Archives For joy

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

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I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

design (4)

“We are bidden to “put on Christ,” to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little. 

Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature’s nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George MacDonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men “You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.” That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.” 

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: Divine Goodness

design

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,” Wendell Berry says and sometimes I know he meant. Far enough into the wild things, I hold a six minute stare with a fox and keep my eye on the blue heron who stands alone, preening himself like a boy before his first date. Or maybe not his first but the one that feels like it because it is the first of all the rest of his life with her. My fox twitches and turns, dragging her white tipped tail behind her like a girl on her last date when she grabs her dignity and leaves.

The wild things are all around us if we’ll see them. It’s the peace that’s so hard to come by. We who are all looking for seven ways to rest and ten ways to declutter our lives. Yes, it is the peace that’s so hard to come by.

Here, by the lilypads and still waters, the peace is here. Yet when beneath it all is a soul not at rest, where can I come into the peace of the wild things? My heart is the wildest, raging one of them all.

I think I could learn from the wild peace of the animals who do not worry, what they will eat or where they will sleep, who they will impress or how, whether their homes will be good enough or the people kind enough, the time long enough or short enough. The peace of the wild things is there, in the turn of the fox, the dip of the heron, and here, in the heart of the Father’s wild child too.

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I was 13 when I knew I would be a writer even though definitions of verbs and adverbs and gerunds were still a bit hazy in my mind, not to mention my atrocious spelling. I came of age in the coming of age of spell-check which ruined it for us all. No idea how to spell anxious or brevity or volatile or naive? No problem. I wonder what will become of us now that most digital devices anticipate our words before we can spell out even their first few letters. We are already less than literate, now will we be less than half?

I’m no opponent of modernity, nor am I antagonistic to those who spend their resources grabbing up every new resource as it comes. I am writing this on a 15inch MacBook Pro, on which I spent more to get the anti-glare screen and super impressive pixel ratio. I wake up every morning to the alarm on my iPhone which gets me to work on time so I can learn and earn more so I can buy gadgets such as these. Praise God for GPS without which I’ll bet cities wouldn’t grow so fast so quickly.

Stepping back from the whole of it, though, the writing, the spell-check, the convenience, the anti-glare screen, (everything except the alarm), causes a kind of built-in pause, as it is meant to, and this morning I think about the year of jubilee.

Rightly understanding the law’s place is one of the gospel’s great benefits, but sometimes I lament that He who set us free indeed didn’t keep a few of the more beneficial laws around for good measure. The Year of Jubilee would be one I’d have kept because I’m very bad at resting and my guess is you are too. Because we can do everything faster, better, and more efficiently, we can do more and more and more until we’ve lost sight of why we’re doing it at all.

What are we doing anyway?

There’s much talk of obscurity and the normal and going about our business, minding it in light of the Gospel and little else, and this resonates deep in me. But I wonder sometimes if the reason we have this conversation at all is because minding other people’s business is so tres chic these days. “All up in your bizniss” in the street lingo. Sharing it all brings this strange delight, a false sense of togetherness and a true sense of coolness.

I used to think the word community was derived from common and unity, or together and altogether. But it’s not. Com: together and Munus: gift.

Gift, together.

In the Year of Jubilee, God’s people would return to their own land, and return the land they’d inhabited to its original owners. They would set free captives and slaves and servants. They would forgive debts. They would celebrate all year long the gift of God to them. They would community: gift, together. A long year of gifting.

When I set myself down and rest my mind and eyes and ears from all that which threatens to steal my joy, I think it’s the stuff of it all that steals it most quickly. Instead of feeling gifted to by what modernity has brought, I feel stolen from. It steals my time and my energy, my opinion and my coolness. Apart from all that I do or have, I am not cool after all.

But it turns out things don’t steal my joy, my need for them does

What is beautiful about Sabbath and Jubilee and rest, is when I’m set apart from what I do or have, I am nothing—and nothing is what I bring to the cross. Nothing enables me to gift everything and come, trembling and grateful, empty-handed, atrocious spelling, without GPS or alarm, come. Quiet and aware. Stilled and stayed. Comforted by nothing but His grace and love toward me.

