tuesdays unwrapped

Sometimes I love this life too much. I revel in her gifts, long for what I can’t have, grasp for what I’m losing, think real life and happiness are found in all the gifts rather than the Giver. Other times, I long for heaven so badly I think my heart might cave in. I see this life for what it is – a moment, a breath – and desire weaves her way up and out from deeper places than I even knew existed. And in those times, the earth fog lifts and it’s as if I know fully even as I am fully known. But the clarity doesn’t visit long, and just as I try to document it, the stuff of life and laundry come back down like a curtain, leaving me wondering how the mystery ever felt real at all.

We plow through the day, head down, eyes shut tight, hands busy, heart whirring, ears pounding with running lists and broken hearts and don’t forget the milk at the store. Our prayers are mostly talking and our hearts are mostly longing for something, anything other than this fast-paced life. And my job isn’t even one of those typically stressful ones like brain surgeon or president.

I consider the gifts hiding in secret but wide-open places. And when I do, He slows me and invites me into Himself. These gifts are not me, He says, but they are evidence of the mystery. What can I do but see them, pick them up, turn them over, and unwrap them? The grass is flattened in my front yard because they’re learning to play soccer. The washroom floor is covered in blankets because the whole family stayed with us. The desk is piled high with books and papers because I get to do the job I love.

This life is bursting with the mystery of God. Find the gifts that point to the Giver and be curious in your longing. Do not discount any season you might be in. Do not wave away that deep desire for more. Begin with the gifts at your feet and see where they take you.

We would love to read about your Tuesday gifts by inviting you to add your link below. Be sure to include the permalink to your Tuesday post. If you need help to link up, this page will hopefully answer all of your questions. Be sure to link back here to Chatting at the Sky so that others can find our community. I look so forward to reading your posts. Welcome back to Tuesday.


in quietness and trust

I cup my hands over the warm dough, brush flour from the top onto the cornmeal covered pizza peel. I made this dough with my own hands. When water and yeast meet flour and salt and time, they rise up together, mingling in the bowl so we can’t tell one from the other. They make a new thing.

When it’s time to put it in the oven, the heavy dough sits rounded on the stone. As it begins to move, I watch in wonder. Because I may have added these things together, but I can’t make them breathe. And the idea that I made this dough with my own hands turns laughable now. Really? Where do you keep your storehouses of water? Did you mine the rocks or capture the sea water to get that salt? I am Job and the bread questions turn to earth questions and I’m wondering how the proud waves know where to stop and who gives the sun his orders and where night ends and morning begins.

I mix the dough, not because I know things, but because I have faith in those who have done it already. I am a student of bread and of life. Busy makes me too big. Slow brings me down low. I need to stay low, small, thankful.

One of my favorite thankful practices we started here over two years ago. Tuesdays Unwrapped began as a project to see life on purpose, to look at what is and embrace it rather than wish it different. Tuesdays gave us permission to take the time to unwrap the small, secret gift of the everyday. It was a year ago that I stopped doing Tuesdays Unwrapped as a weekly link up. It was one of those things I had to say no to in order to say yes to other things. But I have missed it, the weekly practice of noticing with a community.

Beginning tomorrow, I would like to unwrap my tuesdays again with you from now until the end of the year. While dear Ann invites us to list one thousand gifts on Mondays, I invite you to unwrap them one by one on Tuesdays. For tomorrow, I hope you’ll choose one gift of your ordinary day and find the miracle secret it holds. Write it out, breathe it in, capture its image, see it new. And then come here to tell us all about it by linking up. If you are new to this community, here is all the information you’ll need to prepare your post. I hope to see you tomorrow.

8 ways to know it’s time to take a break

Sometimes we need to keep going no matter what, to sit and do the work no matter the distractions, the time constraints, the resistance standing strong  with his arms crossed in the corner of the kitchen. I’ve worked with him breathing hot down my neck, and I’ve met deadlines early and spit in his face. I’ve been doing that for some time now.

For nearly three years, I have been writing books in some form. I’ve only cranked out two in that time where many authors would have twice that many in the same amount of months. With all these hours of work, I’m learning the difference between procrastinating (avoiding the work because I’m afraid, lazy, or distracted) and rest (setting the work aside on purpose with the intent of re-focusing).

Back in January, I wrote a post on 5 Ways to Know if the Art has to Wait. Mostly, I encouraged you to move ahead, to make art anyway, to sort through the procrastinating excuses and create. But if you find yourself in a season where you feel pulled and directionless, here are 8 ways to know if it’s time to take a break:

1. More time is spent in reaction than intention. Do you feel like your days are filled mostly with moving from one fire to the next? That all you do is turn around and react to the people and circumstances around you? Surviving says just make it through. True living says let’s make this count.

2. Sitting still and doing nothing brings anxiety. When God said for us to be still and know that he is God, I think he meant it as a gift to us. When the voice of the shame of inactivity becomes louder than the voice of grace, let that be a red flag of warning. Allow yourself to sit long enough so the anxiety gives way to rest.

