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

What’s Coming Up at CATS

Several years after starting this blog, somewhere around 2008, I was going along, taking myself seriously writing all my thoughts and what-nots. Then, one day in the midst of a blog re-design, I get an email from my designer titled “CATS ideas”. I’m all, Why is she giving me ideas about cats?  I don’t even have a cat.

chatting at the sky

It took me way too much thought and confusion before finally, oh. CATS. Chatting at the Sky. It could be worse, I guess.  Those poor people whose blog names are See High in Texas. Or Have Every Little Lovely. I’ll take the cats.

It’s innevitable these things come down to acronyms. Now it’s normal for me to refer to the blog as CATS, though I try to limit this to my own notes and private lists, lest someone be confused and think I have an actual cat blog. My books are all abbreviated, too. GftGG (pronounced G-fa-da-GG) and AMLW (pronounced A-EM-EL-Way).

While I’m at it, when I’m counting money by twenties? “Tootie-Forty-Sixty-Eighty.” I don’t know what to say about that.

So in CATS news (when typing, it always comes out CAYS first without exception) here is what’s coming up:

April 25-26 :: (in)courage in Real Life is today and tomorrow. Are you signed up to watch? It’s free.

April 27 ::  John preaches at our church! If you’re local, come visit Hope Chapel and listen to John talk about Colossians and Jesus and the hidden life.

April 30:  We’ll share What We Learned in April, our monthly community link up. Do you have your list ready?

May 1 :: The second month of Hope*ologie content will roll out with a brand new focus. April our theme has been Goals and Intention. May is all about Embracing Imperfection. I’m actually in Charlotte right now, recording, writing, and finishing up Hope* content for May. April is still live until the 30th, so if you join now you’ll have access to both months.

hopeologie instagram

Follow hope*ologie on Instagram. 

May 3 :: The Nesting Place book release party in Cornelius, NC. Go here for all the details. John and I will be there with the whole family to celebrate my sister’s beautiful new book. And all those waiting for permission to fully embrace the imperfect home we’re in breathe a sweet sigh of relief because finally, a book for us.

July 24-25 :: I’ll be at the She Speaks Conference again this summer, offering two workshops this year: From Blog to Book with my editor, Andrea Doering, during the pre-conference on Thursday and Back to the Basics: Write Like an Artist during the main conference on Friday. I hope to see some of you there.

And finally, last week I ran a guest post by my friend Claire, where she offered to give her book away to 3 people. The winners of her new book, Hope Runs, are Dolly at Soul Stops, LeeAnn Taylor, Debby Sheldon. Check your email for details.

Hope to see some of you soon!

Hope Runs (a story and a giveaway)

Today I’m happy to host my friend Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire), author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Read on to hear her tell the lovely true story of her new book, Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption. I endorsed it with pleasure and highly recommend it. Here’s Claire:

This story does not end where it started. Because where it started was nowhere near the red dirt of Africa, or the tiny hands of little girls in party dresses running alongside me on those red dirt roads.

DSC_0118s

This story started on a trip. A trip for an eager twenty-something that spanned the globe. A trip that spanned nineteen countries of buses and hiking and zoos (yes, zoos) and milky tea and hundreds of books read and hundreds of mosquito bites suffered and hundreds of miles run in far-flung locales.

The trip, as it were, was to end in Kenya, where a mountain climb proved to be the final capstone to a year well done, to a story well lived in the world at large. But before a mountain could be climbed, a night had to be slept, and that was where the story went awry.

Because when they suggested that very guest house – a cheap place to stay the night before the climb, it didn’t matter that an orphanage happened to own it – my best friend and I agreed.

And in those first hours at the place of green and blue in the Kenyan highlands, when the orphanage elders asked us for lunch before leading us to our quarters for the evening, it all changed.

Because God showed up. Or rather, showed His face where He had always been.

In the middle of the lunch, in the improbable moments of that bright, sunny, tired, hungry afternoon, when I asked Him a question – THE question – the biggest question I had ever before had, he was there.

And here is what I asked:

If you have put this place in my path to change my story, open my eyes so I can see.

And He opened my eyes.

We stayed a year at that orphanage. We started a running program, and then a nonprofit organization called Hope Runs, with a mission to help orphaned and vulnerable children through extracurricular programming and education.

