Sometimes you read something and it makes you think for days and days. Those words by Andrew Murray from With Christ in the School of Prayer is one of those somethings for me.
Let’s say you’re a teacher of some kind. Maybe a writer, a preacher, a manager, or some kind of leader. Somewhere in your life, you have a place where you express yourself, your ideas, and your perspective on a regular basis.
One morning, before you start your work, you peek at your email just to see what’s facing you later in the day, maybe you accidentally open Facebook and see that article from Huffington Post. You click just real quick and end up reading all three pages, even clicking on the links the author recommended.
The article is good and makes you think, as were the links the article led you to and the references those links mentioned.
By now it’s thirty minutes into your work day and you realize you’re exhausted a little bit. Usually you are able to keep your head about these things, but with the lack of sleep last night and the discouraging week you just had, you don’t have much in the way of defense. And you realize this article you read “real quick” represents the fact that everyone else has already said All The Things.
In fact, the entire world-wide web is filled with smart people saying things. Even this piece you’re working on now, the one about the people who have said all the things? Yeah, they’ve said that, too.
People had it so much easier before the internet! I think to myself (Notice I’m using I now. I’ll own this one).
And I sweep the gray cloud of blame for all of my creative woes onto the robotic back of the internet. I decide to take a walk because that seems like the opposite of computers.
The road to the path is quiet this morning, the lamb’s ear in the neighbor’s yard is starting to spill right over the curb. I remember it from last year, growing out of the lawn that way. I always want to touch it but resist. I don’t know why.
I reach the path, the trees surrounding it in their full-leaf glory by this time of year. A green canopy lets only dappled light fall on the dirt at my feet, dirt that only months ago was covered dead leaves. Not today.
Green, the color of summertime. Blue, the sky on a clear morning of a late spring day. These are what we’ve come to expect. If it’s gray, we dress accordingly. Black, we take cover. Orange, well I don’t know. I’ve never seen an orange sky in the middle of the day.
The earth moves through time in a pattern we predict, of light or dark, rainy or dry, warm or cold or mild. We can’t say exactly what will turn up today, but we have an idea depending on where we are in time – the hour, the day, the month, the year.
Still, we marvel when we notice her beauty, wonder at her vastness, grieve over her brokenness, hush when she reveals the mystery of God.
As I walk beneath the green-tinted shadows of the trees with their massive branches and twisted trunks, I take note of how unapologetic they are in their tree-ness. Trees have always been this way – a maple, a pine, an oak. They are not the same as one another, but they are the same as themselves. They repeat in their patterns, have their own kinds of bark, always, ever growing up and away from the ground because that’s what trees do.
I look around, curious over how all of this is the same as yesterday but somehow also always new.
With each step, I realize I’m doing that thing I do when I am afraid. I’m telling myself it’s all been said and done and read and seen before and so somehow I think this gives me a pass to give up because I can’t help it, you know. It’s the internet’s fault.
Maybe instead of coming up with something new, I’m here to honor the truth of old, to hold the timeless realities close and live like they’re true for me. While we will always change, make progress and move forward, that will come more naturally as we hold on to what we know for sure. Maybe my desire to dazzle in my work is actually hindering my ability to do move forward in my life.
When you hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to you.
For as long as we’re here, we won’t stop repeating ourselves. We’ll watch a re-make of that movie we’ve already seen, read the book, and watch it again. We’ll listen to music by the artist and then we’ll pay green money to go hear them play that same music again, in person this time.
We’ll say I love you in the morning, and then again at night.
We’ll eat everyday, several times a day, then sleep tonight, tomorrow, and the day after that. Every other moment we’ll take a breath and never once roll our eyes to complain because we just did that three seconds ago.
Repetition is woven into the earth and every living thing. These repeating rhythms keep us alive in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, too. I don’t have to be afraid to join the chorus of truth ringing out from the mouths of others. I can say what they’re saying, but I can do it as me. So can you.
Today, if you’re feeling the weight of creativity, refuse to manhandle your art like it’s some kind of ticket to someplace bigger, like if you could just get it right you might finally get what you want.
Instead, hold it lightly in your hand. Agree it’s probably been said. Be willing to say it again.
But first, take some time to stop saying things for a while in order to remember the value of the things in the first place. Maybe when we do that, we’ll repeat the words of Saint Benedict: Always we begin again. And we will.
