why sinking is the only way to float

She is our first-born (by three minutes) and we put Grace in her name, right in the middle. It’s a word I spent many years circling around with eyes narrowed and arms crossed, a word I thought I understood. But that was back when I knew everything.

Those early days of walking confidently up to grace when I thought I had it figured out come back to me this morning. I shake my head, feel my cheeks grow warm. I have so much to learn. This grace that comes from the hand of God, this grace that is God, is not just a thing to be figured out or a theology to be dissected.

We put grace up on our two-pan balance scale and try to come up with something that will balance it out on the other side. But grace wins every time, stays heavy on the right, sinks hard into the middle of my good intentions and mixed-motives. Grace doesn’t budge no matter what I come up with.

To write anything about God and the gospel feels presumptuous. What could I possibly say? I tip-toe up to grace now, head bowed down low, eyes  stinging, hands open. Sometimes I think we make it all a bit complicated. We have our degrees and our affiliations and we intellectualize our points. There is a place for that, there is. I don’t normally feel comfortable sitting there, though.

Small is fast becoming my new home. Sometimes it hurts to be small. We work so hard to be big, and sometimes we catch a glimpse of it. If they don’t see how big we are? Then we must become bigger. There are many rights I think I have and I hold them with both hands.

But Jesus came down. Became poor. Became less. Became small.

While I was in California a short time ago, it was an honor to sit down with Charles Morris of Haven Today to talk about grace. Just saying that speeds up my heart, because what could I possibly have to say? But we all have a story to tell and it’s one that ultimately isn’t about us.

We sink heavy into our own smallness, and it’s in that place where we lose our life. And also find it. If you would like to listen in while you fold the towels or make the dinner or sort the mail that has come to your door, here is the link.

Since it’s part of her name, I think of grace every time I call her. Every time she lags behind, skins her knee, shouts at her brother, reads me her book, runs to the neighbor’s house – every place she is, there is grace. It fits there in the middle. It floats around her as she plays. I pray she grows to know that even though she will never fully understand what her name means, she will also never be able to escape it. And that is a gift.

learning to live a good story

The classroom is freezing. Doesn’t the school system need money? Why is the thermostat set so low? I look around the room at the students wrapped up in sweaters, double crossing their legs, teeth-chattering endlessly. Maybe it’s just to keep them awake. School will be out for summer in a few days. It can’t come soon enough.

It’s 2001, and I’ve been working as a sign language interpreter in a high school for two years now. I’m good at it. Sometimes Deaf people ask me if I’m Deaf when they see me sign. That is the highest compliment. I have my degree in Educational Interpreting, but I want to get certified nationally. That is my highest goal, at least I think it is. But the wedding is in a month. The exam will have to wait.

reaching for a goal

I walk into the exam room, the six-hour drive to Atlanta lingers in my back. I’m yawning and the examiner asks if I’m tired. I tell her yes, but I’m not. I yawn when I get nervous, and I’ve never been more so. She leaves the room after setting up the camera. I’m supposed to start signing as soon as I hear a voice. The red light is blinding. I’m being taped, and I’m a nervous wreck.

It’s 2002. I can’t stop shaking. I really want this, but I’m not sure why. When I get it, I’m sure I’ll feel legitimate.

getting what you want

The letter I’ve been waiting for is finally here. I don’t want to open it, but I must. I think I might be sick. It’s been three months since I took that test, but the nerves flood back like I’m taking it now. I put a finger through the hole between the paper and the adhesive. Congratulations. I’ve finally arrived. Now my degree, the studying, the money, the scholarship, and all that time? Now they’re worth it. This paper is proof.

I don’t feel any different.

saying no

They tell me I can use a golf cart to get around campus if I need to. She hands me the keys and I can’t help but laugh. The twins aren’t due for four more months, but I’m big. Really big. I already can’t see my feet. My boss knows that the forty-hour work week is starting to take a toll on my body, especially since the university is big and some of the classes I interpret in are far apart. I feel ridiculous, but I use the golf cart anyway. It is awesome.

They are kind to me. I’m dreading the conversation I must have soon. I’m quitting. For years I’ve been listening in on conversations between people, teachers, students, friends. I’ve interpreted from one language into another. But I long to be home. I long to have a voice. I long for connection. I’m tired of watching.

seeing yellow

It’s 2005 and it’s been a long day. The twins are both finally asleep and the house is quiet. They’ll be two soon. An interpreting agency called today. I told them no. Again. I need to earn more CEUs to keep my certification active, but the idea exhausts me.

