Space for Your Soul + Books for Your Shelf (A Giveaway!)

emily p freeman

If you’ve been on earth for five minutes, you have heard the mantras we like to say: be yourself, take care of yourself, protect yourself, love yourself, defend yourself, and express yourself.

But, in the words of John Ortberg in his book Soul Keeping:

“What if your self is a train wreck? What do you do then? The more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.”

For many years I’ve considered the soul to be that part of you that houses your mind (the thoughts you think), your emotions (the things you feel), and your will (the choices you make). In short, I’ve heard it said that our souls are a combination of our thinker, our feeler, and our chooser.

Add them together and what have you got? Your soul!

I still think that for the most part, but I’m not sure it’s so easily outlined anymore. We worship an incomprehensible God, both knowable and mysterious.

As people who are made in his image, we are perhaps more incomprehensible than we are outline-able. So I want to respect the mystery that is humanity while, at the same time, not make our souls more mysterious than they need to be.

Soul whiplash is real, though, isn’t it? I can define that one pretty well. It happens to the most faithful and spiritually mature among us. I’ve been reflecting on why I think it happens to me and maybe you, too.

creating space for the soul

When I picture the shape of our soul, I imagine not a line straight up and down but a circle curved in on itself. Like a donut, our soul needs a fixed point around which to revolve. What we put in that center is our choice, to be sure. But the results will show up in how we live, how we relate, and how we see the world.

If I place the circumstances of my life in the center? That’s what my soul will revolve around, as evidenced by the shame and anxiety I feel when I’m left out and overlooked or the elation I feel when I’m chosen and praised.

Good circumstances lead to good feelings and experience.

Bad circumstances lead to bad feelings and experience.

Do you ever get tired of this cycle? I sure do.

I, a mature grown person, actually told John once how I wish I could take a pill that would make me not so moveable.

A faith pill. Or an apple maybe? Eat this, then you will be like God.

Sometimes the lie makes simple solutions sound like such a relief, doesn’t it? But here’s the truth:

“If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life.” – John Ortberg, Soul Keeping

I write about the soul because I believe deep in my bones that invisible things are real.

I also believe that because the soul invisible, it is often forgotten beneath the demands of everyday life. It’s easy for me to get tangled up in a fast-paced world, distracted by hustle, driven to produce, hungry to ship.

But that’s a language the soul doesn’t speak.

Creating space for my soul to breathe is about respecting the daily pauses I need to be fully myself so that I can be present with God and faithful in my home, my work, and my community.

I write here to help you create that space, too.

If you feel like having margin is too much like being lazy, then maybe this will help you to know: It takes more work to create margin than it does to stay busy.

Busy is the default.

Margin takes intention.

Ask me how I know.

After the release of Simply Tuesday last week, my time has looked like this:

Simply Tuesday Release

And while it has been so fun for both me and for my family, my soul has been asking for a little more of this:

creating space for the soul

I set yesterday aside as a day to regroup: to think, to walk, to reflect and to pray. But it didn’t come easy. I still had to make lunches, still had to drive the girls to and from school, still had to answer a few timely emails.

But in between, I chose to honor the longing for stillness and quiet and managed to carve out some time in the middle of the day.

I haven’t walked away from that time with answers or clear vision necessarily.

But there is still value in creating space for the soul even if you have nothing to show for it.

To spend time in the presence of God without an agenda does not come naturally for most of us. But how desperately we need it.

Here are a few things I hope will help you create space for your soul to breathe this week:

Free Video Series

If you haven’t signed up for this yet, I hope you will. You can watch the first video here and then sign up to receive the next four in your inbox, where I share practical ways to take a soul breath even in the midst of your busy life.

Free Conversation Guide

You have about 24 hours left to download the Simply Tuesday Conversation Guide when you purchase a book. I’ve written this for anyone who wants to read the book with a group, including everything you’ll need to have a conversation that matters. All you have to do is visit this page, fill out your purchase information, and you’ll be able to download the guide for free through tomorrow.

Sharing Simply Tuesday

And this one won’t help your soul breathe but it might be fun – I’m giving away a bundle for you and one of your Tuesday people! Here’s what you get and how to win:

sharing simply tuesday 1

  •  $100 Barnes and Noble gift card (one for you + one for your friend)
  • personalized signed copy of Simply Tuesday (one for you + one for your friend)
  • a Tuesday tee (one for you + one for your friend)
  • a calendar pack (one for, you guessed it, you and your friend)

How to enter:

  • Take a photo of your copy of Simply Tuesday and share it either on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or all three using #SharingSimplyTuesday, bearing in mind if your accounts are set to private, we won’t be able to see it.
  • Tag me (I’m @emilypfreeman everywhere) either in your photo or the comments as well as the Tuesday friend you’ll share the bundle with. We’re looking for fun and creative and will pick a winner accordingly. (US entries only – so sorry my international friends – but you don’t have a B&N, do you?)

