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.

colorado

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.

colorado

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.

school of spiritual direction dinner

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.

quotableB2

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.

If you would like to have these posts delivered into your inbox, subscribe here for free and choose the option ‘blog posts.’

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.

When You Dare to be Who You Are

art is

“Knowing God and knowing self are both necessary for wholeness and holiness . . . Christian maturity demands that we know God and ourselves, recognizing that deep knowing of each supports deeper knowing of the other.”

-David G. Benner, Sacred Companions

Are you willing to suspend all your pre-conceived impressions of art? Enter with me, just for a moment, into a broader space.

We can hold and see a published book, a finished song, a canvas hanging in a museum. But what if art was bigger than simply the work of our hands? What if the true artistic work is being fully ourselves in the presence of others?

What if the book, the painting, the meal, the presentation were all simply evidence of a deeper art happening within the soul of an artist?

Art is what happens when you dare to be who you really are.

Whatever comes out as a result of that - whether you teach, sing, build, write, love, help, or calculate; if you cook, parent, lead, clean, organize, or listen – these are evidence of a person who is fully alive.

It might look like all of these or it might look like none of these and that is my sweet point.

Do all of these things as yourself, not a try-hard version of someone else.

Bring what you hold in your hands. Bring what you carry on your back. Stand in the place where you are today and consider: What might Christ look like coming out of me, through the filter of my unique personality?

This is day of 7 of 31 days of Living Art. Visit this page to see a list of all the posts, updated daily. If you would like to have this series delivered directly into your inbox, click here to sign up.

the kind of movement that makes a difference

On a whim last Saturday, we decided to move the furniture around in our living room. This is a fairly familiar event in our house but the difference this time was John. Normally when I move furniture I wait until he’s gone, mainly because I work well with deadlines and I know I have to be finished before he gets home.

by the fireplace

But having him there meant I could bark orders instead of doing all the work myself. I found out I get really bossy and know-it-all-y when I’m moving furniture.

The thing about moving the TV to a less important wall is you also have to move the sofa.

When you move the sofa, you have to move the rug.

greensboro

Then the chairs need to go somewhere else and now there’s a big blank wall you need to fill and before you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, three rooms of your house are completely different. (Cue mouse holding a cookie.)

living room

It feels just about right, now – an appropriate way to usher in a new season of change. I like how it fits.

My sunroom office is a little more full but I like it that way. It’s just the right space to settle in with Brennan Manning’s Souvenirs of Solitude in the mornings. His chapter called Really Human, Really Poor has been my morning reading for several days just because I can’t get over how true it is. He speaks of being poor in spirit but of resisting self-hatred, something I have struggled with understanding.

He tells this story and had me laughing outloud:

Distracted after a disturbing phone call, I left the monastery to give a talk to the inmates of Trenton State Prison and began with the outrageous greeting, “Well, it’s nice to see so many of you here!” And so it goes.

Frequently not in form, on top, or in control. That is part of my poverty as a human being, and self-acceptance without self-concern simply expresses a reality. An impoverished spirit prevents the poor man from being a tyrant to himself.

-Souvenirs of Solitude, page 92

His reaction to himself in that awkward moment caught my attention. There was no wringing of hands or heavy anxiety for having mis-spoken. There was only an acceptance of the reality of his own frailty accompanied by his refusal to hate himself for it.

And so I recognize a longing in my soul for this kind of lightheartedness. It helps to listen to Ellie Holcomb and Jillian Edwards sing With You Now. As I do, I take a few deep breaths in. It is in the delicate place of embracing my humanity without despising it – there is union with Christ in this space.

My to-do list is bulging, each task more time-consuming than the one I just finished. I have work to complete and a mounting sense of shame that the reason I’m unable to finish is not because it’s too much work but because I am lacking something vital to continue – organization, creativity, skill, the ability to focus.

All of those may actually be true.

But I’m learning my relief will neither be found in continuing to chase an ideal of my productive self, nor in hating myself for my inability to get everything done.

Rather than resenting my weakness, I believe Jesus is asking me to embrace my weakness. Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean despising self but releasing self from the expectation of being anything but poor. Small. Helpless. Worn.

My soul needs to remember the kind of movement that will make a difference:

Don’t try to handle your anxiety. Bring your anxiety into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to fix your loneliness. Bring your loneliness into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your addiction. Bring your addiction into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to change your attitude. Bring your attitude into the presence of Christ.

