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:

Writing and The Art of Being Together

I call them the Lost Boys. They aren’t lost and they aren’t boys, but that’s what I call them in my head.

While I write in the corner of the coffee shop on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they are already there and stay for hours. I watch them because I am observant and nosey and also I have a lot of work to do.

coffee

They are a group of mostly male friends, including a priest and a cop and guy in a wheelchair. It sounds like the opener of a comedy routine, but it isn’t. It’s just the coffee shop on Tuesday.

One guy wears a newsie black leather hat and a gold ring on his right finger.

A squatty George Costanza-esque bald man smiles a lot, seems eager to please.

The cop, on the other hand, owns the space around him, sits up straight in his chair and drinks his coffee with the lid off.

The priest is quiet, as you would imagine.

And then there’s the woman.

She’s the only woman I ever see with them. She’s pretty, has long curly hair, wears a lot of makeup.

She’s their Wendy.

I look up and she’s high-fiving George over something hilarious, then Newsie Hat is rubbing her shoulders and Cop glances her way every few minutes. She talks loud and laughs louder.

She calls everyone brotha. Except the priest. She calls him Fatha.

Everyone seems to love the guy in the wheelchair. And the older man with the gray beard and the baseball cap offers jokes and lots of them. She sits on the arm of the chair next to the brotha with the hoodie. He’s the best looking in the bunch and he seems to like her there. She stays there long and giggly. Animated. Her arm rests comfortably on the back of his chair.

I come twice a week and every time, Wendy and the Lost Boys are here too. They share dating stories and working stories and they laugh so loud I can hear them through my ear buds. Sometimes I pop in to get coffee on another day and every time I see at least a few of them; same chairs, same story.

For fifteen minutes I wonder how they get the money for their Venti coffees because they are sitting in a coffee shop when clearly they should be at work. Maybe they all work the night shift?

Where does all their time come from? Don’t these people have some place to be?

I’m aware of the collective insecurity of Wendy and the Lost Boys, but also their obvious commitment to community, togetherness, and belonging, however casual those connections might be.

I only know as much of their stories as I can piece together from my seat in the corner, but the more I listen and watch this odd group, the more I realize they do have someplace to be.

It’s here, at this coffee shop.

This is their place to be.

***

Shirley has lived in our cul-de-sac since LBJ was president. Maybe longer than that, but she can’t remember the exact year they moved in.

Last spring, she fell in the middle of the night. She can’t remember that, either.

On a weekday after her fall, I sit with her for an hour or so while her daughter goes to pick up a bed rail (that she doesn’t want) and some nightgowns (that she does).

Carmella is another neighbor on the cul-de-sac who has lived here just as long as Shirley. She comes over to join us in Shirley’s room and we pass the time together. Collectively they’ve experienced nearly a century of living here in this corner of the neighborhood.

The three of us sit together, Shirley’s head propped up on her pillow, one eye black, one arm in a sling. We talk about her grandkids, the different trees in the yard, Greek food. They speak of the past as if it was another lifetime and in a way, I guess it was.

I do a lot of listening.

window

The sun slants through the window, a cane slants against the wall.

I think of the dinner I’ve yet to make.

They talk over each other, keep to the same topics but never truly respond to the other. Each speaks out her own version of the truth. This style of relating seems to work well for them. The conversation is easy and reflective.

“Diane would sit on the curb and wait for the older girls to come out.”

“Lisa played in the yard while I sat on the porch.”

Diane and Lisa are both older than I am now.

As they talk, I watch my own daughters through the window as they play outside. They each hold a balloon and let go, heads tilt back to watch them float up and fly away.

***

Story is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes.

Too often, though, I fail to record the story moments if they don’t seem to have any use or strong enough connections for me to draw conclusions.

As a writer, drawing conclusions can become an addiction. It’s true, conclusions may be necessary for growth, movement, learning, or even communication.

But I don’t want my need for answers and connections to keep me from exploring story for the sake of the story and nothing more.

