In the winter of 2012 I decided I needed a break, and everyone within a fifty-mile radius seemed to agree. I had not been very good at taking time off and still couldn't allow myself an extended vacation so I decided to call it a "sabbatical". Yes, that sounded much better.
I took off the entire month of January and spent three weeks of that time on the beach with my favorite dog, Lulu - just the two of us - at a surprisingly affordable place right on the water. It was perfect. Other than an occasional fisherman, I rarely spotted anyone as far as I could see in either direction. I thought I had landed in heaven.
As soon as I arrived I felt compelled to make a list of things to accomplish on my sabbatical, which somehow took up an entire page. Next I explored the beach and collected a bucket full of shells but immediately felt it was excessive and decided to keep only one a day. What was that about? Clearly I needed to learn how to relax - and indulge.
Despite my distorted perception of why I was there, this trip quickly became a mountaintop experience for me. I spent most of that time in constant prayer and felt the presence of God in powerful ways that sometimes brought me to tears. There were days when I didn't speak to another living soul other than my husband so he'd know I was still alive.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to develop a greater love for my Bible. Although I had grown up in the church and as a child could recite the books of the Bible by heart, (were those called Bible drills?), I had never really enjoyed my Bible. So I asked God to help me. And oh my word, did He.
The first morning this happened, I was walking the beach feeling a little guilty for taking so much time off when suddenly "Ecclesiastes 3" jumped into my head for no reason. It seemed like such a random book of the Bible so out of curiosity I looked it up when I got back to the house. It was the passage about how there is a time for everything, which I interpreted to include taking time off. After this I tore up my list of "Things to Accomplish on My Sabbatical" and gave myself permission to keep every last shell I found the least bit fascinating.
The next morning I walked the beach feeling weary and down right exhausted from carrying the load of hundreds of women and children for whom I had felt responsible over the past nine years. There were many times when it no longer felt like a joy and privilege - but an enormous burden, especially when things didn't turn out the way I thought they should.
Out of nowhere, "Numbers 11:11-15" popped into my head and I thought it had to be a mistake. Wasn't Numbers all about numbers? Surely I either heard God wrong or perhaps He accidentally gave me the wrong verse. "Don't you mean one of the other books that start with 'N'?"
Much to my surprise, Numbers 11:11-15 showed me that Moses had felt just as burdened, frustrated, and overwhelmed as I did. Wow! That was so comforting. Turned out God had the verse right all along and I felt like He was telling me, "It's okay that you feel this way."
I know I'm not the only one who has had this kind of experience. But this was such a special time for me, spending this one-on-one time with Jesus each day. Since then it's turned into my "happy place" and my mind goes back to that time on the beach at the most unexpected times.
Toward the end of my trip as I felt stronger and healthier, I asked God to show me how I might avoid getting so exhausted again, and how I could protect my staff from getting to that point as well. This time the answer came in a clear and powerful directive that forever changed the course of how we operate at Blue Monarch.
"Your job is to serve, not fix. To love, not judge."
This stopped me in my tracks. I began thinking back on some of the most exhausting ordeals we had experienced at Blue Monarch and in every single incident we were indeed trying to fix someone, and perhaps even judging them, which was really hard to admit. I realized that by starting each day trying to fix people, we were bound to end the day feeling like we had failed because we can't fix people. But God can. No wonder I was so exhausted! I was trying to do God's job.
I also saw that by starting each day with the goal to serve, we can end every single day knowing that yes, we indeed served the women and children of Blue Monarch that day.
I brought this back to my staff and since then, when we find ourselves overwhelmed and defeated, we ask ourselves, "Wait. Are we trying to serve this person? Or are we trying to fix this person?" This usually puts everything back into perspective.
We'd all rather fix. By fixing we get to be in charge and determine what's best for someone. But by simply serving, the outcome may fall way short of what we want and our hearts may get broken in the process.
This is never more clear than when we lose a resident before she's accomplished all we had in mind for her. We want her to drive out with an exciting job in place, a new home in a wonderful neighborhood, and happy children by her side. However, sometimes as we watch them drive off, even though it's painful, we must accept that by serving them we may have stopped the madness for a while, in a safe and loving home, and they may have avoided a disaster that only God knows about.
So this is what I've come to realize:
God may first need us to love and serve - before the fixing can truly begin.