rest

Sanctuary

I pushed on the red wooden door, and it pivoted forward heavily on its hinges. I stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind me as quietly as I could. I stood blinking in the darkness, and it took me a little while to see that I was standing in a kind of foyer decorated in dark wood paneling. I pressed against another door to my right, and it swung into the cavernous room with a creak. I took a few more tentative steps, my shoes squeaking slightly on the polished stone floor.

I sidestepped into the last row and knelt down, the old wood complaining under my weight. I’d just come in from the blinding light of the plaza, and as my eyes adjusted the room slowly expanded in all directions. For the first time I saw I wasn’t alone. A handful of other people were kneeling in a few of the farther pews. 

The cathedral was a stark contrast to the streets outside. 

I’d woken up early my first morning in La Paz, my sheets too scratchy and the bed too hard to turn over and fall back asleep. I’d dressed quickly, had a quick breakfast in the lobby of the hotel, and stepped out into the morning sunshine. It seemed as though I’d been the last to wake. The streets were already full of people. Men in their suits and on their cell phones. Teenagers in school uniforms with backpacks slung over one shoulder. Mothers with sunglasses tipped back on their heads, holding a coffee in one hand and tightly gripping their child’s shoulder with the other. Old women bent over under the weight of huge bags of potatoes and fabric. And everyone running every which way, everyone in a hurry. 

I stepped into the swarm and began exploring. I wandered up streets and down alleys, and since La Paz is built into the hills of the Andes, I walked up and down a lot of hills. The city seemed chaotic with cars and people. Black exhaust poured into the morning sun on every street. Cars at a standstill honked needlessly at one another like a pack of geese. 

I came into a sunny plaza full of hundreds of pigeons making a cacophony of cooing as they fought over the seed being spread by a mother and her three little ones. The storefronts along the edge of the plaza rattled noisily as they rolled up their metal gates. And the traffic that swung around the circle revved and honked at random. 

And then I spotted the cathedral on the far side of the plaza. I felt like it was calling me.

A few moments later, as I knelt there in the the back, I could still hear the honking and the occasional motorcycle roaring by, but it was all muffled. The chaos felt a million miles away. The massive room was quiet enough that I found myself a little self-conscious over the sound of my own breathing, hoping I wasn’t disturbing anyone. In the quiet I could even hear the sounds of the paintbrush a workman was using to revarnish the woodwork along the base of a nearby wall. 

I looked up and realized that the room wasn’t really dark at all. Light streamed in through the round windows high up in the arches, and the stained glass windows were lit up in every imaginable color. 

In the quiet and in that multicolored light I realized that I’d been running. The last week had been spent in the city of Oruro capturing a story so that we could share it with people back home. Our small team and I had spent day after day running here and there, hunting down locations, hurrying to catch the sunrise or the sunset, and ticking off our to-do list. And I hadn’t had a chance to sit and soak it all in. In the course of the week we’d done so much. We’d shared laughter and tears. We’d seen hope. And we’d heard heartbreaking stories. 

And like the world outside that cathedral it was noisy and blinding and choking and beautiful and alive. But to really take it in I’d needed to step inside a sanctuary. I’d needed a little quiet. I’d needed a place where I could contemplate, and cry, and break it all down, and put myself back together again. Part of me wanted to stay there, take up residence in that quiet place. But outside the world was still spinning around in that plaza, and I was destined to join it again. As I stepped out into the sunshine again I felt fresh, and free, and ready again, not nearly as weary as when I’d first entered. Back when I didn’t even know I was weary. 

My home. My life. Our world. It all seems a little chaotic right now. Some of us are right in the middle of it. We’re running. We’re hurrying up hills and down dark alleys. We’re fighting good fights, and sometimes we’re just fighting. We’re laughing and crying and shaking our heads and shouting. And that’s life. And we’re doing all we can. 

But sometimes we just need quiet. Sometimes we have to seek out a sanctuary. Sometimes we need to let our eyes adjust and let our breathing be heard and let the beating of our hearts slow down while the world spins as wild as it wants. 

And we’ll step out into the sunshine again, to be sure. We can’t live in the sanctuary forever because, frankly, we’re called into the chaos. But for our own good, for goodness sake, before we let chaos consume us, look for a sanctuary. 

And Then He Rested

Splash

The first day of vacation was… unexpected. And I should have seen it coming. 

We've fallen into the the wonderful habit of taking the same vacation every year. We borrow my in-law’s RV and find a cozy campground along the shore of Lake Michigan for a good, long stretch. We keep things simple so that we can keep ourselves together, trying to avoid filling up the hours with endless entertainments, simply allowing the days to unwind as they will so that we can do the same. 

And the first day was just that. We woke up and had breakfast. I went on a bike ride. We spent hours on the beach. At the end of the day we stopped at Whippi Dip, our favorite little ice cream stand. Then, as the sun began to sink, it’s golden light held captive in the wafting smoke from all the evening fires being lit throughout the camp, I sunk into a hammock, exhausted. 

I thought to myself, This isn’t working.

You see, in the cracks of all the things I’ve already said, there’d been all the same guiding, herding, laughing, whining, crying, and correcting that everyday brings when you have three kids, and my response to all of it was pretty much the same too. I was still riddled with hurry and impatience, with frayed nerves and too-quick words. I still wasn’t resting. 

A few days before we’d left, I'd read these words:

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

I’d nearly cried. And then I’d kept reading, and I did cry.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)

I can find rest for my soul? For me? My tears told me just how deeply I longed for that rest, deep down rest, all over rest, soul rest. And I gave myself a little pep talk. God’s giving you this word to get you through until vacation. He’s great like that. The rest you want is right around the corner. Just a few more days. Hang in there. 

