The 10 Best Books I Read Last Year

Here are some of my favorite books I read last year. (To get more lists of great books, you can check out Anne Bogel’s post where she shared her favorites and invited others to share theirs.) To be clear, these aren’t books released last year, simply ones I read and enjoyed. For perspective, I only read about 30 books total, so here are my top third in random order:

My Favorite Books of 2014

 

The Antelope in the Living Room

The Antelope in the Living Room

by Melanie Shankle

Melanie’s memoir about motherhood is on my Recommended Reads list and now this one about marriage is a new favorite as well. I don’t read many books that make me laugh which may be why I enjoy Melanie’s writing so very much.

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson

The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way

by Eugene Peterson

I read this one carefully with a pen and a notebook beside me. Peterson leads the way on an in-depth look at all the ways Jesus is the way, challenging the ways of the modern American church. He explores the ways of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Mary; also Caiaphas, Josephus, and Herod, comparing and contrasting them with the kingdom way of Jesus. As I’ve studied and pondered leaning into my own smallness, this book was a key reference and encouragement for me.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion

This is the first book I read by Joan Didion. Her story has held on and won’t let go. She allows us to crawl inside her grief after her husband suddenly died in front of her. I knew it would be sad, but what I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to put down. If I remember right, the ending left me feeling slightly empty, but the journey of the book made up for it. I plan to read a second title of hers this year.

The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain

by Thomas Merton

Full disclosure, this book took me over a year to finish with lots of stops and starts. It’s the thickest book I read this year (462 pages if you must know) but I read every word and took notes. Since I’m not Catholic, I most likely missed a lot of the important references. But I connected with Merton’s struggle  with self, faith, and vocation and the relatable, honest way he shared it. Stunning writing, thoughtful perspective, surprisingly relevant.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

by Ian Morgan Cron

In the fall I had to drive to Charlotte twice a week for a month (about 2 hours one way). I chose this audio book from the library for company to help me pass the time. It did so much more than that. I actually looked forward to waking up at 4 am for the drive so I could listen to Ian Morgan Cron (who’s voice sounds like the guy who narrates The Wonder Years) tell his story. While my curiosity about his dad being in the CIA was what initially hooked me, his ability to weave a story with threads of grace, memory, forgiveness, and humor is what left a lasting impression.

Where'd You Go Bernadette?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

I read this one in a day or so over spring break and it came at just the right time for me. I was in a place where I wanted to say no to all the things, in desperate need of a break. Bernadette was kind, lighthearted company for me in that season. Perhaps it makes the list based more on my experience reading it than the actual content of the book, but really how can you separate the two?

Breathing Room by Leeana Tankersley

 Breathing Room: Letting Go So You Can Fully Live

by Leeana Tankersley

During a time when I really needed some breathing room, I read Leeana’s book. She speaks the kind of soul language I’m always looking for but rarely find, the kind that comes from thoughtful silence, faithful waiting, and long, dark nights. When life feels like an airplane emergency, she comes along and reminds us – put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. I needed that reminder. She is a writer who encourages us to be fully human as we turn to Christ.

The Memoir Project

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

by Marion Roach Smith

Not just for writing memoir, this book is for any writer who simply wants to practice their craft. Short, thoughtful, and motivating. I want to read this one every year and recommend it to every writer I know.

Learning to Walk in the Dark

 Learning to Walk in the Dark

by Barbara Brown Taylor

After becoming uncomfortable with the assumption that good things are associated with lightness and evil things are associated with darkness, Barbara Brown Taylor began to study darkness and all the ways God meets us there, when we are unsure and when things are unseen. I checked this one out at the library but after finishing it I promptly added it to my list of books I’d like to own.

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Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections

by Macrina Wiederkehr

My spiritual director introduced me to this book. It’s a book of prayers so I haven’t read it all the way through, but I was introduced to it this year and I keep it close by every morning. Her prayers are simple, thoughtful, and poetic.


I could have easily chosen more but since I narrowed it down to 10, I will include these as Honoroble Mentions:

It’s fun to talk about books, isn’t it? If you’d like to see the books I’m currently reading, I share them regularly on The Bench, my monthly newsletter. Sign up here to get the next one in your inbox next Tuesday, January 13.

What was your favorite book last year?

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet in 2015

Over the past year or so, I’ve been listening to the low, rolling hum around the Internet. It comes in as a wave on the shore of the cyber beach every few years, depositing questions and doubt like flotsam after a storm. You’ve heard it, too: the whispered rumor that blogging is dead.

