Living a Life of Sabbath Margin

I recently finished up a group study of Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe, and it has been an absolute game-changer. Over the past ten-to-twelve weeks, God has really been speaking to my heart — teaching me to rightly order my affections for him — and Breathe flowed perfectly with what God had already been showing me. A leisurely stroll through our neighborhood with Asher allowed me to reflect on God’s presence in every aspect of life.

Since finishing the study a few weeks ago, my priorities have changed, my lifestyle has shifted, and I’m absolutely in love with simplicity. Creating margin in every aspect of my life has allowed me to flourish as a wife and mother. Of course there are still crazy, chaotic days…but I know where to go for solace and peace. 

Living a lifestyle that lends itself to celebrating the Sabbath creates clarity and presence of mind. The Sabbath isn’t simply about The Seventh Day…it’s much more than that. Incorporating elements of the Sabbath into every single day have allowed me to focus on the things that matter most, and not get caught up in crazy-makers, background noise, and mama-drama from outside sources. I’m creating space in my house — goodbye old baby clothes, books that I’m not reading, and toys that accumulate dust. I’ve started limited my time on social media — focusing mostly on family and long-time friends, instead of several happening mommy groups. Leaving one particular moms’ group was difficult; I enjoyed dialoguing with my favorite mommy friends throughout the day…but I lacked boundaries and over-indulged on a regular basis. We got rid of cable — and its accompanying monthly bill. The less there is to distract me, the more my heart is focused on truth, goodness, and beauty — and my soul is anchored in God’s Word.

The Ugly Truth of Beautiful Grace

“The root of all sin is self-sufficiency — independence from the rule of God. When we fail to wait prayerfully for God’s guidance and strength, we are saying with our actions, if not with our words, that we do not need him.” -Charles E. Hummel

This blog has been about ten years in the making. The words that follow have rested on the tip of my tongue, on the tips of my fingers, and on the edge of my heart for about five years now. My story is not unique in that it displays God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption…but it is unique to me. The decisions and choices that I made between the years of 2004 and 2008 set the stage for my life from 2009 until today. I’ve lost count of how many times I sat down in front of my keyboard to type out the events that led me on an unbelievable and unexpected prodigal journey into the arms of Jesus, and the heart of God. 

And then, after reading Hummel’s quote in The Tyranny of the Urgent, it all came tumbling out. God said to my heart, “Now. Tell them. For my glory.” And that is exactly what I intend to do…

In 2005 I married a godly, salt-of-the-earth guy who I’d dated all throughout high school — he was the only boyfriend I’d ever had, and we were involved in church activities just about every time the doors were unlocked. I was living as a good preacher’s daughter should. In 2006, I graduated with my English degree and began teaching high school, we bought a house in our hometown, led worship on Sundays, and were sponsors in the youth group. In 2007, I started teaching at a brand new campus — I was responsible for two different preps (sophomores and seniors, if memory serves) on an A/B day schedule, and I was cosponsoring an after-school extracurricular activity. I usually got to work around 6:45am to get everything ready for the 7:25am class. By the end of most days, I had mounds of grading to accomplish, copies to make, and lessons to plan, so I’d stay at work until 6:30pm. By the time I got home, I was exhausted. After a few months into the school year, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from the long days. I didn’t know it until years later, but I was flirting with depression due to lack of sleep and being overworked. (I say this not to blame my bad choices, blatant mistakes, and deliberate sin on depression, but to make the link that once someone is depressed, they generally don’t care about long-term consequences of poor decisions…which is why there is often a string of really dumb decisions that don’t make much sense to outsiders.)

During this time period, I tried my best to help a good friend through a break-up, which meant we hung out in downtown Fort Worth an awful lot. I had never partied, drank, or “went out” until I was 24 years old. At first, we just hung out together — two girls laughing the night away — then it snowballed into a lifestyle that left me spending more quality time with a girlfriend than my own husband. I was naïve and ignorant, and paid no attention to the fact I was making terrible decisions. This left me open to major temptation, and my spiritual life had withered into nothing more than a song-and-dance routine I performed on Sunday mornings. Let me paint this ugly picture: I would go out on Saturday night, stay out until 2:00am, and sing praise and worship songs on stage with a microphone…nursing a hangover. It disgusts me to type that out and see it in black and white. But it is so necessary. I can look back on my former life through the lens of grace and God’s forgiveness, and I can now see it for what it was: Sin. Ugly, selfish sin.

