The Rest of the Body // A Guest Post by Tara M. Owens

It’s my pleasure today to welcome my new friend, Tara Owens, to the blog. I met Tara in California back in January and felt instantly at ease in her presence. You’ll soon see why.

Since I recently had another birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’m noticing in my body, some I haven’t looked too kindly upon. Today, Tara’s words are, for me, a gentle invitation – one I think we all might need – to begin to listen to and embrace our bodies in a way we may not have done before. Let her words be a gift.

It’s the end of a long week. A week of appointments and disappointments, of driving here and there with my little one. A week of coughs and colds, and of deadlines whooshing by at top speed. It’s easy enough to say my soul is tired.

Embracing the Body by Tara M. Owens

Why is it so hard to say my body is, too?

It’s funny, I think, that as believers we’re allowed to be soul-weary before we’re allowed to be bone-weary. That we privilege our emotions and our thoughts over our aching feet and heavy-lidded eyes.

I know I come by that bias honestly. Ever since coming to Christ I’ve been aware of how important it is to renew my mind, to take every thought captive, to develop the fruit of the Spirit. These things matter, and they matter deeply in the life of faith. Romans 12 is foundational to my life with God, and learning the life of Christ has come from letting the truth of His Word seep into my soul.

That’s why I was so surprised that I’d never read, never really read, the beginning of that chapter.

Yes, Romans 12 talks about renewing my mind, being transformed. But at the very beginning, the place where Paul deeply beseeches us (as it says in the New King James Version), is a verse about our bodies, my body. About giving that body to God as a living sacrifice. It’s about being willing to let go of my control of my fingers and heart, my soft tummy and even my unruly hair. It’s about being willing to give complete dominion over to God, to let go of how I want to control how I look or how much I weigh or even how much sleep I get.

What surprised me even more, as I sat with that verse, is that God asks me to give myself to Him as a living sacrifice—something new and different. Every other sacrifice, Jesus included, was to be killed, blood spilled on the altar. But because of Jesus, a new type of sacrifice can be made to God.

This time, it’s a living one. A living, breathing, sweating, crying, laughing one.

So, I wondered, what would happen if I really, really believed that? If I wasn’t afraid of giving my body to God, worried about what He might do with it? What if I risked, trusted the heart of the Father enough to give Him what He was gently asking of me?

You know what He gave me?

He gave me rest.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I know. It’s the first thing that Psalm 23 says is true of the Good Shepherd—He makes me lie down in green pastures.

But I’m so used to pushing and running and enslaving my body to things like productivity or performance, I didn’t expect God to tell me to pay attention to the aches. I didn’t expect God to tenderly take this worn and worried woman off the altar and show me that tension I’ve been carrying around in my shoulders were a message from Him I’m lifting burdens He’s meant to carry. I didn’t expect the God of the universe to tell me that giving those burdens to Him meant taking a nap when all I could see what my to-do list.

Here’s the thing: giving God my body, risking that with Him, freed me to listen to His murmurs through my muscles, His blessings through my bones.

What might it look like if you took that risk today, too? If you took a moment to give, really give, your body to Him—because it is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is—as a living sacrifice. If you risked it, what messages might you hear? What it’s an invitation to real rest, and to the rest of the body? The rest of God?

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Tara M. OwensTara M. Owens is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone published by InterVarsity Press in March 2015.

She’s a spiritual director and supervisor with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo.

She loves Dr. Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

Come See Why I Haven’t Posted in 2 Weeks!

emily p freeman

After nearly 10 years of writing online and several site re-designs, I’ve teamed up with Erin at Design by Insight to make some changes around here, this time with you in mind.

For example, we’ve brought to the forefront some key features that make this community special (See About Chatting at the Sky under Emily in the top navigation).

My hope is that the added white space and even less clutter will continue to help you create space for your soul to breathe. Most changes are clear, but I wanted to point out a couple things that are different:

  • Mobile Friendly – Finally!
  • Comments – The comment link now lives under the post title rather than at the end of the post.
  • Chatting at the Sky – The blog name remains the same, but the entire site now lives under emilypfreeman.com
  • Popular – We’ve added this option to the top menu bar to provide easy access to most-read content.
  • Free - Here is a collection of free resources we’ve offered over time, but now they’re all in one place.

I hope you’ll take a little time to learn your way around. We’re still working out some wonky spots, but if you see anything that seems strange or are unable to find what you’re looking for, let us know in the comments and we’ll look into it.

As always, thanks for always coming back. I hope this new design will serve you even better!