We ran, and ran, and ran through red dirt as far as the eye can see.

"Hope Runs"  Nyeri, Kenya.  May 12 and 13, 2007.

image by J. Carrier

In a year, stories change.

In the first hours of that year, I met a small boy who was older (thirteen, to be exact) than he looked. He asked me about a Senator named Barack Obama and then about David and Goliath and then stuck by my side, never letting up, for the rest of that year.

And when it came time to leave Kenya and for my story to move on to other places, I knew he was meant to come as well. Come with me back to a land of cheddar cheese and smooth roads and hot showers: the United States. Because that, I saw, was the next part of the story.

Sammy, now 21, changed my life in a way I could have never imagined. And, in turn, I changed his. Our story, about our strange family of faults and love, is now here, in paper, in a book they say we wrote but I say we lived.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is that story.

Each of us has a story inside – dozens, hundreds, thousands of them – and I believe in the power of sharing that story. To see our way through, and to live the next step.

To celebrate the launch of Hope Runs, I’m giving away a free ebook, Share Your Story, which I wrote to talk about the power of story in our lives. Download it here.

Hope Runs Cover

And, Win A Copy of Hope Runs:

To win one of three copy of Hope Runs, do one or more of the following things. Leave 1 comment on this post for every item you do.

  • Like this blog post on Facebook.
  • Tweet this blog post.
  • Post this blog post on Pinterest.

Remember, for each thing you do, leave one comment. (So, if you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, that would be three comments.)

(Or, buy a copy of Hope Runs and get $150 in freebies.)

Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire) is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. She writes at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com.

Sammy Ikua Gachagua had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. By age ten, he was living in a shack with seven other children and very little food. He entered an orphanage seeing it as a miracle with three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clothes on his back.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is the unlikely story of Claire, the American tourist and Sammy, the Kenyan orphan – a story you won’t soon forget.

Survey Results and A Kind Thank You

The last time I checked, over 1500 of you have offered your feedback in the survey I sent out last week. And though that number only represents a fraction of you who are reading, your responses to the 8 question survey have come at just the right time.

chatting at the skyI expected to get an idea of what you’d like to see more of, to see less of, and to get some insight into where my passions and your needs intersected a bit more specifically.

What I didn’t expect was for your answers to those 8 silly questions to so profoundly remind me who I am and why I do this.

So thank you for taking the time to affirm and confirm some things for me. For example, when I asked you if you could only choose ONE topic to read about here, this is what you said:

favorite topic chatting at the sky

1. Everyday Faith (39%)

2. Rest & Simplicity (11%)

3. Art (9%)

4. Courage (7%)

5. For Your Weekend (7%)

These five categories made up 73% of the favorites, with the remaining 27% spread out among the other 17 categories. When I asked what topics you didn’t want to read about here, 932 of you straight up skipped the question. I take this as a good sign.

This isn’t the kind of place you come to because of a specific topic, even though I know many of you have some specific interests you prefer.

For the most part, you come here to pause,  take a breath, and to remember the simplicity and depth of your faith in a fast-moving world. And this is exactly why I write here. I’m glad we’ve found each other.

On to the most important question of the survey (or at least the most fun), here is where our lives are reflected back to us in the form of primetime television:

If your life was a TV showI love us.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to weigh in on the survey (there is an opportunity to write in feedback if you so choose), you can do that here.

Thank you all again for joining me as we walk, crawl, struggle, and sometimes run in faith together.

Tomorrow we’ll be sharing What We Learned in March – I hope to see you back here then!

In Which I Ask for Your Opinion

chatting at the skyIf you and I ever go to a movie together, I’m sure we will have a lot of fun. We will share popcorn and I’ll forget the napkins so one of us will have to run out during the previews to get some. And by “one of us” I mean you because I love me some previews.

Half-way through the movie, I will pull out the king-size bag of peanut M&M’s from my purse and you will pull out the family pack of Twizzlers (red not black, obviously) and we will share and share alike as we enjoy our film and gain exactly 14 pounds each and promptly pass out into a sugar coma.

When the movie is over and we wake from our coma, I will be so glad we came and it will be a lovely night together. Unless you turn to me just as the credits begin to roll, eager look on your face, loud words in your mouth, and say, “SO? WHAT DID YOU THINK?!”

