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.

2014: We Will Make Art

It was cloudy when we got off the ship in Miami, an unseasonably cool day for the area. The weather didn’t bother me in the least. I was simply glad to see land. We spent last week cruising in the Caribbean, a first for our family.

MiamiI learned many things on this vacation, several of which I’m sure will show up at the end of the month for my What I Learned post. The first and most important? If someone is trying to convince you to go on your first cruise and one of the arguments they use to persuade you includes the words “the ship is so big you can’t even feel it move,” don’t believe them.

They sit on a throne of lies.

But if they also tell you that the food is delicious and abundant and available at every turn, you can believe them on that. More than once I piled my plate up high because I could, only to have to stop mid-way through because, well, I couldn’t. My small stomach put my big eyes to shame.

ship foodSometimes January has big eyes and a small stomach, too. It can be easy to stack your plate high with intention and goals, only to sit down at the table, take two bites, and realize that’s all you can digest right now.

I used to think my inability to live up to my grand January ideas was some kind of personal flaw, but now I’m re-considering.

I think I’m made to live small, to move slowly, and to hold just one thing at a time

It’s been three years since Annie sent me that 5 word email that became a 55,000 word book, the one that said “2011: We will make art.”

To this day, if I get quiet enough and let myself consider the impact her words have had on my life, I still get a little emotional. It means a little something different to me now than it did then but needless to say, We will make art has changed things for me. I know it’s changed things for some of you as well because you’ve written me and told me so.

But one thing I’ve also heard from you is you wish you had a next step, an easy way to discuss the book with others, a way to more practically apply what it means to make art in everyday life.

I agree. And so I’ve been working on some things for you.

During this first month of the new year,  I want to move forward into living art and to dive more deeply into these concepts so that in 2014, our art will come from a place of love and not fear.

Each week in January I plan offer some practical tools to help solidify what might seem to be a dreadfully abstract concept – making art with our work and our lives.

little ways

So let’s grab a reasonably small plate and begin to practice holding just one thing at a time.

We Will Make Art :: A Link Up & Giveaway

“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

God is an artist

Let’s not wait until tomorrow to make and live our art. Embrace the art alive within you and believe in the little ways you can release it into the world.

Let’s pick up the pen, the pan, the brush. Let’s open our eyes, our hands, our hearts. Let’s see the fear and then laugh in his face because somebody has to. Why not let it be us?

Let’s carry on together.

***

Today is the final day of 31 Days of Living Art. To celebrate the last day of our series, I wanted to highlight the art you are making in your own life. It could be a portrait or a pie. Maybe it’s math homework with your fifth grader or a really clean bathroom. Maybe you are writing a book or a play or a song or a business proposal.

We want to see how you are making art in your life – for this season, right now, today. To make it a little more fun, we’ll pick two of you to win some gifts.

giveaways

One winner will receive a $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Another winner will receive 10 copies of A Million Little Ways to read with your small group or to simply share with friends.

we will make art

 Here’s how to enter:

Take a photo of something showing or representing the art you’re making and/or living. Tell us about it in your post. Then, share your photo in one or both of these two ways:

1. Post the photo and description on your blog, include the graphic above in your post, then link your post up below.

2. Post your photo on Instagram or Twitter using #WeWillMakeArt. If you don’t use the hashtag, we won’t be able to find you. Womp. Include in your photo your copy of A Million Little Ways if you have it.

Links will close Saturday November 2 at 11:55 pm.

What Martha Stewart & Mr. Rogers Can Teach Us About Art

Yesterday I watched two videos.

The first one was an interview with Martha Stewart. Stephanie Ruhle of Bloomberg Television asks Martha Stewart about brands she trusts and who she thinks has good taste. Then the subject turns to her opinions on social media. (I’m including the video here, but you may have to click over to watch her response. I’ll transcribe it for you below)


Here is what she said at 1:39:

“Who are these bloggers? They’re not trained editors at Vogue magazine. I mean there are bloggers writing recipes that aren’t tested, that aren’t necessarily very good, or are copies of everything that really good editors have created and done. So bloggers create a kind of popularity, but they are not the experts. And we have to understand that.”

Then I watched another video.

I found it  on my Dad’s blog as part of his 31 day series about families. Mr. Rogers was being presented with a lifetime achievement award. I’ve included the video here in this post, but I’ll transcribe it for you below:

“So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here. Some are far away. Some are even in heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.

Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.

Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time . . .Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

Both of these are famous, talented, and expert. Granted, the timing and circumstance of these two videos are very different. But I watched them both for the first time within an hour of each other yesterday, and the words of Maya Angelou came immediately to mind:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The feeling I had after watching one was significantly different than the feeling I had after watching the other.

One sounds closed while the other is open. One sounds territorial while the other is generous.

For one, the world is one of scarcity where only the expert need apply. Those who look to her for inspiration are disrespected and disregarded.

For the other, the world is one of abundance, where even when you win an award for your own achievements, you can choose to make that moment about everyone else. Those who look to him for inspiration are honored and thanked.

Both of these people have something important to teach me about living and making art.

a million little waysThis is day 17 of 31 days of Living Art. Visit this page to see all the posts in the series. If you would like to have these posts delivered directly in your email inbox, subscribe here.

Check out my newest book A Million Little Ways to continue to explore what it might mean to make art with our lives.

this is your courage, fully released

It’s October, 2012. I fly to Colorado, touch down in a land of pointy red rocks taller than skyscrapers, flat land nestled up to the Rockies.

