In the spring of 2012, I heard this word: “Rest.” I knew this
word was important. I knew it held something of great value
— something good for me. But I wasn’t even entirely sure what
it was. Was it extra sleep? Was it not working on Sundays?

Shortly after I heard this word, my life began to change. For
one reason or another, one by one, the things with which I
occupied myself were stripped away until I found myself with
nothing left to hold.

A year later, I was in a panic, wondering how we were going to
make ends meet. Everything in me said to do what I had always
done: get on email, get on the phone, make the next thing
happen. Anyone who knew me knew I was someone who could
make anything happen. If I didn’t know how, I bought a book
and learned. Anything I ever wanted I found a way to get.

Then I heard the word again, “Rest.”

“What?! Now? No. My family is depending on me. My reputation
is at stake. I don’t have time for rest. I will rest when
things are okay.”

“No. That is not what rest is.”

Rest is not something you do. Rest is something you put on. It
is something you are while you do what you are doing. Rest is
a posture.

I decided to do the exact opposite thing my insides were
telling me to do. I went to the backyard, sat on a chair, and
watched. I did not know what I was watching for. I listened.
I did not know what I was listening for. Every time a thought
or an idea came to my head, I wrote it down and then resumed
sitting. It was horrible, like ignoring an itch for hours.

I knew that if it was this hard for me to physically sit still,
it was important for me to learn. If my body could not sit
still, then how could my mind or my heart? So I decided to
discipline myself to sit that way at least one day a week.

Eventually, I sat this way more often. Meanwhile, my
professional life continued to fall apart and the temptation
to do something about it grew. I heard so many voices, some
from friends and family but most from my own head:
“You’re lazy.” “You’re being irresponsible.” “What are you
doing??!!” “It’s up to you to provide for your family.” “Get
up and make something happen, now!”

Simultaneously I heard another voice:

“Rest.”

“How long do I wait?”

“Rest.”

This was the summer of 2013. A year later, we received the
call about our soon-to-be-born baby’s condition. I had thought
that the urge to get up and do something was strong before,
but now this was on an entirely new level. Again I heard the
voice say “Rest”, so we didn’t research Trisomy 18. We didn’t
look for different doctors who would say something we wanted
to hear.

I continued to sit and stare at the fence, quieting my body,
and eventually, at times, quieting my mind and my heart as
well. I can not even describe the amount of Fear that was
present. But this time it was different. It was as if in the
past Fear had walked in the door and I was afraid; now Fear
stood in the doorway and waited to be invited in. More and
more Fear gathered at the door, but it did not come in. It
only waited. I could see it there. It was terrifying. But I
wasn’t able to invite it in. Rest was occupying the space
instead.

The moments in the hospital on January 7th 2015 – I thought
my wife might die. I expected to hold our lifeless baby that
morning. I knew I would speak at Olivia’s funeral and not
know what to say. It was like a nightmare. But I remember
it. I was there. If she would have lived only an hour, I
would have been there for that one hour. Because Fear was at
the door, but Rest was inside. My posture was rest, quiet,
and trust. It was not about making things happen. It was
about watching, listening, and being there and nowhere else. I
was not going to miss it, as horrible as it could have been.

During the first few months of Olivia’s life, Fear kept
congregating at the door. We thought we saw her last breath
so many times. We were so sleep deprived. I passed out one
day just walking across the room. At this point, I felt pretty
incapable of getting up and making something happen. The
doctors were clear that there was nothing we could do.

Hospice was at our house every few days. I was not tempted to
get up and do something about Olivia. Now I was tempted to
get up and work. To make sure the bills got paid. To make
sure my career did not disappear any more than it already had.
But underneath was a stronger need: to run, to get the hell
out of this situation. Work can be an easy place for a man to
avoid the realities of his life. It was pretty obvious though,
that work was not to be my focus – that whatever time we had
left with Olivia was to be cherished – every minute of it.
Still, I felt the urge to run more than ever.

