Rest? Yes please!

It happened in the midst of a crazy month, my sweet lesson on rest.  My husband and I had received a call from social services a couple of weeks prior asking if we would be foster parents to a baby girl who was currently in the NICU.   We prayed and said yes.   It was believed that she would be discharged from the hospital within the week and would be coming home with us.  Disappointingly, she didn’t leave the NICU right away like we had hoped.  Thus, I went into a holding pattern of parenting four children, while trying to find time to spend in the hospital bonding with my new foster daughter.  My emotions were raw and the questions remained unanswered: When would she be released to come home with us? How much time should I be spending with her in the NICU? How could I be in two places at once? The uncertainty went on and on.

One Sunday afternoon, midway through that month,  I was feeling overly emotional, stressed, and exhausted.  We had spent the morning at church and had eaten lunch with our extended family.  My kids were taking their afternoon nap and my husband was at home, so I knew this was my opportunity to spend time with my foster baby.  I lay down on the couch for just a minute, gathering the energy to get back in the van and drive to the hospital.  The next thing I knew, I had been asleep for an hour. As I awoke, I had the distinct impression that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me: “I give sleep to those I love, and you needed rest. She will still be at the hospital when you awake.”

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil:  for he gives to his beloved sleep.  Psalm 127:2 ESV

I had been going through the motions, feeling compelled to keep functioning past my exhaustion point.  I was aware that I was beyond tired, but the need of the moment felt too great to allow myself to rest.  The Lord sweetly reminded me that without rest, I could not do the hard things I was called to do.

Isn’t that the way of rest?  We all know we need it, but the many demands placed on us keep us from allowing ourselves to stop.  I’m not just referring to sleep;  I mean real rest.  We need time to disengage, allowing our batteries to be recharged.

Interestingly, we can only rest when we give ourselves permission to do so. God knew the intrinsic battle we would have against rest, so He gave us a Sabbath day and commanded that we take it.   We are designed to need rest, both physically and spiritually.

This weighted blanket is used in my counseling office to help with relaxation.  It provides deep pressure touch that simulates being held, which helps the central nervous system calm down.

Another barrier to being able to rest is stress and anxiety.  Both sleep and relaxation are vulnerable activities. The human body’s fight or flight system is designed to help us survive a real or perceived threat. When there is a threat, the last thing the mind wants to do is let down its guard and go unconscious. Thus, when we are afraid or stressed, it is very hard to rest.  

Feeling safe and loved is an important component to fighting anxiety, because we are designed to be in connection with others in times of stress.  Just as a small child runs to his parents’ room after a nightmare to seek comfort, so we can seek safety and peace from our Heavenly Father.  The Psalmist writes that God is a Comforter and a source of safety for us, so that we can sleep in peace.

 

PauseWhen is the last time that you felt really rested?  What were the elements that helped you feel at rest?  

Renew:  Think of a place that you feel safe, calm, and able to rest.   If you cannot physically go there now, imagine that you are there.  Use your senses – what do you hear, see, feel, and smell in that place? 

Next: Make a plan to set apart time for rest this week.  If one day is not possible, try a few hours, or one hour each day.  Make a plan to exclude those things that keep you from resting (phones, emails, chores) and make it a point to enjoy the absence of those distractions.  If sleep is what you really need, make a plan to take a nap during this time.

Like a toddler rebelling against the nap-time they so desperately need, we fight our need of rest.  In order to be energized and invigorated to carry out our passions and responsibilities, we must make time to be still.  May the Lord teach us more about how to rest, that He may replenish our souls and bodies.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Dirty Dishes and Sacred Moments

Motherhood is a gift, but many of the moments of motherhood are filled with mundane tasks, like managing sibling rivalry and cleaning up accidents.  In fact, just last evening, as a distraction from the chaos and noise of a day of schoolwork, I took my kids outside on a walk.  I was hoping for some energy release and fresh air.  By the time we had walked fifty feet down the driveway,  my potty-training three year old had an “accident”.  Just as quickly as it had begun, the walk was over.  Back we traipsed to the house to change clothes and take a bath.  The grandeur of the vision of mothering rarely matches up to the day to day experience.

