A Slow Summer Sabbath

I pushed the keyboard away, frustrated. The words were jerking and jolting forward, then dropping dead on the page. I got up and roamed the house, grabbing an empty dish here, shelving a stray toy there. It wasn’t my body that felt weary, but my mind, and my soul.

Ever since we’d come back from a glorious family getaway in the mountains two weeks before, I’d been carrying a sense of yearning inside. I’d been unable to settle into any familiar routines or rhythms. I daydreamed about our time away, and I lived with a driving, roving restlessness.

This afternoon I’d been attempting to compose an email for my newsletter list. But I felt anxious and empty. All I could come up with was this pulsating desire to travel, to move, to see more, and experience more.

I was restless…and as I explored this sentiment on the page, I realized why—I was yearning for rest. 

The feeling explained itself. Restlessness is a lack of rest. And I was chasing travel, pining for far-off pavement, experiencing restlessness because what I really longed for was rest.

How interesting that we seek movement as an antidote for restlessness, when rest is ultimately defined by sitting still.

The irony was not lost on me.

Those five days in the mountains had given me permission to rest, and do it deeply, and guilt-free. I was outside of my normal routine and expectations, and blissfully content. Naps and movies were daily occurrences. I read books and ignored notifications. I ate ice cream and “cooked” pre-planned, five-minute meals. We took walks to nowhere and strolled the streets of somewheres with zero plans or agendas. I drank deeply of still waters, and when I got home, I wanted more.

But there were things to do. Places to be, chores to complete, emails to write, and the world to run. (It’s amazing it was still in one piece when I got back, let me tell you.)

I couldn’t live rested…could I?

That was the honest question I’d been asking myself, even while anticipating our return. Wouldn’t it be lovely to carry as relaxed an attitude towards life-at-home as I did towards life-away-from-home?

Picking up my Bible later that day, I came across this poignant sentence in the psalms:

“If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and find rest.”

Psalm 55:6

I had to smile. Clearly, I wasn’t the first person to have felt this way.

Earlier in the psalm,  David confesses his restlessness, albeit for a pretty fair reason – he’s running from enemies, not mere inconvenience. He’s not motivated by wanderlust but true danger. Still, to see it in black and white on the page was comforting. I was on the alert, now, watching for other repetitions of this idea of desiring rest.

I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

A restless weekend faded into an unexpected Sunday – two families we had planned to meet for Bible study were home due to sickness. My husband and I listened to a Bible podcast highlighting the Jewish understanding of the text, beginning with Genesis 1.

I was struck by the revelation that the central word in the original Hebrew text is the word for “seasons.” The passage’s emphasis is the Sabbath rest instituted directly at the end of creation, highlighted by the fact that each day began with evening (sleep, rest) and was followed by morning (work, productivity).

As I absorbed this information, I heard the speaker reiterate God’s end for mankind in the beginning: security in their worth as his creation, sans productivity, output, capacity, or ability. Love, without performance.

I felt a gentle nudge within.

This was not the first time I had heard this idea, and in fact it is one I’d been actively embracing for some time. But measuring my worth by productivity has been a default setting in my soul for years. Learning to let go of it has been a process, and has required practice. Often, I need a reminder. The nudge I felt was the kind you get when your best friend is sitting next to you in an audience, and the speaker says something your friend has been trying to convince you of for months —she or he elbows you in the ribs, rolls their eyes, and mouths “Now do you believe me?”

I smile again. I’m listening, I’m listening.

But was I really?

I spent the next 24 hours constantly weighing different decisions in my hands and examining my anxiety over projects I felt obligated to take on. My soul searched frenetically for just the right thing to fill it up. The hunger and restlessness continued to grow, and as much as I attempted to create rest, I only ended up feeling more unrested.

The next afternoon, I had an unexpected space of time and quiet. I switched on my favorite podcast, nearly a week late listening to the newest episode. The fact that I was behind in this particular podcast was highly unusual, and felt oddly important. Something within me begged to be still and listen well, for there was something to receive.

