., I am busy educating my children.  It takes a lot of work to make sure they are getting the education they need to be successful in high school, even with the virtual support.  During times when they are working independently, I am am doing a better job of tending to the work in my home.  I clean a few corners, put away clutter…you know, all the things we all have to maintain in our home but don’t post on social media because it’s not very glamorous.  I also get to sit on the porch some, read a little (with interruptions), and sip tea, so this really feels like a sabbath practice to me compared to my former pace of life.   Then, at 3 p.m., I begin my Inspire hours, the part-time work I am continuing this year in support of our school…and in support of funding our skoolie adventures and paying the bills.  My husband takes over ensuring the kids finish their work and provides any necessary supports (what would be “homework” in a traditional setting).  I have worked well under 20 hours for the school all but one or two weeks so far, so the hours are very limited.  Around 5:30 p.m., I usually stop and enjoy the evening with family and friends.

Fair enough, this is not a sabbath schedule that has me sitting with my feet propped up all day, every day, but I don’t think that is what I’m looking for…or what God is looking for from me.  I am taking trips with my family quite frequently.  These are restorative for the body and soul, even the busy ones.  I suspect that I am finding a pace of life that will work for the remainder of the years my children are in my home.  I am almost beginning to see this year as a time to sort through where I should land by the end of it.

The biblical concept of a sabbath year is actually for the land, not for people.  It is a year to let the land rest from being planted, a year to rest from giving all of its nutrients away to sustain other life, but I’m not working my land.  (I’m probably tending to my yard more now than in the past five years.)  I’d love to fix all the issues of being disconnected from the land.  I’d love to plant my own gardens and live off of them, but I am fairly certain, for a variety of reasons, that my little plot is full of more contaminants than the average.  This is not the thing I need to fix. I am simply fumbling through how to practice a sabbath year in a society in which I am disconnected from the land because I know that letting the land rest in an agrarian society means the people were working less.  I need to figure out practicing healthy patterns of rest and work as a healthy being who believes God’s voice holds authority.  He says, “Rest.”

 

Weeks 6 – 8 of This Sabbath Year

As I look back on the last few weeks, I can’t believe how little time has passed.  It’s fascinating how a few weeks can feel worlds apart from one another. Week six of this Sabbath year, the first full week of August, was a week of transition, split between Lake Erie and Muncie. It included church at home, jet skiing on Lake Erie, trying out our first days of virtual school (away from home, in the car, and at home to try out all the options), some side work for Inspire, and frantically driving the boys to a youth zip lining trip we almost missed because our family communication lines were tangled amidst our new life setup.

By the middle of week seven of our Sabbath year, I was beginning to figure out what was needed for virtual school success and finding new rhythms and routines. Week eight was well situated for settling into a new routine at home, but life threw us some curveballs…as usual. It doesn’t matter whether we are pursuing rest and a lighter schedule or a busy schedule of working toward societal change, there is no pause button on life.  The world keeps turning. Amidst the curveballs, I successfully prioritized the needed routine for a virtual school experience full of academic growth for the boys, and I feel good about the progress we are making.  This was definitely the right choice for our year of Sabbath together.

I am currently pondering and processing a lot of things, so much so that it is interrupting my sleep some nights. There is such a tug-of-war in my spirit right now between living life publicly and privately. This manifests itself in every area of my life and is an intense mental battle that surfaces constantly.

It manifests itself in my work educating my own children and my part-time work supporting Inspire’s growth and development. I love using my skills and training to invest in the education of my own children and believe that is to be my primary focus this year. However, I also feel a responsibility to support the school community I founded. I love working in public education. I love the challenge. I love the students and families and all the opportunities to impact societal change. The job of School Leader was hard and taxing, and it required consistently pushing adults out of their comfort zones and challenging deeply engrained views of the world. Serving in a position of authority meant I was working to inspire adults and students to be more, do more, become more. And society expects this – public education institutions are held accountable for single-handedly making societal shifts in achievement, regardless of what other systemic changes need to happen to facilitate these shifts. I am enjoying not trying to get people to change and just being able to appreciate and love people for who they are…regardless of their growth rate. And yet I can’t shake that education greatly impacts one’s opportunities in life … and one’s first experiences of affirmation or marginalization.

The tug-of-war between living publicly and privately also manifests itself in my writing and sharing. I know people enjoy reading updates on my year, my processing, and my Sabbath journey. I often get check-ins or appreciations based on something someone read. And yet, in some ways I feel this journey is for me, not for everyone else. The online sharing and engaging feels like work in and of itself in some ways. In other ways, it provides a helpful outlet for processing through writing.  Do I continue to share? Do I continue to blog? There is opportunity for more people to grow from my thoughts when I share. People feel welcomed and included in the journey. People who may not stop by my front porch can still feel like they know me. And yet, I am enjoying more time with those who are close enough to stop by and linger as the kids play. I enjoy writing, but I don’t like thinking about how many people are reading and the constant reality of developing an online presence.

