Winter months in the northern hemisphere nudge us to make a steaming cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa, find a cozy throw, light a fire, and enjoy a good book. Melanie Dobson’s newest release, The Winter Rose, fits well in the scene since the author is an excellent storyteller using the popular “time slip” genre to tell the tale.
The story is told through the life of two women, Grace Tonquin, an American Quaker who works in Vichy France rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis during WW II, and Addie Hoult, someone who is in search of someone in the Tonquin family who could be a matching bone marrow donor to save the life of her mentor who lived on Tonquin Lake, Oregon, as a child.
The story opens in September 1943 in Saint-Lizier, France, where Grace is guiding twelve Jewish children over treacherous paths where she will meet Roland whose contacts will guide the children across the hazardous trails through the Pyrenees into Spain. With the right contacts, a few bribes, and more than a little luck in Spain, the journey will end in freedom for the children.
Dobson’s gift allows you to sense you are on the same trek with Grace and the children as they face one danger after another and hope falters along the way.
No one would expect to find Grace in this role. Born to a Hollywood movie star who seemed nearly invisible to those who called on her mother. She was unable to please her mother but found solace in the home of her grandparents each summer in Oregon.
Addie had learned about Grace from Charlie when her own life went astray, and she was given a choice by authorities that saved her life. She chose a home for teen girls like her in Tennessee run by Charlie Tonquin and his wife, Emma, that would forever change her life and point her toward a faith she had not known. For Addie, the story of Grace and Charlie is a bit like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.
Charlie had guarded the details of his life and connection with Grace, but after saving Addie’s life, Addie is determined to find Grace or any Tonquin relative to provide Charlie with the matching donor he needs to save his life. Her quest is guided by the words Charlie poured into her and that had also guided Grace on her many trips seeking to save the Jewish children of France being hunted down by the Nazis:
“She only had to push through the hours in front of her, not think about tomorrow or even yesterday. Today was already set before her, he liked to say. The table prepared.”
Dobson weaves the two stories together masterfully and lets you get to know some of the children Grace leads to freedom. Within the story you look at how lives broken and haunted are healed and made whole again and what it means to forgive.
In the story Charlie points to the healthiest ways to deal with wrongs done by illustrating with a bag of stones. He says you can add each wrong (like a stone) to the bag you carry and try to manage the growing weight of it throughout your life, mulling over the hurt and anger. Or you can take the stone that is weighing you down and toss it away into the river (a watery grave), so your own life is not weighed down by the wrong others sought to do to you.
The Winter Rose will remind you of the plight of Jewish children during WW II and the lives of the heroic few who sought to save them. Then you will discover how the redemption of some of them is used to bring hope and healing to others fifty years later when Addie connects the dots between the two time periods and the intersecting story lines.
Malanie Dobson has been one of my favorite storytellers and this latest work pulls you forward page by page to discover the fruit and power of helping others face impossible odds.
This month’s focus on rest points out its value and why we need it to live a full healthy life in every aspect of our being. Some of the information may be new, but perhaps more of it has been reminders of things we heard, read, or intuitively knew from somewhere along the way. Many of us have picked up the reminders and reset our internal GPS toward prioritizing rest again perhaps and yet wondered if it would be like so many other times where we can start out well and then get pulled off course again. The enemy of our souls would want us to believe that we cannot change our pattern of busyness and distraction, but that is another of his lies.
“We can change. People say we can’t, but we do when the stakes or the pain is high enough. And when we do, life can change. It offers more of itself when we agree to give up our busyness.”
Most of us have looked at the past two pandemic years with its challenges and what we were denied or lost in the process and then looked at what tried to keep attaching to us. It wasn’t just the new strains of a virus seeking to create another layer of anxiety or fear, but the anxiety and fear itself that was pulling us off course from being centered in our faith and belief system. Some of the challenges to be more effective at defeating it may well have been related to life before the pandemic even started. We were busily going along with our daily lives and rarely taking time to rest in any of the areas we need it to thrive. The lockdowns or restrictions didn’t really give us rest because of all the attendant emotions connected with them.
Our confinement did not accomplish much true healthy rest for us in most cases even though it curtailed the busy lives we were living prior to then. We were not only dealing with uncertainties on all sides but going through separation from the daily routines and calendars we lived by.
The “aftermath” (if that is even where we are) has been discovering there are more variants of the virus to come and the consequences of it with inflation, job issues, ongoing school issues (not to mention new war threats to fill the headlines).
