Sharing the Right-Now Stories

Yesterday I told you about that time I was terrified of sickness. It was a fear-filled time in my life that I am now able to look back on in an almost puzzled kind of way, wondering how I could have gotten so worked up for so long.

sharing the right-now stories emily p freeman

It’s easy to say that seven years later. What isn’t so easy to consider are the places I’m walking through right now, the ones that maybe aren’t so easy to talk about because I’m still in the middle of them. It’s important to tell the stories we’ve lived and come through. It’s also important to tell the one’s we’re living right now. But these aren’t as easy to find words for.

Today over at (in)courage I’m attempting to find the words where I am at present - hanging on to hope when the fog rolls in. You may read it and think well you still didn’t tell us much about where you are right now and to that, I will agree and simply say that is one reason why it’s hard to share the present, especially when the present involves fog. Because it’s not only hard to see where you’re going, it’s also hard to see where you are.

But writing helps. Hope*ologie helps. Routines and breath prayers and stillness helps. Spring break will help (starts tomorrow!) And hearing from others who are in similar places helps, too. Hope you’ll join me over at (in)courage.

That Time I Was a Hypochondriac a Little Bit

hope at chatting at the skySeveral years ago when our kids were still in preschool, I went through what you might call a terrified-of-my-family-getting-sick stage. If someone mentioned during a playdate that their kid threw up the night before, I would gather my children that very moment and straight up leave their house.

If one of my kids complained of a tummy ache, I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. It got so bad that even if I read on Facebook that someone was sick, it would trigger the fear and obsessive hand-washing. I didn’t want to leave the house or let people come over because of the germ potential. I thought about sickness all day, every day and would look longingly at my friends who didn’t seem to be as worried as I was.

What would that kind of freedom be like?

I’m not sure I have good answers for anyone who is in that exact place right now. I can say that one of the reasons it was such a scary place to be was because it felt like things would never, ever change.

The trouble with fear is it tells you things will always be the way they are now.

I didn’t realize how bad it was that year until later when it wasn’t that way anymore. I bet you have seasons of life you look back on and wonder what your deal was. Why all the fear and obsession?!

Looking back helps me, though, because it reminds me that even though change may not come quickly or the way I want, change does eventually come.

What change are you hoping for these days?

For the Soul Who Feels Pulled in All Directions

During the last several months, Annie’s now-famous statement we will make art has been working its way deeper into me as I’ve been trying new things and struggling through the learning of them.

emily freeman chatting at the sky

For the past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking, writing, staring, planning, and waiting. I haven’t heard much in the silence and it’s frustrated me, if you want to know the truth. As I listen the fog only gets thicker rather than more clear.

I don’t like walking in the dark but sometimes it’s the only way out.

I’ve been writing and thinking about hope even while I struggle a little in the dark. It just proves the point, though, that hope isn’t bright lights and rainbows, although sometimes it can be. Rather, hope is the promise of the presence of Christ even when we can’t feel him, the assurance that all will be made right even in the midst of the chaos.

I think about my brave self, my scared self, my creative and my practical self. I know I’m really just one person even when I feel fragmented and compartmentalized.

Do you ever feel that way?

Maybe this is hard because we are aware a wholeheartedness deep within. We’ve seen her come out of hiding over our lifetimes, watched her speak even when she was terrified, partnered with her as she spoke more calmly than she felt, loved more fiercly than she thought possible, dared more fully than she ever had before.

But it’s possible we don’t remember those times as clearly as we wish. Instead, the moments we remember most are the ones where we hid in silence when we wanted to speak or spoke too soon when we wished we had listened.

We remember the times we cowered, limped, froze, feared, and lashed out. I guess we remember what we rehearse.

The answer isn’t to rehearse the times we were awesome instead. Rather for me, the answer is to practice the life of Christ, his work on earth, his work in heaven, his work in me.

We will make art and the Artist will make us and we will make art again.

