Save the Date: Let’s Get Together At the Barn

Remember back in March when I wrote that post introducing you to my next book, A Million Little Ways? And remember how I warned you that it was kind of a long-ish post so maybe if you don’t have time right now to read it, you should save it and come back later with your hot drink and your quiet room?

This is another one of those times.

I’m a little sweaty and a lot excited, because this post is years in the making.

I want to invite you to something. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ve read a few hints about it this summer. Today is the day I’m telling it all. But first I have to tell you a story.

Every year in January or February for as many years as I can remember, my family (John and I, my parents, my sister and her husband) gets together to talk about the year ahead. We have a very fancy and original name for our time together – Goals Weekend.

family photo

The goal of Goals Weekend is simple: get together in one room without distraction, bring your reflections, excitements and regrets about the year before as well as your hopes, plans, dreams and desires for the year ahead. And share them.

Sharing our goals in my living room in January 2009.

Sharing our goals in my living room in January 2009. That was even before we knocked down our wall!

We all write out our personal goals in our own unique way – I tend to type mine, Dad makes charts, and John leans toward a list, thoughtful and concise. My brother-in-law, Chad, does it that way, too.

Myquillyn writes her list in a Moleskine with a colored pen. One year when her kids where still small, one of her goals for the coming year was to take a shower everyday.

I laughed at her at the time because I am thoughtful and respectful of everyone in my family. And also I didn’t have kids yet.

Then four years and twin babies later, I had “shower daily” at the top of my goals list, too.

During our time together, Mom almost always starts us out, reading her list she wrote by hand. My mom, married to a radio announcer who talks for a living, prefers to go first to “get it out of the way.” Talking in groups is not her favorite.

That's me, mom, and Myquillyn last year during a visit to the town where we were born - Columbus, Indiana.

Me and Myquillyn with Mom.

So we all have a little different way of doing things, but we all come to the table as we are and try to accept one another in those places.

There isn’t anything magical about Goals Weekend. One year they all came up to our house just for the day – we got a sitter for the kids for a few hours and chatted in my living room.

We usually make at least one meal together and there is always a chocolate cake.

We usually make at least one meal together and there is always a chocolate cake.

Another year when I was pregnant with our son, we took a road trip to Raleigh during goals weekend, talked in the car and then went shopping for curtains.

Last year we got take-out for lunch and met in the high school room of our old church.

My family all lives in North Carolina so it isn’t as if Goals Weekend is the only time we see each other during the year. But Goals Weekend is important to us because it is a time where we choose to listen intentionally to one another, to be curious, ask questions, and get feedback.

Over many years of doing this as a family, we began to see common threads, a growing desire, and more similarities than differences in our lists of goals. We don’t all have the exact same goal, but there are enough overlapping parts for me to be able to say this:

Our family has a dream.

My Dad said it best on his blog a few weeks ago:

We want to have a small property used for hope, encouragement, and perspective. A place where heaven, earth, and everyday living come together. It’s vague and incomplete, but each of us sees some specific piece.

This hazy dream has been a main topic of conversation during Goals Weekend for the past several years. We would sit in our circle with a chocolate cake in the middle, and after sharing some about our own individual goals, someone would say “So, do y’all wanna talk about the land?”

The land. That what we call it.

On my best days, it feels right. On my worst, it seems crazy.

We all live in different parts of the state. We have jobs in different cities from each other. And property costs money.

But this past year, something happened.

We realized we didn’t want to wait until we had the property to start offering service to people in the form of encouragement and perspective. We realized it may be years before we would find the right property or even be able to collectively afford it. But the things we wanted to do on the property, we wanted to do now.

Waiting can be a type of resistance when you have something you’re passionate about. You imagine something, get motivated to do it, make a few plans. But then you hit a wall because this one part isn’t clear yet or that other part doesn’t make sense yet. And so you wait and imagine and have a long list of if only’s.

And it’s possible that somewhere in the waiting, you begin to realize how nice it is to have a dream but not have to do anything about it.