There is something strong I can’t shake, something I think the Lord keeps telling me. It’s time to write, he says. I’m excited. And also terrified. Yellow is dancing around in my head. Writing is yellow. The things that make us come alive always are.

what saying no does

Being good at something doesn’t automatically mean you should do it. During those years of pursing sign language interpreting, in many ways I was living on the outside, doing what was expected, waiting for permission to come alive. The permission never came. It still hasn’t, actually. Do you know what came instead?

Desire.

Desire pursues you, hunts you down with sharp eyes and true words and begs you to turn around. For me, it was a desire to influence. And the form it took for me was writing.

It’s 2012 and today, a letter came in the mail:

Dear Emily Freeman:

We regret to inform you that your RID record shows that you did not meet the CEU requirements for your certification cycle that ended December 31, 2011.

 Unfortunately, this means that we are required to revoke your certification.

I cried a little when I read it. Not because I have regrets, but because I don’t. Saying no to interpreting didn’t come all at once, but it did come. I used to feel guilty about that, like maybe it meant I had wasted my time. I don’t believe that anymore.

That gradual no led to an eventual yes.

At the same time I began saying no to interpreting, I began to say a small, timid yes to mothering and to writing, a shadow-love leftover from my childhood life that I still held dear but didn’t know it.

I’ve been writing on purpose and in public since 2006. I wrote a book that came out last fall and in many ways, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hello, my guts are on sale at Barnes and Noble for 13 dollars. And also you are free to give my guts one star on Amazon, if you so choose.

But writing a book doesn’t mean I was living a good story. Writing stories isn’t the same thing as living them. Even though I just told you that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I will contradict myself and tell you the book was the easy part compared to the living of it. How can I tell you of grace unless I have taken the cup with both hands and been filled with the sharp, hot truth? I can’t recommend something I’ve not tasted.

So I taste. And then I tell.

Sometimes I get email from women asking me what it means to trust God, really. They don’t want the obvious, routine, clean answer. It doesn’t matter what I say, because if I can’t answer that question with my real life, then none of this counts.

Today I’m joining a group of writers at Prodigal Magazine, all writing on what it means to live a good story. It was harder than I thought having that question roll around in my head, Am I living a good story? How do I know? Then I got that letter in the mail, and it reminded me of some things. If you want to share your own story, head over to Prodigal Magazine - they’ll tell you how.

the life that changes everything

The escalator moves too slowly. I’m desperate to catch the bus. I’m asleep, but my mind doesn’t know that. All my mind knows is Dancing With The Stars is about to start and I’m definitely going to miss the star-shaped bus that take me to the studio.

Did I mention I’m asleep? And also that I don’t even watch Dancing With the Stars?

It’s just an example of the running-to-catch-up feeling I have lately. When I don’t acknowledge it in my waking, it swirls around in my dreams. My jaw is in a constant state of tight. It’s like my face is poised for a punch at a moments notice. I sit at my computer, check the email, sip the coffee, drive to the post office, stand in front of the flowers at the grocery store, and the whole time, I clench.

I think about Africa, the Philippines, North Carolina, and heaven. I think about politics and Jesus and American Idol and dinner. I think about the pool opening soon and also children who don’t have clean water. I think about pajama day at preschool and how I’m not sure I have any clean. I think about writing. I think about love.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples that it was better that he go away. They couldn’t imagine how it could be better for him to be gone, but Jesus doesn’t tell lies so they struggled through his truth. The truth didn’t feel true. That’s the way it is sometimes. But the truth is, the only thing better than having Jesus beside us is having Jesus within us.

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever, that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”

John 14:16-17

His life within us changes everything. And if it doesn’t, then we need to re-think some things. I’ve been doing some re-thinking lately. What have you been thinking about?

p.s. Excited about yesterdays response to the loosely organized book club this summer! Working on details and some ideas – will update you next week.

introverts in the church (and my house)

A few months ago, I got an email from Adam S. McHugh after I wrote a post about wanting to read Quiet by Susan Cain. He mentioned his book, Introverts in the Church, and offered to send me a copy. He did, I sent him a copy of my book, and we’ve been online email friends ever since. His book has been in my stack for a while now, and I’m slowly working my way through it.

The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith & Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

I haven’t finished Introverts yet, but so far I’m both enjoying it and learning things:

  • I am an introvert with lots of extroverted tendencies.
  • Just because I don’t always think fast on my feet does not mean I lack intelligence.
  • Adam is way smarter than me.