I grieved those who loved me the most, and I betrayed those who trusted me. This “just having fun, no harm done” mentality led me down a path that no one — not even me — saw coming. That’s how sin works. That’s how The Enemy so efficiently steals, kills, and destroys.

Backtrack a few years to 2004: I met a guy on a military training tour in England — he was a friend of a friend, and we all spent time together over several days after we were off duty. Had I been involved in prayer and scripture on a daily basis, I would have been able to see this man for what he was — temptation. After returning home from the 2004 training exercise, we emailed back and forth for a few months…something I never should have done. In early 2005 I decided to stop emailing him — I was now married and knew enough to realize it was an inappropriate relationship.

Fast forward to 2007 — flirting with depression, almost zero quality time with my spouse, and even less than zero time spent in prayer. Out of the blue, we reconnect via MySpace, and the emailing begins again. He’s in England, I’m in Texas…I knowingly lie to myself, saying it’s harmless because there is literally an ocean separating us. Distance doesn’t matter where sin is involved. My heart was deceitful, and I was involved in an emotional affair. Keep in mind, at this point I was staying out late on the weekends, working twelve hour days, and treating my husband with no respect. I was in a tailspin of sin, going down in flames quicker than anyone noticed. By the time someone from church confronted me about my lifestyle, my heart had become hardened. I no longer cared that the façade was crumbling and people were starting to see me for who I was…and who I was not. I didn’t care that I was committing the sin of adultery, because I was still lying to myself, repeating the mantra that it’s all just a harmless friendship. A lie straight from the pit of hell.

I hated my life. I wanted to escape. I couldn’t believe this was the person I’d become. I felt too far gone to come back…so I ran. I ran fast and I ran far. Incredulously, I applied for teaching jobs in England, never expecting to get an offer. Turns out, if you seek out sin, it is easily found. In early 2008, I was called for an interview on my way to work one morning, and offered a position within a week. I accepted the position without ever consulting my husband. I resigned a good teaching job half-way through the school year, waited for my work visa, packed my bags, and left. I destroyed my marriage, and broke my family’s heart. I entered my own Lo Debar, and I settled in for the long haul. When I arrived in England, he was there to pick me up from the airport.

As I well deserved, this man quickly began cheating on me and became downright mean. I was the recipient of his anger, and I knew I deserved everything he could dish out. No doubt, my parents were praying for their prodigal daughter in the midst of this terrible time. I knew I had disappointed them, and that knowledge alone left enough of a crack in my heart to eventually lead me back to my Heavenly Father. After a particularly rough week, I confessed to my parents via email how deep my sin had become, and I knew I was on the precipice of the point of no return. There, in my self-made-misery, I began to seek the face of God. He allowed me to hit rock bottom and feel the weight of my choices, so that he could be glorified…the same way he allowed Lazarus to die so that he could be resurrected, for God’s glory. All of my sinful choices were rooted in the ultimate sin of self-sufficiency and my desire to be independent from the rule of God.

After two months in England, I resigned my teaching position, packed my bags, and headed home. My parents were there to meet me at the airport. I returned home to face divorce, broken relationships among friends, and shame. But, I still wasn’t done sinning. I proceeded to indulge in drive-by-dating, thus further injuring my bruised and battered heart. I knew I was in desperate need of God, but I was still running. This time I just happened to be on U.S. soil. I refused to just be still and know…instead, I racked up a series of broken relationships before meeting the man God had reserved for me. God used my pain and brokenness from my sinful choices to solidify my need for his grace.

In The Tyranny of the Urgent, Hummel goes on to say, “The opposite of such independence is prayer in which we acknowledge our need of God’s guidance and empowerment. In this respect we have seen the example set by Jesus in the Gospels. He lived and served in complete dependence on his Father. Contrary to popular views, such dependence does not limit or repress human personality. We are never so fully personal — free to become our true selves — as when we are living in complete dependence on God.”

Having been utterly laid bare before God, I know I am nothing more than a sinner in dire need of his grace. Having been the recipient of his unharnessed, matchless grace, I am nothing more than a vessel through which that same grace flows to others. To whom much is given, much is required. I have been clothed with much grace, love, and forgiveness. I have experienced God’s faithfulness in a way I never thought possible. In the seven years since my return from Lo Debar, my mission in life has been to extend God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness to others. After everything I’ve received, how could I not?

May you be clothed with grace and mercy. May your heart forever be open to God’s voice. May you walk in the power of his love and forgiveness. May you run into his open arms, and never leave.