Don’t despise your humanity. Bring your humanity into the presence of Christ.

There is still responsibility, there is still action that comes from me. But my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.

Lord Jesus, remind us of your presence with us as we do the next right thing that makes sense. And may you keep our hearts light along the way.

free

swing

He swings high and jumps off on three, sand flying when his feet land. He’s seven now, hair lightened from the sun. He runs across the playground to jump off something else. I walk to the swings, settle into the seat. They make them smaller now, you know. Fighting the pinch on my hips, I kick off my flip flops and begin to pump my legs. I can’t help myself.

Today I have a post up at (in)courage – 4 Tips for Vacationing With Your Family.

it’s time: a movement for our generation

This may be only the second time in over 7 years that I have posted twice in one day. But I really wanted to get this post up tonight, partly because I’m tired of writing it and re-writing it in my head and partly because I just can’t wait any longer to join in. This post, to me, feels incomplete. But maybe that’s the point – and also this is what happens when I write at night. Fair warning.

November 2011 through January 2012 was a delicate time for my family. John was on sabbatical, which for us at the time was the polite way of saying if your husband doesn’t stop doing ministry for a few months, he’s going to burn out and it is going to get ugly.

gather

We closed ourselves in for a time and allowed our souls the space they needed to settle into the shape for which they were made.

It was during that time I read Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. As I read her words, I realized that even though she wrote in my language, her words were in some way foreign to me. One concept she introduced me to was the breathing prayer.

“The breath prayer . . . does not come primarily from the mind, which is where most of our words come from; the breath prayer arises from the depths of our desire and need. It is powerful because it is an expression of our heart’s deepest yearning coupled with the name for God that is most meaningful and intimate for us at this time.”

After reading her words, I spent time in silence to discover my own breath prayer for that time in my life. I took the name of Lord Jesus and coupled it with words from a prayer by Ted Loder, words that were especially meaningful to me during that tender time of our lives. And so I began to pray these simple words:

Lord Jesus, Gather me now to be with You.

Whatever that means for this moment. Whatever that means for my life. Gather me now to be with You in my anxiety, in my happiness, in my fretfulness, in my vocation.

Gather me now to be with you.

Last year, that prayer was deeply private for me. It still is. But I believe the Lord is in the process of smoothing another layer of that word upon my soul.

Gather.

But now, not just gather me.

Gather us.

***

This word came up again when I heard from Jennie Allen a few months ago. Years ago, she had a vision – a deep in her bones desire to gather and equip our generation. She hasn’t been able to shake it. She hasn’t wanted to shake it. You can read her tell it on her blog.

It seems that desires that come from the heart of God are a fire to warm the whole Church, not just one person. This vision – to gather and equip a generation – is beginning to have skin.

You can read more about the details here, but the simple truth is it starts now, with you and with me, breathing in Lord Jesus and breathing out Gather us now to be with you.

Christ in me is the most powerful and miraculous reality that exists in the universe. And so is Christ in you.

If you are made in the image of God, what does that mean for your family, your community, and the world?

If Christ lives within you, how might he want to come out? 

If God is real, then what?

These are some of my questions. You can read more questions here and here and here. You have questions, too.

Some gatherings don’t happen in person. Some are a gathering of like-mindedness and vision and a linked-arm agreement that God came down to come in. And now he wants to come out. Of you and of me, the Church. What might that look like for you personally and for us collectively?

We want to talk about these things, in person, online, in prayer.

We want to talk in our living rooms and our classrooms and our kitchens. We want to talk on stages and in pulpits and on the park benches while we watch our kids play. We want to talk about them with you in Austin, Texas on February 7 -8, 2014 - to ask questions and wrestle and to do it together.

And then we want to stop talking and we want to move. That statement terrifies me. But let’s move anyway. Let’s move into the lives of those around us as the women we fully are – awake and alive, equipped and armed with the Gospel. Let’s take the time to accept the shape of our souls and then have the courage to share it with others.

IF

I’m joining in. What about you? To learn more, visit IF:Gathering.

Lord Jesus, Gather us to be with you.

for your weekend

May your weekend be filled with courage. May you choose to honestly confront the competing voices in your head, and may you decide today to listen only to the true ones. Go ahead and take time off from your self-doubt for the weekend. May the break be so freeing that you decide to make it permanent. Enjoy your weekend, friends.

