The Path

Sometimes I like to walk the labyrinth. I have a place I go every once in awhile to have a Sabbath-a breather for my soul. I walk, I read, I pray, I just spend time being. And yesterday, I took a long overdue day at this place. As I approached the labyrinth yesterday in the crisp, damp air, I became overwhelmed. What a perfect metaphor for our lives. This path that I walk could tell the story of my life, probably more poetically than I could.

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My Favorites

Allow me to take a moment to brag on my family for a minute. All my Christmas gifts this year were seriously AWESOME. No joke-I kind of want to dedicate a "my favorites" post to every single one of them. Even my two tiny daughters picked out things I use EVERY SINGLE DAY. I am literally surrounded by incredibly talented gift givers, and I'll be honest: it's intimidating. I'm more of a "words of encouragement" type of person, so Christmas with all its gift-choosing majorly stresses me out.

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Sabbath Conclusion: Rhythms, Not Rules

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Friends, life is beautiful. Yes, it’s fraught with heartache and disappointment, sickness and tragedy, but it is also full to the brim of breathtaking beauty. And I’m afraid in our busy world of tasks and jam-packed schedules we are missing out on the beauty. The pain is hard to miss-it stops us in our tracks. It knocks the wind out of us. But beauty beckons softly. God speaks in a still, small voice, and is therefore easily drowned out by our busyness and noise. We’re driving 90 miles an hour down a highway surrounded by mountains and ocean, and we are too focused on getting further down the road to stop, or even slow down, and notice the awe-inspiring view. No wonder so many of us feel depleted.

Sabbath is about slowing down. It’s about putting our tasking and scheduling on pause and noticing the beauty, drinking it all in. It’s about taking the time to linger in thankfulness to God. In Sabbath, we exhale our worries and stress and breathe in God’s goodness. That’s part of what it means to follow this command:  “You and your family are to remember the Sabbath Day; set it apart, and keep it holy. You have six days to do all your work, but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God….For the Eternal made the heavens above, the earth below, the seas, and all the creatures in them in six days. Then, on the seventh day, He rested. That is why He blessed the Sabbath Day and made it sacred.”

In some Christian circles there is sometimes a great deal of religiosity associated with “the keeping of the Sabbath” (imagine those words being said in a dry, condescending voice). But Sabbath is not about formulaic rule keeping. That just reeks of legalism and is in no way a good representation of Jesus. I love Jesus' words:

"The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27, NLT)

Sabbath is a GIFT from a kind and merciful God. It’s a practice that signifies we are God’s children, we are devoted to our Father, and we are celebrating this beautiful life he’s provided. Sabbath can look a thousand different ways to a thousand different people. For me, lately, it’s taken a few different forms.

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There is a wonderful place just far enough outside the city to be serene, and near enough to be accessible even just for the day or for an afternoon. The Knowles Mercy Center is a place of refuge for me. Every so often, I take a “personal retreat day” and go out there to be alone with God. I don’t hear a single “MOM!!!!”, I don’t get phone calls, and I have a chance to silence all the frantic activity and chaos that is my daily life. I pray, journal, read, and relax. I walk the trails, I sit in silence by the water, I recline in the hammock and stare at the clouds, I listen to the birds sing. I do all the simple, restful things I don’t have time for in my day-to-day routine, and I do it for a WHOLE DAY. It is the most GLORIOUS thing. I look forward to these days like a 5 year old would look forward to Disneyworld. It makes me giddy just thinking about it. Time stops, and I can just be. I have no roles to fill except that of dearly loved daughter. A few weeks ago I was there and it was the last cold winter day we’ve had this season. I’m not generally one to enjoy the cold (95 degrees and 100% humidity-now, that’s my jam…not sure how I ended up in Nebraska), but as I spent a day out NOTICING winter, I realized how gorgeous it is. I walked in the pure, clean snow, each footstep crunching loudly through the silence of the cold. I stopped to notice the tiny tracks signifying that I was sharing this path with other creatures. I sat beside the partially frozen lake and listened to the melting ice crack, like gunshots piercing the silence. I marveled how bright the sunshine is when it’s reflecting off a landscape covered in white. It was stunning.

