When the Mega is Praised at the Expense of the Small

fall in greensboro

It seems like lately we are all rooting for the remarkable and brave within one another and for that, I’m thankful. I’m thankful when I hear from friends who are finally agreeing with the Trinity that they bear the image of God and have something to offer. I’m thankful when I listen to people I admire speak the truth they are living into. I’m thankful when I remember the timid, try-hard way I used to live and the gracious way Jesus walks with me through that.

I’m all about noticing what is most alive within us and then offering that as a gift to others and for the glory of God. It’s a beautiful antidote to living out of fear and one that is deeply rooted in the gospel.

At the same time, I know how easily the definition of “brave and remarkable” can morph into “big and important” and without realizing it, the mega is praised at the expense of the small and we all end up feeling a little worn down and exhausted.

I’m not there right now, but I have been there. I’ll probably be there again, maybe soon. As I’m driving around Greensboro this week, beneath the canopy of trees declaring glory, I’m amazed at how quiet they are about it. I’m thankful we have a God who tells his big story in small, delightful, quiet ways.

Next Tuesday I’ll be sending out November’s newsletter where I’ll share a little more about how smallness can be a gift rather than a liability. I would love for you to get it.

Here is an example of last month’s email so you’ll have an idea of what to expect. And here is where you can sign up to receive monthly encouragement, recommended reads, and first-word news.

 

Jesus, Good Timing, and the Ministry of Mums

emily p freeman

Often I remind myself of the importance of speaking out and writing words, not because they’ve never been spoken or written before but because our saying or writing them may be the first time someone finally hears them.

I recently heard two simple sentences that had a deep impact on me, not because I’ve never heard anything like them but because I’m in a season where I needed to hear them now.

A few words Preston Yancey recently spoke came at just the right time for me, so right that when he said them, I had to block out everything that was happening around me until I could dig my phone out from the bottom of my purse, fumble with the notes app, and type frantically on the tiny phone keyboard these words, only partially remembered.

I’m sharing those words today at (in)courage.

For the Days that Feel Gray on the Inside

For When you Feel Like Creation is Over

Even if all your glasses tend to be half-full, if you lean toward Pooh and away from Eeyore, if you tend to be the first to spot the silver lining, there is a cloud that can descend upon you that you did not choose and cannot escape no matter how much you may try to reframe it.

Maybe it comes from running a little too hard for a little too long. Or from small discouragements that add up to one big gloom. And you wake up in the morning and realize the hopefulness that usually dances around you just isn’t there today.

This was me last week. I’m sharing about what to do when it feels like creation is over at (in)courage today. Join me there?

When You Want to be Joyful but You’re Not Quite There Yet

Typically when I’m on the elliptical, I’m listening to ridiculous dance music on Pandora. But this particular day, I noticed on one of the TVs in front of me that Nancy Writebol, the American medical missionary who was infected with and survived the Ebola virus, was preparing to make a statement to the press.

Chatting at the Sky

I shifted my ear buds from my phone to the little channel box on the machine so I could listen in. Her husband spoke first, sharing his gratitude for all the prayers and support. With a pleasant look on his face he continued to tell the story of how he read from Philippians to his wife while she was sick – how they deeply identified with Paul in that particular book.

This may not have been the assignment they had planned, but they took it as an assignment nevertheless.

When You're Having Trouble Finding the Joy

When it was Nancy’s turn to speak, she shared similar words of thanksgiving, love, and gratitude. She spoke with compassion about her friends back in West Africa, implored viewers to continue to pray for them.

I don’t know them personally, but I adored them immediately. They seem like lovely and gracious people. After several minutes listening, I went back to my Pandora station but kept my eye on the screen. Soon they split the screen between the Writebols and the CNN commentators and I watched the captions to get their reaction to the couple.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Chohen began to speak and I read as she said this:

“It’s interesting that it would be very easy for their narrative to be one of traumatization. She has been through a lot. She said many times I thought I’m not going to make it anymore. But it’s not a narrative of trauma. It’s a narrative of joy. And it is a narrative her husband said, we are just honored and humbled that God chose us for this challenge. To come out of something like that with that attitude is – We can all learn form that.” (source)

And I had to slow down my pace so I could record these words as a note in my phone for later: It’s not a narrative of trauma. It’s a narrative of joy.

After that I stopped reading the captions because I simply needed to think on that phrase.

On the one hand, it’s  a lovely commentary on faith, the way this couple stood in front of the world and spoke humbly, graciously, and with great hope.

But I also know the temptation to judge others in the midst of difficult times who don’t respond as the Writebols have.

