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.

My Husband the Pastor

John graduated from seminary and got a job working in youth ministry right before our wedding. For the next twelve years, he took the trips, led the studies, planned the games, taught the lessons, scheduled the concerts, met with the parents, baptized the believers, prayed with the doubters.

steeple

He celebrated the graduates, grieved with the dying, and sat with those they left behind.

A lot of the job was hard. Some of it was life-giving. The best part for John was the people – his fellow pastors, the students, the volunteers.

That’s the part we miss the most.

Eight months after John left his job, I’m sharing at (in)courage an update of where we are now, along with two important lessons no one ever thought to teach us. Join us there?

The Wizard of Oz(car)

When I found out John’s dad was born in 1939, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, he was born the same year The Wizard of Oz released in theaters” because I only remember the important parts of history.

wizard of ozImage from Wizard of Oz: 50th Anniversary Edition book that I own, love and cherish.

Seriously though, it’s no secret here that The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite all time movies. In the Life section of yesterday’s paper, there was a huge photo of Judy Garland as Dorothy and John saved it out just for me. I read the article in its entirety for the kids while they ate breakfast because history. I should totally homeschool.

I would be lying if I said my main motivation for watching the Oscars last night wasn’t to see how they would honor the 75th anniversary of the movie. I mean yes, star-studded audience and nominees and musical scores and Best Picture and all that. But The Wizard of Oz! When Ellen didn’t come out first thing wearing ruby slippers, I realized I might need to lower my expectations.

1 oscar tweetAnd then I saw Liza Minelli in the audience and I started to really worry. Because if they think pointing to Liza Minelli and saying Look, Judy Garland’s daughter is here! Happy Birthday, Wizard! is going to cut it for a “celebration” they may as well just shut it all down. This will not do.

After way too long into the evening, the orchestra started to play a familiar Oz tune and my heart started to pound in anticipation. And then Whoopi came out and I saw her red shoes right away and I started to nervous-twirl my hair. She gave a short tribute to the movie which I didn’t hear because I was staring at her feet. And even though she was wearing striped tights like the Wicked Witch, I forgave that poor wardrobe choice because she said this:

2 Oscar tweet

And that’s when the lights dimmed and out comes Pink wearing a ruby dress. Pink! In a ruby dress! I didn’t take any photos of my TV because I was mesmorized by all the ruby and I would share an image with you here but I’d have to swipe it from the internet and I’m afraid Getty will sue me.

You can watch the video here if you missed it. And if you have any love at all for Dorothy and the Wizard, you’ll want to because they show a montage in the background while Pink sings Over the Rainbow and you are dead inside if you aren’t moved. I thought she did a beautiful job even though she made some strange breath choices during the song and she could have used a cami under that lovely dress, but that didn’t stop me from tearing up and loving every minute of it. And when Ellen came out dressed as Glinda after the commercial break, well. It was a drop the mic moment for me.

Thank you for this Vine, People Magazine.

Obviously this Oscar re-cap is not complete, as I bascially haven’t mentioned any of the movies that were nominated (or made in the last 74 years for that matter) or any of the beautiful red carpet people like Lupita (fierce Tinkerbell) or Jennifer Lawrence (beautiful awkward genius).

This concludes my Oz indulgence. I will return to our typical soul-breathing posts in a few days. Meanwhile, (which I always used to think was meanwild) if you want to read a legit Oscar recap, might I suggest this post from Kendra Adachi? Because it’s fantastic.

Did you watch the Oscars? What did you think of Pink?! I mean, the Oscars?

In Celebration of Slow

The most hilarious thing about this post I’ve been working on is the sheer amount of time it is taking me to finish. Oh, you’re talking about slow? I’ll. Show. You. Slow. Sometimes my blog talks back to me.

hopeSeriously, I’ve been writing this post for days.

Dear Anyone Who Thinks I Sit Down And Write A Blog Post In Fifteen Minutes,

False.

Love, emily.

I’m certain the world is moving a little faster around me everyday and I’m also certain every generation has said that as they grow older since Adam and Eve. I imagine Noah on the deck of the ark telling his children of the days when he was their age and they didn’t have new-fangled contraptions like boats and things of that nature.