It’s an important conversation for those of us who read and write blogs. It feels a little like that first time we watched The Sixth Sense – wait, he was dead the whole time? How did I not see that?! There’s a little niggling in the back of my mind – Does all this still matter?

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

Though I know people have been asking the question for years now, 2014 was the first year I began to wonder if they were right. Is it over? Have we been dumped for Instagram and are too stubborn to admit it?

As I’ve been working on this post for over a week now (does that tell you anything about my process? I need blog writing to stay alive! I can’t think fast enough for anything else!) I saw a post Tsh wrote on this very subject in her state of the blog address. I almost considered scratching this half-written post and just telling you to read hers because she says everything so well.

Instead, I will tell you to read hers and read mine, too.

I needed to take the time to work through this in my own way. So I did the opposite of the Internet and took a walk on New Year’s Day, looked up and down and all around and thought about some of these things.

Now I want to think through them with you, okay? Okay.

Regardless of what changes, grievances, or transitions we might need to make, here are some things I know for sure about us (and by us I mean you and me):

We want more connecting and less competing.

We want more laughter and less shame.

We want more love and less fear.

Did I get that right so far?

This January marks the nine year anniversary of Chatting at the Sky. I started quietly writing here  when I was pregnant with our third baby, in the cracks of time I could find while taking care of twin toddlers. I needed an outlet for my scattered brain, a place to put thoughts I knew wouldn’t disappear, and to connect with a few friends who had blogs, too.

the girls 2009 and 2014

Now nine years, three books, and a lot of blog posts later, here we are.

I know a lot has changed in these nine years, both among blogs as a whole and here in this space. I know we aren’t going back to the old days when the comment box was filled with chatter, when you could write something online and know you had a good chance of being heard, and when most of the blog posts you read sounded like real humans wrote them.

With all the noise, we have to work harder than before to remember why we do this.

First, though, I wanted to say this: I’m hopeful about the future for blog writing.

How I Plan to Stay Sane on the Internet

Call me a romantic, but I still think writing on a blog is one of the most important things I do as a writer.

I still think it’s the greatest medium for communicating, for story-telling, for writing through what you think about things.

I still think it’s one of the most lovely outlets for an extraverted introvert like me who loves people but needs a little time to think before I say words to them.

This is where I discovered that I am, in fact, a writer. This is where I work out what I believe. This is where all my books were born and how I’ve met some of my favorite people in the world (the world, I tell you!)

Though it may seem like an oxymoron, consistently writing and reading blogs can offer kind company for our souls and help to encourage intentionality, slowness, and listening.

Here’s why.

Early last month, Steff Green wrote a post on ProBlogger giving examples of how blogging is changing and what you can do about it. This observation of hers stuck out to me:

“With social media platforms becoming the online communication too du jour, and with smartphones and other devices becoming for many the preferred platform, blogs have fallen to the wayside in favour of shorter, punchier messages specifically tailored to hit a reader’s buttons.” – from Is Blogging Dead?

This is one of my biggest motivations to keep writing on a blog.

Continuing to write here at Chatting at the Sky is my soul’s own quiet rebellion against the fast-moving world.

I write because I need room for my soul to breathe. And sometimes I have to write my way into that space.

I need a steady, consistent, and reliable online place that will serve my own soul in this quiet way. I bet you need that, too.

For me, that means embracing the short, punchier forms (because they’re fun and a great way to connect) but not at the expense of the longer-form blog writing, my first writing love.

But that doesn’t mean I plan to party like it’s 2008. I want to move with the changes rather than fight against them.

Here’s what staying sane on the Internet means for me, both as a reader of blogs and a writer of one:

As a reader:

  • Unsubscribe: I’ve unsubscribed from everything except my top, most favorite, can’t-miss blogs. That means I only regularly read less than 10. And it’s delightful.
  • Round Ups: I glance at weekly roundups to see what other writers have found that I’ve missed in various spaces.
  • Fun: Pick the shorter forms out of love and fun, rather than fear of missing out. My favorite is Instagram because 1) I love photos  2) It’s a great way to stay connected to friends and writers alike even though I may not read all their posts 3) It’s fun!
  • Rescue Time: I’ve installed Rescue Time on my computer so I can easily see how much of my time online is productive vs. distracting. Super helpful.
  • Identify panic triggers: When I’m online and feel my soul start to shake on the inside from a low-grade scattered panic, I ask myself why. I don’t have a great solution for this yet (sans shutting off the computer) but I’m starting to pay attention. For those of us who work online, turning the computer off isn’t always an option. So I’m paying attention to the panic triggers.

