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.

For Those Who Wait in the Fog

At the beginning of this year, I declared that I wanted to practice writing words I can’t take back. I did and I have, but I keep finding myself not doing that consistently.

Like this morning, for example, I had grand plans to drive directly home and begin to write after taking the girls to school, but instead I somehow found myself with one foot in a cute brown boot in the shoe aisle at Target at the productive hour of 8:15.

what happens at Target

Two packages of poster board, one package of stickers, a latte and a library book later, here I sit in my office wondering what is wrong with me. I long for the time to write when the family is home and then avoid it when the house is empty.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong except that I am, in fact, a writer. And putting off writing is often what we do best.

Seriously though, I think sometimes I avoid the page for the same reasons I avoid silence: I’m anxious over what I might find there. 

Or worse, that I might not find anything at all.

In some ways I see my job as a writer as one of turning over rocks: I’m not always sure I’ll understand or like what’s beneath the surface, but curiosity insists I turn it over anyway.

And while it’s true that I would often rather not face what critters might be hiding there and that I would often prefer to sit on the rock and watch Netflix, facing my questions by turning over rocks helps me become more fully myself.

And the way I do that is through writing.

When I don’t know where to begin, it’s good to start with what I know for sure about us, you and me:

We want more connecting and less competing.

We want more laughter and less shame.

We want more love and less fear.

The last few weeks I’ve been digging around in my  soul to find out what connection, laughter, and love means for my life and the life of my family.

Shapes in the Distant Fog - emily p freeman

A month ago I told Marion, my spiritual director, that I feel as though I am in the midst of a transitional time. John is nearly a year into his new ministry (!!), my fourth book is launched into the world (!!) and the girls are settled in to their first few months of middle school.

Many things I have been looking toward are now past and I am living in the exhale.

Marion encouraged me to let this open space remain open, to resist the urge to fill it with the next thing. I agreed with her completely, but as I’ve lived into those words I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep the margins wide.

It’s easier to fill a space then it is to keep it empty.

These words from John O’Donohue help, from To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

Words for Those Who Are Waiting

I don’t have great answers yet, but I see shapes in the distant fog. And for that, I am thankful.

So I will keep writing privately and also here. I will keep turning over rocks. I will keep sitting in the silence even when nothing changes. I will keep listening and waiting and watching. I will keep accepting the invitation of Jesus to be a child in his presence without an agenda.

If you long to create margin but don’t know how, I hope to be kind company, both for your soul and for mine. Sometimes we forget to be kind to ourselves, don’t we? Join me on The Bench for a monthly reminder to create the space your soul needs.

Are you new around here? Welcome! Here is where you can find out more about our little online community.

Why I’m Saying No More Often

Two years ago, my September through December schedule was so packed that I wondered if it was actually beginning to change my personality.

on saying no

While I was fulfilling my obligations and meeting deadlines in my work, I was experiencing a lack of energy to meet new people and felt less inclined to move toward longtime friends.

In short, I was exhausted.

John and I walked into that busy season with our eyes wide open. We knew we were intentionally saying yes to more things than usual, but we thought perhaps we could handle it.

That was in the middle of John’s year off, after he quit his job at the church and before we knew what was next. He was home full-time, and I had a lot going on with my own work, so we figured, “Okay, let’s try this!”

What happened during that busy season was I started to wilt on the inside. I’m not sure how else to explain it, but the constant deadlines and productivity combined with my travel schedule left me feeling empty and rushed.

I’m finishing the story at (in)courage today, sharing one reason I’m saying no more often.

3 Ways to Know if Your Soul is Stuck in Hustle

September has come gently for me. But it hasn’t been without a fight.

Last week I started to feel the familiar internal shaking, the kind that won’t let me sit down on the inside. I used to ignore this, thinking it was just a normal part of an active life.

September - Emily P Freeman

But after writing a whole book about small-moment living in a fast-moving world, I recognized the inside shakes are a sign that my soul was being held under the thumb of hustle once again.

I don’t want this to be normal.

It happens to everyone, I think – it’s why my main focus here at Chatting at the Sky is to create space for your soul to breathe. I need regular reminders to take a breath, to slow, and to consider.

If you wonder if your soul is being held hostage by hustle, here are three obvious symptoms I experienced last week and maybe you can relate.

1. I’m easily distracted.

The hustle hostage usually comes on the tail end of a big project. For me, it was a book launch. I have also experienced this after back-to-back travel, a busy weekend with houseguests, or when our routine is interrupted for an extended period of time.

To counterbalance the frenzy, I will try to do something calming like read a book. But instead of sinking into the story, I read two sentences and notice my mind wandering. Or I’ll take a picture of the book and put it on Instagram instead of actually enjoying the book. Anyone?

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2. I lack inspiration.