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I cut my teeth on L’Engle and Dillard, mulled over O’Connor and Greene, struggled though four semesters of Shakespeare, found myself in the pages of Berry and Kingsolver. Good writing has carried me along. Good writing taught me more theology than six semesters ever did.

In the attention deficit world of the blogosphere, it can be easy to subsist on the crumbs. Comments back and forth, public discussion and debate, he saids/she saids, commentary on every public event that happens and quickly dissipates. This is the oil that keeps the machine running, greasy stories and grimy bits that catch our fancy for a moment and flee just as quickly.

I want the slow meal. The feast prepared with wooden cutting boards and whole foods, the juices of meats flavoring the whole. The spice. The wine. The tablecloth and the candles. Shoulder to shoulder, leaving the dishes for later, much later. The slow food.

Spotlights, whether by association or viral fame, do not a good writer make. Good writing is made in the kitchen, with the dashes and pinches, the taste-testing and stirring, ruminating and storing, aging and serving. Good writing sits and satisfies from the first bite to the last. It is a chocolate cake with a dollop of homemade ice-cream, from which only one bite is needed—because it satisfies.

When I lived in Central America the close of the meal was signaled by the head of the home saying, “Satisfecho.” It was a statement. I am satisfied. He would lean back in his chair, push back his plate, and we would sit there still, until all were satisfecho.

This is the writing I want to read. The kind that satisfies, that isn’t clamoring for more attention, for commenting, for debate, for the spotlight. It simply is. And is beautiful.

trees

If you are a Villager, or you podcast The Village’s sermons, this weekend Matt is preaching from II Corinthians 5. If you struggle with doubt, I encourage you to listen. One of the things I love about my church is that it is a safe place to wrestle with sin and the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. As I’ve been reading Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I’ve been so freshly encouraged to be honest not only about my sin, but also the brokenness that trickles down as a result of it. Note: if you haven’t read Spiritual Depression, I cannot recommend it more highly.

From Chapter III:

What is the cure for [spiritual depression]? For the moment I shall give principles only. The first principle is evident: above everything else avoid making premature claim that your blindness is cured. It must have been a great temptation to this man to do that. Here is a man who has been blind. Our Lord puts spittle upon his eyes and says to him: ‘Do you see?’ The man says: ‘I see.’ What a temptation it must have been to him to take to his heels and announce to the whole world: ‘I can see!’ The man, in a sense, could see, but so far his sight was incomplete and imperfect, and it was most vital that he should not testify before he had seen clearly.It is a great temptation and I can well understand it, but it is a fatal thing to do. How many are doing that at the present time (and are pressed and urged to do so), proclaiming that they see, when it is so patent to many that they do not see very clearly and are really still in a state of confusion. What harm such people do. They describe men to others as trees, walking. How misleading to the others!

The second thing is the exact opposite of the first. The temptation to the first is to run and to proclaim that they can see, before they see clearly; but the temptation to the second is to feel absolutely hopeless and to say: ‘There is no point in going on. You have put spittle on my eyes and you have touched me. In a sense I see, but I am simply seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ Such people often come to me and say that they cannot see the truth clearly. in their confusion they become desperate and ask: ‘Why cannot I see? The whole thing is hopeless.’ They stop reading their bible, they stop praying. The devil has discouraged many with lies. Do not listen to him.

What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: ‘Do you see ought?’ And the man said, absolutely honestly: ‘I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ What saved this man was his absolutely honesty.

Now the question is, where do we stand? The whole purpose of this sermon is just to ask that question—where do we stand? What exactly do we see? Have we got things clearly? Are we happy? Do we really see? We either do or we do not, and we must know exactly where we are. Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Not only as our Saviour but do we know Him? Are we ‘rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory?’ That is the New Testament Christian. Do we see? Let us be honest; let us face the questions, let us face them with absolute honesty.

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A month ago today was to be my wedding day.

I was never the girl pouring over scrapbooks of wedding ideals or scrawling my crush’s names in margins on notebooks, I am far too pragmatic for such things. I wore a ring and I planned a wedding.

But today I am not wearing a ring and passed through March 16 with one long sigh and then sleep.