The episode was entitled “Create Space,” and was from Emily P. Freeman’s podcast The Next Right Thing. The words coming through the speaker on my phone built a bridge between several days’ worth of impressions, feelings, truths, and decisions over which I had wavered. Like the last pieces of a puzzle finally fitting together, I watched a picture emerge in sudden and quiet clarity.

I had been restless and longing for movement, because what I really wanted was rest and stillness. Part of me wanted to release all of my self-appointed obligations and goals, and spend a quiet, joyful summer cultivating rest in my own soul and body. But part of me felt guilty for wanting to “waste time” that way.

Emily’s offering spoke emphatically of the need to “create space for your soul to breathe,” and I knew with incredible clarity that I desperately needed that space.

And now I understood everything I was longing for was in front of me. All I had to do was accept the permission to receive it.

Still, I hesitated. Was it just me wanting to be lazy and irresponsible? What about momentum? Good work, consistent work, begets more of the same. If I were to lay it all down for a season, what would happen to my productivity muscles?

The tears fell as I breathed aloud what was happening on the inside. “Something is hurting inside of me…and I don’t know what it is. I’m trying to fill up a space inside me.”

Maybe it’s supposed to be left empty.

The sentence set off an epiphany.

Of course.

The mystifying and very real inner pain I was experiencing was a result of me trying to cram and squash all manner of things into a space that was supposed to remain unfilled.

My desire for movement, my inability to rest, was coming from my soul pushing back against everything that was suffocating it.

This revelation made the decision easy. I chose to release the half-hearted goals I’d been clutching tight to chest.

Immediately, I felt all the pressures I had been inadvertently holding slide out of my arms and disappear. Decisions on what creative direction to take, what household project to tackle, which plans to cement and schedule, all slipped off my shoulders, and for the first time in about two weeks, I could suddenly breathe.

I have noticed a pattern in my life, and in my work, that I truly believe is not of my own making—and it is that the seasons of meaningful creation for me come at the times that make the least sense. For instance, summer on the surface seems to be a wide-open, wildly accessible time for work. So many other commitments are off the table, and the scheduling margin is available.

And yet I’m being called to silence. A release of agenda, relinquishment of ambition. Called to quiet, to rest, to listening, and to nothingness. Exultation in nothingness. Enjoyment in nothingness. Embracing Sabbath as a season, with open arms.

Since that decision, I’ve heard of and noticed others in the creative world making similar decisions. Some call it sabbatical, others simply taking time off. Even the host of the podcast I listened to revealed her own decision to take July as a sabbatical month in the very next episode. It makes me feel in good company.

God has invited me to sit next to him for the summer, with no other agenda. I’ve decided to accept that invitation.

We do not create rest. We simply accept it for the gift that it is.

What about you? Your own soul? Is something inside you crying out for white space and silence? Even when these things are not physically available, they are available within. I think it takes gentle practice. I’ll be sharing some ideas of rest practices with my newsletter recipients over the next few weeks. If you’re not already part of the email list, feel free to join us!

A Shout-Out to Your Creativity

“In the beginning, God created…”

These are the first words of the Bible, and the first thing God chose to tell us about himself: he makes things.

One of the next things we know about God is that he made us, people, in his own likeness.

So God created man
in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female

Genesis 1:27

We are made in God’s image, or likeness. A reflection of who he is.

And, he’s a maker.

I believe that when people make things, they are expressing the image of God imprinted on their soul.

When human beings create order and beauty, they are following in the footsteps of their Creator.

What might happen if we began to view our own daily activities as creative works? How many pockets of hidden creativity might we discover?

Our cooking, our getting dressed, our cleaning the house, our obsession with labeling things, our writing a card, our spending-two-weeks-deciding-on-window-curtains—how would the way we think about these tasks/chores/responsibilities change, if we began seeing them as creative acts?

How would the way we view our children’s [apparently] chaotic play change, if we viewed it as an expression of the Image of God that they carry within?

