One Thing My Soul is Begging Me to Do

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

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

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

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

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

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.

One Reason Why Rest Takes Courage

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

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

soul rest

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

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

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

Welcoming Summer and All Her Gifts

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

-Euguene Peterson, The Jesus Way

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

benjaminhole instagram

screenshot of @benjaminhole’s feed on Instagram

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

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

The summer of 2014 - chatting at the sky

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

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

sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth Godin

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

For When Your Soul Needs Whitespace

With only a few days left of school, I’m planning to take some time off from writing here on the blog beginning next week. For now, I’ve started a list of things I want to do while I’m taking a break and one of the first things on that list is to finish painting the walls in our living room white. We’ve started, but we haven’t finished, as you can see here.

my living room

Having a plan to finish painting is a normal thing but it is also revealing. First, I’m making a list of things to do during my rest. 

It’s true, doing things around the house is restful for me. But I am also aware of my ability to completely waste a purposeful rest by planning it out like it’s my job. And by the time the “rest” is over, I need a rest from it.

The second, more subtle revelation is this: one of the things on my list is to paint my walls white.

It’s like my eyes are trying to tell my body – You need whitespace. But my body is too literal to speak the poetic language of the soul, so she says, Alright then, get me a paintbrush. Let’s paint something white!

And I think this will help, the white living room walls. But ultimately I need a different kind of whitespace, the kind that fills up the inside – whitespace for my soul.

When I hear the word “whitespace” I think of Bonnie Gray. I first met Bonnie at the (in)courage writers beach retreat in September 2011. I knew her a little before I met her, as I had read her blog for a while and we were both regular contributors for (in)courage. If I had to put my first impression of her into three words, it would be these: tiny, confident, faithful. Here was this little woman with a great big presence. She was like a walking oxymoron and I liked it.

Bonnie & Ann

Ann Voskamp with Bonnie Gray :: 2011

During those few days we were together at the beach, Bonnie got a call from a publisher offering to publish her first book. The publisher was Revell, the same publisher Holley Gerth and I have. And so Holley and I and all the girls celebrated together with her, right there in the beach house, as she was finally going to write her book. It seemed  to be the beginning of something beautiful.

And it was. Just not the kind of beauty she would have chosen.

Any author will tell you the process of bookwriting is hard, much harder than you think it will be for reasons you may not foresee. But for Bonnie, writing her book proved to be a trigger for childhood trauma she had yet to face, ushering her into an unexpected, terrifying time of experiencing PTSD. All while writing a book about finding spiritual whitespace.

Talk about an oxymoron.

Bonnie Gray & Ann Voskamp

As I’m reading her book, I’m getting to know a new Bonnie, someone whose confidence worked against her for a little while, as evidenced in her words here:

“I believed my faith buried my hurt in the past, but I was using faith to hide from the past . . . What’s worked for me since I was a child – staying strong, reading more Scripture, praying more fervently, exerting more self-discipline, applying greater optimism – isn’t going to solve this problem. Jesus has been whispering one phrase into my heart — follow the current downstream.

I’ve rowed my boat upstream for so long, I didn’t know if I could stop.”

Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

While our stories are different, as I get to know Bonnie, I am also getting to know myself.

purple flowers on the beach

My journal I use for morning pages (when I do them) is nearly to the end. I’ll need to start a new one soon. Flipping back to the first pages, I noticed the date: June 2, 2013.

As I read over my writing that first day one year ago, it all sounded so familiar — a longing to be united in my body, soul, and spirit in all things, a longing to move out from a secure place within, all written somewhat urgently — jagged edges and blurred focus.

I smile a little when I read it, recognizing the triggers then as I do now.

The jaggy blur doesn’t indicate a need to simply “take a break” (especially with my tendency to over-plan my breaks). It speaks of something deeper, something Bonnie addresses here:

“Finding spiritual whitespace isn’t about carving out an hour of time to escape the things that stress us. It’s the opposite. It’s getting away from everything we do to distract ourselves from all the hidden pieces — in order to nurture our soul.”

FInding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray

I’m going to keep taking this book to the pool with me this summer, keep reminding myself of the importance of whitespace, keep honoring that desire alive within me that wants to clear the clutter so that I can see what’s most important.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. Her book releases today (woot!) and I’ll be following along on her journey to find rest and learning about my own along the way. You can get your own copy of Finding Spiritual Whitespace here.

Why I’m Listening to Jerry Seinfeld

With barely three weeks left until school is out for the summer, many of us will begin transitioning into a different kind of daily schedule, one where the day-time agenda shifts. I will still do my work, but the pace will slow and we’ll all settle into a new kind of rhythm together.