I’m extending the giveaway through the weekend and will announce the winner on Monday August 31.

Have fun! And here’s to a day filled with more heart and less hustle.

Let’s Keep Tuesday Simple: More Heart, Less Hurry

Last weekend, I happened to see something that almost always slips by me unnoticed.

I was leaving my mother-in-law’s house after spending the evening with her, my two sisters-in-law, and two long-time friends. We had a lovely girls night complete with fruit, goat cheese, chocolate, and a movie John would never watch with me. It was perfect.

Girl Food

As I got in my car and glanced down at my dashboard, I noticed the speedometer was at the 80,000 mile mark.

In fact, it read 80,001.

I guess it was a big milestone in the life of a car, another 10K miles under the hood.

But these literal milestones on my car usually pass by unnoticed. I don’t plan for them or wait for them. They don’t seem to be the kind of thing to celebrate.

When I thought back over the last 24 hours, I realized we had spend most of our time within the two square miles around our house. Most of the places I drive are regular, familiar destinations close to home.

Simply Tuesday by Emily P Freeman

Even though each of these small-moments over time have added up to 80,001 miles on my car, we don’t always have such an obvious way to mark the milestones when it comes to our lives.

I’m learning the importance of noticing the moments of my real life by saying no to hustle and yes to heart.

Tuesday has been my greatest teacher.

Because if the light of a Tuesday morning candle isn’t bright enough to light the room, a spotlight won’t be either.

If the home where we live on Tuesday doesn’t satisfy, we’ll find ourselves always searching but never quite finding.

If the work we do on Tuesday doesn’t feel important, we’ll find ourselves slaves to comparison, forgetting compassion.

If the people we live our lives with now aren’t sacred companions for us, we’ll find ourselves competing with everyone and connecting with no one.

If our souls long for more and bigger and refuse the Tuesday way, how will we ever fully share in the life of Christ who became less and arrived small?

My newest book, Simply Tuesday, officially releases in the US today.

Simply Tuesday

The last time I released a book, I had a full travel schedule around the time it came out. For some authors that works beautifully – but for me it led to a frantic feeling of rush and an inability to focus and be fully present.

This time I decided to stay close to home during book launch week which seems fitting for a book about smallness.

These days I’m careful not to color the word “small” in negative shades, as if it were something to run from or escape. I want to start small because I’m human and dependent, not in hopes that my small will grow into something bigger.

Jesus will give me the grace to stay there even when it hurts and even when it’s hard.

Small things don’t always turn into big things. But all things begin small, especially in the Kingdom of God.

Small things don't always turn into big things, but all things begin small. Especially in the kingdom of God.

Acorns become oak trees.

Embryos become President.

Life starts with a breath.

Love starts with hello.

Tuesday reminds me to accept the beauty of smallness, hiddenness, and the secret work of Christ in the deepest part of who I am.

So let’s take back quiet conversation with friends, whispered prayer over sick babies, belly laughter around the dinner table.

Let’s take back the honor of small donations, small care packages, and small movements toward fellow image-bearers because love isn’t measured in inches, grand gestures, or dollar amounts.

Let’s take back moments that are lovely even if they are imperfect, words that are powerful even if only one person hears them, company that is meaningful even when we don’t say any words at all.

Let’s take back our Tuesdays, the smallest day of the week. Because this is where we live and where our people live. Let’s release our obsession with building a life and trust in the life Christ is building within us, one small moment at a time.

Freeman_SimplyTuesday_3D

I’m so excited this book is finally available (at least here in the US!)

Would you like help in taking back your own Tuesdays? Here are a few simple ways:

Pick up your copy of Simply Tuesday wherever books are sold in the US:  AmazonBarnes and NobleCBDDaySpring, or anywhere else you can find it.

Sign up here today for a free, four-video series we made for you where I will share practical ways to help you create space for your soul to breathe, even in the midst of your busy life.

Join us every Tuesday on Instagram and share a simple moment from your regular life. Hashtag it using #itssimplytuesday so we can see your moment and celebrate our smallness together.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

What Everybody Ought to Know About Stress

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Traditionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the signals my body sends me. That’s beginning to change.

Last spring right before a big speaking event, my jaw started to hurt, causing headaches and weird popping sounds when I chewed or opened too wide.