Some days I find myself avoiding social media and other days I find myself interacting multiple times in one day. I have friends who are on a lot, and I have friends who are on less and less. In some ways, I think it would make me socially happier to not engage in social media. And in other ways, I think I would miss out on feeling connected to the people I don’t see multiple times every week.  There are those who don’t live next door or go to church with me who aren’t posting online anymore, and I feel a growing distance of an unshared world.

The challenge is that there are so many beautiful people in the world and so many opportunities in life. During my Inspire years, I met beautiful people and have developed many deep, lasting friendships with people I never knew before Inspire. At the same time, I missed out on developing other relationships and grew distant from some beautiful people I knew more before Inspire. At this point in the journey, I am processing the hard decisions of who and what to invest in, as I walk through the process of Sabbath this year. Some may say to just let life come to me and enjoy each moment, but in reality, I have a lot of control over what people get my time and energy, even in my year of rest. Is it those who engage me through social media? Those who quietly read my updates and mention how they love reading them? Those in my neighborhood? Those popping up on phone? Those in my email? Those at events and gatherings I attend or organize? Those I invite? Those who just happen to be passing by? Those who my children connect with? Those who I miss and decide to reach out to?

There is so much to be learned and so much work to be done! But it is not lost on me that many have engaged in the wrong work and caused more problems than they’ve solved. It is also not lost on me that most people who truly make a lasting impact on improving equality and human rights in this world, do so with great personal sacrifice.   For now, I shall continue to pursue rest and reflection in prayer, in hopes that whatever part-time work I engage in is life-giving for all impacted; whatever solitude I pursue is healthy, Christ-centered solitude and meditation; whatever relationships I invest in are life giving for all involved; and whatever future projects I pursue are ones that make the world look more like the world envisioned by Jesus of Nazareth. This next week promises to be filled with more surprises and more time at home.  I intend to roll with the punches, limit commitments, and embrace what life has for me as I choose less work and more rest.  Until next time…

Book Review: Long Walk to Freedom

Title: Long Walk To Freedom

Author: Nelson Mandela

Published by: Back Bay Books, New York, 1995

I did not expect this book to have the impact it did on me. As Americans, we often think of our country as ahead of South Africa in race relations due to apartheid regulations remaining in place into the 1990s. However, too much of the socio-political backdrop explained in this book felt very familiar. Many of the attitudes and prevailing thought contributing to the success and power of nationalist government structures are ideologies we hear amongst white Americans today.

One of the key demands Mandela continued to champion, in spite of imprisonment, mistreatment, and risk of death, was a one-person, one-vote system, a system that the Unites States still manages to circumvent through the electoral college system.  By the end of the period of history about which the book is written, South Africa had suspended capital punishment and implemented a one-person, one-vote system.

While it is easy to compare and contrast the Black South Africans’ struggle for equality to the African-Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality because of the Black/White conflict, another important lens for the reader is reminding oneself of the First Nations People of North America. How are the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans experiencing life in the United States?

This book is an autobiography, a genre I would have never picked up in my younger years, but I decided to dig in and am glad I did! The first few chapters were a little hard to track with at times for a reader who is not familiar with South African landscape, languages, or peoples. The author regularly references places and people by name, and it takes some time to feel comfortable reading all the unfamiliar words. However, the  author’s ability to draw the reader into the experiences and issues at hand are unmatched, and I soon found myself drawn into the story, turning page after page without wanting to stop in the middle!

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I had moved from the role of a gadfly within the organization to one of the powers that I had been rebelling against. It was a heady feeling, and not without mixed emotions. In some ways, it is easier to be a dissident, for then one is without responsibility. As a member of the executive, I had to weigh arguments and decisions, and expect to be criticized by rebels like myself.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I was to have a working holiday, the only kind of holiday I knew how to take.”  (Mandela, 1994)

“I noticed a white woman in the gutter…there were poor whites…but one rarely saw them. I was used to seeing black beggars on the street, and it startled me to see a white one. While I normally did not give to African beggars, I felt the urge to give this woman money. In that moment, I realized the tricks that apartheid plays on one…” (Mandela, 1994)

“I had a not-so-pleasant visit from two Americans, editors of the conservative newspaper the Washington Times.  They seemed less intent on finding out my views than on proving that I was a Communist or a terrorist.  …when I reiterated that I was neither a Communist nor a terrorist, they attempted to show that I was not a Christian…” (Mandela, 1994)

“Anything that departs from this pattern upsets the authorities, for routine is the sign of a well-run prison.” (Mandela, 1994) {Blogger’s note: I couldn’t help but notice that, in American society, the word “school” could easily replace the word “prison” in this sentence.)

