I just got home after spending seven weeks in Texas. Our time there was incredible—and incredibly full. So much good work and even better play. More fun, family time, laughter, meaningful conversations, and visits with old friends than I've experienced in a long time. I savored it all.
On Saturday we started the long drive back home to North Carolina. The first six hours or so of the drive were likewise very full. We listened to podcasts (these two episodes likely sowed the seeds for what was to come), played the Hamilton soundtrack (again), took breaks for snacks and stretching, took turns reading from our current family read-aloud (more thoughts on books and reading below).
Finally, the fullness began to empty away. The lags between conversation became longer, the requests for favorite songs less urgent, the sounds of sleepiness from the back and passenger seats more pronounced. Ignoring my impulse to ask another question or put on another podcast, I leaned into the silence instead. Hello, friend. It's been a minute.
Somewhere in the empty spaces between the miles, with the radio off and my husband and daughter sleeping softly nearby, something deep within seemed to soften, sigh, and stretch wide. A slow trickle began to swell, eventually giving way to a deep, brimming fullness. Later I pulled over, we switched drivers, I read another chapter aloud, we cued up Hamilton (again, again). The spell of the emptiness was broken—but the sense of fullness remained.
Since returning home, I've been making time for more of that empty—or perhaps I should say open—space. This is different than my habitual practices of stillness and silence, which tend to be more focused and intense. It's more idle, more playful, less demanding, but no less present or intentional. I simply show up, pay attention, and wait to see what happens—or doesn't—with no agenda or expectation.
I'm practicing a similar approach in my relationships, too—setting aside time just to show up and pay attention to my daughter and my husband. It's been beautiful. It turns out I need some external emptiness—or openness—to experience the internal fullness I crave. In setting aside my expectations, I experience more connection. These are not new revelations, just good reminders—and deeper expressions—of truths I already know, though they sometimes get crowded out. (Sidenote: this is precisely why open space is a central feature on every single page of the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner.)
Do you have similar experiences with outer emptiness and inner fullness? How do you make space for the kind of openness that fills and renews? Am I the only one who does their best thinking on 20+ hour road trips?
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON READING FOR RENEWAL
As a lifelong bookworm, reading is kind of my answer to everything. When I want to learn more about a topic or explore something new, I reach for a book—like any of the books for renewal we've been recommending this month.
Reading about renewal is great! But we can also be renewed by reading that has nothing to do with renewal—on the surface at least. Sometimes it's more about the act of reading, the things certain books make us feel, or even the places they take us.
The following authors, books, and categories are my own personal picks. They're what I reach for when seeking renewal; your mileage may vary. I share them in the hope that these ideas might spark your own renewal, or at least lead you toward something else that will.
REVISIT CHILDHOOD FAVORITES
The books that held hope and inspiration, wonder and longing for you as a child likely still do today—with untold new riches besides. For me, this includes Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, anything by Lucy Maud Montgomery, but especially the Anne books, and of course, the Chronicles of Narnia. The great C. S. Lewis put it best when he said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
Words hold weight and glory and power. (There's a reason Genesis shows God speaking the world into existence, and a reason the Gospel of John names Jesus the Word.) No one understands or wields the power of the written word better than the poets. My personal taste in poetry runs from the transcendent to the natural and from the irreverent to the sacred. I especially love that poetry asks us to slow down, pay attention, and come fully alive—demands we can only benefit from in this fast-paced, distracted, often soul-deadening world.
READ SLOW, QUIET STORIES
Big, fast stories are awesome (and that's my last Hamilton callout for this email), but when I want to be restored I turn to slow, quiet books about (seemingly) insignificant people. Often I find my faith in humanity—and even myself—renewed by these steady, humble, and beautiful stories. I submit for your consideration anything by Marilynne Robinson (but especially Gilead and Lila), anything by Wendell Berry (but especially Jayber Crow), and anything by Wallace Stegner (but especially Crossing to Safety).
READ OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Often what we need in order to feel renewed is a fresh perspective—a completely new way of looking at things. Reading something far from our ordinary fare is a great way to open our eyes and minds to other stories and experiences. So if you're a fan of historical fiction, try something foreign and futuristic like The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. If you tend toward technical non-fiction, try something in historical fiction like Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon. And if your preferred reading lane is contemporary fiction, give one of the classics a try. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is currently at the top of my own To Be Read list.