A Season of Rest

Our 3-year-old had pneumonia last fall and spent the week of Thanksgiving in the hospital. We ate our turkey and dressing and turnip greens on a hospital tray…but honestly, it was delicious, even more so because we were about to go home! (I’ve spent several holidays in hospitals…and all I can say is, God bless the nurses and doctors and staff who give up precious family time to serve those who are sick.)

That Thanksgiving Day I was more keenly aware of God’s blessings and more thankful than ever before. My little one was alive and on the mend! We’d had a few very tense days…including isolation due to suspected MRSA as well as the possibility of being transferred to another hospital for surgery if the pleural effusion (fluid that had collected outside the lung) formed an abscess. Thank goodness both of those scenarios turned out to be only a scare.

She took it all in stride–the IV, the blood draws, the X-rays, the ultrasounds, the CT scan. (I think Doc McStuffins prepared her to face all of that without fear!) As long as Mama and Oscar the otter were by her side, she could be brave.

A few days after we went home, my blood pressure shot up and my lupus symptoms flared. That’s what stress will do for you. But a situation like that will also stop you in your tracks and put life back into perspective.

I mentioned in my last post that we’ve been through some intense trials during the past three years. They followed each other so closely that there was never much of a chance to stop and catch our breath or really rest. I had no choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other…you know the feeling. That’s exactly what I needed to do during that season to help myself and my family get through those things. But when we came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day, our little one had barely enough energy to sit up on the sofa. It was time for something other than just-keep-moving-and-doing-the-next-right-thing. It was time to rest. We all needed it.

Because I have lupus, I try not to overcrowd my schedule, I have to take occasional naps, and I’m used to saying no to extra activities. But for this season, I needed to cut back even further to allow extra downtime for us to recover.

It was the best thing I could have done. Christmas was the simplest it’s ever been…and it was even better without all the stress! I thought life would return to normal after the holidays when she was strong enough to go back to preschool. But she got sick again within a few weeks, so her doctor recommended that we keep her home for several more months to allow her immune system time to rebuild.

I think we all needed this time of rest to be restored. We’ve had our share of ups and downs during this season, just like any other, but we’ve been better able to cope with life’s demands. (And my blood pressure returned to normal, too.) I feel more alive and at peace than I have in a long time.

If you’ve been in a difficult place and feeling overwhelmed, just trying to survive…I commend you for keeping your head above water and just getting through it. I also highly recommend giving yourself the restorative therapy of slowing down. It can be difficult to cut back, but the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. Even a small change can make a big difference.

A season of rest is good for more than just the body…it’s also healing for the soul.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3a (ESV)

A Fresh Start

blue morning glory

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Mine were always a flop, so I quit making them years ago. They stressed me out and left me feeling like a failure…which is pretty counter-productive, don’t you think?

I need a fresh start more than once a year…more like daily (and sometimes more often than that). L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, said it best: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

Some people focus on a specific word each year. I like that idea–a word to live by–but I never can choose just one. Living day by day is the best I can do, seeking and trusting the One who knows all my days, who provides just what I need at the very moment I need it most. And I usually have no idea what I actually, truly need anyway, but He does.

Sure, I have dreams and goals and plans, but I’ve just learned to hold them a bit loosely…because life sometimes intervenes. The past few years have been very difficult for my family. In 2014, we lost Mama’s mother and my Daddy in a 3-month span, then my husband’s grandmother a week before Christmas and Daddy’s mother on New Year’s Eve. I was so overwhelmed, so ready for the end of that year and the beginning of another one. I didn’t think I could possibly handle anything else. But 2015 quickly proved to be no better, just a different kind of intense stress that turned our world upside down and tainted most of 2016 as well. But you know what? We were cared for so very tenderly through it all. The grief, the hurt, the scars…they’re still there, but they are being changed, being healed. And we are stronger for them.

So if life has been crazy and your New Year’s resolutions got stopped in their tracks, don’t worry–you’re welcome to start over anytime. I’m so thankful for fresh starts, today and everyday.

I’m learning to make each new day better by praising the One who always cares for me and by looking for His good work…because even on the hardest days, there are gifts and blessings to be found. I’ve discovered that the act of writing down those daily blessings helps my attitude tremendously (and gives me something to look back on, especially when life is tough). If you’d like to try it, there’s a free download here at Under the Sycamore (ashleyannphotography.com) for a simple monthly calendar that you can print out to record the best part of each day.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Be Still, My Soul

stuffed lamb toy

If you’re looking for something upbeat or funny, this is not it. But if you’ve recently shed a few tears and could use a little comfort, or if you are grieving a loss or struggle with depression (as I have), this is for you.

Today is a hard day. Fifteen years ago, we lost our first baby, near the end of the first trimester. Everything seemed to be going well, and I wasn’t prepared for the possibility that it might not end well.

Miscarriage is a very empty loss. There are no fond memories to evoke a smile, no photo albums to cry through, only a gaping hole in your heart and an empty nursery and a thousand questions to be answered only in eternity.

Sadness and anger threatened to overwhelm me. There was a nagging feeling that I had done something wrong, though there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome. And seeing a pregnant woman or a baby was almost more than I could bear.

It’s also a very silent loss. No one knows what to say, and some do not acknowledge it at all. There is no grave to visit, no dates engraved on stone for others to remember. But a parent’s heart remembers…the due date, the day the bleeding began. Each time the tears begin, the Father’s heart understands, and He comforts us as only He can.

I look forward to the day when I will see my first child for the first time. And on that day, every tear will be wiped away.

We had a daughter fourteen months later, and I brought out the baby things that I had packed away. As so often happens in life, there was joy but it was mingled with sorrow. I couldn’t bring myself to give her the little lamb that I bought when I found out I was pregnant the first time. Instead, Lambie sleeps with me.

Today, I remembered, and I cried. I also sat down at the piano and poured out my heart. This song seemed to speak to me today. The haunting melody is Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” and the words were written in 1752 by Katherina von Schlegel. This is not a professional recording, just me and my phone and my slightly out-of-tune piano, along with a few wrong notes and a couple of noisy page turns, so you might want to turn the volume down a bit. The arrangement is by Greg Howlett, and it’s available as a free download here.

Be Still, My Soul


Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide. In every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hast’ning on when we shall be forever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.