52 Shabbats

Light flickers from a candle. Aromatic and warm from the oven, I lay the braided bread on the table next to the wine and pomegranate juice, edible ornaments of gold and crimson, reminding me of the royal heritage I am apart of. I finish up the final preparations, and set the dishes on the table. It is a feast; a joyful party to celebrate what awaits.

For a whole year now our Friday nights have looked something like this. I don’t always manage to pull off an amazing meal; some nights have been simple soup or BBQ from the grill. Admittedly, even take-out has graced the table in weeks when a sudden illness has struck without warning. Some nights we fill the chairs with family or friends; other times it’s just me and the kids, four tired faces, sending a picture of our night to a dad traveling far away. There is usually a spill and always a child who makes a mess. But every Friday night we have joined millions across millennia in the longest-held tradition known to mankind: remembering the sabbath.

Shabbat” is the Hebrew word which means “to cease” or “stop.” And for us, it began as a convicting experiment in faith. I had spent so little of my life to understanding this commandment that finds it roots on page 1 of the Bible. (Gen. 2:1-3) And yet, it’s a commandment. (Ex. 20:10) One of the famous ten, but also reiterated numerous times throughout the stories of the Torah, specifically spoken about in the Prophets, and it was a major source of contention in Jesus’ ministry. So if the Bible has so much to say about this event that has been happening weekly since time began, why had I paid it so little attention? Our family embarked on a journey to learn how and why to remember sabbath. And now a year later, what I have learned has been the last thing I expected to take away.

I expected to enjoy rest. I envisioned a busy Friday of rushing about, finishing my usual work before Saturday, planning a great meal that would provide leftovers, and then waking on Saturday to a relaxing, slow-paced day off. I expected Saturdays to be refreshing family time, to learn to let go of the things that are so mundane, and just rest in the Lord. In my own mind, this is what I wanted to learn; what I wanted shabbat to be for us. But this isn’t what happened. (And at first, I thought I was doing it wrong!) Of course, it’s nice enough to have the mundane chores done. There is a relaxing freedom in just picking something fun to do without worrying about the leftover work from the week I failed to finish. A break is nice. Important, even.

Rest may be what I intended to seek, but rest is not what I found. Instead, something much greater penetrated our home; something far beyond my own Americanized, religious idea of a “day of rest.”

Sabbath–the ceasing of creating–created something within us: watchful preparation and eager anticipation. To get all the ordinary done in six days takes careful planning. It takes an attention to every hour I have in the days leading up to Friday evening. In order to be ready, I must work diligently to accomplish the tasks before me. To plan each day carefully, seeing that not only our physical work is done but that the spiritual work is being tended to as well. That the climate of my home is Edenistic; that those who step across my threshold–be it that of my home or my heart–are cared for, welcomed, and nourished. In preparing for shabbat each week, we have mindfully practiced preparing our hearts for the Kingdom.

Completing the physical work serves as the symbol; it points to the greater reality I have as a follower of Jesus: preparing the Way for my King.

And in this preparation, I find that my heart has grown restless for this return. In our efforts to get things done before Friday evening, we begin to long for Friday evening. We anticipate the closeness it brings within our home; the way it unites us. We look forward to breaking the warm bread and clinking glasses of wine, and what this reminds us of. Who it reminds us of. Eagerly, we anticipate the time in which we will be in our ultimate family, around the most lavish of all tables, celebrating goodness and and resting in truth.

Shabbat is not merely a day of rest; it is a unique marker of both an ending and a beginning. When we usher in shabbat on Friday evenings, we are kindling the light–the life (John 1: 4)–that comes from the beauty of pronouncing our six days of work very good.  It is both the finale of goodness and the prelude to renewal.

By seeking to honor the sabbath, I have been given the most beautiful reminder of what the sabbath represents. It is not simply a day off; it is a pattern of divine footprints given to us in order that we may image our Creator in creating good in His world and our souls through the creative power of the Spirit and His Word (Gen. 1: 2-3), and when the work is done, entering a time of ultimate renewal and restoration. This is our family heritage. The Sabbath is the Gospel; it is made for us (Mark 2:27). To teach us to live in the Kingdom; to remind us of our real Family, and to bring us to the place where work and rest collide: supreme delight in the very good.

If you hold back your foot on Shabbat, from pursuing your own interests on my Holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight; Adonai’s holy day, worth honoring, then honor it…I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob. Is. 58:13-14

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Focus: The Prequel

Focus is a gradual thing.

