The Spiritual Discipline of Wearing Better Pants

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

Bible in the Sunroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leeana Tankersly, Breathing Room

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

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

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

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

clothes

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

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

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

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

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet in 2015

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

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

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

We want more connecting and less competing.

We want more laughter and less shame.

We want more love and less fear.

Did I get that right so far?

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

the girls 2009 and 2014

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

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

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

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

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a reader:

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

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

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

As a writer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Thing My Soul is Begging Me to Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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.