To Read When You Only Have a Minute

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

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

Creating space for your soul to breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Read While the Cookies Bake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas. I’m thankful for you.

One Thing My Soul is Begging Me to Do

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

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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

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

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

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


In the past I would move from here into a place of shame. I would recognize that I was being ridiculous and try to shame myself into different behavior, never taking the time to recognize why losing the post bothered me so much to begin with.

But knowing how Christ came so we could be free, I hesitate to move so quickly to shame these days. Even in something small like this, I think he wants to keep company with me. It was in the midst of that tension that pieces of what I wrote about began to come back to me. I remembered I used this quote:

“One of the most important lessons I have learned over the past few years is how important it is to have time and space for being with what’s real in my life — to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

That’s just it. I think the reason losing that post bothered me so much was because I hadn’t spent much time with what was really going on beneath the surface. And so the lost post landed like a heavy burden in my soul.

I don’t think we pay enough attention to the silent cares of the soul. We ignore her for long periods of time and then when she starts to flail within us by becoming overly emotional, getting frustrated too easily, or being bothered in an otherwise neutral interaction, we try to shame her into better behavior.

I’m not saying we should allow ourselves this bad behavior. I am saying we need to pay closer attention.

That’s when I remembered Tuesday was the day the post was set to publish. Tuesday is where we live our ordinary moments in our regular lives, the kind of moments that sometimes carry small irritants in our souls that we overlook because they aren’t “real” problems. It’s true, in comparison to the heartbreak in the world, they aren’t a very big deal. But Tuesday reminds me the importance of being with what actually is even if it feels minor.

Tuesday reminds me to attend to the footnote irritants that linger beneath the surface so they won’t later turn into headlines. Tuesday gives me permission to bring those irritants into the presence of Christ so I can ultimately release them into his care.

Recognize the fluttering anxieties as they come. Don’t give them a place to land. It seems simple which may be why I so often overlook it. But taking some time to “celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, [and] attend to my loneliness” creates space in my soul.

A spacious soul makes room for others. A week before Christmas, I can’t think of a better gift to give.

By the way, I finally re-wrote the post and I would love to invite you to read it over at (in)courage. And then, let’s unwrap our Tuesday gifts together.

When the Mega is Praised at the Expense of the Small

fall in greensboro

It seems like lately we are all rooting for the remarkable and brave within one another and for that, I’m thankful. I’m thankful when I hear from friends who are finally agreeing with the Trinity that they bear the image of God and have something to offer. I’m thankful when I listen to people I admire speak the truth they are living into. I’m thankful when I remember the timid, try-hard way I used to live and the gracious way Jesus walks with me through that.

I’m all about noticing what is most alive within us and then offering that as a gift to others and for the glory of God. It’s a beautiful antidote to living out of fear and one that is deeply rooted in the gospel.

At the same time, I know how easily the definition of “brave and remarkable” can morph into “big and important” and without realizing it, the mega is praised at the expense of the small and we all end up feeling a little worn down and exhausted.

I’m not there right now, but I have been there. I’ll probably be there again, maybe soon. As I’m driving around Greensboro this week, beneath the canopy of trees declaring glory, I’m amazed at how quiet they are about it. I’m thankful we have a God who tells his big story in small, delightful, quiet ways.

Next Tuesday I’ll be sending out November’s newsletter where I’ll share a little more about how smallness can be a gift rather than a liability. I would love for you to get it.

Here is an example of last month’s email so you’ll have an idea of what to expect. And here is where you can sign up to receive monthly encouragement, recommended reads, and first-word news.


Jesus, Good Timing, and the Ministry of Mums

emily p freeman

Often I remind myself of the importance of speaking out and writing words, not because they’ve never been spoken or written before but because our saying or writing them may be the first time someone finally hears them.

I recently heard two simple sentences that had a deep impact on me, not because I’ve never heard anything like them but because I’m in a season where I needed to hear them now.

A few words Preston Yancey recently spoke came at just the right time for me, so right that when he said them, I had to block out everything that was happening around me until I could dig my phone out from the bottom of my purse, fumble with the notes app, and type frantically on the tiny phone keyboard these words, only partially remembered.

I’m sharing those words today at (in)courage.

For the Days that Feel Gray on the Inside

For When you Feel Like Creation is Over

Even if all your glasses tend to be half-full, if you lean toward Pooh and away from Eeyore, if you tend to be the first to spot the silver lining, there is a cloud that can descend upon you that you did not choose and cannot escape no matter how much you may try to reframe it.

Maybe it comes from running a little too hard for a little too long. Or from small discouragements that add up to one big gloom. And you wake up in the morning and realize the hopefulness that usually dances around you just isn’t there today.