When hustle has seeped into the level of my soul (meaning my thoughts, my emotions, and my will feel rushed) I realize it most readily when I lack inspiration. I’m particularly sensitive to this because, as a writer, inspiration feels important.

To be clear, it’s maybe once a month that I write from a truly inspired place. Usually it’s more of a discipline, a walk of faith from one word to the next, trusting that because God made me a writer, he will turn my tired words into something meaningful eventually.

But when it comes to my life in general, I know hustle has taken over when I don’t feel inspired in anything. Whether I’m in my kitchen, deciding what to wear, planning out my calendar, or having a conversation with John, if I feel unable to see the lovely, if I notice that I am only able to see the downside of everything, this is when I know hustle has too loud of a voice.

3. I can’t make a decision.

From inability to choose my meal at a restaurant to prioritizing goals and vision for my work, when hustle takes over I feel unable to make a decision.

Sometimes this feels like I’m drowning in a sea of options, as if there are so many directions I can go and I don’t know which to pick. Other times it feels like the opposite, like all my options have dried up completely and any hope for moving forward is gone.

Maybe you can relate to this distracted, grey, indecisive mindset. Maybe you are feeling it too: the rush to produce, the pull to compete, the thoughts flying fast and furious, the mad sprint toward the finish line.

I’ve got a secret for us both: that kind of race doesn’t have a finish line.

Last week, when I noticed I was feeling all of these things – chronically distracted, inspriation-less, and indecisive – I realized I needed to evaluate some things.

I decided to ask myself one simple but important question.

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What events, circumstances, or activities are life-giving and which ones are life-draining?

It might seem unrelated, like why would I ask this question in particular rather than work on prioritizing my time or doing something to relax myself?

For me, it’s because when my soul is being held hostage by hustle, I can’t see clearly to prioritize or to relax. So for me, this practice is a way to re-calibrate my body, my soul, and my spirit with the ways God has made me and my family to function.

Some people do this on a daily basis with the spiritual practice of the Daily Examen. I’ve done this some as well, but this time I wanted to have a clearer picture of the roots of overwhelm in my life and how God might be inviting me to rip them up.

Here is what I did specifically:

I used my Bullet Journal and methodically sifted through our past year and looked at six main areas:

  • Travel – Both for work and with family
  • Work – What projects have I prioritized? Which ones make me want to die? Which ones make me want to sing with joy?
  • Leisure – What downtime activities did I engage in during the past 9 – 12 months?
  • Everyday schedule – How have I been spending my actual day-to-day time?
  • Kids – What have their schedules looked like? What activities have we done together that we’ve loved or not loved?
  • John + Me – When were we really connected and when did we feel disconnected?

I handled each event or activity and asked myself if it was life-giving or life-draining.

This is a slow process and I had to stay focused, which was hard. I found myself reading through notes I took on books I read or checking off old to-do list tasks. They key here is big picture so try to keep that in mind.

I wrote them down with a  pen on paper so I could see them all at once.

This part is important for me. Physically writing down each event, activity, or circumstance with a brief description of why it was life-giving or life-draining was so informative.

I looked for patterns.

This is about as far as I’ve gotten in the process. But next I will:

Prayerfully consider how to incorporate more life-giving and less life-draining in the months to come.

To be clear, there are many life-draining tasks and activities I simply don’t have the luxury of giving up. But this practices has helped me realize there are many I can. These are the ones I want to pay attention to.

I’m still evaluating my lists as I just started last week and I’m not sure it can be done well in a couple of days unless you are on a retreat for this purpose. But so far here are a couple of conclusions.

  • I often avoid things that are life-giving to me because initially, I fear they will be draining. For example, having people over. The idea of it sometimes overwhelms me. But the reality is it’s life-giving.
  • Some projects are both life-giving and life-draining. This year I finished writing a book – the writing of it was life-giving. The editing  was life-draining. But you can’t have one without the other.
  • I check email too much.
  • John and I don’t get away enough.
  • I want to play the piano more often.
  • I want to read more books.

As I said, this is somewhat of a slow process, but I think it’s an important one. In a way, it’s the contemplative older sister to our monthly What We Learned link up. Speaking of that, here are a few other resources for you if you recognize yourself in this post and want to learn more:

  • What I Learned In August – Here you can read 10 things I’ve learned this month (silly and serious) and add your own post (the link up closes this Friday)
  • How I Keep Track of What I’m Learning – If you like the idea of this reflection practice but don’t have a regular routine of recording your monthly activities, this post on how I use my Bullet Journal. might help.
  • Free Video Series – If you haven’t signed up to get these videos yet, I want to invite you to do so. They are completely free and will give you practical ways to take a soul breath even in the midst of your busy life.
  • Simply Tuesday – The ultimate companion for a hurried soul who has grown tired of do more and dream big, offering perspective for your home, work, family, soul, and the plans you make for your future.

Hustle does not have to be normal. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of reflection and listening to your own life so that we might face the world with less fear and more love.