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!

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.

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.

When My Soul is Truly at Rest

While looking through an old journal yesterday, I came across this statement I had written at the top of one page, dated February 8. The year was 2005.

if my soul were truly at rest

Below that statement, I listed out what I thought would be true of me if my soul were at rest (here are the answers I gave in 2005):

  • I would enjoy my daughters more completely (they were 13 months old at the time)
  • I would not hold John to unrealistic expectations (we had been married 3 and a half years by then)
  • I would not dwell on all my life is lacking
  • I would like myself

Yesterday, I asked this question on Twitter. Here are some of the responses:

If my soul were truly at rest, I would . . . 

  • worry less.
  • dream bigger and expect more.
  • make peace with disappointment.
  • be peaceful without anxiety.
  • love more people.
  • smile more.
  • create and risk more.
  • stand taller and hold my head up more.
  • think of others before myself.
  • breathe deeper.
  • notice more.

Then, I asked on Facebook, too. Here are about a third of the responses:

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 8.46.45 AM

I’ve thought about this question over the past 24 hours a lot, and I’m pleased to say I would answer it differently now. I don’t feel pressure to enjoy my girls like I did then. I don’t hold John to impossible standards – at least, not to the extent I did before. Sometimes I think about what I’m lacking, but not in the same way.

And now? I like myself. Sure, I get on my own nerves sometimes. But in general I pretty much like myself.

In those areas for the most part, my soul is at rest. Today, I would answer that question like this:

  • If my soul were truly at rest, I would laugh more, I would stop making so many lists, I would be able to sit still for longer periods of time, I wouldn’t make decisions out of fear.

I have experienced soul rest more completely now at 36 than I did at 28. I hope that continues to be true of me as I get older.

As I read your answers on Twitter and Facebook and as I thought about my own, the phrasing started to grate on me – to ask if your soul were truly at rest implies it never is. It keeps soul rest somewhere out there, beyond my ability to grasp. It could even bring shame and discouragement to consider all the ways your soul isn’t at rest and all the peace you lack as a result.

So I decided to re-phrase the statement.

I would rather take out the “if” altogether and replace it with “when” -

When my soul is truly at rest, I laugh more, I stop making so many lists, I am able to sit still for longer periods of time, I don’t make decisions out of fear.

Do you feel the difference there?

It feels kinder now – possible, livable, hopeful. It feels true.

Rest - Chatting at the SkyAsking myself questions that matter are important for my own spiritual growth. But equally important is the tone I use when I ask the questions. I want to cast a hopeful vision, not weigh myself down with despair.

When Jesus invited the weary to come to Him in Matthew 11, it was an invitation to wear the light burden of love, not the heavy burden of shame.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30, Message

Instead of finishing this statement: If my soul were truly at rest . . .

I would stop searching.

I would take the risks I’m afraid of.

I would stop worrying.

Now, let’s finish this one: When my soul is truly at rest . . .

I stop searching.

I take risks.

I trust.

See the difference? I think it matters.

What about you? What is true of you when your soul is at rest? Let’s practice remembering in the comments:

When my soul is truly at rest, I . . .

in praise of waiting

truth and beauty

In her memoir documenting their friendship, Ann Patchett shares a letter Lucy Grealy wrote to her after she (Lucy) had a particularly moving experience in Prague.

Dear Ann, An important thing happened to me a few days ago in Prague, though I haven’t yet reached a point in time at which I can know how it was important.

The story itself is deeply moving, but this line at the beginning is what caught my eye when I read it yesterday. As a writer I often feel like I haven’t truly learned something unless I’ve written it down, figured out how to put my experience into my own language. But this line from Lucy’s letter in Truth and Beauty reminds me – we are always taking life into ourselves, both our own experiences and the experience of others.

But decoding those experiences takes time. Sometimes the most important things that happen to me are those that take months or even years to unpack. I would do well to wait and give it all some room to breathe.

That’s where I am today. I’m finally home after nearly a week of traveling. I have a sense that important things are happening within me, but I don’t have English words for them yet.

