Because June is as Good as January for Setting an Intention

Hopefully everything you read here will help to create space for your soul to breathe, no matter if I write it or if I invite someone else in. That’s why I’m happy to welcome Claire Diaz-Ortiz to the blog today. I love Claire’s gentle reminder that you don’t have to wait until January to be intentional about your life. Here’s one simple way to do that today.

Like most of us, I want to be happier. Whether it’s waking up with more spark or going to bed more satisfied with my day, I want to open my life to the opportunity for greater joy.

As such, I love to read books about happiness. Gretchen Rubin has written a few of those, and in one of them she recommends a small, powerful idea that has taken hold to become a big, strong force in my own life.

The Importance of Setting an Intention

That idea is to choose a word each and every year that represents the year you have in front of you. Rather, to choose a word for your year. (Oh, and take a cue from Gretchen: years don’t need to start in January.)

Choose one single word that imbues the type of year you wish to have, one word that can serve as a guidepost for what you want in the season to come. A singular word you can always harken back to in moments of darkness and doubt. One word that informs your decisions, crystalizes your passions and priorities, and embodies you—the new you!—in the months ahead.

Depending on the type of year you seek, there are many words that can do the trick. Words like Move, Pause, Breathe, Dance, Less, Family, Health, Travel, and Choose all hold a certain special sauce.

The guidelines are simple. The word can be a verb or a noun. It can be a long word or a short word. But it is key that the word brings together everything you fervently hope to live and breathe in the year to come. One word to inform and synthesize the year you have ahead of you. One word to mean everything you want the year to be, and one word that will help serve as a guiding light when times get tough and you’re not clear on where your priorities are.

A few years ago, my word of the year was Rest.

It was a word that meant the world to me in that season of my life. I was harried and overwhelmed from a few too many years of corporate globetrotting, and I needed a daily reminder to do less. And so I did.

Although my Rest might not have been as restful as the Rest that some might be able to enjoy (I saw nary a beach that entire year), my word still served as a key force in getting me to slow down. It helped me to make decisions, and to keep in mind what was really important when difficult choices arose.

Should I go to that social event—or stay home? Should I say yes to what could be a great opportunity, or pass it up to wait for something better to come along? Should I travel to that work meeting—or call into it instead?

When life and work calls for us to be busy, it is hard to slow down. However, by attempting to make this word forefront in my mind, I sought to make small strides that would lead to notable changes and positive transformation. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect. I knew I would never get it 100 percent. But I did know that by setting the intention, I could make some progress.

In the end, I did. And you can, too. Set a word now, and watch your year rise up to take shape around it.

51be5Z-MwOLClaire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media.

She writes a popular blog at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com and is the author of several books. The above is an excerpt from her latest book, The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are.
 

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.