Maybe you’re waiting because it’s easier than doing the work.

We finally realized we didn’t need to wait for a place to do certain parts of what we wanted to do.

We didn’t need to wait until everything was perfect or set or ready.

We just needed to start.

So we picked a date – November 23, 2013  – and we partnered with my favorite event planner, Melissa Lewkowicz. She worked her magic and found us a venue so we immediately started making plans to invite you to join us for a small gathering here in North Carolina.

That’s when things started to get interesting.

At the end of June, John worked his last day at his old job, freeing us up consider other ways we might want to serve people together. This is a portion of our piece of the dream.

A few months before that, just when we thought we didn’t need property to make this dream happen, Myquillyn and Chad felt like it was time for them to move out of their rental and buy a house – a major step toward their own family vision.

Mom and Dad have their own perspective about what they want to do together and Dad wrote about it on his blog – What failure taught me about dreaming.

My sister is telling the story on her own blog these days, but the bottom line is Myquillyn and Chad found a house. On nearly 13 acres. And they bought it.

the farm

It isn’t exactly how we imagined things would happen. The details and timing are way different so far than we thought they would be.

Still, when I went to their property for the first time, nothing about it surprised me. Yes, this is the place we’ve been praying for. In a way I can’t explain, this property was familiar. As if I had been there before. Except I hadn’t.

I believe God often gives us a vision for things before they ever come into being. This was one of those times for me – this house and property that isn’t even mine was mine somehow – because we’ve partnered together to dream it and pray for it and wait for it together.

The dream existed first in our hearts and then later we found out – oh – it exists in real life too, on the far east side of Charlotte.

calling all hopers, dreamers, questioners, and ordinary people

Maybe you have a dream in your heart, too. Right now, that dream might seem impossible, far off, or just plain crazy. It might be small or huge or some middle mix of both. But there is some piece within it that you can’t let go.

That little spark of hopeful potential you are aware of right now? That’s the part I want to talk to. I want to encourage you to begin to circle around that tiny spark and consider the fact that maybe it isn’t random or selfish or crazy after all. Maybe it’s a whisper from the Spirit of God, trying to get your attention. Maybe it is a hint to your design wanting to wake you up from the inside out, begging you to stop taunting it with names.

Maybe that little spark is there for a purpose, not necessarily because every dream you have will come true, but because recognizing your own desire could be a way of respecting the way God designed you and could even be a hint at how you were made to fully worship him, to bring him glory.

Maybe you desperately fear you have nothing unique to offer the world. But secretly, you hope you’re wrong.

This is what I want to talk about. And I’m terrified to tell you this because I’ve never done anything like this before. Invite people to come to us? Plan it ourselves? Are we nuts?!

But I know this is the next right thing to do and we don’t want to wait any longer. So let’s just see what happens.

Because we decided to do this before we had property, we booked a venue at a beautiful barn in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Want to see it?

This is The Granary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

This is The Granary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I mean. Seriously.

I am so thankful for this beautiful place to meet. But one day (maybe even next time) we want to gather with you at my sister and Chad’s place, on the property we prayed for. In fact, today my sister is sharing photos of her barn, The World’s Worst – but of all the different ways we hope to use it in the future. Because these kinds of small gatherings are at the center of how our family wants to offer hope and encouragement to others. Here’s some more information about the gathering in November:

Save the Date – An Afternoon At the Barn

Saturday November 23, 2013

at the barn on november 23Consider this your official Save the Date. You can buy your ticket after Labor Day.

In keeping with our vision to have true connection and meaningful conversation, it has to be small. Less than 100.

As a courtesy and thank you to my newsletter subscribers, they’ll have first shot at tickets. If you want to be among the first to know when registration is open, go ahead and sign up for my newsletter.

I promise I won’t be creepy and share your email with anyone and I also promise I won’t jam your inbox with junk. You will receive one email when registration opens for our Afternoon At the Barn as well as my regular end-of-month update where I share a personal letter I won’t publish anywhere else. You can unsubscribe at any time. Obviously.

