A spiritual journey

Lost at Sea

Your dreams speak up when you begin the work of the heart.   I am not sure why, but I was warned to watch out for this to happen.

I dreamed last night of being away with Richard at a conference of some sort.  His not mine, as he is the breadwinner with the career at this point.  I am not sure my imagination can construct it the other way around.  It was a beautiful place near the ocean.  The weather was warm and tropical.   I could feel the pressure to conform and perform, as we headed to our room to get dressed for dinner. He may have felt more pressure than I, being in the spotlight of his career.   I felt the pressure that comes along with looking and playing the part of  a ‘good’ wife.  My hair was ‘done’ and my clothes carefully laid out.  Yet,…

The ocean called to me from the window.  I could smell the salt and hear the gentle roll of the waves.  I could feel the warmth of the sun after it hits that peak of hot and begins to settle into something more full and round.


I thought, “I will just go out for a few minutes.  It will be okay if I just don’t get my hair wet.”

I found a raft and began to float.  The water was so calm and comforting.  The sun covered me in a blanket of ‘the just right’ temperature.

I fell asleep.

I woke up to realize I was lost.  I didn’t even know I had fallen asleep!  Not only was I lost, but I woke up just in time to ride huge roller coaster waves that crashed me onto an ancient deserted beach.


Along with getting my hair wet, I ended up stranded on this glorious shore completely naked!  Somewhere along the ride, I lost my clothes.

At first, I was upset that I was lost, stranded, naked and having a bad hair day.

But, I couldn’t hang onto that misery, because it had to move aside to make room for wonder.  I began to look around in awe.  This beach was full of huge beautiful shells and mystical creatures that I had never seen outside of stories.  As I walked up the beach to begin to find my way home, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about having no clothes.  I began meeting people and asking them which way to go.  They were so friendly as they began to show me the way.  Some of them walked with me a bit, and others just pointed me in a direction.  Each time I did this, the scenery changed and I found a new part of the town, or village to explore.  No one seemed to notice I was naked. Maybe they just didn’t care.  I didn’t care any more either.   It felt kind of good.  Free.  I also began to enjoy being lost.  I stopped worrying about where I was headed and started enjoying where I was.

I am not sure if I ever found my way back.  The last thing I remember before I woke up, was walking barefoot (yes and still naked) eating some delicious, delectable treat from a street fair.

As for Richard…

I hope he got lost too.

A spiritual journey

A Walk In The Woods


Money has been a little tight at the Shaffer house for the past year or so.  I am restarting a career and Richard is changing direction within his industry.  We have been putting 4 kids through Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School and then Ida Crown Jewish Academy for many many years.  So things are tight.  I get accused of making understatements, but let’s just leave it at that.

I am starting to wonder if there aren’t some real blessings in this for all of us.  As a free activity this week I took my kids to the forest preserve by our house.  It is actually a place I love to spend time running.  I call it the path to Eli’s house.  Eli is a name I have for God that comes from my favorite children’s book by Max Lucado.  It is where I feel Eli the most.  But I haven’t been taking the kids there so much.  And if money weren’t so tight, we probably wouldn’t have been there this week!

I packed a picnic, herded my 3 younger ones to the car and off we went.  It was one of my favorite experiences this summer so far.  We found a perfect spot to practice balancing, bear crawling and jumping on and off a log.  We climbed trees.  They were wild, loud and joyful.  I didn’t have to say ‘no, don’t’ even once.  After a few face plants in the dirt from all the jumping, we recovered and proceeded to spend another hour exploring the trails.


There were squeals and shouting every time we came across a bug, spider, dragonfly, or any other little creature.  They picked up rocks and threw them into the river.  We passed lots of dogs with their owners, and horses with their riders.  Their little bodies jumped, skipped, raced, ran and moved in every way they knew how.  It was like they had been set free from some type of bondage we don’t even know we are in until we are out.  When they began to get tired, they took off their shoes and walked, ran and carried each other the rest of the way back.  There was not a single whine the entire time.  It seemed to meet each child’s needs regardless of age difference.  There was no gift shop at the end to cause conflict.  We got in the car to go home worn out and peaceful.