I have a book releasing next week and I’m feeling grateful and also small. A book release is something to celebrate and is to me deeply important, but it is not the axle upon which life turns. It is a spoke, but it is not the wheel.

plane

When our plane landed in Charlotte yesterday, I felt a physical sense of relief. Even though I had one short flight left until I made it home, this skyline was familiar. These roads were familiar. North Carolina is home and I felt her there, the ground wide to receive that fast moving plane.

Today I’ll begin to return some email, try to finally connect with our Barn attendees (hello you!) and begin to make sense of my travel receipts. I’ll also sit in the silence of home and actively give myself permission not to figure things out today.

Maybe you need that permission too?

what do you need?

A few weeks ago I shared a few books written by some of my friends. Today I’m happy to welcome one of those authors to Chatting at the Sky – Allison Vesterfelt. I met Ally last year when she and her husband Darrell were in town. See – aren’t they cute?

8155547025_ee550c3502_o

Ally wrote a book called Packing Light where she documents her journey of selling everything, traveling across the country, and learning to live with less baggage. Glad to have her here today.

I don’t know about you, but for me, September feels really full.

Summer vacations are winding down and even though I’m mulling over fond memories, I’m also cleaning up their messes — the tent in the garage that we never bothered to fold up the right way, telling ourselves we would “clean it later,” the hiking shoes left scattered in the front hall, the linens we still haven’t washed and cleaned from the guest room since our company left weeks ago.

Then, school starts, and even though I’m not in school I always feel like it’s time to take off the vacation hat and put on the productivity one. So all the projects I’ve been putting off all summer — telling myself (rightly) that this was a season for rest and play and adventure and family — are knocking on my door, and I can’t ignore them.

Plus there’s Pinterest and Instagram and I have to at least try to live up to the thoughtful and creative projects everyone else is accomplishing.

Don’t I?

Then there’s the shopping.

In one sense, I love that about this time of year. I love the freshness of it all — the new clothes and school supplies and pumpkin spice everything; and I just want to fill my cupboards and my home with things I know are going to make us cozy when the cold weather arrives.

But I often get carried away and soon it isn’t just activities filling my fall, but new shoes and clothes and make-up school supplies scattered everywhere. Then I actually end up buying more stuff so I can organize it all.

Do you ever wonder to yourself — how much is too much? How full is too full?

Do you ever feel like you’re missing something?

When I feel like I’m missing something, I like to make a trip to Target.

I mean, I’m not serious of course, but I’m kind of serious. Target has this freaky and amazing way of helping me see what I’m missing that I didn’t know I was missing. A mustard yellow throw pillow that would look great on my couch. The newest books I need to read and DVDs I need to watch. As I’m wandering the aisles I can practically picture my husband and myself, curled up on the couch together, with glasses of hot cocoa and a bowl of homemade popcorn, watching those movies and reading those books together, the beautiful throw pillow sitting next to us.

But the truth is, the more I buy and do, and even the more “productive” I am in September (or anytime), the more it feels like I’m missing something.

I wonder if you sense that too.

A few years ago I did this totally crazy thing.

Inspired by the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the Gospels, I sold almost everything I owned, moved into my car, and traveled to all 50 states to write a book called Packing Light. I know it sounds extreme, and it probably was, but I was single and unattached at the time, and I wanted to see what it would look like to make room in my life — to let go of the clutter and mess that was making it seem so crowded.

A few days into my journey, I had dinner with a couple who asked me a question I’ll never forget.

They asked: What do you need?

Think about that question for a second. What do you need? If someone asked you that question today, would you know how to answer it?

Everything I owned was in my car, and still I had a really hard time.

It made me think about how rarely I allow myself to go on a journey without everything I need. In fact, even the thought of being unprepared makes me feel sort of nervous and irresponsible. Maybe that’s why I pack my life and my home with so many things all the time — even good things — like cookies and friends and Bible studies and furniture I love and throw pillows to match the season.

Maybe it makes me feel like I’m in control, like I won’t ever have to go without.