This was me last week. I’m sharing about what to do when it feels like creation is over at (in)courage today. Join me there?

When You Want to be Joyful but You’re Not Quite There Yet

Typically when I’m on the elliptical, I’m listening to ridiculous dance music on Pandora. But this particular day, I noticed on one of the TVs in front of me that Nancy Writebol, the American medical missionary who was infected with and survived the Ebola virus, was preparing to make a statement to the press.

Chatting at the Sky

I shifted my ear buds from my phone to the little channel box on the machine so I could listen in. Her husband spoke first, sharing his gratitude for all the prayers and support. With a pleasant look on his face he continued to tell the story of how he read from Philippians to his wife while she was sick – how they deeply identified with Paul in that particular book.

This may not have been the assignment they had planned, but they took it as an assignment nevertheless.

When You're Having Trouble Finding the Joy

When it was Nancy’s turn to speak, she shared similar words of thanksgiving, love, and gratitude. She spoke with compassion about her friends back in West Africa, implored viewers to continue to pray for them.

I don’t know them personally, but I adored them immediately. They seem like lovely and gracious people. After several minutes listening, I went back to my Pandora station but kept my eye on the screen. Soon they split the screen between the Writebols and the CNN commentators and I watched the captions to get their reaction to the couple.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Chohen began to speak and I read as she said this:

“It’s interesting that it would be very easy for their narrative to be one of traumatization. She has been through a lot. She said many times I thought I’m not going to make it anymore. But it’s not a narrative of trauma. It’s a narrative of joy. And it is a narrative her husband said, we are just honored and humbled that God chose us for this challenge. To come out of something like that with that attitude is – We can all learn form that.” (source)

And I had to slow down my pace so I could record these words as a note in my phone for later: It’s not a narrative of trauma. It’s a narrative of joy.

After that I stopped reading the captions because I simply needed to think on that phrase.

On the one hand, it’s  a lovely commentary on faith, the way this couple stood in front of the world and spoke humbly, graciously, and with great hope.

But I also know the temptation to judge others in the midst of difficult times who don’t respond as the Writebols have.

I never want to judge someone’s reaction to grief, sickness, loss, or pain. It can be so easy to refuse to let people grieve the way they need to grieve by telling them God is in control or Consider it all joy! or God works all things together for good.

He is, it is, and he does. But we are all on our own journey of living in to those truths.

When You're Having Trouble Finding the Joy - Chatting at the Sky

We don’t know how the Writebols grieved behind closed doors. We aren’t privy to their quiet prayers in the night, their loneliness, their fear. We are hearing their story after she has been made well. And it is a beautiful story.

As writers, we are often encouraged not to compare our messy beginnings with someone else’s ending. Translation: don’t be discouraged when your writing is terrible. The struggle is part of the process, part of everyone’s process. So when you’re working through a difficult piece of writing,  comparing your rough draft to a finished book is not a good idea.

The same goes for life.

What the medical correspondent caught onto was the narrative – and narrative implies a story, and a story has an arc.

The story arc is one of hope even though each part of the story may have had it’s share of hopelessness. The story arc is one of hope even though the characters may have shaken fists and asked the hard questions and yelled at the top of their lungs.

The story arc is joyful even while the people are broken.

I never want to confuse a joyful narrative to mean that those who are joyful haven’t also had dark days. I never want to hold people to a standard of pleasantries and to apply my own definition of what joy should look like or what our culture says joy should look like.

I am thankful for the Writebols, that they were able to go on national television and share their honest story and that theirs truly is a narrative of joy. I also want to remember that within that narrative there may be many shadows of gray along the way. And that that makes the narrative even more beautiful.

What Love Never Does

Lately I’ve been taking more walks, the kind where I put on shoes and go outside and refuse to respond to the ping. It takes more work than it should, at least for me, to release an hour of productivity and replace it with something unknown.

Will I feel refreshed after? Will it really clear my head? Will I regret this wasted time later?

What Love Never Does

These questions are always a good sign that narcisstic Emily is threatening a mutiny and it’s time to get into the woods and be small again.

I generally go empty-handed, although sometimes I tuck my phone between my skin and the elastic waist of my yoga pants so I can monitor how long I’ve been walking and how far I’ve gone. My measuring ways are hard to overcome. And so is my lack of cool technology and arm bands and tiny, invisible iPods.

But on a recent walk, I took nothing with me and within minutes began to think on things above rather than the things on the earth, thinking about love, about what it really is. And as any believer thinking about love might be apt to do, I began to mumble the verses from 1 Corinthians 13, relevant in an obvious sort of way. I didn’t have my Bible or my phone, so I had to rely on memory to consider what this passage said about love.

