I fear at times that I have lost the art of rest. I do try, certainly. I attempt rest, but I am never quite sure that I have accomplished it or even neared it. I do all the “self-care” things, I treat myself, but they are often a fleeting comfort at best. A hot bath or shower here, a nap or massage there, but the peace found there does not last.
Some of the best “rest time” I have gotten lately was standing before the screen door of my front porch early of a Saturday morning, the winter-cool air pouring in and causing my fresh coffee to steam, and watching the early-morning light sparkle over the frosted grass with my cat. Those few moments felt like breathing in peace with the cold in my lungs and the warmth of the coffee in my belly. Like Jesus was stood right there beside, His arm around my shoulder, and His chuckle in my ear at Jack’s chattiness about the Outside.
Perhaps I am re-learning that rest is not a wholesale destination but rather a cycle. A cycle of finding quiet pockets of rest. Maybe it is not constantly feeling zen and at peace. Maybe rest is just settling into those moments that surprise us with their quietude and allowing ourselves to be quiet and still, too.
So I will try to sink into those soft moments, on my couch before my fireplace, when the library is empty, or when my bathtub is full and steaming with my cat curled up alongside to chaperone my immersion. I will do the work of rest, of shutting out the world for a little while, because I am allowed to. Because I need to.
It’s been an exhausting year, hasn’t it, capped off by an even more exhausting week? We are not at the end yet but I can definitely attest to having let out a huge breath earlier this afternoon. Then I promptly dozed off in the overstuffed chair in which I sat, the background noise of conversation on the tv finally lulling me off.
Rest, though my goal for this year, has been extremely hard to come by. I thought I had struck a better balance with it during the winter and then again during the stay-at-home orders, but, ever since then, life has felt more frenetic, frantic, and fraught than ever. And the year isn’t over yet.
Thankfully, though, the election is. Yes, I know that there are processes and protocols left to complete, but, for now, it feels as though we can sit for a moment, place our swords and shield and bows one the ground beside us, and breathe.
I have set up the blanket fort (bigger on the inside, of course) and filled it with soothing, comforting things. Come rest yourself, dear ones. There is still work to be done but, for now, put your armor down and rest.
Can I be really-real for a second? Just for a little bit, Dear Readers? I hope that is okay. It’s been…12 (13?) days since my little family and I have been sequestered at home amidst this crisis, and I realized–or rather admitted–something rather important. In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, a friend shared a Facebook post by Revelatori, which consisted of ten gorgeous images that hit me like a Mack truck.
The truth of these images, of this beautiful vulnerability was almost too much for me to take for a moment.
I am not coping as well as I would like to be, dear ones. I am unable to rest and relax during the day; I am constantly looking for something to do or scolding myself because, “with all this extra time and so many things to be done/cleaned/arranged/tidied, I should be doing SOMETHING!” Whether that is curriculum work, grading eLearning assignments, guiding my daughter through her lessons or helping her with an art project, exercising, or doing household chores and projects, my body feels like it needs to be in a constant state of work. Not movement. Work. So much so that when I am not, I feel guilty and lazy and I start looking for something to work on.
I am constantly on alert throughout the day for state and national (even international) press conferences and the like, watching the news on TV or listening to it on NPR & IPR. It’s as though I am afraid of missing something direly important, even though my common sense (along with other wise sources) tells me that such saturation is not good for my mental and emotional health. I absolutely agree with that, but I find I am inundated by noise: the noise of the news, the noise of family in close quarters, the noise of play and games and music, and my own attempts to drown them out at times.
An effect of all that noise, however, is that silence has become almost deafening, even when I crave both it and stillness so deeply. The latter feels almost impossible, as though my body and mind are trained to live at my daughter’s energetic pace. But even she slows down, even she rests. At the very moment I was writing this, I could hear her up in her room, cozy and chill on her bed, indulging in a favorite cartoon on her Kindle for a little while. I, meanwhile, struggle to rest and now grapple for that hygge spirit that I began the year working so hard to cultivate.
I am doing good things in all of this, yes. I am writing what I feel I am led and need to write in this season of life–a work of love, support, safety, and encouragement that comes straight from my heart. I am extending myself to my friends, my dear ones, my colleagues, my students as best I can, so they know that they are not alone in all this. I don’t want us to be isolated while we are separated. This is all hard enough. So, yes, I am doing good things. I might seem calm, cool, and collected, but I am still not coping as well as would like.
