How to Stay Calm in the Midst of Big Projects

“Instead of trying to accomplish it all — and all at once — and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, the Essentialist pursues small and simple wins in areas that are essential.”

Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

If you’ve ever been guilty of biting off more than you can chew or of expecting too much too soon, then perhaps you will resonate with Greg McKewon’s encouragement to start small and celebrate progress.

In recent years I’ve come to value and even cherish the art of the small start in my work, my friendships, and even in cleaning the house.

But it’s a fairly new practice for me to begin to celebrate the progress that comes as a result, especially when that progress is unimpressive.

What does celebrating progress look like?

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Today for me, it looks like this round rug in my sunroom office.

I’ve wanted a round rug in there for, oh a few years maybe? I’ve waited because I didn’t know exactly where to shop, wasn’t sure what style I wanted, and I didn’t have the room the way I wanted it anyway. Besides, I already had a rug that kind of worked and I was convinced a different rug wouldn’t make much difference.

But I’ve been dedicated to making small changes in this sunroom over the past few weeks and the small changes are adding up to nice progress. I took some time looking online and found this simple jute round rug, ordered it, and it arrived on my doorstep this week.

Now, my tendency is to continue to look for the next small change I need to make or obsess over lists of what has yet to be done.

Instead, several times since that rug arrived, I’ve sat in my sunroom and looked around, snapped a few photos, and spent some extra time reading in my favorite corner. In short, I’ve celebrated progress by actually enjoying the room. And this simple act of appreciating the progress on purpose has brought a lightness and calm to my soul.

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These have been ways I’ve celebrated progress rather than looked in disdain at the still unfinished room. I moved my desk! I picked out a rug! Is it finished? Not yet. But I celebrate progress anyway.

This week at (in)courage, I’m sharing what starting small and celebrating progress has looked like for me in the area of personal health, both for my body and for my soul.

I also have a conversation with my dad and my sister on this month’s episode of The Hope*ologie Podcast about what celebrating looks like in our own lives and how we think it’s important to mark progress even if it’s small and even if it’s silly.

There are 3 ways for you to listen to the podcast: At Hope*ologie (including show notes!), on iTunes, or here on Soundcloud.

Today I hope you’ll save yourself from overwhelm in the midst of big projects by embracing the days of small beginnings and celebrating the progress that comes as a result.

I’m So Glad You’re Here

Results are rolling in from our 2015 reader survey and already I’ve learned so much from you! (By the way, there’s still time to let your voice be heard – simply fill out the survey questions here.)

Here’s one result that doesn’t surprise me:

men and women

(Insert cry-laugh face).

But one interesting outcome so far is that 60% of those who responded to the survey have been reading here less than 2 years. I’ve been writing for over 9 years but most of you haven’t been around that long. I thought today would be a good time to give an introduction (or for some of you re-introduction) to who I am, who my family is, and what jazzes me these days.

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This is our family – our son is 8 years old and in 2nd grade and our twin girls (this photo is from Halloween when they dressed up like hippie fairies) are 11 and in fifth grade. Next year they’ll begin middle school which is bringing all sorts of excitement, angst, and decision-making conversations around the dinner table these days.

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This is the most recent photo I have of my husband John and I, taken 2 weeks ago. We’ve been married for nearly 14 years and he’s my best friend. He worked as a youth pastor for 12 of those years and, 20 months ago, quit his job without a clear idea of what would come next. In May 2013 I wrote a post about why my husband quit his job but I haven’t given much of an update on that here since then.

Part of that is intentional. We’ve needed some time to gather, to huddle in close, to listen and simply be. But there has been movement in the past several months and tomorrow I’ll share that with my newsletter subscribers and probably in several weeks I’ll put it here on the blog as well.