I suppose sometime the shame will lift, the feeling of failure will abate, the questions I ask of God and myself will be quelled. But for today they hang heavy, shrouding all of me. I am strangely okay with the hiddenness of today—though I long for the joy that comes in the morning.

He must increase, I must decrease.

. . .

Sayable has always been a place of vulnerability and transparency. If you know me in flesh, you know I am no over-sharer—quite the opposite, I must be mined for information. But here, on Sayable, I have no shame, or haven’t. The whole point of Sayable is to say; yet the past months have been a time of shame, fear, questions, and quiet, and this has bled into all my writing, especially here.

Some say, “No need to go public,” and some argue, “No one needs to know anyway!” But this past week I read yet another account of a man fallen from ministry and think to myself, “If we cared less about what people thought, and more about ministering through our weaknesses, I wonder if we’d ever get so high we had a place to fall from?”

The thing about ministering through weakness is you have to go straight through it, diving, like the poet Adrienne Rich said, into the wreck. But diving through and into is painful and revealing and I’m afraid I may still fall in the meantime.

There is no great theology to be found in the todaying of my life. It is the punctualness of my inner clock, waking to the same shame and sadness, the fear that because God is enough, all I ever get will be God—and will He be enough? Really enough? I know He will be, but if I don’t ask the question, I won’t remember the answer four-hundred times a day, and I need to remember the answer.

What is diving if not one long fall? Knowing I am caught and held, amidst the wreckage, among the damage, to find the treasure.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
Adrienne Rich

peace

There are all sorts of opportunities to doubt God’s faithfulness and His sustaining goodness to us. Financial difficulties, marriage or roommate difficulties, church difficulties—everywhere we look in life we can see reasons the world would give us for not trusting God in the midst of difficult circumstances or fearful endeavors.

In my life right now it seems in every direction there are opportunities for the enemy to whisper or shout, “You will not have peace!” Our home bears the weight of that threat, my relationships bear the weight of it, my mind bears the weight of it, even my heart bears it. It has been a hard year. I’m not complaining, I’m just confessing that I look around me right now and say with Job, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes (Job 3:26).”

When I feel the lack of peace I tend to go hunting for it. I’ll turn over every rock and stone until I find it, but Isaiah 26:3 says that it is GOD who keeps me in peace. In all my grappling and grasping for it, He’s the keeper of it. All I do is keep my eyes fixed on Him, the author and finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:2).

Choosing today to fix my eyes on Him, not my circumstances or fears. Trusting today that He’ll keep me in perfect peace, like a good father keeps his children in clothing and food, keeps his home in order—this is the way God keeps me clothed and sustained in peace.

It is midmorning and I spread the logs apart, the time for morning fires over, the day’s work ahead. The embers still crack and spark and I stare at their orange and grey glare for a few minutes more.

There has been a dormant joy in my heart these last months. Depression is never such a stranger to me that I don’t recognize her creeping around the eaves and windows of my heart. We are old enemies, she and I, and old friends too.

She is different this time around. She knows where my faith lies and my certainty rests, and it isn’t in my hope or future, but His glory. I count all my hope and future as loss in the surpassing joy of knowing Him. But I have to count it and the counting never ceases.

If all I count are the blessings and joys, will I hold to tightly to the losses when they come? I ask it rhetorically but I ask it earnestly. I know idolatry, we have been friends too. If I do the math, it must only be that I decrease and He increases. In this life only one of us gets to live. It is in heaven, in final glory, that we are both alive.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” said the man who would be a martyr. I look around me and grasp at things, hopes, dreams, losses, always keeping, never giving.

God, help me lose.

Help me spread wide the logs, chance the death of flame, let the embers burn themselves out, and help me do the work of the day. Help me count as loss all things—even good things. Turn my wins upside down and my face to you. Let my counting not be accumulating but subtracting til there is nothing left but You.

Grey Texas days are my favorite. Because they are so rare, or because I love grey more than blue, I don’t know. Back home trees enclose me and so I feel safe. Here there are no towering pines or old maples, so I take the clouds instead and find a haven in them.

Being away for a month was good for me. I did not miss Texas, but I missed place.