Those are a few ways I’m practicing sanity in my online reading habits.

When it comes to actually writing online, I started to record some tips that help me but discovered after listing them they felt hollow. Instead, I took some time to really listen to my desire, to the why behind this blog, and what that means for me as a writer. Here’s what came up to the surface:

As a writer:

  • I will tell stories.
  • I will be myself.
  • I will remember it’s “better to write for yourself and have no public than write for the public and have no self.” (Cyril Connolly)
  • I will refuse to romanticize the writing life.
  • I will write to connect, not compete.
  • I will remember fear is a normal part of the process, but courage gets the final say.
  • I will remember how ego feels pushy and afraid but calling feels kind and free. Most of the time.
  • I will remember people write online for a million little reasons and I will respect them theirs.
  • I will practice writing words I can’t take back.
  • I will refuse to write from a frantic place of hurry.
  • I will be gentle with myself when I choose to hurry anyway.
  • I will be relentlessly helpful to the souls of others.
  • I will write as a kind companion rather than a truth machine.
  • I will let love lead.
  • I will not be a jerk.

Though these are personal to me, perhaps they resonate with you as well. If so, I’ve included them in a simple PDF for you to download or print as you wish: A Manifesto – How to Write on the Internet Without Losing Your Mind. Maybe they’ll help you stay sane on the internet, too.

A Writer's Manifesto How to Write on the Internet Without Losing Your Mind

Blogging is only as dead as you treat it. I plan to have many more years of writing here, of carving out a little space in the corner to sit on a bench and connect with you. So here’s to 2015 – the year we learn to stay sane on the Internet. I hope you’ll continue to join me.

I want to be kind company this year, both for your soul and for mine. Sometimes we forget to be kind to ourselves, don’t we? If this sounds good to you and you don’t want to miss a post, you can sign up here to get them delivered directly into your inbox.

If that makes you feel crazy, maybe you’d prefer something a bit more infrequent but equally as encouraging. If so, you can join me on The Bench and receive my once-a-month newsletter (2nd Tuesday of the month).

Both options come with a free copy of my ebook Seven Little Ways to Live Art, sharing one way every day to take a soul breath.

I would love to hear how you’re staying sane on the Internet, both as a reader and a writer. Leave a comment here or join the conversation on Facebook.

Simple Gifts to Encourage the Soul

Simple Gifts for the SoulHere is a collection of some of my favorite things in my house right now. These are things that help my soul breathe, some in more obvious ways than others. But I wanted to share them with you incase you have someone in your life who might enjoy one of these simple gifts. Or maybe that someone is you!

Gifts to Create Space for Souls to Breathe

Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections by Macrina Wiederkehr – My spiritual director reads aloud from this book nearly every time we meet. Macrina’s words have been a kind companion for my soul during this season, including this simple prayer, “O God, help us to believe the truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful it is.”

A bowl from the Goodwill – The easiest gift to find and give, a fifty-cent bow from your favorite thrift shop makes a lovely gift for someone who needs to remember their soul is made to receive from God rather than achieve for God. Hold it with both hands in prayer and remember to ask for daily bread.

Mortar & Stone by Jill Philips – Thoughtful music for anyone who needs to remember hope.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras – Taking photos helps me see. For anyone who wants to take a long walk without the distractions of their iPhone (and its handy camera), this lens makes for a nice extra set of eyes. I’ve used it for over seven years on my old Nikon d80 and love it. For the price you can’t really beat it.

To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue – This book of blessings makes a great gift for a new friend or family member, especially if they are in a time of transition.

Woodwick Candle, Medium, Evening Bonfire – My sister introduced me to these candles. They have a wooden wick so they make crackling sounds when lit. A simple pleasure with a fragrance that fills the house.

Monogram Mugs – I have a weakness for mugs, I do. This one is from Target but I haven’t seen the gold initials there in a month or so. The closest thing I could find are the ones I’ve linked to here from Anthropologie. They are a little fancier than my simple “e” but serve the same purpose.

Soft-bound black journal – Full disclosure, I haven’t used this one yet. But I have 2 of them because I know I’m going to love the soft-bound cover and the graph paper lines. My friend Kendra recommends these and I always love what she recommends.

Uni-ball Signo Impact 207 Pen – These are my favorite pens right now, perfect for morning pages. Make sure they say “impact” or they won’t have the same, er, impact. Trust me on this.

You may also want to check out this list from a few years ago: 10 Free Gifts to Give and Receive. And for the book lovers, here is an on-going list of some of my favorite recommended reads. Happy gifting!

