The Spiritual Discipline of Wearing Better Pants

When I graduated from high school, my youth pastor gave all the seniors a book on the spiritual disciplines. Good girl that I was, I marked that book up in all the best ways, purposing to tackle a discipline a week for however long it took to become the best possible version of myself – prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.

Bible in the Sunroom

I knew I couldn’t be perfect but I thought it would be alright to get closer than anyone else.

Several years of Bible college, marriage, and mothering later, I realized that good girl in my head was a perfectly annoying mirage and if I wanted to really know Jesus and BE A SANE PERSON, I had to go let go of my constant attempts at trying to earn my way and performing for acceptance.

One of the casualties of my good girl detox was shedding my misconceptions about the spiritual disciplines. I needed to give myself permission not to practice them for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to do them without thinking I was earning something.

The past several years have been a re-entry of sorts into the world of the spiritual disciplines. It’s different now – kinder, gentler, tender, and more free. My definitions have changed as has (I hope) my demeanor.

I now understand the fundamental truth beneath the spiritual disciplines, that “if a discipline is not producing freedom in me, it’s probably the wrong thing for me to be doing” (John Ortberg).

Reading about the disciplines in Living in Christ’s Presence, I was further struck at this perspective:

“Discipline depends on what you are training for. If you are training to win a pie-eating contest, what discipline will you have to engage in? Pie eating. If every day you eat as much pie as you possibly can, a year from now you’ll be able to eat much more pie than you could eat today.

So, what counts as a discipline depends on what I am training for . . . The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you do that, then don’t do it.”

In short, practicing a spiritual discipline is not about trying to earn something, prove something, or win.

Practicing a spiritual discipline is more about receiving power to live in the kingdom. It’s about training my mind and my will to practice what my heart deeply believes. It’s about knowing that each moment is packed with grace but sometimes I need practice to see it.

It’s about becoming the person I already am in Christ.

Really anything can be a spiritual discipline when we recognize the presence of God with us in it.

Last week I had a full day of work in front of me, but I decided when the kids got home, work would be put aside and I would practice the spiritual discipline of presence.

I recently wrote a post about the spiritual discipline of learning nothing. John Ortberg may not write a chapter about that particular discipline, but there it is, and it was good for me because it produced freedom in me and helped me to live more fully in the invisible kingdom of God.

A spiritual discipline may be something we do, but it may also be something we abstain from doing. For years now I’ve been writing under the tagline creating space for your soul to breathe, and I’m finally beginning to understand what that means. With the discipline of silence and solitude, I abstain from worry and hurry, teaching my body what it feels like to undo rather than always do.

But y’all, this weekend I took the disciplines to a new level as I began to sift through my clothes. I found some jeans I love in the bottom of my drawer, pulled them on and continued to tidy up around the house.

Ever so slightly, my mood began to shift. I started feeling irritable, discouraged, and not great about myself. When I retraced my steps, I realized why. My jeans were making it hard to breathe.

And because I’ve been thinking about my tagline a lot lately, and because I’m always aware of how the outer life affects the inner life, I quickly made the connection between breathing in my soul and breathing in my body.

In order to let my soul breathe, it’s good to be able to actually breathe. Literally. In my diaphragm.

Y’all, I’ve been wearing clothes that hurt me and it has got. to. stop.

IMG_6578

So I had a DTR with my closet and we came up with an understanding we could both live with.

I will keep her clean and organized if she will stop harboring the enemy in the form of clothes that are too tight.

“Isn’t it amazing what we will do at our own expense? I’ve decided that even if I have to wear something with a  stretch waistband the rest of my life, I’m not going to demean myself by wearing clothes that hurt me . . . No more bad pants.”

Leeana Tankersly, Breathing Room

I started to make a pile of pants (and some shirts) that either physically hurt me to wear or caused me to feel badly about myself. As the stack grew, so did my confidence. I even logged into Stitch Fix to inform them I have moved one size up in pants and I may not be going back.

In those few moments in my bedroom, I was profoundly aware of the kind presence of Christ, that he doesn’t stop being relevant just because I’m cleaning out my closet. And while I still value taking care of my body and engage in other practices to maintain my health, I also want to be honest about my own expectations of myself and be careful not to compare my health to someone else’s.

I struggled with feeling oddly guilty about making something as trivial as getting rid of pants that are too tight into a spiritual practice. But then I remembered how life with Christ is about being a whole person, not pieced out into important parts and non-important parts.

In this one day I can carry both serious concerns in my soul and a pile of old clothes to the car.

clothes

Making that pile of clothes was a spiritual practice for me that day, finally taking the time to honestly confront some of the small ways I’ve been disrespecting myself by keeping clothes I don’t need and that don’t fit.

So I’m calling a truce with my jeans and practicing the spiritual discipline of wearing better pants. Is there anything you need to call a truce with? It’s Tuesday, so maybe it’s a good time to remember how Christ is with you in every ordinary moment, no matter how small. Are there any unconventional spiritual practices you might need to engage in to remember that?

