Creating space for rest

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.

Luke 5:16

I grit my teeth a lot.

A couple of years ago, my dentist told me that the wear on my teeth was unusual for someone my age. She recommended I get a mouth guard to combat the effects of grinding my teeth when I sleep.

Grinding your teeth is a sign of high stress or anxiety.

At some point during the past couple months, I started to feel like I was gritting my teeth to get from one thing to the next. I dreaded events I should have be looking forward to, because I only saw them as another obstacle on the road to rest. And I didn’t really see any rest in sight.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the grind, and I’m good at it. But this semester, it started to wear me down.

If you know me, you probably know I’m constantly going and doing. I keep a meticulous calendar, and I often tell people, “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist!” If I don’t write down engagements, I won’t remember them.

Law school, of course, is not a good time to rest. “Just get past the bar exam,” one attorney told me. “Then you can rest.” The legal field is filled with people struggling with addiction and burnout, people who cannot manage the stress and have to leave the profession.

The advice was well-intentioned, but I know myself. I know if I push through this type of deep mental and physical exhaustion until I get to the next “rest stop,” that rest stop is never going to come. If I don’t force myself to take time to learn how to relax now, I will never find a good time. No one is going to force me to take a break.

My friends helped me enormously in recognizing my burnout and my need for rest, and encouraging healthy boundaries.

I think rest varies in how it looks for different people. For me, rest is making intentional space to process emotions away from time online and in large groups.

I find one-on-one time with my close friends to be deeply restful. Walking. Running trails. Reading a book before bed. There are other methods of rest I haven’t explored or discovered yet. I’m still learning and I hope to continue. If you have a suggestion for active rest, I’d love to hear it!

Throughout the semester, I made the conscious effort to create space for rest. I started saying no to commitments I knew I would regret saying yes to.

I tried to be intentional about holding space for processing my emotions instead of numbing them. When the Covenant School shooting happened, I let myself feel numb, then angry, then despondent. I cried. I skipped class for the first time in law school. I prayed.

When finals rolled around, I blocked off large chunks of time for studying. I got off Instagram and Facebook. I prioritized my sleep and workout schedule. I made sure to get outside during study breaks, or sit near a window to study. I didn’t study for more than 6-8 hours each day, but I made it effective. And I felt better about my studying this semester than I ever have.

This morning, I was reading Luke chapter 5, about Jesus healing a man from illness and performing miracles. The last verse in the first section stood out in contrast from Jesus’ miraculous works in front of large crowds.

“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.”

I think Luke intentionally placed this sentence at the end of the section. Fully human and fully God, Jesus knew and demonstrated his understanding of rest! After these encounters with large crowds Jesus would withdraw, or go away, to the wilderness (sometimes translated “lonely places”) to pray and recharge.

I have big dreams and goals. I want to be an effective advocate for those who don’t have a voice. I can’t do any of it if I don’t find time to recharge, to grow in my relationship with God and my friends. I’m glad I’m learning how to now before it’s too late.

If you find yourself weary and needing rest these days, I encourage you to make space for the process and see how you might best learn what is effective for you.

It’s easy to think, that’s all well and good for her, but I really don’t have time for rest. Look at Jesus. Was his mission less important than yours? Jesus made time for rest; what beliefs are stopping you?

I am not suggesting this is simple in any way. I only know that it is essential.

If you take a tumble

Face first, palms down, I hit the dusty trail. Wincing, I checked the damage: skinned and cut elbows, and a hole in my running tights at the knee. Nothing else but bruises. I got up gingerly, then bounced back off, fine but frustrated. These falls have become all too common in the past few weeks. I’m training for a race, and I don’t want to get injured before I get to the start line.

Irritated, I texted my coach. Why am I falling nearly every run? I don’t feel like I’m recovering well. He encouraged me and reminded me: this is supposed to be the toughest part of training: “You are loaded with chronic fatigue. Battle through! All mental this week! You got it!”

Until he reminded me – this is supposed to be tough – I had gotten so caught up in the rhythm of life I had forgotten what happens when you’re feeling beat down and exhausted- you tend to fall down. That’s why rest and recovery are essential.