*some affiliate links are included in this post

A Peek at My Bookshelves

my bookshelves

Over the last few years, I’ve become better acquainted with our local library but that hasn’t yet stopped me from accumulating all the books. So when Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy aka The Media Specialist of the Internet) asked me to share my bookshelves, I was happy to. She has a fun series called Other People’s Bookshelves that I always enjoy reading and today, I’m sharing mine. So head on over to her blog to see more of my rainbow shelves and what I’m currently reading.

hello, friends.

I thought about titling this post “Remember When I Used to Write on a Blog?” but that felt a little negative and self-indulgent in a weird sort of way (self-indulgent: a word I can never use without hearing Simon Cowell in my head).I 85 from CharlotteSo I’m just going with hello, friends. I’ve missed writing in this space more regularly. But October is coming and you know what that means? That’s right. 31 days of writing – a post every day. Can you handle it?!

Here are the series I’ve done in the past:

2010: 31 Days of Grace

31 Days of Grace

Because I have more to say about grace than anything else so it only made sense. Plus I was writing Grace for the Good Girl at the time so that was the only topic I thought about, ever.

2011: 31 Days to Change the World

chatting-at-the-sky

This was also the year Grace for the Good Girl released and the year I turned in Graceful.  We were a little ambitious in 2011.

2012: 31 Days to Hush

31-days-to-hush2-700x233

After a full and difficult 2011, I desperately needed some space. I was working on my third book at that time and October was a particularly discouraging time in my writing. I wanted to join in on 31 days, but the only thing I was motivated to do was to be quiet and listen. So I wrote about that.

And for 5 whole days of it I didn’t write at all because hush. #brilliant.

2013: 31 Days of Living Art

artful-living

This was last year’s series and it coincided perfectly with the release of A Million Little Ways, that book I finally was able to finish. I probably had the most fun writing this one but it was also the most work.

And so here is the place where I’m supposed to tell you what I’m going to write about this year and invite you to read along. But I don’t really know the answer to that yet. The only thing I have is a deep desire to write more consistently here. And October is a great time to do it.

Screen-Shot-2014-09-17-at-10.15.11-AM

In fact, this year my sister has rolled out a brand new website designed just for us 31 Dayers. If you’re thinking of writing on your own blog everyday in October you should definitely check it out and join in.

Meanwhile (a word I can’t say without remember I used to think it was meanwild – didn’t everyone?) I will continue to take notes and jot down ideas.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any topics or thoughts in particular on what might encourage you from me here in October. Trust me, it could be anything. I’m debating writing about TV, kittens, and Oreos for the whole month because that would be fun, adorable, and delicious.

Home at Chatting at the Sky

Seriously, though. I just want to write out a few simple lines and share a lovely image everyday next month. That may be all there is to it. It may not have a fancy name or an interesting catch.

But it will be me and there will be you and I will be writing here again. And I just wanted you to know.

What We’re Really Hungry For :: by Emily T. Wierenga

Today I’m welcoming author Emily T. Weirenga to share from her new book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. I met Emily for the first time last year and the first word that came to mind was gentle. Hers is a gentle, kind soul. Read her words and see what I mean.

atlas girl

We were newlyweds.

I was anorexic.

Trent came home one day to find me crying on the couch about the living room—about how off-kilter and ugly it looked with our second-hand furniture—and I hadn’t eaten since the night before.

He put his arms around me. “Let me make you supper,” he said—this farm-boy I’d met in Bible School, who drove a car he called The Beast and volunteered at kids club.

I nodded, kissed him. Grabbed a bag of marshmallows and headed into the office to paint at my easel.

Half an hour later Trent called me for supper. He had made burgers, corn on the cob, and “fancy” salad (which is what he calls salad with grated carrots, cheese, onions, bacon and croutons).

I emerged from the office, my mouth white, the marshmallow bag empty. I sat down at the table, looked at the plate full of food, and said, “I’m not hungry.”

I don’t know why he didn’t leave me then and there.

I’d been so hungry I’d stuffed myself with marshmallows, instead of waiting half an hour for food that would sustain me. All I could hear was the scratch of Trent’s fork on his plate as he ate.

It was the beginning of a three-year relapse into anorexia which would nearly wreck our marriage, and it wasn’t until we left our jobs and moved to Korea that I would begin to eat three meals a day, again.

Because sometimes it takes moving to another country to see what you have right in front of you.