A couple weeks later I had a super hot date. Yeah, that’s right, hot dates can be Sabbath, as long as it’s not the “nervous trying to impress the other person” kind. It’s Sabbath for me because my husband is my favorite person in the world to hang out with, and because I know I can let my guard down and just be me. He’s the best in the world. My in-laws are also the best-they spent time with our precious girlies so we could go out alone. That night, the weather was divine. 73 and sunny, with a light breeze. We enjoyed the drive from out here in the suburbs to downtown with the windows down and the music loud. The old market was buzzing with people because of the gorgeous weather, so we wandered aimlessly until we spotted an open table outside at our favorite restaurant. Simple, fresh, delicious food. Red wine. Conversation, both deep and silly. Three and a half hours went by without notice. We savored. We laughed. We lingered. When we finally decided to meander away from the restaurant, we found ourselves walking slowly, and wondering at the sheer perfection of the meal we had just shared. It was true Sabbath.

That’s when we stumbled upon one of those bike share stations. I saw the look in my husband’s eyes-he loves to bike. It’s not that I don’t enjoy biking, it’s just that I haven't biked for, oh, maybe a DECADE. But I’m a sucker for both my husband and a little adventure, so I yanked that sucker out of the rack and hopped on with gusto. I’d love to tell you “it all comes back, just like riding a bike” is a saying I experienced to be accurate, but I did NOT feel natural trying to maneuver that clunky bike. There were more than a few hairy moments, one or two unfortunate encounters with helpless pedestrians, but truth be told, it was the most fun I’ve had in years. Despite making a fool of myself, it was exhilarating, and I felt the heaviness of life just melt off. I felt pure, unadulterated joy. That, right there, was Sabbath.

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Sabbath is not about rules, it’s about rhythms. It’s about finding the balance of work and rest, and slowing down to notice the beauty of life and thank God for it. It can look so different for each of us, and it can vary with each season of life. What has Sabbath been looking like for you lately?

Sabbath, Part 3: Humility

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It's not that I'm under the illusion that I am limitless. I know I'm not, I just sometimes live in denial. It's like a sickness. True confession time: I really really hate feeling weak. I love that feeling when I'm getting everything done, taking care of everything and everyone, and not feeling overwhelmed by it. The problem is that feeling only comes around about 1.7% of the time. That number may even be a stretch. Most of the time, I'm running around all bedraggled and sweaty, getting every job half-way done and forgetting at least 2 important things. Just ask my mother-in-law: I never make it out of her house with all our stuff. I hate stuff (sippy cups, cell phones, keys, blankies, pony tail holders, etc). Just add it to the list of things in my life mocking my inability to be on top of everything. I NEVER have all my stuff. I hate that moment when we're at a restaurant, my toddler's getting antsy and fussy and my husband, trying to be helpful, asks, "Do you have crayons?" or "Do you have her water cup?" or "Did you bring a snack?" No. Of course I did not. Because this situation has only occurred 236 times before, and so clearly I needed 237 to learn my lesson on being prepared. I'm rarely prepared. I've almost accepted the fact that I probably won't ever be. Almost.

By God's mercy I've been spending the last few years trying to acknowledge and make peace with my limits. It's a painful process, this killing of my pride. See, I beam annoyingly when I DO miraculously remember something I'm supposed to. The ugly truth is that I love to look like I have it all together (rare and fleeting though those moments are), because I'm still working through my brokenness. I'm still waging war on my faulty identities. And through this journey of putting my pride to death, Sabbath is a gift.

My pride is a relentless taskmaster, and God gives me Sabbath as a stepping stone on the pathway to freedom. It’s a way of saying NO to the endless demands on me in a way that honors God and acknowledges my limitations. “Be still and know that I am God.” Sabbath is a way to practice this. When I’m trapped on pride’s toxic treadmill, I find myself saying, “Get it together, Katherine. Keep it together.” There are two problems with that. First, it’s rude, and God just won’t have his children being talked to that way. Second, I was never meant to “keep it together”. There is someone much bigger than I holding all things together, and I need never pretend to be that person.

