A Day Off Is Saving My Life

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

—Maya Angelou

Last year, I wrote about how poetry was saving my life. I put the question that sparked that post to myself this week and discovered that having a day off last Saturday made the biggest difference in my life. Prior to Mother’s Day, I’d traveled 3 weeks in a row. I was so tired. I was trying to recover from a cold. I was worn out. And as I looked around, I saw dishes piling in the sink, baseboards needing dusting, a tub needing scrubbing, and a mounting pile of laundry. Getting those things done would make me feel better, but they’d also leave me as physically exhausted as ever.  

So, on the first Saturday I’d had at home in a month, I sat down with my toast and reread passages of Aurora Rising, a book I’d recently read and loved. I washed my hair, then lay on the sofa with Tyler and watched a couple of shows on the science channel. I met my former roommate for lunch and then we went to see The Hustle. I ran a couple errands afterwards in the rain, both necessary for Mother’s Day the next day, and arrived home with my arms laden with bags. I dumped them all on the floor and fixed myself a bowl of ice cream. I enlisted Tyler’s help to wrap the presents for the next day. I checked on my plants. I dozed. After a frozen pizza dinner, I watched two Hallmark movies, then went to bed. 

I sometimes talk about being socially exhausted as being “peopled out.” Saying this to my former roommate once, she quickly offered to leave me be, but I answered, “You don’t count.” Of course, she counts as a person, but she isn’t someone who tires me out, whose presence drains me of energy. This puts her in company with only a couple other people in the world. I can want nothing to do with all of humanity and still be happy to be in her company. She still holds that position, but now Tyler’s there too, along with my best friend and my brother. My ideal day involves a lot of quiet time to myself, or in the company of those few people who I can fully, completely rest around. 

On my ideal day, I don’t have to cook or clean. I don’t have leave the house at all. I nap. I eat something sweet. I read in the sunshine. I watch something funny. That Saturday was pretty close to perfect. But a perfect day off, a day of true rest, doesn’t happen on its own. It has to be planned for and it must be guarded. 

When I plan a day off, I make sure I have food for all my meals. I accomplish early or push back every possible chore, phone call, and obligation. Even if I have just one thing to do, it can feel like a burden until it’s over. At the very least, that one email or phone call distracts me from following my proverbial bliss. I let go of my expectations about the dishes and my hopes for the baseboards. I carefully choose who I’ll let into my day so I can spend my time recharging. I do simple, quiet things and let the simple quiet restore me. I set myself up for success by lowered my expectations for myself and focusing on my word for the year: enjoy. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I’m hungry, I eat. I’m kind to myself. I let myself heal.

I’m well aware that many people don’t have a whole day to set aside to do only the things they most want to do. For many people, keeping themselves alive for one day, doing the bare minimum, requires much more than my day requires. If nothing else, keeping another human or two alive, plus a couple of animals, requires effort I don’t have to put forth right now. And for many people, reaching that bar is all they’re capable of on a typical day. Our ideal days might very, very different be based on our season in life and who’s around us. 

What does your ideal day look like? And if that seems like too much to think about, what would you do if you had a morning or afternoon off to just rest? 

On My Thirtieth Birthday

My thirtieth birthday was less than a month after our wedding and a few days after we “fell back” for Daylight Savings. I’d had a pretty good day at work and was looking forward to going out to dinner that night with Tyler and a few friends, including a couple of my bridesmaids. About 4:00, however, I noticed it was getting really, really dark outside. Like night. Surely it hadn’t been that dark at 4:00 the day before? I checked the weather radar and saw a huge red-cell thunderstorm growing as it approached us. I left work exactly at 5:00 and arrived at our apartment complex just before the bottom fell out. I texted, then called by friends and canceled our dinner plans. The storm was just too rough. Then Tyler called me.

He works at the next town over, usually a 35-45 minute drive. That day, he’d left work on time but was still far from home when the storm hit. He was unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of him. Other cars were stopping in the middle of the road. He was scared, afraid of cars and downed trees he couldn’t see. When a tornado warning came over the radio, he called me and told me his plan to make it to the parking lot of the place he used to work so that he’d have somewhere safe to wait it out, and to get inside if he needed to. The wind howled and the rain pounded the side of our apartment building. It was so loud, I couldn’t tell whether the wailing I could sometimes hear between the thunder was just the wind or a tornado siren. Tyler told me about the tornado warning on the radio, and a friend texted that she could hear a tornado siren, so I took a candle and a lighter and locked myself in the bathroom, the innermost windowless room in our apartment.

I grew up on the Atlantic coast, so I’m more familiar with hurricanes than tornados, and I’m glad for it. Tornados come fast, erratically, missing one house and hitting the one next door. And most of the time you have no idea they’re on their way until they’re right on top of you. I loathe them. I’m afraid of them. I know the second floor isn’t a good place to be if one hits.

Tyler talked to me until he got to the parking lot he had in mind. We told each other “I love you” and hung up to wait it out. It was my thirtieth birthday and all I wanted was for my brand new husband to get home safely. No gifts, no dinner, no big trip or special dessert. I just wanted him home.

I called my mom, told her the situation, and asked her to talk with me to keep me calm. As the storm lightened, I hear the tornado siren more clearly. I lit the candle. Soon after, Tyler texted that he was getting back on the road, but he planned to avoid the interstate so it’d take a long while for him to get home. Mom and I stayed on the phone together until he walked through the front door, half-soaked and shaken but safe.

That night, we watched a movie, ate a frozen pizza, and cut two generous slices of the ice cream cake we’d intended for our friends. I couldn’t have been happier.

That night, as Tyler and I lay in bed, we talked about what we’d felt during the storm, how we’d worried more about the other person than ourselves, and then we prayed together, thanking God for protecting us and asking help and comfort for the people whose night had gotten worse when ours had gotten better.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you experience the joy of sharing food with others and may you find rest.

The LORD is my Shepherd…

My sleep schedule has been a little off lately. I’ve struggled to stay awake at 3pm and lain wide awake at 3am. Around midnight last night, as I waited (and waited) to fall asleep, I enjoyed a good long talk with God. Somewhere in there, I took out my phone and used voice-to-text to rewrite Psalm 23 one line at a time. In the daylight, I’ve enjoyed my midnight brain’s insights and priorities. Instead of continuing the shepherd imagery, I named simple ways that God cares for and blesses me.

It’s not my intention to belittle this gorgeous and beloved song of praise. This was simply an exercise in thinking through a familiar passage in an unfamiliar way, personalizing a Scriptural prayer while giving a formal structure to my own prayers of thanks. (Additionally, I’ve been trying to step away from using male pronouns for God in my personal prayers, as God is neither male nor female, so I avoided them here.)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not starve for anything.
God encourages me to lie down and take a nap,
God reminds me to drink water,
God restores my soul.
God guides me toward righteousness paths
because that’s God’s character.
Yea, though I walk
through the darkest news cycles,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
rom coms and my roommate’s dog,
they comfort me.

You prepare chicken casserole for me
in the presence of the racist Twitter followers I had to block.
You bless me with cat videos;
my laughter overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will find me
all the days of my life,
and I will call the house of the LORD “home”
forever.

What would your version of Psalm 23 look like? What comforts you? What does God prepare for you? Who are your enemies and when are you most afraid? I’d love to hear your variations!