I’m better now. I’m eating now—I never skip a meal, and I have two little boys whom doctors said I’d never be able to have, because of the damage anorexia did on my body.

And I’m wondering how many of us settle for the marshmallows when what we’re really hungry for is food that will last?

How many of us, sisters, sit down with a pint of ice cream after a stressful day, or binge on Oreos after the kids go to bed? How many of us try diet after diet but end up filling on junk because we’re just so hungry?

I think of Jesus at the well, with the Samaritan woman. How he asked her for water—but then offered her Living Water in return. He offers us Living Bread—his body.

Because this is what we’re hungry for, isn’t it?

A love so deep and long and wide and high it fills every crevice of our souls; a kind of love that would die for us, a kind that sings over us, a kind that walks through fire with us?

We are born longing for the kind of affection only a divine being can offer. We are born aching for the kind of fullness which comes from an everlasting love.

But it’s not a bag of marshmallows. It’s not fast fame or fleeting praise or accolades.

No, it’s a slow cooked meal and we need to wait, to be patient, as this is the kind of love prepared by a gentle pair of hands which feeds our soul.

Trent still makes me fancy salads. He still makes burgers and corn on the cob and I no longer eat marshmallows. Because I’ve tasted real food and there’s no turning back.

There’s no turning back from love.
268386_Wierenga_WB

All proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.

emily wierengaEmily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.

She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com.

 

For When Your Soul Needs Whitespace

With only a few days left of school, I’m planning to take some time off from writing here on the blog beginning next week. For now, I’ve started a list of things I want to do while I’m taking a break and one of the first things on that list is to finish painting the walls in our living room white. We’ve started, but we haven’t finished, as you can see here.

my living room

Having a plan to finish painting is a normal thing but it is also revealing. First, I’m making a list of things to do during my rest. 

It’s true, doing things around the house is restful for me. But I am also aware of my ability to completely waste a purposeful rest by planning it out like it’s my job. And by the time the “rest” is over, I need a rest from it.

The second, more subtle revelation is this: one of the things on my list is to paint my walls white.

It’s like my eyes are trying to tell my body – You need whitespace. But my body is too literal to speak the poetic language of the soul, so she says, Alright then, get me a paintbrush. Let’s paint something white!

And I think this will help, the white living room walls. But ultimately I need a different kind of whitespace, the kind that fills up the inside – whitespace for my soul.

When I hear the word “whitespace” I think of Bonnie Gray. I first met Bonnie at the (in)courage writers beach retreat in September 2011. I knew her a little before I met her, as I had read her blog for a while and we were both regular contributors for (in)courage. If I had to put my first impression of her into three words, it would be these: tiny, confident, faithful. Here was this little woman with a great big presence. She was like a walking oxymoron and I liked it.

Bonnie & Ann

Ann Voskamp with Bonnie Gray :: 2011

During those few days we were together at the beach, Bonnie got a call from a publisher offering to publish her first book. The publisher was Revell, the same publisher Holley Gerth and I have. And so Holley and I and all the girls celebrated together with her, right there in the beach house, as she was finally going to write her book. It seemed  to be the beginning of something beautiful.

And it was. Just not the kind of beauty she would have chosen.

Any author will tell you the process of bookwriting is hard, much harder than you think it will be for reasons you may not foresee. But for Bonnie, writing her book proved to be a trigger for childhood trauma she had yet to face, ushering her into an unexpected, terrifying time of experiencing PTSD. All while writing a book about finding spiritual whitespace.

Talk about an oxymoron.

Bonnie Gray & Ann Voskamp

As I’m reading her book, I’m getting to know a new Bonnie, someone whose confidence worked against her for a little while, as evidenced in her words here:

“I believed my faith buried my hurt in the past, but I was using faith to hide from the past . . . What’s worked for me since I was a child – staying strong, reading more Scripture, praying more fervently, exerting more self-discipline, applying greater optimism – isn’t going to solve this problem. Jesus has been whispering one phrase into my heart — follow the current downstream.

I’ve rowed my boat upstream for so long, I didn’t know if I could stop.”

Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

While our stories are different, as I get to know Bonnie, I am also getting to know myself.

purple flowers on the beach

My journal I use for morning pages (when I do them) is nearly to the end. I’ll need to start a new one soon. Flipping back to the first pages, I noticed the date: June 2, 2013.

As I read over my writing that first day one year ago, it all sounded so familiar — a longing to be united in my body, soul, and spirit in all things, a longing to move out from a secure place within, all written somewhat urgently — jagged edges and blurred focus.

I smile a little when I read it, recognizing the triggers then as I do now.