I hope you’ll save the date and try to join us in November. We chose this date on purpose because my book, A Million Little Ways, will already be out. I’m thrilled for this opportunity to engage the concepts in the book by connecting with you in a new way – beyond the book or the blog post.

What do you think? Might you try to join us?


  1. Ansley says

    As a rising senior at Wake Forest University, I am thrilled that you’ll be in Winston-Salem! Just marked my calendar!

  2. says

    I love this idea, and hope I am able to attend! I also love the idea of all of you sharing your goals, hopes, and dreams! I think I’m going to start that tradition as well!

  3. says

    Oh, Emily, this sounds absolutely wonderful. I love all the dreaming and need to do more.

    Sadly, that’s the weekend of our annual staff conference. I hate to miss out on a fall day. At a barn. With other people!

    I hope it isn’t the last…

  4. says

    Oh, I love the way you describe early dreams and inspirations as “that little spark of hopeful potential.” Yes, that’s it exactly.

    And since fall in Colorado lasts about 10 minutes, I’d just love to enjoy a little more of it in North Carolina.

    Praying for this exciting venture right alongside you, Myquillyn, and your families!
    Kristen Strong´s last blog post ..For the Love of Teenagers

  5. says

    Wow, Emily! What an exciting time for your family. While reading your post, I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it all is. Reading your dad’s blog, his book, Scary Hope, and knowing about his past from what he and you have shared about it on your blogs, I can’t help but say wow. It blesses my heart to see your family function in such a way that is going to bless others in what I believe will be beyond anything you could have dreamed or imagined. That’s the way God does things, you know. HE takes our little and makes it much. I’m so excited about having the opportunity to join you and your family at your gathering in November!
    Pam´s last blog post ..And I thought 24 years was a long time . . .

  6. Phyllis says

    Hey Emily,
    I am so excited by this and I am already a newsletter subscriber…do I need to sign up again to be able to register?

  7. says

    Something about this post made me homesick. Is that the right word? A kind of longing for something you know is there but that isn’t in your reach. I love what you guys are doing. I love it so much. And I think I am in love with the idea of Goals Weekend.
    Lisa-Jo @lisajobaker´s last blog post ..Five Minute Friday: Small

      • Karen says

        I have heard the term referred to with the german term sehnsucht (there is a whole article on wikipedia but here is the gist)

        Sehnsucht: “the inconsoloble longing in the human heart for we know not what; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one’s home.”

        I feel like on a deeper scale it is our soul’s longing for heaven, for eternity, but that the Lord also gives us the glorious experience of the shadow of it in experiences like yours, Emily.

  8. says

    Emily – this is the dream of my heart right now. I would love to join you, but living out west and working full time means expensive airfare and no time off work (since I’m heading to Allume)… but I have a dream to do this very thing out west for a small group of dreamers and writers to come together. And I know I am not the only one planning these types of small get-togethers! God must certainly be working in the hearts of many to make this happen across the country! Thanks friend!
    Vanessa´s last blog post ..2 John 1:9 – Grow In His Word

  9. Gina says

    I love this!! This is so God…when we step out in faith He provides. We could wait forever but all it took was to say yes to His dreams in your hearts. :) Truly a case of Pslam 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. :)

    • Gina says

      I love this!! This is so God…when we step out in faith He provides. We could wait forever but all it took was to say yes to His dreams in your hearts. :) Truly a case of Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. :)

  10. says

    I am so delighted for you Emily. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live in Raleigh. We’re headed to see them next month, but perhaps in the fututre we can plan to come at the same thing as you have your next event.
    Thanks for the way you encourage. It always comes at just the right time for me. Praying the dream is abundantly more than you could ask or think.