And I whispered the verses to the rhythm of my footsteps, Love is patient, love is kind.

Love sits with.

As I continued, I was prepared to recite a list of all the adjectives describing what love is, but instead I heard the words as if for the first time. In the entire chapter about love, it only provides two words for what love is – patient and kind. Aside from those two words, everything else in those verses is either what love isn’t, what love doesn’t do, or what love does.

Love isn’t jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness.

Love isn’t a jerk.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love moves toward.

And finally, as I rounded the corner near the wooden walking bridge, I began to whisper the three words that describe what love never does.

What Love Never Does

Love never fails.

The words brought tears, partly because I know they’re true and partly because I don’t always see the evidence of their truth in the world. What does it mean that love never fails in light of the pain around the world – Ferguson, Syria, West Africa, our own hearts?

Sometimes I want love to be whatever I want, whatever I think sounds nice today. But love is specific, spelled out here in the middle of 1 Corinthians. And I know these descriptions of what love is, what love isn’t, what love does and doesn’t do are true because when I am loved for real, the love works. It doesn’t fail.

I desperately need someone to sit with me, to not be a jerk, to remind me of truth, to bear and believe and hope and endure all on my behalf. And when Love moves in my presence, I know it. And I begin to re-examine my own ideas of failure and success.

But love isn’t just something that happens to me, Love is someone who moves within me and invites me to move toward others.

When their load becomes too heavy, love invites me to bend down low and bear their burden.

When their faith becomes foggy, love invites me to come alongside and believe on their behalf.

When they can’t see possibility for hope, love invites me to stand on tiptoe and cast vision for a future we can’t quite see.

We are not promised that one day we will know the answers, have explanations, or see a detailed map. Instead, we are promised that one day we will see face to face.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Love is personal. Love is relational.

I get it wrong, blame others, forget to listen and fail to see.

But Christ moves me not to push but to lead; not to force, but to invite; not to tell but to listen.

Bear, believe, hope, endure.

May it be so in us. May it be so in me. 

Recently I had someone ask me why I don’t write about “issues that are controversial” here on the blog. While I appreciate the question, I don’t really have an easy bullet-point answer.

Like you, I’m figuring out how to walk with Christ into my day, into Target, into church, into the kitchen, and most importantly, into the lives of other people. I don’t always do that figuring out in a public space, but I share glimpses of my processing here on the blog.  Today is one such glimpse.

You’ll probably never read much about the breaking news or the hot topics here simply because by the time I’ve begun to process news, it isn’t breaking any more. But also because that’s not why I created this space in the first place. If I have something to add to the conversation, I’ll add it in time.

I’m slow to process, slow to think, slow to respond. Rather than fight against that, I’m learning to celebrate it in my own way.

But slow processing is never an excuse not to love and maybe that’s my point today, however incomplete that may seem.

I’ll probably think of a better response later, but – surprise, surprise – for now that’s all I’ve got.

One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

She runs past me on my way up the stairs, shouting over her shoulder, “I know it isn’t true, but I’m going to prove it to you.”

She heads out the front door to the yard and waves her arms up toward the sky. I continue up the stairs and when I get to my bedroom, there are her sister and brother at the window, one holding an iPad. Over their shoulder I notice our address is typed into the map app, the camera zoomed in to an aerial view of our cul-de-sac. I’m starting to catch on.

One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

They stare out the window at her down below, then back to the screen in their hand. Window, screen. Window, screen.

“Okay, you’re right,” he calls to her through the window. “I can’t see you.”

If only all arguments were so easy to resolve. If only all we had to do when we are unsure of something is to run out to the front yard and wave our arms to confirm, no, there isn’t a camera in space video taping us at all times.

Well, there may be, but this image on Google Maps isn’t evidence of it.

Praying for Clarity

Clarity is one of those words I’ve used in prayers for many years, one I’ve held onto like a tattered lovey, a comfort when things seem dark. I’ll be alright if I could just get some clarity.

In nearly every major and sometimes not-so-major decision, I’ve prayed for clarity. Once when that didn’t seem to work, I even Googled how to make a decision. But lately, every time the word comes out of my mouth, I hesitate. I’m realizing for me, clarity can be a nicer word for control. If I could just see the future, I could make a good decision about this part of my life.

I say I want clarity and what I mean is I want to have a peaceful feeling about this decision. I want to know the right answer, to know I’m making the right choice. And I desperately want to take out all shades of gray when it comes to making this decision, want clear lines and long views and big pictures. I can become so focused on making the right choice that I forget to acknowledge what a gift it is that I can make a choice at all.