Sometimes I write because I have something to say, and other times I write because I want to remember how to see.

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.

The Most Practical Example of Living Art

love

A friend shares a difficult struggle.

Tears well up in her eyes as she talks. The pain runs deep, maybe more than she even knows. As I listen, I’m aware of my desire to be helpful, to make it better, to offer some words of hope.

But is this really what she needs most?

As I listen to my own discomfort because of my inability to help, I realize I’m thinking more of me than of her.

Is it possible to stay my attention on the person I’m with more than perseverate on what my response will be to her?

As she continues to talk, I confront all of my own mixed motives, my own self-reliant tendency. Unmoving and still listening, I offer my discomfort up to the Lord.

I am aware of this - I wish I could fix it. What is the right thing to say? I want to be a technician.

As I silently confess my addiction to usefulness, I recognize a new obsession growing: a deep desire to know her, to hear what she is saying now, to learn something I didn’t know before.

The earlier question, How can I help her? is changing into a new question, How can I see her? 

How will Immanuel show himself right now, not just for her in her pain but for me in my self-obsession?

God with us is big enough to handle us both.

When I release my obsession with finding a cure, I can embrace the desire to be curious. This person, this friend, is not a project or an assignment. She is an image bearer, a lyric, a poem. The color of her pain runs dark and she needs some time to face it. This is holy ground, and her process can’t be rushed, dissected, or figured out.

I am aware of my desire to try to force her to see the hope and the light. But I realize this is self-serving. I need to make peace with her questions and allow the darkness to do its deepest work.

For me to be an artist in this moment means to refuse to try to control her and to create space for our conversation to breathe.

Am I willing to let her be a mystery?

Am I willing to sit beside her without giving in to the pressure to fix her?

Am I willing to let her wrestle without quoting Scripture or forcing prayer?

Am I willing to walk away from our conversation more uncomfortable and with more questions than when we began?

This is day 28 of 31 Days of Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series. Today’s post is modified from Chapter 12 of A Million Little Ways. 

If you would like to have each new post delivered into your inbox for free, simply enter your email address here and click blog posts.

If you’re following along with us in the book club, Chapter 3 discussion is up at Bloom. You can watch the video here and join us in the comments there for discussion.

why you need to tell someone how scared you are

The pool opened this weekend so the air smells like burgers and coconut sunscreen. I spent the weekend fully clothed in my lounge chair – most days it was too cold for me to swim. But it’s never too cold to people-watch and one of my favorite places to do that at the pool is down by the diving boards.

diveI watched my son fly off the low-dive, swim to the ladder, walk fast back to the diving board line and fly off the end of the board again. He doesn’t even think about it.

But that isn’t the case for some. While he made his rounds on the low dive, I noticed a little girl – maybe 8 or 9 – standing at the end of the high dive. She wasn’t jumping.

Instead, she stood there looking around for another way down. She bent her knees like she was preparing, but quickly stood up straight again.

Bend, straighten, repeat.

After a few tries like this, other people began to notice her and it wasn’t long before all eyes were on her. Her dad appeared from the crowd shouting encouragement and waving a thumbs up.

It happens a lot at the pool – some kid gets scared at the top of the high dive and everybody watches from below. Secretly? I kind of love it. I don’t love watching scared kids – I love watching scared kids jump. It never gets old.

Someone started to clap. Soon, everyone was clapping, cheering her on. We could tell she desperately wanted to jump, but I heard her say faintly, “It’s too high.

She couldn’t do it and slowly climbed backwards down the ladder.

My heart sank for her. But you know what else? My heart sank for me, too. I wanted her to jump. I don’t know this girl personally, but I understand her fear.

Ten minutes later, I saw her climb back up. I nudged John next to me, “Look! There she is again.”

She seemed more determined this time, standing on the edge. She bent her knees same as last time. And again, she straightened back up.

Crouch . . .

Stand.

Crouch . . !