Those legos, those sword fights, those obnoxious noises, those sticky, glue-y papers…they’re creating buildings, and stories, and music, and art. Kids are bearing his images without inhibition. What would be different if I could slow down enough to recognize this?

I’ve been asking myself these questions, and here are a few things I think might change:

1. I would not shame myself as often

Despite constantly hearing the message to “be ourselves,” it can be one hard thing to actually do. For whatever reason, if “being ourselves” looks different than the way our neighbor is his or herself, we feel we need to change.

Shame comes in many packages. Sometimes it looks like feeling un-sophisticated next to someone with “better” taste in art. Sometimes is looks like pressure to keep our home to a certain standard of neatness, or updated-ness, or even cleanliness. It can look like telling myself there’s something wrong with me, because I can’t decide between paint colors.

But if we were to zoom out and refocus, this is what we might see instead—how we do what we do is our own unique way of reflecting God’s image, and there is no need to change that just because someone else reflects him differently.

It doesn’t follow that we should never improve or grow. Maybe it’s a good idea to educate myself about art, or change my organization style, or practice making paint color decisions faster. The point isn’t the “what” or the “how much.” It’s the “why”.

When shame is the impetus, it’s not a good why. If the desire isn’t to create, or worship, or find the receipt I need more quickly, I may want to question it. If it stems from a place of wanting to “measure up”, instead of a desire to reflect God’s image well (and those are totally different things), it may be born of shame, and not freedom.

2. I would be able to tolerate a little more mess and chaos

Let’s be honest. Simply believing that my toddler is reflecting God’s image doesn’t mean I’m going to live every single day with toys covering the floor, peanut butter finger-painted across the table, or the same three notes hollered through my house for forty minutes straight.

No way.

But it does mean I can appreciate what my son is doing as a developing, expressive, and Image-bearing human being, before complaining about the noise or the mess—he’s actually living into his creative identity. I can live with a little less order, a little less quiet, and a little more stickiness, when I think about things from this perspective.

3. I would be more aware of the presence of God in the midst of daily life

I open the door to acknowledging God’s presence when I intentionally seek to view my little world as one humming with creative work. In moments where I might otherwise miss him, I can recognize his image on display, and stand in awe.

I believe this is why creative work leads us to worship—it reminds us whose we are, and that he is here with us, now.

Changing how I categorize creativity sounds worth a try, I think.

My Favorite Books on Finding + Creating Beauty in My Home

Disclosure: some of the links in this post may be affiliate links – in other words, I may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at zero additional cost to you. I only link to items I have personally used and loved, so consider an affiliate link my five-star recommendation. Enjoy!

I recently wrote about beginning to learn how to make my home beautiful, and why this matters to me. I have begun to realize how much simple happiness it brings me, and because beauty is not fluff or “extra” to God. It’s intentional, and meant to delight.

On top of that, for some people, making home beautiful is their primary form of creativity. It may look like repainting every six months, or moving furniture around, or keeping things super neat, or something totally random or unusual. But it’s part of creating, and that makes it important.

Below are the books that have inspired me, motivated me, and provided practical advice that actually feels doable.

The Nesting Place

1. The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

I read this one last, but it is possibly my favorite. This one doesn’t provide as much visual inspiration (for me) as much as it offers a mindset of thankfulness, authenticity, and joy with which to view the idea of home.

Myquillyn’s writing style is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and her stories of living in over a dozen different homes were entertaining, honest, and very encouraging—if she can do it, so can I! And though most of her decorating is not my style, her tips and tricks were solid suggestions that I could apply to my own way of decorating.

This is definitely the pick for renters, too, as she offers some ideas specifically for those who may feel like their hands are tied in the decorating department because they don’t own the space. (And the story at the end. You will probably cry. It’s powerful.)

2. The Inspired Room: Simple Ideas to Love the Home You Have by Melissa Michaels

This one was my favorite to look through, and glean ideas from. The decorating, photography, and style are all stellar. I didn’t spend as much time reading it as I did looking at the pictures, figuring out what made it attractive to me, and then deciding how I could implement something similar.