I rent a car that smells like cologne and cigarette smoke. Memories of my father-in-law hit me like a wall. I tear up the minute I get inside. He’s been gone over a year now.colorado springsAs I drive away from the airport toward those massive mountains, I feel a bit desperate for the familiar. Even though my surroundings are beautiful, I have a strange desire to add trees to the landscape in my mind – give me tall pines and green leafy foliage, the comfort of my East Coast home. This feels like a longing for something deeper, but I try to avoid it by listening to Ingrid Michaelson’s Turn to Stone.

Her voice helps a little.

I drive up I-25 to find Panera – eat lunch, a cookie and a bottle of water. If anyone is going to avoid altitude sickness, it’s this girl.

The Garden of the Gods takes my breath away. I haven’t traveled a ton in my life, but I have lived in Michigan, Iowa and Indiana; North Carolina with her rolling hills and South Carolina with her Low Country charm. I’ve visited Canada, Spain, Los Angeles, Maine, and the Philippines.

colorado springs garden of the gods 2But here in Colorado Springs, those red rocks in The Garden of the Gods might be the oddest things I’ve ever seen in real life. I’m certain the people who live here think these mountains are normal. But I have a hunch we might be on Mars. This land is dry, different, and strangely beautiful.

I’m here for a week to take a class, but really I see it as a personal retreat. By now I’ve written and released two books with moderate success and I need some time of quiet listening. I need a deep breath.

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I haven’t hit any best-seller lists or won any awards. But the books have sold well enough and I’ve signed a contract to write a third.

My room has two beds, a desk, a chair, a window. No TV, thankfully. I wish I had a TV. Give me the evening news, a reality show, anything to distract me from myself.

I have dinner with Larry and Rachael Crabb. He’s written more books than I can count, has more degrees than I can remember and understands his own inadequacy in a way that shows both deep humility as well as profound masculinity that I can’t explain but puts me at ease.

I share with them about this book I’m working on, how it’s due at the end of the year, how I’m struggling and circling around the word art. I tell them I’m nervous, worried that I’m not cut out for this work. I tell them I can’t get the work off my mind.

They seem to understand.

But Larry knows how to initiate a conversation that matters, so he wants to know about more than just the writing. He asks me what my friends would say about me if they were here. I tell him a few words I think they might say, none that particularly excite me.

Then he asks what I wished they would say.

“Smart.”

It comes out before I have a chance to remember not to say it. I don’t even realize I think that. What about kind? Giving? Supportive? Nope. Smart is the word that comes out.

And then I start to cry.

In my great insecurity, I am most concerned about smart people reading my words and thinking them small and uninformed.

“If I had to preach your funeral tomorrow,” he says, “I would say ‘Here lies Emily, a woman with almost fully released courage.”

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, Larry Crabb just hypothetically killed me. On the other, he pointed out how I’m living scared. And the worst part is, he’s right.

Just as I’m trying to decide how to respond, Rachael leans over closer to me, “You want to get rid of that ‘almost’ don’t you?”

Yes. Getting rid of the ‘almost’ is the only appropriate response. But how?

The next day, we gather to listen to Dr. Crabb teach about the power of relating with people in the energy of Christ rather than always trying to prescribe them help. He emphasizes four words and I write them down in my notebook.

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Engage. Arouse. Envision. Release.

He’s talking about what it looks like to have conversations that matter, to be believers in the world and to be with others in a living, centered, relational way. But all I can think about is art.

I think about my trip years ago to New York City with my college roommate, Faith – how we went to see Wicked and I wanted to weep through the entire performance because it was all so beautiful.

I think about being 17 and listening to Sarah Masen sing and play her guitar in my high school youth group, how she didn’t just sing notes, she sang story. And yes, she was talented, but she was also generous.

I think about the watercolor hanging in our kitchen, painted by small hands, offered as a gift.

The kind of art that moves us, the kind of art that leaves a trail, the kind of art that makes an impression is not the bossy kind.

Art doesn’t diagnose, treat, advise, scold or lecture. Art doesn’t lie, manipulate, assign, or prescribe.

Art engages, arouses, envisions, and releases.

Isn’t that our job, too?

Art, the human kind.

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It’s been over a year since my trip to Colorado Springs. That book I struggled so much to communicate is now fully written and perhaps even on your bedside table.

I believe I’ve finally made the connection between making art and living art. I have Dr. Crabb partly to thank for that.

Now it doesn’t seem to matter as much if smart people read my words and think I’m ill-informed. I am finally beginning to live as the artist I am without apology.

You can, too.

As an artist among fellow image-bearers, you are not to ask, Did I do this exactly right? 

Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. Or maybe you’re asking the wrong question.

Instead, your job is to decide, Was I me? Did I offer my genuine self into the presence of others as myself? Or did I show up as an imposter?

In your profession you may be required to diagnose or advise or lecture or fix.

But as a human living among humans, your job is one of an artist, not a know-it-all or an expert.

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Make a mess, be a sloppy first draft, scribble in the margin.

But don’t turn in someone else’s work. We just want you, fully alive as you. We want the person of Jesus relating with us through the filter of your unique personality. And whatever comes out as a result of that?

This is your art. This is your courage, fully released.

This is day 9 of 31 Days of Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series.

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If you are interested in joining a book club to read A Million Little Ways (the book I share here in this post), visit Bloom (in)courage for all the details, including the reading schedule and how to apply for a sponsored book if you are unable to purchase one. We’ll officially begin on October 21. I hope you’ll join us.