I imagine Pa Ingalls playing the fiddle and then sitting with Half-Pint by the fire, weaving stories of a childhood where they played music with nothing more than spit, a blade of grass, and a piece of dirt.

You know our grandparents rolled their eyes at our Atari and our MTV.

My declaration that the world is moving faster than ever before is not new. But seriously, Pa. We have the internet. 

skyIt seems my soul is slowing at the same rate the world is speeding. When I try to keep up, I feel like a kite in a hurricane.

In some ways it’s incongruent – I talk fast, I walk fast, I can finish tasks quickly when I need to.

But when it comes to my inner life, experiences have to sink fully in before I have an opinion on them. Lines in books I read have to be read over and over before I can figure out why they made me cry. Conversations have to be sifted through over a period of days, even a week, before I’m certain if I was fully myself in them or not.

Lately I’ve been noticing I’m taking even longer than usual to process events and experiences, requiring broader margins and more white space to consider their impact and my desire.

Back in September, I spent a few days in Austin with the IF:Gathering leadership. I listened to their vision and supported both the intention and the women behind it but I couldn’t jump fully in and I still can’t say why. I couldn’t get my head around this movement even though I liked what I heard. I tentatively reserved a ticket for the February conference but decided to stay home. The event was only five days after I returned from Uganda and I couldn’t imagine leaving my family again so quickly.

Instead I watched a little online, prayed for those involved, and thanked the Lord for so many gathered both there in Austin and around the world. Even though many of my friends were there, even though I supported the work of the Spirit in their midst, my soul just wasn’t ready to join the group. This isn’t a commentary on IF, it’s simply an example of how my slow-processing affects my decisions and involvements.

Another example: Back in January I introduced a casual series where I planned to offer practical tools to help solidify the abstract concept of making art with your work and your life. During week one I released Seven Little Ways to Live Art. During week two, we introduced The Art Course.

I had themes and graphics for weeks three and four.

Then I went to Uganda and despite my best intentions, the series was put aside. I simply couldn’t continue to engage the ideas I needed to engage while also preparing to leave the country.

I am a hard worker who meets deadlines and can usually finish tasks when they need finishing. I am also a slow processor who has to allow conversations, ideas, and other influences to marinate before I can grab hold of them.

These two true statements fight.

What is good for my inner health is often frustrating for my work.

Here at Chatting at the Sky, outside of the 31 day series every October, I now only write thoughtful posts about twice a week. I’m learning myself and two real posts a week plus a ‘for your weekend’ post is what I feel I am able to reasonably offer. Thank you for keeping pace with me.

from the porchBut I haven’t always been accepting of this pace. I have tried to discipline the slow out of me. I’ve read blog posts and books on how to be productive, how to write even faster, and how to do other things I’m not naturally great at. I have learned to do more in less amount of time, to focus in less than ideal situations, to finish, ship, and deliver. Sometimes I have succeeded, at what cost I’m not yet sure.

Productivity skills have helped me meet important deadlines and release unnecessary perfectionism.

The problems come when I foolishly try to apply these same skills to my inner life. The soul and the schedule don’t follow the same rules.

Today I’m preaching myself the Gospel, remembering my slowness is not a fault or a sin, but fighting it might be.

Because once I finally grab hold, I will take the conversation, the idea, and the influence all the way in, allow it all to move and shape my thoughts and my actions. These slow-cooked thoughts will influence how I love, how I think, how I write. They will fill up holes of misunderstanding, smoothing some of the rounded question marks into straight up exclamation points.

As much as I sometimes wish I could post a bulletin to the world, announcing a celestial time out, I know that isn’t the answer. Many are in a season of speed, a time of movement, of action, and go. But that is not where I am now. And I cannot wait for the world to stop to embrace my permission for slow.

So here’s to you, my fellow slow-processors. Take the long way home. Embrace the silence to consider. Give yourself permission to think, to listen, to be sure.

Here’s to waiting before we move, pausing before we speak, and taking a week to cross of our day list.

Here’s to shuffling our feet, playing on the floor, and staring out the window if we need to.

Here’s to listening to our questions, sitting in the darkness, and letting our experiences do their deep work within us.

Here’s to a long, deep breath.