Recommended for your weekend:

  1. This Might Not Work by Jeff Goins, in which he interviews Seth Godin
  2. Conclusion of The Same Page Book Club Q & A: Here’s where readers asked questions after they read Grace for the Good Girl and I did my best to offer answers. Ish. Also includes some books that served as resources for me when I wrote the book.
  3. How Grief is Changing the Way I Live by Kristen Welch at We Are That Family
  4. I Feel Like My Heart Might Burst also by Kristen Welch at We Are That Family – I love the way the full spectrum of the human experience is glimpsed in these 2 short posts – the deep satisfaction of joy and connection, as well as the profound impact of loss. Read them both.
  5. Simple Mom Podcast: I joined Tsh this week to co-host the Simple Mom Podcast. We talked about writing, books we’re reading, and synesthesia (seeing letters and numbers in color). Fold some clothes and listen in.
  6. Grace for the Good Girl Book Club: One ends, another begins! Join Kat on Thursdays at Refeathered Home for a study of the book! They are only on week 2 so it should be easy to jump on in.

what it really means to get in the best shape of your life

You are picking your phrases, your one words, your goals for 2013. You are tending your lists and your desires and I hope your families and friends cheer you on in your endeavors this week.

As you consider what this year will hold, how perhaps through exercise you would like to change the shape of your thighs or the shape of your waist, consider also this:

What does your life hold right now?

What is the shape of your life?

I read Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh this summer. In it, she answers that question. As we consider where we’re going, the most important thing to know first is where we are.

Getting into the shape of your life means climbing into this right-now place, fold yourself into the rhythm of your current truth.

What makes up the silhouette?

What is flowing from your heart?

Where do your feet now stand?

Who is holding your hand?

The shape of my life begins with my family, the five of us living in our home together in North Carolina. We enjoy time together and time apart. We choose love when we remember and forgiveness when we forget. We stumble and then we help each other up.

We have desires for our future and those desires are important.

I am deeply curious about the mystery of Christ and how his life comes out of his people, how his life comes out of me.

I want to learn how to be a better writer, to accept the dare of pouring words over the shared condition of humanity in a way that somehow says to others, Me too and, There’s hope.

As a couple, my husband and I are open to change and transformation in ways we have perhaps never been before. There is beauty in the waking.

I want to be fully alive as the person, mother, and wife I uniquely am, not the one who others think I ought to be. I’ll finish with Anne’s words:

“But I want first of all — in fact, as an end to these other desires — to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact — to borrow from the language of the saints — to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

May all of my endeavors to lead a meaningful life be thwarted and interrupted if I seek to accomplish them in my own strength.

May I ever know the presence of Jesus in the center seat of my personality as the only glue that holds me together.

May I not set off to discover myself, but may I settle in as the person I most deeply am and know he is God.

What is the shape of your life?

5 ways to know if it’s time for a mustache

It wasn’t my intention to put a mustache on my car. The Man works with high school kids so he really got it for his. We left the toy store that afternoon, smiling as we carried out the giant magnet. But when we got home, it didn’t take long to realize there was no good place to put the stache on his car – the grill and the headlights and yadayada – so he stuck it on mine “just to see.” That was nearly a year ago.

At first it was funny but now I mostly forget about it until I’m sitting at a stoplight and people walk across the street in front of me and stare and laugh point. And I get all weird and throw up my hands, What?! and get defensive.

Until I remember I have a mustache on my car. And then I laugh, too.

For months, I’ve meaning to take it off. I mean, I’m not the mustache on my car kind of person, really. But then, I keep not taking it off. I started thinking about why and came up with five possible reasons. Maybe you need a mustache, too?

1. If you’re easily offended, it might be time to put a mustache on your car. Give them a reason to point and laugh, and then laugh with them.

2. If you think your car is too nice for the foolishness, it might be time for a stache. In this case, you might need to skip the magnet and go ahead and get the fuzzy one.

3. If you are taking yourself too seriously, put a mustache on it. It’s hard to be introspective and twisty in the mustache mobile.