The jaggy blur doesn’t indicate a need to simply “take a break” (especially with my tendency to over-plan my breaks). It speaks of something deeper, something Bonnie addresses here:

“Finding spiritual whitespace isn’t about carving out an hour of time to escape the things that stress us. It’s the opposite. It’s getting away from everything we do to distract ourselves from all the hidden pieces — in order to nurture our soul.”

FInding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray

I’m going to keep taking this book to the pool with me this summer, keep reminding myself of the importance of whitespace, keep honoring that desire alive within me that wants to clear the clutter so that I can see what’s most important.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. Her book releases today (woot!) and I’ll be following along on her journey to find rest and learning about my own along the way. You can get your own copy of Finding Spiritual Whitespace here.

One Question No One Ever Asks Me

question

Want to hear an interesting question no one ever asks me? You do?! Here it is: What are the most visited posts on your blog? It’s true, no one ever asks me this because really, who cares, right? But it came up in conversation with Flower Patch Shannan while we were in Indiana so I thought it might be mentioning here.

I actually told her wrong – I thought it was a different, but when I checked my stats, the post that has the most all-time views here at Chatting at the Sky is this one: One Thing Your Daughter Doesn’t Need You to Say. It was one of those I-wrote-it-while-my-neck-was-splotchy-in-frustration kind of posts. As it turns out, frustration is a great motivator for the writing as it seemed to hit a chord with a lot of people.

Of course, I wrote it quickly and hit publish immediately, not fully explaining some of my reasoning. Inevitably some people misunderstood my intent (which is what everyone who has ever written a post that has gone semi-viral says – If I would have known so many people would read it…!)

[Dear Writers Who Put Words On The Internet, Always assume so many people will read it. That doesn’t mean write scared or change what you write, but just know and be prepared and don’t be that girl who tries to backtrack or over-explain. Just write it, own it, know not everyone will get it, and move on. Also have a cookie. Love, emily.]

The second most all-time viewed posts here is this one: 12 Things Your Daughter Needs You to Say which was a sort of follow up to that first one. It’s been a year now since I wrote those posts and they still get hundreds of views everyday, even thousands every now and then.

Both of these posts are written for people who have influence in the life of teenagers, which if you think about it, is basically everyone at some point in our lives.

silly

If you were to ask me what I miss the most about youth ministry, my answer may change depending on the day. But today, I would say the laughter. Nearly a year after John stepped down from his job in student ministry, I am missing the fun parts. Teenagers have this remarkable ability to be deeply thoughtful in one moment and insanely silly the next.

The light-heartedness left-over from childhood hasn’t quite worn off yet. I learn a lot from them.
Graceful (For Young Women) by emily p. freeman

One of the most heart-breaking things to happen in the lives of our young women is to watch that light-heartedness start to fade. It’s one thing for our girls to begin to take on more adult responsibilities, to begin to see the bigger picture and all the world’s sorrow, to begin to recognize her place among it and to feel the normal weight of struggle that comes along with growing up.

But the part where I start to get angry and neck splotchy is when I hear the gospel used as a burden-maker rather than a burden-lifter, when girls start to see their faith as another thing they have to do, another stick by which to measure their okay-ness, another burden to carry around in order to prove something.

Even though John and I don’t work directly with students right now, we will always have our eyes and our ministry trained in their direction. As we begin to get graduation announcements in the mail this week, I’m thinking even more about students, particularly teen girls, their friends and their families.

Graceful (For Young Women)

I sometimes assume you already know I wrote a book for teen girls, but I still hear from regular readers who don’t know and are looking for something similar to Grace for the Good Girl (the book I wrote for women) but would like it for a younger audience.

So here is your friendly reminder to grab a copy of Graceful as a graduation gift for that senior or a thank you gift for your babysitter or a summer book club pick for your high school small group. Here are the direct links to buy Graceful, bearing in mind that right now CBD has the best price (only 7.99 plus shipping).

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / CBD / LifeWay / DaySpring

Graceful Small Group Leader GuideAnd if you want to lead a discussion with your daughter or a group of girls, here is a free small group leader guide for you to download and print that might help you out. Simply click on the image to the left to access it.

And just for fun, the post I told Shannan was the most all-time viewed is actually the third most all-time-viewed: My Stitch Fix Reviews because I thought it was. Turns out that is the most consistently viewed, but not the highest viewed.

Fourth place is this one: Dare You to Paint Your Cabinets Black. And coming in at fifth place is one of the posts I wrote from Uganda: Choosing the One You Least Expect.