Have we even stopped to consider how much distraction is going on continuously? Have we recognized the cost of that and the division that has arisen in greater and greater amounts as well?
If so, we should shake off the malaise of all this and recognize the enemy has been slowly but effectively eroding what he fears most – consistency in our focusing on and filling ourselves with the presence of God. He knows that is key.
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”
Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity points to the key. We were designed to run optimally on Him. If our lives become filled up with things – even very good things – our time of sitting in his presence, resting, doesn’t happen with any regularity. We may not recognize how much has been eroded until a crisis hits and we recognize our peace, faith, and hope are not as steady as we thought.
Many of us have not spent enough time in the holy place, the sacred place, alone with Him loving Him and giving Him space to love us as well.
It can be easy to feel we can’t take that time, even 5 minutes, in each day where we are not reading the Bible, studying, or going through our prayer list to simply just be with Him. We find it easier to find time to schedule a coffee date to just be with a friend more often than we sometimes put on our calendar to spend with the One who is not only our Savior and Lord but wants to be closer to us (as close as breathing). He wants us to enter and be with Him in the secret place He has for us, to restore our soul, and fill us with his presence.
“The secret place is a holy place close to God. It is the place where His presence becomes as real to you as the person sitting beside you. It is a place of intimacy, trust, love, and continuous fellowship with the Lord. It is a place He wants you not only to find but ultimately to dwell in. It is the sanctuary of the well rested. The place you kick off your shoes to step on holy ground. He wants you to get so comfortable in this place that you see it as the place where you belong, the place where you abide.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
These difficult and darker days upon the earth that we live within cause more than a few to talk about whether the Lord’s return is near. We know we cannot know the time or the hour, but certainly each day brings us closer to that. And when Jesus talks about the end of days in Matthew and how difficult times can and will be He also tells the story (parable) of the ten virgins or bridesmaids (that’s us if we are his) in the beginning of Matthew 25. The importance of having our lamps filled with oil for whenever He may suddenly appear is unmistakable as we read the passage. We are the containers, and we are to be filled with Him.
A recent podcast by John Eldredge on this passage reminds us of things like our busyness and the challenges we have been facing in the past two years can be what depletes the oil within us. The oil represents Christ’s presence within us and for that to be refilled and replenished means we will be resting in his presence, that secret, sacred place. I think David understood that when he wrote Psalm 23.
“Yahweh is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough. 2 He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love. His tracks take me to an oasis of peace near the quiet brook of bliss. 3 That’s where he restores and revives my life. He opens before me the right path and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honor to his name. 4 Even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely, for you are near. 5 You become my delicious feast even when my enemies dare to fight. You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit; you give me all I can drink of you until my cup overflows. 6 So why would I fear the future? Only goodness and tender love pursue me all the days of my life. Then afterward, when my life is through, I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!”
If you have been following this series on rest and rest deficits since January 3 inspired by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s wonderful book, Sacred Rest, I hope you have gained some valuable insights to replenish every aspect of rest to live a full healthy life. There is much to be gained from it and you may want to pick up her book to munch on every bit of it that has not been shared over the past few weeks.
Perhaps as we begin a new year and consider what we want to be different, better, or more, it’s a good time to look at this aspect of our lives and why choosing these principles and values could add to us in more than one or two ways. Collectively, it means more than a lovely nap, your favorite steaming latte, or a weekend away (even though all of those are good).
“A well-rested life is a secret hidden in plain sight. It is a life at one with God, self, and others. It’s a life strengthened by winding down the expectations of others and charging up your expectations for yourself. You become in tune with what you need to be at your best. You become comfortable with your strengths and knowledgeable about your weaknesses. You then use that information to pour into the areas needing strengthening and reinforce areas already strong. You find your sweet spot in living, loving, being, doing, and resting.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
I began this journey because I was aware that I wanted to find more ways to replenish and not be inundated (even in retirement) with things that can deplete me (some which I have no control over). The work of Dr. Dalton-Smith and other authors like John Eldredge in Get Your Life Back pointed toward those goals.
I looked again at what steals my rest that I often miss and was reminded again of God’s plan for us to rest that He models for us. He shows us that rest is not a luxury or something that births laziness. Instead, it equips us to give to those we care for in ways that bless and yet also shows care for ourselves as well.
“I am humbled and quieted in your presence. Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap, I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.”