And if you write a post that feels like a hot mess this week? And if that post took you four days to finish? Go ahead and publish it now. Don’t let your slowness boss you. Embrace it and learn it, but don’t let it force perfection. Let slow do what slow does best: nourish, strengthen, and hold.

Here’s to deep roots, strong ties, and slow art.

If you would like to receive a free copy of Seven Little Ways to Live Art that I mentioned in this post, simply enter your email address here and click newsletter. I send these out about once a month and include content you won’t find anywhere else.

For When You Feel Restless for More

shadows

In January three years ago, I wrote a post called How to Live Big. You can read the whole thing, but here’s a blurb:

God writes big stories, stories that seem impossible. And they are, if you think about it. He seems to take great interest in impossible stories, and I think they’re interesting, too. But I rarely raise my hand to live them.

I write small stories. Everyday, I write stories for my life that include comfort and fun and entertainment. I live inside my little story like coloring a sunshine yellow – I stay in the lines and keep to the plan. Suns are supposed to be yellow, right? I am a rule-follower.

I wrote those words before my first book came out, 25 days after that email from Annie when she declared 2011 the year of making art. It was a time when I was wrestling with my own fear, a time when I was stepping out of my own small stories. Looking back on that time now, I would replace the word small with the word scared.

In those days, I used those words interchangeably. Not so anymore.

It’s true, God writes big stories. But we can only see that from here looking back. His big stories started with smallness: five loaves, two fish, a foot washing, a mustard seed, a fisherman, a shepherd boy, a baby.

But I felt restless in those days, wanting to write words that mattered, wanting to parent in a way that meant something, wanting to have a voice, wanting my life to count for something beyond myself. If I’m honest, I also wanted to be successful, the definition of success changing for me depending on what success looked like for my peers. I still struggle with the definition of success, actually.

Last year when we were brainstorming titles for my third book, one of the phrases I tossed into the pile was the title of that post, How to Live Big. You should know that it wasn’t a serious contender, but in titling discussions, anything goes and you can’t be afraid of bad ideas.

When I said it, I was sitting in my parked car in my driveway on the phone with Esther, my agent. We talked for an hour, trying to find just the right phrase. When I said this one out loud, her response was this: ”Meh. Do people really want to live big?”

I had to think about that for a while. In fact, I’ve thought about it now for a long while.

I don’t know if I 100 percent disagree with that post I wrote, but if I were to re-write it, I would word it differently. A lot differently.

Now, my restlessness feels different. I am careful not to color the word small in negative shades, as if it were something to run from or escape.

It almost seems like an oxymoron, but these days I’m feeling restless for smallness – not out of fear of man but because of my union with Christ.

I want to start small because I’m human and dependent, not in hopes that my small will grow into something bigger. Maybe starting small will remind me that is what I am – and Jesus will give me the grace to stay there – even when it hurts and even when it’s hard.

I’m restless to stay small in His presence, not because I’m scared, but because I’m His.

I want this to be a relief rather than a frustration.

I’m restless to accept  the beauty of smallness, hiddenness, and the secret work of Christ in the deepest part of who I am.

I’m restless to let Him come out of me in any way He wants, no matter how big or how small that may seem to me – whether that be in one big way or in a million little ways.

I’m restless for believers to see, as my dad often says, beyond what is to what could be. And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust Him to be Himself even as I dare to be myself.

And maybe as I do that, I’ll realize that starting small isn’t a means to a bigger end, rather I start small because it’s what I am.

And this is good and right and holy.

***

restlessMy friend Jennie Allen writes in her new book Restless: Because You Were Made for More, “We are called to dream but we’re afraid to. But because we are called, when we don’t act on it we become restless—restless to find purpose, to make a difference in the world, to matter.”

She urges believers to pay attention to what causes our restlessness, as this could be the very doorway through which the Spirit is urging us to walk.

During the month of January, we’re talking about some of these same concepts, what I like to call making art with our lives – this week specifically, what it means to make art in little ways. Maybe one little way you could make art today is to consider this question: Can you name the restlessness within you? What is pulling, tugging, and causing a bit of discomfort in your soul?

If you have an answer and would like to receive a copy of this new release, simply leave a comment telling us of your restlessness and from those we’ll pick five of you and share the winners on Saturday, January 11.