Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives November 2016

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

We’re only here for whipping cream. I first looked for it at Costco since it is usually in the dairy section there, but this time it was nowhere to be found. I had to make another stop at another store with a parade of kids behind me. While they’re exiting the minivan, I make them stand on the white line that separates the parking spaces. It makes me laugh when they naturally line up in order of height. As we go, I look like a mother duck and her ducklings; quite a sight for the city-dwellers around who can’t seem to hide their incredulous expressions at the length of our line. It is equal parts thrill and chore to get through the aisles of a store with all six in tow for one item. I have to lead the way and simultaneously mind the line so no one strays or knocks merchandise off of shelves as we go by. It’s not the easiest job, but I have learned to be at peace with the work it takes to accomplish anything with a bursting nest…most of the time.

In a few days, we will be in full feasting mode, and the preparations for Thanksgiving Day has me reflecting in the quiet of my heart. I ponder the merits of having not only a thankful heart, but going a little bit further to cultivate full-fledged contentment. It seems like the two ideas could be the same, but in my mind gratitude is a start, and contentment is a deep space where profound peace resides.

A brief look at the differences: Gratitude is a currency—something I offer in response to gifts received—but honestly, I can say thanks all day long and still harbor hidden feelings of envy and bitterness about my life and what I don’t have. I can outwardly feast and inwardly feed dark things in my soul that erode my joy. In contrast, contentment doesn’t allow such an internal conflict to persist, because it is not a currency like gratitude.

Contentment is a posture.

It can be practiced in every kind of circumstance. I can cultivate contentment even when the extremities of my life exist in tension—joys and heartaches intermingled in the same space. I recognize that cultivating contentment is merely embracing the truth of what is in front of me, joys and challenges alike.

For many people the joy of this season is laced with anxiety, loneliness, relational struggles, and heartaches of all different kinds—troubles carefully hidden behind the shiny things, twinkling lights, and warm greetings. I have experienced all of these things over the years, and even though I am currently in a sweet season with my crew, I find that holidays still seem to paw at my tender heart spaces. It’s the pause between the action that gets me; the reminiscing, the longing for restoration in relationships, the acknowledgment that even while everything around me is beautiful, I still find it a challenge to celebrate every moment because some moments are just plain hard.

Contentment means I own what is true in my life and see the value in it, whether the season I am in is full of joy or full of challenges, or an odd mix of the two. It means choose not to waste my energy trying to escape what is before me, but instead engage it and work through it, believing that God has a purpose for allowing each season. I struggle to find contentment when I am looking for something tangible to hold tight in my fingers that makes me feel like I am in control of things I am actually not in control of. Contentment means I lay my heart wide open to receive what God gives, and I remain open to the strength, encouragement, and guidance He supplies daily as I commune with Him, whether or not my daily reality is bright and shiny.

Contentment is an invitation to embrace what I have been given, even if those things are not what that I expected or wanted.  Contentment is seeing the purpose in my present situation. What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I give thanks for even the challenges I have in front of me?

Contentment is being present in this moment. Instead of dwelling in the past and the sorrows of yesterday, I am awake to the opportunities to love today. Instead of looking into the distant future and all the not-yet things, I am tuned in to the blessings that hedge me in. I have a roof over my head. I have warm (albeit well-worn) slippers on my feet. I have the noise of happy children around me as I continue sorting out my journey with the Lord in the humble spaces, doing the unglamorous but faithful things.

Contentment is not static. It is an active, intentional cultivation of gratitude in this moment. Contentment is an open-heartedness that lets beauty in and lets stress, pressure, disappointment, and struggle out.

Contentment means I recognize that the nagging pang of inadequacy, and the need for “more” of whatever I don’t have—is a foe that is deliberately working to undermine my joy and my ability to fulfill the purpose of my life with intention.

We struggle to find contentment because we erroneously believe that to cultivate or embrace contentment is to say something akin to “everything is right in the world”. Certainly everything is not right in the world. However, cultivating contentment is a way of saying that in my small space, and my small life, I recognize that the blessings afforded to me are extravagant in comparison to many people and I am grateful for them—even though I may also still struggle to reconcile other things in my heart.

Contentment doesn’t mean I have no further goals or desires. It doesn’t mean that I feel total peace at every moment. It means that in this moment, I choose to shut out the noise and strong messages coming from everywhere that I need more, more more. It means that I acknowledge that who I am and what I have are enough to find a measurable amount of peace right here and right now.

Contentment means I pause to account for the endless gifts in my life that I can easily overlook when I’m plunged deep into worry.

Contentment is a recognition that the things I don’t have, weight I have not lost, the brokenness in relationships that has not been restored, the emotional, mental, or physical challenges I have faced—do not define my value, do not define my success or failure, and do not change the reality that God’s mercy is new every morning. All of the above things do not preclude me from giving thanks for the smallest things in my life that fill the empty pangs in my soul, even if only momentarily at times. I can struggle and still stretch my heart open to receive from God the good things He gives.

