Most of you may be thinking (or trying not to think) about a certain international event of importance. Me? I can’t help myself, I’m still looking back. History has always fascinated me, it was my favourite subject in school, I majored in it at university, and it continues to be something that keeps me grounded both in my daily life and also in the way I perceive the future.

2016. What was it like for you? As the world seemed to descend into chaos around me, our little world in Melbourne, Australia pieced itself together. I dropped one child off at kindergarten, played with the other one, cooked, started the slow work of getting to know people, reconnected with some of my dearest friends and family, traveled to Alaska, became my niece’s “Wevi.” A million ordinary moments and a few extraordinary ones, the making of a life in one place.

So here’s what I learned this year in no particular order.

Rest is the start
I began the year by reading “Soulkeeping” by John Ortberg, and this quotation from the book served as a foundation for the year, undoubtedly for the rest of my life:

“The soul was not made for an easy life; the soul was made for an easy yoke.”

I think that year after year, maintaining a sabbath practice, both daily and weekly, is key to the rest of my life, the root system out of which everything else grows. 

Grocery shopping stresses me out
I go to the grocery store usually two times a week, sometimes more, but this year was the first time when I realized: This is causing unnatural stress. My kids are wonderful shoppers, which is why I didn’t allow myself to see it (I kept telling myself how blessed I am to shop with kids). We experimented with online shopping and Husband taking care of the groceries, and it has made a difference.

Hold the gifts inside
There are two beautiful things that happened to me this year, and my instinct was to share it. Write about it on the blog, tell someone about it, put a photo on Instagram, but something about the the glory of these two gifts stopped me. Sometimes there is space to share about the beautiful things but not the way in which it most deeply touched my soul. I learned to enjoy the gift on the inside, to turn it over in my hand and watch the way it changed in the light, to enjoy watching its different facets and what the process of time did to it, and to let the gifts become part of a system of internal resources, something to rely on during the harder weeks and seasons of life. 

My children know when my love for them comes with requirements
I used to write a lot about parenting here, and I haven’t in a long time. There’s a reason for that. The past two years have just about done my head in as a mother, not just because of my children, but because of myself. Perhaps the most humbling thing about parenting is the way it will pull out every evil thing in your heart on display for the most easily influenced, innocent members of your family. Someone asked us in August if we weren’t perhaps expecting too much of our children, it was a turning point for us in so many ways. You cannot give your children something you cannot give yourself, and it has been six months of relearning or maybe learning for the first time, the nature of grace and love.

Trust takes time
I’ve spent a lifetime rushing into deep relationships, and this was the year when I learned to slow it all down, to pay attention to my soul and to my circumstances, to honour the needs of my husband and kids and the way it impacts my ability to relate to others and connect with others. There are longer, deeper thoughts here, but for now here it is: It takes time to build relationships that are based on trust and connection, and that time has to be taken to sustain healthy, truly deep relationships that are characterized by freedom and love. 2016 was the year I decided that I will take the slow path to healthy relationships; it has been a painful but very worthwhile lession.

A hopeful vision for the future
I read The Atlantic Monthly’s essay about Donald Trump in the middle of the year, and it was the source of one of my major “aha’ moments this year. The article helped me to see the powerful way with which fear can drive me, and in contrast I saw the way God leads, through hope. In the middle of my fears (and I have many of them), I sensed God saying to me, I have a hopeful vision for your life. It has served as an anchor and a reminder when I am afraid that God has a different narrative for my life.

Our brains can change
I went to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s seminar in Melbourne about renewing the mind, based on her book “Switch On Your Brain,” and even though there are things I disagreed with, this basic truth was profound to me: God made our brains in a way that they can change. The connections in our brains can be rewired, and our thoughts directly impact the way our brain is formed. Something about this seemed like the truth that I know is found in God – he makes all things new, his mercies are new every morning, there are second chances for us when we fail again and again. Change is possible. He has literally wired it into our brains.

There is time
Alaska. I spent a week there on a writing retreat in September, and it was probably one of the best weeks of my life. I went into it saddled with many writing fears: Can I sustain a writing life? Will I miss out if I don’t do anything now? Each one was answered not by any person but by the love of God in many tiny, intentional moments. I see you, I know you, and you have time. 2016 was the year when I decided to take the timetable stress off my life, my marriage, children, writing, passions and calling and to embrace instead a trust that God has all of these things in his hands, I can trust the process, and I can enjoy learning along the way. I don’t think I have ever received such an extraordinary gift as the week I spent in Alaska, I will probably spend the rest of my life unpacking the beauty of it all. 

Thanks for journeying with me on the blog last year. It was a joy to get to know you and share in your highs and lows as well. I look forward to another year of walking and growing together. Now tell me, what did you learn in 2016?

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).

rest post 2

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.