“Rest.”

I continued to hold the posture. To sit. To stare at the fence.
To listen quietly. I was not going to miss it.

I was there the whole time. All 14 months of her life.
I lost my posture at times. But I can say that the 30-year-old
Nathan (five years ago) would have occupied himself the entire
time, trying to make things happen, running like crazy away
from the pain. No. I had practiced for this all year. I knew
how to allow the itch, the pain, to be there and not to move.
I knew how to allow the voices in my head and the voices from
others to be there without being influenced by them. I knew
how to go deeper within my Self, to the place where a still
and quiet voice whispered the word “Rest” over and over. I had
practiced the posture; the time had come to use it. I was
there the whole time. I did not miss my daughter’s life.

In March of 2016, when I got the call that Olivia had stopped
breathing, I was on a bike ride with our other three kids.
Time stopped. Jude asked if Olivia was okay, and I was able
to look at him and say, “Yes. Even if she does die, all of us
are okay.”

We rode our bikes so fast. Fear was now filling the doorway
and had crowded around the house and the windows and as far
as the eye could see. We rode our bikes. I didn’t feel much,
but the tears streaming down my face told me, “Today is the
day. It is finished.” We kept riding.

I don’t remember getting off my bike. I’m guessing I had
never run so fast. But I will never forget the feeling of
walking through the back porch door and seeing Heather and
Olivia there. The most sinking and unreal amount of pain I
have ever felt mixed with an equal amount of peace, beauty,
and a sense of victory.

After a lot of crying, the only words I could say to Heather
were, “We did it.” We won. Olivia won. Heather won. I won.
Our family won. Our community won. Yes, Olivia died, but that
was never the battle we were fighting. We had chosen to fight
Fear instead.

I don’t think I have experienced the remainder of that day, or
the next few days, or the funeral or the burial yet. I think
I’m still back processing the day Olivia was born. It’s
weird. I have never grieved like this before, but I think the
body has a way of pacing how much pain it allows in at once.
I’m realizing now that we will be experiencing the pain and
the beauty of Olivia’s life and death for a long time. I don’t
know if or when we will ever feel normal or even functional
again. But I do remember one thing about the morning after
Olivia died, vividly.

I remember going for a run and the feeling of Rest
overwhelming me. Not happiness or excitement – I was very sad
– but so much Rest. And I remember noticing how little Fear I
sensed, like it was not even at the door anymore. It was as
if the battle had ended and Fear had lost and it just turned
and went home. There was no temptation to run or to make
anything happen. Olivia was dead but I felt an amazing amount
of Rest. And trust. And quiet. And strength.

Since that day, Fear has returned to my door. I have struggled
more than ever to rest. This battle is never-ending. But once
you win one battle, every battle after is different. Now you
know you can win. You know what it feels like to say “we did
it” and you know you can do it again.

I have a feeling the next year is going to be more difficult
to rest than the previous two years were. That is a very
overwhelming thought. But I have a wife and three living kids
and one sleeping daughter who need a husband and a father who
knows how to rest. That is what I will choose to do.

Fear at the door, Rest inside.

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Nathan Peterson

American singer-songwriter Nathan Peterson has been creating music as Hello Industry for two decades. After four album releases with Hello Industry, Nathan has stripped everything down to only a guitar, his voice, and a song. Nathan is currently celebrating the release of two solo albums and two books — So Am I: Life, Living, and Letting Go and Dance Again: Grief is Healing — about the life and passing of his daughter, Olivia. Over the course of Nathan’s 20-year career, he has created a body of work which invites our culture to rest, here and now, in the midst of the storms of life. Nathan’s words and voice invite us inward, toward our own Center, where our fear is the loudest; where our strength and hope are their brightest. Born in Chicago and raised in Germany, Colorado, and the Chicago suburbs, Nathan now lives with his wife and 5 children in Central Illinois. https://nathanpeterson.net

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