rest post

Rest. You’ve seen this word come up in my writing week after week. It was almost two years ago when I first realized I need to celebrate a Sabbath weekly, meaning we chose as a family to set apart one day a week when we we not work. We did it regularly for a while, but then it faded, life piled on. I put no boundaries on my work, so it seeped into everything. But I kept circling back to rest. I longed for my heart to find a space of silence, I hungered for rest for my mind.

You, too? Every corner of our world is shouting at us, telling us to work harder, be more, get more, buy more. If you take a moment to catch your breath, you can feel you need to try harder while failing at the same time. Work, busyness, creation is celebrated as the answer, but maybe what you’re looking for is rest, permission to stop, permission to say, “I can’t do it all.” 

In the middle of all of this, I “met” Shelly Miller online, and I found a home in her beautiful blog. She’s passionate about Sabbath celebrations, and her weekly Sabbath Society emails started arriving in my inbox. Week after week I read gracious, gentle words about Sabbath, why it mattered, why rest is beautiful and how to honour it (you can sign up for the emails here and pre-order Shelly’s book about Sabbath keeping, Rhythms of Rest here and here). Even in the many weeks when I was busy all days of the week, the minutes I took to read the email gave me moments of rest. Now it is the fuel I need to keep going.

We have slowly been working our way back to a weekly Sabbath celebration from Saturday evening to Sunday evening – I don’t believe it matters what day of the week is set aside for rest, but I think it is necessary to set aside a specific day or amount of time. Here are four small, weekly lifestyle changes that have made a big difference for us.

1 Work hard. Maybe this has been the most ironic thing about disciplining myself to rest. Rest requires hard work. It means that Saturday is no longer a sit around and relax day, Friday is often busy as well. I make sure the laundry is washed and hung up somewhere where I can’t see it, or folded and put away. Dishes are washed. Food is bought, put away or cooked. We bring our home to a state of order. Often I get snack bags ready for Sunday. In the middle of this work, when I’m tempted to leave things undone, Sabbath is my motivation. I get to not do anything tomorrow, so get this done now. 

2 Simplify. We’ve started eating the same dinner on Saturday and Sunday nights – the abend brod, German for evening bread. In Husband’s home in Germany every night the dinner is always the same: bread, butter, a selection of cold meats, cheeses, pickles and cherry tomatoes. I never understood cold food that isn’t a salad until I found weekends even more exhausting than the week because I was cooking all the time. German women are smart, the abend brod saves time and energy, and it’s easily repeated week after week (as a meal, as an item on a grocery list, as food my children will eat with joy and zero whining).

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3  Find daily pockets of rest. Yesterday I had a rare nap from one of my children, and suddenly had an hour of silence. I instinctively reached for my laptop for no reason, and I felt nausea wash over me. I’ve learned to listen to my body. I set it down, and picked up The Year of Cozy instead. I thumbed through it, and let the photos and the beauty minister to my soul. It was only 15 minutes but a solid soul exhale. Even in the middle of the hard work, it has given me so much to take 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there of soul rest. For me it usually means listening to a few songs that bring rest, reading a book, looking at something beautiful, the scent of something I love. It reminds me daily that rest matters, and it gives me even more reason to crave and work for the full day of rest.

4 Light candles. I learned this in Sweden: Everything looks better, feels better, is better by candlelight. Our boys are easily quieted by the flickering lights, and the promise that they can blow it out when the meal is finished. It’s a gentle, beautiful touch that sets this day apart. Bonus? It’s easy and cheap.

Now it’s your turn: How’s your resting life? What small changes can you do to bring more rest to your life? 

Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here 3 Small Things That Make a Big Difference.

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I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.

We moved to Melbourne, Australia six months ago after two years of living in Sweden and more years before that of a life in Switzerland. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines with furloughs and eventually university in the United States. I moved to Australia as a young adult, traveled around the world and met my husband in Switzerland. I moved every three to four years of my entire life, so carrying on is what I have always done. The boxes get packed, the forms are filled, the mad rush to the airport is made without a thought. The wheels lift off the ground, and the familiar thrill of the new adventure to come takes over.

At least that’s what moving used to feel like. 

I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me. 

I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.

But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.

I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering. 

You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.

You know that God has not called you to easy. 

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I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued. 

The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke. 