Happy weekending, friends. I’ll be back tomorrow with a blessing for the finishers – this time of year, we’re all finishing something, right? See you then.

 

Maybe You’ve Done This Too

Let’s say you’re a teacher of some kind. Maybe a writer, a preacher, a manager, or some kind of leader. Somewhere in your life, you have a place where you express yourself, your ideas, and your perspective on a regular basis.

chatting at the sky

One morning, before you start your work, you peek at your email just to see what’s facing you later in the day, maybe you accidentally open Facebook and see that article from Huffington Post. You click just real quick and end up reading all three pages, even clicking on the links the author recommended.

The article is good and makes you think, as were the links the article led you to and the references those links mentioned.

By now it’s thirty minutes into your work day and you realize you’re exhausted a little bit. Usually you are able to keep your head about these things, but with the lack of sleep last night and the discouraging week you just had, you don’t have much in the way of defense. And you realize this article you read “real quick” represents the fact that everyone else has already said All The Things.

In fact, the entire world-wide web is filled with smart people saying things. Even this piece you’re working on now, the one about the people who have said all the things? Yeah, they’ve said that, too.

People had it so much easier before the internet! I think to myself (Notice I’m using I now. I’ll own this one).

And I sweep the gray cloud of blame for all of my creative woes onto the robotic back of the internet. I decide to take a walk because that seems like the opposite of computers.

The same as yesterday but somehow always new. (From Chatting at the Sky)

The road to the path is quiet this morning, the lamb’s ear in the neighbor’s yard is starting to spill right over the curb. I remember it from last year, growing out of the lawn that way. I always want to touch it but resist. I don’t know why.

I reach the path, the trees surrounding it in their full-leaf glory by this time of year. A green canopy lets only dappled light fall on the dirt at my feet, dirt that only months ago was covered dead leaves. Not today.

Green, the color of summertime. Blue, the sky on a clear morning of a late spring day. These are what we’ve come to expect. If it’s gray, we dress accordingly. Black, we take cover. Orange, well I don’t know. I’ve never seen an orange sky in the middle of the day.

The earth moves through time in a pattern we predict, of light or dark, rainy or dry, warm or cold or mild. We can’t say exactly what will turn up today, but we have an idea depending on where we are in time – the hour, the day, the month, the year.

Still, we marvel when we notice her beauty, wonder at her vastness, grieve over her brokenness, hush when she reveals the mystery of God.

As I walk beneath the green-tinted shadows of the trees with their massive branches and twisted trunks,  I take note of how unapologetic they are in their tree-ness. Trees have always been this way – a maple, a pine, an oak. They are not the same as one another, but they are the same as themselves. They repeat in their patterns, have their own kinds of bark, always, ever growing up and away from the ground because that’s what trees do.

I look around, curious over how all of this is the same as yesterday but somehow also always new.

With each step, I realize I’m doing that thing I do when I am afraid. I’m telling myself it’s all been said and done and read and seen before and so somehow I think this gives me a pass to give up because I can’t help it, you know. It’s the internet’s fault.

 chatting at the sky

Maybe instead of coming up with something new, I’m here to honor the truth of old, to hold the timeless realities close and live like they’re true for me. While we will always change, make progress and move forward, that will come more naturally as we hold on to what we know for sure. Maybe my desire to dazzle in my work is actually hindering my ability to do move forward in my life.

When you hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to you.

For as long as we’re here, we won’t stop repeating ourselves. We’ll watch a re-make of that movie we’ve already seen, read the book, and watch it again. We’ll listen to music by the artist and then we’ll pay green money to go hear them play that same music again, in person this time.

We’ll say I love you in the morning, and then again at night.

We’ll eat everyday, several times a day, then sleep tonight, tomorrow, and the day after that. Every other moment we’ll take a breath and never once roll our eyes to complain because we just did that three seconds ago.

Repetition is woven into the earth and every living thing. These repeating rhythms keep us alive in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, too. I don’t have to be afraid to join the chorus of truth ringing out from the mouths of others. I can say what they’re saying, but I can do it as me. So can you.

Today, if you’re feeling the weight of creativity, refuse to manhandle your art like it’s some kind of ticket to someplace bigger, like if you could just get it right you might finally get what you want.

Instead, hold it lightly in your hand. Agree it’s probably been said. Be willing to say it again.

But first, take some time to stop saying things for a while in order to remember the value of the things in the first place. Maybe when we do that, we’ll repeat the words of Saint Benedict: Always we begin again. And we will.