What Everybody Ought to Know About Self-Reflection

I don’t know what I’m like. I get glimpses of myself in other people’s eyes. I try to be careful whom I use as a mirror.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Last month I flew out to Portland, Oregon to speak at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference. Many of you know this. What you don’t know is that I almost said no to that opportunity. Here’s why.

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I didn’t think I was going to be the kind of person they would like.

I had never been to Portland before, never met many of the people I knew would be there. I thought maybe they would be young, cool, hipsters and I would be not those things. Maybe I’m the Kenneth Parcell to their Liz Lemon, the Jessica Day to their Nick’s-girlfriend-Julia, the Hallmark Channel to their HBO.

Maybe they write brilliantly about social justice and politics and living among the poor and other important issues. And I write from my home office in my quiet cul-de-sac about creating space for your soul to breathe.

On a good day I know what I write matters. But not all days are good days.

When I was invited to speak at the Faith and Culture Writers conference, I hesitated.

Is it possible for me – one person – to speak at both a conference hosted by the Proverbs 31 Ministries in the Bible Belt of Charlotte, North Carolina as well as the Faith and Culture Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon?

Where do I fit? What if I choose one group and they find out I’m not actually one of them?

What if I’m fooling everyone after all, including myself?

“Here we are, living in a world of ‘identity crises’ and most of us have no idea what an identity is. Half the problem is that an identity is something which must be understood intuitively, rather than in terms of provable fact.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

As often happens when I’m wrestling through these kinds of things, I asked Kendra all of these questions (and many more) as I struggled with this inner tension. She listened and became a mirror for me. And somewhere in that reflection, I saw Jesus.

She reminded me that my job is to listen to Jesus and then to act. She reminded me my job is to be myself no matter who else is there.

The words I share are not only for one particular group, but for anyone who wants to come to the table and sit on my bench. And their words are for me, too.

I’m gentle by nature, I like funny TV, I think deeply about Jesus, faith, culture, grace, and people. I write to know what I think about things, but I don’t write down everything I think about.

I share my life on the internet. I am deeply private.

I often wish I was more naturally lighthearted. Instead I have to work at it.

As it turns out, I don’t have to define myself. I simply have to be myself.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

And so I said yes to speaking at this writers conference in Portland. I settled within myself that I belong even though I’m not a cool hipster or a rabble rouser or a policy maker but because I am in Christ. And the gracious people there, they proved those words were true.

sit on the bench

We came together from different backgrounds and life experiences, but isn’t that always how a group of people come together, no matter how alike we may seem on the outside?

I confess my tendency to try to see myself through someone else’s eyes. I also confess how terrible I am at it.

But every now and then you have the opportunity to do this, to see yourself through someone else’s eyes because they use words to say what they think of you.

That happened last week, as Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference attendee Esther Emory wrote a post about me.

That’s not actually true at all. Her beautiful post was about her; about her perspectives and impressions and her own spiritual formation. But there was some of me in there, too, and within the post she offered her honest opinions and impressions of me, some I understood and others that surprised me.

When I saw my name in the post title, I braced myself. I’ve been written about on the internet before. It isn’t always kind.

“But we aren’t always careful of our mirrors. I’m not . . . I’ve looked for an image in someone else’s mirror, and so have avoided seeing myself.”

- Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

I met Esther for the first time at the conference. When we spoke, I saw her as brave, grown up, confident, kind, and smart. (In her post she called me ‘bucolic’ and I had to look up the word — twice — because I didn’t know what it meant. Insert cry laugh face.)

When I met her, I immediately liked her. I walked away from our short conversation wishing we had more time to spend together but also questioning all the words I used. I’m an introvert. Why do I use so many words when I talk to people? Dear Emily. Say. Less. Words.

When I read her post, I saw her words as a vulnerable gift, as they reflect a soul that’s similar to my own even though our lives are different. I do what she does, too. I form other people’s opinions of me for them too.

I shut people out and lock myself in even though I know better.

This post is tough to write because it feels so painfully self-absorbed. It is that, I admit. But it’s also true I think many of you can relate. Don’t we all question where we fit and how we’re perceived? Don’t we all protect the lingering child, longing for security, acceptance, and love? Don’t we all hope for connection but often choose protection instead?

we are free

“The people I know who are the most concerned about their individuality, who probe constantly into motives, who are always turned inwards toward their own reactions, usually become less and less individual, less and less spontaneous, more and more afraid of the consequences of giving themselves away.”

 – Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Here’s one thing I know: sometimes self-reflection gets in the way. Not the kind I do in the presence of Christ – no that’s the important kind. But the kind I practice while I looking the mirror or in your eyes or at your reactions? That kind gets in the way of the gospel in me. If I spend too much time trying to define myself, it’s easy to forget that I’m free.