By the way, you can sign up here if you’d like to receive that Note From The Bench, a slightly more personal monthly letter I send out with updates on family, books I’m currently reading, and other first-word news and encouragement.

painted brickWe live in Greensboro, North Carolina and have lived in the house where we are now for seven years. It was built in the early 1960s and we’re slowly bringing it into this century. We started with painting the brick on the outside and haven’t regretted it for a second.

When we first moved in I wrote a lot more posts about our house because 1) it was fun at the time and 2) it’s all I thought about because of course we were just moving in and getting settled. You can read more house posts by browsing the house category but a lot of those photos are outdated.

I think it will be fun to post some more photos soon of what the house looks like now. Here’s a few more updated shots.

my house

I started college as a piano major at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina. That’s where I learned how to study the Bible and also where I learned that piano was not something I wanted to major in. I transferred after my sophomore year to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I graduated with a degree in Educational Interpreting for the Deaf.

John and I were married after I graduated from college and he finished seminary. After receiving my national certification in sign language interpreting, I worked as an interpreter for several years until I had the twins. I started this blog in 2006 and re-discovered my love for writing.

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I’ve written four books by now, three of which are available in bookstores and one that will release in August. I am, this very week, working on my second round of edits for my newest book, Simply Tuesday, and absolutely can’t wait until it’s available to you.

Most of all, you need to know that I’ve been stunned by the Gospel of Jesus. John and I are building our lives on the foundation of hope that can only come from him. Everything I write or speak about comes from my deep conviction that every need, desire, and expectation is ultimately met in God even though it may take a lifetime to work out what that looks like.

Writing helps me work that out. And I hope something of what I offer here might help you work that out, too.

I’d love to know what you’d love to know, if anything. If you have any questions, ask in the comments! I hope to write a few more posts like this so if you give me some ideas of what you might like to know more about, I’m happy to hear it.

I would also love to know your answers to the survey if you haven’t filled that out yet. I’m so glad you’re here.

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

let your home be your canvas

As we continue to consider the new year we now stand in, The Nester has turned the conversation about goals around to the home. I have a strange and fickle relationship with my home. It brings me a great sense of comfort – family, love, holidays, normal days, the kids toys, my pillow. I write from home, so I can walk into nearly any room and remember – there in the dining room was where I sat and labored over chapter 6, and then wrote it all at once in a flurry of inspiration. There in that chair at our Kmart kitchen table is where I cried in the middle of chapter 11, because I realized again that God is real and he want us to know it. For me, the rooms matter. The colors and the lighting matter. And putting energy and time into making home is a great joy for me.

But. Home can also be my greatest source of shame. When I have ideas to pretty her or to clean her, sometimes it seems I stop just short of making a real difference. Even though we just had a huge yard sale in October, it seems I all of a sudden have piles of things I no longer want or need. Why does this always happen?! And immediately the critical voice pipes in – Hey you there with all your January intentions – I know you want to be more organized, but it’s impossible. So give up already.

Shame doesn’t have to speak too loud. A whisper when I open the junk drawer is enough – failure. And I grab the gum I’m looking for and chew it hard and angry, wishing I could get a handle on that drawer but believing the voice of shame instead – impossible.

And so my goal for my home this year? I want to change the voice I listen to. And I want to change my mind about “organized.” I don’t want to just get rid of stuff in order to be organized, I want to get rid to make room for something else. Namely, the art.

I believe this year will be one of creativity, of daring to let go of the burden of my own insecurities and allow God to uncover the imprint of his image on me. It is easy to compartmentalize goals and to think that this pull I have toward making art this year is unrelated to the desires I have for my home. But I think that would be a mistake.

Thinking of it this way changes the conversation for me. When my stuff is cleared out, my head is cleared out, too. If I think of it as a clearing out for clearing outs sake, I will lose steam, and fast. But if I think of my home as a canvas for the art I want to create, well that’s another thing altogether. I want to make time and space for the art, and that means getting rid of some scissors.