For more reading on this topic, check out:

What My Sister Taught Me

I’m firmly convinced our genius is at least partially coded into our childhood play. Want to get an idea of how those first graders will change their world? No need to read their spelling words. Just show up at recess.

But I don’t know about all that yet, because it’s 1985 and we’ve got the day ahead of us, no plans but the Barbie world. We huddle over the pile of pink goodness ready to piece out what belongs to whom today. I’m eight and it’s my big sister’s turn to pick first.

myquillyn and emily

I study her choices carefully – the pink cabinet, the blue and pink pillows, the cushy sofa. These three must be the top items in the pile since she chose them first. I end up with a lopsided table I don’t know what to do with. Barf me out.

Days later, it’s my turn to pick first. I know just what to do! Pink cabinet, blue and pink pillows, cushy sofa. Yes!

I look up at her after my clean sweep, unable to hide my victory smile since I obviously just chose all the best stuff. Instead of reacting, she ignores me, and picks the table with the uneven top. Wait, is she trying to psych me out?

What is this? No anger? No you just got all the good stuff lecture? Not only that, she just chose the worst thing in the pile.  The worst thing!

How am I supposed to know how to make my Barbie house beautiful if my teacher keeps picking different furniture?! How am I supposed to know the best stuff if she keeps changing her mind on what the best stuff is? I am having a total cow.

Look at her over there in her corner, busy setting up her awesome space. I lean to one side to watch her work and notice she has that crooked table looking just fine, using it as some kind of loft-like bed for Skipper. I look back at my first-pick choices and they don’t look so great now.

I vow to choose the lopsided table next time. But next time always comes and no matter how I try to catalogue and then copy her choices, it makes no difference. It didn’t matter what she has to work with. She will make it look great, no matter how imperfect the pile.

And while it may on the surface seem like an older sister’s evil plan to make her little sister crazy, I think it simply comes down to this: her gift is that she sees differently.

The Nester's House

That feeling of discontentment, of missing out, of not having something vital I needed to make beauty showed up during those long days of play. I blamed it on the lopsided table and my lack of first pick, but these weren’t my problem.

My problem was I didn’t yet know how to trust my own ideas, couldn’t see beyond the obvious, and wasn’t willing to take a little risk.

My sister had eyes to see the usefulness in the mess and the beauty in the lopsided. Part of her art, even back then, was her eyes could see potential.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned I can have those eyes, too.

Myquillyn didn’t immediately apply this to her real life. But it was always in her, this ability to somehow see beyond the obvious and envision something no one else could.

The Nesting Place

What my eight-year-old self would’ve have done to get my hands on some kind of guidelines for how to have a Barbie house I loved. If only she could have written down her secrets!

Well now she has. And the best part is, her secrets aren’t as secret as you think.

She finally wrote a book is for all the little sisters of the world who doubt they have what it takes to make home (or life) beautiful, waiting for permission and courage to create, take risks, and be ourselves.

Over the years I’ve learned these things from her, valuable lessons practiced in my own home that spill over into everyday life.

The Nesting Place Contentment

She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.

She didn’t teach me where to put my furniture. She taught me it’s okay to move my furniture around.

She didn’t teach me the right way to hang a curtain. She taught me there isn’t only one right way to hang a curtain.

She didn’t lecture me on the latest trends. She taught me how to discover what my own trends are, that’s it’s okay if they’re different from others, and it’s okay when they change.

She didn’t point out what’s wrong with my house. She taught me how every house has a silver lining and home is wherever we are.

homeShe taught me that my house isn’t just about a house. It’s about trusting yourself, making mistakes, trying new things, inviting others in. It’s about community and communion, healing and wholeness, memories and tradition, love and loveliness and hope.

The Nester's House

I truly believe what I said before, that hints of our personal genius hide in our childhood play, what I also like to call our art. I’m so glad my sister had the courage to hold on to hers, to listen to what makes her come alive, to ignore the naysayers who said she was doing it all wrong.

You have a genius art too, and it doesn’t have to be the e equals mc squared kind. It might be the relational kind, the insightful kind, or the kind that moves in the midst of fear. Whatever it is for you, it’s evidence that you are made in the image of God and the first step to uncovering that could simply be finding freedom in your own home.

The Nesting Place

This lovely book – The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful – is finally available everywhere today! Get yourself a copy, your mom a copy, and don’t forget your little sister.

Love you, Sister Girl. So happy you said yes to writing this book. I don’t know how people get on in the world without a big sister to teach them things. I’m so thankful for all you’ve taught me.

nesting place