in praise of waiting

truth and beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

plane

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

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

Maybe you need that permission too?

the kind of movement that makes a difference

On a whim last Saturday, we decided to move the furniture around in our living room. This is a fairly familiar event in our house but the difference this time was John. Normally when I move furniture I wait until he’s gone, mainly because I work well with deadlines and I know I have to be finished before he gets home.

by the fireplace

But having him there meant I could bark orders instead of doing all the work myself. I found out I get really bossy and know-it-all-y when I’m moving furniture.

The thing about moving the TV to a less important wall is you also have to move the sofa.

When you move the sofa, you have to move the rug.

greensboro

Then the chairs need to go somewhere else and now there’s a big blank wall you need to fill and before you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into, three rooms of your house are completely different. (Cue mouse holding a cookie.)

living room

It feels just about right, now – an appropriate way to usher in a new season of change. I like how it fits.

My sunroom office is a little more full but I like it that way. It’s just the right space to settle in with Brennan Manning’s Souvenirs of Solitude in the mornings. His chapter called Really Human, Really Poor has been my morning reading for several days just because I can’t get over how true it is. He speaks of being poor in spirit but of resisting self-hatred, something I have struggled with understanding.

He tells this story and had me laughing outloud:

Distracted after a disturbing phone call, I left the monastery to give a talk to the inmates of Trenton State Prison and began with the outrageous greeting, “Well, it’s nice to see so many of you here!” And so it goes.

Frequently not in form, on top, or in control. That is part of my poverty as a human being, and self-acceptance without self-concern simply expresses a reality. An impoverished spirit prevents the poor man from being a tyrant to himself.

-Souvenirs of Solitude, page 92

His reaction to himself in that awkward moment caught my attention. There was no wringing of hands or heavy anxiety for having mis-spoken. There was only an acceptance of the reality of his own frailty accompanied by his refusal to hate himself for it.

And so I recognize a longing in my soul for this kind of lightheartedness. It helps to listen to Ellie Holcomb and Jillian Edwards sing With You Now. As I do, I take a few deep breaths in. It is in the delicate place of embracing my humanity without despising it – there is union with Christ in this space.

My to-do list is bulging, each task more time-consuming than the one I just finished. I have work to complete and a mounting sense of shame that the reason I’m unable to finish is not because it’s too much work but because I am lacking something vital to continue – organization, creativity, skill, the ability to focus.

All of those may actually be true.

But I’m learning my relief will neither be found in continuing to chase an ideal of my productive self, nor in hating myself for my inability to get everything done.

Rather than resenting my weakness, I believe Jesus is asking me to embrace my weakness. Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean despising self but releasing self from the expectation of being anything but poor. Small. Helpless. Worn.

My soul needs to remember the kind of movement that will make a difference:

Don’t try to handle your anxiety. Bring your anxiety into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to fix your loneliness. Bring your loneliness into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your addiction. Bring your addiction into the presence of Christ.

Don’t try to change your attitude. Bring your attitude into the presence of Christ.

Don’t despise your humanity. Bring your humanity into the presence of Christ.

There is still responsibility, there is still action that comes from me. But my action is not to make right, to make whole, or to make better. My action is to usher my abilities, inabilities, failures and successes all into the presence of Christ.

Lord Jesus, remind us of your presence with us as we do the next right thing that makes sense. And may you keep our hearts light along the way.

what do you need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t I?

Then there’s the shopping.

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

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

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

Do you ever feel like you’re missing something?

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

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

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

I wonder if you sense that too.

A few years ago I did this totally crazy thing.

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

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

They asked: What do you need?

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

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

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

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

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

I had no idea what was coming.

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

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

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

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

I try to remember how open my heart seemed…

How open my life seemed..

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

I try to remember how God met me there.

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

an update on church

Over the weekend, a quiet transition took place here at Chatting at the Sky. We got a bit of a new look – lovely green and blue and, well, some other things, too. There still some tweaks and hiccups to work out, but if you read in a reader or through email, might you click over and take a peek?

July and August were a deep breath in and now we prepare for the activities of this fall. Waking up yesterday morning, I noticed the date on my phone: September 1. For the past two years, I’ve had a book release on September 1. I felt a moment of relief when I realized, Not this year! No book of mine will release today. And then I laughed at myself because, hello, I have a book coming out this fall. So it’s pretty much the same.

September

But today is Labor Day so that means the kids are home, the pool is open for one last day, and my mother-in-law will be packing away all of her white clothes until Easter.

