Fragments of phrases, strung together, describing our packed to bursting life.
My husband and I both knew something was needing to give for a long time. But what that something was we could never land on, or at best, we would make a vague plan for how we would implement some changes after a particularly brutal work stretch, or this summer, or maybe next school year. So I did what I do best, and I read books about rest and sabbath, because I like to circle the facts about something before jumping in and committing. I read the reviews before purchasing the product. One of those books was John Mark Comer's, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry the other was The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero. They were both convicting and confirmed what I knew needed to happen. We needed to rest. We needed to make Sabbath a priority. They both outlined simple and wonderful ways to implement this spiritual practice into my life, but I still found my brain screaming,"How!?" It felt so impossible and daunting. We didn't have time to add one more thing to our already packed lives, and the thought of giving up anything to make rest a priority made me prickle and brought the Pharisee out in me all at the same time.
And then everything came to a screeching halt for everyone in the last few weeks. We, along with the rest of the world, were forced into Sabbath.
Swiftly and quietly all the plans and obligations packed into our lives slid away.
My husband's profession is in the medical field. For us, it felt a bit like the calm before a potential storm you see creeping over the mountains that surround our town. So we took the weekend to practice Sabbath. He ran as hard and as fast as he could with our dog, and I walked the kids up to a desolated park. They whooped and galloped, climbed trees, rolled in dirt, and pumped their legs on swings. I downward dogged and planked in the grass glittering with dew. In Warrior Three pose I gazed hard at buds on trees ready to pop with hope. Birds called to one another, and the sun soaked its warmth into our upturned faces. My husband met us at the park, breathless, and with a wide smile on his face. Later we made a slow dinner, bathed and put the kids to bed, and then shared some ice-cream while watching a movie together. This was fun, I felt restored and calm.
That is the point God's Word, Scazzero, and Comer are trying to make, right? It's a delight, a joy, a deep breath.
This is going to be really good for us. It could even be fun.
Fast forward a few days, and everything has changed even more. No more parks, no more kids leaving the house, or playdates with neighbors or cousins. Long days of work and planning at the hospital have consumed my husband, and I'm sleeping next to a ghost of a person who is carrying a heavy load on his shoulders, and it seems the only thing I can do is pray and make food. In a way, this feels like the Sabbath that won't stop. It's not a delight. It's a pain. I'm coming to realize how similar I am to the Children of Israel wandering the wilderness. When reading the account of God providing enough mana for each day, expect on the Sabbath, I'll admit, a superior spirit would rise within me. "How hard could that really be? You couldn't stay in your tent and sleep in for one morning?" I would think and roll my eyes. Now I know exactly what one of the women who left her tent on the Sabbath to just make sure there really wasn't any manna looked like. Seeing oneself in the mirror or scripture isn't exactly flattering.
More days go by. The shininess of this whole shelter in place has worn off. The kids have gone through most of the art supplies, watched too much tv, and bickered over just about everything. I've cleaned a lot, painted a room, and worried about our food supply that they have gone through like woodchucks. My phone is never far from me, and I can pull up the latest news reports with a flick of my fingers. I've grown used to the feeling of a heavy weight slung about my shoulders, the tightness in my chest, and tongue clamped to the roof of my mouth.
I've become obsessive in checking the CDC's website along with national and local news reports. I tell myself that it's good to be informed and stay updated, but the knots my stomach are in and the way I snap at minor childhood infractions tell me otherwise. In an effort to break this habit, I bought Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness on Audible and played it over a speaker while I painted our bedroom. But something she shared in her book made me scramble down from the ladder, lunge for the speaker, and rewind the audio, again and again. She explained how when a traumatic event happens it's so easy to want to just turn to the news and let all of the information of the event pour into us. She says that this is, "the quickest way for anxiety and fear to tip-toe into your heart and plant their roots of secondary trauma."
That's exactly what I've been doing in this time of uncertainty and fear. I've been guzzling down the noise and constant stream of information, and let it shape me into something I'm not proud of. Eventually we're going to crawl out the other side of this, and we're going to all be different. Events of this magnitude change us as humans, and we as a collective whole are going to be changed in some way or another. I don't know what I'll look like on the other side of this. But so far, Covid-19 has shown me just how little of my life I actually had control over. It has hemmed it in, simplified it. It has shown me how afraid and fearful I am, and impatient and irritable. It has slipped between my rib cage and squeezed tightly.
Thank God for kind and thoughtful friends who have sent texts or messages to just check in. Some have sent flowers as harbingers of hope. Marco Polo messages from one of my most trusted and steady friends, and phone calls with family across the country have made me laugh and cry. These gestures and reminders have helped steer me back towards community and connection. When we are able to turn in towards one another, to process together what is happening, then we can look outward from our lives and selves and focus on the needs of others as well. For now, I know I need to limit my access to information and updates, and check in with a friend or a loved one who is probably just as scared and uncertain as I am.
I clean up my paint brushes and take a long shower. Afterwards I pull on a bright red cashmere sweater that had belonged to my grandpa and my most comfy high-waisted legging. The kids pull out sketch paper, markers and scissors, and are all miraculously quiet, so I gather ingredients to make pasta and veggies. Soon the house is fragrant with the smell of butter and garlic, and I gently fold mushrooms into asparagus, walnuts, and purple cabbage. I breath in the fragrance and lean into the soft comfort of my sweater. I put on a podcast and leave my phone tucked in a shelf where I can't see any notifications. As I continue to stir together the steaming meal, I hear the soothing accent of N.T. Wright, "The God we believe in, who we see in Jesus, is precisely the God who takes the very worst things that could possibly happen, and transforms it into something extraordinary, brilliant, loving, and good, and creative." It's a wisp of hope, a tiny thread of peace, maybe the burgeoning of delight? I choose to believe it.
The beginning of another week fast approaches. More uncertainties loom. When I imagined going through hardship, the unknown, or growing darkness, I always hoped I would keep a cool and wise head like Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. But the thoughts in my mind and the words that spill out of my mouth sound a lot more like Frodo.
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
And yet, in Gandalf's kind and empathetic reply, there is hope for all of us.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
And so, today, with the time I have been given, I can make one more meal. I can flip my phone face down and leave it in the other room. I can drink one less cup of coffee and go barefoot in the cold, spring grass. I can listen to robins; I can pray. I can choose love for the people in my home, over love for cleanliness and order. I can be a soft place to land in what feels like a tense and fearful time. I can learn to Sabbath.
I'll close out for now with a few things that have in a sense, steadied the ground beneath my feet over the last two weeks. The first is Romans 15:13 from The Message translation. I copied it down on a sticky note and centered it right at eye level on the window over my kitchen sink. I read it multiple times a day as I wash and rinse dishes, and let the truth soak into my parched and heavy heart, "Oh, may the God of green hope fill you up with joy. Fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!"
The next is a poem by Mary Oliver,
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.”
Lastly, my beautiful friend Lou has a wonderful podcast called "Bonding Time". Her latest episode with Hollie Golden is titled "Fear and Comfort" and I was so encouraged by it. To me, podcasts feel a bit like eavesdropping on really good conversations, or drafting behind someone while on your bike in order to rest from the wind. They help me catch my breath and remind me of true and beautiful things. So go eavesdrop here: https://www.loudrey.com/episodes/episode/2a50a843/fear-and-comfort-hollie-golden