Then, just in the midst of the mundane and the exhaustion, come unexpected, sacred moments with our children.

Sweet cuddles

When my youngest son was an infant, I spent countless hours feeding, rocking, cuddling, and patting his back.  One day, before his first birthday, I was patting his back after feeding him.  Unexpectedly, I realized that he was gently patting my shoulder to the same rhythm. This was a sacred moment in my mothering experience.  My youngest son is adopted.  In that moment, as we hugged and patted each other, I was confident that he knew fully that I was his mom.  His tiny hand and my big hand were comforting one another in unison.

All mothers experience sacred moments in their parenting journeys, but how much more must Mary, the mother of Jesus, have felt these emotions? She witnessed miracle after miracle as she raised her son: from the announcement of her upcoming pregnancy by the angel Gabriel, to His resurrection and ascension.  In the second chapter of Luke, on two separate occasions, Scripture says that Mary “treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.”

After the shepherds came to see baby Jesus, Luke documents that they spread the word about all that they had seen and heard.  I picture their great excitement and jubilation, stopping everyone to proclaim the news.  Contrast this with Mary’s reaction:  

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Luke 2:19 ESV

As an extrovert, I struggle in the treasuring and pondering department.  I’m more like one of the shepherds, running around broadcasting my thoughts to whoever will listen.  Certainly, there is a time for shouting things from the rooftops, but I can stand to learn from Mary’s example.  Some moments and experiences are so sacred, they deserve to be marveled over and  held closely.

Mary serves as a sweet and holy reminder of the importance of motherhood. We are witnesses of the miracles of our children.  No, we were not given the responsibility of raising the Savior like she was.  Still, made in the image of God, each of our babies are miracles and signatures of the Divine.  

The precious hands of our family

As mothers we are given a unique perspective on the unfolding of who our children are and who they will become.  We’re awarded a first class ticket to watch them grow and mature.  When they are in awe of a new discovery, they come to us.  When they are hurt and need comfort, they come to us.  What a privilege!

Pause: Quiet your mind and your body.  Think of a sacred moment you have experienced.  Remember how you felt in that moment.

Renew: Although this post was about motherhood, there are also sacred moments in our walks with Jesus.  Meditate on one of these experiences  in your own faith journey. How did you treasure that moment?  Did you write it down, pray about it, share it with a friend, or keep it to yourself?  

Next: The mundane and tiresome moments often drown out moments that could be found sacred if we shift our perspective.  Today, look for moments that you can treasure in your heart and take time to savor them. This can be done anytime: in the midst of chores, while exercising, or while driving down the road.

No matter the season of motherhood in which we find ourselves: the all-nighters with a newborn, the trials of toilet training, or the turbulence of the teenage years, may we learn to treasure the sacred moments.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Rocks, Rivers, and Remembrance

I have an excellent memory.  Well, I should amend that.  I used to have an excellent memory before I had children.  Now, I have the long-term memory of an elephant and the short-term memory of a distracted squirrel.  Motherhood will do that to the best of us. Interestingly, memories don’t remain static; they become incorporated into our life story.  Our strongest memories are usually not of the mundane moments of life.  Instead, they’re of the important, emotion-soaked memories.

It’s the important moments in life that we try to remember: weddings, babies, first days of school, first dates, and anniversaries.  We celebrate with ceremonies, photo albums, favorite songs, and parties.  Marriages are celebrated with anniversaries, year after year.  A marriage would be in real trouble during stressful stages if the couple could not remember the good memories they had built together.  

The same is true in our faith journeys.  Walking with the Lord takes us through valleys and mountains, and we build memories along the way.  Being able to remember moments of the Lord’s faithfulness during spiritual drought is a lifeline for maintaining faith.