I never want to judge someone’s reaction to grief, sickness, loss, or pain. It can be so easy to refuse to let people grieve the way they need to grieve by telling them God is in control or Consider it all joy! or God works all things together for good.

He is, it is, and he does. But we are all on our own journey of living in to those truths.

When You're Having Trouble Finding the Joy - Chatting at the Sky

We don’t know how the Writebols grieved behind closed doors. We aren’t privy to their quiet prayers in the night, their loneliness, their fear. We are hearing their story after she has been made well. And it is a beautiful story.

As writers, we are often encouraged not to compare our messy beginnings with someone else’s ending. Translation: don’t be discouraged when your writing is terrible. The struggle is part of the process, part of everyone’s process. So when you’re working through a difficult piece of writing,  comparing your rough draft to a finished book is not a good idea.

The same goes for life.

What the medical correspondent caught onto was the narrative – and narrative implies a story, and a story has an arc.

The story arc is one of hope even though each part of the story may have had it’s share of hopelessness. The story arc is one of hope even though the characters may have shaken fists and asked the hard questions and yelled at the top of their lungs.

The story arc is joyful even while the people are broken.

I never want to confuse a joyful narrative to mean that those who are joyful haven’t also had dark days. I never want to hold people to a standard of pleasantries and to apply my own definition of what joy should look like or what our culture says joy should look like.

I am thankful for the Writebols, that they were able to go on national television and share their honest story and that theirs truly is a narrative of joy. I also want to remember that within that narrative there may be many shadows of gray along the way. And that that makes the narrative even more beautiful.

What Love Never Does

Lately I’ve been taking more walks, the kind where I put on shoes and go outside and refuse to respond to the ping. It takes more work than it should, at least for me, to release an hour of productivity and replace it with something unknown.

Will I feel refreshed after? Will it really clear my head? Will I regret this wasted time later?

What Love Never Does

These questions are always a good sign that narcisstic Emily is threatening a mutiny and it’s time to get into the woods and be small again.

I generally go empty-handed, although sometimes I tuck my phone between my skin and the elastic waist of my yoga pants so I can monitor how long I’ve been walking and how far I’ve gone. My measuring ways are hard to overcome. And so is my lack of cool technology and arm bands and tiny, invisible iPods.

But on a recent walk, I took nothing with me and within minutes began to think on things above rather than the things on the earth, thinking about love, about what it really is. And as any believer thinking about love might be apt to do, I began to mumble the verses from 1 Corinthians 13, relevant in an obvious sort of way. I didn’t have my Bible or my phone, so I had to rely on memory to consider what this passage said about love.

And I whispered the verses to the rhythm of my footsteps, Love is patient, love is kind.

Love sits with.

As I continued, I was prepared to recite a list of all the adjectives describing what love is, but instead I heard the words as if for the first time. In the entire chapter about love, it only provides two words for what love is – patient and kind. Aside from those two words, everything else in those verses is either what love isn’t, what love doesn’t do, or what love does.

Love isn’t jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness.

Love isn’t a jerk.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love moves toward.

And finally, as I rounded the corner near the wooden walking bridge, I began to whisper the three words that describe what love never does.

What Love Never Does

Love never fails.

The words brought tears, partly because I know they’re true and partly because I don’t always see the evidence of their truth in the world. What does it mean that love never fails in light of the pain around the world – Ferguson, Syria, West Africa, our own hearts?

Sometimes I want love to be whatever I want, whatever I think sounds nice today. But love is specific, spelled out here in the middle of 1 Corinthians. And I know these descriptions of what love is, what love isn’t, what love does and doesn’t do are true because when I am loved for real, the love works. It doesn’t fail.

I desperately need someone to sit with me, to not be a jerk, to remind me of truth, to bear and believe and hope and endure all on my behalf. And when Love moves in my presence, I know it. And I begin to re-examine my own ideas of failure and success.

But love isn’t just something that happens to me, Love is someone who moves within me and invites me to move toward others.

When their load becomes too heavy, love invites me to bend down low and bear their burden.

When their faith becomes foggy, love invites me to come alongside and believe on their behalf.

When they can’t see possibility for hope, love invites me to stand on tiptoe and cast vision for a future we can’t quite see.

We are not promised that one day we will know the answers, have explanations, or see a detailed map. Instead, we are promised that one day we will see face to face.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Love is personal. Love is relational.

I get it wrong, blame others, forget to listen and fail to see.

But Christ moves me not to push but to lead; not to force, but to invite; not to tell but to listen.

Bear, believe, hope, endure.

May it be so in us. May it be so in me. 

Recently I had someone ask me why I don’t write about “issues that are controversial” here on the blog. While I appreciate the question, I don’t really have an easy bullet-point answer.