The second thing I realized when they asked me the question was that, despite the fact everything I owned fit into my small 4-door sedan parked outside, I didn’t really need anything. It was such a strange sensation to think about all the things I had packed so diligently, into every nook and cranny of my vehicle, without really knowing what I needed.

I had no idea what was coming.

I don’t really know what I need until I go without.

Now that I’m home and I have a closet again and a bunch of cupboards, and a normal, weekly schedule I can fill with things I really like and want, I have to remind myself of this lesson often. I have to ask myself: What do you need? I have to consciously choose to clear out the clutter and make space in my life.

And I’ll be honest: I find it really hard.

But I try to think back to what it felt like when I camped in the Grand Tetons — drove my car out into the middle of nowhere and set up a tent and slept in my clothes and rose without an alarm clock. I try to remember what it felt like for morning to linger for hours before she ushered in the afternoon.

I try to remember how open my heart seemed…

How open my life seemed..

I try to remember how, even though I didn’t have a Starbucks in hand or a mirror to do my make-up, or any throw pillows to speak of, I had everything I needed.

I try to remember how God met me there.

To learn more about Ally, check out her blog at AllisonVesterfelt.com and her book, Packing Light.

a challenge to slow down

This is a guest post from Jeff Goins of goinswriter.com. I rarely host guest posters at Chatting at the Sky but I’m happy to have Jeff here today. Besides, I didn’t want you to miss his latest release, The In-BetweenI read it, and now recommend it to you. Welcome, Jeff.

I’ve always been a driven, goal-oriented person. With my eyes on the next big thing, I’m constantly scanning the horizon for new opportunities. But while I’m waiting for something extraordinary to happen, life has a funny way of going on without me.

The good life isn’t ahead or behind us; it’s all around — if only we have eyes to see.

the in-between

It took the birth of my son to realize this, to slow me down and focus on what’s right in front of me. With a newborn in the house, I’ve realized how important every moment is. If I miss a day due to busyness, I miss a lot.

After seeing how much our little guy changes and learns every day, I’m done with rushing through life. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Walk, don’t run

I used run a lot. Sometimes, six or eight miles a day. I like running; it’s invigorating and a great workout. But even a jog can sometimes be too quick a pace for me.

“Running is efficient,” my boss once told me. And he was absolutely right. But I’m not sure I want to squeeze any more efficiency or productivity out of me days.

I approach exercise like I do work and sometimes, unfortunately, time with family. That is, quickly. But life is not a race; it’s a dessert to be savored, through and through.

One way I remind myself of this is by going for daily walks. When you walk, you see things differently, things you might otherwise miss. Walking forces you to slow down and pay attention to the beauty all around.

And I need more of that in my life.

Cook your food slowly

I love cooking, but I’ve never had the discipline to make my own meals.

cook

After getting married, my wife and I ate out a lot. But when we realized how rough that was on our budget, we started buying cheap, prepackaged meals to heat up at home.

When our son was born, we had even less time to make meals, so we rushed the process even more. In this past year, however, we’ve resolved to eat more fresh food and to enjoy the process of preparing it.

There’s something about savoring a meal that took half the evening to prepare. This takes time, of course, but as I chop onions and watch water boil I’m learning an important lesson: Some things, maybe the best things in life, take time.

Turn technology off

Before getting a smartphone, I used to not have to fight for silence. There were just ordinary moments in my life where there was a pause. But now those moments are few and far between.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my iPhone. It’s an amazing tool that does so many things. Too many things. I can literally go through a whole day attached to that device, if I’m not careful.

There’s a danger to ceaseless activity and constant doing: You can lose sight of what’s most important.

It made me uncomfortable how attached I’d become to a four-and-a-half inch piece of technology. Recently, in order to recapture part of the stillness in my life I lost, I’ve started finding ways to ditch my phone.

First, I began “accidentally” leaving it in the bedroom. Then I turned off all notifications, so I would only get a text or email when I looked at the phone. Finally, I began turning it off on Friday nights and sometimes not turning it back on until Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Yes, sometimes, I miss a phone call or semi-important email. But the truth is, as I go for walks with my wife and push my son in his swing, I know I’m not missing a thing.