I’ll be on Instagram sharing some of my own moments using #itssimplytuesday. I hope you’ll share yours, too.

After you get rid of some tight jeans, perhaps you’ll want some ideas on how to let your soul breathe. Join The Bench (my monthly newsletter) and you’ll receive a free copy of my ebook, Seven Little Ways to Live Art, practices to help you take a soul breath today.

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet in 2015

Over the past year or so, I’ve been listening to the low, rolling hum around the Internet. It comes in as a wave on the shore of the cyber beach every few years, depositing questions and doubt like flotsam after a storm. You’ve heard it, too: the whispered rumor that blogging is dead.

It’s an important conversation for those of us who read and write blogs. It feels a little like that first time we watched The Sixth Sense – wait, he was dead the whole time? How did I not see that?! There’s a little niggling in the back of my mind – Does all this still matter?

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

Though I know people have been asking the question for years now, 2014 was the first year I began to wonder if they were right. Is it over? Have we been dumped for Instagram and are too stubborn to admit it?

As I’ve been working on this post for over a week now (does that tell you anything about my process? I need blog writing to stay alive! I can’t think fast enough for anything else!) I saw a post Tsh wrote on this very subject in her state of the blog address. I almost considered scratching this half-written post and just telling you to read hers because she says everything so well.

Instead, I will tell you to read hers and read mine, too.

I needed to take the time to work through this in my own way. So I did the opposite of the Internet and took a walk on New Year’s Day, looked up and down and all around and thought about some of these things.

Now I want to think through them with you, okay? Okay.

Regardless of what changes, grievances, or transitions we might need to make, here are some things I know for sure about us (and by us I mean you and me):

We want more connecting and less competing.

We want more laughter and less shame.

We want more love and less fear.

Did I get that right so far?

This January marks the nine year anniversary of Chatting at the Sky. I started quietly writing here  when I was pregnant with our third baby, in the cracks of time I could find while taking care of twin toddlers. I needed an outlet for my scattered brain, a place to put thoughts I knew wouldn’t disappear, and to connect with a few friends who had blogs, too.

the girls 2009 and 2014

Now nine years, three books, and a lot of blog posts later, here we are.

I know a lot has changed in these nine years, both among blogs as a whole and here in this space. I know we aren’t going back to the old days when the comment box was filled with chatter, when you could write something online and know you had a good chance of being heard, and when most of the blog posts you read sounded like real humans wrote them.

With all the noise, we have to work harder than before to remember why we do this.

First, though, I wanted to say this: I’m hopeful about the future for blog writing.

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

Call me a romantic, but I still think writing on a blog is one of the most important things I do as a writer.

I still think it’s the greatest medium for communicating, for story-telling, for writing through what you think about things.

I still think it’s one of the most lovely outlets for an extraverted introvert like me who loves people but needs a little time to think before I say words to them.

This is where I discovered that I am, in fact, a writer. This is where I work out what I believe. This is where all my books were born and how I’ve met some of my favorite people in the world (the world, I tell you!)

Though it may seem like an oxymoron, consistently writing and reading blogs can offer kind company for our souls and help to encourage intentionality, slowness, and listening.

Here’s why.

Early last month, Steff Green wrote a post on ProBlogger giving examples of how blogging is changing and what you can do about it. This observation of hers stuck out to me:

“With social media platforms becoming the online communication too du jour, and with smartphones and other devices becoming for many the preferred platform, blogs have fallen to the wayside in favour of shorter, punchier messages specifically tailored to hit a reader’s buttons.” – from Is Blogging Dead?

This is one of my biggest motivations to keep writing on a blog.

Continuing to write here at Chatting at the Sky is my soul’s own quiet rebellion against the fast-moving world.

I write because I need room for my soul to breathe. And sometimes I have to write my way into that space.

I need a steady, consistent, and reliable online place that will serve my own soul in this quiet way. I bet you need that, too.

For me, that means embracing the short, punchier forms (because they’re fun and a great way to connect) but not at the expense of the longer-form blog writing, my first writing love.

But that doesn’t mean I plan to party like it’s 2008. I want to move with the changes rather than fight against them.

Here’s what staying sane on the Internet means for me, both as a reader of blogs and a writer of one:

As a reader:

  • Unsubscribe: I’ve unsubscribed from everything except my top, most favorite, can’t-miss blogs. That means I only regularly read less than 10. And it’s delightful.
  • Round Ups: I glance at weekly roundups to see what other writers have found that I’ve missed in various spaces.
  • Fun: Pick the shorter forms out of love and fun, rather than fear of missing out. My favorite is Instagram because 1) I love photos  2) It’s a great way to stay connected to friends and writers alike even though I may not read all their posts 3) It’s fun!
  • Rescue Time: I’ve installed Rescue Time on my computer so I can easily see how much of my time online is productive vs. distracting. Super helpful.
  • Identify panic triggers: When I’m online and feel my soul start to shake on the inside from a low-grade scattered panic, I ask myself why. I don’t have a great solution for this yet (sans shutting off the computer) but I’m starting to pay attention. For those of us who work online, turning the computer off isn’t always an option. So I’m paying attention to the panic triggers.