“But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  (Mandela, 1994)

Wrestling with Rest (Weeks 3 – 5)

The third week of July was a travel week. We stayed a few nights at Kenisee Grand River Campground to take a break from driving and enjoy a few more days on the road. It was a very large campsite and much quieter than we expected. The boys spent hours swimming in lakes, while Andrew and I read and relaxed.

Several people were excitedly interested in the skoolie and had lots of questions. The campground owner even stopped by to invite himself through for a tour and then sent a family member to come check it out as well! On the last day, our dogs figured out how to open the unlocked door of the bus and terrorized some nearby dog walkers. Thankfully, the people were good with dogs and helped us get them all under control so we could walk our dogs back to the bus and lock the door. Most everyone was ready to be home at this point, as we all had friends and plans to pursue upon arriving back home after being gone longer than we’d been gone in years.   Andrew and I got things ready to pull away while the boys were still sleeping in their bunks, so they were able to sleep for the first couple hours – a great perk of the bus!

Through correspondence, I was already making plans to connect with people upon my return. I began using a pattern I noticed in my grandmother’s life, one event per day is a sufficiently full schedule, sounded like a good Sabbath principle to try out. I had a block party to plan, work appointments awaiting, and friends to prioritize, and I didn’t want to sprint needlessly in a year that is supposed to be restful. Thursday, I connected with a friend to dig into block party preparations. I made another friend wait until Friday in observance of my new one event a day rule. I think she thought it a little odd, as she is used to us squeezing every second of life out of every day, but she was proud of me for slowing down. On Saturday and Sunday, I took a full weekend off and it felt like a little vacation in and of itself, as I am used to cramming one day of each weekend full to catch up at school and home and then forcing myself to rest the other day of each weekend.  I even hosted a skoolie open house and enjoyed preparing and relaxing with friends!

Upon returning home, I also decided I should follow up on a request for public records I had made surrounding a concerning jail expansion project proposed for Delaware County (the county in which we live). Apparently, my follow-up email stirred some things up, and I was now the topic of conversation amongst officials. Somehow, sending a couple of emails turned into a big project as my activism came to life. I felt the pressure beginning to mount.

I tried to begin a routine, part-time work schedule on week four and found it more treacherous than planned. After prioritizing a relaxing Sunday evening, a full night’s rest, and some outdoor morning exercise, Monday morning was halfway gone. Nonetheless, I fit in a few hours of work, and my one event of the day was taking my son to an appointment. It felt really good not to view the appointment as an interruption to my busy schedule. Parenting and sabbath win!

By Tuesday, I had already broken my one event per day rule. The rest of the week was a combination of Inspire work, conversations and research about the jail proposal, and pulling off the Urban Light Block Party. The block party was a lot of fun and leading it felt like a blast from the past. I enjoyed the week, but while my pace was certainly slower than that of a school leader, calling it a week of rest would be a stretch! I was already jumping into life as a community developer, organizer, and activist – the work that led me to open a school several years ago!

The pressure and activity were rising over the course of week four, and as I drove by a large group of people who were in preparations for an event, I felt a disproportionate amount of anxiety immediately take over my body.  I suddenly realized that the personal healing that needs to take place during this season is deeper than I thought. This was more than me being worn out from one Friday night event; this was a physical response to the spiritual, emotional, and physical taxation of six years of rewarding work that shook me and shaped me anew.  God’s call to Sabbath was God saving me in a Second Corinthians 4:8 kind of way: “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.”

At the beginning of week five, I began to panic. Conflict was building surrounding the jail project, and I knew people were waiting to hear the results of my public records investigation. I had my first interpersonal conflict with someone I hadn’t made much time for during the Inspire years.  I had also visited Inspire for a few small tasks and my emotions were all over the board. A place filled with my beloved colleagues and friends, a place I called home for so many years, now proved to be emotionally taxing in a new and different way, a way I wasn’t prepared for and still can’t describe.

I began to sleep restlessly at night, facing crazy dreams as my brain tried to reorganize for a new daily experience. I began to feel very down around mid-day most days. I would usually be able to sleep some in the afternoon and wake up thinking straight after a nap. But I realized I was clicking through social media way too frequently as a distraction, overusing coping mechanisms because I wasn’t coping very well at all.

Because of realizing all this, I abstained from vices on Monday – no social media, no alcohol, just face the day from start to finish without any props to get me through. And I fell apart. I had to face all the emotions that had been building up since walking away in July…and all the pain of being deep in the struggle of educational reform for six years. Leaving straight for a trip early July helped me transition; it was a beautiful time. But now I was facing how to just exist and rest in my local context.