Not having money to spend whenever I want is teaching me a lot.  I have been learning what my parents went through at this same time in their lives.  I had no idea.  I thought they just didn’t want to have heat in our bedrooms growing up!  That we didn’t eat out because they loved their own cooking.   I thought my mom made all our clothes because she just liked to sew.  I never thought we were poor.  I actually thought we had more than most.  I am learning that having or not having money is not a character judgement.  The two things are not related.  And I am being reassured that it is temporary.  Money ebbs and flows in our lives.  What we do with that information is character development.

So maybe we are walking this path in our lives right now for good reason.  Maybe we are learning how to “be” and be thankful for what we have.  Maybe it is us parents that need to learn this more than our kids.  Maybe we just have to keep our kids from unlearning it.  Hopefully we can hang onto this lesson of what we don’t need…to always accumulate more stuff, when money is easier.  Maybe this is the real path to Eli’s house.  We are definitely becoming more humbled in our shoes.  Our worn out one pair of shoes.

Maybe my kids will look back and think that their mom just liked taking them to the woods instead of the mall.  They will be right.

A spiritual journey

Building Bridges I May Never Cross

ImageIt would be an understatement to say that I knew about Judaism as a child growing up in coastal North Carolina.  My parents showed me God was there for sure, front and center.  But we were not very religious.  My mother was Presbyterian.  My father was a recovering Roman Catholic.   Judaism was not even a blip on the screen.  The first time I met a “Jew” was in graduate school.  He was so cute I married him!

I still knew nothing about Judaism.  The things I had learned I could count on one hand.

1.  That it was good.  Richard introduced his faith to me through his eyes.  I liked what I saw.

2.  That it was important to this man I loved.

3.  That he was not even going to take me to the movies unless I promised my children would be Jewish.

So I promised.  We went to the movies.  We got married.

The Rabbi’s and Ministers didn’t quite know what to do with us.  I wasn’t converting for marriage (I had only promised my children, hello!!!) so what side of the fence were we on?   Our wedding was officiated by a Justice of the Peace.

We had Noah, our first child.  I had learned a few more things about Judaism by this point.  4.  It had it’s flaws just like all religions because it was run by people.

5.  It was more than a religion.  It was a way of living.

6.  It would probably take me a life time to learn about this.  I was starting a little late in the game.  I was just beginning to know what I didn’t know.

At this time in my life I learned something else.  Something more important…  Children are born with a light inside them.  I am going to say something really politically/religiously incorrect right now so get ready…

I didn’t care what religion we were.  There I said it.  I would have been fine with Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism.  I just wanted to nurture that light inside my child that was love and God and goodness.  I wanted my child to know God like I knew God.  Front and center, always there, always loving you, period.

So we started.  We joined a synagogue and went with Noah to services.  We celebrated the Jewish holidays.  Noah went to a religious private school.  Ok, it was an Episcopal school but it was the closest thing Chattanooga TN had, work with me here.  They honored everything Jewish we, in our limited knowledge, could bring to them.  Noah learned about Christmas and Easter, and I came and taught his class about Hanukkah and Passover.  Well, that was how we had hoped it would work.  It was going pretty well until it was time for me to teach about Passover.  Noah came to me and asked me not to come.  “Mom, I don’t want you to come teach about Passover.”  What?  Why?

He was ashamed.  He was the only Jew in the whole school.  He didn’t want to be different.

I took a long walk by myself and cried.  I could see the light dimming inside of him.  How could I expect this child to embrace being the only one of his faith in the entire school and jump up and down with excitement?  I had been naive.  I told Richard we had to change our course.  I could not bear seeing the light go out in my child.  Hell, I would be Christian if that is what it would take!  (another religiously incorrect statement, I am full of them actually.  They keep telling me it is not like changing accessories.  You have to BE one or the other.  I keep telling them God is the one who just IS.

Well, to make a long story short.  Richard was not about to switch to Christianity so we decided to move to Chicago instead.  Yes, there is a connection.  He said there was a Jewish day school there.  Solomon Schechter Day School.  We went to take a look.  We took Noah with us.  He was 5 years old.

This child was so shy and scared when we got to the school that he refused to get out of the car.  After much persuading (and more prying) we got him out of the car and in the front door.  Let’s just say it was a game changer.  I literally saw the pilot light go on again.  His little eyes were as round as saucers as he watched first graders talk to each other in Hebrew.  He kept asking us if ALL the kids were Jewish.  We cried as we said yes, they are ALL Jewish.

