I go through life the way I drive: gripping the steering wheel until my arms get all scary and veiny and it looks like I'm going to rip the steering wheel off. When my driving instructor, Javier, tells me to relax I tell him: "I'll relax when I'm dead."

I come up with excuses for the way I live my life. When I'm in LA, I tell people I'm a neurotic New Yorker. When I'm in New York, I power-walk so fast I plow down pedestrians—without remorse. I tell myself it's not my fault they can't keep up with foot traffic, not my fault they can't keep up with life. Life is moving fast and if you slow down, well… I didn't know what would happen since I'd never really tried it.

I slept four hours a day so I could juggle it all Then I decided to convert to Judaism—while teaching English full-time at a public high school and getting my Master's in Education at night, of course. There was no such thing as taking it one step at a time for me. I slept four hours a day so I could juggle it all. And then I started keeping Shabbat, and all the balls I was juggling in the air started falling down.

I fell behind at work. I fell behind in school. I fell behind with my friends who wanted to hang out with me on Fridays and Saturdays and couldn't understand why I wouldn't anymore.

"Why don't we hang out on Sunday?" I asked my best friend Carrie.

"Because on Sundays, I rest," she snapped.

I was stressed out, but who was I kidding? I was always stressed out. I'd always been stressed out. That's how I operated. The only time I wasn't stressed out, the only time I had any peace and quiet was… Shabbat. Because apparently, the only way I, the workaholic control freak, would learn to stop and take a breath was if I convinced myself that G‑d was making me.

I had started the conversion process to fulfill a childhood wish. When I was fourteen, my mother told me I could be any religion I wanted to be and I decided I wanted to be Jewish. I'd read about Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism at the public library but Judaism was the only religion that made sense to me.

Judaism combined faith with action and a direct connection with G‑d. Learning about Judaism confirmed what I'd known the moment I met a Holocaust survivor at age thirteen: I was meant to be Jewish.

She was a survivor, and I was trying to survive a childhood so horrifying that I'd operate on "survival mode" for years before I could finally really start living my life. Through her, I saw how Jews respond to suffering and are able to rebuild. I always felt so intrinsically connected to the Jewish people.

I was meant to be JewishHowever, it wasn't until age twenty-five, when a close Jewish friend decided he would become Orthodox, that I resumed my interest in Judaism. And when I did, I didn't know very much. I knew I wasn't supposed to hug him anymore. I knew I had to cover my elbows and knees. I knew I was joining a religion steeped in a tradition that went back to G‑d speaking to a bunch of former slaves hanging out by the side of a mountain. I didn't know anything about Shabbat.

It wasn't the challah. Although, that was good melting over my lips with a bit of honey (forget hummus). On Shabbat, I turned off my cell phone, the laptop, the television. And when I did, I turned off that voice that was always been pushing me to do more than I could handle, the high-strung voice that ensured I was stressed out before I even got started.

When I prayed on Shabbat, I actually paid attention to the words. When I sat with friends at meals, I actually listened to what they were saying. When I picked up that book I finally had the time to curl up into, I read every word, without skimming, relishing every second of it. I had been sucked into an alternate universe, a universe with a technological black hole…my friends called it "Hell." But I never felt like I was missing anything; I felt fully present in my life. I felt fully awake. On Shabbat, I rested.

I didn't have to understand all the strange rules surrounding Shabbat and where they had been derived from. All I had to understand was that G‑d had rested on the seventh day and it was good. If G‑d said that on this blessed day, I also couldn't tear toilet paper, had to use the best tissues instead, well then who was I to question G‑d's infinite wisdom?

When my non-Jewish friends expressed horror at the fact that I couldn't flip light switches, I invited them over for a Shabbat experience and I had them sit with me while I blessed my food, overate and caught up with the people who mattered most in my life. I filled them up with challah and conversation during meals lasting over six hours where my friends would rarely notice how late it had gotten. And when they would, they would shake their heads to clear that peaceful Shabbat fog and say, "I wish I could stay longer."

Checking into my life takes on a whole deeper meaningIt has been a while since my first Shabbat, since the first time I was dazzled by it. There have been times on long summer days when I have stomped my feet and wished that it were over. "I have stuff to do!" I cry to my husband. But if I hadn't taken a break, if I hadn't gotten off that topsy-turvy ride for a day, I wouldn't be able to do any of it. I wouldn't be able to concentrate on any of it while my shoulder blades were clenched together so tight only a miracle would stop them from snapping my spine.

I don't just rest on Shabbat, I have learned to stop, look, listen to myself, to the world around me, to appreciate my place in it and recognize that it would survive without me for twenty-five hours if I needed (and oh did I need) the day off. And now, I couldn't get through the week if I didn't know that at the end of it, I would have Shabbat letting me check into, not check out of, life.

And every year around this time, in the month of Elul, really checking into my life takes on a whole deeper meaning. Reading Psalm 27 (my favorite) daily, flailing about for forgiveness, struggling towards repentance, I know I'm preparing myself emotionally and spiritually for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur---the Shabbat of all Shabbats if you think of it as I do, a day that's all about checking in with yourself, your life and G‑d.

In Elul, I remember what observing Shabbat has really been about for me (hint: it's not just rest and relaxation, folks!). Elul means "search" and Shabbat has been part of mine. Each and every single Shabbat has been part of a lifelong journey in soul searching to find my true self, that divine spark in all of us and finally, to draw ever closer to G‑d. Now pass the challah and let's get on with it.