Soulkeeping, by John Ortberg

We carry a weight when we walk through transitions. There is the role you have to fill in your work, the complex people issues, the kind of work that rarely yields a finished product. It is the weight of our children’s emotions expressed in slammed doors and tantrums. Carrying on takes its toll on our marriages, the emotions present in a partnership that may not often be expressed. There are the daily tasks we have to attend to, and in the middle of this storm, we carry the weight, we bear the difficulty, we take it upon ourselves to do it all, feel it all and carry it all.

We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.

I’ve had to open my eyes to the quiet, gentle presence of Jesus in all my moves. The one who comes in and shoulders the weight. His whisper says, You are weary and heavy laden, come to me. Let me carry it. He is not asking for pieces of my life or parts of my problems. He wants it all. His invitation is to a life of letting go

It means more mess, more muddle, things may not happen when you or I want, but I am making the choice to say, I cannot do it all. 

I cannot solve all the problems. There may be overdue bills or an empty refrigerator.

I cannot manage everyone’s emotions. As much as I love my children and want them to transition well, I cannot be everything for them in this. There will be days when I fall apart, and that is ok.

I cannot meet all the needs. There will be needs of my husband’s, of my kids that will be unmet. I can trust that God will meet them, just like he meets me. 

He is carrying me, he is carrying you. In everything, everywhere, his kind hands are carrying us home.

If you’re in the middle or end of a transition, could I invite you to  read Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition? It’s a series I wrote last October about our latest move. I hope it will bless you. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

I’m linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes today. 

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

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One year ago in May we were in Melbourne for my sister’s wedding. It was the trip that led us to move here, so this one year anniversary comes with a mixed bag of emotions. We’ve been in Australia seven months now, and it is familiar and strange all at once. Thank goodness for the fabulous weather. It’s a winter day today, bright sun is shining and a high of 15 degrees. I can survive bright winter days. I’m not even wearing a coat.

Here’s what I learned in May.

Ed Sheeran, in keeping with the theme of me discovering musicians years after everyone else does, I listened to Photograph for the first time in May. It’s my new favourite song.

Rest is the key to my sanity, you’ll be hearing more about this in the weeks to come, but for now I’ll say that the first few weekends in May were jammed with events, and I could feel myself wilting day after day. It wasn’t until we scheduled in a Sabbath for two weekends running that it hit me – again – I was not made to go, go, go. I need a hard stop, I need regular, refreshing rest. And rest is not the absence of things to do. Rest is the choice to set aside the things that need to be done, and it is so worth it.

Small changes work, some of the small changes continue to make a big impact on my day-to-day life, and I wrote about a few of them here (a new alarm clock, keeping my bedroom neat, and a simple meal plan).

Red sauce + meat does not work says MasterChef, Husband and I are obsessed with this Australian show, and several weeks ago a contestant cooked duck with a caramelised beetroot broth, which was bright red. Matt Preston remarked that the delicious sauce looked like blood and was quite unappetising to look at.

Thanks as always to those of you who subscribe (scroll down to do that), read, comment and share. I appreciate it so much. Now tell me, what did you learn in May?

I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman today and lots of others who are sharing what they learned in May. It’s a wonderful way to chronicle the small and big ways we grow, change and learn, and I love it. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

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I skipped making resolutions and goals for 2016. When the year started, I was overwhelmed by our move to Australia and setting up a house yet again. I didn’t have brain space to know what I wanted to do for the year, but I knew what I wanted for January. I wanted my family and I to stop reflexively grabbing McDonalds while we were out, and I wanted to wake up before the boys.

Maybe you’re in the same place, frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small goals are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference.

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Here are three small changes that have made a bit difference in the past weeks.

1 Simple meal planning. I cook the same food now week after week after week. What this means is that I have essentially the same grocery list, and I use up all of my ingredients because what doesn’t get finished can be re-used on the same recipe the next week (hi there, anchovies). So I save time when it comes to planning meals for the week and writing shopping lists, and I’ve also started memorising the recipes, so I can cook them fast and make adjustments as I wish. I try to cook double so that dinners become our lunches, and I keep it very simple like Mexican for Monday, stir fry for Tuesday, soup for Wednesday, salad for Thursday, curry for Friday.

These are a few of the recipes that have been making our rotations:

Italian Wedding Soup from Edie Wadsworth

Simple 5-Ingredient Falafel and Winter Bliss Bowl (because it’s winter in Australia!!) from Pinch of Yum

Warm Spiced Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas and Pomegranates from Nigella Lawson

2 Maintaining my bedroom. I’m happy to report that two months after redoing our master bedroom, it is still a clean, neat and beautiful space. And I still make the bed every morning. Knowing that no matter what happens to the rest of our house, I have one space that is visually peaceful, makes a huge difference to me during the day. Everyone is different, and I’ve noticed that a mess is a stress trigger for me, but I have kids. And I want our kids to have the freedom to create in messy spaces. I won’t be a mother who is forever nagging or requiring completely neat living rooms and dining tables. It has been great to reclaim our bedroom for ourselves and for order.