As we think about the coming year, it is good to remember that January is no different from November. That worry and fatigue and the ever dreaded funk will show up in even in the middle of the best intentions. It helps me to remember Natalie Goldberg, who made it a goal to write everyday. But also said, if she doesn’t meet that ideal, she is “careful not to pass judgement or create anxiety” because no one lives up to their ideals. We don’t have to live up to them perfectly. But it helps to have them. Thanks to my sister for giving me the opportunity to think this one through.

paint avoidance

Last year, we painted our kitchen cabinets black. I do not regret painting them, as I like them much better than what they were before. Still, I have been thinking about how I might like to have the top cabinets painted white while leaving the bottom ones black.

But I am a lazy girl with two books to write. So instead I changed the curtains.

In the two years we’ve lived in this house, the curtains in the kitchen have been changed three times. Currently, they are dressed in this buffalo check from Country Curtains. They have brightened up my writing space quite nicely. And it has been a much easier change than re-painting the top cabinets.

on consequences

crooked wall

The wall’s not crooked, the candle plate with the f on it is. But I didn’t want the shot with the foreground wrong, so I changed reality a little. I tend to do that. I like for the thing up front and here now to be right and hope that the thing later in the background works itself out. Sometimes it does. Other times, I regret my neglect of the crooked walls.

lampapalooza

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Lamps. Our warm-lighted, mood-setting, friends. Lamps are kind of like shoes: I have way too many and not nearly enough. I hesitate to participate in this lamp showing party because I feel like y’all have already seen every nook and cranny possible in this house. But she’s my sister and I love lamps and I just can’t help myself.lamps-1

That lamp is really big. A Marshalls original. It is my favorite in the house.

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The Nester says every kitchen should have at least one lamp and this chandelier counts since it has shades. Only problem is it is hung too high. I’m too lazy to change it.lamps-3

Our dining room chandelier is hung lower, as you can see. Notice how I like to put lamps in front of mirrors to make it look like more lamps. Also notice our kitchen cabinets through that door there before we painted them black.

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Then you got your sheep lamp…

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your shell lamps…

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…and your bird lamp. I have more, but I’ll stop now. Head on over to Nesting Place to peek in other peoples houses and get a glimpse of their lovely lampage.

painting cabinets: a follow up

Last week, I had fun showing you our black kitchen cabinets. Many of you wanted to know how to paint cabinets. I have to tell you that I did not paint our cabinets myself for three reasons: I am impatient, I am sloppy, and we had some extra money to hire someone.

I have painted cabinets in a couple of bathrooms. But I’ll leave the real tutorials to those who know a thing or two. Google it if you want the technical. I’m good for a few tips, though.

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First and most importantly, buy some black poster board and hot glue it to the cabinets to see what they will look like. Don’t skip this step.

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Take the doors off. But leave the cabinets on. Very technical, I am.

Sanding? Eh. Maybe a little. But cleaning them is more important, really.

Use a gray or black primer (if you are painting them a dark color).

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When the doors go back on, they may not hang exactly as they used to. Get over it. It’s okay.

Don’t paint the inside of the cabinets. Unless you want to be painting for 17 years straight. Then definitely paint the inside.

Know that some people will still like it better the other way. And some people will tell you that it is not okay to paint cabinets. Learn to be okay with that.

By far, the most repeated comment I received on that post went something like this: I love your cabinets and would love to paint mine, but I’m too afraid.

Uhhh, what? Seriously, girls. It’s time to take back the house, put on our big girl pants and face that fear. Was I afraid? A little. Why? What if I didn’t like it? What if people laughed at me? And what if it was wrong? Besides, there was plenty of opposition.

My father-in-law said not to paint the cabinets.

My realtor man said not to paint the cabinets.

And yes, even the painter said not to paint the cabinets.

But all of these people had two things in common: they were all men and none of them live in my house.
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I could have left them the way they were, pleased to know that my realtor, father in law and painter’s wishes were being met. Or. OR? I could do what I wanted to do and love my kitchen. You know what I chose.