Obtained only by careful study of detail. Are the edges crisp? Are the points of interest clear and defined? What is sharp? Or perhaps more importantly, what is not?

Focus is a gradual thing.

In my own photography I’ve often been drawn to the blur. This beautiful manage of color. Shapes, patterns, lines and movement all in a weightless space. A place where all distraction of what is ceases to be. And instead I am free to explore possibility.

The problem comes in finding the balance. Because when the focus is too soft, it’s all mush. Fog. Density of murk that leads us nowhere.

And so often lately I find myself lost in the fog of life. A place where all I long for is clarity. Something sharp. Something clear. Something obvious that I can hold onto. Because curveballs come flying at me. Massive spheres of momentum that smash into a million little pieces when they hit the target, leaving me in a million pieces too. Someday soon I will write more. I will share the brokenness that is my existence right now.

But as I stare at the million pieces of myself, I find I miss focus. I miss the sharpness that once defined the edges and boundaries of my life. They melted away and left me leeching out like a puddle. Seeping, weeping, rippling in stagnancy, waiting to dry up in the sun that never wants to come out.

But yet I know that too much focus and life has no softness. No beauty. No cushion for interpretation or space for energy to flow.

And then there is no man’s land. A place between sharpness and blur where nothing makes sense. Shapes are too obvious to interpret and too chaotic to make any sense of. Too much. Too fast. Too close to reality but without anything real to grasp. And so we get stuck. We stop in the wild race of it and rack our brains in a search for sense. In search for meaning. Empty handed, we come up with nothing.

But I believe in the rest of the story. I believe that someday all that is unexplained will be made clear. And right now I’m just waiting for someday. The focus is shifting. Progressing, retreating, finding the balance between chaos and clarity.

And that space is beautiful. While I may not see things exactly as they are, I am able to perceive what it could be. I am able to name it. To call it as I see it. And appreciate that something simple might be miraculous if I can just find the right focus.

 

Author’s Note: This post is a prequel to three other posts I published over the course of a year detailing my story of depression and the healing process. I wrote this post years ago, and it has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages, mostly because at the time I wrote it, I was so confused and lost I felt the writing was too unfocused to share. As I worked through these issues, three posts evolved, which I have linked to above. But this post–this is the rest of the story. This is the beginning of my expression of pain, and also the conclusion I never realized I was writing. As I write this note years later and from a place of thriving emotional, mental, and spiritual health, I see now how raw and beautiful this piece is, and I share it now in hopes that someone out there who is drowning in the fogginess of their own sorrows will find encouragement and peace as they wait for the miracles that are yet to come.

The Summer of Motherhood

The air is temperate and warm. Ripe fruit hangs from wild vines. The tops of carrots and onions emerge from below; lettuces, chards, and fresh green thick and tall from recent rain. Lush life hovers. Swarms. Laughs at me. The garden that was once a barren patch of frozen dirt has come into its own. Little seedlings once overwhelmed by a space too large for them now stretch to the sky, reaching beyond the boundaries of the fence, trespassing into the world beyond.

And so the summer of motherhood. That time in which growth is rapid, life is full, and everything is–finally–producing fruit. Rewarding. Generous. Rich. The hovering I did for so long in the early years has finally paid off, producing individuals full of promise. I no longer have to hover. I no longer have to run out at the threat of every storm or cold night to shelter fragile life. They are stronger now and the season less threatening. But the work is still real.

Each one reaches maturity in its own time. Efficient though it might be, children are not a product of a commercial farm. They are not well-suited to bulk, artificial methods of stimulation. They are the heirlooms. The beautiful, unique gifts with personalities and characteristics not found elsewhere. Some simply need more time or different weather or better soil or a little extra attention to reach their fullness.

I have learned so many lessons from this season. The sun is good for growing plants, but too much heat scorches, leaving them wilted from an energy they are not ready to bear. Diligently I monitor their water, careful to provide a drink when it’s needed without rotting their roots. Without drowning their spirits in a flood of my own worry. And some hot days I wait. The leaves may droop but the promise of rain is coming. And rain can give them what I never can. A gentle pouring out of blessing from above, nourishment from a source far greater than me. It may be a thirsty afternoon, but the refreshment coming to them is worth the wait. Worth the character building and reliance upon something outside of themselves.