We are free to holler with the world changers.

We are free to ponder with the contemplatives.

We are free to campaign with the activists and be still with the liturgists.

We are free to be quiet and free to be loud.

We are free to live in the center, on the side, or in the back.

We are free to go.

We are free to stay home.

We are free to linger and to leave early.

We are free to dream big and free to dream small.

We are free to draw boundaries and free to change our minds.

There’s room at the table for Liz Lemon and Kenneth Parcell.

We are free. We are free. We are free.

Choosing a Book Rhythm That’s Right for You

Well, then. I think one thing we’ve established is that Chatting at the Sky readers really like to talk about books. I loved hearing your advice about which book I should read from my 10 best books I’ve never read list.

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Several of you mentioned how you choose what to read next depends on your mood, your season of life, and state of mind. I couldn’t agree more.

Meema even mentioned she can’t have a fiction and a non-fiction book going at the same time. “I can’t mix them,” she says, “like a kid who won’t allow her food to touch on her plate.” So interesting!

I thought it would be fun to tell you how I decide when to read which books and then ask how you do it in the comments.

Personally, I don’t mind if my books touch (that still kills me, Meema!) and I actually prefer having several books going at once. Instead, what book I pick up depends on the time of day.

morning reads

1. Morning – Reflective or Theological

Sometimes I’ll get up in the 5s before the kiddos and I’ll have lots of time to read. Other times my morning reading only happens once they head off to school. Whether I have five minutes or an hour, I always choose something reflective in the morning, usually devotional, theological, or memoir. (The Bible, Ann Patchett, Eugene Peterson, John O’Donohue, Hannah Whitall Smith).

2. Daytime – Creative or Business

My work hours are from around 8:30 in the morning until 2:30 when the kids get home. Sometimes I will work until 4 or 5 if I have a particular project, but usually those 6 hours in the middle of the day are for writing, email, conference calls, and anything else work-related. Those are also the hours where I’ll throw in some laundry, run an errand or two, workout, and maybe make my bed.

All that to say, I don’t tend to read in the middle of the day, but every now and then I’ll find a pocket of time (maybe while I eat lunch or waiting at the DMV, for example). The type of book I’ll pick up during a weekday is one having to do with writing, marketing, or creativity (Seth Godin, Natalie Goldberg, Steven Pressfield).

3. Evenings, Weekends, and Airplanes – Fiction and Funny Memoir

I have to save fiction and funny memoir for evenings, weekends, or traveling for the simple reason that I suffer from story addiction.

This means my family is neglected and ignored when I get into a book. For the sake of the safety of my children and the well-being of my family life, I need to save the imaginary worlds or hilarious words of others for evenings after dinner (Everyone is fed! You’re all going to be okay without me!), before I go to bed (They’re sleeping!) or when I travel (What? Flying through the air at 500 mph? Who cares! I’m engrossed in a novel!) See how that works? (Kate Morton, Sarah Addison Allen, Tina Fey).

Now. Here’s what happened after I read your comments:

That very night I read the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables outloud with one of my daughters (Notice: Fiction in the evening). We’ve both seen the movie so know what’s coming, but it’s delightful to read together.

circle of quiet

The next morning, I settled in with A Circle of Quiet by Madeliene L’Engle (Notice: Reflective memoir in the morning) as it’s one I’ve been especially wanting to read for a while and it’s also one several of you mentioned on Instagram, saying it changed your life.

Yes, please.

(Speaking of Yes Please, I read Amy Poehler’s memoir a few months ago – I saved that one for evenings and weekends. Notice: Funny memoir).

Anyway, when I sat down to read A Circle of Quiet, I opened it to the first page and this is what was there to greet me:

a circle of quiet

Don’t you love used books! I don’t know if Elaine listened to Mary’s advice and waited to read until things settled down, but I’m learning to stop waiting until life slows down to do things. A reading rhythm helps with that.

While some things in life I can’t control, there are many things I can. My life tends to move at the pace I allow, and let me tell you with my new book releasing in 17 weeks, the pace is quickening, the lists are growing, and the deadlines are landing in my inbox like bang snaps on concrete.

For those of us who tend to think rest, fulfillment, and clarity live just around the corner, we would do well to learn now that Surprise! Life doesn’t actually have corners.

Instead, we create our own stops, our own spaces, our own circles of quiet. One way to do that is to develop a reading rhythm that works for you.

“Often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Do you have a book-reading rhythm you follow? Tell us in the comments! If you’d like to hear about the books I’m currently reading, I share that list every month in my newsletter. You can receive that monthly letter by signing up here.