Psalm 131:2 (TPT)
John Eldredge reminded me…”Our souls accumulate stuff, too, pulling it in like a magnet. And so Augustine said we must empty ourselves of all that fills us so that we may be filled with what we are empty of.”
I was reminded of the benefit of beauty beyond the simple enjoyment of it.
“Beauty heals, partly because it proclaims that there is goodness in the world and that goodness prevails, or is preserved, or will somehow outlast all harm and darkness.
But most of all, beauty reassures. This is especially important to our search here for the grace beauty offers to our life with God. We need reassuring.
Beauty is such a gentle grace. Like God, it rarely shouts, rarely intrudes. Rather it woos, soothes, invites; it romances and caresses. We often sigh in the presence of beauty as it begins to minister to us – a good, deep soul-sigh.”
At one of our favorite vacation spots in Alberta, Canada, that is surrounded by stunning mountain scenes in every direction, we were soothed and delighted by the basket of shiny apples at the front desk that we were invited to enjoy, vases of local flowers (some of the wild varieties) that were tucked in corner tables or graced landings on the stairs to the rooms. It never failed to remind us to consider what kinds of touches we could enjoy in our own home more often than we take time to consider.
Another vacation spot we enjoyed visiting had a room devoted to rest that was beyond anything we could have imagined.
If we choose and practice the pursuit of rest, what does Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, tell us we will receive as gifts?
The gift of boundaries
The gift of reflection
The gift of freedom
The gift of acceptance
The gift of exchange
The gift of permission
The gift of cessation
The gift of art
The gift of communication
The gift of productivity
The gift of choice
The gift of faith
There is a chapter on each of these gifts in Sacred Rest and each is worth savoring and allowing God to massage into our hearts, minds, and spirits. The enemy of our souls would seek to create endless obstacles to gaining these gifts and practicing rest, but God invites us to come, to taste and see, and to find rest for our souls.
“Your life and your enjoyment of it are the sum total of the choices you make. Good choices increase joy and blessings in your life, while poor choices increase worry, disease, and fear. It’s important to be mindful of the choices you make and to be careful not to abuse the gift of choice.
The power to choose begins with rest. Rest reminds you that you are not the creator of power, but the recipient. Rest is a restorer of the breach. It traverses the gap between our weakness and God’s enabling power. In rest, you welcome God into the process, and you admit you cannot choose better on your own. When you open yourself to God, you also open yourself to experiencing His spirit as helper, comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor, strengthener, and standby.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.”
We come into this world with a curiosity and fascination, a moment-by-moment time of discovery. We delight in the nondescript rocks and pebbles along a path we walk. We are captivated by fireflies dancing on the lawn on a summer’s evening. We tune in to the sounds of a bird singing outside our window. We prefer the box the toy came in and all we imagine we can do with it more than the toy itself. We notice the little things, the important things, while our parents handle the big issues of life. But somewhere along the way, as we grow older, that part of our DNA as God’s created beings starts to erode. We start to leave less room for wonder and even when it pops into a moment, we don’t take long to savor it and get back to the busyness of life.
Watch any toddler for a few minutes and you will see not only wonder but also creativity as he or she goes through every moment of the day. The Bible says clearly in Genesis 1:27 that we were made in God’s image. We often think of his long list of attributes and may include the word Creator, but do we pause to consider how amazingly creative He is and that He placed a creative part of himself in each one of us. Watching a toddler gives evidence of that because it is free from all the qualifiers we put on that word creative along the way.
How often we may hear someone say they aren’t creative at all because they have narrowed what being creative can and does look like. You don’t need to paint the Sistine Chapel or compose a great concerto to be creative. But you do need to begin to discover all the creative pieces God has placed in you for your joy and rest. When we do, we will not fail to notice the beauty around us and that we have a canvass before us each day (if we choose) to create something different or new or at the very least, notice the beauty around us that never fails to refresh us.
It is little wonder that no matter how old we may be, most of us still delight in a Disney movie and find smiles in our hearts and on our faces when Mary Poppins comes sailing through the sky or we go on an adventure in Narnia to meet Aslan, the beavers, Mr. Tumnus and more. Somehow even when we know it isn’t real, we love to pretend and go right along with the story and the main characters depicting it.
“It is the rest one finds when immersed in creative beauty.