Rocks of remembrance

An incredible illustration of this is found in Joshua 4. The children of Israel, ex-slaves and desert-wanderers of forty years, are poised to finally take the Promised Land.  Just before they move into the territory of Jericho, the Lord leads them through the Jordan River: not by boat, but through the dry river bed.  The Lord commands the Jordan River, which was flowing at flood stage, to stop and amass into a heap upstream.  The Israelites walk unscathed across the river bed to the other side. While they are passing through, Joshua commands one man from each tribe to pick up a stone from the dry river bed.  After they have left the Jordan River behind, and have reached the eastern border of Jericho, Joshua tells them to set up the stones on the ground as a memorial.

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ Joshua 4:21-22 NIV

Now this body of people had been raised on the stories of crossing the Red Sea. They listened to the tale countless times as they ate manna in the wilderness. The time had finally come for them to take their Promised Land, but first the Lord replicates His miracle for them: taking them out of the land of slavery (through the water) and into the promised land (again through the water.) There were no selfies or Instagram feeds in B.C.E. to help document the event. They had two primary ways to pass this story on to future generations – word of mouth and a memorial made with stones.

Just like the Israelites, when I am in crisis, it’s difficult to remember the faithfulness of the Lord.  I need to be reminded. Remembering the ways that the Lord has loved me and led me through trials is a key reminder that He will never leave me or forsake me. Suffice it to say that when believers are struggling, the last thing the enemy wants us to remember is how the Lord has been faithful.  

Taking time to remind our souls of how God has cared for us, answered prayers, and loved us in the past is an incredible weapon against discouragement in the present.

Pause: Be still and meditate, or take a walk and enjoy nature while you consider the times in your life that the Lord has been faithful to you and your family.  Thank and praise Him for what He has done.

Renew: Read Psalm 77, reflecting on David’s call for help and his change of tone as he recites how God has been faithful to Israel.  What stands out to you in this passage?

Next:  Consider journaling important life events and key moments in your faith journey.  If you do not normally share these stories with your friends and family, consider telling them at meals and gatherings. After all, our faith stories create a legacy for our children and can encourage and challenge others.

May you be encouraged as you remember the Lord’s goodness to you.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Learning to Wait

To wait: to remain stationary in readiness or expectation, to look forward, expectantly, to be ready and available

Psalm 130:5 NIV

Waiting is no fun, unless you know a good surprise is coming.  Even then it’s really difficult, isn’t it? Waiting for the small things in life is a nuisance:  for your favorite show to start, for the work day to be over, for the waiter to serve your food.  Waiting for the bigger things in life can be nerve wracking: planning for a wedding, finishing a college degree, or waiting nine months for a baby to be born. All of these times of waiting have one thing in common: the knowledge that something good is on its way.

How then does waiting change when we’re not guaranteed a reward or a happy ending?  This form of waiting requires hope and faith, and that is no easy task!

I have spent the last six years learning about waiting. due to our foster care and adoption journey as well as experiencing ongoing health issues.  I know of many people who could speak to the topic of waiting better than I.  Six years of discomfort is nothing compared to the 51 years that Joni Eareckson Tada has spent in a wheelchair.  Noah spent 100 years building an ark, believing in faith that the rain would come.  Then there was David, the Psalmist, who waited much of his life: first to be saved from his enemies and then to finally be crowned King.  The Psalms are full of verses about waiting.

Waiting is just tough all the way around. However, during the interim a lot is happening,  because while we wait life keeps moving.  At first our response to waiting is an attitude of expectation, but then we become frustrated as the answers do not come.  This frustration may soon dissolve into doubt. After all “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  (Proverbs 13:12a)

There is a helplessness in the waiting, but in this helplessness we learn humility, the extent of our own ability, and our ever-needed dependency on the Lord.  We can feel His comfort in greater measures. What, then, besides comfort, are the benefits of having to wait on the hard things?

Patience.  Patience is a fruit of the spirit, but it is not an attribute that comes naturally.  It certainly takes refinement to produce this fruit.  After all, in our culture, we can have practically anything delivered to our doorsteps in two days or less (thank you, Amazon Prime).  Everything is instant. The problem is that immediacy does not grow character, and character is hard-won. Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay or suffering without getting angry.  It is in places of waiting that the Lord helps us learn the gift of patience.