Stand.

jumpThe crowd began to clap again, this time with more energy. Several people from across the pool started a countdown – 3 . . 2 . . 1 . . and with one slow motion crouch, she flung herself from the end of the board, arms straight above her.

As she fell, we all whooped and hollered, our collective happiness coming from a genuine excitement for her. I know she heard us before she hit the water.

Here’s the thing: kids jump off that board every 30 seconds and nobody cares. They turn flips and touch their toes and they do it 10 times in a row.

But it isn’t until someone hesitates that the crowd gets involved, even a crowd of strangers.

With a little more than a month left in the only job John and I have ever known as a couple, I feel like we are not only standing at the end of a diving board, we’ve decided to go ahead and set up a tent there on the edge.

Last week I spent some time with the other pastor’s wives at our church. They were kind to gather in the midst of a busy month to spend some time with me and say goodbye. As we sat around the table eating pimento cheese spread on crackers and a delicious chocolate cake with my name on it, I cried as I shared with them my excitement as well as my fear.

They prayed for me, and in a very real way, I felt like I was standing scared at the edge of the diving board. But I had a profound awareness that for those moments, these women were a tiny crowd around me, encouraging me to jump.

If I hadn’t told them I was afraid, they may not have known to cheer.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I want you to know something about this group of women - these other wives and I are not best friends. We don’t have Bible study together or go on vacation with each other’s families. I like them, I respect them, I love to spend time with them. But we hardly ever see one another and it honestly would have been easier and more comfortable for me to not let them see me cry.

After that evening with them, I reminded myself of this: Don’t insist your encouragement should come from a particular person or group of people. Be open to receiving God however (and through whomever) he may want to show himself.

Sometimes it’s good to let them see you sweat even when it feels awkward. Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power. Sharing my fear is often the path that leads to courage.

So here’s to climbing up on top of diving boards and being honest about how terrified we are. May you push through your insecurity and fully admit your fear. And may you be open to receiving the kind community of people there waiting to cheer you on.

state of the blog, brought to you by the color pink

Last Saturday I loaded up my car with five of my small group girls and we headed down to Charlotte to do a little shopping because we could and also it’s fun.

pinkBefore heading home, we stopped by my sister’s house because “she has a blog and is awesome and like, famous!” I don’t think they even know I have a blog. Or wrote two books. I mean, I’ve been on TV in Canada. But whatevs.

pink

She had Valentine crafts for us to do because she’s The Nester and that’s just the kind of girl she is. They loved every minute of it.

pinkObviously. Goes to show that sweeping your floors and making your bed is one way to prepare for guests. But iced coffee, pink gum balls and paper streamers will mean more.

craft day at the nester's

valentine craft

hello gloves

While these photos have little to do with the state of the blog, I had to share them because 1) they’re cute and 2) after tomorrow it will be too late because Valentines Day will be over.

Now a few words about the state of things around here. Every few months I think about all the things I would put in a sidebar if I had one. But since I don’t, I have to put them in a regular post like this one. Warning: I might start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher in 3, 2, 1 . . 

  • Oops: An apology if you received Monday’s post twice in your inbox. We are in the process of transferring all readers who subscribe by email from Feedburner to MailChimp and that post accidentally went out twice. If you normally receive Chatting at the Sky blog posts through email, this is how they will look from now on.
  • Podcasting: I’m now one of Tsh’s regular podcast guests, which basically means there is a record of Tsh and me having a phone call and chatting it up about writing, parenting, and Friends once every six weeks. It’s more fancy than that because we don’t use regular phones we use microphones. Actually, if you have seen the microphone we use, you would call it a macrophone. Because it is huge, people. The podcast won’t change your life, but it makes folding the towels more interesting, no? 

podcast mic

It’s backwards here, but you get the idea.

