One Home Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

Cozy Minimalist

You know how sometimes you’re hungry for something but you just don’t know what? Or your foot itches but you cannot, for the LOVE, find the exact spot to scratch it?

About a year ago, that’s how I felt about my sunroom at. Something was UP with this room. I knew it was wrong. I didn’t know how to fix it.

The office Before

If you want to know the truth, I carried no small amount of shame about this room when it looked like this. It’s remarkable how creative shame can get with us – never daring to show up blatantly and announce he wants to steal our sense of self-confidence and personhood.

Instead, shame whispers failure to us when we look at the diaper changing table we bought at Babies-R-Us 12 years ago that we now use as a dresser in our sunroom.

Or he taunts us when we realize we have tried exactly 80 different combinations of plants, photo frames and trays on said changing table and can’t figure out why none of it looks quite right so we must just not be very good at styling things.

Instead of seeing it all for what it is – a room with lovely bones that is difficult to style because it has doors and windows on every wall – I saw myself as a failure every time I walked in this room.

It wasn’t glaring. It wasn’t obvious. I was hardly aware of that low-grade sense of failure at all, actually. But it was always there.

Around spring of last year, my sister designed a course called Cozy Minimalist and because she’s my sister, I signed up and took the course. I thought I would learn a few tips about house stuff, but nothing I didn’t already know. I mean seriously guys, my sister is The Nester. I have no excuse not to know house stuff, right?!

She challenged us to pick one room of our house as we went through the course so I picked my sunroom as it was the only room left that I just didn’t know what to do with. I had kind of given up on it, actually. It felt beyond help.

Sunroom Before

See? I had tried to put this little sofa everywhere but the ceiling in this room and finally I just gave up and left it here, like an awkward middle schooler at her first school dance. A sofa should say come sit on me! but this one just said Pay no attention to the sofa in the corner. 

During the first module of the course, The Nester gave us an assignment – quiet the room.

Basically you just take everything out of the room and off the walls except the major furniture.

After that first assignment, something happened that made all the difference for me.

Quieting the room brought quiet in my soul.

It shushed the voice of shame.

Until that moment, standing in my quiet sunroom, I hadn’t realized how loud shame had been in my mind and heart. I hadn’t realized how hard I had been working to ignore that voice. I hadn’t known I wasn’t free until I quieted the room and listened in the silence.

The mistake I didn’t realize I had been making in my home was letting shame boss me around.

For a week, I lived with the room quiet just like The Nester said to do. I couldn’t believe the power of a quiet room. It gave me permission to begin again.

What do I really love and what am I keeping out of obligation?

Why am I afraid of color and texture? 

What purpose do I really want this room to serve for me and for my family?

All of these questions and more I was finally able to answer. And each module of the course walked me through them.

sunroom after

I’m sharing this with you today because I don’t think I’m the only woman who has carried a low-grade sense of shame about my home.

The truth is, we have enough to fight against in this world. Our homes should be the last place on earth where we feel shame.

If there is even one singular room in your house right now that you feel a sense of shame about when you walk into it, maybe it will be worth it to you to take The Nester’s Cozy Minimalist class, too.

The course closes tomorrow (Thursday January 20) at midnight. But you can buy it now and go through it at your own pace. And if you’re a mom with kid clutter you don’t know what to do with, she has another course just for that topic. You can find both courses here – choosing just one or both.

For what it’s worth, my sunroom office went from being my least favorite room in the house to my most favorite room in the house and all it took was a change in perspective. I’m grateful to The Nester for helping me see my room with new eyes and, in turn, helping to release me from unnecessary shame.

sunroom after

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The Spiritual Discipline of the Long Walk

Today I’ve invited my friend Adam McHugh to share with us from his most recent book, The Listening Life. This book was one of my favorite reads of 2015 (incase you missed the last 5,000 times I’ve mentioned it.)

If you’re feeling a little scattered and distracted today, you might be surprised to learn what a gift the long walk can be to your soul – especially when you do it as a listener. This practice has been life-changing for me and Adam has been one of my primary teachers.

It seems that everything I read these days has people talking about attentiveness. The bullet train of modern life has our landscapes whizzing by, and some of us have decided we need to slow down or get off the train so we don’t miss what is right in front of us.

The Spiritual Discipline of the Long Walk

I want to propose the spiritual discipline of the long walk. It is long because the monologue racing through our heads takes a while to talk itself out, and it is a walk because moving any faster would make the world blurry, and this is a practice that is meant to slow us down.

We devote too much energy to years and months and hours at the expense of the moment we are currently living. The long walk is about attentiveness, about receiving each moment as a gift and listening to the sermons creation is preaching to us.