  11. says

    I’m just south of Charlotte but my daughter’s birthday is Nov. 20th. I really REALLY want to come but we’ll see if it works out. Either way I LOVE what you guys are doing and really looking forward to the barn in Charlotte!
    Amy J. Bennett´s last blog post ..Treehouse Bed for Kids

  12. Ashley says

    I’ve held dreams in my heart and wanted so badly to put feet to my “faith” (or lack thereof) but just as you wrote, I was waiting. I often struggle with thoughts of not being able to start because I don’t know where the beginning is and how to get there. You have given me courage. As I read of you event coming up, I thought “Sure would be nice if I could go but if it’s close to Raleigh, that’s too far.” Then I saw the city: Winston-Salem…right where I live! Okay, Lord…I get the point. I’ll go! 😉 Lord willing, I’m looking forward to attending.

  13. says

    So inviting, an afternoon with you and 100 who want to share their Spirit of God dreams together. Wish I had friends in the area and frequent flyer miles… Will have to be content to enjoy the post and photos that will surely follow the afternoon. Blessings for the joyous success of this event.

  14. gina says

    i need to add a little book to your book stack (and/or maybe your dad’s and/or sister’s). i make no claim about the writing, or the theology b/c that’s not why i want you to read it. i want you/y’all to read it b/c it’s a great story about another Barn and a dream/vision that turned out to have a physical location and continues to impact lives decades since it was offered up, still full of livestock! It’s a powerful story…especially when i think of the people i personally know who’s lives in Jesus are fruits of God’s work in a barn! Scott Free, by Scott Ross (his radio connection made me think about your dad). You will likely have to look on ebay or Amazon used to find it. Exciting!

  15. says

    Oh, Emily. This is just so beautiful, and I feel like I know your family from what y’all have shared and I can just nod in agreement with how amazingly God has worked this altogether.

    I am totally forwarding this along to my husband – as well as a link to your dad’s blog, because sometimes guys just need to hear it from the guy-perspective.

    I am already thinking about childcare options… 😉

  16. says

    This- “So we all have a little different way of doing things, but we all come to the table as we are and try to accept one another in those places.”
    it’s why I want to come. I don’t always find that ^ in my circle.
    Can’t wait!!
    Kristin´s last blog post ..Riverfront Schooling

  17. says

    Wishing I could come from CA in November, and teary at the beauty of your goals weekend…that you have such closeness together. I long for that. I feel like I know you and Myquillin as I listen to you all chat with Tish on her podcast! Your goals weekend is such a special thing, a blessed thing … something I want to do one day with my kids and their spouses. Your words always feel like a cozy sweater to me, like a gentle and sweet friend, speaking with hope at just the right moments. I know that may sound stalkish-wierd from someone you don’t know, but I mean it in the most endearing way. I love reading your words regardless of what they are, because they’re yours. And this part resonated so much in me…”Maybe you desperately fear you have nothing unique to offer the world. But secretly, you hope you’re wrong…” Yes that. Thank you for leading the way, following the dream God gave, and showing us how to also. I’m cheering for you and Myquillin and your whole family and God brings the dream He gave to life! xoxo

    • says

      First, Jacque, I kind of do know you! So there’s that.

      And second, your words here are the opposite of stalkerish. They are encouraging and kind and a gift. Thank you for sharing them, for reminding me one reason why I do what I do, and for confirming what I already know – words matter, dreams matter, and listening to them can be a form of worship.

      So thanks for that.

  18. Sarah Schulz says

    This sounds so lovely. I am always afraid I have nothing to offer (that’s the secret my good girl masks hid for 20 years), but I am desperate to matter, to have something to give others.

    I don’t know if I can make it to this, but I’m going to talk to my husband about it. Just in case. :)

    May God’s Spirit rest on all of you as this comes into being!

    • says

      Sarah, you’re not alone in that. In fact, I think you’re on to something important there – the good girl mask suffocates desire, shames you for trying to recognize your true self and keeps you in hiding. You already do matter and you already have something to offer. The difficulty is in learning how to uncover what that is – I hope to help with that in some small way.

      Hope you can make it in November. And thanks for your kind words.

