It is January 3, 2023, and I am extremely grateful to God for allowing me to see another year.
New Year's Eve has always been an event in my family. As a little girl, I entered the New Year praising God, we called it Watchnight Service. Growing up in a Black Pentecostal church, I thought it was just a religious service where we ended the year thanking God and began the new year thanking God. Every choir would sing, the praise dancers did their number, people gave testimonies and we'd have our revivalist close out the night preaching and prophesying. Then we'd go to someone's house afterward to eat and continue the celebration. Little did I know that my future husband spent much of his youth doing something similar in his Black Baptist context. After every new year, I quickly realized that none of my friends, from other cultures, brought in the new year quite the same way. They only partied! It wasn't until years later that I learned the historical significance of this "Watchnight" service.
History lesson time (Come on, you know me):
When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (September 1862) it was not enacted until Jan.1, 1863, New Year's day. The night before, enslaved Africans in Confederate states, stayed up all night in their homes or places of worship and 'watched the night' until dawn which marked their freedom. This night has also been called "Freedom's Eve". (Note: The Emancipation Proclamation was intended to free only enslaved Africans in the Confederate states. It was not originally intended for those states who remained loyal to the Union. In 1865, the 13th amendment to the Constitution was signed by Lincoln in January and ratified by the states in December.) We'll continue the history lesson later.
Since my husband is a Pastor, we brought this tradition to our church. We would begin Watchnight service with praise & worship, listen to member testimonies, Byron would preach and we would close out at midnight "praying in" the new year. Then we would all enjoy food, in the fellowship hall, as a church family. This is all that our sons ever knew, until the pandemic. We strategically moved everything online to stay connected to our folk. The pandemic, however, has taught us that people move differently when it comes to church, which is totally fine. Our love for Jesus has not changed, but we have found other ways to stay connected and fellowship with friends and loved ones. This year, rather than do the same thing for tradition's sake, we created a church Zoom, where folks could jump on and give their testimony. #connection We held the Zoom call at 7pm to allow people to be with their church family before hitting the streets to go party or hitting the bed to sleep.
I chose to sleep!
But there is a back story to my sleep choice and it's called REST.
A couple of months ago, I began listening to an audiobook entitled, "Rest is Resistance". Each night as I prepared for bed, I would listen to at least 20 minutes until I dozed off. One of the things that kept coming up for me was the idea that African American women have been conditioned to be busy. Michelle Obama, in her book, "The Light We Carry" (I just finished the hardcopy.) mentioned the same thing....the pressure to be at the top of your game because "all eyes are on you". Black folks are put under a microscope. Many times when walking in a room, people actually think, "I wonder how she got here...who does she know or what does she do?" Let's be honest, It can be a room full of white people, sprinkled with a few persons of color, and many of us will think, "hmmm, I've got to know who that person is...it's like having a mythical unicorn in a room". (Deny it if you want to, but I know you've thought that at least ONE time in your life. It's okay, I'm not judging you, because I have fallen into the same trap and oftentimes I am considered the unicorn. Ha!) Moving on...
So this idea of rest had been percolating in my mind for the past couple of months. Only in my mind, because physically I was not resting. Working the ministry with my husband meant that when the pandemic hit, we did not chill like many others, but we (our sons included) created a platform where our church family and people across the country could stay connected with us and be encouraged during times of uncertainty. (For 2 years, our home was a production studio!) Both of us have this crazy work ethic and hearts to serve, so it was instinctive for us to push harder, many times to the point of exhaustion.
Any time someone would ask what I did for a living, I would simply reply EVERYTHING.
On Monday, I was at one location. Tuesday and Thursday I was at another location. Wednesday was a totally different location. Friday was supposed to be my day of rest, but I was still corresponding with students, and organizations from the other days. I did all of this daily work, while still reading, studying, and writing as a Seminary student. (What the what, and why?) The weekend was not a reprieve for me because church work usually happened on the weekend, as we would prepare for the Sunday morning worship experience. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the chaos. (or at least, I had grown accustomed to it) I was able to compartmentalize everything. "If it isn't your day, you don't get any play" or "I'm off the clock" is how I navigated the various spaces. Oftentimes, when I arrived home, if everyone was home I felt like I had to keep moving. Only if I was home alone, I allowed myself couch time but jumped up when I heard the garage opening. I didn't want them to see Mommy or Wifey as lazy.....it's that doggone Black woman societal conditioning again. Ugh!
Back to the percolating...
These two books began to rearrange my thoughts and overall body chemistry. There was a slow and steady shifting of priorities that was taking place. I was becoming a bit more reflective and began to make decisions that made me feel better. I was still moving hurriedly from day to day, but I could feel something brewing inside of me. A prelude to REST! The week before the Thanksgiving holiday, one of my "days" asked me to commit to another day of the week. (#ScheduleChange) I went home, thought about it, prayed about it, and decided that NO! is a complete sentence. I tendered my resignation the following week. I didn't have things figured out yet, but as soon as I chose ME, I began to feel more grounded. Rather than continuously floating from day to day, job to job, I had begun the process of anchoring myself to REST and stability.
Even as the Christmas holiday approached, I told my husband that I did not want to travel, I simply wanted to be in my home to REST. I was content in being in the same place and space for a couple of weeks to give my mind/body a chance to recover from the chaos and busyness to which I had grown accustomed. I probably should have been a bit more specific! I was forced to REST because I ended one year and began a new one at home, sick with COVID. Ha! God has jokes! (this is why the pillow was the best option for me)
So this year, my word is REST! By the way, REST does not equate to sleep!
I am currently listening to an audiobook, "Sacred Rest" by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith (Come on Sis...an African American female internal medicine physician. She speaks my language!) She writes about seven components of REST.....mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, creative, and physical. Finding this book, after the other two, was a Godsend! This is the perfect way for me to begin the year. I had already told my family that I was going to take FB and IG off my phone for January. #SocialMediaSabbath so that I was not inundated with other folks' stuff before I could even form my own thoughts. (I will be intentional as to when I engage on social media platforms and not look at every notification.)
I declare REST in my mind....think higher thoughts of myself and others. I am worthy!
I declare REST in my body...actually listen to what my body is telling me. Know when to get up and exercise, but know when to take a seat.
I declare REST in my daily work activities...I begin this new year with one job where I show up Monday-Friday, in a sunlit office, still helping students, but differently. (Okay... I'm still an adjunct professor, so 1.5 jobs. Ha!)
I declare REST and restoration in my finances...make more mindful, budget-friendly purchases.
Oh and by the way, in the middle of my REST revelation, I was invited to speak at a women's conference in May... "Embracing the Sabbath as Sacred: Leaning into Rest, Restoration, and Rejuvenation". The conference will be in Cancun, Mexico. Now that's some REST right there. (Look at God!!! Ladies, as soon as I get the registration information, I'll share it with you.)
My REST revolution had been brewing for months and I wasn't even aware of it. God was orchestrating things behind the scenes because I have always tried to remain open to the possibility that God was going to blow my mind. In this instance, God was shifting things strategically, working behind the scenes, and causing unrest in my spirit so I could be open to the idea of REST.
So, what God has God been showing you? What has your gut been telling you to do? That uneasiness that you feel could be the Holy Spirit telling you that there is something more. I say trust your gut, trust your instincts, trust the Holy Spirit.....even when those around you do not understand your reasoning for switching things up. This is your narrative...your testimony...your blessing!
I choose REST, what do you choose?
Now walk it out...