He doesn’t send me out either brave or scared, ready or unprepared, full or empty. He sends me out as me and he goes with me as him. Whether I am brave or scared or ready or not or full or exhuasted isn’t really the point. I am, will be, all of those things. He does not manage or dictate or shame my emotional self.

He simply offers his presence to me no matter what.

Now.

And now again.

hopeologie

This One’s for the Wanna-be Hopeful

This morning started out bright, sun coming up behind our house in confident pink and orange glory. And I, mood highly swayed by the weather, picked out a skirt from my closet to wear and hopped in the shower once the kids were off to school, ready to face the day with energy and focus.

I got dressed in my skirt with a pair of green flats, even played with patterns a bit.

skirt weather

But by the time I fixed my hair, the cul-de-sac was draped over with a gray cloudy blanket and I felt my soul sink a little with it. While I thought the day was going to be all skirt and flats, it turned into sweater and boots.

That lying sunrise.

It’s times like this I find it best not to fight. Just change clothes.

photo

The world and the internet has felt a little like that for me lately – I have a hint of hope, but then cloud cover.

Motivation to do productive work somehow morphs into discouragement.

The desire to practice silence and solitude ends in mind-numbing distraction.

What seemed like a great conversation in the morning leads to second-guessing in the afternoon.

 Anyone with me?

I know this colorful mix of joy and grief is all a part of being human. But that doesn’t keep me from wishing the shadows away sometimes.

I'm thankful for hope, the kind that doesn't expect always sunshine, but the kind that holds on no matter how things appear, the kind that reminds me how I feel about things isn't the ultimate truth. - emily p. freeman

I’m thankful for hope, the kind that doesn’t expect always sunshine, but the kind that holds on no matter how things appear, the kind that reminds me how I feel about things isn’t the ultimate truth, the kind Ellie Holcomb sings about in one of my favorite songs:

In the shadow
In the sadness
Holy Spirit come.
Won’t you rise up like a promise
On the wings of dawn?
Cause even when the darkness covers me
I settle on the far side of the sea
No matter what I do I can’t outrun your love.

-Ellie Holcomb, Can’t Outrun Your Love

I listen to this song as a way of practicing what I know is true, as a way of remembering the love of God, as a way of hoping in the middle of shadows, as a prayer.

And I grab my sunglasses as I head out the door. Just incase.

A few weeks ago in a newsletter, I hinted that I’ve been working on something I’ve never done before. It’s for anyone who wants to embrace hope no matter how things appear. It’s for the already, the almost, and the not-yet-hopers. It may be for you. And next week, I’m finally going to tell you what it is.

Be sure not to miss next week’s announcement by joining over 10,000 readers who receive Chatting at the Sky delivered into their inbox. Sign up with your email address right here!

What about you? Where do you most need hope these days?

Survey Results and A Kind Thank You

The last time I checked, over 1500 of you have offered your feedback in the survey I sent out last week. And though that number only represents a fraction of you who are reading, your responses to the 8 question survey have come at just the right time.

chatting at the skyI expected to get an idea of what you’d like to see more of, to see less of, and to get some insight into where my passions and your needs intersected a bit more specifically.

What I didn’t expect was for your answers to those 8 silly questions to so profoundly remind me who I am and why I do this.

So thank you for taking the time to affirm and confirm some things for me. For example, when I asked you if you could only choose ONE topic to read about here, this is what you said:

favorite topic chatting at the sky

1. Everyday Faith (39%)

2. Rest & Simplicity (11%)

3. Art (9%)

4. Courage (7%)

5. For Your Weekend (7%)

These five categories made up 73% of the favorites, with the remaining 27% spread out among the other 17 categories. When I asked what topics you didn’t want to read about here, 932 of you straight up skipped the question. I take this as a good sign.

This isn’t the kind of place you come to because of a specific topic, even though I know many of you have some specific interests you prefer.

For the most part, you come here to pause,  take a breath, and to remember the simplicity and depth of your faith in a fast-moving world. And this is exactly why I write here. I’m glad we’ve found each other.