Sometimes the fruit they bear is beautiful. A picturesque result from the labor of parenting. And sometimes it’s misshapen, despite my best efforts, a form of expression all their own. Loveliness in its own rite. And then there is the heavy-bearer. The one that is so fierce in its growth with fruit so vigorous it requires my support. A stake to lean against. A hand to hold as it matures to fullness. And then there is the spoiled fruit. Those times in which life caught up to me and something went unattended for too long. And there it lays on the ground. All potential lost, a casualty of an imperfect gardener.

The summer of motherhood is a season of amazing joy. The work is intense, keeping up with such a rapid pace, but the reward is incredible. Bounty in full color, overwhelming the small space from which it came. My hands are full of grit and dirt, my brow dripping from the effort of the season but the beauty growing in my home is stunning. The promise of a sweet harvest coming into view.

Subtraction

Red and gray lego bricks sprawl out across his floor. Piles neatly sorted by color and size are evidence of the order with which he approaches his life. Throughout the day in his spare minutes, he retreats to his room, diligently picking away at the fire station he is so excited to rebuild. He asks me if this can count as math for today.

And I pause and think a hesitant “yes.” Yes. I don’t mind if we skip the math book today. Because today you shoveled the driveway and you hauled the trash cans to and from the curb. And you showered and combed your hair and made your bed. And you interacted politely at the dentist appointment. And later you’ll pick up after your sister without being asked, and you’ll keep an eye on the hurricane that is your baby brother. You’ll pepper me with questions all day, about every possible topic. You’ll brainstorm news ways to earn money for latest interest you’re saving for. And then you’ll clear the table and help with the dishes and end your day with a prayer.

So yes. Today I don’t mind if we skip over the page of three digit subtraction because today you are too busy growing into a smart, kind, hard-working, self-giving, honest man.

Today the subtraction that you do will not be done on pencil and paper. It will be done inside you. Eventually you plow through things heavier than the snow in your shovel. The little ones you watch out for now will one day be your own. Your questions won’t always have answers. And someday you’ll crunch the numbers to see that they don’t add up and that you’ve fallen short. Maybe because of a mistake you made. Maybe because life is just unfair sometimes. But one day soon, you will have to rebuild things a lot harder than legos.

One day you’ll find that subtraction is really just sacrifice on paper; the taking away from a whole to give to other parts. And isn’t that what being a man is really all about?

So go and build your fire station. Sort the pieces, fit and refit them together, envision the final product. Enjoy the process. Enjoy being seven. One day you’ll need to subtract things from yourself and from your life that are so much bigger and far less quantifiable numbers in a math problem. And no text book can teach you that.

Constellations

When you were a baby, I sang you this song. A familiar childhood melody drifting over you, a simple anthem that held all the things I thought of you as I rocked you to sleep each night. Questions about who you were, and are, and would one day become.

Tomorrow marks another journey around the sun for you, and you are still a wonderful mystery. At times I am in awe of you, glittering in front of me, lighting up my life as the stars illuminate a night sky. Sparkling, spinning, dancing around the moon, a delicate and yet brilliant performance that only a daughter can give. Your whole self a constellation of diamonds, the most precious picture of who you are.

And at other times I watch you in complete bewilderment, as one watches exploding balls of fire whirling a billion miles away. I find myself asking the same questions, wondering who you are and who you have yet to become. What shape will your life take in the end? Which influences now will you pattern yourself after? And what is the raging fury producing that will one day shine so brightly?

You are a star, my sweet. A beautiful, complex illumination in the expanse that is my life, lighting up my whole world and leaving me breathless as I watch you take shape. Even though you don’t need lullabies anymore, I still sing this to you when you sleep and will sing it forever in my heart, so that one day when you are all grown up and feel lost in your life, the words will remind you of home, calling you back to the people and the One who loves you most.

Twinkle, twinkle little star

How I wonder who you are?

Laying in my arms so sweet,

Drifting quietly to sleep.

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

Do you know how loved you are?

Do you know how loved you are?

Happy birthday, little star. Thank you for filling my life with so many glittering moments.

The Window

Baby-sized shrieks of excitement fill the otherwise quiet room. His hands clap together while a big-belly giggle gurgles up out of his soul and sugars the air between us. Our eyes meet in mutual glee. His in anticipation of my next move; mine in full delight of being in this moment with him.