If your husband is the man who doesn’t want you to paint the cabinets? Well, I can’t help you there. Lucky I’ve got The Man who thought it was a great idea. But maybe if you find enough before and after photos to show him, he can be convinced.

If you need more inspiration and courage, check out this post written by The Nester. She knows how to face nesting fears head on and shoot them point blank with a hot glue gun.

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unplug

And due to the fact that Kimba is closing the internet on Friday, I’ll announce the gift card winner on Monday. Or Saturday. I haven’t decided yet.

dare you to paint your cabinets black

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As of today, I have been chatting at the sky for exactly 300 posts! Let’s celebrate with a little kitchen tour. Ready to get right to it?

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This is the part where the people before us had a washer and dryer in the kitchen. You can read more about their magic clothes and how we did a cabinet switcharoo in this post.

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This is the part where you get to see just how orangey-pink these cabinets really were. And the part where you notice how the island was green granite and the rest of the counter tops were green laminate. All the way up the wall. Awesome.

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island-after

This is the part where you notice how much better the island looks now and you decide to read all about the island transformation on my guest post at Nesting Place.

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This is where I stood when we walked through the house for the first time and I almost cried because the owner had just told me they had recently updated their kitchen. This is also where I stood when I realized how much I hated it and I didn’t want to pay for their new, ugly kitchen in the price of the house.

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This is the same place where I stand and make food for my kids and watch them color and fight and play cars. Its also where I chat on the phone with my sister and think up blog posts and love. my. kitchen. And we didn’t have to knock out walls or pay for new cabinets or buy a new oven. We made some drastic changes. But we didn’t have to start over. And the ugly kitchen wasn’t a deal breaker in buying the house.

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This is the part where I tell you we considered knocking out that random wall to make the kitchen feel more open.

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And this is the part where I tell you that, as it turns out, that vent on that wall is sorta important and when we heard how much it would cost, we decided to live with it and hang a yard sale picture there instead.

I know some of you would like to see what is behind that wall that we did not take out.

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It’s basically a grown-up friendly kids corner. As opposed to a kid-friendly grown up corner. There is a difference.

Most of this work was done when we first moved in. But this week I finally finished putting the knobs and drawer pulls on the cabinets. Actually, that is a lie. I’m a little bit lazy. (and a little bit country. and a little bit rock and roll). I still have nine drawer pulls to go. Sue me.

One last thing.

Paint Your Cabinets Black

Wall Paint: Sherwin Williams Ivoire (6127)

Cabinet Paint: SW Tricorn Black (6258) Semi-gloss finish

Any black will do. For me, I picked the blackest black on the color wheel.

Island Paint: SW Navajo White (6126)

Granite: New Venetian Gold

(Giallo Ornamental was in our old kitchen with black cabs)

Window Mistreatment Topper Fabric and Fringe: Hobby Lobby

Damask Window Panels: Target

Window Mistreatment Inspiration: The Nester

Back splash: Bevel Hampton Sand with crackle finish (2×4)

before-and-after

For more details, check out the follow up post.

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For more posts on painted wood, please visit Edie’s beautiful and creative blog @ Life in Grace.

This post is also linked with Sanctuary Arts at Home’s You Should Have Seen it Before! party.


kitchen tease

The kitchen is almost done! All that staring yesterday gave me just the boost I needed to finish the job. Now for the task of photographing it all and inviting you in. Here’s a sneak peek, a special Friday the 13th preview.peek

Turns out its really difficult to photograph black cabinets. I’ll be working on that this weekend so I can show you the whole thing next week. In the meantime while you have kitchens on the brain, head on over to My First Kitchen.

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She’s hosting a survey about cooking habits and could really use your help. It takes about 25 seconds to complete. And you can win free spices, so its totally worth it. Take the survey here. Enjoy your weekend!

Admin Note: The comments are going to look a little crazy for the next day or so, but they’ll still work just fine.