Last night, as he tucked me into bed, I admitted to Ben that it all just feels unfathomable as to when it will end and where we will be when it does end. Not monetarily but as a country, as a society, as people, as a species. I cried as I admitted what often feels like a bottomless feeling. He encouraged me, of course, like the good man he is. He didn’t dismiss my fears but he reminded me of where we look for strength, that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). He also reminded me that I am not alone in this, none of us are. We are all together, whether we are so physically or not.
No, I am not coping as well as I would like, but I am coping. My beloved Marmee, bless her, reminds me every day that I need to rest, that it is necessary. She is right, of course. I have forced–yes, forced–myself to do so several times this week, putting aside what I think I need to do in favor of curling up on the couch in the afternoon sun a few times or taking a long, hot, lavender-suffused bath. I am coping, not as well as I might like, but I am. And I know you are coping in your ways, too. You may not be doing so as well as you would like either, but you are coping, Friend. Don’t dismiss that, you are coping. We can cope together, hold each other, support each other.
Thank you, Relevatori, for your beautiful vulnerability and stunningly heart-full reminder.
At the end of the day yesterday, an email came through my inbox, informing me and the rest of the staff in our school building that, after the coming week, the local Health Department was taking the precaution of closing all the schools in the county until Easter Monday, April 13. Today, right before lunch, my 3rd-period students came barreling into my classroom, demanding to know if I had read my email.
“They are closing school starting MONDAY!” they shrieked at me.
I shooed them and their cacophony off to lunch and sat down to read the email, which I hadn’t read because I had been busy doing other things (go figure), for myself. Indeed that is what it said. So, instead of being out of school for three weeks, including Spring Break, we would now be out of school for a month! I panicked for a moment because my eLearning lessons weren’t done. I was only 3 days into the unit I was building.
Then I read on.
Because our state government has offered schools a waiver of up to 20 out of the required 180 instructional days during the school year, and we would be using 15 days for this closure, that was what we were going with. So there would be NO ELEARNING during this closure. No assignments or lessons would be given to students while they are out for these four weeks.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it (still cannot, honestly), so all afternoon, I would catch myself saying, “Oh, I need to work on/copy/prepare this for class next week,” and then realize that…I didn’t.
It threw me time after time, as did the realization that, unless the schedule changed drastically for the end of the year, I wouldn’t have time to teach the unit I was working on before we launched into standardized testing anyway.
I can’t just stop…can I?
I can’t just sit back and set it all aside. I have assignments that need to be graded and entered, a unit that needs to be built, no matter whether I actually get to teach it this year or not, curriculum that needs revamping, AND a 1st-grader who needs a routine and cannot afford to fall behind on her academic skills, in case they do not change the testing schedule.
I can’t just stop…can I?
And yet, in the midst of all of this chaos, a thought floated through my mind. “If you do not rest when your body says it needs, you will be forced to rest when it no longer can.” Now, I am under zero illusions that all of this has come about because I was not taking the best care of myself. However, the truth indeed is that I have not been resting lately, dear ones. With all the grading for the end of the 3rd nine weeks, I have been working pretty much constantly and only averaging between four and five hours of a sleep a night. Not good at all.
But I can’t just stop. Can I?
Perhaps now, in more ways than one, yes, I can stop. Perhaps I am being forced to rest. To take in the small moments. Take life day by day and create a new routine. Take the opportunity to slow down.
So, as we enter this time of admitted uncertainty, I want to see the lessons of rest that might be hiding in the corners, waiting for me to calm down enough to see and embrace them. Lessons in how to be good to myself, good to my dear ones, and what lessons and moments of quiet, rest, and hygge await me as spring peeks around the doorjamb.
As I tipped the trash bag into the hopper and let the lid fall, I paused on my shuffle back to the house over the icy drive and just stood still. I let the silence of the winter night, the temperature rapidly dropping, settle over me and just…rested in it for a long moment.
Have you ever listened to the world freeze over? I did. I could hear the creak of branches under the weight of the freezing snow and the muted boom of expanding ice birthing cracks and potential potholes in the streets. My eyelashes sparkled with shimmering snowflakes that fluttered to spangle the black of my sweater as they swirled and winked in the arc of light cast by the fixture beside the backdoor.