The long walk can be practiced anywhere, from a nature walk to an urban neighborhood. The idea behind it is to unplug in order to connect with the Power that surges through the world. I extricate myself from everything, external and internal, that keeps me from being wholly present, and practice a lectio divina of the big book of creation.

For the first ten minutes of my walk I am allowing the fog to drift out of my soul, silencing my mind and heart and giving myself over to God’s gifts in my immediate surroundings.

The Long Walk

Then I begin to notice what I see and hear, no matter how big and loud or small and quiet. I’m not trying to insert meaning or concentrate on any one thing; I’m only noticing.

Sometimes if I am wearing glasses I will take them off so I can better pay attention to the sounds around me. Unaided, I have the eyesight of an eighty-year-old man with multiple cataracts, so if I take off my glasses I am largely dependent on my hearing. We tend to take in creation mostly through our eyes, but there is a rich symphony being played if we let our ears do some of the work.

Then, after I have perused the book of creation, taking it in on a large scale, I start to pay attention to anything that flashes or sings out at me, something specific that draws me in.

If the first stage is taking in the symphony as a whole, now I start to focus in on particular instruments. Is it a lizard lounging on the path? Is it a particular birdcall? Is it the wind shaking the leaves? Is it the shape of a branch in a tree? Is it the chorus of nighttime voices?

Whatever it is, study it. Listen to it. What do you see? What do you hear? What seems interesting or significant about it? There is no pressure for our observations to be theological or spiritual; we are simply waking up to the craftsmanship of God’s handiwork around us and listening.

There are plenty of lessons to be drawn from the world if we pay attention. Mountains and oceans counsel patience and remind us to slow down. The author of Proverbs thought the ants were worth paying attention to: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

Jonathan Edwards found great spiritual meaning in a spider web. He concluded a long letter on the subject this way: “Pardon me if I thought I might at least give you occasion to make better observations on these wondrous animals that should be worthy of communicating to the learned world, from whose glistening webs so much of the wisdom of the Creator shines.”

Edwards also used the image of a spider suspended over a flame to portray the terrors of coming before a holy God. The guy had a weird thing for spiders.

If taking a walk is a foreign discipline for you, then you have the Bible as a convenient study guide for interpreting our world.

A rainbow preaches the covenantal promises and mercy of God.

A hen with its chicks reminds us of Jesus’ tender care for his people.

The wind points to the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

Rivers echo the justice that will one day cascade down the mountains.

The sunrise is a forerunner to resurrection and new creation.

Grass and flowers remind us of the fading nature of human life and beauty in contrast to the constancy and permanence of God.

A tree takes us into the garden where God gave life in the beginning and takes us to the end when the tree of life will bring the healing of the nations.

Raging bears remind us not to mock a prophet’s baldness.

If something grabs your attention, carry it in your mind and heart as you walk. Let it preach to you for a while. Allow it to draw you into dialogue with the One who imagined it and made it. Let it roll up into gratitude for the beauty, mercy and wisdom he has surrounded us with.

End with “thank you.”

The Listening Life by Adam S. McHughWell then. Excuse me while I go outside and listen to creation’s sermon for an hour or four. I just love this book.

Adam S. McHugh (ThM, Princeton Theological Seminary) is an ordained Presbyterian minister and spiritual director. He has served at two Presbyterian churches, as a hospice chaplain and as campus staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He is also the author of Introverts in the Church and lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Now for the formals: This excerpt is taken from The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh. Copyright (c) 2015 by Adam S. McHugh. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.

Every month I send out a list of what I’m currently reading, along with a secret post you won’t find anywhere else. Sign up here an choose The Bench to receive that note in your inbox each month. Happy walking.

What to do When Someone Else Already Wrote Your Book

I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, in my car as I drive around town this week. She has a fantastic reading voice which is a relief after the last book I listened to in my car (Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters – read by Blake Masters who is a brilliant person with a terrible monotone).

Big Magic

Swiping this image from The Nester since I don’t actually have the print book.

One of my favorite things Gilbert has said so far is this:

“Your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone ‘safe.’”

Her whole book is really just one long permission slip with big writing on the front that states: You Are Allowed To Be Here.

Barney Fife fear with the Jack Bauer swagger will try to convince us all that we are going to jail for showing up to the mall after hours, that our punishment will be steep and also who do we think we are anyway?

Fife and Bauer

It’s an easy book to listen to, mainly because I see myself as someone who is already living a creative life. Not every moment of every day, but the path I’ve chosen to walk is pointing in that direction. And while my own mall cop fear still shouts out warnings at me all the time, I’m mostly able to see him for what he is.

I don’t see my writing on the same plane as Elizabeth Gilbert’s by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but as I listen to her read, I am pleased by this one thought: I’m so relieved I already wrote my own Big Magic.

It’s called A Million Little Ways and it came out in 2013.