  19. says

    I love this, Emily. I’m already counting down the days for that art book (because in so many small ways, your words about art have intersected with my journey in painting) and this is just the cherry on top! Celebrating with you!

  20. says

    I love everything about this story and Myquillyn’s. Love the hope and the dreams and the family togetherness where you all prayed for the hopes and dreams of your loved ones. And now, it’s here. I will continue to pray for y’all and for the people that will come to these gatherings. And oh what a joy to be one of the lucky few who can be there! It all just sounds wonderful, Emily!
    Erin @ Blue-Eyed Bride´s last blog post ..saving a slice of grace for myself

  21. Ginny says

    My family does a goal setting night around New Year’s. I love it and all the kids write goals too. I even hold onto my lists, and kids lists in their own handwriting to see where we have been and where we are going. This idea of dreaming and God’s design and everything else you touched on in your post just pierced my heart. I’m in the waiting and have been there for a while. It’s amazing to read your words and know exactly what you mean. How I would love to come to your event. I don’t know if its possible but I will be praying diligently about it. I can’t wait until your book comes out. But please keep doing what you are doing! Now I need to stop sobbing so I can get in car rider line.

  22. says

    i love the idea of a goals meeting as an extended family…really going to think on that one! :)

    i am always in awe of God’s timing. it’s almost always never my timing. but it’s so much better. excited for God’s plans for your family’s dream.

    i am so excited about your new book…and excited about the possibility of “at the barn.” my family is in NC, and we are (finally!) a drivable distance (GA)…so i’m going to seriously think/pray/hope about this! thanks for sharing the details of this dream with all of us.
    Kimber-Leigh´s last blog post ..For the weekend…

  23. Kimberly says

    I cannot even begin to describe the thrill that gripped my heart when I read these words!!! For my 21st birthday earlier this year, my mom pre-ordered A Million Little Ways. The mere possibility of being able to discuss it with likeminded dreamers and doers on an autumn day in a gorgeous venue just warms me right through. Plus, the timing is perfect – I’m a senior at Georgia State University, so thankfully this event is scheduled at the end of the semester when college-busyness will have slowed down and I can manage to take off a day or two to drive up. :) Hoping and praying alongside you!

  24. Gina says

    Oh, how lovely, lovely, lovely. Such a beautiful blessing. I won’t be able to come as I will be freezing to death on a campsite in a caravan so my beautiful daughter can have her birthday party at the farm she loves. Also we live in the UK but I love the goal setting idea, we will be doing that. I love dreaming and dreams coming true. I will be praying happy prayers for your weekend to be as blessed as it can be. Also in a non-stalker-ish kind of way. Dream big, God is way bigger than our dreams. I think he puts our dreams in us because he knows so well what we need as opposed to what we think we need or want. Smiling my head off now. x

  25. says

    Five hours away, it might just be possible. But I have to say I’m a bit grumpy. I get your newsletter in fits and spurts and I apparently didn’t get the one about the barn – period. This sounds amazing and I love that your family does this every year. What a great legacy for your children.
    Shelly Miller´s last blog post ..The Person Behind Me

  26. Melissa McIntyre says

    Soooo, my husband and I were wondering, will our children be able to come with us? We live in Georgia but my husband has some family in both Carolina’s, so we are considering making a big trip of it. However, our children would have to be able to come with us to the barn if we go. Any thoughts?

  27. Joy Manoleros says

    Oh, yay!!!! i LOVE how God swirls thoughts in our head and pieces them together for us like magic! I hope I can make it! *wishwishwishwishwishwish* 😀

  28. says

    Psalm 126:1 says “we were like those who dreamed”. That verse always strikes a chord for me because living in survival mode over the past 6+ years has caused us to pretty much cease dreaming. Thankfully, I am seeing sparks of hope and glimmers of dreams starting to form again. Your event has been on my calendar since your first announcement… I hope to be there! Blessings!

  29. says

    Oh, this sounds amazing and lovely! Hope I can make it.