On to the most important question of the survey (or at least the most fun), here is where our lives are reflected back to us in the form of primetime television:

If your life was a TV showI love us.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the survey (there is an opportunity to write in feedback if you so choose), you can do that here.

Thank you all again for joining me as we walk, crawl, struggle, and sometimes run in faith together.

Tomorrow we’ll be sharing What We Learned in March – I hope to see you back here then!

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

One day last week I’m struggling through those old kinds of struggles that never seem to fully go away – self-acceptance, over-thinking, fear. My mind cycles through them as they sit on the Lazy Susan of my soul. Pick one up, turn the wheel, put it back again.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea - Chatting at the Sky

So the Susan is spinning at the rate of the world and I pick a book from my desk to read a bit before I began my own writing. Just as I do, some powerfully loud thoughts come rushing into my mind – doubt, quitting, unbelief. In the span of one second, I imagine what it would be like to be the kind of writer like the one who wrote the book in my hand. Thoughts of straight up copying her work barrel to the forefront of my mind.

My first response is shock – I would never do that! My second response is shame – How could I even think that?

Shock and shame are my most natural and immediate responses when my soul has a bad idea. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this is not the holy response, but the arrogant one. My shock and shame response is a better indicator of the condition of my own soul than having the bad thought in the first place. This is the response of a woman who generally thinks she can handle life on her own, a woman who doesn’t think she needs redemption. And so when her soul has a bad idea, she can’t believe it.

It’s true, I don’t copy other people’s work. At least, I haven’t yet. But I could. So could you.

What to do when unwelcome thoughts push their way in? Worry about what a terrible person I am? Wring my hands over the terrible thoughts I have?

Please. Thinking about stealing someone else’s work is a glitter rainbow compared to some of the other thoughts that fly through my head. That feels terrifying to admit but also strangely relieving.

Shock and shame keep my head a clean distance from my heart. That is a dangerous place to live. I don’t want this kind of disconnected life.

The answer isn’t to shame myself into better thinking. That never works.

Instead, the answer for me is two-fold. First, stop being shocked by my own capacity for terrible thoughts.

Until I stop being shocked, I will continue to gasp and gawk at every foul thought that comes into my mind. I will constantly point to some imaginary version of myself who never has stupid thoughts and then return back to my real self and the incongruence between the two will bring only dizziness, discouragement and hopelessness. My soul simply can’t survive the whiplash.

So first, refuse to be shocked. And second, turn toward love. Not the kind of self-love that cheers you can do it, you’re amazing! Listen, I’ve seen The Help, I know the quote – You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Yes. You is. We are.

But we also have an insane capacity for crazy, for jealousy, for selfishness, hoarding, back-stabbing, criticism, revenge, and procrastination. The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ. 

I want to learn to keep company with my weakness even as I practice walking in the New Way of Christ.

I want to continually accept my capacity for sin, but embrace my potential for health, restoration, love, wonder, and mystery.

I want to remember I am capable of making bad choices while also bearing in mind that the Spirit of God chose to make his home in me.

I want to always see my ability to choose the old, but rejoice in my freedom not to.

I want to be aware of the darkness, but identify with the light.

Refuse to be shocked, but insist upon turning toward grace, forgiveness, renewal, and belief.

Refuse to be shocked, but receive the gift of acceptance.

Refuse to be shocked. And begin again.

Why I Want to Know You and Also Avoid You

“‘You have come from dust, and to dust you will return.’ In other words, ‘You are going to die. And here are some ashes to remind you, just in case you’ve forgotten.’”

- Mark Roberts, on Ash Wednesday for Patheos

ash wednesdayWe got our first desktop computer during my senior year of high school. We were living in Detroit and Dad set the computer up on his brown L-shaped desk in his study. I sat at that computer for hours late into the night, but I wasn’t surfing the web – no, no. In fact, when a guy at my school that year mentioned something about one of our favorite bands having a ‘web page’ I was all, What on earth is that? You can’t have a page on a computer. Duh.