Does that sound arrogant? Like I’m comparing my little book with her big book?

I don’t mean to.

What I mean to say is if I had not done the work to write A Million Little Ways, to wrestle it to the ground, to catch those ideas and put them into sentences and subject myself to the grueling editorial process; if instead I had considered how hard it would be to take those whispy, swirling thoughts I had about art and creativity and living our lives in the creative image of God and decided to put them in a drawer somewhere for “later” instead of writing them down and doing the work, then listening to Big Magic this week would feel very different for me than it does.

I would be angry. I would be sad. I would be whispering to myself, why didn’t I write this book when the idea came to me? Why did I let it go?

Every writer feels it at least once except a thousand times more than once, that someone else has written their book.

But while I listen to Big Magic, to Elizabeth Gilbert walk the same circles around creativity that so many of us have walked around and then written about, I realize I am deeply grateful.

Because while our perspective and world view are vastly different, while our personality and theology might not mix well, and while her book sits high up on bestseller lists while mine is mostly unknown by the majority of the population, I feel a certain kinship with Elizabeth Gilbert as I listen to her book.

And I am thankful that, at least this time, I do not feel threatened by the voice of another author who is saying similar things I’ve said.

The truth is, a lot of us have said these things. Pick up any book on writing or creativity and you will read about all the same themes – fear, resistance, permission, inspiration, motivation, all of it. It isn’t new.

But here’s something we often forget: most of us don’t want new, not really. We want true.

We just need to keep saying things that are true. To do that, we need to have other artists circle with us, artists who are different from us, similar to us, offensive to us. Artists we’re a little afraid of as well as artists who help us feel safe.

We need to circle around the difficulty of creating with other people who are doing it, too. And we need walk beside them with open hands, willing hearts, and a stubborn refusal to compete and compare.

That’s all. I don’t have a grand finale here. I wasn’t planning to post at all today, actually. But this morning on my way home from Target, as I listened to Big Magic and felt that profound sense of gratitude that I’ve already written my own version, I thought about you.

Maybe you have your own version of Big Magic lingering within you, too. Perhaps you have words you want to say, a story you would like to tell, a perspective you might like to share, but Barney Fife is screaming at you to stay safe.

Aren’t you tired of listening to him?

Here are three things that might help:

  • My friend Ed Cyzewski wrote this fantastic post about writing and publishing. He doesn’t cheerlead, sugar coat or pander. I would bet money on the fact that he doesn’t own even one single pair of rose colored glasses. Instead, he is honest about how much publishing hurts. How it’s hard. But how, if you can find a way to do it without crushing your soul, then it’s worth it.

Big Magic and A Million Little Ways


  • And now this. If you are tired of listening to fear and want to write words that matter, perhaps you’d like to join our growing community of writers like you. It’s a commitment – $15 a month – but if you’re serious about your writing, it’s well worth the investment. And if you join us by 9pm EST Saturday (12/5), we’ll send you a signed copy of one of our books for free – including A Million Little Ways – and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of all of our books (8 print books + 2 ebooks). Here are a few of themFree Books for Hope*Writers

If you don’t like the membership site, at least you’ll get a book out of it. All the details are here – we’d love to have you join us.

December might seem an odd time to talk about this – it feels more like a January topic, doesn’t it? But for me today, it’s just right.

No more waiting around for the perfect time.

No more coddling shame and embarrassment about our art.

No more hiding behind comparisons and excuses.

December reminds us that Love came down to be with us. And not just to walk beside us, but to live within us.

What beautiful ways He wants to come out! What a unique filter your personality is!

May we walk in freedom and confidence that we are made in the creative image of God, and he has made us to make art.

What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Writing

We spent our Wednesday night at the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour. I can’t remember the last time I was at a giant concert like this, if ever honestly. But it was fun to go with my girls and their friends.

Still, when I got home and tucked the girls in hours past their bedtime, I asked one of them if she had fun.

“Yes, it was fun. I’m glad we went. But I’m okay if we never go again.”

This could be why:

Taylor Swift

Our seats were high, you guys. So high that once we sat down, we vowed to never get back up again for fear of tumbling down the stadium onto the stage.

Some people love the crowds, the lights, the noise. And then others are just old souls even though they’re only eleven and they’d just rather stay home and watch a show and snuggle.

Truly, I’m glad we went. And as the night rocked on, I couldn’t help watching the whole thing like a writer.

As a writer, my job is to pay attention to the world around and within me and then to write what I see. My dad calls it connecting the dots. It’s actually the job of every artist and maybe, one could argue, every human.

While it’s true this concert isn’t one I would have gone to on my own, I was fascinated by it. The evening was a story and she was the narrator. I thought she told the story well as a performer with a hopeful message.