Like you, I’m figuring out how to walk with Christ into my day, into Target, into church, into the kitchen, and most importantly, into the lives of other people. I don’t always do that figuring out in a public space, but I share glimpses of my processing here on the blog.  Today is one such glimpse.

You’ll probably never read much about the breaking news or the hot topics here simply because by the time I’ve begun to process news, it isn’t breaking any more. But also because that’s not why I created this space in the first place. If I have something to add to the conversation, I’ll add it in time.

I’m slow to process, slow to think, slow to respond. Rather than fight against that, I’m learning to celebrate it in my own way.

But slow processing is never an excuse not to love and maybe that’s my point today, however incomplete that may seem.

I’ll probably think of a better response later, but – surprise, surprise – for now that’s all I’ve got.

One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

She runs past me on my way up the stairs, shouting over her shoulder, “I know it isn’t true, but I’m going to prove it to you.”

She heads out the front door to the yard and waves her arms up toward the sky. I continue up the stairs and when I get to my bedroom, there are her sister and brother at the window, one holding an iPad. Over their shoulder I notice our address is typed into the map app, the camera zoomed in to an aerial view of our cul-de-sac. I’m starting to catch on.

One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

They stare out the window at her down below, then back to the screen in their hand. Window, screen. Window, screen.

“Okay, you’re right,” he calls to her through the window. “I can’t see you.”

If only all arguments were so easy to resolve. If only all we had to do when we are unsure of something is to run out to the front yard and wave our arms to confirm, no, there isn’t a camera in space video taping us at all times.

Well, there may be, but this image on Google Maps isn’t evidence of it.

Praying for Clarity

Clarity is one of those words I’ve used in prayers for many years, one I’ve held onto like a tattered lovey, a comfort when things seem dark. I’ll be alright if I could just get some clarity.

In nearly every major and sometimes not-so-major decision, I’ve prayed for clarity. Once when that didn’t seem to work, I even Googled how to make a decision. But lately, every time the word comes out of my mouth, I hesitate. I’m realizing for me, clarity can be a nicer word for control. If I could just see the future, I could make a good decision about this part of my life.

I say I want clarity and what I mean is I want to have a peaceful feeling about this decision. I want to know the right answer, to know I’m making the right choice. And I desperately want to take out all shades of gray when it comes to making this decision, want clear lines and long views and big pictures. I can become so focused on making the right choice that I forget to acknowledge what a gift it is that I can make a choice at all.

Before I Pray for Clarity

I forget to receive the gift of grace, to remember how Jesus is with me and has made my heart his home. I forget I can trust him with my life and trust myself to choose well regardless of how unclear things may seem.

I’m not saying I won’t get peaceful feelings or right answers eventually, but when I make those first things instead of second things, decision-making becomes a lot more frustrating.

And that conversation in John 14 comes rolling over my soul, when Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?”

The most logical response of Jesus should have been “I’ll show you the way, I’ll show you the truth, I’ll show you your life.” We would like that and it would seem loving and make sense and comfort everyone. It would comfort me.

Instead, though, Jesus simply says to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

He didn’t say, “Come to me and I’ll give you answers.” He said, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.”

How to Make a Decision

And maybe we’ll still get the answers, maybe he’ll show us the way even while he is the way. But I think he is telling Thomas something important about life and he tells me this as well.

Jesus prayed to his Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but I want bread to last the month. He invites me back, again and again, to ask only for grace to last through nightfall and no longer, trusting more will come tomorrow.

One question I ask myself before I pray for clarity is this – What do I want even more than clarity?

Sometimes I can’t answer that because there’s nothing I want more than clarity. In a way, this is answer all by itself, telling me something important to know. Maybe I’m worshiping clarity rather than Christ. If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?

Faith is confidence in what we hope for.These words feel incomplete today, but I’ll publish anyway. Maybe that’s the point?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Reason Why Rest Takes Courage

“Prison,” she said after sharing with me how desperately tired she was, “is starting to sound really good.”

She wasn’t in danger of being convicted of anything, unless exhaustion is considered a crime. But she was so tired that even the idea of prison didn’t repel her if it meant she could be on a mattress and read a book alone.

soul rest

Seems to me there are easier ways to get time alone than prison (Maybe a hotel? A lock on the bedroom door? Something that doesn’t involve bars?) but I knew what she meant. We laughed, shook our heads at ourselves, promised to never reveal those words to anyone because prison.

When desert islands, hospitals, sinus infections, broken legs, and jail start to sound like a vacation, you know you need to take a rest on purpose.

Today at (in)courage, I’m talking about why rest takes courage. To finish reading, join me there?