At the beginning of this summer I had a lot of deadlines and decisions pile up into one week. I thought I was cool with it all, but as I drifted off to sleep one night, my heartbeat woke me up because it was beating so hard I thought surely John could hear it too.

Then last week, while the kids were at Grandy Camp with my parents, I hurt my back by doing a super risky move – getting up from my sofa. One minute it was fine, but as soon as I moved to stand up, I felt a weird pain in my left side lower back.

I’ve already bored myself telling you the details.

(The other day after explaining my injury to John for the tenth time and having him not once roll his eyes or try to slip out of the room in disguise, I realized that the proof of true love is if someone will 1. Listen as you describe that dream you had last night and 2. Allow you to explain your minor injuries to them again.)

(Seriously though, when someone begins a sentence with “I have to tell you about this dream I had last night!” my eyes roll into the back of my head and my whole body goes limp with boredom and apathy. I digress.)

I consider myself to be fairly limber and medium-ly active. I go to a yoga class several times a week, walk/jog in the neighborhood when it’s not too hot and you know, go up and down our stairs tens of times during the day. I even went to my first kickboxing class a couple of weeks ago.

Still, the sofa betrayed me and caused several days of discomfort. It was’t debilitating, just annoying. So at my next yoga class I pay extra attention to that spot on my back, careful not to make it worse.

Radiance Yoga

As we begin to stretch at the beginning, our instructor tells us to pay attention to how the rest of our body reacts as we hold a pose, especially if it is a challenging one.

Her words make instant sense to me. We tend to compensate when under pressure, the body responding in fear because it thinks it’s in danger. We hold a low lunge and I know I’m going to die because that’s what happens when you hold a low lunge. As she reminds us again to notice how the rest of our bodies react, I realize I’m clenching my jaw and feel my shoulders creeping up to my ears.

She invites us to offer breath to those tense places and I instantly sense the smallest shift in the pose – a lifting of expectation and simultaneously, a feeling of ease. She explains how deep breathing relaxes the central nervous system and sends the body a message, You’re going to be okay.

Sunflower

I don’t always remember to connect my life circumstance with my bodily reactions. But the Lord created us as one complete person, not fragmented out. There is no impenetrable wall between our body, soul, and spirit. All of these different, sacred parts of us form the whole – In him all things hold together.

The strange thing is that I actually feel fairly relaxed these days. On the outside, I’m not freaking out or overly concerned with outcomes. But my body is telling me that anxiety is flowing just below the surface, like fast-moving water beneath a smooth sheet of ice.

As someone who tends to think and overthink and just when I’m finished thinking I think some more, I’m learning to pay attention to my body and, surprsingly even those ridiculous dreams.

My mind is important, but it isn’t always the most trustworthy narrator of the truth.

Sometimes the feeling I get in my dreams is more accurate than the story I’m trying to convince myself is true while I’m awake. And before I dismiss it as ridiculous, perhaps I could take a little time to listen.

Are you dreaming of your teeth falling out, forgetting math homework, needing to be somewhere but you can’t find directions? Have you missed the bus in your dreams, forgotten to put on pants, or can’t remember your locker combination?

Maybe now is a good time to consider what your body has to teach you and listen for the voice of God beneath the surface of those crazy dreams.

Maybe you are feeling the stretch of a difficult circumstance and your instinct is to tighten up, manage outcomes, and try to maintain control.

Maybe you’re mind is telling you everything is fine, fine, fine, but your body and your dreams are weaving a different tale.

Is your body trying to tell you something? Are your dreams whispering small truths about the state of your soul?

I hear the invitation to send deep breath to those tight, fearful places, both the ones in my body and the ones in my soul.

It’s possible to feel the tension without compromising my intention – love, trust, and gratitude. But it requires acknowledging the pain, becoming aware of God’s presence with me and within me, and releasing outcomes into his capable hands.

If you are holding tension in your body and soul these days, I can relate. I’ve prepared a free four-day video series just for you, practical steps to help create a little space for your soul to breathe based on my new book, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. Watch the first video right here and sign up to receive the rest in your inbox.

pre-order

When Your Soul Feels Held Hostage by Hustle

Simply Tuesday

If it ever feels like the fast-moving world is not only rushing around you but also within you, I have something I hope might help. For the last few months we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make a short video series to help you create space for your soul to breathe.

Today it’s live and ready for you at SimplyTuesday.com. See you there!