Whether natural or man-made, all beauty is a creative work. Our soul yearns to be awed and captivated. When we are deprived these opportunities, depression and apathy arise within us. Creative rest revives our failing hearts. Life becomes more enjoyable when we soak in beauty and light.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
We can discover this rest in so many places if we take a moment to see it, hear it, breathe it in, and let it replenish us so our own creativity blossoms. I think of that every time I read a passage from Ken Gire’s beautiful book, The Divine Embrace:
“Imagine yourself in a ballroom. Imagine that the Emperor, the Lord Jesus himself, has tapped your shoulder. Hear his voice as he speaks your name and asks you to dance. It is not a dance you have done before. You’re uncertain about it, maybe a little fearful – hesitant to participate. But take a chance; step out onto the dance floor. As the Emperor draws near, look into his eyes. Place your palm in his. And follow his lead.”
Every time I read Ken’s words, I find myself filled with delight and wonder at the scene he invites us to imagine. It moves us into a different level of intimacy he wants us to see. He invites us to imagine what Christ wants us (as his bride) to know of Him. It gives us a vivid example of what it means to allow Him to lead us when we consider being led on a dance floor. A bit later Ken writes:
“There are places he wants to take us on the dance floor, things he wants to show us, feelings he wants to share with us, words he wants to whisper in our ear.”
What points us to evidence we have a deficit in creative rest as Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith wants us to assess?
Focusing on the needs of others and not considering your needs a priority
Talking yourself out of self-care as if you don’t deserve being cared for
Feeling you are being selfish whenever you consider doing something for yourself
Doing self-destructive things or making choices that sabotage your happiness
Rarely feeling your work is of value or that others appreciate your contribution
Finding it difficult to enjoy things in nature or in their natural state
And guess what? We don’t get there by making it another task or a “to do” to get there, demanding some level of creative accomplishment. It doesn’t mean having to take a week or weekend away to replenish the deficit either (even though that can help for a short time). We need to discover moments of it on seemingly ordinary days doing what might seem like ordinary things.
“Creative rest is not about putting a demand on your creative ability; that’s not rest, that’s work. It is the opposite. It’s allowing white space in your life and giving room for your creativity to show up. Creative rest lets you focus on your basic need for wonder.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
I love watching people and seeing some of the special evidences on creativity bringing them joy and rest. If you’re looking for it, you will discover it as well. And as soon as I wrote that, images of some of my grandchildren came to mind. One of them is amazingly gifted in creating stunning beauty in her baked creations and finds relaxation and ease in it while it would be tedious and work for me and never achieve her results. Each of our six grandchildren (and their parents) has that piece of God-given creativity placed inside of them. What is often harder for us is to see it in ourselves, to allow the “white space” in our lives that Saundra Dalton-Smith writes about so we can discover it.
When I glance in the rearview mirror at my life, I see more numerous ways than I might guess that I have enjoyed or developed creativity. As I approached retirement, there was a blank canvass before me. I was not one of those who looked forward to hours playing golf or gardening (Nothing wrong with those, but they aren’t me.) and I wasn’t anticipating only sitting on our porch or deck with no idea of what to do with my time. But what happened was not on my radar screen.
Each stop on my timeline that shifted to something new was an opportunity God placed before me to take a seed He placed within me and watch Him show me how to help it grow and then see Him use it. And it happened again as I retired. That joy in reading and writing creatively suddenly gave an opportunity to attend a writer’s conference and the assignment was to develop a website and begin writing posts. I was aghast since I was clueless on how to do them and despite my sense of inadequacy and seeing my enjoyment of those as just that, God led me through the fear of “stepping out onto the dance floor” with Him.
In the process, I have been replenished every time He leads me to sit down here to write and share a glimpse of something He has used to impact my life, sharing pieces of my heart (and his). It is not work but joy that fills each new discovery to share here. Please give Him space in this season to find what He has waiting for you in creative rest.
“The amazing thing about creative rest is its ability to leave a lasting impression on us…moments of creative rest are hard to forget.”
We can get very focused on things like taking care of our bodies where food and exercise are concerned, or at least try to work on those things. It’s that unrelenting reality that we need a lot of upkeep to stay as healthy as possible in this world. But there are many things we enjoy most of the time that we rarely think about how hard our senses are working every moment of every day until we lose them, or they shift in one way or another. We may think we are out of the woods and have no concern until we are older but there is no guarantee and some of us know that “older” arrives faster than we ever expected.
