1.26.2015

Unexpected Opportunities


~ that it will never come again is what makes life so sweet ~
- Emily Dickinson

Often, you just cannot expect what will come next in this life.  And it is the stepping into the God-ordained unexpected things of this moment that truly does make life so sweet.  We never get to go back to this moment and re-live it, which is why it is so vital to look and listen for where God is and step into the wind of His Spirit. 

It is because of these truths that our Sabbath year has taken some quite unexpected turns over the last three weeks.  These turns have taken up time, heart, and energy, leaving me with very little time to share about it all until now.  Val and I had agreed we would say “no” to everything this year unless we felt a clarity from God over whatever was being presented to us.  In the past few weeks, we have both felt led to say “yes” more than we have said “no.”

About a month ago, Val was asked to lead a team of doctors to offer medical relief to Syrian refugees.  At first, we both said, “no.”  But as time went by Val couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something he was supposed to step into.  Matthew 12 and Isaiah 58 began speaking to us about the type of Sabbath that God desires.  The idea of these Scriptures is that God desires that we care for those in need, heal, set others free, and have our hearts turned to Him in a season of Sabbath rather than us making Sabbaths about religiosity and pursuing empty pleasure.  It was hard to say “no” to this medical relief trip after meditating on these Scriptures.  Below is a 90 second video about the plight of the Syrian refugees. We sense God leading us as Val prepares to take a team over to offer medical care to some of these Syrian refugees.     

Click here to watch the video explaining the Syrian refugee crisis.

Then there’s my brother.   In the midst of his gap year and after months of travel and adventure, my brother moved out here three weeks ago.  Amazingly, he was able to move into the house next door to us (it’s seriously such a cool story how this worked out), making him our neighbor.  It’s been a decade since I’ve been able to spend this much time with him.   I wouldn’t trade this for anything right now.  My boys love him.  Val and he are good friends.  It just fits so well.  I mean, really, how many times in life do you actually get to live next door to one of your brothers or sisters?!  I’m loving it. 

And...a week ago, I started leading a Bible study for a group of ladies.  This was actually the one thing I had committed to do long before our Sabbath year began.  So, in a way, this “yes” was already in the bag before we got to this point; however, the stepping into it happened simultaneous to the development of Val’s trip and the arrival of my brother.  It is such an honor and a privilege to get to facilitate other women connecting with God.  I love it so much and am so grateful to have this opportunity.  I literally feel God working.   


Already our Sabbath year is taking unexpected turns; however, our life feels like it’s right where it’s supposed to be.  There is a reality of God in all of this. I so do not want to miss where He is and am grateful that He invites us into what He’s doing.  Even as we engage in where He is and what He’s doing, Val and I are also asking Him for a reality of rest to remain, knowing that He has simultaneously led us into this season of rest.


Photo credit: Val Tramonte

12.30.2014

Year in Review: Useful Questions for Intentional Reflection

I am huge on reflection.  I love to look back and see where God has been at work and where I have grown.  Often, though, valuable reflection doesn't just happen; rather, valuable reflection often takes intentional pursuit.  Having questions to guide my reflection on life and growth and God's movement truly makes the reflection more powerful.  

Last year I developed my own set of questions to guide my reflection.  I pulled them out again this year as I've been reflecting and wanted to take a moment to share them with you.  I hope that at least some of them will be helpful as you reflect on your own year.  

Happy New Year!



To begin, take some time to just reflect on the past year…January until now…and all the events that have happened since then.  For this guided journaling, it will be helpful to have a framework of what this year was.  Jot down the main events, thoughts, and feelings that come to mind while reflecting on this past year.

As you reflect on this past year and look over those main events, what were the 2-3 dominant themes God was at work in this past year?




What comes up in you read the question, “Where has my heart been this past year?”  And the question, “What have I felt this past year?”




As you look back over this past year, take some time to jot down what this year has been characterized by for you in each of these roles as they apply to you(feelings, things you’ve grown in, main themes God has been doing):

Follower of Jesus

Woman

Wife

Mom

Spiritual Minister

Skillful Worker/Professional



If you could summarize your experience of 2014 into just one word, what would it be?




As you look ahead to 2015, take a minute to ask Jesus what He wants you to be about (to focus on) in personally next year.