If you do this, I will still like you, but I will not answer you. I will stare at you with wide-eyes, willing  you to stop all that talking. I will continue my silence at least until we leave the theater, preferably until we get to the car. Because Emily doesn’t talk about movies while she’s still in the theater.

Strange? Yes. Absurd? Probably. Controlling? Absolutely.

Offering my opinion while the credits are still rolling is not something I do. I would prefer to wait a week until I gave you my opinion, but that’s ridiculous and I am a reasonable woman. It isn’t that I don’t have opinions, I just like to hold them close at first. And I certainly don’t want the strangers behind me to hear them.

Today, this blog is our movie. And I want to respect your right to your own opinion because I know how important that is. I also don’t want to be your annoying (but well-meaning) friend who loudly asks you what you think in a way you aren’t comfortable with, which is why I pretty much never ask you your opinion on this space.

But the truth is, I would like to know what you think about some things. In the car. On the way home.

After eight years of writing online through various seasons of my own life, I have found a comfortable rhythm here, what I sense is a fairly strong connection between what I enjoy writing and what you want to read. I’m thankful for that, thankful for you. 

This Howard Thurman quote comes to mind, the one that has made its way around the internet about a billion times about not asking what the world needs. Incase you haven’t seen it, it goes like this:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

-Howard Thurman

Howard Thurmond was a smart and accomplished man. And I agree with him, I do. Too many times in my life I have looked outside of myself to figure out what other people think I’m supposed to do rather than listen to my own life and move as an artist who actually has a mind of her own.

But when it comes to a group of people I already connect with and serve – you – it could be helpful to ask now and then what this particular world needs. Now that we’re several years into it, it seems wise to venture out of the theater, find our way to the car, pull the door closed and look you in your eyes.

So, what do you think?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that cold. I would be ever so grateful if you would take two minutes and answer these 8 multiple choice questions to help me sharpen my focus here a bit. I don’t plan to change things as much as I plant to focus. Of these 10 things I enjoy writing, which ones do you most enjoy reading? That kind of thing.

If you also subscribe to my newsletter, you received a link to fill this survey out yesterday. If you did already, thanks so much! Your answers are already surprising me a bit. I can’t wait to see what the rest of you might have to say. Would you take a moment and give me your anonymous and optional opinion? (I can’t wait to see which TV show you are!)

take the survey

One question that isn’t on the survey but that this post has made me wonder about – As a readerwhat do you need? I’m not going to put any restrictions on that question, if something comes to mind, would you put it in the comments? You’re the best.

The Real Job of a Writer

As a writer, I sometimes forget what my real job is. When I’m rushed or under a deadline, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking my job is to string words together in some creative way resulting in a variety of desired outcomes for me or the reader. Hopefully both.

the real job of a writerObviously a writer has to actually write. But my job, even before writing, is to pay attention.

Listening with all my senses is my first real job. When I remember nothing begins with me and purpose to stay small in the presence of others (not in a woe-is-me kind of way, but in a you-have-something-to-teach-me way), the writing not only comes more naturally, but is more full and textured.

This listening posture is a lifestyle, not a decision I make because I have a deadline coming up.

Pay Attention to the World Around Me

There are different ways of listening. First, I pay attention to the world around me. My brain is now trained to listen for certain concepts and perspectives no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If I hear something true about faith, grace, or creativity, it’s going to catch my attention and inform my own thinking by either confirming what I already believe or challenging me to see things differently.

Here’s an example.

On my way down to Charlotte this weekend, I listened to Here’s the Thing, a podcast with Alec Baldwin. On this episode, Alec Baldwin interviews Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live and the man responsible for launching the careers of Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Will Farrell, Bill Murray and way too many others for me to list out.

From episode 8 of Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, orginally aired January 30, 2012:

Alec Baldwin: Now you have this great success – you have THE great success – in late night television, and then you have success in primetime television, you’ve produced TV shows particularly now, that have done well, and you have great success in film. But you’ve never worked in cable.

Lorne Michaels: Well, I did with “Kids in the Hall” and I did now with Fred in “Portlandia” which is on IFC.

Alec Baldwin: Do you feel you haven’t been as aggressive in cable as you might have been?