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I’m firmly convinced our genius is at least partially coded into our childhood play. Want to get an idea of how those first graders will change their world? No need to read their spelling words. Just show up at recess.
But I don’t know about all that yet, because it’s 1985 and we’ve got the day ahead of us, no plans but the Barbie world. We huddle over the pile of pink goodness ready to piece out what belongs to whom today. I’m eight and it’s my big sister’s turn to pick first.
I study her choices carefully – the pink cabinet, the blue and pink pillows, the cushy sofa. These three must be the top items in the pile since she chose them first. I end up with a lopsided table I don’t know what to do with. Barf me out.
Days later, it’s my turn to pick first. I know just what to do! Pink cabinet, blue and pink pillows, cushy sofa. Yes!
I look up at her after my clean sweep, unable to hide my victory smile since I obviously just chose all the best stuff. Instead of reacting, she ignores me, and picks the table with the uneven top. Wait, is she trying to psych me out?
What is this? No anger? No you just got all the good stuff lecture? Not only that, she just chose the worst thing in the pile. The worst thing!
How am I supposed to know how to make my Barbie house beautiful if my teacher keeps picking different furniture?! How am I supposed to know the best stuff if she keeps changing her mind on what the best stuff is? I am having a total cow.
Look at her over there in her corner, busy setting up her awesome space. I lean to one side to watch her work and notice she has that crooked table looking just fine, using it as some kind of loft-like bed for Skipper. I look back at my first-pick choices and they don’t look so great now.
I vow to choose the lopsided table next time. But next time always comes and no matter how I try to catalogue and then copy her choices, it makes no difference. It didn’t matter what she has to work with. She will make it look great, no matter how imperfect the pile.
And while it may on the surface seem like an older sister’s evil plan to make her little sister crazy, I think it simply comes down to this: her gift is that she sees differently.
That feeling of discontentment, of missing out, of not having something vital I needed to make beauty showed up during those long days of play. I blamed it on the lopsided table and my lack of first pick, but these weren’t my problem.
My problem was I didn’t yet know how to trust my own ideas, couldn’t see beyond the obvious, and wasn’t willing to take a little risk.
My sister had eyes to see the usefulness in the mess and the beauty in the lopsided. Part of her art, even back then, was her eyes could see potential.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned I can have those eyes, too.
Myquillyn didn’t immediately apply this to her real life. But it was always in her, this ability to somehow see beyond the obvious and envision something no one else could.
What my eight-year-old self would’ve have done to get my hands on some kind of guidelines for how to have a Barbie house I loved. If only she could have written down her secrets!
Well now she has. And the best part is, her secrets aren’t as secret as you think.
She finally wrote a book is for all the little sisters of the world who doubt they have what it takes to make home (or life) beautiful, waiting for permission and courage to create, take risks, and be ourselves.
Over the years I’ve learned these things from her, valuable lessons practiced in my own home that spill over into everyday life.
She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.
She didn’t teach me where to put my furniture. She taught me it’s okay to move my furniture around.
She didn’t teach me the right way to hang a curtain. She taught me there isn’t only one right way to hang a curtain.
She didn’t lecture me on the latest trends. She taught me how to discover what my own trends are, that’s it’s okay if they’re different from others, and it’s okay when they change.
She didn’t point out what’s wrong with my house. She taught me how every house has a silver lining and home is wherever we are.
She taught me that my house isn’t just about a house. It’s about trusting yourself, making mistakes, trying new things, inviting others in. It’s about community and communion, healing and wholeness, memories and tradition, love and loveliness and hope.
I truly believe what I said before, that hints of our personal genius hide in our childhood play, what I also like to call our art. I’m so glad my sister had the courage to hold on to hers, to listen to what makes her come alive, to ignore the naysayers who said she was doing it all wrong.
You have a genius art too, and it doesn’t have to be the e equals mc squared kind. It might be the relational kind, the insightful kind, or the kind that moves in the midst of fear. Whatever it is for you, it’s evidence that you are made in the image of God and the first step to uncovering that could simply be finding freedom in your own home.
This lovely book – The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful - is finally available everywhere today! Get yourself a copy, your mom a copy, and don’t forget your little sister.
Love you, Sister Girl. So happy you said yes to writing this book. I don’t know how people get on in the world without a big sister to teach them things. I’m so thankful for all you’ve taught me.
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.
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.
Several 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 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.
And now again.
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.
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.
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, 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?
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.
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
“‘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
We 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.That 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.
For 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.
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