I’ve honestly not followed Taylor Swift’s career much so I can’t speak to her decisions overall. But I remember reading somewhere that she said she seeks to surprise not shock. 

For now, that’s a filter for her content. Every storyteller must choose a filter. For example, my goal in this space is to help you create space for your soul to breathe. Everything I write here goes through that filter.

I won’t write about my messy closet or my frustrations over politics unless I can write about those things in a way that will help create space for your soul to breathe.

Having a content filter helps you make decisions, choose direction, and cast vision.

Whatever your opinions are about if Taylor is doing that well or not, I thought it was a great filter for a pop star. Surprise, delight, entertain? Sure. No need to shock. I like that.

Taylor Swift 1989

Whatever your opinions are about her personality, her music, or her business decisions, the woman has managed to handle fame without falling apart. And that seems like an accomplishment worth noting.

The human soul isn’t made for fame, isn’t designed to carry this much attention. To have hundreds of thousands of eyes on you? Shouting your name? Night after night? This is not normal.

But it also serves as a reminder that even with the amount of attention, admiration, and praise our celebrities receive, it isn’t enough. If it were, Hollywood would be the most peaceful and satisfied city in the world.

They would all be filled with joy, peace, and a profound sense of belonging. But that is not the story the magazines tell.

To me, the celebrities who tell the best stories are the ones who don’t believe their own myth. They refuse to allow all that cheering and attention to be their deepest truth.

Which also, in turn, means they cannot allow the bullying or negativity from their critics to be their truth, either.

Instead, they have a single-minded focus to tell the story they’ve been given, to trust the story enough to follow where it goes without getting in the way, and then offer it as a gift.

What the reader, listener, or audience member does with that story is not the storyteller’s responsibility.

The artists who struggle the most are the ones who are obsessed with how their work is received. This becomes their full time job and one day they discover they’re no longer making art because their profession as an Opinion Manager takes up all their time.

What a wonderful lesson for a writer to learn. And while I’m sure there’s a shake it off reference in here somewhere, I can’t bring myself to make it.

That’s a good lesson for a writer, too. You don’t always have to make the joke. Amen.

What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Writing

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5 Things Keeping Me Sane This Summer

Years ago on American Idol, when they still aired the show several times a week (Girls perform! Now guys perform! One more night for results!) they used to ask the contestants to share something weird about themselves that no one knew.

American Idol Live

During that segment, Melinda Doolittle explained how a weird quirk of hers was if one of her hands got wet, she needed to get the other hand wet to even things out. Same with her feet. She just felt more comfortable in a world where here limbs were equal temperature.

I thought that was so weird that it stuck with me. Until that very next day I washed off my right hand and immediately watched myself get my left hand wet too even though I didn’t need to. What is happening?!

As it turns out, that’s one of my weird quirks, too. Maybe we all do it? Strange or not, I think it is something in me that longs for balance in so many areas but I didn’t realize it until Melinda named it for me.

All summer I have felt like one hand is cold while the other is warm, one foot wet, the other bone dry. I haven’t yet found a rhythm to settle into and finally, here at the beginning of August, I’m realizing maybe that is the rhythm – the one of no predictable schedule to depend on, no balanced out days. The rhythm is defined by the need and the now and the waiting.

And so in the midst of this imbalanced jumble of days, here are a few things keeping me sane this summer:

Roots & Sky

1. Christie Purifoy’s first book, Roots & Sky, won’t release until February 2016 but I got my hands on an early copy. Go ahead and click on my affiliate link to her book and pre-order your copy or at least add it to your wishlist because it is a beautiful narrative of finding home and discovering the kingdom of God right where we are. I’ve enjoyed spending my mornings with her.

Greensboro Farmer's Market

2. Our local farmer’s market embraced us like an old friend on Saturday. We went for the first time in a while and I forgot how much I love it there. We bought some peaches, a basil plant, and local honey from a friend. She even threw in our favorite lip balm for free, one for each person in the family. There is something healing about walking through row after row of local plants and farmers.


3. Practicing celebrating my smallness every Tuesday with you on Instagram has been so much fun. As of now we have 8,450 photos in the stream – that’s 8,450 regular moments captured on Tuesdays so far this year, remembered because we marked them. It’s a lovely stream just to scroll through. Even lovelier if you join in! (Check out #itssimplytuesday here and find me here on instagram).


4. The sunflowers in our backyard are growing out of control. But isn’t that what summertime is for? To grow a little beyond our own limits, to stretch out in the sunlight, to see the beauty in falling petals?

BEST (1)

5. With a book releasing in 16 days (!!) it’s helping me to have some people to partner with to help get the word out. I have an amazing launch team who have been such a support. Also (in)courage is hosting me for a 3-day email series you can sign up for right here. When you do, you’ll automatically be entered to win all these fun things.

So what’s keeping you sane this summer?