It was 1994.

Instead, what I was doing on the computer was typing all of my thoughts and ideas and dreams into a document I had saved there under the file name “emily.” (Sneaky. And also secure.)

I typed out all of my innermost and then printed out each entry, slid the page into a plastic protector, and collected them all in a white two-inch binder with a cool title page I made from super rad clip art.binderThat next year I took the binder to college with me, continuing to add to it as well as read from it when I wanted to remember. My roommate, Faith, asked me about the binder one day, wondering if I ever expected or wanted someone else to read the words I wrote in it. Maybe she thought the only reason why her quiet-ish roommate would have a diary the size of our Western Civ. textbook is if she intended on sharing the words with the world one day.

Her question surprised me. I didn’t write to be read, I wrote because writing helped me know what I thought about things. But her asking made me think about it and a small part of me, secret and hidden, liked the idea of sharing what I wrote with someone.

It felt like somewhere deep within, sharing the writing would be the most honest thing I could do. It represented what was most alive within me, and to imagine sharing that with someone else was a compelling thought. Risky, impossible, crazy. But compelling.

My desire to be known was stirred.

“Much of our isolation is self-chosen . . . This self-reliance has many attractions. It gives us a sense of power, it allows us to move quickly, it offers us the satisfaction of being our own boss, and it praises many rewards and prizes. However, the underside of this self-reliance is loneliness, isolation and a constant fear of not making it in life.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now

On the right-hand corner of my desk, right next to the books I’m currently reading, sits a small envelope holder. This is where I keep notes friends have written. I didn’t plan for it to become a prominent place, but every time I’ve received a note from someone in the actual mail, there it goes, right on my desk where I can see it everyday, a reminder of my inability to do this on my own – this living and working and moving through life.

on my deskFor the past several months I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography of faith, The Seven Storey Mountain. (It’s a long book, but I’m also a slow reader.) He writes in fascinating detail of the time he spent as a student at Columbia in New York, indulging in all of the things young students in the late 1930s could indulge in, resulting in “confusion and misery.”

“Yet, strangely enough, it was on this big factory of a campus that the Holy Ghost was waiting to show me the light, in His own light. And one of the chief means He used, and through which he operated, was human friendship.” – Thomas Merton

Sharing life and friendship with a few peers at Columbia was in important part of a long journey Merton was on toward finding faith. When I read those words, I thought of the role human friendship has played in my own life, how I have both craved and feared vulnerability, how I have sought connection but also denied my need for it.

Nothing causes me to face my own humanity, frailty, and weakness than when I am in communion with others. Nothing causes me to see myself as I really am, to admit I’m not as great as I think, or to face my perceived entitlements than when I am in the midst of other people.

I am easy to live with in a room by myself. Lord, I don’t want to live in a room by myself. Except for when I do.

To know and be known is both compelling and repulsive to me. Do I even know what that means? Truly? I don’t know if I do.

Today on Ash Wednesday, I acknowledge my hopelessness apart from Christ, my anxiety outside of his presence, my certain death if not for his sacrifice.

I acknowledge I have come from dust and will return to dust again. But more than dying one day in the future, I have already died with Christ. I acknowledge my need to de-tatch from the obsessions and addictions that convince me my old man is still alive and re-attach to Christ as my only hope.

I also acknowledge that the way God moves on earth is through the hands and eyes and feet of people – both the ones I’m naturally drawn to and the ones who get on my nerves.

I am hopeless without Him.

I am hopeless without them.

“No matter how sad, wounded, neurotic, or needy we are, that may be exactly what some other person needs us to be at that time. We don’t know the ways we comfort and save each other, not only in spite of our wounds, but also in some cases, because of them.”

-Heather King, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux

I did not grow up in a church that observed Ash Wednesday. In the past few years, I’ve started to learn a little more and have found the Lenten season of deeper reflection to lead into an even more meaningful celebration of the resurrection at Easter.