We’ve been easing ourselves back into church, visiting a small one near downtown. The entire congregation is made up of less people than our previous church’s youth group. Our three kids were exactly half of the K-5 Sunday School class yesterday. Granted, a lot of people were out of town for the holiday, but you get the idea. I thought we would visit around to a handful of churches in town, but I forgot how hard that is to do with kids.

If I’m honest, that might be my outward excuse. The truth is, my own soul is weary at the thought of trying on church.

So we come to this small place where they lead us in thoughtful music, where they leave time for silence, where I sit, not alone, but with my husband the whole service and he doesn’t have to leave early to run downstairs. He doesn’t have to run at all these days.

If I try to think too far ahead, anxiety begins to cloud and distract. I’m challenged to stay in these moments, to appreciate the simplicity of what is true right now rather than try to answer all the questions I have about church and our future.

We take each day as it comes. John does this infinitely better than I do, but I’m learning and we’re in this together and I think that’s the best part.

As for that book I have releasing, I plan to make a fun little announcement about that this week so I hope you’ll come back around.

one question to ask yourself before the end of the year

As many of you know, my small group girls graduated in May. They’ve been in college now for a week. I wanted to see them before they left but I knew they were busy packing up and spending time with their friends. walk to school

In the end, five out of the ten texted me seperately to get together. So the week before they left, I was squeezing in coffee and frozen yogurt and a few hours of conversation on my living room sofa.

During the course of my one-on-one conversations with them, I asked them all the same question before our time was over – When May comes and you look back on your freshman year, what do you hope you’ll be able to say about it?

They all had a little different answers depending on their goals and personalities.

But not one of them said, You know Emily, I really hope I’ll be able to say that I was anxious, worried, and fearful the whole year.

We don’t plan for anxiety and we don’t hope for it, either. It tends to show up without an invitation. Same goes for doubt, procrastination, comparison, and defeat.

Walking our fourth grade girls and our first grade son to school this week, I’ve been thinking about the end of the year – What do I hope they’ll be able to say about this year when the end of it comes? What do I hope to say myself?

Maybe a better question is this one:

What can I do today to practice the future I hope we’ll have?

I wonder what it is for you – when this school year is over, what word or phrase do you hope you’ll be able to use to describe it? Is there any way to practice that future today?

a sending prayer for college freshmen

a prayer for college freshman

Dear Lord,

They move in to the dorm this weekend and will bring their bags filled with clothes and their boxes filled with books. But you see what they bring in their hearts – anticipation, adventure, love, regret, anxiety, motivation, and hope.

They are a mix of excited, ready, terrified, and wide-eyed freedom.

As he looks for a fresh start, remind him of your faithfulness every morning no matter where he calls home.

As she looks for community, remind her you are always with her no matter where she may go.

As he looks for adventure, remind him how you walk on water, turn water to wine, feed thousands from just a few pieces of bread. Remind him how you bring life straight up out of death, beauty straight out of ashes.

May she have the patience to believe even when she doesn’t see results.

May he know the greatest adventures are found in your presence, the greatest love comes from your heart, the greatest hope is that you’ve made his heart your home.

When insecurity, comparison, disappointment and failure knock on her dorm room door, may she turn to you with her questions rather than run the other way.

Weave your wisdom into the fibers of his soul, bearing the fruit of confidence, clarity, contentment and a light heart.

May he not despise his humanity, rather may he embrace it.

May she not despise her body, rather may she learn to receive and respect her shape as a gift.

May he not despise his weakness, rather may he see how weakness brings a daily reminder to trust.

May they not fear failure, rather may they thrive in the midst of it.

May they not be quick to judge, rather may they be patient and curious.

Help them to find true friends and be a true friend in turn.

Help them find their voice and to use it to be an advocate for themselves and for others.

Replace her shame with courage.

Replace his confusion with peace.

Replace her fear with a love that moves within her beyond her ability to understand.

May your grace surprise them kindly.

Amen.

a challenge to slow down

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

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

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

the in-between

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

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

Walk, don’t run

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

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

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

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

And I need more of that in my life.

Cook your food slowly

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

cook

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

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

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

Turn technology off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how your morning pages may become a sacred space

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

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

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

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

morning pages

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

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

This is both revealing and sad for me to admit.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe you need that kind of space, too.

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

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for your weekend

weekend blessing

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

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

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

Enjoy your weekend, friends.

Here are some good reads along the way:

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

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

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

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

It’s a question for your soul.

sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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