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

Who is this person? I ask as I roll over awake in the morning, when I hug a friend, when I try to explain myself, excuse myself, examine myself. I feel a stranger to her and estranged from her. As though I’ve forgotten how to take my own pulse, as though I am unsure I have a pulse.

That sounds hyperbole and I know it, but I feel it all the same. The creeping darkness of discouragement snatches away courage, not its opposite, affirmation, as it might seem.

It is a dark day outside and there are dark days all around us. Have you felt it? I am not prone to pessimism except when I am.

I am reading Hebrews this morning, about Abraham and the promise, and I remember the promises God gave him: land, east and west and north and south; descendants as many as the stars; a son, a babe, just one. Just one.

God put Abraham in his place and gave him place and then gave him a place in history. We know him because of his son, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son and so on. Because God took a man on a mountainside, an old man, and gave him place.

I wonder sometimes if Abraham knew the gift of place on that day. If he knew he was destined for good things, a forefather of faith and many mentions in the canon. Or if he only stood there and just believed what God told him.

Romans says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4.22). The truth is my righteous anything has felt like a failure this year, but faith? Faith, not in the promise itself, but the giver of the promise? The promise of place, not for place’s sake, but for the promise-giver? Faith I can muster up, if I try.

He said He’s prepared good works for us (Eph. 2.10) and I have to believe that. When good anything feels very far off and very impossible today. He has prepared a place for us (John 14.2) and whether that is here, in this home, or in a new heaven and new earth, God said it.

Father, help me to know my place. That the very safest place for me is at the foot of the cross, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as your daughter, as a discipler and learner, a friend. Most of all, help me to see Christ in His place, high and lifted up, seated on the throne, parenting a world, and following the direction of His Father, wholly unconcerned with His place even while He prepares a place for us.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 4:23

It’s a misquoted, misused, and abused little proverb that has given a lot of people a lot of heartache. Here’s all it means:

Life happens, it springs forth out of you and me and everyone we know. Life is beautiful and messy and complicated and confusing and joyful. And it can be all those things without all those things being wrong or evil.

So keep your heart, know it, put it daily before the Lord, because you will create beauty with it, you will mess things up with it, and you will complicate life with it. But our hearts are not eternal and these angsts of life are not either.

When you guard your heart, guard its greatest treasure, Jesus alone. And trust that He is doing all the guarding necessary too.

I’m trying to be careful to not write much about my relationship with a good man. I know the seeping envy that hearing too much of that talk can do to hearts. I am my brother’s keeper, and my sister’s, and I want to steward well.

The truth is this fall has been one of shaping, shifting, breaking, filling, hurting, misunderstanding, loving, trusting, and hoping. I have a feeling marriage is all of those same things, only fuller and harder.

My hands have been so filled with good things over the years that I have found it difficult to open them and choose another good thing. Paul said singleness was better and that soothed me for a long time, pacifying my desire for a partnership and love. It soothed me so well that I found such deep substance in my singleness after my cries wore off. Not always perfectly—there were still times I longed for someone, anyone really, to be mine. But most of my time I enjoyed my freedom to think, be, say, do whatever I felt full license from the Holy Spirit to do. I felt full.

Fullness is good until you find yourself trying to fit just one more thing, especially if it is of particular importance to fit in, like a boyfriend or fiancee or husband sort of importance. Then that nasty full feeling makes you feel your selfishness and gluttony in sickening ways. You come face to face with how very much you’ve been building a kingdom that looks like Christ’s, but using your own cook and cleaner and interior designer. His kingdom, my throne.

Last week in a meeting with a couple who’ve taken us under their wing and love, I was asked, “What do you want? Deep down, what do you want?”

The answer I gave was cushioned and caveated by “When I let myself,” and “But I don’t think it’s possible,” but deep down what I want is just a life of simplicity. One where I am not standing behind a blog façade, where I greet my neighbors over the fence, and can peaches and keep my front door open and unlocked. That is what I want.

The next question he asked was: “Why can’t you just do that?”

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All this week I’ve been paying very close attention to what I want, really want, and here’s why: because I know and trust the Holy Spirit within me, I know that my deepest wants and desires bring Him joy, and if they bring Him joy, they bring me joy.

There are so many things on the surface that compete for my joy, things that pacify me, or tide me over, but the truth is God created me for His glory, so something about what I love naturally brings him joy.