I’m the type of person who believes there is a lesson in everything, and I think the perspective gained from falling down can be profound, and maybe even comparable to similar situations not involving a physical fall.

The band Goose says it a lot better than I do:

To the rhythm of life I was walking on by
When I fell straight down my shoes were untied
I don’t want to get up quite yet
There’s something down here I’ve got to get
Down on the ground
You sometimes find
what you wouldn’t have found
If you kept on walking by

I have many scars from falling, both in the physical, spiritual and emotional sense. I think we all have those.

In one sense, to fall is to fail. Something got in your way, and you couldn’t help but get tripped up by it. To fall is also quite human, and it’s humbling. I am reminded of my own imperfections and shortcomings, and I carry some of those scars around on my banged up kneecaps.

The emotional falls are a bit different; those scars aren’t visible, and the pain lingers. I can get so caught up in the movement of life that I miss opportunities to love people well, and instead end up hurting and disappointing them. Instead of getting bogged down in guilt over those missed opportunities, though, I have found it essential to pause and reflect, then keep moving forward. Again, over to Goose:

If you take a tumble, if you take a spill
There is a lesson to learn and a cup to refill
And if you stumble, if your balance you lose
A road lies ahead so tie up your shoes

My dad always compared life to a marathon. You’re going to stumble and fall sometimes, maybe even go down for the count. What matters is the ability to learn from those falls and let them help you grow and change. I don’t want to get so caught up in failures of the past that I stay down on the ground forever. I’m going to tie my shoes, get back up, and keep on running. If you’re reading this, I hope you find the courage to do the same.

Cheers to 28 years

My birthday is perfectly placed, smack dab in the middle of the year, for the introspection that always happens around the New Year, and then again six months later.

I’ve spent weeks contemplating this day and what my emotions are. It’s not a particularly significant birthday, and yet I feel the need to celebrate more as I grow older.

This morning when I woke up and drove to the gym, I played a song from my worship playlist that I heard for the first time as a child: Take Us to the River by the Irish worship leader Robin Mark. The words I heard this morning made me weep.

“The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon us/ This is the year of the Lord!”

Man, does that feel like a promise and a blessing.

These are the words Jesus read at the beginning of his ministry.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

Isaiah 61:1-2

It seems fitting that these are the words I ponder as I begin a new chapter of life.

Life has been messy this past year. But I have made a conscious effort to be honest with myself, to embrace the small moments of heartbreak and the beauty I see woven throughout. I’m feeling my emotions about getting older, being lonely, being surrounded by wonderful friends and community, striving to reach goals, feeling like I’ve fallen short yet again. I’m in love with my life and the people who are in it, flaws and all. What a glorious blessing it is to have another year to take it all in.


Zach Bryan released an album at the end of the spring titled “American Heartbreak.” His lyrics capture a lot of the spirit of being in one’s twenties and growing older and more aware. Here’s a couple of lines from his song “Right Now The Best.”

This whole world’s always waiting on tomorrow
Itching, fiending for whatever happens next
But what if I told you they’re all lying
And I love you for who you are, right now, the best.
Everyone thinks they’re going the wrong way
But they’re looking at their maps all wrong
‘Cause everywhere is somewhere to someone
And in a rush, you cannot dance to smooth slow songs.

That’s something I’ve been telling myself recently: “I love you for who you are, right now, the best.”

It’s easy to get caught up in who we are becoming, who we want to be. But I want to live out every moment and appreciate the present, not get so caught up in the future that I look back and feel like haven’t fully appreciated the moments now past.

Part of living in the present means being honest with myself. To me, self-honesty is this line I read recently:

“… I’m not running around blaming anybody. I’m doing the work… Letting it hurt. Scraping the rust off my heart.”

Fountains of Silence

Scraping the rust off your heart is hard and painful when you’ve spent your life outfitting it in armor. It’s something I’ve known for years was important, but was unwilling to open myself up to.

Slowly, that is changing. And boy, does it hurt. It hurts to open my eyes to how ego-driven, envious, impatient, and afraid of anything less than perfection I have been. It hurts to admit and analyze my flaws and weaknesses and ask God for the grace to work through those. But it is vital.