Now take a minute to ask Him what He wants you and your spouse to be about (focus on) in 2015.







12.22.2014

Making Shmita Attainable in Everyday Life

After reading comments from a handful of readers, I’ve realized that in my last post, “Shmita: Enriching the Land of Our Souls,” (click here to read) the main message of the post may have been lost in some of the details.  I shared about some of the choices my husband and I have made to make this year a year of rest for our family.  Many of our choices, though, were rather drastic and may have made a “year of rest” seem unattainable. 

So, first, let me say that I am sorry for any burdens any of you may have felt.  Pouring stress onto you is the exact opposite of what I was hoping to present.  My hope was to explore the idea of returning to an ancient, God-given rhythm of rest by setting aside the seventh year as a year to cease from striving and production in order to rest.  That was my hope.

Rest can look vastly different from person to person and from family to family.  Engaging a rhythm of rest is about you actually resting.  It is not about following a set of rules or anyone else’s pattern of rest.  It is about finding out how you can set up your life in such a way that you (and your family) are engaging in rest. 

So, when I shared that my husband and I have opted to have him work less so he can rest and to hire housecleaning and get more take out so that I can rest, those things were specific to us and our family.  What I didn’t share was that my husband is coming out of a season of medical burn-out.  The medical system reality for family practice doctors is often overwhelming, burdensome, draining, and disheartening (click here and click here to read articles describing that reality).  As we experienced Val burning out the past two years, we knew we had to make drastic changes to his work life for his (and our) overall life-health. 

What I also didn’t share was that we have made conscious choices in our budget this year to spend money on specific things that will bring me rest (for example hiring house cleaning every other week).  At the same time, there are other areas that I am giving myself to in our family that we do not have to spend money on (for example I homeschool, so, our “preschool” cost is minimal and allows for us to spend money on other things that facilitate rest for me).

I would hate to communicate a God-designed rhythm in such a way that it becomes unattainable and weighty.  What I do know is that if God designed this rhythm, it is attainable.  It just may look differently from family to family.  I was so grateful for the readers who could see past the specifics that I had shared on into what my core message was in the last post.  There are great comments on my Facebook profile in response to my previous post.  Honest comments from readers considering how to make rest a reality for them. 

That’s what I hope to share more about here, today.  For some of you, this calendar year is just not an option for resting…whether it be grad school or a pregnancy or a life transition, you just know you won’t be able to rest this year.  That’s okay.  My hope in sharing about “Shmita” was not so much that you’d do it right now lining up with the Jewish calendar.  Rather I hoped to bring up the ancient rhythm and ask whether or not you thought it would be possible to engage that rhythm in your life.  Engaging that rhythm of rest for you may be looking ahead for a year you can set aside sometime in the next few years…a year when you know you’ll be able to rest more.

The other vital piece that some of my readers were able to tease out of my post was that I was searching out what it would mean for your family to rest.  And even more specifically, what is feasible for your family to rest.  For many families, “working less” just isn’t an option.  Or hiring house cleaning.  Or getting more take out.  I totally get that.  What I do know, though, is that there probably are other things that you can take off your plate in life, things that you can say “no” to for a full year that would allow you and your family to rest.  To be honest, the number one thing that is allowing me and my family to rest is saying “no” to all our ministry commitments we’ve had.  We’ve been going hard for a while…leading, writing, speaking, travelling…and while it’s been awesome, it’s also taken a lot for our family to pour out in that way.  Just shutting down ministry outputs for a full year has made considerable space in our life to rest.

Creating space to rest is so varied and so specific to each unique individual and family.  Ideas from readers ranged from having much simper holiday and birthday celebrations to taking shortcuts with meals and housework to simply being intentional to rest and reflect and re-center.  Other ideas could include purposing to have a decreased social schedule, cutting back on children’s extracurricular activities, swapping babysitting with friends so you get a little more time alone, setting aside your lunch break to do something restful and rejuvenating (pray, read, journal) as you eat, diminishing your ministry commitments, taking one day to cook the month’s meals ahead of time, using your kids’ naptime for restful pursuits rather than chores, setting aside a few nights of the week as “home date nights” with your spouse, and/or re-arranging your budget to cut back in certain areas in order to spend more on other areas that facilitate rest.  These are all just random suggestions for how to make a year of rest attainable in everyday life.  This list is not exhaustive at all, but is just a springboard for creatively thinking about how to make rhythms of rest attainable.  I’d love to hear more ideas from you.