So there I was—literally hanging in a hammock on day one of vacation—feeling all the feelings that feel nothing like rest. But I was trying to rest. I’d turned off my email. I’d emptied my calendar. I’d erased my to-do lists. I even had the beginnings of a sunburn to show just how hard I was working at this resting thing.

The cicadas were singing in the trees as dusk fell and the campground grew quieter. And I grew quieter too. In my mind the words of Matthew 11 came floating into view, like the writing on the wall but intended for some other lucky soul. I looked at the lines and quickly latched onto the two phrases that had so deeply spoken to my longings:

I will give you rest.
You will find rest for your soul. 

I was still pining for those things. And then the whole passage seemed to dissolve again. Only three words remained.

Come to me. 

Oh how quick I’d been to skim right past those words. There’s a difference between weariness and readiness. Just because I was weary didn't mean I was ready to rest. In fact, like I said, I’d been working hard at resting. I’d been busy patting myself on the back for how restful I was being, and all the while my head and heart were working as hard as ever. I’d tried all the things other than the one thing I’d been told to do. 

It’s like someone who’s been invited to dinner. But when they arrive they walk right by the welcome mat, going all around the house, banging on the windows, begging to be let in. I’d wanted in on the feast, but I’d ignored the front door. I’d looked for entry some other way. But the invitation read, plain as day: Come to me.

So I started trying that. Because nothing else was working. Because two weeks later, vacation was over. Because we can’t save up and stockpile a few weeks off and expect it to satisfy our bodies, our souls, our families, our workplaces, and all the rest. We have to find ways to rest in the midst of all of these things. No more of this just hang on a few more days… or weeks… or months stuff. I want to find rest now, in this moment, in the midst of the life I’m in, the work I’m given, the mission I’m on. That’s the kind of rest I want to taste. So I’m trying to regularly find the front door where the host stands, saying: Come to me.

Vacation

The end of August is upon us. I'm looking forward to welcoming our first midwestern fall in a very long time—chilly days, colored leaves, cider, and all the other wonderful things that make up the 3% of the time when it won't be miserable and rainy.

And I'm thinking back on our family vacation this summer. I'm just so thankful for that time on the shore of Lake Michigan in a borrowed RV doing... well... nothing.

Sometime in the last few years Karen and I made a realization about how we wanted to vacation. There wasn't an epiphany or anything, just a subtle shift in the values we held for that precious time.

We stopped planning vacations based solely on what we wanted to do.

We started planning vacations around who we wanted to be.

Entropy is the tendency of things to degrade over time. Webster defines it as a "trend to disorder." I feel like my whole life is usually trending to disorder. I start each new season, each new year, each new project with high and lofty goals, rhythms, and iron-clad willpower, and bit by bit, as all the other demands crash in, they all wear down to madness, and disorganization, and exhaustion.

Vacation, for us, has become a chance to begin again. More than just a break or a quick recharge, vacation has become an opportunity for us to reinstate all the things that make us the best versions of ourselves.

If you took a look at the itinerary for the week and a half we took this summer you'd be bored to tears. Lots of sitting, reading, walking, Lego-building, writing, ice-cream eating, and on and on with the commonplace. (No, there was not an actual itinerary.) But in all of that we were able to be deeply connected to our kids, to one another, and even to the parts of ourselves we'd begun ignoring. We were able to cement some habits we'd been aching for. We were able just to be.

Our vacation wouldn't work for everyone. Many of our friends would be batting their brains out or developing nervous ticks while scratching enigmatic symbols into the walls. Those are my friends who are most themselves on the cusp of a grand adventure or in the midst of an unsolvable problem. We all need different things. But for us, we hit the nail on the head this time. I am so grateful for this summer.

Hibernation

Winter Sleeves

Winter comes in with a deepening chill. The wind blows the rain, sideways and cold, painting everything with droplets of grey. The sunshine is hemmed in on all sides and obligated to shorten its tenure.

Every year I feel it. I'm finding I feel it more deeply than I realized.

Maybe I'm a bear.

I was reading the other day about bears. Common thought says that bears hibernate for the winter, but some scientists argue that their “hibernation” is not as deep or as physiologically altering as other animals who truly hibernate such as ground squirrels, bats, snakes, and other creatures.

Instead, the bear version of hibernation is referred to as “winter sleep” or, more condescendingly, “winter lethargy.”

Now I'm certain I'm a bear.

Winter is not the time when I earn my keep or demonstrate my creative prowess. I am perfectly content spending the winter months holed up in my lair to read, rest, and reflect.

And I've decided to stop beating myself up about it. I am forthright on my belief that the life of an artist must be a disciplined one, one in which the artist must create by sheer will when genius is elusive. My creative life has been changed by that thinking, and that thinking will not change. And yet…discipline must also capitulate with the natural seasons of living.

Every living thing must rest so that it might be revitalized.

With springtime come the buds of green. The air is laced with the fragrance of petals that bloom on the trees and flutter in the breeze. The days inch longer and longer, giving the sunshine a little room to stretch and breathe.

Likewise, each spring I find in myself new life. My inner world is revived and, somehow, sweet. I find wonder and am inspired by the smallest things, and my energy is renewed.

I'm learning that a period of hibernation—a period of outward dormancy and inner renewal—is right and good. Just don't sleep through the spring; it's too beautiful to miss.