Those are a few ways I’m practicing sanity in my online reading habits.

When it comes to actually writing online, I started to record some tips that help me but discovered after listing them they felt hollow. Instead, I took some time to really listen to my desire, to the why behind this blog, and what that means for me as a writer. Here’s what came up to the surface:

As a writer:

  • I will tell stories.
  • I will be myself.
  • I will remember it’s “better to write for yourself and have no public than write for the public and have no self.” (Cyril Connolly)
  • I will refuse to romanticize the writing life.
  • I will write to connect, not compete.
  • I will remember fear is a normal part of the process, but courage gets the final say.
  • I will remember how ego feels pushy and afraid but calling feels kind and free. Most of the time.
  • I will remember people write online for a million little reasons and I will respect them theirs.
  • I will practice writing words I can’t take back.
  • I will refuse to write from a frantic place of hurry.
  • I will be gentle with myself when I choose to hurry anyway.
  • I will be relentlessly helpful to the souls of others.
  • I will write as a kind companion rather than a truth machine.
  • I will let love lead.
  • I will not be a jerk.

Though these are personal to me, perhaps they resonate with you as well. If so, I’ve included them in a simple PDF for you to download or print as you wish: A Manifesto – How to Write on the Internet Without Losing Your Mind. Maybe they’ll help you stay sane on the internet, too.

A Writer's Manifesto How to Write on the Internet Without Losing Your Mind

Blogging is only as dead as you treat it. I plan to have many more years of writing here, of carving out a little space in the corner to sit on a bench and connect with you. So here’s to 2015 – the year we learn to stay sane on the Internet. I hope you’ll continue to join me.

I want to be kind company this year, both for your soul and for mine. Sometimes we forget to be kind to ourselves, don’t we? If this sounds good to you and you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up here to get them delivered directly into your inbox.

If that makes you feel crazy, maybe you’d prefer something a bit more infrequent but equally as encouraging. If so, you can join me on The Bench and receive my once-a-month newsletter (2nd Tuesday of the month).

Both options come with a free copy of my ebook Seven Little Ways to Live Art, sharing one way every day to take a soul breath.

I would love to hear how you’re staying sane on the Internet, both as a reader and a writer. Leave a comment here or join the conversation on Facebook.

One Thing My Soul is Begging Me to Do

Early last week I sat down to write my post for (in)courage and managed to finish it in less than an hour. I found a few photos to go with the post, titled it, saved it in drafts and didn’t think again about those 500 words.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Days later, I get an email reminding me my (in)courage post is due and would I kindly let them know when it’s ready? I got that dread in my stomach that comes after writing on the internet for nearly 10 years, the memory of words written, words lost, and words having to be found again.

Sure enough when I checked the drafts, the post had disappeared, no trace remaining. Turns out the (in)courage site had a little hacking incident last week and some drafts and comments were lost.

And y’all? I couldn’t remember one word of what I said. Not a photo, not a topic, not a drop of memory. Can I tell you how losing those 500 words dug into my soul like I can’t even explain? Even while the world is still reeling from tensions in Ferguson and New York, with the sorrow in Sydney and Pakistan, with people all over the world and in my own city starving and cold and sick – I was hot and bothered about losing 500 words for a post.

What bothered me most was how bothered I was about it.

lamp

In the past I would move from here into a place of shame. I would recognize that I was being ridiculous and try to shame myself into different behavior, never taking the time to recognize why losing the post bothered me so much to begin with.

But knowing how Christ came so we could be free, I hesitate to move so quickly to shame these days. Even in something small like this, I think he wants to keep company with me. It was in the midst of that tension that pieces of what I wrote about began to come back to me. I remembered I used this quote:

“One of the most important lessons I have learned over the past few years is how important it is to have time and space for being with what’s real in my life — to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

That’s just it. I think the reason losing that post bothered me so much was because I hadn’t spent much time with what was really going on beneath the surface. And so the lost post landed like a heavy burden in my soul.

I don’t think we pay enough attention to the silent cares of the soul. We ignore her for long periods of time and then when she starts to flail within us by becoming overly emotional, getting frustrated too easily, or being bothered in an otherwise neutral interaction, we try to shame her into better behavior.

I’m not saying we should allow ourselves this bad behavior. I am saying we need to pay closer attention.

That’s when I remembered Tuesday was the day the post was set to publish. Tuesday is where we live our ordinary moments in our regular lives, the kind of moments that sometimes carry small irritants in our souls that we overlook because they aren’t “real” problems. It’s true, in comparison to the heartbreak in the world, they aren’t a very big deal. But Tuesday reminds me the importance of being with what actually is even if it feels minor.