For further reading:

In Celebration of Slow

The most hilarious thing about this post I’ve been working on is the sheer amount of time it is taking me to finish. Oh, you’re talking about slow? I’ll. Show. You. Slow. Sometimes my blog talks back to me.

hopeSeriously, I’ve been writing this post for days.

Dear Anyone Who Thinks I Sit Down And Write A Blog Post In Fifteen Minutes,

False.

Love, emily.

I’m certain the world is moving a little faster around me everyday and I’m also certain every generation has said that as they grow older since Adam and Eve. I imagine Noah on the deck of the ark telling his children of the days when he was their age and they didn’t have new-fangled contraptions like boats and things of that nature.

I imagine Pa Ingalls playing the fiddle and then sitting with Half-Pint by the fire, weaving stories of a childhood where they played music with nothing more than spit, a blade of grass, and a piece of dirt.

You know our grandparents rolled their eyes at our Atari and our MTV.

My declaration that the world is moving faster than ever before is not new. But seriously, Pa. We have the internet. 

skyIt seems my soul is slowing at the same rate the world is speeding. When I try to keep up, I feel like a kite in a hurricane.

In some ways it’s incongruent – I talk fast, I walk fast, I can finish tasks quickly when I need to.

But when it comes to my inner life, experiences have to sink fully in before I have an opinion on them. Lines in books I read have to be read over and over before I can figure out why they made me cry. Conversations have to be sifted through over a period of days, even a week, before I’m certain if I was fully myself in them or not.

Lately I’ve been noticing I’m taking even longer than usual to process events and experiences, requiring broader margins and more white space to consider their impact and my desire.

Back in September, I spent a few days in Austin with the IF:Gathering leadership. I listened to their vision and supported both the intention and the women behind it but I couldn’t jump fully in and I still can’t say why. I couldn’t get my head around this movement even though I liked what I heard. I tentatively reserved a ticket for the February conference but decided to stay home. The event was only five days after I returned from Uganda and I couldn’t imagine leaving my family again so quickly.

Instead I watched a little online, prayed for those involved, and thanked the Lord for so many gathered both there in Austin and around the world. Even though many of my friends were there, even though I supported the work of the Spirit in their midst, my soul just wasn’t ready to join the group. This isn’t a commentary on IF, it’s simply an example of how my slow-processing affects my decisions and involvements.

Another example: Back in January I introduced a casual series where I planned to offer practical tools to help solidify the abstract concept of making art with your work and your life. During week one I released Seven Little Ways to Live Art. During week two, we introduced The Art Course.

I had themes and graphics for weeks three and four.

Then I went to Uganda and despite my best intentions, the series was put aside. I simply couldn’t continue to engage the ideas I needed to engage while also preparing to leave the country.

I am a hard worker who meets deadlines and can usually finish tasks when they need finishing. I am also a slow processor who has to allow conversations, ideas, and other influences to marinate before I can grab hold of them.

These two true statements fight.

What is good for my inner health is often frustrating for my work.

Here at Chatting at the Sky, outside of the 31 day series every October, I now only write thoughtful posts about twice a week. I’m learning myself and two real posts a week plus a ‘for your weekend’ post is what I feel I am able to reasonably offer. Thank you for keeping pace with me.

from the porchBut I haven’t always been accepting of this pace. I have tried to discipline the slow out of me. I’ve read blog posts and books on how to be productive, how to write even faster, and how to do other things I’m not naturally great at. I have learned to do more in less amount of time, to focus in less than ideal situations, to finish, ship, and deliver. Sometimes I have succeeded, at what cost I’m not yet sure.

Productivity skills have helped me meet important deadlines and release unnecessary perfectionism.

The problems come when I foolishly try to apply these same skills to my inner life. The soul and the schedule don’t follow the same rules.

Today I’m preaching myself the Gospel, remembering my slowness is not a fault or a sin, but fighting it might be.

Because once I finally grab hold, I will take the conversation, the idea, and the influence all the way in, allow it all to move and shape my thoughts and my actions. These slow-cooked thoughts will influence how I love, how I think, how I write. They will fill up holes of misunderstanding, smoothing some of the rounded question marks into straight up exclamation points.