Fast forward to Noah’s third grade year.  We had thrown our arms around this school and held on tight.  We let the bright light in our child lead us down the path.  We took our first trip to Israel as a family.

I found myself on a Kibbutz near the border of Jordan.  I was alone with Noah and Micah (who was 4 at the time).  We wanted to go for a walk but I was not sure which way was safe to go.  The only person to ask was the guard at the gate.  He spoke no English.  I spoke no Hebrew.  Hmm.  I tried speaking English LOUDER.  He tried speaking Hebrew LOUDER.  I tried making up sign language.  He just shook his head.  I looked around in frustration.  I could not build a bridge.  My eyes fell on Noah.  He was standing there in his patient way waiting for me to be the mom and figure out the plan.  But I couldn’t.  I asked him if he thought he could speak Hebrew to the guard and find out the directions we needed.  He nodded.  He stepped up to the guard and spoke with him (quietly sans hand gestures).  They both nodded, he walked back to me (I swear a little taller)  and translated the directions to me in English.

It was at THAT moment I realized something I will never forget.  I realized that I had helped build a bridge for my child.  A bridge I could not cross.  I was stuck on the shore, but he was able to go across.

Noah is in Israel at this very moment.  He is a senior in high school.  He is part of a leadership program called Write On For Israel.  He and 20 some other seniors from Chicago are meeting with top officials, diplomats, military officers, as well as, other teenagers just like them.  They are trying to understand, first hand, what is going on in Israel so they can come back and help others understand.  They heard many speak at the Presidential Conference on Tomorrow, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Peres.  They spent Shabbat with his girlfriend’s family.  A large warm gathering of Israeli family and friends.  He said they started out speaking English but naturally digressed to Hebrew.  When we asked him did he feel out of place, he said “no, it felt like home”.

And so as I sit here writing this, I am reminded of that moment when I realized I was building a bridge for my children.  I have been building a bridge that I, as of yet, cannot walk across.  I do not yet feel comfortable in synagogue.  I do not know Hebrew.  I love Israel and all that it represents to me, but I am still a stranger there.

Yet, my children can walk across.  The light inside them is burning brightly and leading the way.  I am ok if I work at Judaism my whole life and am never able to cross that bridge.  It is more important that they go across.  They are the future.  There is so much hope in building bridges for the future.  Bridges that allow for more understanding of others.  Bridges that help us see our similarities more than our differences.  Bridges that break down barriers.  There lies the possibility for peace.  There is where God can be found.  Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, one child at a time.

A spiritual journey

Exodus 2013

God seems to like making my Sunday school lessons real and experiential.  I am not complaining, don’t get me wrong.  Just laughing at myself, that I still never expect it.  Why would this Passover be any different from the others?

Our family had an exciting week leading up to Passover.  Richard was supposed to leave Monday night for Atlanta, but after a long night in the airport waiting out tornadoes in the south,  had to cancel his trip and come home.  I had the ominous feeling something was brewing.

It was.  Tuesday I was sick with what seemed like the flu and could not get out of bed.  This snowballed quickly by Wednesday into a fever, to a doctor’s visit, to a chest x-ray, to an emergency cat scan, to the ER, to being admitted to the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia.  Although, thankfully, I never felt as ill as I actually was, it still took quite a toll on us all.

I couldn’t help feeling God’s hand in the timing of having our priorities made clear for us.  I think of Passover as the time to take a good look at what we are enslaved to in our lives and make an attempt to set ourselves free from those things.  Our family had a very hands on education about the things we need to let go of, and the things we have to hold tightly to.  It is still always surprising to me, how many things I get tricked into thinking are important along the way.  Things that really don’t matter when the chips are down.

I think Moshe comes to each one of us in some form at Passover and invites us to follow him out of our slavery into the desert to freedom.  The Midrash reports that many Jews did not follow Moshe and actually chose to stay in Egypt in bondage.  I wonder if sometimes it is so hard to recognize that we are enslaved.  When Moshe comes knocking we just don’t recognize the call for what it is.

Pneumonia is not what I would have considered a way out of slavery.  But it in fact turned out to be just that.