Lorne Michaels: I think at the end of the day…

Alec Baldwin: You’re more comfortable with network – I’ve grown to prefer network because you’ve gotta walk that tightrope and you can’t just go crazy.

Lorne Michaels: Yes, to me, there’s no creativity without boundaries. If you’re gonna write a sonnet, it’s fourteen lines. So it’s solving the problem within the container. I think for me, commercial television and those boundaries, I like it. I like that you can’t use certain language. I like that you have to be bright enough to figure out how to get your ideas across in that amount of time with intellegience being the thing that you hope is showing. Not officially, but you want it to be, “Oh, that was kind of bright.”

After hearing him say this - There’s no creativity without boundaries - I paused the podcast, made a note in my phone voice recorder, and continued to listen. I agree wholeheartedly with Lorne Michaels on this point, something I’ve written about here on the blog and in A Million Little Ways.

I’ve thought a lot about this concept so my ear is now trained to notice it. When I hear it again from different perspectives, I write it down.

Pay Attention to the World Within Me

But there is another way of listening, a way I am sometimes loath to practice. As a writer, I take seriously the job of  listening to my own life. I don’t always like what I hear which is why this kind of listening is more difficult than the first.

The very thing Lorne Michaels pointed out in that interview, the concept about creativity I agree with and have written about myself, is the reality I slam up against in my own writing and life.

I face the limiting factors of insecurity, fatigue, doubt, pressure, and time. For example, today I have to work within the practical limit that it’s March 18 and our kids are out of school again because of icy roads. And I want to point to the external limit and say that there is what is keeping me from being creative today. When really, the lack of a consistent writing schedule lately is forcing me to be creative. Not necessarily in my work, but in my life.

How will I decide to spend these extra unexpected days? How will I handle the unplanned? How will I respond when the schedule doesn’t allow for me to do what I hoped and wanted to do? The easy, uninspired way is to be frustrated. This takes zero creativity. But the real challenge for me is to walk into this day with new eyes – to decide to see, handle, and face the ordinary in a different kind of way.

This is when there is no creativity without boundaries actually matters. It’s easier to face the limits in my writing than it is to face the limits in my life. Feel discouraged in your writing? Be brave! You have a job to do! You’re a writer after all.

But feel discouraged in my living and it gets tougher to pep-talk me out of. Especially when my living is keeping me from my writing. See how twisted this can get?

It’s ugly, but it can also be a thin place – a place where heaven touches earth in a mysterious kind of way because this is your real life. This is where Christ wants to meet me, as I stand in the midst of my own limiting factors. When I am my own limiting factor.

 This is when living is art is living.

Paying attention is the writer’s real job – in my world and in my life. Otherwise, the writing will be empty and meaningless.

If you would like to receive a free copy of Seven Little Ways to Live Art - an ebook that accompanies my full-length book on uncovering the art you were made to live - simply enter your email address here and click newsletter. I plan to send the March newsletter out this week and will include content you won’t find anywhere else.

One Book I’m Surprised to Enjoy

This weekend I started reading The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir by Joan Didion. It sounds hopeful and whimsical from the title but one page in you will realize this is a book about grief. 

The Year of Magical ThinkingI actually knew this going in and I decided to read it anyway. For me, a woman with a curious blend of sunshine and brood, this is an unlikely choice. On the one hand, I tend to want the books I read to be life-giving in an obvious sort of way (sunshine). But I am also capable of work myself into an irrational, breathless fear over nothing. I have a tendency to imagine grief-filled scenarios on my own (brooding).

In high school I once wrote in my journal, I’m in the mood to be depressed. Who says this? Someone who doesn’t need to be reading sad books, that’s who.

Still, I’m learning to be intentional about choosing books to read that I may not at first be naturally drawn to and then giving them a fair chance as  I read. It seems like the healthy, grown up thing to do.

I haven’t been able to put this book down, sneaking in paragraphs during commercials and lapses in conversation. She tells her story in an  immediate and honest sort of way, pulling out ordinary details to describe her unthinkable reality.

To see grief and loss through her experience is for me fascinating, heart-breaking, and strangely comforting. I haven’t finished it yet so it could take a turn, but so far I would recommend it.

Have you read a book you were surprised to enjoy? Or not enjoyed a book you thought you would? Tell us in the comments so we can edit our book lists.