3. The idea of taking a break is terrifying. You have become very big and the world cannot rotate without you in charge. You wonder how to embrace rest without everything crumbling at your feet. Oh, to learn what it means to release the management of life out of our small hands and into the hands of God.

4. Your spouse asks you to. They see things we can’t see. When my husband goes too fast and I ask him to slow, I feel loved when he listens. Our family can be our most accurate mirror. Don’t be afraid to look into them and discover more of yourself.

5. It feels like there’s a motor in your chest that won’t stop. Your breathing is shallow. Your mind is foggy. Your hands are unsteady as you push them to produce. Embrace the unveiling of this anxiety. Allow those things that hum under the surface of your everyday activity to rise up from within and offer them to the Holy, Heavenly keeper of all your anxieties. In him is the only safe place.

6. Everything feels like an interruption. Ann’s words come back to me here, that life is not an emergency.

“Stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s own or real life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”

C.S. Lewis

7. Your yes weighs more than your no. Are you coming up with lists for all the reasons you can’t say no to things? Is your head incapable of shaking from left to right? Are you dragging your bag of yes’s behind you while your bag of no’s hangs empty from your shoulder? Take time to sit with those bags and unload a heavy yes or two. (or ten).

8. You can’t shake the feeling that you’re trying to catch up to something. But you aren’t sure what it is. You spin and you worry and you are swept away in the current of activity. We are tricked into believing that the only relief from feeling behind is to catch up. But this is war, and the enemy is an illusive and foggy expectation.

If any of these resonate with you, perhaps it’s time to take a break from something. As I’ve been working and writing and making my art, I’m thankful for the courage I found under layers of good girl over the past few years; for the calling I’ve discovered after lots of stops and starts; for the book I now hold in my thankful hands, the book that works like a period at the end of a very long sentence. Here, she says, you finished something. I want to grab a permanent marker and make that period loud and strong, to make it stick, to make it finished. But the truth is, it will never really be finished. As long as I’m living, the work will never stop. I will always find something more to do, to write, to say, to act on.

But I need a little time to enjoy the period. The next book is fully in the works, the one that beats close to my heart in a different way because of who it’s for. I will be finishing up some things for that book as well as a few other things. So for the next two weeks, I will be quiet here on the blog.

When I come back, I’m excited to host Tuesdays Unwrapped again for just the month of December. That project helps me see. I would love for you to join me here then.

May these next few weeks be filled with grace, and may your thanks line the path for your giving. May you become well acquainted with your own belovedness as you take deep soul breaths of the mystery of Christ.

9 posts on finding space for your soul to breathe:

For When You Feel Behind
Change the World :: Say No
When Life Demands Performance 
Six Things About Soul Space
Make Room for Space
On Being Stubborn 
Love in the Morning
Slowing for Thankful
The Secret to Keeping the Wonder

join me today on the Simple Mom podcast

These lovely girls have been on my mind a lot this week as I’ve thought about the bloggers on the Compassion trip. The Relevant Conference was the first time we saw each other again since we travelled to the Philippines this past summer. That’s Tsh there, second from the left. What a gift to get to know her better this past year. She had me as a guest on the Simple Mom Podcast this week.

Here’s what you can expect to find:

  • Behind the scenes of writing 31 days to change the world  (1:00)
  • A bit about time travel and the Philippines (5:30)
  • The Relevant Conference (8:00)
  • On editors and agents (11:45)
  • What it feels like to have a book in bookstores (13:33)
  • On writing a book, being a good girl, and marketing your stuff (15:00)
  • Photography tips, my favorite lens, free editing software, and the sign of a good photographer (24:45)
  • This is the part where I brag a bit on one of my favorite bloggers (38:10)
  • The illusion of doing “it all” (40:00)
  • And finally, to tie it all up with a bow, the embarrassing contents of my bedside table (47:00)

So if you would like some company while you fold your towels this afternoon, click here to listen to the podcast.

an invitation to see

They look burgundy brown in the shade and the dark. Sometimes almost purple. But when the sunlight hits, they catch fire.

If you see it in the morning, you can look away easy, just another tree planted near the curb. But when the sun sinks low in the west, over the rooftops and the basketball goal, past the tired day and headed down toward tomorrow, this tree burns red.

The Compassion bloggers have arrived in Ecuador. They flew with cameras and eyes ready. Full. Empty. Weary. Expectant. They are seeing the red-burn in that country, the work of Compassion and of love. They are seeing what light does when it hits darkness. For the next four days, they invite us to see with them. Join me in offering bowed heads and bended knees for them and the children they are meeting?

