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.

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.
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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.

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

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.

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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.

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.

Living Life and Taking Notes

Three weeks after John and I got married, we went on a mission trip with high school students from our church to serve for a week in Washington D.C.

We stayed in a little church in the city, slept on the floor in sleeping bags – girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. One of the days we were there was a Sunday so we worshipped with the small congregation, complete with raised hands and a super-charged sermon.

church

The students loved every minute of it. All we heard the whole five hour drive home was about how our home church was missing the point and how this new church in D.C. really loved Jesus and knew what praising God was all about.

And I was slightly livid.

Because what I and a handful of leaders knew (but what these kids didn’t know) was that ten minutes before we pulled out of the parking lot of this church to go home, one of the leaders of the church was changing his mind about how much we owed them for staying there, going back on a previously agreed upon amount. He accused us of lying and tried hard to get more money before we left.

Even if he had been the most God-fearing man on the planet, I still wouldn’t have been crazy about the students placing this little church up on a pedestal like they did. But knowing about the corruption of one of the leaders made listening to their talk even more difficult.

That trip was nearly thirteen years ago and I’ve been on a lot of trips since then. Most recently, Uganda.

First, let me say visiting another country for a week hardly counts as a cross-cultural experience.

I had a breath, more like half of one breath of experiencing Uganda. But it was a glimpse into a way of life different from mine and a daily rhythm foreign to mine. I could learn a lot from those I met there.

I know the temptation of elevating another experience or culture over my own simply because it’s different. I don’t recommend that mentality.

But considering how others live in comparison with how we live could be a wise and humble effort – not because any group or culture has figured out how to live right and certainly knowing that every small group, large group, tribe, and nation will have a fair share of shifty and manipulative people.

Still, it’s important to value the good things we see in others without disrespecting our own roots. The easy action is to elevate one and throw out the other. It takes time, commitment and humility to learn, consider, and then thoughtfully integrate. Agreeing that my way isn’t the only way (and sometimes isn’t the best way) is good for me.

notes from a blue bikeMy friends Tsh and Kyle have experienced way more than half of one breath outside of this country. They lived for years in Turkey – worked jobs, bought fruit, had babies. They had a true cross-cultural experience as a family and Tsh is sharing about it in her new book, Notes from a Blue Bike.

“We’ll take our rich experiences from life in another culture and redefine them into gifts to open here in the Western world. We would take the beauty of life in a slow, relationship-based culture and mold it into something beatiful and useful in our native culture, where the prevailing mark of a good day is getting a lot done.”

Tsh doesn’t merely recount all the ways her life in Turkey was better than her life here. That list would have made me crazy and slightly defensive. Rather she works hard to answer this question: Can we live effectively in the U.S. without productivity as our primary goal?

I am addicted to measureable productivity. Admittedly less so than in the past, but on days when I get little done, I have to wrestle through my own judgements of myself. I am daily learning how to be committed to my work while at the same time, not elevating it over what is truly my desire: communion with God and one another.

Unfortunately for my productive self, the results of communion remains maddeningly un-measurable.

But the value of communion is spectacularly immeasurable. 

This is what I hold on to.

Tsh reminds me of the choices I have in my own life to live with intention now. I don’t have to move to a different country to experience the benefit of a slower pace of living and I don’t have to discount my life here as less-than or wrong. Rather I learn what I can from others and uncover ways to weave in what matters most. We can find our own blue bikes to ride right where we are.

(subscribers click here to see a short video)

notes from a blue bikeI couldn’t help myself, y’all. I had to Waterlogue Tsh and her book. (!!)

Tsh is a mama, a writer, and a friend of mine. She wrote Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World and is the creator of The Art of Simple. You can also find her in a quiet corner of the internet on her own personal site aptly named Tsh Oxenreider.

Whenever I need to reevaluate what my family values most, I turn to her work. After reading this book, I felt like I had gone on a trip with Tsh as my guide–not to a foreign land, but a trip into the land of possiblity for all the important areas of my life. I deeply appreciate her kind and honest perspective on living with intention, especially her thoughts on money, schooling, and love.

And that is what I wrote in my endorsement in the front of the book. I put my name on this one. It’s a keeper for sure.

For When You Feel Restless for More

shadows

In January three years ago, I wrote a post called How to Live Big. You can read the whole thing, but here’s a blurb:

God writes big stories, stories that seem impossible. And they are, if you think about it. He seems to take great interest in impossible stories, and I think they’re interesting, too. But I rarely raise my hand to live them.

I write small stories. Everyday, I write stories for my life that include comfort and fun and entertainment. I live inside my little story like coloring a sunshine yellow – I stay in the lines and keep to the plan. Suns are supposed to be yellow, right? I am a rule-follower.

I wrote those words before my first book came out, 25 days after that email from Annie when she declared 2011 the year of making art. It was a time when I was wrestling with my own fear, a time when I was stepping out of my own small stories. Looking back on that time now, I would replace the word small with the word scared.