Melissa Michaels also has a few spin-off books, Simple Organizing and Simple Decorating, and I was looking through all 3 of them at about the same time. I made small, simple changes in my home while going through these books—things like organizing items in my drawers in empty candle jars that had been sitting in my cabinet collecting dust, and using pretty bath items as display-worthy decor instead of storing them under the sink.

Putting some of the visual suggestions in these books to use took maybe ten minutes, and rewarded me with intense satisfaction. I highly recommend them. And The Inspired Room itself is a gorgeous hardcover, well-deserving of coffee table exhibition.

3. Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update, and Show Your Home Some Love by Sherry and John Petersik

I hate crafts. At least, I thought I did. The Petersiks converted me.

This funny, conversational-style book took away a lot of my fear of tinkering with, toying with, or trying out things in my home. So many of the ideas they offered were simple, and no-fuss. They also listed time, money, and difficulty estimates for each project. YHL gave me the confidence that if I should ever need to recover a dining room table chair, I absolutely could. Plus, I’ve also been hatching a plot to rescue a poor, dilapidated, quirky side-table from the porch, and refinish it. The Petersiks made me believe I can (or made me do it, if it fails).

So those are my favorites! I’m also reading Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee, but I haven’t finished it yet. So far, it’s fascinating.

What about you? Do you have any books or blogs that have consistently inspired you to add beauty to your home?

What I’m Learning – Spring 2019 Edition

Disclosure: some of the links in this post may be affiliate links – in other words, I may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at zero additional cost to you. I only link to items I have personally used and loved, so consider an affiliate link my five-star recommendation. Enjoy!

One of my favorite things to pay attention to in life is how God keeps bringing specific themes across my path. It feels like a grand, beautiful puzzle, one I’ll be constructing all my life.

And every once in a while, I find a piece that fits. The pleasure and curious contentment this brings is a thrill that’s hard to equal. It’s like a little postcard the Lord drops in my mailbox, just to say,

“Hey. I’m thinking about you. You’re on the right track. Keep going.”

I keep a running list of things-I-am-learning in my bullet journal. I actually have several places I keep ideas and notes, but my bujo (this one is my favorite) is where I turn the most consistently to record a light bulb moment.

Here are some of my favorite and fun takeaways from this Spring.

N0. 1 My identity isn’t dependent on my performance.

This is one that’s been growing in my consciousness for a while now, and really grabbing onto it has been life-changing. The concept of the identity we’ve accepted about ourselves permeates every single area of our lives—how we judge our own actions, how we view God, how we treat others, etc. This spring, I started writing it all down. We’ll see what comes of it, but meanwhile, here’s a post I wrote on the subject that Kindred Mom kindly published in April.

Springtime in Georgia

N0. 2 Having a blog is apparently important to me, so here we go again.

I dropped my first official blog sometime last spring, and let go of the URL in the fall. But seeing as how the desire was hibernating, not disappearing, I’m starting over. I feel a lot more focused and aware of what actually needs to get done in an endeavor like this—and what doesn’t.

Welcome to the new home for words I write. We’ll see how this goes.

N0. 3 Facebook Feed Eradicator is the best thing since Facebook.

I read about this browser extension a while back, and quickly installed it. I’m not an affiliate for it, I just love. it. that. much.

I don’t usually have the Facebook app on my phone, so the majority of the time I was spending using the platform was while on my desktop. The extension completely blocks the news feed, and replaces it with random quote—all you see are the sidebars and navigation bar at the top.

So, if you use Facebook as I do (primarily for business and information, not for keeping up with people that you don’t spend time with in real life), you might enjoy the simplicity and ability to focus that it provides.

I definitely saw an increase in my concentration, when I began using the news feed eradicator.

N0. 4 Beauty is its own form of evangelism.