As much as I sometimes wish I could post a bulletin to the world, announcing a celestial time out, I know that isn’t the answer. Many are in a season of speed, a time of movement, of action, and go. But that is not where I am now. And I cannot wait for the world to stop to embrace my permission for slow.

So here’s to you, my fellow slow-processors. Take the long way home. Embrace the silence to consider. Give yourself permission to think, to listen, to be sure.

Here’s to waiting before we move, pausing before we speak, and taking a week to cross of our day list.

Here’s to shuffling our feet, playing on the floor, and staring out the window if we need to.

Here’s to listening to our questions, sitting in the darkness, and letting our experiences do their deep work within us.

Here’s to a long, deep breath.

And if you write a post that feels like a hot mess this week? And if that post took you four days to finish? Go ahead and publish it now. Don’t let your slowness boss you. Embrace it and learn it, but don’t let it force perfection. Let slow do what slow does best: nourish, strengthen, and hold.

Here’s to deep roots, strong ties, and slow art.

If you would like to receive a free copy of Seven Little Ways to Live Art that I mentioned in this post, simply enter your email address here and click newsletter. I send these out about once a month and include content you won’t find anywhere else.

One Truth I Believe But Am Slow to Practice

They say it’s supposed to reach a balmy sixty-five degrees later this week. It’s hard to believe since this time last week we were counting down the hours to The Biggest Snowfall in Ten Years here in North Carolina. photo 1-2But I do believe them because that tends to be how it is here which is why it’s such a nice place to live. Winter comes long enough to make a snowman but doesn’t stay long enough for you to turn into one.

I need the winter, the blanket of cold, the hush of nature. I need the reminder that new life comes when the old life dies.

Last week in church, we prayed a prayer during our time of corporate confession of sin. I apologize I don’t have the reference to tell you who wrote it – when I get it, I’ll let you know. Here is the last part of that prayer:

“Empty us of the disguises and lies in which we hide ourselves from other people and from our responsibility for our neighbors and the world.

Hollow out in us a space that you can fill with our transformed selves: peace, a whole heart, a forgiving spirit, holiness, and laughter.

Fill us with Yourself, we pray, for your sake, and the sake of the world.”

Guess what doesn’t happen fast? The hollowing out.

Following this corporate confession, we sit for a time of silent confession, not a begging of forgiveness but a time to embrace the forgiveness that is already ours in Christ. I look forward to these few moments every week, moments of personal reflection in the midst of a room filled with people. And after the silence, we stand to move towards others for a few moments, a passing of the peace.

Every week without fail, I have to gather myself before meeting those around me. To turn from facing my sin to facing my neighbor is a difficult transition and I always wish they would give us more time between silent confession and communing with others.

homeBut that’s the point, isn’t it? Move toward others even as Christ moves within you I am asked, invited really, to move toward others in my weakness, not in my strength. Though I’ve always believed this to be true, it is not easy or comfortable to practice. These few moments in church are a whisper compared to living it out in my life. But it’s a rhythm I am beginning to embrace more now than ever before.

On this February Monday, I’m thinking of us, the Church. As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, I pray those hard spots would begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but may we offer it to somehow quench the thirst of those around us.

As I reflect on offering my weakness as a gift, I also consider what it looks like to do the same with my work. This week I’m sharing a couple of daily reflections for The High Calling. The first is called The Art of Your Work and the second will be published at the end of the week.

What is something you believe to be true and right but have difficulty practicing in your daily life?

Listening in the Silence

how silentlySilence helps us learn to listen. Phileena Heuertz said that. I’m sure many others have said it too, but this is where I heard it most recently. Learning to listen in the silence gives me strength to move into a regular noise of the day.

Sometimes music helps, too. Every December, we listen to Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. Her version of O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of my favorites. Her voice echoes with a longing I can’t shake – and so I don’t try to.