Taking Time To Be Still

The last time I posted to ESI, I mentioned that my husband, Warren, and I were on vacation with five of our children just a few hours south of here, in a (very) rural area of Missouri. Warren and I discovered this little haven last year, thanks to a dear friend, and twice have taken a long weekend away to slip into another world amongst the trees and wildlife, staying in a very rustic-looking – though well air-conditioned – log cabin.

I know that God is with me always and everywhere, but I have always felt nearest to God when I’m outside digging in the dirt, or otherwise surrounded by His creation in nature. Leaving the city and spending time in the country only heightens that feeling for me. I still feel the awe of a child when I consider the depth of God’s creativity displayed even within a few acres in the middle of nowhere.

This year we quite recklessly decided to share this serene little escape with our kids. We took our oldest son, who just turned 21 years old, our three teenage daughters, and our four-year-old son.

When we first decided it was time to plan another family getaway, I thought that going to “our cabin in the woods” was a brilliant idea. Closer to home than, say, Florida, the older kids could leave earlier than we did if their schedules wouldn’t accommodate staying the entire time, and with a preschooler in the mix, a short car ride seemed wise.
But as the planned vacation (which was really a long weekend, a Thursday-to-Sunday stay) drew nearer, I began to worry. Would we really be able to keep this crew with such a disparate age range entertained for that long? I began to think maybe I should have planned a tour of the St. Louis sights – going to the zoo, City Museum, maybe taking in a Cardinals game and spending a day at Six Flags. We were headed into the woods with a preschooler and teenagers, with not much more than a lot of food, a couple fishing poles, a few games, and some DVDs…what were we thinking?!
The exact thing that Warren and I love about this little hideaway – the quiet, solitude and near-total absence of cell service – would probably drive our tech-savvy, Facebooking, texting, tweeting, ever-involved-and-always-busy progeny nuts, I feared.

Praise God, it seems as though my fears were largely unfounded. Though the oppressive heat and humidity of Missouri in July (why I didn’t anticipate this, I’ll never know) kept us indoors more than I’d hoped, our time together as a family had the feel of God’s blessing upon it.

We read together in companionable silence, we played cards and Bananagrams (a game that can best be described as “Speed Scrabble”), mocking each other when someone used a word that very obviously doesn’t exist in the English language or couldn’t find a good use for that last “Q” in their pile. At one point we laughingly banned one of our kids from playing the game due to an apparent inability to keep from flinging the unusable letters into the air.

There was also a nearby creek, and this was the hot spot for our four-year-old in particular.

Not only did we attempt to fish (and most of us are terrible at it), but we also played in the creek time and time again, wading and looking for crawdads and trying to catch minnows with our hands. On the walk back, Eli always acquired rocks or sticks or some other piece of nature that he needed to bring back to the cabin and “take care of forever.”

Our oldest hung up a hammock on the covered front porch of the cabin, and I think every single one of us found time to hang out (literally) in it. My time swinging on the porch was spent watching the hummingbirds flit in and out of the trees. The photo to the right is the view from the front door of the cabin.

Over the course of those four days, I felt the joy of watching my kids interact with each other in ways they haven’t had the time to do in long while. There seemed to be an abundance of time to simply talk. I suspect some of those moments will become memories they hang onto – or at least I hope so. Overall, I felt as though some much-needed, restorative reconnecting went on between many of us, simply because we had a plethora of time together and a paucity of distractions (cell service, Facebook, etc.). Even the few distractions that were available were largely ignored – though we had a television and satellite service in the cabin, the only time we turned on the TV was late in the evening, to watch a DVD together.

I’m glad we didn’t pack our days with sights to see and things to do. I’m glad we spent a good chunk of time just being with each other. Just being. I think we all benefited from being forced to simply slow down and be with each other and ourselves and our own thoughts.

I realize that Summer 2011 is almost over, and most people have probably already planned and taken their vacations. But the next time you think you need to plan a family getaway, I would encourage you to “plan small” and slow that time down, rather than packing it full of activities and adventures. Our lives these days are too often filled with so many to-do’s and commitments and events that we don’t have time to really reflect on anything. Like, for instance, how we’re living out our lives, and whether the choices we are making are building the kind of legacy (memories, a sense of values and priorities that are consistently lived out) that we’d like to leave our kids. As our kids watch us “do life,” are we teaching them that we spend time in ways that intentionally value God above all things and in all things? Or are they learning to live at such a fast pace that they don’t even have time to reflect on this and ask themselves, “Is what I’m doing consistent with what God calls me to do?” I convict myself as I write this.

A “vacation” from that kind of hectic pace, for our family, gave us all the opportunity to experience the significant slow-down that we all too often don’t give ourselves, to our detriment. With that slow-down came more time to think and talk and relax, more time to know God and see Him at work in our lives – even as we’re playing Bananagrams and laughing with our family members.

Psalm 46:10
is a favorite of mine: “Be still and know that I am God,” though I think it can sometimes be taken out of context. When you read the entire psalm, you read of someone who is running to God as his refuge in the midst of greatly trying times, times of deep fear and anxiety. He reminds himself that it is God who rules over all of the chaos he sees, and that He will be exalted, whatever the outcome. Things all around him are “raging and tottering,” but his peace comes in knowing God. In being reminded that God is God.

When I am running from place to place and from commitment to commitment, my life can look pretty chaotic, too. It’s not the “raging and tottering of nations,” certainly, but simply the pace of life I often succumb to. No matter the source, though, I think the point applies. Within that chaotic pace, we can all easily lose that sense of peace that comes from knowing that God is in the midst of all of it. Slowing down, and simply taking the time and mental space to remind ourselves of Who God is can help us regain the perspective we need, the peace God promises. This year’s family outing was truly a gift, insofar as it created that space for me, and I really think our family as a whole, to be reminded that God is indeed God.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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