  • Book 3 Update: I’ve been working on my first round of edits for book number 3, what has affectionately become known as The Art Book. That isn’t actually the title but among friends, that’s what we call it. We finished the cover (!!) and I can’t wait to show you that. Soon!

small group at the nester's

  • Readings for Lent and Easter: I will be reading Bread and Wine during the season. It’s a collection of writings by some of our favorite writers: C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Amy Carmichael and many others.
  • Footer: We’ve added stuff to the footer! When a blog has no side bar you learn to cram stuff into the footer. As we have now done.

What about you? Any fun updates? Great dinners you’ve made lately? Favorite blog post you’ve read? New design? Put on your Al Roker hat and tell us what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

when you want to be intentional but you need a little help

There will be two posts today. Two posts! Later today, I will post the first in a series I introduced last week. But first, this.

The past two years have carried with them a lot of change for me and my family in nearly every area – personal, professional and spiritual. Maybe you could say the same?

Because of that, I have pulled away from some of the social connections I once enjoyed. It wasn’t a premeditated withdrawl, more of a combination of learning (and often failing to learn) how to balance writing books with having margin, how to be fully present to my family, and realizing my own lack of motivation and energy to do much more outside of family and work.

I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just saying it’s true. I want that to be less true of me in 2013.

Last year was the first year of the (in)courage in real life meet-ups. I didn’t go to a gathering in my hometown because I was scheduled to speak at an event in California that same weekend. The Man and I flew out there together, and while I wasn’t working, we had a good time eating Mexican food and driving up the Pacific Coast Highway.

I do not regret that decision.

But there is something about the concept behind this event that I truly appreciate. Instead of launching another conference where women have to leave home, pay money, travel far, and meet people who live in different states (all of which I have done and enjoyed), the concept behind this conference is to gather with the women who live in your community.

(in)RL video

If you want to be intentional but need a little help, maybe this (in)RL meetup idea could be just the thing you need.

Registration opens today at www.inrl.us – below is some information that may be helpful for you to know, but if this sounds interesting and you have no idea what I’m talking about, visit the (in)RealLife registration page to learn more.

Did you attend an (in)RL meetup last year? Do you plan to go this year? Tell us about it in the comments. And then come back later today when we’ll talk a little about writing.

 

an attempt to put words on the heartbreak

I wasn’t planning to write anything in response to the horrific tragedy in Connecticut mainly because I didn’t know what to possibly say. Words don’t come fast for me, especially not at times like this. Though everyone carries the weight of grief very differently, it seems like we all know at least this - there are no words. 

Walking under a great cloud of sadness this weekend, I read this quote from an art teacher named Donna who works at a school nearby Sandy Hook Elementary.

“I don’t know if the rest of the country is struggling to understand it the same way we are here,” she said. “Life goes on, but you’re not the same. Is the rest of the country — are they going about their regular activities? Is it just another news story to them?” source

Even though there is nothing to say, after reading her words, I felt compelled to take my nothing and say it out loud, if for no other reason than to pay my respect.

Donna, I speak for me and my husband, a mom and dad living in North Carolina. Through my small words, we extend our hands and hearts to you, to your community, your teachers, your parents, and your children – this is not just another news story to us. 

Though we can’t possibly know what your community is going through, we imagine how horrific it must feel. And our imaginations are heavy with sorrow, though we all might show that very differently.

I watch my three elementary school aged children, two third graders and a kindergartener. Seeing pictures of Sandy Hook, I am struck by how much the school looks like ours.

I light four candles on my table and try to avoid the news.

I pray for the community of Newtown and remember that we are all still waiting for home.

I haven’t really said anything here. But I couldn’t continue to write until I spent a little time searching for words to put on the heartbreak, no matter how inadequate they are.

Words from The Jesus Storybook Bible from Luke 2:

They knelt on the dirt floor. They had heard about this Promised Child and now he was here. Heaven’s Son. The Maker of the Stars. A baby sleeping in his mother’s arms. This baby would be like that bright star shining in the sky that night. A Light to light up the whole world.

Chasing away darkness. Helping people to see.

And the darker the night got, the brighter the star would shine.