Right now, my tiniest stone is in a rare window of time. He is fully mobile now, active and busy. Sure on his feet, he regularly bursts forth in a toddley run, splashing through space to keep up with his brother and sister. He climbs stairs as if they are mountains, seeking the summit with every step. And he descends them carefully, slowing evaluating the steep drop as he lowers himself down the slope. Ducking and dodging, rolling and pushing, he navigates obstacles in his way. The garden hose is his ocean; the sandbox his glittering shores. A daily ride in the wagon puts him at the helm of the vessel that takes him into the unknown, and the backyard swing is his ticket to soar into the blue, like the birds who fascinate his curious mind.

The whole world is his playground, and he subdues it with great pride. He brings his rule and reign, like a little king, learning how the environment around him responds to his plans. My arms can no longer contain his abundant nature–the purpose knit into his makeup–to take hold of this very good place. In this window, I watch his babyhood fade more each day, and notice the promise of childhood coming into view.

But when he wanders near danger–a low-hanging branch, desirable to him–I am still able to pull him back. For the most part, we have not yet arrived at the days of kicking and screaming in a tantrum; the days of rebellion, shame, and hiding. He hears the sound of my voice; he notices the goodness I offer him instead, and he is content with my definition of right and wrong. Of danger and safety. Of good and evil.

It is a window we all pass through. A place in time where we no longer cling to our mothers like an extension of their bodies. Somehow we recognize our own individual identities as separate people capable of responding to our whims and environments as we please. But it is also a place in time where we have no knowledge of evil at all; no knowledge of the sin crouching at our doors. What a small, small window it is.

The beauty of the window is the view that it frames. Lush, inviting, dripping with goodness. A kingdom-garden for us, ready and brimming with possibility.

And the tragedy of the window is that we are unconscious to it. Unaware of our own innocence, unable to remember the day in which we played at the threshold of Eden.

Looking into the window, we see ourselves. Children captivated by a taste of our full, perfected humanity with no knowledge of the heinous system we will willingly become participants in. And looking through the window, we glimpse the future. Outlined by the walls of this life, these windows let in just enough light to brighten the darkness. A single pane of glass separating us from the fullness that awaits.

In watching my beloved son pass through this precious season of life, I find myself inching closer and closer to the window in my own life. Gazing longingly at the view it frames. Pressing my hand upon the crystalized glass. Lifting it open, bit by bit, letting in the breeze and myself dance with the wind. The Ruach–the Spirit–from just beyond, breathing into me the life I am made to live.

Untitled Psalm

He is torn from sternum to navel. Staples like a zipper, holding in what belongs until his skin repairs the damage with a scar. The tumors they removed lay lifeless in a pan next to the operating table. Tragic, their size. Even more tragic is the fate they have simply delayed. He is dying from the inside out.

Two orphans in the lands of the north cry out in their own pain. They are no longer boys and not yet men; that precarious transition known for swallowing its prey whole. The streets have spit them out. The world tuned out their vulnerable pleas. They are the downtrodden. The oppressed. Dying at the hand not of disease, but desertion.

And meanwhile in middle class America, the desire of her eyes led her to the arms of another. Her husband left standing with the broken pieces of his own heart and their young marriage. A headfull of lies she fed him. Deception he believed—perhaps became blind to—himself. Now he cries alone, silently, every night laying in an empty bed knowing he has broken something he was suppose to make whole. A fatal failure.

And so our cries rise to you, oh Yahweh. How loud Your throne must be. Is it what you hear?

Because I can hear the voice in Ramah. It’s Rachel weeping for her children. (Jer. 31:15) Weeping for all the children, exiled in the world. Dying the slow and painful death of life apart from You. (Gen. 3)

Most do not recognize You. (Ex. 5:2) Yahweh is not the god of their anscestors. Not the god of their past or even their present. They come, stumbling and alone, abused and fallen at Your doorstep. At my doorstep. (Jud. 19:25-37)

Bring them in, oh Yahweh. Lift them from the threshold of your loving kindness and bring them into the family. Let the blood of the Lamb be ever over the door posts of their hearts, and love of God bound to their very core.

Victims of Babylon. Victims of evil. Victims of the human system which I participate in. Draw us of the chaotic waters that engulf us. Let Your Spirit hover over us. (Gen. 8; John 1:29-33)

In repentance and rest is our salvation, In quietness and trust is our strength. (Is. 30:15)

We may be lost. We may be broken. We may be rotten and bitter. Have mercy and remember Your promises, for the sake of Your great Name.

Like the baby crying in the basket. Like the Your people crying in Egypt. (Ex. 2) The crying here is so great, my King. So great that my heart is breaking. How much more is yours, Oh Yahweh? How much more is yours?

“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation…” Ex. 14:13