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.

IMG_6578

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.

The Spiritual Discipline of Learning Nothing

Releasing My Lesson Obsession

Last week we walked through a profound disappointment with one of our girls. I use the word “profound” because that’s how it feels when you’re eleven. Basically, she longed for something that, in the end, belonged to someone else.

As her mom, I see all the necessary parts of growing up happening in this one disappointment — the spiritual discipline of letting go, the practice of faith, the understanding that smallness is not always something to run away from.

But in her most vulnerable moments, lessons don’t help her, at least not the kind you teach on purpose.

Still, I sensed the tension within myself – on the one hand I felt like I should be teaching her something in all this, helping her to see the markers. On the other hand, I just wanted to comfort her and to remind her she isn’t alone.

It’s true, learning is good and disappointments are an opportunity for growth. But I’ve grown weary of trying to squeeze a lesson out of everything, of always asking what God is trying to teach me in every circumstance, of seeing the world through lesson-colored glasses.

I am guilty of managing my experience of difficulty so my struggles don’t feel wasted. In this action, I fear I’ve missed sacred times of healing in the darkness because I’ve wanted to rush ahead to the more understandable light. I have bullet-pointed my soul so that things make sense and have regarded God only as my teacher, forgetting he is also my friend.

School is good and necessary, but in my heart I long for home.

The words of Paul come to mind as I remember he didn’t say “To live is to become Christ-like.”

It sounds almost right, but it’s completely wrong.

Instead, he said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

To live is a person, Christ himself.

Sometimes I teach my kids stuff on purpose. Mostly, though, I just enjoy their company.

Today I’ll practice walking into the great mystery of God. I will practice encountering Jesus as a person and not a character. I will live this day as a daughter first and allow the student to tag along behind.

Today I’ll grieve the losses, laugh at the jokes, sit in the silence, and move through the routines. I’ll keep my eyes open for Christ’s presence rather than trying to figure out his plan. And as I carry each moment as it comes, I will release my obsession with learning a lesson and instead begin to learn the person of Christ, whatever that might mean 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.

To Read When You Only Have a Minute

Listen, I know you’re not really on the Internet right now. You’re just popping on for a minute while the cookies bake or the derby pie sets or as you stand in line at Target or wait for the grandparents to arrive. I’m right there with you.

This year they’re all coming to our house. And while I’ve been enjoying preparing Him room in my soul over the past several weeks, today is a day to prepare actual room in my house for my family. I’ve been looking so forward to having them here. We’ll eat, unwrap, watch some old home videos, catch a few scenes of The Polar Express.

Creating space for your soul to breathe.

We’ll remember and dream and talk about 2014. We’ll laugh. We’ll fight some, too. It’s hard to get together with your family of origin and not resort to the same habits you formed when you were kids. But we’ll work on it.

We’ll try on grace and practice loving, one conversation at a time. I’ve found when I plan to have a full house, it helps to start the morning off holding an empty bowl in two needy hands, whispering an honest prayer for help, for perspective, for joy, for a light heart.

It’s okay if your soul needs a little room to breathe, especially since maybe you’ve been running and bustling and doing that thing you do, all those many things. It’s okay if you meant for this Christmas to be different than last Christmas but so far it’s feeling exactly the same – busy, rushing, and a little frazzled.

But it’s good and right to carve a little time to sit in the silence, stare off at nothing, and consider the place where you are right now. Not to figure it out or to make an agenda for change, but simply to consider it, to be with what’s real, and to bring it all into the presence of Christ.

Sometimes that will hurt and other times you’ll be so thrilled with life you can’t possibly be still. Most times it will seem so dreadfully boring or painful or frustrating that there doesn’t seem to be a point in dwelling there.

Maybe that’s the idea – your soul already is there. Maybe it’s time the rest of you acknowledged it so you can move on.

As we enter 2015, I hope to be a kind companion for your soul, a partner in creating space in your interior world.

To Read While the Cookies Bake

I know you can’t think about all that right now, you’ve got cookies in the oven and 25 kids in your living room making forts with wrapping paper and sleeping bags.

But soon, you’ll need to take a deep breath in or let a long one out and I’m here to help.

No matter our schedules, our sorrows, our joys, or our ambitions, I want to cultivate the still place deep within – a sure place from which to move and speak into the lives of others with compassion and hope.

To do that, my soul needs room to remember, to be loved, and to breathe. I bet yours does, too.

To receive help creating space for your soul to breathe in 2015, sign up here to sit on the bench with meYou’ll immediately get your first free resource, Seven Little Ways to Live Art. You can start that in the new year. After that, I’ll send monthly reminders, questions, and perspective to help cultivate the space your soul needs to dream, to be present, and become more fully yourself.

This is not a luxury, this is a lifeline – for our families, our homes, our ministries, our work, and our relationships. Let’s make 2015 a year of living from a place of love and not fear.

Merry Christmas. I’m thankful for you.

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

lamp

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.

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.