As I came home from the hospital and looked at all the chores to be done to prepare for Passover, I felt a sense of despair come over me.  It was just days away and I could not fathom how we would get from the pile of laundry and housework in front of me to the great Passover Seder we were blessed to have.
Yet, I could not lift a finger.  I was forced to let it go and sit down on the couch with my kids and soak them in.  When I did, a deep sense of peace and thankfulness washed over me.  Thankfulness for all the blessings that are right in front of my face, but I am many times too busy to stop and drink them in.
Richard made the comment that God doesn’t fix IT for you but instead fixes YOU for it.  I needed fixing for Passover.  The stress filled idea I had in my head was overwhelming.  Once I surrendered to my reality something much better took its place.
God also seems to send you the help you need.  I was humbled by the help he sent to our family.  From the tornadoes that kept Richard home, to the Dr. who had a “gut instinct” and followed it, to the families that completely wrapped themselves around our kids during the crisis, to the amazing cooking and pitching in that so many people so unassumingly did.
Now a month later, I am still trying to get back to “pre-pneumonia” status.  It is a slower more frustrating process than I anticipated.  I have not been able to run as many miles, keep up with as much laundry, or even stay up as late as I could before.  But I am still benefiting from the lesson.  Maybe this year will be a year of creating balance.  Stopping to rest more and appreciate the wonderful blessings that are completely undeserved, yet right in front of me.
A spiritual journey

“I think you better keep walking, before something bad happens”

Noah is 6’1″ and 16 years old. Friday night he found himself in a dangerous situation with only his fear and his wits to save him.  For reasons we won’t go into here, he was walking by himself at around 11:30 pm down a deserted street to a friend’s house.  No cell phone.

A man, taller than him, older than him, more sinister than him was walking down the street toward him.  Noah knew something was not right. He kept walking towards his destination, trying to shake the feeling.

The man came closer.

Noah became more sure something was not right.

The man kept coming.  He got close to Noah and said, “Give me your smartphone”.

Noah, (afraid, instinctively not admitting he had no phone) said, “no”.

The man came closer and blocked his path, now only 6 inches away,  “GIVE me your smart phone”.

Noah, (terrified, raw instincts telling him not to show it, figured he was getting ready to be hurt, braced himself, hoping to go for the guy’s nuts and the throat and run like hell, looked UP straight in his eyes, stuck out his chin in defiance and said the only thing he could come up with)

“I think you better keep walking, before something bad happens”

The man walked away.

Noah, shocked, walked as fast as reasonable to his friends house (minus getting lost and shaking from fear and adrenaline.)

Richard and I, fast asleep in our bed, not knowing how close this child of ours just came to being hurt or worse on an unknown street in subfreezing temperatures.

When we found out about this 24 hrs later (after my own shaking and time on my knees thanking God my child was ok) I was blown away.  I was amazed by how Noah was able to read the situation correctly in a split second and pull off a reaction that ended in the best possible outcome.

I immediately thought about one of my favorite books, “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker.  He says that real fear in the face of danger can save your life.  It will tell you what to do.   You do not have to go around always afraid of what MIGHT happen.  You need to just stay aware of what IS happening.   Your most ancient warning system will tell you what your logical brain is too slow to understand.   Whether it is fight or flight, or do what they want, if you come away with your life, following your fear saved you.

For all the grandparents who are freaked out about this, yes we are learning from this incident to hopefully prevent it ever happening again.  But for the purpose of this post, I want to focus on Noah’s brilliance in the moment when it counted the most.  There is no amount of prevention that can prepare you for a split second that can mean the difference between life and death.  Between serious injury/trauma and walking away unscathed.  When there was no one to help him but himself Noah passed the test.  You rock Noah!!  All of us are just hoping we would be able to do the same thing if the situation called for it.

John Eldridge writes in his book, “Wild at Heart” that a boy comes into this world with a question buried deep in his heart.  As he grows up, he presents that question many times to his father (and his mother).  That question is:

“Do I have what it takes?”  Do I have what it takes to be a man?

Son, you absolutely, without a doubt, beyond question, have what it takes.  I would say this even if the right thing would have been to give him the phone and run like hell!   You HAVE what it takes to be a man.  You have courage and the ability to listen to your instincts.

And to the piece of white trash out there somewhere still walking around, if Richard and I EVER find you…

We are not afraid of jail.

So, to echo my son’s words

“I think you better keep walking, before something bad happens.”