Living Life and Taking Notes

Three weeks after John and I got married, we went on a mission trip with high school students from our church to serve for a week in Washington D.C.

We stayed in a little church in the city, slept on the floor in sleeping bags – girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. One of the days we were there was a Sunday so we worshipped with the small congregation, complete with raised hands and a super-charged sermon.


The students loved every minute of it. All we heard the whole five hour drive home was about how our home church was missing the point and how this new church in D.C. really loved Jesus and knew what praising God was all about.

And I was slightly livid.

Because what I and a handful of leaders knew (but what these kids didn’t know) was that ten minutes before we pulled out of the parking lot of this church to go home, one of the leaders of the church was changing his mind about how much we owed them for staying there, going back on a previously agreed upon amount. He accused us of lying and tried hard to get more money before we left.

Even if he had been the most God-fearing man on the planet, I still wouldn’t have been crazy about the students placing this little church up on a pedestal like they did. But knowing about the corruption of one of the leaders made listening to their talk even more difficult.

That trip was nearly thirteen years ago and I’ve been on a lot of trips since then. Most recently, Uganda.

First, let me say visiting another country for a week hardly counts as a cross-cultural experience.

I had a breath, more like half of one breath of experiencing Uganda. But it was a glimpse into a way of life different from mine and a daily rhythm foreign to mine. I could learn a lot from those I met there.

I know the temptation of elevating another experience or culture over my own simply because it’s different. I don’t recommend that mentality.

But considering how others live in comparison with how we live could be a wise and humble effort – not because any group or culture has figured out how to live right and certainly knowing that every small group, large group, tribe, and nation will have a fair share of shifty and manipulative people.

Still, it’s important to value the good things we see in others without disrespecting our own roots. The easy action is to elevate one and throw out the other. It takes time, commitment and humility to learn, consider, and then thoughtfully integrate. Agreeing that my way isn’t the only way (and sometimes isn’t the best way) is good for me.

notes from a blue bikeMy friends Tsh and Kyle have experienced way more than half of one breath outside of this country. They lived for years in Turkey – worked jobs, bought fruit, had babies. They had a true cross-cultural experience as a family and Tsh is sharing about it in her new book, Notes from a Blue Bike.

“We’ll take our rich experiences from life in another culture and redefine them into gifts to open here in the Western world. We would take the beauty of life in a slow, relationship-based culture and mold it into something beatiful and useful in our native culture, where the prevailing mark of a good day is getting a lot done.”

Tsh doesn’t merely recount all the ways her life in Turkey was better than her life here. That list would have made me crazy and slightly defensive. Rather she works hard to answer this question: Can we live effectively in the U.S. without productivity as our primary goal?

I am addicted to measureable productivity. Admittedly less so than in the past, but on days when I get little done, I have to wrestle through my own judgements of myself. I am daily learning how to be committed to my work while at the same time, not elevating it over what is truly my desire: communion with God and one another.

Unfortunately for my productive self, the results of communion remains maddeningly un-measurable.

But the value of communion is spectacularly immeasurable. 

This is what I hold on to.

Tsh reminds me of the choices I have in my own life to live with intention now. I don’t have to move to a different country to experience the benefit of a slower pace of living and I don’t have to discount my life here as less-than or wrong. Rather I learn what I can from others and uncover ways to weave in what matters most. We can find our own blue bikes to ride right where we are.

(subscribers click here to see a short video)

notes from a blue bikeI couldn’t help myself, y’all. I had to Waterlogue Tsh and her book. (!!)

Tsh is a mama, a writer, and a friend of mine. She wrote Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World and is the creator of The Art of Simple. You can also find her in a quiet corner of the internet on her own personal site aptly named Tsh Oxenreider.

Whenever I need to reevaluate what my family values most, I turn to her work. After reading this book, I felt like I had gone on a trip with Tsh as my guide–not to a foreign land, but a trip into the land of possiblity for all the important areas of my life. I deeply appreciate her kind and honest perspective on living with intention, especially her thoughts on money, schooling, and love.

And that is what I wrote in my endorsement in the front of the book. I put my name on this one. It’s a keeper for sure.