Through reading his book (along with Rhett Smith’s The Anxious Christian), I’ve been thinking a lot about what parts of my personality are designed by God and what parts are things that could perhaps use a bit of healing. Adam says this:

“The challenge lies in distinguishing between the healthy components of our personalities, those that are natural and to be celebrated, and the coping mechanisms that are symptoms of our wounds.”

Today I’m writing over at his place, where I wrestle with the question: Am I allowing my daughter to write her own story or am I inadvertently projecting my personality onto her life? Big question, short post. Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and thanks to Adam for the opportunity to write at his place. Visit Adam’s blog to read When Your Kid Is An Introvert (ish).

grace for your pocket

“Peace is My continual gift to you … I have designed you to need Me moment by moment. As your awareness of your neediness increases, so does your realization of my abundant sufficiency. I can meet every one of your needs without draining My resources at all.”

Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

The clock said 3:42 when I woke up this morning. It was one of those wakings where you know you’re not going back to sleep. My first thought when I walked down the stairs was I need to make a list. This is not a good sign. When you wake up before 4 in the morning thinking you need to make a list, something is a little off.

Still, I found my Moleskine, grabbed a fat pen, and made a ridiculous list while the coffee brewed. The list is impossible. I promise. I know you believe me because I’m fairly certain you carry some version of your own impossible list. And so those words above from today’s Jesus Calling can be a daily grace for us both.

that other thing that happened on Good Friday

“He offered himself as a mirror they could see themselves in, and they were so appalled by what they saw that they smashed it. They smashed him every way they could.”

Barbara Brown Taylor in Bread and Wine

It is one thing to consider the events of the crucifixion from history, that it really did happen to an innocent man all those many years ago. It is another thing to consider ourselves among his executioners, ones calling for him to be crucified. And there I stood and still stand to be sure, considering myself as one able to judge when I have no righteousness of my own to fall back on. In my flesh, on my own, I smash the truth I see of myself in his presence. I cannot look upon my own inadequacy with peace. It is too terrible.

But it is yet another thing all together to look at the truth of scripture and remember this: When he died, I died. And so instead of watching from thousands of years later or even standing among the dirty crowd who killed him, Jesus brings me closer. He put me on the cross with him – my old self, my sin, my terrible reflection. But while there together, He hid me within him and absorbed the punishment on my behalf. And thus set me free.

And so our life-perspective is one of a dead person. Who could be more free from the constrains and pains and worries of this life than one who has died? While our flesh remains as we walk on the gritty earth, our spirits have been made new.

This Holy Week, let us not simply remember something that happened to Jesus. Let’s remember something that happened to us.

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Romans 6:5-7

one thing that changes life

The automatic doors on the minivan quit working sometime before Christmas. I pull the door closed and walk inside to do the dishes, only to discover the sink has clogged and the water won’t go down. My favorite leggings have a hole but I wear them anyway because every other option is dirty. I sit to do work, and as soon as I meet one deadline, three more show up in my inbox.

He says a word that is dismissive.

I feel like an idiot in her presence.

They had an expectation that I failed to meet.

Again.

Even these minor annoyances serve to remind us that we’re all on the road to death. And we walk this Lenten road whether we know or not that each of our steps is closer to sharing in his suffering. There may not be nail holes in our wrists, but aren’t there still holes?

We are offended when we are hurt. We are offended when they misunderstand. We are offended when they don’t acknowledge our feelings.

We are only offended because we forget we have died.

If there’s one thing certain to change life, it’s death.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life – even though invisible to spectators – is with Christ in God. He is your life.

Colossians 3:3, The Message

We live false lives when we hold on to the old and refuse to acknowledge our death, when we grasp the threads of our Saturday lives, when we try to make second things first, when we hang on to our warm coffee mugs and our worn out offenses. She hurt me, you say. I have a right to my offenses.

Except that you don’t.

Death doesn’t always look like a tragedy. Sometimes death is a slowly dripping faucet. And even though these things can’t be compared to real danger or true poverty, disappointment and weariness can drip the life right out. Slow. Quiet. Drip.

No matter how much I feel called to write about art and grace and beauty, it can’t be ignored: the life of Christ was a one way road to death.

I know I often speak of desire here, of knowing what you really want to do and then finding the courage to do it, of discovering the shape of your own unique worship and then living as if you were truly alive. I know when I speak of desire there is a risk that I will be dangerously misunderstood. Hawaiian beaches and Paris strolls are not the desires I speak of. Making a difference for difference sake is not the desire I speak of. True desire doesn’t search for escape or fame or adoration. True desire is born out of death, of knowing I no longer live, but Christ. 

