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.

One Thing Change Doesn’t Change

change

They built a Wal-Mart next to the Starbucks in the shopping center where I write. Once demolition started, they put up fences to keep the traffic out. You could see where the new building would be even though it was mainly construction equipment, piles of debris, and mounds of dirt.

construction zone

It was a parking lot in transition, on its way to becoming a shopping center.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

When John and I were living in the midst of a vocational transition since he left his job of twelve years, I felt a little like that parking lot. I married a pastor, was involved in our church, felt part of a team of other youth leaders, and then all of that was gone.

It was our choice and the parting wasn’t ugly or painful in any of the ways these partings sometimes are. But it was painful in the ways you might expect – loss of community, an unpredictable future, fear of the unknown.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

It took me several months to begin to grieve some of those losses as well as to recognize the control and predictability I thought I had before were only illusions anyway.

Slowly we started to carve out a new normal in the midst of the vocational limbo.

Girl Meets Change

I’m always hesitant to embrace change, at least the kind I don’t feel in charge of.

But the biggest reason I hesitate is because I only know what I’m leaving. I don’t yet know what I’m walking toward. And that is the hardest part of the limbo.

“When change puts me in tight places, is it especially dark because his hand covers and protects me too? Can I believe — really believe — it is dark because of mercy and protection rather than abandonment?”

Kristen Strong, Girl Meets Change

growth in change

Walking to my car after leaving Starbucks shortly after construction began, I noticed some of those mounds of dirt in the construction zone had grass and other plants growing out of them.

Grass! And other plants!

This parking lot was in the midst of transition and grass was growing where it had no business. The dirt wasn’t there for keeps, but it was there for now. Even so, seed takes root, burrows into the darkness, and shoots up to the light because that’s what seeds do.

Seeds take root and grow even though things won’t be this way for always, even though all is about to change, even though all seems unsettled, unsure, and unstable.

The one thing change doesn’t change is growth.

The growing still happens even in the midst of transition. But unlike those plants that will be uprooted and tossed aside as that dirt mound becomes a foundation, the growth that happens within me in the midst of change will not be wasted.

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

When I look back on my life, the times I have experienced the most important growth have intersected with some kind of life change or transition.

I’m not saying those changes have always been welcome, but when my soul has been asked to move forward, let go of something old, or embrace something new, these are the times when I have become more fully myself.

Change invites me to burrow down deep into the place where God lives with me and find the solid ground of peace, hope, and a whole heart.

I may despise the change, but I never regret the growth.

And so we pause to consider those things we’ve left behind, those strange places where we now find ourselves, and the unknown future we’re walking into. Isn’t that what life is, after all? A series of holding on, letting go, moving forward, and growing in the middle?

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong
My friend Kristen Strong wrote a whole book about this ever-present, not-often-enough talked about topic of change. She would know – she has traveled far and wide with her air force family, settling in to one community just in time to leave again.

KristenStrongHeadshotAs the wife of a career veteran, Kristen speaks as a woman who has experienced change in many makes and models. And as a friend, Kristen speaks the kind of language I can relate to.

I read Girl Meets Change during a time when I really needed to remember the truth: that God is with me even though things are different.

As my girls are into their first few weeks of middle school, I hold on to that truth.

As I walk with John into a new season of ministry, I hold on to that truth.

As I consider what it means to love, really love, my friends even when we’re all changing, I hold on to that truth.

You can learn more about Kristen and her new book at GirlMeetsChange.com. If you are in the midst of a life change, no matter how big or small, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Kristen’s book today. She’s lovely, kind, and just the kind of company you want beside you in the midst of those unknown seasons of change.

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.

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.