  1. says

    You are awesome for many reasons, one of them being that you used “shifty” in this post! I’ll have to head over to B&N online and read more about Tsh’s book.

  2. Sandy says

    I, too, struggle with the near-constant pull to be productive and it is so tiring. Was just speaking with my husband last night about feeling way too busy and not having time to just live. We’re not even one of those families that goes all the time or have their kids in lots of activities (I don’t know how they do it), but still… I feel there is never enough time. Have been thinking a lot lately about my “small” life. (I really appreciated what you wrote about it recently) and I’m drawn to making it smaller in ways so there will be space and time for God to do big, medium, or little things in it – whatever He wants. Surely, there is a way to find balance. Thanks for the heads up about this book… I suspect I will like it for the same reason I like your blog so much… I want a thoughtful approach to life. I want to be transparent and live an authentic life, and I want to not just be swept along with the crowd, but live each messy, beautiful day fully holding my Father’s hand. Thank you Emily. ~ Sandy

  3. says

    Emily I love your candor. Your words here draw me in with sweet truths. What a richly authentic post on many levels. ( I would not expect anything otherwise, but this is just wow:) ) So glad your breathes in Uganda were meaningful and blessed. Warm welcome home from me to you.

  4. club20 says

    This is such a theme for my life right now. Currently doing a Bible study on the book, “Abundant Simplicity.” Also, I use a gratitude app on my ipod, and realized about 90% of the things I listed that I felt grateful for were things I’ve done/completed. I get my most satisfaction from what I’ve done, not what I’ve been given or Who I belong to??? That is not right. I want a “To You” (God) list, not a “To Do” list to be my priority. I am learning and am a work in progress, but that is where I need to be.

  5. says

    Very wise words…. I’ve been on several mission trips and most have had a few difficult or disappointing moments… we are, after all, dealing with people… and taking the inspiring moments and sharing them with others… to increase their compassion… to help them reach beyond their boundaries just a little… to make a different in another life, is the best gift we can share with others.

    The most changed life as a result of those trips is mine….

    I enjoyed reading your blog… I found it via Jeff Goins. Blessings to you!

  6. says

    Thank you Emily for this encouragement–I needed it! I’ve really struggled the last few weeks with guilt knowing that my “productivity” has been lacking…not to mention my devotion and obedience.

    We so often struggle in this jam-packed FaceBook/Pinterest facade where we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone; friends and strangers alike. We wonder if we are good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, productive enough. Am I the super-mom, super-wife that SHE is? Oh, SHE’S a successful executive, or a published author, or an entrepreneur…what am I? SHE’s run a marathon, climbed a mountain, traveled the world, still looks good in a bathing suit…and what have I done with my life?

    All that matters, is that whatever you do, you do it for the Lord. Thank you for the inspiration and book recommendation!


  7. Lois says

    Tsh’s book keeps coming to me in unexpected ways. I know I’m going to have to buy it! I’ve also lived overseas–5 countries (currently in Greece) and love the different pace of life in each place. I see God wanting to use me and struggle to find my own balance. I can’t wait to read this book and discover something new.

  8. says

    Beautiful. I love it. I also am trying to make the most of my life. Make the most of reaching out and up whether that’s here in my little town or one far away. That part doesn’t matter to God. What does matter is time with him and time with others well spent.
    “Admittedly less so than in the past, but on days when I get little done, I have to wrestle through my own judgements of myself.”I love this line. I also struggle when I don’t have this awesome agenda list of crossed at the end of the day.
    Thanks for sharing your heart!

  9. says

    Lovely insights into life, especially when it’s so easy to slip into the “their-way-is-better-than-mine” mentality without seeing the complexity of issues. We can all learn something from each other when we have open hands, open hearts, but we must not place each other on a pedestal. Learn from each other and embrace your own life. Both are good.

  10. says

    Wonderful thoughts on not disrespecting your own culture when you see and experience another’s — I, too, have spent time on mission trips outside of our wonderful country and seen how others worship and serve. It does take time to integrate and learn to absorb, value, and take away from the experience in a way that respectfully impacts your local church and your journey when you arrive back home.
    I have Tsh’s book sitting on the bedside table and I’m looking forward to reading it.

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