Tuesday reminds me to attend to the footnote irritants that linger beneath the surface so they won’t later turn into headlines. Tuesday gives me permission to bring those irritants into the presence of Christ so I can ultimately release them into his care.

Recognize the fluttering anxieties as they come. Don’t give them a place to land. It seems simple which may be why I so often overlook it. But taking some time to “celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, [and] attend to my loneliness” creates space in my soul.

A spacious soul makes room for others. A week before Christmas, I can’t think of a better gift to give.

By the way, I finally re-wrote the post and I would love to invite you to read it over at (in)courage. And then, let’s unwrap our Tuesday gifts together.

When Your Dream Begins to Change

They had a dream to create a place where they could take the old, beautiful things – the wooden chairs and side tables and other broken pieces people tend to throw away – and give them new life. They wanted a place to do what they had always done: make the used into art.  

when your dream changes

I shared their story here before, how they wanted a shop, how they dreamed of a name and came up with Chartreuse, a word they thought of separately in the night and realized it in the morning, their oneness showing itself in the simplest, most surprising ways.

And they opened that shop and sold their wares, both the ones they made and re-made with their hands and the various finds and work of others.

Then, a month or so ago, they opened their doors for the last time, had their last big mark-down sale, and cleaned out the back rooms — both the crannies as well as the nooks.

Our community said goodbye to the shop called Chartreuse.

I can see how that might seem like sad news, that our friends who had a dream have now closed down their shop. If you only looked from the outside, you might lose hope. That story was too good to be true in the first place.

Steve and Paula at Chartreuse

photos from the Chartreuse Facebook page

But looking again, paying attention to the full story arc, I remember they had a dream and they didn’t let fear keep them from making it come true. The dream was about more than let’s have a shop.

The shop was simply evidence of a couple brave enough to move toward what makes them come alive. It was one piece of proof that these two are together becoming more fully themselves.

The art lives on simply because the shop is not the art. Steve and Paula dreaming together, moving toward one another, making plans for their future – this is the true art. The shop was just the proof.

They closed the shop for a reason. Now, they have a new dream. They found land just outside of town with space to host weekend sales of all their goods. This will allow them to not have to staff a shop for a certain number of hours a week but will give flexibility to their schedule.

This dream that fits them even better than Chartreuse.

the new dream

When you hold your dreams with open hands, you let them breathe, grow, and have life. This can be scary because living things move, change, and take shapes we can’t predict or control.

But what good is a dream if it doesn’t grow along with us?

Watching Steve and Paula make this newest transition, I’m reminded that the true art isn’t the thing we can point to – the shop, the barn, the book, the song. The true art is listening to a living God and relating to real people as the person I most deeply am.

And sometimes that means letting go of what I thought the dream was supposed to look like and opening up to a new idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about change and transition recently as John  and I continue to watch his vocational landscape shift and move and take new shapes – some we planned for, some we didn’t.

I think about another dream, one our family has to work together to combine our unique passions into one voice. It started with our first Barn event last year and continued with the launch of Hope*ologie in April. Our theme for Hope*ologie in September is Change & Transition – and starting this month, we’re making some changes of our own.

Introducing The Hope*ologie Podcast!

The Hope*ologie PodcastStarting this month, The Hope*ologie Podcast will be available for free on iTunes. On this episode, Dad, The Nester, and I talk about transitions in our own lives. It’s light-hearted for the most part, a little silly, hopefully relatable. We’re thrilled to be able to share a piece of Hope*ologie with everyone.

To listen: We’re still working through some of the technical things (and when I say we I mean Dad). For now, you can find the podcast here on iTunes. Then click ‘view in iTunes’ and you have to click ‘subscribe’ to listen.

I think in a day or so you should be able to listen without subscribing but I’m the baby sister and too impatient to wait for those tech issues to be worked out so you’re welcome and I’m sorry.

hopeologie

Incase you haven’t yet heard, Hope*ologie is a membership site co-created by my Dad, sister, and me where we hope to help you overcome chronic discouragement by finding delight in your right-now home, family, and soul.

If you’re considering signing up for Hope*ologie but haven’t yet, here’s something you might like to know:

Instead of having the monthly collections expire after 30 days, we’ve decided to give our members unlimited access to the content. That means if you subscribe today, you’ll have access to nearly everything that’s been available since the first month. Visit Hope*ologie to learn more.

For When You Feel Like a Spectator to Grief: A Reflection on the Death of Robin Williams

In the quiet of this morning, before the sun comes up behind the trees in our yard, I acknowledge how very little I know. Because the pain in the world is sometimes too much to bear and our backs can bend heavy beneath it, rounding over and caving in like a tired question mark.

For When You Feel Like a Spectator to Grief  - Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams

Some losses hit you harder than others and I don’t know exactly why that is. It can be difficult to know how to process the death of someone you only know from the movies or because they’re in the public eye.