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

When I pretend I can do it all and I refuse Sabbath, I’m really saying I can play God, which is the height of all arrogance. It’s like standing in defiance to the very one who lovingly hand-crafted me, who knows me better than I know myself, and saying “No. I know best. I can do it better.” It’s refusing his perfect design and hard-wiring, and imposing my faulty ideas of myself instead.

I realize that may sound a little dramatic, but neglecting Sabbath is never verbalized that bluntly, of course. No, it usually sounds more like, “Oh, it would be nice to rest, but I can’t take a break because I just have too much to do”. Or “too many people are counting on me”. Or “if I take a break, people will think I’m lazy, incompetent, etc. etc.” (See, pride.) I can totally commiserate. I have these feelings all. the. time. In fact, I think most Americans feel this pressure most of the time. That’s why practicing Sabbath is counter-cultural. It’s subversive to the way the world works. In a world that screams “GO! WORK! DO!”, Sabbath quietly invites, “Stop. Rest. Be.”

Jesus, who is God himself in human form, showed us the true way to live, and it is countercultural in almost every way. Every part of his life showed us how we were intended to walk out our humanity. If you want an example of someone who was “too busy for Sabbath”, it would’ve been Jesus in the height of his ministry. I mean, he was IN DEMAND. He was IMPORTANT. Crowds followed him everywhere, and at times he couldn’t even get time to eat because so many people needed him. And yet Scripture’s accounts of his life tell us he frequently took opportunity to steal away alone. He recognized his need to just be with his Father, to rest and pray. He knew he was dependent on his Father, and that the divine plan would not crumble if he took a time out. If God HIMSELF practiced Sabbath, how absurd to think I’m above that. How utterly prideful and self-important.

Sabbath is about humility. It's about honoring our Creator by acknowledging the fact that we as humans have limits, and that we are not ultimately in control. The earth will go right on spinning without us pedaling our wheels. This is a shocking realization for some. For me, that realization sounds more like: "disaster will not strike if I choose to leave a dirty kitchen for an afternoon", or “impending doom will not come upon everyone if some boxes on my to-do list are left unchecked today." In order to become the person I was made to be, I have to respect my own humanity, and the limitless God who created me.

I want my life to reflect the glory of God, not my own glory. The apostle Paul tells us that in our weakness, he’s shown to be strong. We show God off when we quit showing off. I would so much rather admit to my shortcomings, and to take the way of humility and dependence, than to burn out in my foolish pride. When I choose to humble myself and admit my need for Sabbath, I walk in the very footsteps of Jesus. The world desperately needs people who will humbly point to Jesus and not their own accomplishments. Let’s be those people. Let’s take time to practice Sabbath, even when it’s killing our pride.

Sabbath, Part 2: Refresh & Renew

hospitalWhen our oldest daughter was born, I was absolutely in love. She was PERFECT. No really, she truly was. She was less like a baby and more like a doll that breathed and smiled and spit up, so I had it easy. I loved our baby with all my little heart. But motherhood as a role was a bit of a rough transition for me. I mean, how do those hospital people just send a BABY home with you like it's NO BIG DEAL?!!! You don't even have to pass a test. It's much harder to jump through the hoops of getting a driver's license than it is to bring home a BRAND NEW HUMAN BEING. That is whack, if you ask me. I had NO clue what I was doing, and I still don't. I call parenting one big "on the job training" exercise, but it's more like skiing down a black diamond trail, right after you snap on skis for the first time. It's terrifying, and there are a lot of wipe outs and so, so much pain. Trial and error, trial and error, and each error seems like it will result in injury. Everything seems like life or death. (As many wise parents have assured me, in a year those "big deal" things won't seem as big, but they sure feel pretty big in the moment.) So you're flying down the mountain, and right after you think you've gotten the hang of things, a jump or a zig zag pass comes into view on the horizon, which means you'll need to learn how to navigate that in approximately 2-5 seconds, and the fear washes over you again anew.