New Rhythms

I wish I could say I glide gracefully into the summer schedule, but the truth is I limp and fight my way through this transition every year. This year I’m accepting that it will take some time to settle in to the slower pace and the constant presence of small people. But I’m also going to learn on purpose in whatever ways I can. For example.

As a writer, a part of my self-imposed job description is to pay attention to the world around me and the world within me and then to see how they connect.

I am always listening for reminders about focus, about saying yes to the right things, about remembering what I do and, even more importantly sometimes, what I don’t do. Teachers are everywhere as long as we’re willing to learn from unexpected voices. Yesterday I found a teacher while listening to an interview Alec Baldwin did with Jerry Seinfeld.

Alec points out that, with the success of his TV show in the 90s, Jerry could basically do anything he wanted to do now, be as big as he wanted to be. Here’s a peek into the conversation. (From Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwinoriginally aired October 14, 2013 on WNYC 93.9 FM)

Alec Baldwin: You could have your own channel. The Jerry channel.

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah, but I didn’t take that bait.

AB: Why?

JS: Cuz I know what it is. I know what it is, that’s why.

AB: What is it?

JS: You can’t pull that over on me! Cuz I’ve sat in all the chairs, I’ve been in all the rooms. I know what it is. Look, Alec, you’ve been there, right?

AB: Yes!

JS: You can’t trick me into thinking…

AB: Thinking what?! Share with the people.

JS: …that that’s good.

AB: That’s not good why?

JS: Because most of it is not creative work. And not reaching an audience. You wanna be on the water? How do you wanna be on the water? You wanna be on a yacht or you wanna be on a surfboard? I wanna be on a surfboard. I don’t wanna deal with a yacht. That’s a yacht. Some people want a yacht to say See my yacht.

***

This morning, I read an article by Dr. Shelly Provost called How to Tell If You’re Following Your Calling or Just Feeding Your Ego. It’s good, you’ll want to read it, but the gist is here:

“Your ego fears not having or doing something. The lifeblood of the ego is fear. Its primary function is to preserve your identity, but it fears your unworthiness. As a result, ego pushes you harder in order to achieve more . . .

A calling expresses itself quietly, through the expression of subtle clues throughout your life. It is unconcerned with you attaining or accomplishing anything. Its primary function is to be a conduit for expressing your true self to the world. What you do with that expression is less important.”

And then, the most revealing statements from the article: “Ego needs anxiety to survive. Calling needs silence to survive . . . Listening to your life and discovering what it’s asking of you is your calling and it requires more silence than most of us are comfortable with.” (read the whole article here.)

In other words, your ego reacts to fear while calling responds to reflection. Both can be important, but the question is which is moving you forward? Which is motivating you in your work?

***

The connection of these two ideas is loose in my mind and given more time, I’m sure I could flesh it out fully. But blogs aren’t necessarily for fully-fleshed out ideas, at least that’s not what I do here. As I consider these two teachers, Jerry Seinfeld and Dr. Provost, here’s what comes to mind today.

Ego always has one foot on the shiny deck of an imaginary yacht, the promise of power and acheivement holding her strong above the water.

Calling takes off her shoes and stands barefoot on the wet top of a surfboard, where the risk of wipe out is great but so is the opportunity to ride the waves.

Here are some questions I ask to find out if I’m letting my ego get carried away:

  • Do I know I need margin but am afraid to take it?
  • Do I want to say no but am afraid of what I’ll miss?
  • Do I want to say yes but am afraid I can’t pull it off?

Ego speaks loud in the chaos — impatient, competitive, and scared. Calling rises up from the silence — focused, generous, and free.

The Sacred Work of Sitting

The peonies bloomed last week, the sharpest white you can imagine with surprising color inside, like someone couldn’t resist trying out the  bright pink marker on that easy white canvas.

peonies

I was out of town when they came full out, teasing with their friendliness. They act all happy-like now, but they’ll only be around for a week or so. We’ll enjoy them while they last.

For the last few months, I’ve shared a little about the fog I’ve walked through. I wrote about it here (for when the fog rolls in), here (for the soul pulled in all directions) and also here (for the wannabe hopeful).

Fog is the only way I’ve come up with describing it, even though I accept these seasons are part of normal life. It’s part of growing up, too. I’m learning more about what it means to have faith without depending on certain kinds of feelings to go along with it. Sometimes faith feels like nothing.

This soul of mine has been churning the transition we’re in, turning slowly, shaking out distraction, seeing what’s leftover now that the dust has settled. Some of the identities and certainties I have held onto for years have fallen gently away.