So You Want to Be a Better Listener

I cried through communion yesterday and I still don’t know why. Instead of falling into the  pattern of feeling either apologetic about my tears or grasping for a way to explain them to myself, I’m learning to embrace this sometimes oddly timed emotion and allow it to simply be. Everything doesn’t need an explanation.

emily p freeman

While I think it’s important to listen to our tears, that doesn’t always mean we’ll get a diagnosis. I chose instead to let them fall, took the bread and the cup and thought about the kingdom of heaven.

“Jesus promises us the kingdom of heaven: more compassion, more, love, more spirit, more mercy, more justice, more courage, more surprise. Everything but more money. The regular practice of Communion is meant to help move us from being the citizens of an empire to the citizens of heaven.”

Nora Gallagher, The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series

Being a citizen of heaven means living upside down. We already know the first are last, the last are first. The rich are poor, the poor are rich. The strong are weak, the weak are strong.

Maybe being a citizen of heaven also sometimes means the talkers will learn to listen. Maybe I’m making that up.

I wrote about listening at (in)courage this weekend because I believe good listeners can change the world. I know this because they’ve changed mine.

Communion is a kind of listening. We may come to the table distracted and bustling on the inside, but the elements remind us of a different way to live, offering a different kind of food that comes from another land, the original comfort food.

We eat and drink and remember Christ, not just who he was on earth but who he is within us today – stumbling through Monday, jotting down the grocery list, planning out the week. More importantly, Monday brings the opportunity again to see people and to listen to them. Do we really know how to do that?

Communion is a reminder that God hears us and came down to be with us. The company of Jesus is stunning, really. How can we offer his company to others? The simplest (and also the the hardest) way I can think of is to learn to listen without an agenda.

Want some good books on listening? I have a library of them. Here are three I highly recommend, using affiliate links because that’s just good business:

Listen In: Building Faith and Friendship Through Conversations That Matter // My friend Rachael Crabb and her two friends Sonya Reeder and Diana Calvin wrote this one together. As a woman who is emotionally allergic to small talk, I deeply appreciate this book. It’s a real-life example of what can happen when friends ask curious questions and cast a hopeful vision. I want to be the kind of friend that Rachael, Sonya and Diana are to one another and I’m thankful that they have generously let us listen in.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer // I mean you’ve already read this one, right? Surely you have. It’s short and small and easy to tuck in your bag on your way to anywhere. I come back to this one again and again when I need a reminder to pay attention to the shape of my own soul and let Christ live through me whatever way he wants to.

The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh // This one hasn’t yet released so it feels a tiny bit cruel to tell you about it. I offered endorsement for this gem and if you pre-order it now you’ll get it in time for Christmas.

Basically if it were possible to combine the voices of Dallas Willard, N. D. Wilson and Jim Gaffigan, then what you would get is Adam S. McHugh. His writing is profound, lyrical and self-deprecating in all the right ways. There are few books I want to start again once I’ve finished. The Listening Life is now one of them. I adore this stunning, important book and want to give it to everyone I know.

May we learn to build in pauses before we speak and sometimes decide not to say all those words at all. Happy listening!

How Being Specific is Changing the World

We count the growth rings in a tree stump to see how old it is, skipping over the blanks between. We’re looking only for the darkest circles, pointing to them as proof of growth. But the dark circles only show one piece of the story, leave marks of the slowest summer growth.

How Begin Specific is Changing the World

Count them and  you learn something for sure. But pay attention to the trunk as a whole and you get a better picture of the life of the tree.

Sometimes writing feels like the darkest rings of a tree. It’s like laying down evidence so I can look back and point to something tangible, something I can count. Writing leaves behind proof of the wrestling, the longing, the learning, and the hope.

But the time between the writing tells a story too, and lately I’ve been floundering through that part of the story in my own life.

Even when I’m not writing here in this space, I’m paying attention, watching for themes. Over the past several weeks, one theme has woven itself through my reading, conversations, and thought-life so strongly that if I don’t write it down, I fear I’ll begin to forget the impact it’s having.

***

It started when John found a pearl in his Oysters Rockefeller, bit down right on it and pulled it out of his mouth. We though he was joking at first as it just looked like a small, over-sized pebble.

But he asked our waitress to confirm it and after close inspection she announced it was. She’s worked at the crab shack for many years and knows what to look for. After trying in vain to use it as payment for our meal (dad jokes abound), John put his found treasure in a to-go ramekin and we all gathered around to get a good look.

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It wasn’t necessarily impressive and, if it wasn’t found inside an oyster, we would have ignored it. It could maybe even fool the tooth fairy in dim lighting and pass for a child’s baby tooth.

the pearl

Around the time we were inspecting this newfound treasure outside the restaurant on Hilton Head Island, a man walked into a church a hundred miles north and sat down with a group of believers. He was welcomed into their midst and an hour after that, he killed them because they were black.