Ten years ago, I got a tattoo with the words, “The truth shall set you free.” Then, it was a reminder of the self-deception I’d been engaging in, listening and believing lies even when warning bells were going off in my head. Today, it is a reminder of the power of truth: it is the force that shines light in the darkness. Not only do I want to seek truth, I want to bear the truth as well.

This year, on my birthday, I’m grateful to be living in the present, excited but not fearful for the future. Each moment – the bright rays of joy and cool melancholies of sorrow – is a blessing. My hope for you today is that you will let the sunlight filter into your soul. Use it to truly see all the dark, hidden parts you feel like you can’t show to anyone. And then start the process towards scraping the rust off your heart- admitting those weaknesses and seeking the grace to heal them.

Ten Years Later

Warning: Discussions of self-harm and suicide.

I think we all look back sometimes and wonder how we got where we are today, for better or worse.

February is always a contemplative month for me, but even more so than usual this year as I mark off an anniversary. Ten years ago on this day, just past the height of winter, I decided I didn’t want to be here any longer. I attempted suicide, not knowing the way it would shape and change my life forever.

As a 17-year-old high school senior, my world seemed vastly different than today. But the biggest difference was simple: I felt my life had no value.

So many children grow up believing their self-worth contingent upon their performance, and I was no exception. I saw high performance as the key to success and happiness, and for a while, my life played into that idea: I was a high-achieving competitive swimmer and straight-A student. That was never enough. At age 13, I woke up at 4 AM to arrive early at practice and help my coach put in the lane lines. At 15, I made my first Junior National cut, and a few months later, at 16, I swam my first Nationals qualifying time. In the summer of 2011, I was one-half a second away from my years-long goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials. Friends and family validated me for my athletic achievements.

And then, everything sort of fell apart.

Some of it is too personal and painful to talk about here, but I began to lose my childhood faith in God and goodness. My body started to change as puberty hit. An acute awareness of my physical self, compounded by stripping down to a swimsuit each day, led to my self-hatred for that changing body. At practice, my friends and I taunted each other with the word “fat,” using the term as a synonym for lazy, stupid, or just silly. The language we used took a toll; hatred for my body became an all-consuming obsession that lasted for years.

Always worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, if people would like me or not, my anxiety worsened and depression spread over my days like fog. My physical and academic performance suffered as a result. My dreams of going to Stanford, Berkeley or Princeton suddenly felt out of reach, as my times slowed and most college recruiters lost interest in me. I felt lucky to be recruited to Northwestern, and, like many teenagers, was excited to finally have the chance to get away from home when I accepted an offer to swim there.

It wasn’t until I took AP Psychology my junior year of high school that I began to understand how unhealthy my mental state was. It took me nearly another year to seek therapy. By then, I had little motivation to work on what was wrong.

In the winter of 2011-12, each day blended into the next. I had begun taking anti-depressants at the suggestion of my counselor. My brain, a spin cycle of guilt and shame, felt like the enemy, and I just wanted to make it stop.

Memories return of pitch-black morning swim practices where I missed every interval and wondered what kind of courage it would take for me to go home and kill myself. I pictured death the way I wanted it to be: a long, warm, never-ending sleep. The thought of such nothingness scared me, but the thought of continuing to live the way I was, for what I thought would be the rest of my life, scared me more.

The anti-depressant medication I took was supposed to make my brain feel better, but it made me feel coldly detached from reality. I began occasionally abusing prescription medication to numb the pain further, then self-harming to quell my guilt.

I was transitioning off one anti-depressant and onto another in February of 2012 when I knew with calm clarity that I was going to kill myself. I’ve written about this before, here, but suffice it to say that my opioid and anti-depressant overdose was mainly successful at bringing about a trip to the ER, hallucinations, a stay at a mental hospital, and a whole lot of vomiting, in addition to the impact to my family and friends I may never understand. Once I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the psychiatric ward, I realized the consequences of what I had tried to do. I knew that I didn’t want to die, but I desperately needed something in my life to change.