Before I Pray for Clarity

I forget to receive the gift of grace, to remember how Jesus is with me and has made my heart his home. I forget I can trust him with my life and trust myself to choose well regardless of how unclear things may seem.

I’m not saying I won’t get peaceful feelings or right answers eventually, but when I make those first things instead of second things, decision-making becomes a lot more frustrating.

And that conversation in John 14 comes rolling over my soul, when Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?”

The most logical response of Jesus should have been “I’ll show you the way, I’ll show you the truth, I’ll show you your life.” We would like that and it would seem loving and make sense and comfort everyone. It would comfort me.

Instead, though, Jesus simply says to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

He didn’t say, “Come to me and I’ll give you answers.” He said, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.”

How to Make a Decision

And maybe we’ll still get the answers, maybe he’ll show us the way even while he is the way. But I think he is telling Thomas something important about life and he tells me this as well.

Jesus prayed to his Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but I want bread to last the month. He invites me back, again and again, to ask only for grace to last through nightfall and no longer, trusting more will come tomorrow.

One question I ask myself before I pray for clarity is this – What do I want even more than clarity?

Sometimes I can’t answer that because there’s nothing I want more than clarity. In a way, this is answer all by itself, telling me something important to know. Maybe I’m worshiping clarity rather than Christ. If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?

Faith is confidence in what we hope for.These words feel incomplete today, but I’ll publish anyway. Maybe that’s the point?


For When You Feel Like a Spectator to Grief: A Reflection on the Death of Robin Williams

In the quiet of this morning, before the sun comes up behind the trees in our yard, I acknowledge how very little I know. Because the pain in the world is sometimes too much to bear and our backs can bend heavy beneath it, rounding over and caving in like a tired question mark.

For When You Feel Like a Spectator to Grief  - Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams

Some losses hit you harder than others and I don’t know exactly why that is. It can be difficult to know how to process the death of someone you only know from the movies or because they’re in the public eye.

I still remember the sadness in late August of 1997 when we learned the news of Princess Diana’s car accident. As a girl, I looked up to her because she was a beautiful princess living in a fairy tale. But her life told a different kind of story than the ones I made up for her in my head. When she died, that story revealed itself even more clearly to the world whether she wished it so or not.

A few years later we were on vacation in Hilton Head when we heard about John Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash. Later that night, we went out to dinner near the harbor, the restaurant hushed in respectful shock, whispering behind the back of one of the waitresses who looked exactly like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.

But the first time I stood on the peripheral of public grief was walking home from the bus stop after school and my sister told me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded that day. I was eight and the first thing I remember thinking was how that couldn’t be true because Christa McAuliffe was on that shuttle and she was just an ordinary teacher.

John and I went to see Patch Adams on our first real date, that time he tried to hold my hand and I wouldn’t let him because he hadn’t told me with words yet how he felt about me. So we had a long talk after the movie was over in the parking lot of the theater. Do you like me? Is this a thing between us? All with nervous chewing of twizzlers and secret dreaming of the rest of our lives.

Last night, when the news broke about the death of Robin Williams, we were watching Jumanji on our sofa with our three kids, our dog, and a borrowed kitten. I’d never seen the movie but I knew he was in it. Well, it must be good then. Of course it must.

When we turned the movie off, I checked my phone and saw the news and there was that familiar ache again, the sadness and disorientation that comes when you hear tragic, shocking news. As someone who tends to navigate the world through experience, intuition, and deep feeling, I always struggle to know how to process the loss of someone I don’t know personally.

In some ways I fear I don’t have the right to grieve a loss that doesn’t seem to belong to me, like I should keep a respectful distance from the real grief of others. But I’m not sure that’s right and I think to deny the effect someone has on your life, however small, is to lose a little bit of being human.

Robin Williams wasn’t part of my life, but his art colored the backdrop.

When someone shares their art with the world, they share a bit of themselves. And when they die, especially when their death reveals a pain that runs deep and wide and dark, you see their art differently. The lens shifts and we get a glimpse of the person beneath the actor, of the soul within the person.

And so those of us who only knew him from the roles he played will pray for those who knew him best. And we’ll consider all the sadness around the world and within our own hearts, remembering Christ who came down to heal all the brokenness, both within us and around us.

By faith, we trust he is building his kingdom even while we wait for the day when we can see with our eyes how he is making all things right again.

“As you huddle around the torn silence, each by this lonely deed exiled to a solitary confinement of soul, may some small glow from what has been lost return like the kindness of candlelight.”

-John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us


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?