While some seasons of change are more pronounced than others, aren’t we always moving from one thing to another, begining and ending and middling? Life is made of transition and the soul is always processing something. I do well when I remember to leave a little breathing room for the motion.

May brings along all kinds of transitions in her colorful basket – graduations, anniversaries, weddings, recitals, tournaments, performances, and ceremonies. But all anniversaries aren’t celebrations and May brings those along, too.

The simple act of sitting is becoming a kind of metaphor for me, a way to practice faith when things feel hectic, foggy, or when truth doesn’t feel true. Nothing fancy or hokey, but intentionally sitting down with the reality of the moment, refusing to talk myself out of it can bring quiet discovery of what I long for, what I fear, where my hope burns bright.

Before we move too quickly to hope, it’s important to grieve the losses, to handle them, face them, and let disappointment do its deep work.

We like to talk about celebrating the gifts, but facing the losses might be important, too. Not to wallow, but to keep company with them long enough to recognize what part they play in our story, to name them, and eventually release them in the presence of Christ.

Sit and consider what you no longer have to hold or what you’ll soon need to let go.

For example, you’re not technically a pastor’s wife anymore. How does that feel?

They don’t seem to understand. How might you be misunderstanding them, too?

He’s graduating. Where does that leave you?

She’s growing up. What are you afraid of?

He left and you don’t think he’s coming back. Is it time to let go?

The Sacred Work of Sitting at Chatting at the Sky.

Have a seat and consider the disappointments as well as the celebrations, the fears as well as the joy. Here are a few places I’ve been sitting lately.

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I sat on this bench with a book and a journal, but I did more staring than reading. I watched the moms and babies stroll by, the workers with their good intentions toward the public bathrooms, the guy on his bike who rode without a helmet. I read a little about David, how he was both a man after God’s heart and a killer. I thought about how none of us are just one thing, but many shades of light and dark and shadows of gray, proof that we need Jesus.

Alone does good work.

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I sat in the front seat of a rented Ford Focus that I paid one million dollars to borrow for the day and panicked when I first got in because the seat was too low and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust it. How do they expect me to drive if I can’t see over the dashboard!? But then relief when I found the right button and the seat raised up and all was well.

Sometimes you sit in unfamiliar places and it takes some adjusting to get your bearings. You drive alone on unknown highways and cry as you listen to Roz Chast talk about her aging parents on the radio.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of a strange rental car, listening to other people’s stories does good work.

photo 1-4I sat here in these airport seats, waiting to board the winged, sideways skyscraper, remembering that I can’t hold it up with mind games or willpower. So instead I ate an apple and read an article about Sandra Oh leaving Grey’s Anatomy while waiting to board the bus in the air and shoot out into the wild blue sky.

Sitting on the edge of my comfort zone does good work. Especially when the seat is at 30,000 feet.
Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset I sat for several meals across from Shannan Martin, one of my favorite writers, a gift from the internet. We traipsed and meandered through town and conversation, sitting on cement benches and vinyl restaraunt chairs, spralled on the end of white duvet covered beds.

Sitting with a friend to hear and to be heard does good work.Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI sat in this ergonomic chair you can’t see (trust me, it was super ergonomically correct), stared out the window and had to accept that even though I came here to get work done, I didn’t want to be a relentless dictator over my soul if my productivity didn’t meet my expectations. Even while I’m doing the work of counting words and crafting sentences, Jesus just wants to be with me and this is the kind of work that means something even though I can’t measure it.

Sitting with my weakness, my obsessions, and my profound ability to twist art into achievement – this does good work, too.

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I squeezed myself onto this swing in my neighborhood during a morning walk, thought of the ways our life used to look compared to how it looks now. While some of the changes are encouraging, others are not so easy to categorize. I recognize my desire to evaluate everything even as I appreciate the mystery of being unable to. I thought of the future and the past and where my hope comes from.

The rhythm of sitting on swings does good work, a reminder that we are tethered even as we sway.

homeworkI sat with her at the kitchen table, quiet while she spells her words, frustrated over my frustration, ready for the year to end. I answered the questions I could, aware of how soon the day will come when their homework is beyond my ability to advise. She’s moving on and I can’t always go with her. But while she’s here, I’ll sit beside her.

Sitting with family does good work.The Sacred Work of Sitting

When we sit we may find answers but most likely we’ll finally hear the questions. We may uncover things we’d rather avoid, things like fear, anger, weakness, or entitlement. But we might also find courage, peace, and hope there, too. When we sit, we let what is be, we remember to release outcomes or perhaps finally admit how tightly we are clinging to them. When we sit, we let ourselves be human.

Where will you sit today?

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 . . .