Endurance.  Have you ever watched the track events at the Olympics?  The sprinting events are so exciting and powerful!  By contrast, the marathon is slow and methodical.  It takes more time – more sustained effort – to watch and to run. Even the athletes’ bodies look different. Sprinters are thick with muscle, full of power, while marathon runners are thin, with long, lean muscles. They have conditioned their bodies to sustain the long-distance effort.  Unfortunately, the Christian life is not a sprint full of power.  It is a long race full of endurance.  It’s in the seasons of waiting, where we seemingly can’t escape, that the Lord sharpens our resolve, teaching us how to pace ourselves and breathe.  He conditions us so that we can make it through the long race ahead.

Listening.  When we tire of crying out for help and beating the air in frustration, we get quiet enough to listen. What is God speaking in the waiting place?  His still, small voice is often quite active during the lulls in our lives.

Pause: Sit quietly and take a deep breath.  Contemplate one area of your life that you are currently waiting and pray about it.  Be attentive to what the Lord may be speaking to you.

Renew: Reflect on a time in your life when you had to wait.  What did you learn during that season?  How did it refine your character?

Next: Pray for someone in your life that you know is currently waiting.  Think of a way that you can offer them encouragement this week.

May we all learn patience, practice endurance, and attune our hearing during our seasons of waiting.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Apples, Field Trips, and Pruning Tips

This week three of my children and I ushered in the fall season by taking a field trip with our homeschool co-op to an apple orchard. All of the kids and adults had great fun, particularly during the apple and cider tasting!  The last part of our tour included a tractor-pulled wagon ride: all the fun of a hay ride without the scratchy hay! (Added bonus: My three year old was in a particularly cuddly mood and wanted me to hold him in my lap for the whole ride!)

We were pulled through rows and rows of apple trees, up to the top of the orchard.  When he had reached a good vantage point, the farmer stopped the tractor and taught us pertinent facts about growing and maintaining apple trees.  When he began to teach about pruning, my ears perked up, because we own a plum tree.  I was interested to gain any tips.  I made a mental note to come home and teach my husband what I had learned.
The farmer informed us that there are two main objectives to pruning apple trees:

  1. Take all underlying branches which are growing downward, and turn them upward
  2. Prune all vertical growth

As I listened to his advice, I realized that these pruning tips mirror spiritual principles that Jesus taught his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15: 1-2  NIV

If the heavenly Father is the gardener, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, then the pruning Jesus is describing is about us!  Ouch!  How then can these pruning tips be translated into spiritual truths that apply to our lives?

Take all underlying branches hanging downward and face them upward.  

What is the purpose in changing the direction of these downward facing branches?  The branches will grow stronger this way as they mature and will be able to withstand more pressure without breaking.  Low lying branches will bend to the ground as they grow heavy with fruit, and this can cause the fruit to rot.   Also, what branches wouldn’t want more sunlight?  Up is always best!

How does this apply to our lives?  As the Gardener realigns our branches in the Vine, He is strengthening us, making us better able to withstand greater loads.  He is maturing us to hold more fruit without breaking.  He is keeping us from dragging to the ground and constantly realigning us towards His light.

 Prune all vertical growth.

Why would a gardener cut off the vertical growth?  These are the new shoots that the tree has produced this year.  The new growth shoots upward, reaching for the sky.  Apple trees put a lot of effort and energy into this new growth.  Farmers purposely prune that growth, because the tree’s energy is going towards the new vertical growth, which takes away from its fruit-producing energy.

How does this principle apply in a believer’s life?  The Gardener knows just what He is trying to achieve in our lives when He is pruning, even when it appears He is pruning the new, healthy growth on our vine.  He is trying to achieve the ultimate harvest of fruit for His kingdom.

Ironically, an apple tree’s whole objective in life is to achieve its purpose: producing apples.  However, on its own, an apple tree can’t figure out where it should expend its energy to best achieve its objective.  While it’s busy growing random branches as fast as it can, it’s losing energy towards its very purpose – growing apples!  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  I’ll be honest, this is one area of my life with which I struggle – discerning where to place my energy, time, and resources.  How thankful I am for a Gardener who can see past the present circumstances, to the harvest He wants to produce in our lives!