Great writers and theologians have been talking about this for eons, but I’m new to the discussion. It doesn’t take much to convince those of us who follow God that all lovely beauty has its origin in him. Wherever we find beauty in the world, it can point us back to him, if we have the eyes to see it. In addition, beauty has a way of walking into the room, quietly, unassumingly, in a different manner than either truth or goodness.

It’s funny how I’ve often considered beauty an “extra,” a superfluous add-on. One glance out the window on a snowy day or a springtime morning points out that God’s opinion seems to be quite the opposite. Perhaps this is part of what Paul was speaking of in Romans 1, when he said that God has shown himself to us through creation.

At any rate, I’m learning to look for beauty and appreciate for its own sake, instead of trying to meld it to a “deeper” meaning. God created beauty, and that is sufficient reason to rejoice in it.

In light of that…

N0. 5 Making my home pretty makes me happy.

For a long time, I underestimated the power of small actions in the home-decorating department. I felt inadequate and unsure of how to create a house that was not only functional, but also lovely, inspiring, and made me smile.

I’m still figuring a lot out, but my biggest discovery has been that much of what I already have can create a look I want.

For instance, about a month ago, I took all the pretty bath products I’d been given for Christmas and put them on display in my bathroom. It took seeing a picture, rummaging in my cabinet, and ten minutes. But I grinned on the inside for days, every time I stepped into the room.

Considering what I already own, and considering how it could be used differently, doesn’t come naturally for me. I struggle to come up with ideas on my own. I use Pinterest, the homes of my friends, and these books to get me started.

N0. 6 I want Easter to be a much bigger focus in our family going forward.

I love Christmas. Like, really love it. So much so that I also celebrate Christmas in July. (No joke. Cookies, lights, a tree, the works. I’ll share more about it next month!)

As important as the meaning of Christmas is for a believer, Easter is twice that. Unfortunately, how we celebrate it tends to be comparatively lopsided. Christmas is a season, while Easter is often treated as a one-day event (although many liturgical traditions do attempt to celebrate for an entire season—but it doesn’t get the hype everywhere else).

This has got me thinking about how to make the physical, visible, and tangible celebration of the resurrection of Jesus a season-long celebration for our family. I don’t have all the ideas I want yet, but at least I have learned that this is something to pay attention to.

What about you? What have you learned this spring? Share in the comments below.

This post is one of many shared by a community of writers who meet up every quarter on Emily P. Freeman’s blog, to trade what we’ve learned. Check it out here.

What I Need to Remember When My Soul is Sick

I was honored to have this essay accepted for the Kindred Mom Healthy Soul series, published in April, 2019. Kindred Mom is an online community of women dedicated to helping moms thrive in, and celebrate the small victories of, messy and beautiful motherhood.

“What would you know about a healthy soul?” my inner critic hisses as I sit in front of a blinking cursor.

I hesitate. Tune in. And I hear the usual discordant notes.

You yelled at your son this morning, remember? You snapped at your husband. You made your niece feel bad when she asked for a snack. You don’t have a healthy soul…why would you even try to write about one?

For a moment, I sit slumped in my chair, deflated like one of those latex balloons six days after the birthday party.

It’s all true. I did do all those things—just today. My mind wanders across the borders of the past twenty-four hours and explores the days and weeks that have come before. Memories of impatient moments, begrudging service, harsh words, and discontented thoughts sweep through my imagination like a foul wind bearing the stench of so many dirty diapers.

Frustrated, I push back from the desk and brush hair-needing-a-wash off my forehead. I give up on trying to define ‘soul,’ because ‘that invisible inner person’ is the best I can do. My mind takes off on a fly-over of my motherhood.

Examining patterns and perusing the everyday, I notice that more often than not, my inner person feels stretched out, tired out, and emptied out.

I often heft along a load of guilt, insufficiency, crankiness, and even boredom. One of these alone doesn’t exactly make for a definition of health, but all of them together? I ought to be in soul-ICU.

The critic, whom I’ve named Gladys—like a stray cat who has come around too often; she seemed entitled to a name—is right. My soul isn’t healthy.

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