But I didn’t know this at the time. Before I went to bed that night, I saw a passing headline of a shooting in Charleston, but I didn’t pay close attention and simply pictured a mad gunman in the street, shooting into the air. I don’t know why I didn’t imagine victims or motive. I just heard “shooting” and thought “gun pointed into the sky.”

The next morning I woke up early and walked out to the coast, continued reading where I had left off the day before in A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle:

“I find that I always listen carefully to the weather: this affects me. If there is some kind of strike going on in New York — there usually is — which will inconvenience me, I get highly indignant. I am apt to pay less attention when the daily figures for deaths on battlefields are given; it is too far away; I cannot cope emotionally . . . It has to happen close at home before I can truly feel compassion.”

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Later that morning, I saw along with the watching world the details of the shooting from the night before, that the gun was not shot into the air but into the bodies of nine believers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

I’m not sure anyone really knows how to process this kind of evil. What compartment do you place it in? Who can hold the weight of this sadness?

The whole thing was heartbreaking and that sounds dumb to even say because of course it was more than that, is more than that.

I carried a vague sense of sadness with me for the rest of the week – for the families of those who were killed, for the people living in Charleston, for our broken country. I was sad and sorry for the ways I’ve contributed to racism in our country and my own community, ways I’m not even sure I fully see or understand, and other ways that are embarrassingly clear to me.

I saw the names and faces of the victims on the news. But it wasn’t until we arrived home and I sat in my usual seat at our home church on Sunday when I heard their names read from the pulpit by my friend Wendy – in her voice and with her accent – that I started to cry.

“We are lost unless we can recover compassion, without which we will never understand charity. We must find, once more, community, a sense of family, of belonging to each other.”

- Madeleine L’Engle

The gunman was specific.

The only antidote to a specific evil is a specific Hope.

Jesus came to a particular girl at a particular time in history. He was not frantic about it, he wasn’t late or early or in a hurry. Jesus grew inside his mother just as every baby has and will grow inside their mothers – at a particular place in a particular time.

God wrote all the details of humanity into the body of Christ, His words becoming literal flesh in the secret, hidden place inside Mary, tucked beneath her heart.

I have realized this week, even in the last 24 hours:  I am afraid to be specific. 

emily p freeman

Specificity feels vulnerable and intimate. Asking for something particular is more risky than asking for something in general. Longing and desire are lovely when spoken of in an over-all, wide-ranging way. But start to name those longings one by one and things get terrifying quickly.

What if I don’t get a pearl in my oyster?

It’s too much to ask for, too detailed to hope for, too much to lose.

So prayers sound more like please God bless rather than please God, THIS.

I didn’t realize how my unwillingness to be specific keeps people at arms length, keeps me from having to be involved in complicated issues, and keeps my head a clean distance from my heart.

“Compassion is nothing one feels with the intellect alone. Compassion is particular; it is never general.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Now that I’ve called it out, I’m seeing it everywhere.

Sandra Peoples wrote a post about being helpful and community, saying “the more specific you are, the more helpful you are.”

Shannan Martin said this on Saturday, that “We cannot love what we do not know. And we cannot hate what we refuse to acknowledge.”

Yesterday standing at my front door, my friend and assistant Traci tells me she is praying through some things, but she always prays specifically “because how can I pray for people if I don’t know what their needs are?”

At church on Sunday, a few in the prayer ministry – Kevin and Erin – talked about cultivating an “imaginative hope” for the needs we see around us, that prayer is simply taking up the burdens you see and then re-releasing them into God’s hands. But to take them up, we have to know what they are.

We pray because we have hope for change, so faith means imagining what that change might be.

Imagination requires specificity.

Evil is specific. Our hope must be specific, too. Specificity is changing the world in both good and bad ways. I want to be part of the good. I want a front row seat to the miracles.

I’m not sure what all this means yet. This space here is where I begin to work things out and it helps to do it with other people which is why I didn’t just write this in a journal. I don’t have clean answers or even something specific to share with you in closing, but I do have a deep conviction that it’s time for me to clear the decks of my soul and make a little room to listen to the details.

Want these posts to slip quietly into your inbox? Simply sign up with your email address here and be sure to click “blog posts.” Don’t want weekly emails but still want a little help to create space in your soul? Choose the option for “The Bench” and you’ll receive a letter from me only once a month. Or you can, of course, choose both.