After that, though, not much did change. I knew I’d never attempt suicide again, but I put up emotional barriers to prevent the type of pain that led to that attempt. I was cold, cynical, bitterly sarcastic, often unkind, in trying to build a shield. I continued to struggle with self harm, body image issues, and substance abuse until I ended up in the hospital a second time at age 19. At the end of my sophomore year, I felt like I’d recovered enough to perform well again, but my motivation evaporated when I dove into the water at our championship meet. Frustrated and disappointed, I quit swimming the next month.

It wasn’t any one event that changed my life, but instead, a series of events in which self-destructive tendencies landed me at what felt like rock bottom. And when you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere left to go but up.

Slowly, things changed. People came into my life who were warm, open, kind and also imperfect. I began reading theology for class, which led to thinking more deeply about the faith I’d left in the past, and about redemption.

On a flight from LAX to JFK for a spring journalism internship, I read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” By the time I got off the flight, I was convinced that Christianity was worth another shot. Incrementally, I began to believe what I had read was possible: that I could live a purposeful life, forgiving myself and others while working to be more open and vulnerable.

In January of 2016, I resolved to practice gratitude daily. Nothing has changed my life more completely, bringing me a deep, fulfilling joy and helping me to battle against the easy cynicism our culture normalizes.

We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us.

Robert Hayden

Slowly, I have made a truce with my body, recognizing and appreciating everything it allows me to do and the strength it contains.

Law school has taken its toll on my mental health, but I now have the foundational self-worth necessary to overcome the hurdles. Being surrounded by a community of supportive friends means everything.

The most profound impact of this deep depression was all it stole from me, unrecognized until recently. Depression stole my innocence, my joy, and even some of my friends. It stole my love for the sport of swimming. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to fall back in love with swimming, able to move past all the traumas I processed over the years while in the pool. I recognize and accept what depression did to me, but I am grateful for all I learned while battling it.

People wonder aloud why or how one gets to the point of contemplating suicide, without realizing it’s closer to many than it may appear. Without belief in our own worth, what’s the point of living?

It is vitally important to affirm and uphold every person we come across, even those who seem most abhorrent. Though I don’t like everyone, I believe each person is created in the image of God, endowed with an indentation of God’s holy spirit. Once you believe this, the only substantial choice is to look for that light in others.

Each day is a struggle in a different way for each person. As for me, I’m going to continue to choose walking in the light, hoping to share it with people who need it desperately, like I once did.

On this ten-year anniversary, I am filled with joy and a whole host of other emotions. If you are struggling right now, know that you won’t always feel like this. Darkness does not last forever. Remember your purpose; if you don’t know it, don’t stop looking until you do.

 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Ephesians 5:8-9

A Holy Moment

I don’t think it’s what most people dream of, but being alone on Christmas morning feels sort of sacred.

In the near silence, I feel better and think better. I love being around people, but I treasure these quiet morning moments alone. Or, perhaps not alone, but spent drinking in the holiness of God along with my coffee.

It’s still and quiet, save for the birds chirping, the occasional windy gust, and a few stray vehicles wending their way down the street.

Small pleasures abound: the dark coffee I inhale, a flickering, leaning candle, and the couch threatening to swallow me in its plushness. The crowning glory is the lit Christmas tree. It’s a fake one, a little scraggly with gaps here and there, and there are no presents beneath it. That doesn’t matter.

This is the marvel of Christmas: sitting alone in this humble house, I experience God’s perfection in a holy moment. This is where God is most present, most obvious: in imperfection.

Jesus Christ is the God of the great reversal. What king comes into the world, born into poverty in a barn, living a working class, nomadic existence, eschewing material possessions, befriending prostitutes, tax collectors, the weak and poor, only to die powerless? It is opposite our beliefs and expectations of what power and glory should look like. And yet, Christ is Lord of the unexpected.

That is where I find him this morning: alone on Christmas, reading the birth story of Christ. Tears stream down my face for the first time in months, as I experience the joy and peace and awe accompanying Christ’s arrival on earth.

I hope you experience joy and peace this Christmas, too. I hope you remember that whatever your Christmas looks like, there are holy moments waiting for you to stumble across them.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide us to the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79