I knew I had to get the weight of the jail project off me. I knew I had to face my demons and rest like God told me to. So, I sat on the porch crying to avoid my kids seeing me falling apart while I waited for my husband to get home from a meeting. I told him where I was with everything. I told him not to respond, just to listen. I told him I needed to leave again because I wasn’t ready to figure this out at home yet. I told him that I knew we were leaving again after just another day but that another day felt like forever from where I was sitting. I asked him to cover for me on the home front while I finished up the jail project to get that pressure off my plate.   I asked him to go with me to the school grounds to complete a small task for a grant so that I could go when nobody was there. I told him I knew we needed the money, but that I wasn’t sure I was ready to work yet. Of course, he listened and did all I asked in his supportive and pretty patient way.

I was in a much better place after getting it all out, being honest with myself and my spouse, and wrapping up the jail project and letting that pressure go. I now know that I am not ready to take on any new initiatives…yet. God told me to rest, and I need to do so.  We left for Lake Erie in the middle of week five but participated in our Muncie life for the weekend – a seminary graduation with friends and colleagues, an Oldfield and The New Birds performance, church, and prayer over a friend.

“I told you to rest,” He says. That phrase keeps plowing through my head every time I begin to do much of anything. He speaks to me so very clearly in some seasons, not often, just often enough to let me know that He still is and that I am still His. Faith is often a daily struggle for me, but not in these times when He lets me hear His voice. When God speaks clearly, I know I must follow that voice to stay attuned for next time I get a clear directive, however many months or years that may be. At the beginning of this season, the great Healer knew I needed healing and knew I needed rest. During our last sabbatical, I decided I wanted to practice the principle of a seventh year of Sabbath, but I’m not sure I would’ve had the strength if God did not speak directly.

The principle of a seventh year of Sabbath is a principle of letting the land rest (Leviticus 25). In an agrarian society, I imagine this also meant a good bit of rest for the people as well. It sounds crazy in modern society to tell my employer that it’s the seventh year, so I won’t be working much. It sounds crazy to just let the ground be for the seventh year. Imagine the fines and complaints we’d incur about our yards and gardens! I’m not sure what this looks like in a technological, post-industrial, urban society. I just know that God keeps telling me to rest this school year, and so I will engage the struggle of wrestling with rest this year amidst my culture that values production.

Room to Grow: Allowing Children to Become Experts

We spent some time at the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture recently. I am always amazed and inspired by experts in any field who endlessly dive deeply into a subject, with love, passion, and purpose, unveiling important discoveries and sharing perspective-changing experiences. Today was no exception; I was awestruck by everything from geological diversity to masterful playing of ancient instruments. But I was also saddened, mourning the many genius discoveries that we miss out on because of our nation’s approach to education.

One of the ideals I set out to pursue in my work in educational leadership was deeper learning rather than broad, surface-level learning. I wanted to allow children, yes, even young children, to become experts who could know a field deeply and share their learning with others. It works! Kids love it; adults are awestruck by the amazing young brains that know more than the adults on their topic. But it doesn’t work…because we also want kids to know a little bit about a lot…and in the process we slowly suffocate that inner curiosity of so many students because they are not curious about the “right” things, the things our nation has deemed necessary for every single little human being to know. Don’t get me wrong – I understand that every little human being should learn to read and write and calculate simple equations because these are skills needed for a comfortable standard of living in modern society. But what diseases have we not conquered? What life-saving technology do we not yet have? What international miscommunication persists? All because so many young minds have checked out for lack of interest in this broad knowledge and skills base we insist every little human must muscle through and conquer regardless of strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions.

Some say we shouldn’t limit young children by allowing them to become fully absorbed in one interest.   Oh, friends, but this isn’t limiting them. Interests and passions ebb and flow. Many adults change careers multiple times. To learn to think deeply, commit to a course of study, and become an expert is a gift. Why do you think the phrases “geeking out” and “what do you geek” are trending? Because everyone enjoys pursuing an interest deeply, no matter how fleeting the interest or temporary the season! And have you read the studies about prior knowledge, reading levels, and domain specific vocabularies?   Research indicates that children who are well versed in a topic will demonstrate higher levels of proficiency reading complex texts and higher levels of content recall when reading about that topic. This means allowing students to become experts in something they love increases their reading skills. For more information on the idea that knowing a subject deeply increases one’s ability to interact with complex texts, check out Effect of Prior Knowledge on Good and Poor Readers’ Memory of Text by Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie or The Challenge of Advanced Texts: The Interdependence of Reading and Learning by Marilyn Jagger Adams.

I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not sure how to accomplish this in mass through public education, but I dream of participating in a society committed to getting there. I want legislators, educators, and industry leaders to commit to working together to empower our youngest citizens to become experts rather than generalists, to pursue becoming experts in things that interest them, and in so doing, to unleash the power of the many young citizens that society has limited by trying to make them masters of everything instead of allowing them to become world-changing experts at something that ignites the fire of learning within them.