In those days, I used those words interchangeably. Not so anymore.

It’s true, God writes big stories. But we can only see that from here looking back. His big stories started with smallness: five loaves, two fish, a foot washing, a mustard seed, a fisherman, a shepherd boy, a baby.

But I felt restless in those days, wanting to write words that mattered, wanting to parent in a way that meant something, wanting to have a voice, wanting my life to count for something beyond myself. If I’m honest, I also wanted to be successful, the definition of success changing for me depending on what success looked like for my peers. I still struggle with the definition of success, actually.

Last year when we were brainstorming titles for my third book, one of the phrases I tossed into the pile was the title of that post, How to Live Big. You should know that it wasn’t a serious contender, but in titling discussions, anything goes and you can’t be afraid of bad ideas.

When I said it, I was sitting in my parked car in my driveway on the phone with Esther, my agent. We talked for an hour, trying to find just the right phrase. When I said this one out loud, her response was this: “Meh. Do people really want to live big?”

I had to think about that for a while. In fact, I’ve thought about it now for a long while.

I don’t know if I 100 percent disagree with that post I wrote, but if I were to re-write it, I would word it differently. A lot differently.

Now, my restlessness feels different. I am careful not to color the word small in negative shades, as if it were something to run from or escape.

It almost seems like an oxymoron, but these days I’m feeling restless for smallness – not out of fear of man but because of my union with Christ.

I want to start small because I’m human and dependent, not in hopes that my small will grow into something bigger. Maybe starting small will remind me that is what I am – and Jesus will give me the grace to stay there – even when it hurts and even when it’s hard.

I’m restless to stay small in His presence, not because I’m scared, but because I’m His.

I want this to be a relief rather than a frustration.

I’m restless to accept  the beauty of smallness, hiddenness, and the secret work of Christ in the deepest part of who I am.

I’m restless to let Him come out of me in any way He wants, no matter how big or how small that may seem to me – whether that be in one big way or in a million little ways.

I’m restless for believers to see, as my dad often says, beyond what is to what could be. And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust Him to be Himself even as I dare to be myself.

And maybe as I do that, I’ll realize that starting small isn’t a means to a bigger end, rather I start small because it’s what I am.

And this is good and right and holy.

***

restlessMy friend Jennie Allen writes in her new book Restless: Because You Were Made for More, “We are called to dream but we’re afraid to. But because we are called, when we don’t act on it we become restless—restless to find purpose, to make a difference in the world, to matter.”

She urges believers to pay attention to what causes our restlessness, as this could be the very doorway through which the Spirit is urging us to walk.

During the month of January, we’re talking about some of these same concepts, what I like to call making art with our lives – this week specifically, what it means to make art in little ways. Maybe one little way you could make art today is to consider this question: Can you name the restlessness within you? What is pulling, tugging, and causing a bit of discomfort in your soul?

If you have an answer and would like to receive a copy of this new release, simply leave a comment telling us of your restlessness and from those we’ll pick five of you and share the winners on Saturday, January 11.

10 Books for the People in Your Life

One of my favorite gifts to give and to receive is books. As I look at some of books I’ve read (or hope to read) this year, I thought about the different people in my life I would give them to so of course, I made a list. Maybe this list will help you, too?

books for the hard to shop for

Several of these I’ve mentioned here before, but this time I wanted to give you an idea of specific people in your life who might enjoy receiving one of these books:

For your Teenage Niece, Babysitter, or Little Sister: Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter by Annie Downs

For the New Father: Know When to Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood by John Blase

For the New Mother: Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn by Melanie Shankle

For the Writer: The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron

For the College Student: The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing by Jeff Goins

For the Contemplative: Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction by David G. Benner

For the Cook: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist

If you’re thinking of picking up one of my books, here are some people in your life who might enjoy them:

books by emily p. freeman

For the woman who needs a break: Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try Hard Life

For the teen girl who may be under a lot of stress: Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life

For the person who is starting something new (but is terrified): A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

Recently I did an interview with Joe Brookhouse at Frequency.FM about A Million Little Ways. The podcast is live now and if you need a little company as you wrap the Christmas gifts, maybe Joe and I can be that for you. We talk about art, writing, and creativity. And there’s a little Christa Wells and Ellie Holcomb music worked in, which might be why I enjoyed this interview so much.

You can listen to it here.

Just a quick reminder: I hope to see you back here tomorrow where we will unwrap our Tuesday gifts for the last time this year.

Finally, a little glimpse into my writing life. Lately it’s been a struggle for me to write. It’s a combination of the natural post-partum-esque (I’m making up words now) discouragement that comes a few months after releasing a book combined with the simple fact that I haven’t been writing consistently. Today at (in)courage, I share with you some of my thoughts on that struggle.