I remembered a night similar to this, almost twenty years ago, when I tripped merrily home from a campus formal. I recalled the dusting of snow on the sidewalk glinting like fairy dust under my feet and the hem of my gown in the blue moonlight and how beautiful I felt in that moment. Smiling at the memory, I just stood there, drinking the peace of a winter night, its stillness, its deep, slow breathing, and its call to rest.
Then the single-digit-chill wind decided I needed a nudge back to reality and gusted up to cajole me on into the house. “Before the cold catches up to you…” it seemed to whisper, dusting one last sparkle of snowflakes over me before I turned to go inside.
A moment’s rest can be just what you need, especially when it leaves you with a pleasant little shiver.
It has been a long few weeks that have left me far more tired than I had anticipated. The biggest factor in this is something that I have told very few people about. Two weeks ago, I applied for a position outside of teaching. My husband heard about the posting from some of the ladies who work for the nonprofit that posted it (benefit of your office building sharing space with other groups). He then immediately passed it on to me, with the insistent assurance that I would be perfect for the position with my abilities and skill sets. At first, I was dubious, as I have been in the past, but I have deeply prayed over the past few years for God to show me the next chapter He has for me, to help me find my next right thing (thank you, Emily P. Freeman and Queen Anna!). So I decided that I would update my CV and send it in with a letter of interest. You guys, I cannot count how many revisions those two documents went through over those few days! I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to documentation like that; and it had been several years since I had even contemplated a position outside of teaching, so updates were definitely needed. When all was said and done, I said a prayer, clicked “Send” on the email, and that was it. Then I had to wait. So I waited. And waited. Then, all in a rush, I received an email last weekend saying that they would like to interview me over Zoom! We managed to wrangle a day and time that would work for everyone, mindful of time differences for those traveling, and so it went.
The interview went well, but, in the end, it turned out that the timing of the position just was not going to work out. They needed someone to be able to train and slide into the full-time position by the end of February, and I did not have peace about up and leaving my teaching position so suddenly and abruptly. I did not feel released to do that to my principal and students. So…needless to say, when they answered my question about the timing, I felt a sinking in my soul.
“Well, that means this interview is over,” I thought. But I still asked some questions about their nonprofit, in an effort to not have things end on an *extremely* awkward note. Just a moderately awkward one.
After the interview, I finished out my day, but, once the kiddo was in bed and Ben and I were alone, I flopped onto the floor with an “UGH!” that would have made Charlie Brown proud. When I was finally able to verbalize what I felt, I realized that I had become far more hopeful of that new position, that change, that new chapter, than I had realized. And I was disappointed. Disappointed that it wouldn’t work. Disappointed that I wouldn’t get to try something new. Disappointed that my stepping out in faith seemingly wouldn’t be rewarded.
As this week has gone on, however, I find a thought has been whispered to my mind and soul and repeated when I haven’t been looking.
“You have stepped. Now rest.”
Rest. It’s my word, my intention for the year. Rest. I stepped out in faith, praying for God to lead me aright. And He did. I stepped out in courage. Now I need to rest.
Rest in gratitude that God kept His word to be with me and guide me.
Rest in faith that He knows best.
Rest in peace that where I am is my next right thing for now.
Rest in hope that, when another opportunity comes along, I will heed the call to step out again.
I have stepped; it was a lot of work–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now it is time for me to rest my feet, recover, and allow Him to refill those stores. There is another big week ahead, but, for now, this is my immediate next right thing. I even have a scratchy, tired voice to enforce it.
Two more days left in 2019. In these days of limbo between the 26th and the 1st, I am trying to embrace the quiet, take in the silence before the new year. I am trying to rest intentionally before the madness starts all over again.
I have also been trying to think of my word for 2020, a word to guide my thoughts, work, and growth, as well as my writing, for the year. So I have been considering what it is I want to accomplish in 2020. I know that I want to recreate my relationship with Winter, with its silence, bleakness, and dormancy. I want to find the ways to benefit from this season, which is necessary to the process of growth: a restful time. I want to re-learn how to rest.
Is that my word then? Rest? Rest for my body. Rest and peace for my soul. Resting in faith, contentment, and gratitude. Taking moments to step back, to embrace quiet and rest in the midst of all that is going on and all I am striving for.