    And this: “…a whisper from the Spirit of God…” Love this. I’m beginning to hear just such a whisper, and it’s exciting and terrifying all wrapped up into one. It seems so far off and yet so close. And it’s truly only a glimpse of a beautiful vision at this point!
    Emily G.´s last blog post ..Beyond What I Could Ask or Think

  30. says

    This is so exciting! Seriously. Love the idea. Love how it’s all coming together AND that y’all are just jumping in and doing it. Would love to be there to meet all y’all in person. If I can or not, know that we will be praying that The Barn gathering is truly a blessing and genuine encouragement to you all. Just.The.Best!

  31. says

    I can’t. stop. the. tears. Man. You know what’s so cool about this internet world we live in? Getting to see, kinda sorta up close, how God is moving in people’s lives. How He’s doing AMAZING things, REAL things – and how His people are walking with Him. At the same time, it’s so encouraging to read about and talk about and learn about how other families do life. To learn from you. To be inspired by you.

    Emily, I am so happy for you and Myquilin and your family. I just…I mean…this is WOW. (Yes, ma’am, I am a writer. Can’t ya tell?) :) I would love nothing more than to bring my family to visit your families on the land. Someday…

    (Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs it.)
    Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect´s last blog post ..What if You Were the Mean Girl?

  32. Pam says

    I posted a comment on Nester’s site but to sum it up I am excited for your family and hope to be one of the 100.

  33. says

    I am in tears reading this post…what a beautiful way to serve people! I pray that I will be able to soak in an afternoon at the barn! I think I am one of those people you mention in your post, who are afraid they don’t have anything unique to offer but really hope they do! You will be a blessing to so many!

  34. says

    Emily, I am so touched by this post for several reasons. The one that stands out the most this morning is the way your family dreams together! Honestly, I have followed you and your sister’s blogs for years, and I have admired both of you but also wondered just how it is that you are both so successful at what you do. Now I know that you have learned to dream from your parents- and not only to dream, but to take those dreams seriously. This is so inspiring. I hope I can pass that kind of legacy on to my daughters. This has inspired conversations with my husband already this morning. Thank-you!
    Jess´s last blog post ..what I have learned this summer about writing

  35. says

    This post made me all teary… 1) because I love love love how God shows us bits and pieces, and slowly AS WE TAKE STEPS pieces it all together and 2) because I’m a goals nerd and the thought that your whole family comes together voluntarily to talk goals… well, be still my beating heart.

    So inspired!

  36. says

    Oh friend. I needed this. Today. A week after you posted but oh so perfect timing. Just last week God whispered that I was living afraid. Life’s hard stuff over the past 3 years has made me afraid to dream. JJ too. Yet we both sense Jesus calling us to be brave. We need a day at the barn. Can I bring my man? I’ll be watching for the official invitation.

    PS. Very excited about A Million Little Ways!!

  37. Julia says

    I so hope we can join y’all! Thank you so much for what you wrote and shared about a whisper from the Spirit of God. I needed to be reminded of that tonight…
    We will be in North Ga. that time frame- Hoping to make it to be there-
    Thank you SO much again :-)

  38. says

    This is wonderful and beautiful and so God!
    I want to be there someday…. this year I will be wrapping up my staff retreat. Hope you will do it again… and again… and again. Thank you for the inspiration. I often get stuck in the comfort of waiting.

  39. says

    I love the idea of Goals Weekend. Thanks for sharing, including the various definitions of “weekend” – haha!

    I won’t be able to come this time, but maybe in the future! Know it will be fun and special.

  40. says

    I’m weeks behind on reading this, but just wanted to say how inspired I am and how much it speaks to my heart. I’ve been nurturing a dream for a while, and sometimes it seems so far out of reach. Your family’s story is incredible, and YES, I believe every word you say about the whisper from the Spirit of God. I think He’s waking me back up again right now and reminding me who I am. Love to watch this beautiful journey unfold your blogs. :)
    Kim´s last blog post ..Four Fun Things For a Birthday

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