Yeah, snapping on those skis and realizing the severity of the whole parenting experience was a little overwhelming for me. Ok, a LOT overwhelming. Top that off with the stress of moving, death in the family, and horrible hormones, and we had what is called a perfect storm. I battled depression and anxiety for a very long time. I would not want to relive that experience, but I'm weirdly thankful for it, because God used it to teach me SO much. Like I've mentioned before, it's the perseverance in suffering that brings hope and growth. One of the many things that I was forced to confront and change in my life was the way I thought and lived in the area of rest. I tended to fly at breakneck speed or pass out when I was so tired I could no longer function. That doesn't really work when you're caring for a baby all day. The first difficult thing was slowing down. My life didn't look productive at all, which felt all wrong and uncomfortable for me. A lot of this whole productivity vs. rest thing was wrapped into my identity, and reshaping that in a healthy way is a journey on which God has mercifully been leading me for years. I was achieving nothing, aside from keeping another human being alive. Shockingly, no one was lining up to praise this monumental accomplishment. In fact, because my baby was "not normal" and "sooooo easy" according to everyone around me, I felt like I was in the red as far as productivity goes. It turns out, that was exactly where I needed to be. I had to be achieving less than nothing for God to teach me that achievement has less than nothing to do with my identity. Read it again if you're confused. Achievement has LESS THAN NOTHING to do with who we are. Our value lies in our identity as children of God, each one of us created as a masterpiece and loved more than our teeny human brains could ever fathom. THAT is who we are.

This identity misconception expressed itself in every area of my life, but it made "Sabbath" particularly difficult. When you've tied your worth to what you can do, doing "nothing" means you're worthless. I didn't realize that doing nothing could actually be purposeful. In the Jewish laws of the Old Testament, God got very specific about how Sabbath would be kept and celebrated. It was to be protected at all cost, and there were very detailed instructions on how it was to be spent. For many years I subconsciously thought all these specifications were at best unnecessary, and at worst an arbitrary impossible standard by a distant and somewhat angry God. Now I understand it differently. In my experience, it's easy to come to a block of free time and just let it happen, doing whatever feels best in the moment, and then realize afterward that what I did was not the least bit beneficial to my emotional or spiritual health. God wanted to safeguard his children from burnout, and we humans are really good at burnout, even when we have the opportunity for rest. We need parameters.

Sabbath is not just about rest, but it's about renewal and refreshment. It took a lot of time and effort to figure out what was actually refreshing for me. There's a difference between what I default to in my free time and what actually renews me. It's easy to plop down on the couch with a bag of Doritos and bowl of cookie dough and watch "Friends" reruns. Oh, you don't do that? Yeah, me neither. That's ridiculous. Just an example, of course. But when I actually started tuning into how I felt after my "down time", it was enlightening. TV, magazines, and shopping left me feeling more depleted and edgy. Scrolling social media made me straight up crazy. Don't even get me started on that Pinterest mess. It's just food for the "never enough" monster. My thoughts on Pinterest can be summed up thusly: "ain't nobody got time for that." Seriously, sister. If you love to cook and it helps you find a recipe, search those pins and then get to cooking. If you're a teacher and it genuinely helps you lesson plan, use it. (Set a time limit, maybe.) If not, get off that crazy train right now. You are enough without all that crafting and cooking and Martha Stewart-ing and crossfit-ing and bento box-ing. For the love of all of us, the bento boxes have GOT TO STOP. Ok, I'm done ranting. Just pay attention to your insides and what they're telling you, and what makes you feel great. For me it's reading, being outside if possible, moving my buns off the couch and getting my blood pumping, journaling, praying, or spending quality time with my best friend-who also happens to be my spouse.

So here's my challenge for you (and for me-I'm still learning along this journey of finding a healthy work/rest balance): spend intentional time this week listening to your insides. What do you really need, at your core, to be at rest? Do that. Don't do the other things. It's really that simple. Hard, but simple.