Jeff’s new book, The In-Between, is about slowing down and learning to embrace everyday moments. If you find yourself in the quiet valley of waiting, Jeff offers a kind voice in the silence. This gently honest book challenged me to surrender to the waiting moments rather than try to rush ahead to the next thing. It really is a lovely read. Find out more about it at inbetweenbook.com. You can read more of Jeff’s writing at his blog, Goins, Writer (goinswriter.com).

how your morning pages may become a sacred space

When I joined The Listening Room this past spring, one of the first things the group creators Jason and Michael encouraged us to do was to start Morning Pages.

What are Morning Pages? Simply writing on pages first thing in the morning for the simple purpose of getting the cobwebs out. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way*, describes them this way:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page and then do three more pages tomorrow.

She mentions they should be called Mourning Pages, because in many ways they are “a farewell to life as you knew it and an introduction to life as it’s going to be.”

morning pages

As a writer, I respect the concept of Morning Pages.

The only problem is, I can’t get over the sense that in doing them I’m wasting valuable writing time.

This is both revealing and sad for me to admit.

Because what it implies is that the only kind of work that has value is the kind other people can see, the kind I can put to some kind of practical use.

But I need the morning page. I need the quiet discipline of writing to clear out the dark corners, to face the minutiae of my thoughts, to lay down distraction before I begin my day.

I bought a journal designated for Morning Pages but I often reach for it to jot down action lists. I have to fight to keep it from becoming my To-Do notebook and instead allow it to exist as my To-Be notebook.

If prayer is a deep breath in, the Morning Page is a cleansing breath out.

This book is only for day-launching. I struggle to be consistent with these pages, but they are becoming a sacred space to set aside the planing mentality and simply face what is – no matter how scary, ordinary, or ridiculous it may seem.

Maybe you need that kind of space, too.

I wrote here about The Listening Room and the last time we met together. The creators of the group are friends of mine - Jason Windsor, who also produced my two book trailers, and Michael Van Patter, the director of worship arts at a church here in my community. 

*This - The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – is an affiliate link, meaning my family receives a small percentage of any purchase you make through this link. Thank you for helping to support Chatting at the Sky.

for your weekend

weekend blessing

May your weekend moments remind you of your need to be still.

May you hear His sacred whisper inviting you deeper into silence, and may you follow Him without hesitation.

Don’t dread the still tongue, the quiet room, the questions in the darkness. Let the hum of solitude be your only theme song as your soul moves with grace to a different kind of rhythm.

Enjoy your weekend, friends.

Here are some good reads along the way:

what it really means to ‘do less and be more’

When John came home from a walk with our friend Steve and told me that he (Steve) asked him, Are you willing to do less and be more? the question lingered with us for a long time. I even wrote about it in my first book.

“The words stopped me in my dinner-making, clothes-washing, nose-wiping tracks. On the scale of life, these days my doing far outweighs my being. Be more. Do less. It sounds as blissful as it does unrealistic. I hear the mocking voice of reason, the one telling me how the sentiment is nice, but the reality is that things just have to get done.” Grace for the Good Girlp. 149

It’s been three weeks now since John left his job and we’ve had some uninterrupted family time. We have been doing less. As it turns out this question – Are you willing to do less and be more? – is not a question for your schedule.

It’s a question for your soul.

sea

We spent a night on the side of a mountain and a week on the edge of the sea. But even when my schedule is set on doing less, I still have my soul to consider.

When Steve asked the question those years ago, he was speaking soul language. A slower schedule does not instantly present a still soul. You have to work for that.

I’ve had to ask myself the question again – Are you willing to do less and be more? Not just on the outside, but within?

Are you willing to calm your mind? To wrap your many thoughts around one central thread of truth?

Are you willing to worry less and breathe more? To burrow deep below the folds of anxiety and discover your union with Christ at your center?

Are you willing to set aside the frantic managing of outcomes and instead embrace your position as the loved of God? To choose with your will to be the loved in moments of potential insecurity?

When I honestly answer these questions for myself, I have to admit in some cases the answer is no. I’m not willing.

But I want to be willing. And that is a good place to start.