Pause:  When you have a few quiet minutes, read John 15:1-11.  What verses stand out to you?

Renew:  Ponder/Journal/Pray: When are the times in your life that you’ve felt the Lord pruning you?  Was it a painful process?  Have you been able to see the fruit in your life, or are you still waiting to see the results?  Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t yet seen the fruit – it might still be growing.

Next:  Make a list this week of your priorities and responsibilities.  Where are you spending your time and energy?  Pray about which of these the Lord would have you spend less time and energy (vertical shoots) and which areas He would rather you prioritize.

May we grow some beautiful fruit for the harvest!

Pause, Renew, Next!

The Birth of a Blog

How does one begin a blog?  I have so many fantastic ideas burgeoning for future posts, just waiting to be written.  However, when it was time to begin this post I found myself in a quandary.  Where to start?   My husband sensibly suggested that I share what led me to begin a blog.  That seemed a reasonable idea.   So, this is the story of how PRN came to be.

Recently, I was thinking about starting an Etsy store.   Last spring I was absorbed in thoughts of selling my vegetables at a Farmer’s Market.    I frequently come up with ideas like these, as I am a rather impulsive person.  Usually, these ideas wither on the vine rather quickly once I’ve considered the logistics (for instance, without Pinterest I cannot craft…bye-bye, Etsy).

Pause – be still; Renew -meditate and find perspective; Next – put it into action

This week I was inspired to start a blog.  I thought to myself, “I may not be gifted as a crafter, but I am gifted in the areas of feelings and words.”  Would this be one more random idea that I concoct only to quickly fizzle?  There are so many blogs out there already!  What can I offer that is different than other blogs?  Is there a reason to make one more webpage for people to scroll through?  I began to pray and ask that if the blog was God’s will that He would lead and guide me, giving me ideas and allowing the blog to prosper.   I considered it from all angles, with growing excitement.  Within a few hours, I had a name: PRN: Pause, Renew, Next.

Immediately, I knew my target audience: women of all ages, the same population I serve as a counselor.  What the average woman needs more than anything is rest, renewal, and encouragement (and of course lots of hugs and baby snuggles, but I can’t provide those essentials on this blog).

The format of each post will consist of varying subject matters, but at the end of each post there will be three sections listed: Pause, Renew, Next.  These sections will encourage the reader to absorb, engage, and act out the subject material.  As a counselor, I’ve learned that if my clients are not given homework, there is a good chance they will forget what was discussed during the session.  So it is with digital interactions.

I recently listened to Brené Brown speak in  Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.  Her research demonstrates that the way to help people transfer information from their heads to their hearts is through their hands: in other words, through behavior and action!  In this way, my blog is designed to minister to the head and the heart, as well as provide an action step.  That’s where lasting change occurs!

Please know, it’s up to you how many of the exercises you want to engage in. Do as much or as little as you like.  In this blog, I’m focusing on the pause verse, Psalm 46:10.  Let’s give it a go, shall we?

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10 NIV

Pause:  Breathe deeply.  Read the above verse to yourself a few times.

Renew:   Try to really be still.  Is it difficult for you?  Is it hard in your body or in your mind?  Close your eyes and think about a place that you feel peaceful and imagine trying to be still in that place.   Now meditate (concentrate deeply) for a few moments on knowing the God that is exalted among the nations.

Next:  Write down this verse and carry it around with you this week, or open your Bible and read it once each day.  Try to carve out a few minutes each day to really allow your body and mind to be still and focus on who God is.  Can you try one more minute each day?  1 minute the first day, 2 minutes the second day, etc?

And that’s it!  Not too hard, right?  This was a simple exercise, but by choosing to meditate on Scripture, you not only spent time with the Lord, but also made a positive impact on your emotions and your health.

I look forward to continuing this journey together!

Pause, Renew, Next!