Amanda @ Baby Bangs
Ann @ A Holy Experience
Kelly @ Kelly’s Korner
Melanie @ The Big Mama Blog
Sophie @ Boo Mama
Shaun Groves
Keely Marie
Patricia Jones

You can find a list of all their posts here. And you can see the faces of the children they will meet here.

good girls come full circle

The curtains in our bedroom are crumpled on the floor. The hardware gave way and shot slap out of the drywall. I tried to take it in stride, but standing there on a stool balancing one heavy-ended curtain rod while trying to get the other end to come out without scratching the ceiling, well. I cried a little. And clenched my fist tight like a toddler. Just one more thing not going right today.

I take close up photos of grass and plants and green living things because it helps me to remember to see. It is therapy to notice the beauty in the chaos of nature, to predict what happens next in the seasons even though each year it’s different, to believe in a God who holds everything in His hands.

I don’t like when things don’t go right mainly because I worship order and control a lot of the time. I want to do stuff right and to be right, not just as in having the right answer, but to have things go right by me. I put those curtains up in haste some time last year. And having them fall out of the wall is direct evidence of my domestic failure, like they’ve been waiting for me to have a bad day before they reveal their secrets about me.

I don’t really believe I’m a domestic failure. Not usually, anyway. But when the laundry piles and the baseboards stink and the curtains fall off the wall, the word failure comes to mind. I’ve circled around healing from my good girl ways for many years now, but there are still triggers that bring out the lies. And hearing them feels like finding a note from an ex-boyfriend. You aren’t attached to him anymore, but when you read the note suddenly you’re back there in college, standing in the middle of 15 years ago, feeling the sting of the break up. The feelings are real, but they are based on something that isn’t. Shadows. Remnants. Untruths. That’s what it’s like to hear a lie in your head.

We carry around those fragments of untruth with us everyday. And when things happen all in a row, it dislodges the crazy and even though we know the truth, the lie feels more true at the time. We have to choose what we’ll believe, then. It doesn’t feel very romantic or mystical to say it that way, choose what you’ll believe. But I do believe we have a choice, even when it all goes wrong.

I recently talked a bit about that choice with the women from Full Circle in Canada. I can’t embed the video here, but here’s a peek.

Here is a link to the interview if you’d like to watch. (This is a link to the entire program. Interview begins at 6:41. Ish). Would love to hear from you this morning – can you identify any triggers in your life that cause your crazy to come out?

things to chat about (and a giveaway)

My soul has been busy taking some deep breaths after writing for 31 days (anyone with me?) It’s been a nice week for that. Here are some links and a few giveaways for your weekend…

Plan Your Peaceful Christmas @ Simple Mom – Because even though I know it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, I try to do what Simple Mom says because, you know, she’s smart and awesome. And simple. She offers great things to think about as the holidays approach.

The Official Relevant 11 Linky @ The Relevant Conference – Spent 5 days last week in snowy Pennsylvania. If you’ve wondered what happens at a blog conference, here is a list of posts from the attendees. What a sweet and encouraging time that was.

A Writer’s Number One Enemy @ Jody Hedlund – One of my favorite places to go when I need some encouragement or motivation in my writing.

Her First Giveaway Ever! @ Uplifting Words - Still don’t have a copy of Grace for the Good Girl? Enter here to win one! It’s Stefanie’s first giveaway ever. Show the love.

I’ve been receiving lots of email from women who have read my book. Beautiful women. Brave women. And some questioning women. I would love to answer some of these questions and so on Monday I’ll be asking you if you have any. Then on Tuesday, we’ll walk through some of the answers. Or, perhaps, we’ll just struggle through the questions together.

One last thing – I’ve been staring at my bookshelf this week and noticed so many beautiful books sitting there and decided it is time to pass some of them on. I’m giving away three books by one of my favorite authors, Mary DeMuth. But you can’t win them here. If you visit the Chatting at the Sky Facebook page and click ‘like’, you can enter to win all 3 books in the Defiance Texas Trilogy. I’ll announce the winner Saturday, November 5 there on Facebook.
May your weekend be filled with color and grace, and may you know deep down into your bones how dearly you are loved.

for when you feel discouraged

We take one small step into November, a little brave, a little weary. We list all the reasons why we can’t believe true things while we roll up the towels for the linen closet and plan for the meals in our head. And then we listen, lips quivering, heart heavy with longing and hope, as the Lord says things like this: Return to your rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. (Psalm 116:7). We know it’s true (ish) and we look for the bounty, but all we see is a pile of towels and dog-chewed sofa.

Hope and risk are syrup sticky. They tangle up the soul with fear and thrill and dread and peace. The dread comes when we forget to remember that the truth doesn’t always feel true. Hope is a liar and risk walks with a limp. She doesn’t look brave anymore, she looks wounded. And so we search for our comfort zones and look for a hiding place of safety. We grope for familiar and walk with our heads down low.

I feel it deep, this word return. There is no risk in returning because we have already tasted this home. And so He reminds us to come back to a place where we have been before. He is doing a new thing, but He is still the same as always. Trustworthy. Faithful. Loving and strong. There may still be a fear, but we have it confused. Because there is only one thing scarier than making art with our lives.

Not making art at all.