I know this is meandering and may not make much sense, but I want to help myself and you understand that what we want deep down is not marriage or love or partnership or singleness. Those things are good, but they all come with a price. What we want deep down is for our joy to be full—and Christ wants that too, He said so. What brings us joy and completes that joy is to remain in His love.

I have not remained in His love in recent years. I have known His love theologically, but there has still been a part of me that has eschewed His love and groped instead for the cross—and not His cross, but mine. The cross I thought He was asking me to bear by being single or ministering beyond my capacity or choosing a life I didn’t necessarily want, but thought He wanted from me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Life is simpler here at home. Oh, there are complex things here, but the life people live is simple, robust and yet unencumbered by so much of what I have found myself surrounded by in recent years. Here I remember who I am in the deepest parts of me and I am loved and my joy is made full.

It is joy that fills us to complete, not duty, calling, or the expectations of others.

What do you want?

This afternoon Psalm 62 worked its way through my mind: He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Greatly shaken.

I have felt shaken in recent weeks. Shaken by my own expectations, by the expectations of others, by my sin, and by the sin of others. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been surprised at how surprised I am.

Somewhere along the way I bought the story that He was my rock and salvation, my fortress and I would not be shaken. I know suffering comes and sin steals for a season. I read the Bible and see it is full of people for whom things did not go well. But shaken? Knocked off kilter, rattled around?

Ah. Greatly shaken.

The gospel does not make lead-footed friends of us. Our salvation is secure, but we are not cemented in place, stuck with no forward or backward motion. The gospel sets a feast before us, but it is not a feast of fructose and ease, it is one that gives us what is best for us. And sometimes being shaken is best.

There is a passage in Corinthians I hear quoted often in reference to struggles: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

But it is the words before and after that catch me off guard, that shake me down, that pull my pride into a vortex of the Holy Spirit:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. He is also my comfort, my shelter, my haven. But all this shaking? All this crushing? All this pressing? It is for Him, for His glory and my good.

Maybe that is simplistic. I know it sounds simplistic to me today, as though I should be beyond this concept. But the truth is every time I think I’m beyond it, I get surprised by how much I still need it.

He is better. In the midst of being greatly shaken, His words stands firm and He is better.

I’m no liar so when someone asks how I am I rarely say, “Fine.” My go-to answer, though, is just as distasteful: “Busy.”

It’s been a season of life, going on a year now, where I’ve felt under the laundry pile of the life. I think to myself, “I really need to get out from under this stuff,” but the truth is I’ve hardly had three days in a row to stop and take stock of what’s keeping me busy.

This fall in particular I’m juggling four things that could be full-time jobs in themselves. And this morning I cracked a little bit.

Because I am not enough.

I cannot be a good friend, minister, writer, fiancee, blogger, thinker, designer, sister, daughter, and Christian. I pulled into my parking spot at work this morning, took a deep breath, tried to mentally prepare for another busy day at the office—and I cracked.

When I crack I don’t make a scene, I don’t cry, I don’t get angry or shout. When I crack I shut down, I slump over, I feel defeated and want to quit everything but know I never will. I’m an internal processor so when I don’t have time to internally process life, life processes me and it doesn’t go well.

Charles Spurgeon wisely said, “Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.” And I not so wisely have turned myself into a pretzel trying to learn Latin. Not actually read Latin, of course, just do the mental equivalent of it. It takes its toll on my energy, my spiritual growth, my relationships, and my ability to do anything well.

I don’t see life slowing down anytime in the next weeks or months. In fact, I know I’m on the threshold of what could be one of the busiest or deepest growth seasons of my life. I want to be faithful with the time, to redeem it, to rest in it, to rely on the Father through it. But this is my confession—busy is the other four-letter word for me. I hate busy. It is just as much a thief of my soul as being “fine.”

I’m spending some time in the word this week specifically asking the Lord to refresh the right spirit in me, to remind me how to rest, even amidst the busyness of this next months. I’m asking Him to break the things in me that keep me running in my own strength and to restore to me the joy of simple salvation. Salvation that is not dependent on doing anything well or even doing it at all.

What refreshes you in seasons of busyness?

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