On Taking a Break From Being the Grown Up

We load up the car and drive half-way to Charlotte, straight to the crowded parking lot of a Chick-fil-A. It’s mid-July and that means it’s time for Grandy Camp. Years ago we decided this exit was the half-way point and so this is where we meet my parents, trade sleeping bags and children for an empty car and several days together, just John and me.

John and Me

Not used to this kind of spacious time, we re-aquaint ourselves with one another in the form of him taking a nap on one end of the sofa while I read a book on the other. We leave our empty house for an early dinner at a little Greek restaurant right near our house and marvel at the space and the quiet that has now descended upon us.

After dinner we go shopping for him some shirts, spend exactly 20 minutes in the store from the time we walk in to the time we leave, including dressing room time and checkout.

Man-shopping at its finest.

We browse through the Whole Foods, a place we rarely shop, and buy not one necessary thing – not one egg or gallon of milk. Instead, we leave with individual slices of over-priced dessert and a bottle of wine. We head straight to his Mom’s house to eat our fancy cake and watch Tiny House Nation on her cable TV.

When the kids aren’t around, we turn into kids a little bit.

john and meIn a way I don’t think about until later, I realize it’s good for the parents to have some time away from the kids for lots of reasons, not the least of which being so we can remember how to be kids ourselves.

And I think of how Jesus tells us grown people to become like little children, always inviting us downward with gladness, always pulling us closer to Him, welcoming us to the small places we sometimes forget to go when we are so busy being the grown ups.

“I would not choose to become a child again but I am looking to children and searching in them for a simplicity and ordinariness that makes being an adult easier to accept and miracles easier to see.”

Macrina Wiederkehr, Seasons of Your Heart

Welcoming Summer and All Her Gifts

“We stop, whether by choice or through circumstance, so that we can be alert and attentive and receptive to what God is doing in and for us, in and for others, on the way. We wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”

-Euguene Peterson, The Jesus Way

On Instagram, I mostly only follow people I know. But there are a few feeds I can’t resist and one of them is a farmer named Ben Hole who lives on The Isle of Purbeck, England. In the tangled trail of clicking, I don’t know where I first saw his images. But when I did, I wanted to see more.

benjaminhole instagram

screenshot of @benjaminhole’s feed on Instagram

When I’m scrolling through and see one of his shots, instinctively I pause. I stare. I recognize a longing deep within me that is stirred. For what? I’m not sure. But I like to pay attention to it. There aren’t many things on the internet that bring about this response. So when I find words, people, messages, or images that do, I hang on to them.

I hope Chatting at the Sky is that kind of place for you – a place where a little bit of frantic falls away, a place where you leave a little more calm than when you came, a place for your soul to breathe.

The summer of 2014 - chatting at the sky

To make this that kind of place, I need to take regular breaks from posting. I’ve already been posting less for the past month but slowing down isn’t the same as stopping. So I’m just going to stop for a while.

Soon my kids will be home for summer and we’ll head to the coast, spend a little time letting the sea smooth out the jagged edges that have formed within and around us, letting the salt burn the wounds, letting the sand rub off the dead skin, letting the nighttime hold us still and quiet until the first light of morning shows up with all her promises. We’ll follow the advice of Eugene Peterson and let our souls catch up with our bodies.

sunrise

We’ll skip the What I Learned in June post this month and maybe just do one big one at the end of July, perhaps a What I’m Learning This Summer link up? I’ll let you know.

While I won’t be writing here, I’ll still be writing because it’s how I know what I think about things, how I learn what’s hiding beneath the surface, how I see. Most of that writing will be private, for now. Some will be shared.

For example, new Hopeologie content will release July 1 and if you haven’t joined yet I have to say that June is my favorite collection so far. The way our words and thoughts came together with one another seemed especially serendipitous this month since our theme is hospitality.

Here is a photo my sister took of one of the prints Annie designed for June’s collection:

DSC_5726-2-753x1024

Maybe this will be the month you decide to join us as we practice embracing hope no matter how things appear in our homes, our families, our own souls. (If you join and don’t like what you see, we offer a full refund if you cancel in your first month, no questions asked. So really you’ve nothing to lose.)

I’ve been working on a Recommended Reads list for a while that I plan to send out to my newsletter subscribers. If you would like to receive that, you can sign up for the free newsletter here. Until I return to Chatting at the Sky, you can find me on Instagram, a medium I rarely take a break from. Maybe I’ll see you there.

I’ll leave you with a sampling of posts on quietness, waiting, and rest:

“It’s much easier to spend a lot of time making your microphone louder than it is working on making your message more compelling.”

Seth Godin

Here’s to long days, thoughtful words, and more compelling messages. Dear Summertime, Welcome. We’re so glad you’ve come.