In a Field of Flowers…

I originally wrote this back in 2009, and wanted to add it to my blog for posterity’s sake. It’s good to see where I was, and even better to see where God has brought me. His grace is so very sufficient.

I once loved a man who broke my heart. When I was gluing the pieces back together, he was “thoughtful” enough to call and check on me every couple of weeks, even offering advice on my new dating relationship. He knew me well enough to hear the frustration in my voice that betrayed my words. He accurately interpreted “Things are fine” to mean “I’m pretty sure I’m in a place I shouldn’t be, I just don’t know if and/or how I should get out.” He stopped me cold in the middle of a sentence, “Robin, I know you. You should not be dealing with this, and we both know it.” He went on to paint a metaphor of how things “should be” for my life. He remembered our goofy ‘If I were a crayon’ conversation, and offered this advice:

Imagine you’re in a field of beautiful flowers, and you’re looking for the one that was created just for you. You stop and admire each intricate bloom, finding several worth picking – but you can’t. You’re looking for the rare-colored cerulean blue (my crayon color of choice) flower. Don’t you dare stop until you find it; don’t settle for anything less.

I must admit, it sounded beautiful. However, I was at a point in life where I was tired of flower shopping – I’d been pricked by too many thorns. I had found a rather intriguing bud, not yet a bloom, and felt drawn to water and care for this particular one. I quickly learned I was not a natural horticulturist, so I delved into reading and research in the way of prayer and scriptures.

My back began to hurt from leaning over and watching the bud. My knees became sore and my hands dirty from kneeling in the soil to care for the soon-to-be-blossom. This wasn’t the ideal cerulean blue flower I was “supposed” to find, yet I couldn’t take my eyes away.

After long periods of watching, waiting, watering, wondering, and worrying, I realized there was nothing I could do to make this flower bloom. There were times I wanted to give up, to walk further on into the field, to find a different blossom. Every time I decided to get up and move on, something kept me from doing so. Finally, I threw up my hands in frustration and knew there was nothing more I could do for the fledgling bud, so I went to the Master Horticulturist.

I asked God to water my flower, to provide the exact amount of sunlight, and to let it bloom in His time, not mine. I remained on my knees, but my gaze was not fixated on the flower – I focused on the Master Gardener. God not only watered His bloom, He did the same, and much more, for me. He uprooted me and planted me in fertile soil.

As the seasons changed, so did the flower. The bud began to bloom and blossom. I was blessed to watch the transformation of a beautiful creation.

In the end, I guess I did find my cerulean blue flower; I just couldn’t see the color of the petals until it bloomed.

If you say so…

I wrote this back in October 2009, and stumbled across it today. These words serve as a reminder of God’s goodness, grace, and provision. He always has been faithful, and he always will be…

After an exhausting night of work, Peter had nothing to show for his efforts. All night long, he threw his nets into the ocean, each time expecting, hoping to pull up a full net of fish. Grueling efforts drained his energy and depleted his hope.

While I can’t identify with all-night fishing exertion, I absolutely understand Peter’s feelings of despair, hopelessness, and frustration.

I spent months casting my net into an ocean – hoping, praying, and begging for it to be filled – and each time the net returned empty, I grew more and more discouraged.

I wanted to give up completely and sail my ship to more fruitful waters.
Better yet, I wanted to abandon ship.
I began to feel like a failure.
I lost hope.

Yet, in the midst of my futile casting, I couldn’t ignore the unrelenting command:
“Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets.” (Luke 5:4)

Deep water is frightening – I had no idea what was lurking beneath the surface, I couldn’t see the ocean floor. The unfathomable dark waters concealed a myriad of mysteries. I had no desire to “go out where it [was] deeper,” yet I knew there was no other option.

Every instinct instructed me to flee.
No part of my rational mind concluded that entering deeper water was a good idea.

Yet, in the midst of my rationalizations, I couldn’t ignore the constant urgings:
“Wait passionately for God, don’t leave the path.” (Psalms 37:34)
“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed…wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalms 27:11, 13-14)

It took every fiber of my being to fight the urge to return to shore.
I was certain that casting my net one more time would continue to make me look like a fool.
All of my efforts had been in vain; not only did I have no hope for pulling up a full net, I fully expected a completely empty net – a la Bubba Gump Shrimp, pre-hurricane.

My response was much like Simon Peter’s… But God, I’ve worked so hard and haven’t caught a thing! But if you say so, I’ll try again. (Luke 5:5)

In the midst of my despair, God gave me the strength to try again.
All I had to do was believe Him, and thank God I did – I’m still pulling up full nets.