His desire was that all people might live. And the fulfillment of his desire was only realized through death. Who am I to think that the road to realizing my own true desire would be paved with anything different? And so leading up to Easter, we often say things like, Jesus died so I didn’t have to, it’s actually much worse. The truth is, Jesus died and so did I.

But the worse morphs into better when we remember Jesus didn’t stay dead. And neither do we. Let the dying moments remind us where to find the living.

Here is the place where the ordinary peers through the glass dimly, where even though I stand alone in my kitchen or sit waiting on the phone or stretch out on top of the covers, I can be there at the cross. That even though I am offended, I do not have to take offense. Instead of standing up tall and tensing my shoulders, I can bow down low and remember I have died. And in that quiet, lowly place, I see a small blade, green and strong, born from the death of a seed. And life shoots up from broken earth carrying truth, joy, freedom. Because if I have died, then what have I to fear? And so from death,  I live!

These words may not resonate with you right now. But maybe next week or next month or tomorrow, when the way she speaks to you is so shocking it makes your eyes cross, when the kids disrespect you so blatantly you can’t stand, when your boss blames you for that thing you had nothing to do with, maybe you will remember these words. This is what it feels like to die. And it hurts and is painful and doesn’t seem to have a point. Maybe it won’t have a point unless you demand it does, unless you insist on squeezing the death out of the moment until the life shows up, be it through gratitude, through acceptance, through belief.

“It matters not what my abilities may be then, provided that I possess you, Lord. Do what you will with this insignificant creature. Whether it be that I should work, or become inspired, or be the recipient of your impressions, it is all the same. Everything is yours, everything is from you and for you … Mine is to be satisfied with your work and not to demand the choice of action or condition, but to leave everything to your good pleasure.”

Jean-Pierre deCaussade, The Joy of Full Surrender

one thing you are never to say

Last weekend I spent time with some lovely women from a church nearby. It was an encouraging few days together and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with them. I often refer to myself as a writer and that title comes fairly easily these days. But there is not a lot of time to think when you’re up on your feet, not to mention no delete button on the side of my face, so when I am asked to speak I am always very careful before I say yes. I would much rather listen.

I don’t expect you to pay attention to my calendar at all, but if you were to you would discover that the week before I prepare to speak, this sacred writing space grows ever empty. It takes every living ounce of courage and prayer to get me to a place of readiness before an event. It isn’t stage-fright, as over the years I believe I have grown to feel fairly comfortable in my own skin in front of people. I don’t have to imagine crowds wearing underwear. More, it is a sense of responsibility, a weighty understanding that I have been trusted to speak truth, to share honestly, and to lean my weight heavy on God.

And even though grace has been a game-changer for me, even though I walk most days to a rhythm of understanding that my life belongs to another and He is very fond of me, I still have to fight off the voice in my head before I speak to groups of women. And that voice says very clearly and without hesitation, Who do you think you are? When I try to hold on to my own life, when I am unwilling to let go of my try-hard efforts, when I have my sights set on outcomes rather than moments, I question and doubt and grab hold of insecurities.

If I allow myself to go very far down that road, it generally leads to an answer: You should be ashamed of yourself. Thankfully, I don’t sit there long anymore. I know truth and I fight with appropriate weapons. But when you begin to question your identity, the answer will always lead to shame. And we point our finger at ourselves and name ourselves disgraceful.

Shame discounts grace.

Shame is an agent of death.

Never speak shame into the life of another.

Never tell her she should be ashamed of herself. Never tell yourself that, either.

Should is a bully. Don’t give him power.

Speak life. Share compassion. Receive grace. And handle yourself tenderly.

for your weekend

May trees that line the path of life bear fruit and flower and leaf. Or while you wait for straight sticks to sing, may you find peace in the stillness of knowing he is God and you are not. Though your faith may be shaken, may it not be shattered. Let His courage be your courage, His strength be your strength, His faith be enough for you both. May His presence bloom fullness of joy within you, and may you delight in His pleasures forever. Enjoy your weekend, friends.

for your weekend

May the weariness in the world not wear off on your soul too much. May you see the beauty from your bedroom window, the magic in your front yard, and the playfulness in the eyes of those you love. And may you remember, though it may be hard at first, that sometimes the blurry mess holds the key to your contentment. You have been given the grace to see things differently. Use it. Enjoy your weekend, friends.