I still remember the sadness in late August of 1997 when we learned the news of Princess Diana’s car accident. As a girl, I looked up to her because she was a beautiful princess living in a fairy tale. But her life told a different kind of story than the ones I made up for her in my head. When she died, that story revealed itself even more clearly to the world whether she wished it so or not.

A few years later we were on vacation in Hilton Head when we heard about John Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash. Later that night, we went out to dinner near the harbor, the restaurant hushed in respectful shock, whispering behind the back of one of the waitresses who looked exactly like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.

But the first time I stood on the peripheral of public grief was walking home from the bus stop after school and my sister told me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded that day. I was eight and the first thing I remember thinking was how that couldn’t be true because Christa McAuliffe was on that shuttle and she was just an ordinary teacher.

John and I went to see Patch Adams on our first real date, that time he tried to hold my hand and I wouldn’t let him because he hadn’t told me with words yet how he felt about me. So we had a long talk after the movie was over in the parking lot of the theater. Do you like me? Is this a thing between us? All with nervous chewing of twizzlers and secret dreaming of the rest of our lives.

Last night, when the news broke about the death of Robin Williams, we were watching Jumanji on our sofa with our three kids, our dog, and a borrowed kitten. I’d never seen the movie but I knew he was in it. Well, it must be good then. Of course it must.

When we turned the movie off, I checked my phone and saw the news and there was that familiar ache again, the sadness and disorientation that comes when you hear tragic, shocking news. As someone who tends to navigate the world through experience, intuition, and deep feeling, I always struggle to know how to process the loss of someone I don’t know personally.

In some ways I fear I don’t have the right to grieve a loss that doesn’t seem to belong to me, like I should keep a respectful distance from the real grief of others. But I’m not sure that’s right and I think to deny the effect someone has on your life, however small, is to lose a little bit of being human.

Robin Williams wasn’t part of my life, but his art colored the backdrop.

When someone shares their art with the world, they share a bit of themselves. And when they die, especially when their death reveals a pain that runs deep and wide and dark, you see their art differently. The lens shifts and we get a glimpse of the person beneath the actor, of the soul within the person.

And so those of us who only knew him from the roles he played will pray for those who knew him best. And we’ll consider all the sadness around the world and within our own hearts, remembering Christ who came down to heal all the brokenness, both within us and around us.

By faith, we trust he is building his kingdom even while we wait for the day when we can see with our eyes how he is making all things right again.

“As you huddle around the torn silence, each by this lonely deed exiled to a solitary confinement of soul, may some small glow from what has been lost return like the kindness of candlelight.”

-John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

 

A Free Night Out at the End of Summer

Here in North Carolina we have two full weeks left until school starts and I’m working hard to soak them in. If I’m not careful, I can have my eyes trained so carefully on our fall schedule that I forget to look down at where we stand today, hanging on to the tail end of pool days, long mornings, and late night movie times.

summertime

Another way I’m trying to soak in summer is to be intentional with some of our friends, as I know once school starts back it might be more difficult to coordinate schedules. In the past several weeks, we’ve had a few different families over for dinner as well as spent time with our community group from church.

A few weeks ago, my friend Kendra and I left town for a few fun nights away – oh the luxury! In the six years we’ve been friends, that was the first time we’ve taken a trip together. 

I love my girlfriends and long to have more time with them, but with families and jobs and life, it isn’t always easy to find the time (or let’s face it, the money) to do something fun with friends.

Maybe before the fall schedule kicks in, you’ll find a way to squeeze a little friend time into your weekends or your lunch times or your Sunday afternoons.

Might I even suggest a specific event? If you’re local-ish, you can grab your girlfriends and join me for a girls night out event in Charlotte!

charlotte ncI’ve never lived in Charlotte but sometimes I forget that for as much as it feels like home. This fall I’ll be spending even more time in the Queen City as New Life 91.9 has chosen A Million Little Ways as their fall book club pick. To kick it off, they’re hosting a girls night out and I hope if you’re local-ish you’ll be able to join us.

919 Girls Night Out

The even more fun part – and this is where I get giddy – is the artists who will be performing that night. First up, Dara Maclean. I met Dara last fall in Florida during Girls of Grace. I liked her instantly. She is warm and approachable and super talented.

Dara Maclean and Emily P Freeman

And then, THEN I found out a second artist will perform that night and I almost cried when I learned who it was:

ellie holcomb image by @texturephotophoto by @texturephoto

Ellie Holcomb! I haven’t met Ellie yet but I’ve been hoping to for a while now, ever since I bought her first album and listened to it on repeat for several months straight.

emily, ellie, dara
Seats are limited but tickets are free with a donation to Bright Blessings. All the information you need to know to reserve your ticket is on the New Life 91.9 website. Let me know if you plan on coming!

Hope to see you there. But if not, I hope you’re able to find some time to spend with friends sooner rather than later.

Why I’m Listening to Jerry Seinfeld

With barely three weeks left until school is out for the summer, many of us will begin transitioning into a different kind of daily schedule, one where the day-time agenda shifts. I will still do my work, but the pace will slow and we’ll all settle into a new kind of rhythm together.