Read from women (and one man) who have more words than I do:

Newtown As I Know It by Jamie Martin who loves and lives there

God Can’t Be Kept Out by Rachel Held Evans

Beautiful Grief by Shannan Martin

“Friday we cried again…” by my Dad

how to listen to a friend

Hollie Chastain print

“afterschool” – print by Hollie Chastain

“When spiritual friends share their stories, the others listen without working. They rest. There’s nothing to fix, nothing to improve. A spiritual community feels undisturbed quiet as they listen, certainly burdened . . . but still resting in the knowledge that the life within, the passion for holiness, is indestructible. It needs only to be nourished and released.”

-Larry Crabb, Becoming a True Spiritual Community

This is day 15 of 31 Days to Hush. You can click here to see a list of all the posts in the series. If you would like to receive these quiet thoughts in your email inbox, subscribe now.

seven reasons why I can’t keep my eyes dry

A big week. Thanks for being awesome and supportive and putting up with me and my big self talking about the new book. I’m feeling small and thankful and emotional. Here are some reasons why, besides the obvious stuff.

1. Friday Night Lights is over. It’s been over for nearly two years for normal people. But I’ve been waiting to watch it on Netflix because I didn’t want it to end. This week I finally said goodbye to Tami and Coach Taylor and Tim Riggins and Buddy Garrity. It’s sad is what it is.

2. Annie Downs wrote a book. I spent some time with Annie this past weekend. Her book and my book released on the same day for the same audience and can I just be very honest with you? We are technically competitors. But it doesn’t feel that way. At all. The truth is, I’d rather do this with her than without her.

You’ve heard me talk about her book. It’s called Perfectly Unique and y’all? Annie is. She is all kinds of crazy brave and courageous without being obnoxious about it. She has a sweet mix of funny and normal and faith. She is a true friend and a great writer. So I’ve been thankful for her, for the unique relationship we have as writers of books for teen girls. It’s a gift to have a partner in this. Buy her book. And then? Read her letter to her teenage self. It is exquisite.

3. I’ve been thinking through things about church, about the shape of our souls, the beauty of community, the sacredness of truth. Lately, I feel like I’m changing a little everyday. It hurts and also is lovely. The Man and I pray together every morning and there’s something about love, coffee, prayer, and front porch sitting that gets me all teary and thankful.

4. My sixteen year old self needed a lot of tenderness and I didn’t realize it. I wrote a letter to her and I tried to be as honest as I could, to put myself back in that time and feel all of those emotions. It worked. I am a hot mess. And also?

5. Reading other people’s letters is slaying me. I still can’t tell why yet. Even the funny ones are bringing out weird emotion in me that I didn’t expect, can’t explain, and won’t try to.

6. On the Shores by Melissa Helser and Johnathan David Helser. First of all, they were so gracious to let us use their song for the Graceful video (by the way, the video was directed by Jason Windsor and was awesome). This song is powerful and living and every time she sings hallelujah, I have to raise up my hands.

7. The twins have made up a language. It’s ridiculous and awesome and just sounds like a lot of z’s. But they are 8 and they have their own language that they understand. I watch them and I am overcome with emotion, thankful they have a person, a sister. A gift.

What is something bringing out weird emotion in you lately?

graceful for young womenStill writing those letters. If you would like to join in, we would love to read it. Simply write it on your own blog and come here this Friday, September 14 to link up. Here are all the details. Some of my favorite writers who are writing letters today:

Annie Downs – I linked to it up there but I’m putting it down here because I don’t want you to miss it.

Stephen Martin - I love Stephen’s writing and his letter does not disappoint (you should check out his book, too) And also I feel kind of awesome that four men agreed to write letters. Stephen is one of them.

Mary DeMuth – Mary is an early mentor of mine. I’m thankful for her and her willingness to join in.

Kristen Strong – She read Sweet Valley High books as a teenager. Automatically love her. Her writing is lovely and kind.

Gary Morland – My dad wrote a letter. He is also a man. You can learn a lot about your family by having them write letters to themselves.