4. If you are feeling lonely? Mustache. People aren’t threatened by a girl in a van with mustache. You will delight children and their parents. Your friends will recognize you coming from far away, so when they get close enough to wave, you’ll see them. No mustache and they won’t recognize you until you’ve already passed. Too late for the wave.

5. If you aren’t the mustache type, it’s time definitely time for a mustache. Things have become too predictable. Shake it up a little. Laugh at yourself. Be silly for no reason.

Have things become a bit too serious for you? What are some mustaches you’re embracing these days?

 

don’t hate me because I’m dutiful

I talk a lot about my own personal struggle with the perfect invisible version of myself. Through books and blog posts, I’ve documented my journey of understanding that my identity and security are not based on my performance but are in Christ.

Because for so long I misunderstood the role of discipline and work in the life of the believer, I write as one wounded by impossible expectation. And so my story is laced with warning to the list-makers, rule-keepers and high-achievers, reminders that God is not looking for products, he longs for people.

One of my great fears in writing these things out is that I’ve somehow communicated that discipline, work, excellence, and determination are negative things.

They aren’t negative unless they become your god.

Discipline became god without my realizing it. It took years to tease out the truth, like Peeta after the Capital brainwashed him, I had to constantly weigh my own perception of God against scripture and ask, real or not real? 

This wasn’t a one-time, bright-light conversion moment. It was gradual, is gradual. I still ask those questions a lot.

Over the past several years, I have been walking up to discipline with cautious steps and loose grips, with the timidity of an addict approaching the street where she took her first drink. The old patterns whisper, habits circle around and nudge my hands to pick them up and wield them as weapons as I once did – to protect myself from other people, God, myself.

But grace speaks louder, is a solid place to lean.

I am becoming reacquainted with the spiritual disciplines and the meeting is sweet. Practices that I once saw as scorecards are now becoming to me sacred. There is sometimes a sense of confusion and questioning. Other times, there is peace and assurance. Christ brings answers but also mystery. We don’t get to know everything.

Once, that was terrifying. Now, it mostly brings comfort.

There is a certain beauty in repetition, in the breathing prayer, in the memorization of scripture. Maybe I’m just getting old, or maybe I’m experiencing more freedom. Probably both.

Two weeks from today, the book I wrote for high school girls will officially release. It’s leaking out in bookstores and there may even be some in stock already on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites (What?! I know.) Graceful was hard to write, mainly because of who it’s for. I sense the weight of responsibility to walk beside the next generation. I also sense all the ways I fall short in being able to do that well.

But there’s a whole book of my attempts and it’s coming to a bookstore near you. I hope it will be a good resource for you as you walk beside young women in your life. And if you haven’t yet read my first book, Grace for the Good Girl, it’s still half-off at LifeWay.

3 reasons why Aly Raisman’s parents deserve a gold medal

I stayed away from spoiler outlets yesterday so I could actually watch gymnastics without knowing what happened. But everything is a spoiler outlet so  it is almost impossible not to know Olympic results before they air on NBC. Holding your ears while humming doesn’t work as well as it used to. Somehow when I turned on gymnastics last night, I still didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a modern day miracle.

What I didn’t know was that my favorite part would be watching Aly Raisman’s parents watch Aly Raisman perform on the uneven bars. If you missed it, this might be the best Olympic performance of the day.

(If you can’t see the video, I want to invite you to click over and watch. It’s less than a minute and oh-so-worth it)

There are so many things to say about this. It’s awkward and awesome, like a strange picture we can’t stop staring at but wish we could. I’ve watched it five times already trying to figure out why I love it so much. I’ve come up with 3 reasons so far:

They had a physical reaction to being present. These two were so grounded in this moment, so unbelievably present during that 53 seconds that their bodies physically reacted to it. We aren’t used to seeing that.

They were completely unaware of who was watching. They didn’t take their eyes off their girl. They were surrounded by people, cameras and also the world and they didn’t for a moment wave, fix their hair, or monitor their weird movements. They lived fully and out loud. Engaged. Present. Raw. We aren’t used to seeing that, either.

In less than a minute, they give us a perfect image of how insane it sometimes feels to be a parent. Our kids are other-than us, no matter what we do. We can cheer and support and pay for their passions, but they have to pull them off. They have to live their lives, write their stories, win their medals. Our job is to put on supportive t-shirts, pray without ceasing, and stay present along the way.

 Did you see this last night? Do you love it as much as I do?