New Rhythms

I wish I could say I glide gracefully into the summer schedule, but the truth is I limp and fight my way through this transition every year. This year I’m accepting that it will take some time to settle in to the slower pace and the constant presence of small people. But I’m also going to learn on purpose in whatever ways I can. For example.

As a writer, a part of my self-imposed job description is to pay attention to the world around me and the world within me and then to see how they connect.

I am always listening for reminders about focus, about saying yes to the right things, about remembering what I do and, even more importantly sometimes, what I don’t do. Teachers are everywhere as long as we’re willing to learn from unexpected voices. Yesterday I found a teacher while listening to an interview Alec Baldwin did with Jerry Seinfeld.

Alec points out that, with the success of his TV show in the 90s, Jerry could basically do anything he wanted to do now, be as big as he wanted to be. Here’s a peek into the conversation. (From Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwinoriginally aired October 14, 2013 on WNYC 93.9 FM)

Alec Baldwin: You could have your own channel. The Jerry channel.

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah, but I didn’t take that bait.

AB: Why?

JS: Cuz I know what it is. I know what it is, that’s why.

AB: What is it?

JS: You can’t pull that over on me! Cuz I’ve sat in all the chairs, I’ve been in all the rooms. I know what it is. Look, Alec, you’ve been there, right?

AB: Yes!

JS: You can’t trick me into thinking…

AB: Thinking what?! Share with the people.

JS: …that that’s good.

AB: That’s not good why?

JS: Because most of it is not creative work. And not reaching an audience. You wanna be on the water? How do you wanna be on the water? You wanna be on a yacht or you wanna be on a surfboard? I wanna be on a surfboard. I don’t wanna deal with a yacht. That’s a yacht. Some people want a yacht to say See my yacht.

***

This morning, I read an article by Dr. Shelly Provost called How to Tell If You’re Following Your Calling or Just Feeding Your Ego. It’s good, you’ll want to read it, but the gist is here:

“Your ego fears not having or doing something. The lifeblood of the ego is fear. Its primary function is to preserve your identity, but it fears your unworthiness. As a result, ego pushes you harder in order to achieve more . . .

A calling expresses itself quietly, through the expression of subtle clues throughout your life. It is unconcerned with you attaining or accomplishing anything. Its primary function is to be a conduit for expressing your true self to the world. What you do with that expression is less important.”

And then, the most revealing statements from the article: “Ego needs anxiety to survive. Calling needs silence to survive . . . Listening to your life and discovering what it’s asking of you is your calling and it requires more silence than most of us are comfortable with.” (read the whole article here.)

In other words, your ego reacts to fear while calling responds to reflection. Both can be important, but the question is which is moving you forward? Which is motivating you in your work?

***

The connection of these two ideas is loose in my mind and given more time, I’m sure I could flesh it out fully. But blogs aren’t necessarily for fully-fleshed out ideas, at least that’s not what I do here. As I consider these two teachers, Jerry Seinfeld and Dr. Provost, here’s what comes to mind today.

Ego always has one foot on the shiny deck of an imaginary yacht, the promise of power and acheivement holding her strong above the water.

Calling takes off her shoes and stands barefoot on the wet top of a surfboard, where the risk of wipe out is great but so is the opportunity to ride the waves.

Here are some questions I ask to find out if I’m letting my ego get carried away:

  • Do I know I need margin but am afraid to take it?
  • Do I want to say no but am afraid of what I’ll miss?
  • Do I want to say yes but am afraid I can’t pull it off?

Ego speaks loud in the chaos — impatient, competitive, and scared. Calling rises up from the silence — focused, generous, and free.

What My Sister Taught Me

I’m firmly convinced our genius is at least partially coded into our childhood play. Want to get an idea of how those first graders will change their world? No need to read their spelling words. Just show up at recess.

But I don’t know about all that yet, because it’s 1985 and we’ve got the day ahead of us, no plans but the Barbie world. We huddle over the pile of pink goodness ready to piece out what belongs to whom today. I’m eight and it’s my big sister’s turn to pick first.

myquillyn and emily

I study her choices carefully – the pink cabinet, the blue and pink pillows, the cushy sofa. These three must be the top items in the pile since she chose them first. I end up with a lopsided table I don’t know what to do with. Barf me out.

Days later, it’s my turn to pick first. I know just what to do! Pink cabinet, blue and pink pillows, cushy sofa. Yes!

I look up at her after my clean sweep, unable to hide my victory smile since I obviously just chose all the best stuff. Instead of reacting, she ignores me, and picks the table with the uneven top. Wait, is she trying to psych me out?

What is this? No anger? No you just got all the good stuff lecture? Not only that, she just chose the worst thing in the pile.  The worst thing!

How am I supposed to know how to make my Barbie house beautiful if my teacher keeps picking different furniture?! How am I supposed to know the best stuff if she keeps changing her mind on what the best stuff is? I am having a total cow.

