These Hibernation Days

I hope your Christmas season has been warm and rich, full of reminders that you're loved and there is so much for you to love. Even in my moments of stark disappointment, when I can easily list out all the ways I've felt overlooked by God or others, I remember, "I have so much and so many to love. Even if [fill in the blank], I have been given much by God to be invested in, to love, to hear, to reconcile, and more."

As we move toward the new year, still plodding through the dark days of winter, I am always reminded of God's good design for winter. The old adage, "Bloom where you're planted," is cute, but nothing blooms all year long. Everything appears to die and some things do die. We know seeds must drop to the ground and die before they can be broken open and begin the process of blooming again. Winter is a fallen seed, before it has sprouted again. It is God's gift to us, to teach us of the value of rest, quiet, hiddenness, and death. 

I began the Seven Ways series a few week ago and want to continue today. I said one of the Ways we practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

So much is said about work/life balances, especially in the career world. Stay at home parents or spouses laugh at that though, because work is life and life is work and there is no easy seamless division for what is work and what is just life. In many ways, this is a gift from God though. Life is toil, even the weekends are, and when we make these clear delineation of the two, we can begin to grow frustrated when our "life" time (or me-time) is infringed on by work. So instead, Nate and I try to talk about our weeks, months, and our year in terms of work/rest. 

Work is times of faithfulness, of sometimes going beyond our abilities or preferences to get the job done. To be faithful in small places to provide, prove, refine, care for, and supply. This is most of our week, month, and year. We want to go to bed tired at night, spent from being invested in people, in service, in hospitality, in counsel, in vocation.  

Rest is times of knowing God's faithfulness, of seeing the ways our God is our Creator, Redeemer, and our Joy. It is not about us, although it is a gift from God to us. I've written previously about how we practice Sabbath in our home, but this also applies to things like winter or holidays. These are dim days where we feel our frailty and fragility, and where the light of Christ has come and is coming still. These are the days we intentionally step back from much of the daily grind and, instead, look up. 

I am just as proficient at naval gazing as the best of them. It is so tempting and easy to look down at myself or at the world and try to dissect all the missing parts or broken places. But to rest, for me, means I pick up my eyes, look up to the hills, and know my Helper comes from above. It means intentionally not fixing what Jesus has left unfixed. It means not rushing to be or do or go or see something. It means taking my hands off what I want to control. All of these ought to be regular practices but, for us, it helps to have a regular day where we remember in startling clarity how far we've wandered. Our Father is our all-sufficient hope, Christ is our all-sufficient sacrifice, and the Spirit is our all-sufficient help. We need a period of time to just remember, reflect, and rejoice in these truths. 

We practice our sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. That might not work for you, but find something that does. We take our cue from the natural seasons, too, and rest more in the winter. We hibernate. No human body is capable of doing all we demand of it all year, we must rest. For many, "rest" waits for vacation days. We've spent all of our vacation this year traveling, driving, seeing family, engaging folks we rarely see, and we come home and need a vacation from our vacation. I don't think God designed rest to be like that.

What would rest look like for you if you simply removed your hands from plowing, planting, sowing, harvesting for a bit this winter? What would it look like for you to rest, not so you can prepare to work again soon, but so you can remember you are the seed and not the farmer? 

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Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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We Find Rest Rejoicing

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 5.05.54 PM I can't get a friend's words out of my head: "The enemy can't steal my praise." She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can't steal my praise. I knew then when I've suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I've been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn't praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can't bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: "We find rest rejoicing." I think I've had it backwards. I've been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it's the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that's been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate's shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don't know how to rest these days and I've forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn't fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:14-17

We are Dust and He is Rest

We have been talking of Sabbath at our dinner table and before, while I chop spinach and basil and saute the garlic. He is reading The Sabbath by Heschel and at church the sermon this week was on Psalm 50: The God who doesn't need anything from us. The rhythms of our home have yet to be established—let alone the rhythms of our marriage or our work or our lives. What does resting look like and can it look different for both of us and can we enter into one another's rest—even if it is not our natural home? He runs to rest. I write to rest. How then can we both be at ease with one another?

Heschel says, "If you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands, and if you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind." I adopt this phrase and wear it as a mantra. I chop the basil and the spinach, press my thumb and index finger testing a ripe tomato, check on the chicken twice. I rest with these rhythms, these constants.

The prophet said, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, and in quietness and trust is your strength." I turn that verse over in my mouth and heart, build my life upon it.

"Remember, remember, remember your maker."

"Remember, remember, remember you are dust."

It is work to remember and work to rest, this I know and you do too. No one can live in this world as we've made it and not have to work to rest. Remove notifications, turn off the phone, walk away from the planner, light candles at dinner and hold the hand of your husband and marvel at the gift of simply living. Rest.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

We are little worshippers, you and me, worshipping at the altar of work and likes and performance and success and numbers and more of whatever it is that keeps us awake at night. Whatever it is, if it isn't Him, it isn't Him.

He and I haven't learned our sabbath rhythm yet, we don't know how to rest in the midst of all the new and all that seems forced and sporadic, but we walk with Him and work with Him and watch how He does it, remembering, remembering, remembering we are dust and He is rest.

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Barren Fields and Fruitful Vines

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.30.41 PM At the risk of sounding like I'm not looking forward to transplanting to beautiful Denver at the beginning of June and starting a job I can't wait to do, I have formulated a canned response to: "Are you so excited!?" I am so excited and I am also so, so sad.

The Lord does give and does take away, but he doesn't always do it in that order. Sometimes he takes away and then he gives, and oh how he has given in the past season.

He has given so well and so plentifully that I cannot help but mourn what I will lose by stepping into other good things. As I navigated making this decision, walking through it with several pastors, elders, and friends from my church, it seemed the more Denver was looking like a probability, the more I longed for what I had already here. The morning I got on the plane to Colorado with one of my best friends for a scouting trip, I was certain I would leave my time there deciding to stay in Texas.

But when we got on the plane after our trip, it was clear to both of us: Denver would become my home sometime soon.

It felt like both a generous gift and a strange gift. The timing felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable. The community of people I have around me currently is the richest I've experienced yet at my church; the home in which I live is not without its struggles, but I love it deeply; a man who captures more of my affections every day in every way snuck quietly and surprisingly into my life; nothing about this timing makes it feel good to exit this place.

And yet there is more surety in me about what the Holy Spirit is doing and where he is taking me than I can remember.

. . .

This is just a testimony of sorts, it's not a formula. I'm not saying, "Let go and let God," or "Stop trying to control life and everything you ever desired will happen for you." Those are unhelpful statements at best and terrible theology at worst. What I am saying, though, is I came into 2015 with my palms up and a blank slate. I thought I made a wreck of some things in the previous year, but God knew those things weren't wreckage, they were seeds, and their time hadn't yet come.

James 5:7-8 says, "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."

I thought I was wasting away last year. Dormant. Standing there, waiting, and for what? I didn't even know what I was waiting for. But just as I prepare my heart in this day, surrounded by rich bounty, God has been preparing my heart for the past two years, in a fallow field I thought was wasting away. The ground produces best when it is allowed to rest, to sit unused, empty, tilled, waiting for the right time.

Is now the right time? I don't know. I can't possibly know, and I have learned that all the certainty in the world doesn't mean we always get what we want. But I have also learned to trust that barrenness doesn't mean uselessness.