When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

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.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea - Chatting at the Sky

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.

Why I Want to Know You and Also Avoid You

“‘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

ash wednesdayWe 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.binderThat 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.

on my deskFor 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.

For further reading:

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.

One Truth I Believe But Am Slow to Practice

They say it’s supposed to reach a balmy sixty-five degrees later this week. It’s hard to believe since this time last week we were counting down the hours to The Biggest Snowfall in Ten Years here in North Carolina. photo 1-2But I do believe them because that tends to be how it is here which is why it’s such a nice place to live. Winter comes long enough to make a snowman but doesn’t stay long enough for you to turn into one.

I need the winter, the blanket of cold, the hush of nature. I need the reminder that new life comes when the old life dies.

Last week in church, we prayed a prayer during our time of corporate confession of sin. I apologize I don’t have the reference to tell you who wrote it – when I get it, I’ll let you know. Here is the last part of that prayer:

“Empty us of the disguises and lies in which we hide ourselves from other people and from our responsibility for our neighbors and the world.

Hollow out in us a space that you can fill with our transformed selves: peace, a whole heart, a forgiving spirit, holiness, and laughter.

Fill us with Yourself, we pray, for your sake, and the sake of the world.”

Guess what doesn’t happen fast? The hollowing out.

Following this corporate confession, we sit for a time of silent confession, not a begging of forgiveness but a time to embrace the forgiveness that is already ours in Christ. I look forward to these few moments every week, moments of personal reflection in the midst of a room filled with people. And after the silence, we stand to move towards others for a few moments, a passing of the peace.

Every week without fail, I have to gather myself before meeting those around me. To turn from facing my sin to facing my neighbor is a difficult transition and I always wish they would give us more time between silent confession and communing with others.

homeBut that’s the point, isn’t it? Move toward others even as Christ moves within you I am asked, invited really, to move toward others in my weakness, not in my strength. Though I’ve always believed this to be true, it is not easy or comfortable to practice. These few moments in church are a whisper compared to living it out in my life. But it’s a rhythm I am beginning to embrace more now than ever before.

On this February Monday, I’m thinking of us, the Church. As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, I pray those hard spots would begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but may we offer it to somehow quench the thirst of those around us.

As I reflect on offering my weakness as a gift, I also consider what it looks like to do the same with my work. This week I’m sharing a couple of daily reflections for The High Calling. The first is called The Art of Your Work and the second will be published at the end of the week.

What is something you believe to be true and right but have difficulty practicing in your daily life?

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 . . .

when the mystery becomes my home

“Expectations are our subtle attempts to control God and manipulate mystery.” Fil Anderson

I spent last weekend at The Cove in Asheville, serving the Renovaré community alongside Fil Anderson and Nathan Foster. I came away with a lot more than I offered, and these 11 words Fil said on our first night together have been rolling around in my mind ever since.
the Cove

Don’t ask me to interpret them for you because I can’t. Maybe that’s the point?

What I can do, though, is share a few loosely connected thoughts I’ve been having which, for a writer, can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because when thoughts connect, it means there is something worth exploring; terrifying because when those thoughts are only loosely connected, you know the exploring will take more work.

But blog posts aren’t necessarily for completed ideas, so I offer you my partial ones this morning.

I.

I’ve been reading in Matthew 11, not the lovely verses at the end we love so much – Come to me, all you who are weary. Rather I’ve been reading the beginning, the part where a jailed John the Baptist questions Jesus, sending a message through his disciples: Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?

I tear up every time I read his question.

It doesn’t seem to me that John the Baptist is angry or suspicious here. As I read it, it just seems like he is feeling tired, lonely, and small.

How Jesus responds to John’s question feels important to me.

He doesn’t get angry or become defensive. He doesn’t reprimand him here for lack of faith. Instead, he simply tells the disciples to listen, look, and then tell John what they observe – blind people see, lame people walk, deaf people hear, sick people are made well. As John’s disciples walk away to report back, Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to talk about John.

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.

II.

Reading Jesus say that about his friend, John, makes me cry.

III.

At dinner last night, our youngest reads a riddle with the world journey in it. I ask him if he knows what it means and he says no.

His older sister speaks up, ready with a definition. “It means to go on a journey.”

I challenge her to define the word without actually using the word in the definition. She has a hard time coming up with a different answer.

Going to Jesus when you doubt Jesus seems kind of like using a word in its own definition. Why would you ask someone you doubt to confirm the thing you doubt? Shouldn’t you go to a different source?

Are you the Expected One or shall we look for someone else? If John didn’t think Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, it doesn’t seem to me he would go to Jesus to confirm it.

But he does.

IV.

This morning when I came downstairs, I walked through the living room where my John sat on his corner of the sofa, blanket on legs, bible on lap. It’s the same every morning.

I smiled at him on my way to the kitchen, came back to the living room and sat down next to him, only half awake.

“I have an image of where we are right now. Want to hear it?”

Of course I do.

He began to describe how he feels like we are looking over the shoulder of  a painter, watching him work. We know the artist has in mind a fuller picture, but all we see is a vague vision.

We see the canvas is a rectangle, we see the strokes are light, we see there are blues and greens rather than reds. But we see only in part.

Ever since John left his job, we have had a vague vision of what is to come. And when I say vague, I mean first-layer-of-paint-on-a-canvas vague. I mean puzzle-pieces-without-the-picture-on-the-box vague. I mean vague vague.

V.

As I make space to settle in to what is most true, as I reject all sense of urgency, as I remember who I am and who Christ is in me, vague is becoming okay with me. My own expectations of what I need to know in order to believe are changing. The vague vision is beginning to feel like home, not in a comfortable or predicatble way. Maybe not even in a familiar way. More in a where else would we go? kind of way.

I don’t know any other way to say it – I am more at peace with what I don’t know than I have ever been before.

I feel most fully myself when I walk together with John into the mystery, when I release my tight hold on the way I think things should be and instead embrace Christ as I know him to be in this moment.

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.