Look at her over there in her corner, busy setting up her awesome space. I lean to one side to watch her work and notice she has that crooked table looking just fine, using it as some kind of loft-like bed for Skipper. I look back at my first-pick choices and they don’t look so great now.

I vow to choose the lopsided table next time. But next time always comes and no matter how I try to catalogue and then copy her choices, it makes no difference. It didn’t matter what she has to work with. She will make it look great, no matter how imperfect the pile.

And while it may on the surface seem like an older sister’s evil plan to make her little sister crazy, I think it simply comes down to this: her gift is that she sees differently.

The Nester's House

That feeling of discontentment, of missing out, of not having something vital I needed to make beauty showed up during those long days of play. I blamed it on the lopsided table and my lack of first pick, but these weren’t my problem.

My problem was I didn’t yet know how to trust my own ideas, couldn’t see beyond the obvious, and wasn’t willing to take a little risk.

My sister had eyes to see the usefulness in the mess and the beauty in the lopsided. Part of her art, even back then, was her eyes could see potential.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned I can have those eyes, too.

Myquillyn didn’t immediately apply this to her real life. But it was always in her, this ability to somehow see beyond the obvious and envision something no one else could.

The Nesting Place

What my eight-year-old self would’ve have done to get my hands on some kind of guidelines for how to have a Barbie house I loved. If only she could have written down her secrets!

Well now she has. And the best part is, her secrets aren’t as secret as you think.

She finally wrote a book is for all the little sisters of the world who doubt they have what it takes to make home (or life) beautiful, waiting for permission and courage to create, take risks, and be ourselves.

Over the years I’ve learned these things from her, valuable lessons practiced in my own home that spill over into everyday life.

The Nesting Place Contentment

She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.

She didn’t teach me where to put my furniture. She taught me it’s okay to move my furniture around.

She didn’t teach me the right way to hang a curtain. She taught me there isn’t only one right way to hang a curtain.

She didn’t lecture me on the latest trends. She taught me how to discover what my own trends are, that’s it’s okay if they’re different from others, and it’s okay when they change.

She didn’t point out what’s wrong with my house. She taught me how every house has a silver lining and home is wherever we are.

homeShe taught me that my house isn’t just about a house. It’s about trusting yourself, making mistakes, trying new things, inviting others in. It’s about community and communion, healing and wholeness, memories and tradition, love and loveliness and hope.

The Nester's House

I truly believe what I said before, that hints of our personal genius hide in our childhood play, what I also like to call our art. I’m so glad my sister had the courage to hold on to hers, to listen to what makes her come alive, to ignore the naysayers who said she was doing it all wrong.

You have a genius art too, and it doesn’t have to be the e equals mc squared kind. It might be the relational kind, the insightful kind, or the kind that moves in the midst of fear. Whatever it is for you, it’s evidence that you are made in the image of God and the first step to uncovering that could simply be finding freedom in your own home.

The Nesting Place

This lovely book – The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful – is finally available everywhere today! Get yourself a copy, your mom a copy, and don’t forget your little sister.

Love you, Sister Girl. So happy you said yes to writing this book. I don’t know how people get on in the world without a big sister to teach them things. I’m so thankful for all you’ve taught me.

nesting place

For the Soul Who Feels Pulled in All Directions

During the last several months, Annie’s now-famous statement we will make art has been working its way deeper into me as I’ve been trying new things and struggling through the learning of them.

emily freeman chatting at the sky

For the past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking, writing, staring, planning, and waiting. I haven’t heard much in the silence and it’s frustrated me, if you want to know the truth. As I listen the fog only gets thicker rather than more clear.

I don’t like walking in the dark but sometimes it’s the only way out.

I’ve been writing and thinking about hope even while I struggle a little in the dark. It just proves the point, though, that hope isn’t bright lights and rainbows, although sometimes it can be. Rather, hope is the promise of the presence of Christ even when we can’t feel him, the assurance that all will be made right even in the midst of the chaos.

I think about my brave self, my scared self, my creative and my practical self. I know I’m really just one person even when I feel fragmented and compartmentalized.

Do you ever feel that way?

Maybe this is hard because we are aware a wholeheartedness deep within. We’ve seen her come out of hiding over our lifetimes, watched her speak even when she was terrified, partnered with her as she spoke more calmly than she felt, loved more fiercly than she thought possible, dared more fully than she ever had before.

But it’s possible we don’t remember those times as clearly as we wish. Instead, the moments we remember most are the ones where we hid in silence when we wanted to speak or spoke too soon when we wished we had listened.

We remember the times we cowered, limped, froze, feared, and lashed out. I guess we remember what we rehearse.

The answer isn’t to rehearse the times we were awesome instead. Rather for me, the answer is to practice the life of Christ, his work on earth, his work in heaven, his work in me.

We will make art and the Artist will make us and we will make art again.