I will admit that, when this word first came to mind a few days ago, I resisted it. “Rest isn’t a goal. Isn’t an intention!” I told myself. But what else could it be when even the plants and animals bear witness to its necessity? We human begins are the ones who have bought into the idea of hustle, of constant going and work and striving. Of shoving quiet and stillness to the side, cursing them as unproductive or lazy. But how can we do our best without a chance to rest? How can I?
I need rest. And I have already begun! In the past few days, I have risen in the quiet of my still-sleeping household. I have embraced early-morning, snow-deep silence. Even today, I have sat here in my hushed living room, the only soundtrack the crackling fireplace flames, for the past two hours. It hails windily outside our little cottage, but, within, my tree twinkles sweetly and an amber candle fills the air with its warm scent, drawing my senses and spirit down into relaxation. I have been nestled on the couch with blanket, books, pen, and coffee–reading, praying, writing–while my beloved daughter takes her fun upstairs and has been miraculously quiet herself. Our house has been full of rest this morning. And, as I look back over my writings for the past weeks, I see it. Subtly hidden or staring boldly out at me. I see my desire for it, my need for it, writ plain on my soul.
Yes. In 2020, I will re-learn what it means to rest. To seek and find it, to gift it, and to create an atmosphere of it in my small spaces of the world.
My eyes droop, and my body relaxes beneath the weight of weary. Winter is here. Rest is needed. Let’s take it, you and I. Let’s lean into Rest and deep-snow Silence. Let’s pause our compulsion to fill each moment with noise and activity and let ourselves be with the Quiet, even if just for a little while. We need it.
“Winter reminds us that everyone and everything needs some quiet time.” – Katrina Mayer
Tonight will be the longest night of the year. The long dark while the world makes its turn and tilt towards the light again. Winterdark. I always feel as though I want to mark this night, the beginning of Winter but, at the same time, the eventual advent of Spring and green and warmth. I have no Yule log, my greenery isn’t real. How can I mark the beginning of Winterdark? Moreover, some might ask, why would I want to?
I want to because there is work to be done in the dark, in the cold, and in the barrenness that Winter brings. I have been reading a great deal about the work of Winter. The need for the silence, the stillness, and the bleakness of the season. As a woman raised in perpetual light (ie, the Caribbean) for the first half of my life, this weighs heaviest on me about Winter of all its traits: the darkness. Rising in the dark, driving to work in the dark, being inside during whatever wan light comes during the day, and then, if I stay too late, driving home in the darkness once again. It is often very hard to think of that darkness, that silence, that bleakness as necessary, never mind thinking of it as good. But it is good.
Just like the trees, the grass, and other plants, we need a pause in life. Growth cannot be continuous; rest is needed. Winterdark is a time for slowing, for pausing, for quieting down. Life doesn’t stop, of course, no. Not at all, but the long dark can remind us of our need for slowness, for catching our breath, and letting our pulse relax for a bit. I am not the best at slowing, pausing, and resting. The past few weeks have been a flurry of must-do’s in order to finish the school semester and all that comes with it before I left the building yesterday. And then there was the Christmas and birthday prep and officially moving my daughter into her new room upstairs. No…I don’t do “slowing down” very well. But I want to.
This Winter, I want to re-learn how to rest and how to embrace the slow and the quiet. I want to learn the work of Winter, the work of the dark, and the restorative properties of dormancy. I want to re-learn quiet. I want to re-learn care. I want to re-learn peace. Beginning tonight with Winterdark, I want to reclaim this season.
Tonight, after the bustle of the day, I will sit, bundled and warm, with husband, mother, and daughter. Then, later, with book and journal and pen. I will sit in the glow of my Christmas tree when the house is finally calm and quiet. I will reclaim and embrace silence and stillness, the work of Winter and the long dark as they begin.
As this new year begins, this is me. Full disclosure: total bathroom selfie. No glasses, no makeup, hair undone, no filters. Just me.
As 2019 begins, I am considering the work of Christmas, that work that began on Christmas Day and continues on from there. The work of love. One of the things that I am going to be working on is loving myself. I know very well what I have been struggling with, one of the chief things being building more rest into my everyday life. Not just waiting for spring, summer, or Christmas breaks to actually try to rest in that admittedly limited space but acknowledging my need for it as I go along throughout my normal days and weeks.
The work of Christmas needs to begin with me, as much as it needs to involve others. As a dear friend reminded me, I need to love myself and give myself as much grace and permission as I give others.
So here I am, just me, and I am going to work on loving myself better.