So, I am curious how you…in your own, very unique life…would create space for rhythms of rest?  What could you actually take off your plate for a solid year to make space for rest?  And what are things specific to you that would facilitate rest?  How would that year look?

If a year of rest seems like too much to attempt, what smaller rhythms of rest could you incorporate in your everyday life right now?



12.08.2014

Shmita: Enriching the Land of Our Souls

A few days ago it dawned on me that our “Sabbath year” started exactly six years to the day after Val and I got together.  Exactly six years to the day.  That means we are resting in our seventh year together. 

I got eighteen red roses on October 1, 2008, with a question inviting me to call him. On October 1, 2014, we started a Sabbath year…a year to rest, to reset, to recenter. 

Coincidence?  Maybe.

But how crazy is this?  Not only had we been together exactly six years when we began our year of rest, but we also unknowingly had started our year of rest just days after the Jewish Sabbath year started (“Shmita,” the Jewish Sabbath year, started on September 25, 2014). 

Coincidence?  Maybe.

But…

Probably not. 

God sets up rhythms for His people that are for their good.  The Sabbath year, as described in Leviticus 25, seems to be primarily intended for the land rest.  But in letting the land rest, the people, too, rested. 

Whatever the land produced was for the people to eat, but not to sell.  There was to be a rest from commercial production, from working the ground for profit.  Whatever grew out of your land was for you to eat.  It was also meant to be food left available for those in need.  Not only that, but in the “Shmita” year, debts were also meant to be cancelled.  A regular rhythm of resting and resetting. 

As we step more fully into our personal Sabbath year, we are hoping to incorporate some of these ideas, these rhythms of resting and resetting. 

Granted, we are not farmers with land that needs to rest. 

But we are workers.  Hard workers.  Engaged in pouring out and producing in work, family, and ministry contexts these past six years.  The “land” in our life is all that we’ve given ourselves to…Val’s job, retreats, speaking, conferences, writing, mentoring, relationships, etc.  This is our year to let that “land” rest. 

Yes, we still have to pay our bills.  Yes, our family still needs to eat and have clean clothes.  But we are minimizing our work.  Val is working a part-time hospital doctor position.  We’ve hired house cleaners and are ordering more take-out.  We’ve said “no” to all ministry investments for this year (with a few exceptions in which we feel a specific “go-ahead” from God).  We’ve arranged our life so that both of us can truly rest from our work.  Just like nutrients were restored to the land during the Sabbath year, I feel spiritual and emotional “nutrients” being added to us as individuals and us as a family as we cease from production. 

Just like the land and the economy reset during Sabbath years, we as a family are resetting.  I believe that because we are stopping to rest and reset now, we will later be able to offer more in the next six years.  I believe we will have a new richness to offer after resting this year, much like the land had richer soil after the “Shmita.”  I think God meant this rhythm not only for the land, but for us…so that we could stop, rest, reset, be renewed, and produce rich fruit once again.

Just over two months into our Sabbath year (and those two months even being with a newborn!), we are already experiencing the benefits of taking a year of rest. We are shifting some of our family’s life rhythms, adjusting parenting practices, and gaining fresh vision for life after this year. Both Val and I are starting to feel ourselves “let down” into a reality of rest. I am the least stressed I've been...probably ever.  Val is beginning to feel awake and alive again. Our kids are thriving. 

It makes me wonder if taking every seventh year to rest and reset might actually be beneficial to everyone.  Maybe the Sabbath year is actually a rhythm God intended to be incorporated in normal life rhythms. I know bills still have to be paid and laundry still needs to be done. But...what if you actually pared down your life as much as possible every seventh year to allow yourself (and your family) to rest. What if you said "no" to all extra commitments and profit-producing endeavors so that you could enter into rest for a year? What might happen in your family if you reset your rhythms every seventh year, looking to enrich each individual in your family and your family as a whole (much like the way the land was enriched and renewed after a year of rest)?

So, I’ll just ask you: what would it look like for you and your family to take a year of rest?  How could you make it feasible?  What stands in your way from taking a year of rest? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this!