He doesn’t send me out either brave or scared, ready or unprepared, full or empty. He sends me out as me and he goes with me as him. Whether I am brave or scared or ready or not or full or exhuasted isn’t really the point. I am, will be, all of those things. He does not manage or dictate or shame my emotional self.

He simply offers his presence to me no matter what.

Now.

And now again.

hopeologie

The Real Job of a Writer

As a writer, I sometimes forget what my real job is. When I’m rushed or under a deadline, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking my job is to string words together in some creative way resulting in a variety of desired outcomes for me or the reader. Hopefully both.

the real job of a writerObviously a writer has to actually write. But my job, even before writing, is to pay attention.

Listening with all my senses is my first real job. When I remember nothing begins with me and purpose to stay small in the presence of others (not in a woe-is-me kind of way, but in a you-have-something-to-teach-me way), the writing not only comes more naturally, but is more full and textured.

This listening posture is a lifestyle, not a decision I make because I have a deadline coming up.

Pay Attention to the World Around Me

There are different ways of listening. First, I pay attention to the world around me. My brain is now trained to listen for certain concepts and perspectives no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If I hear something true about faith, grace, or creativity, it’s going to catch my attention and inform my own thinking by either confirming what I already believe or challenging me to see things differently.

Here’s an example.

On my way down to Charlotte this weekend, I listened to Here’s the Thing, a podcast with Alec Baldwin. On this episode, Alec Baldwin interviews Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live and the man responsible for launching the careers of Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Will Farrell, Bill Murray and way too many others for me to list out.

From episode 8 of Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, orginally aired January 30, 2012:

Alec Baldwin: Now you have this great success – you have THE great success – in late night television, and then you have success in primetime television, you’ve produced TV shows particularly now, that have done well, and you have great success in film. But you’ve never worked in cable.

Lorne Michaels: Well, I did with “Kids in the Hall” and I did now with Fred in “Portlandia” which is on IFC.

Alec Baldwin: Do you feel you haven’t been as aggressive in cable as you might have been?

Lorne Michaels: I think at the end of the day…

Alec Baldwin: You’re more comfortable with network – I’ve grown to prefer network because you’ve gotta walk that tightrope and you can’t just go crazy.

Lorne Michaels: Yes, to me, there’s no creativity without boundaries. If you’re gonna write a sonnet, it’s fourteen lines. So it’s solving the problem within the container. I think for me, commercial television and those boundaries, I like it. I like that you can’t use certain language. I like that you have to be bright enough to figure out how to get your ideas across in that amount of time with intellegience being the thing that you hope is showing. Not officially, but you want it to be, “Oh, that was kind of bright.”

After hearing him say this – There’s no creativity without boundaries – I paused the podcast, made a note in my phone voice recorder, and continued to listen. I agree wholeheartedly with Lorne Michaels on this point, something I’ve written about here on the blog and in A Million Little Ways.

I’ve thought a lot about this concept so my ear is now trained to notice it. When I hear it again from different perspectives, I write it down.

Pay Attention to the World Within Me

But there is another way of listening, a way I am sometimes loath to practice. As a writer, I take seriously the job of  listening to my own life. I don’t always like what I hear which is why this kind of listening is more difficult than the first.

The very thing Lorne Michaels pointed out in that interview, the concept about creativity I agree with and have written about myself, is the reality I slam up against in my own writing and life.

I face the limiting factors of insecurity, fatigue, doubt, pressure, and time. For example, today I have to work within the practical limit that it’s March 18 and our kids are out of school again because of icy roads. And I want to point to the external limit and say that there is what is keeping me from being creative today. When really, the lack of a consistent writing schedule lately is forcing me to be creative. Not necessarily in my work, but in my life.

How will I decide to spend these extra unexpected days? How will I handle the unplanned? How will I respond when the schedule doesn’t allow for me to do what I hoped and wanted to do? The easy, uninspired way is to be frustrated. This takes zero creativity. But the real challenge for me is to walk into this day with new eyes – to decide to see, handle, and face the ordinary in a different kind of way.

This is when there is no creativity without boundaries actually matters. It’s easier to face the limits in my writing than it is to face the limits in my life. Feel discouraged in your writing? Be brave! You have a job to do! You’re a writer after all.

But feel discouraged in my living and it gets tougher to pep-talk me out of. Especially when my living is keeping me from my writing. See how twisted this can get?

It’s ugly, but it can also be a thin place – a place where heaven touches earth in a mysterious kind of way because this is your real life. This is where Christ wants to meet me, as I stand in the midst of my own limiting factors. When I am my own limiting factor.

 This is when living is art is living.

Paying attention is the writer’s real job – in my world and in my life. Otherwise, the writing will be empty and meaningless.

If you would like to receive a free copy of Seven Little Ways to Live Art - an ebook that accompanies my full-length book on uncovering the art you were made to live – simply enter your email address here and click newsletter. I plan to send the March newsletter out this week and will include content you won’t find anywhere else.