Stop for a moment and consider what your senses are telling you right now. Your eyes are reading on a screen of some sort, but there is more to take in. You have sounds around you. There may be the fan of a furnace, the voice of someone in the same room or near enough to hear, a tea pot about to whistle, a pet walking across the floor, or music playing in the background and even more. You may be munching on something or drinking a favorite beverage. Is it hot or cold, sweet, or salty, or somewhere in between? Our taste buds are always letting us know something about what we put in our mouths and our lips sense the surfaces of the cup or glass or even food we put in there. All these senses enrich our lives in ways we may not always take time to consider unless they stop, or we lose them or intently take time to notice the ones that have become white noise to us.
Sometimes what we need is a rest from the sensory overload to reawaken us to the sense we have lost awareness of such as the feel of the pillow under our head, the smooth soft touch of the flannel shirt we love to snuggle into, the gentleness of the breeze on our faces as we walk down the street, the brilliance of the colors in the world that is ours to work, live in, and enjoy.
“Every day your nervous system is under constant stimulation. Background music plays in offices, in elevators, and while your phone call is on hold. Television, computers, iPads, and smartphones add their artificial glow to your environment. The popcorn burning in the break room mingles with the latest perfume and fragrant hand lotion to overwhelm your nasal passages. Our bodies crave a reprieve. Periodic times of selective sensory deprivation deliberately remove external distractions and stimuli from your senses in order to reenergize them.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
We need some sensory rest for short periods of time since all the 5 senses are working to keep our brain informed of a myriad of things we need to know to keep us safe and warn us of things that could harm us in one way or another.
It’s not just eye strain and unplugging that we need in order to not impact the interplay and interconnection of body, mind, emotions and more.
“When you overload the senses, you overload the mind, and your body and emotions will respond adversely. Signs of a restless overstimulated body include racing thoughts, anger, palpitations, anxiety, disturbing dreams, and trouble falling asleep.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
Just like all the other areas of rest needed and the deficits that occur, when we don’t heed what our bodies and senses are telling us there will be trouble ahead even if you think you are able to ignore or avoid them now, they will show up eventually. Accidents happen and we also don’t know the “use by” date that came with our bodies and life.
Each area of rest we have looked at in this series highlighting great information from Sacred Rest by Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD includes a list she indicates shows we have a deficit. Signs you may be dealing with a sensory rest deficit might include:
Sensitivity or an adverse reaction to loud sounds
Blurry vision and/or eye pressure, fatigue, or strain
Believing natural foods don’t have any flavor and craving processed foods
A dislike of being hugged or touched by others
Being desensitized to aromas others seem to smell easily
Inability to enjoy periodic sensory-rich experiences such as concerts or fireworks
How did we get there or why do we get there so often you may wonder?
“When our senses continue receiving incoming information without a break, the nervous system becomes too congested to process the information appropriately. The result is a decline in happiness, stifled creativity, mental restlessness, and blunted performance. Ultimately your overall health suffers because of inadequate sensory rest.”
Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
So how do we get sensory rest? Some of the ideas are ones you may already use, but if you pause and consider what we’ve been saying here you will likely think of options I do not list. Here are a few:
Consider setting aside a time every day where you unplug from all electronics for a specific period of time. Be realistic and set small goals like 10 minutes or so as a start
Use the unplugged time to practice stretching and getting all the tension released from hunching over screens or maybe just enjoy being still and letting your head fall back to rest on the back of the couch or chair you like
Pay attention to how different kinds of sensory stimuli affect you and what brings you comfort or peace versus the symptoms we noted above
Get some fresh air, consider how dimming the harsh lights affects you, and eliminate constant noise
If touch is not something that negatively affects you, consider setting aside some money to indulge in a hand or foot massage, a pedicure or facial, or a total body massage that not only feels good but relaxes your body and helps the lymphatic system move toxins out of your system
For most of my professional life I worked indoors in a classroom or my counseling office. What I recognized I most needed to regain rest in all these areas was to plan vacations to weekends away that were not busy where I tried to see all the sights and kept on the go. Instead, my husband and I chose quieter places that refreshed us in every area. At the end of this post is a photo I took of one of those. It is located on the property of a hotel in Alberta, Canada we were able to enjoy for a number of vacations. The river made a beautiful sound lulling us to sleep from our window or balcony because there was no air-conditioning to blot out the sound of God’s sound machine. We drank in the fresh air, the sounds of the river, the quiet of the mountains and were replenished with the goodness of God’s creation – the very best medicine!