What a gift to know this friend, and to share her words with you here. Alexis and I went to college together (I remember the sweet coffee shop she shares about well!), and her friendship has been such a blessing over the years. Alexis practices gratitude, rest, and intentional friendships so beautifully, and the freedom she’s found in these rhythms inspires me greatly in my own life and family. I wish all of you could know this sweet friend in real life, but for now, I want to introduce you to her through her gentle, gracious, life-giving words.
This is Alexis’s Freedom Story.
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I muscled my way into my twenties bound by the tyranny of the urgent. Productivity was my driver, and I’d stay up late into the night to complete projects, study for tests, pour for hours over the perfect paper, grade, etc. After the day was done, I’d often lay in bed repeating back to myself conversations I’d had or presentations I’d given, picking them apart and giving them over to a loud and nasty inner critic.
Having grown up in a family culture committed to productivity, REST had become a bad word. We never actually said it, but overarchingly we knew: to whom much is given, much is expected. Stillness, amusement, stopping to do something for the sake of pure enjoyment – was simply NOT an efficient or fruitful use of time. So we just never did it. There was always a project to be done, a mission to be on, a purpose to be served.
There is a quote I’ve come to love from one of my favorite authors, Wayne Muller, that says:
“Without rest …we miss the compass points that would show us where to go. We bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.”
Before I dive too deep here, let me say there were many incredible elements of my upbringing. So many sweet staples of life I look back on now and relish: real and raw conversations regularly around the dinner table; parents who loved each other and loved Jesus deeply; a commitment to learning and growth and knowing our own personalities well enough so as to lead well in whatever sphere we were in.
But the space and time afforded for rest, for turning off for a bit and just re-creating, was never quite granted. At least not without an awareness of what we were leaving behind.
This constant awareness of the need to do more rooted itself down deep in my wiring, and, as Timothy Keller puts it in his sermon on Work and Rest, established an eternal inner murmur that I just couldn’t shake.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm them and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
It wasn’t until early in my senior year of college that the Lord began to liberate me from this bondage of busyness and the tyranny of production.
Saturday morning afforded the perfect moment to escape from life as usual. No deadlines haunted my calendar for that following afternoon and rarely were any coffee dates scheduled before 2:00 on a Senior’s Saturday. As the campus had yet to wake, I would make my way silently out my dorm room doors, slide into my little blue Volvo and take the windy backroads up the Cape Ann coastline, relishing every rogue drop of rain on my windshield and the sweet stillness of life around me.
My destination was a corner table at The Bean and Leaf, a dreamy little coffee shop that sat directly on the water in Rockport. The Bean offered a delicious trifecta of space, time and the perfect vanilla latte, making it my personal sanctuary and the perfect place to get lost in reflection. And that is exactly what I’d come for. I’d pop on my headphones, spread the miniature library I’d brought with me out on the table and just … be … still.
Organically, over a period of months, this deadline-less and dreamy practice became a regular Saturday morning rhythm. It seemed to offer the ideal space in time to escape from all things urgent, to set aside all things back-lit and buzzing and allow my head and heart to strike a chord together that they just couldn’t reach during the busyness of the week. And although, at the time, I didn’t understand what it was exactly I was doing, everything in me craved this end of the week, early morning retreat away.
I didn’t realize at the time that this abandoning of normally scheduled life, this pause in creating to let the Lord re-create me, would become an enormously freeing rhythm. This coming away from the muchness and many-ness and busyness of daily life to create space for doing nothing was remaking me. This creation of a sanctuary in time for remembering and taking delight in the greater things was allowing the Lord to nourish me in a way I hadn’t experienced before, renewing me body and soul.
Late in my Senior year, as I was introduced to beautiful concept of Sabbath, these Saturday morning escapes began to make sense.
“Sabbath is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creating to the master of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” Abraham Joshua Heschel
This weekly, intentional, rhythmic practice of Sabbath rest showed itself to be not simply an abandonment of responsibilities, but rather space to order and make sense of them. More than simply the absence of work or a day to catch up on latest projects or errands, it became a consecrated period of time to listen to what was most deeply nourishing and true, directing my attention to the grace that sustains and orders all of life. It became a life-giving rhythm I both enjoyed and desperately needed.
Ten years out from those little coffee shop escapes in Rockport, Saturday mornings continue to carry the sweetness of Sabbath. I’ll wake slowly, light my favorite candle and prop a little stack of books I’ve wanted to dive into onto my corner of the couch. Turning the water on for coffee, I’ll open the blinds and take my time prepping the french press, giving a bit more attention than normal to the pour over process. I’ll look back over my prayer journal from the week, letting the Lord pull threads and themes I didn’t catch in the craziness. And as time and space settle, so often He will note for me things to take with me into the coming week, and the things I need to leave behind.
The setting has changed, but the premise and the promise have not. Disconnecting from the urgent, attuning my soul to the things of God, and letting him renew my hope for the future.
Rest. Remembering. Renewal.
Mark Buchanan, in His life-shaping work called The Rest of God, says:
The essence of the Sabbath Heart is paying attention. It is being fully present, wholly awake in each moment. It is the trained ability to inhabit our own existence without remainder, so that even the simplest things – the in and out of our own breathing, the coolness of times on our bare feet, the way wind sculpts clouds – gain the force of discovery and revelation.
True attentiveness burns away the layers of indifferent and ennui and distraction – and reveals what’s hidden beneath: the staggering surprise and infinite variety of every last little thing.
The space my soul’s been given through this sacred practice has done so much more than free me from the bondage of production. Though the weeks are full and the deep sense of purpose in our days is always to be cultivated, I’ve tasted such sweetness in their abandonment to recognize the giver and sustainer of all good work in the first place. The ache for rest is no longer something I long for in vain, but something I look forward to at the end of every week.
And Jesus, who IS our Sabbath rest, beautifully comes with us out of this practice and into each moment of the week, granting us His sacred presence through the spirit regardless of what day it is. However this ancient practice of taking one day out of seven that allows us to recognize His goodness and power over all things is truly transformative. The gift of unhurried wonder – the nourishing of an emergence – is a treasure to simply receive and relish.
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Alexis is a thirty something letter-lover from NY. Next to great writing and dark coffee, her life is daily energized by the things beneath the surface. She relishes moments of moving past surface level niceties to the raw and the real truths that shape our days. However beautiful, intricate and messy it all might be, nothing makes her heart happier than going there.
She’s a firm believer that knowing what you stand for and where your heart beats hardest is a fantastic way to show up in the world. For her – naming and celebrating people, moments and the gratitude-worthy details of the day to day is a calling – and her greatest joy comes in helping others make space to do the same.
Currently, she is delving deep in those moments in Birmingham, AL where she runs her leadership consulting and soul coaching business, leading others in identifying their personal mission, vision and purpose, knowing themselves to lead themselves and cultivating life-giving rhythms of work and rest.
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A suddenly free day created an expanse of time for thought around this word.
To lay beneath a tree and look through the clearings, between the branches, to take in the expanse of pure blue sky.
Space for Sabbath rest, a run by the river, cooking the stew that reminds me of my best friend.
To hold hands open, gentle, soft for whatever is placed in them.
To remove clutter, extra, the unhealthy and the unneeded. To make space for the healthy and good.
To hear other people’s stories without judgment.
To create room for those who are different than me to feel heard and loved.
Allowing my own feelings to rise up without self-criticism. Letting go, as with a breath, those that are not healthy or helpful. Holding on to what is true and will create growth.
To let love in again after deep pain and sorrow.
Noticing the September around me.
What does the word OPEN mean to you today?