3 Phone boundaries. I’m still struggling through this one, but the little changes do make a difference. I’ve made these rules for myself:

I can use the phone before 7am (when the boys wake up), but after that it goes away.

I can use it for fun for 30 minutes in the middle of the day.

The phone goes away from 5pm until the boys’ bedtime (6:30-7pm).

At 8pm, the phone is turned off and put away.

I turn the phone off from Saturday evening to Sunday evening as we celebrate Sabbath.

I bought an alarm clock, so the phone is also not with me is in a drawer in the living room and not next to my bed. I use the phone for calls and texting during the day of course, but I get no notifications on my phone for social media, and this is what I wanted to curb. I love Instagram, but I don’t want to be “on” it at random points in the day, only when I want to be there, and only for a purpose. No more mindless scrolling. Or less mindless scrolling anyway.

There you have it. Now tell me, what small changes are making a big impact in your life? 

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Pentecost was last weekend, and it rolls in my mind ever since. The upper room where disciples huddled waiting. For what? I suppose they had no idea. Men, women, likely some children. Days before they ate with Jesus, and he tells them, Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… They could not have known that the windows would shake, the flames would come, and the life of solitary religion would be gone in an instant as they are dunked, drenched and soaked in the fullness of divinity.

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My parents left a few days ago, and as a parting gift, my dad gave us 70 bulbs of tulips, daffodils, freesias and ranunculus. I have no gardening abilities, but it sounded easy enough. It hinges on one thing, though. The bulbs have to be planted by the end of May. This is the season. 

We bought it at the Tesselaar garden store, home of the famous Tulip Festival. The bins were almost all empty when we arrived, and the only bulbs remaining were in a few paper bags and burlap sacks in the warehouse. The time to plant bulbs is coming to an end, wait for much longer, the flowers will not grow.

Grandpa and his grandsons dug up pockets of earth in the ground Friday afternoon, and we buried bulbs, one at a time. Patches of future daffodils and tulips, all a mess of brown dirt.

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It is the cold ground of winter that the bulbs need to produce life. This must be one of those divine fingerprints on earth, God puts a piece of himself into the DNA of a flower.

Some things must die before they can truly live. Death gives way to life. In the losing of life, we find it. 

A perfect God man hangs on the cross and takes his last breath, descends into hell carrying the sins of the world on his back, is laid in a tomb. And then. He lives.

A bulb that looks like a forgotten, sick onion goes into the ground when it is cold and grey. The earth becomes its tomb. Or its womb? And somehow as it gets colder, life will grow. The roots will travel into the soil. Nourishment will flow in. The shoot, which is in the bulb before it ever goes into the ground, presses through the bulb and then the soil. With time, sunshine and water, brilliant flowers bloom.

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Burying the bulbs in the ground felt like the holy work of faith, I think of the prayers I’ve buried for years in winter’s ground, the ones that remain unanswered, the ones that were a solid, No, and everything in between. I think of the Peter and James and Mary and John and every person waiting in that upper room wondering.

What are we waiting for? Will it be like Him? Will it be enough? He came back to life, but what about us? What about the life we must life now in Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth? How are we going to live it without You? 

But they waited on because they knew their need. The aching, pressing, all consuming need for the one who had pulled them out of the pit. The one who had hung on a cross. The one they had seen live again. 

If there is any marker for a life with God, this is the only one I know: Need. The confession of our lips is simple, We cannot do it without you, we cannot survive it without you, we are nothing without you

There is a wait yet for all of us. Maybe you are waiting with people around you, maybe you are waiting alone. But how you wait isn’t as important as whom you wait for.

He’s the flame in the bush, pillars of smoke and fire surrounding his people. He comes in the terrible and glorious golden ark. He draws near as a tiny baby, an ugly carpenter, a broken Saviour, a coming King, and He is coming for you. 

The wind will blow again through the walls of your life, and it will shake the unnecessary away. You will speak anew in a holy tongue. Your heart will burn for his desires. The roots will grow into the soil, the shoot will push through. Your flower will bloom again.

So we pray, O God, for rain, we ask you now for our food, and we wait for fire.