Contentment is a way of celebrating tiny milestones, and if practiced faithfully, contentment is a sure way out of despair, discouragement, and disconnection, just not always in a timeframe that suits my sensibilities.

Instead of looking down at the mud I stand in (sometimes up to my hips), it means turning my face upward to the sky in gratitude for the rain that falls, washing away what is not needed and nourishing my roots that are stretching down deep in the soil, growing stronger all the time.

Today, I invite you to turn your face up and open your arms wide. You might still feel the mud at your feet, but do you also feel the rain?

“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:7

1271. the full and good season I’m in, 1272. my ever-faithful husband, 1273. visitors coming, 1274. simplicity, 1275. steadily regaining strength, 1276. toddler conversations, 1277. helpful children, 1278. super deal on a nice dress, 1279. chubby baby hands with a really strong grip, 1280. writing time and new writing friends

Life & Faith / Soulful Simplicity

Soulful Simplicity with Purpose

Welcome friends.

This is day 31 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October, and finishing slightly after the end of October. Real life. The whole series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

*******************

In closing out this series, I wanted to share a few last thoughts with you. First of all, thank you to those of you who have cheered me through this month. I have learned so much during this month or writing intentionally every day, and I would not have been able to make it over a few of the bumps I hit without the encouragement, prayers, and support of so many friends. I decided to do Write 31 Days on a bit of a whim, but in hindsight, I realize that God knew I needed a little space to spread my wings out a little and see that I can do this. I can write as a mom of 6 littles. It might be a little unconventional, and I might have to be creative about things from time to time, but I am encouraged to see that I can do it.

Isn’t it interesting that once you wholeheartedly believe you can do something, you have a lot more wind in your sails to follow through? That’s where I hope some of you have landed at the end of this series. I hope you see the beauty in a soulfully-simplified life and the reality that you can start taking small steps toward freedom, peace, hope, and joy….today. One small step is all it takes to get started.

The point of Soulful Simplicity is not conformity to an ideal. It is not about working harder to achieve a standard (that always feels a bit out of reach), or feeling guilty for your comfortable life. Soulful simplicity is about thoughtfully curating your life in such a way that you can live from the most meaningful place and reap the long-term benefits from the intentional choices you make.

Soulful simplicity is about healing and thriving, with purpose, on purpose.

I have myself been surprised at how deeply writing this series has hit me. I’ve been on a simplicity journey for a long time, but there are layers, friends. Many, many layers. As soon as you think you are at a destination, you might discover—nope there is more to the journey than you anticipated. It is a gift to continue discovering the riches of God’s wisdom in our lives, especially in unexpected ways, which is exactly what I have experienced during this writing challenge. There are new ways I have in mind to simplify my heart and home going forward.

I pray that wherever you are in your journey, you would find clarity for your best next-step toward soulful simplicity, and that you would go forward with courage and boldness.

If there is anything I’ve covered in this series that you are interested to dive into a little more or if you have questions you’d like to ask on the subject of Soulful Simplicity, please be in touch. I’d be so glad to hear from you.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 NASB

********************

I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Life & Faith / Soulful Simplicity

Behind the Scenes of Soulful Simplicity

Welcome friends.

This is day 30 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

*******************

In order to do this Write 31 Days challenge, I tucked little bits of writing time in every available space throughout the month. I’ve kept slips of paper on the counter to write while I am cooking a meal and simultaneously doing the dishes, stopping sporadically to jot down thoughts to include on a topic.

I stayed up for hours after little ones went to bed. Sometimes I wrote on my laptop upstairs. Sometimes I wrote in odd places around the house. Surrounded by darkness and soundly sleeping children, I crouched at the foot of my stairs with a notebook and pen in hand, light shining through a crack in the door onto the page while I scratched out the things from my heart that I wanted you to know.

I sat on the floor while folding laundry, stopping periodically to record a thought before coming back to the pile.

I made notes while sitting in church. I made notes while standing in a busy waiting area during a 40-minute wait for a table—my notebook resting on the handlebar of the stroller where my youngest cooed and nibbled on cheerios I popped into his mouth every few minutes, the other kids scuttling around the lobby of Red Robin. I stopped my moving vehicle with six kids in the back, pulling over to the side of the road because I had something to add to my notes for an entry.

I strapped my baby to my back in a carrier so I could sit and type what I needed to without him screaming or prowling about the common area finding every tiny thing left on the floor while my attention was here. On the page. Pouring out.

I sat in my downstairs bathroom with a pen and journal beside me while I picked nits out of my 2 year old’s hair—also tediously checking every other head in the house for six hours—and managed to handle a light case of lice in one dedicated day (plus copious amounts of laundering and re-checking heads for weeks afterward). I’m pretty much a lice expert now. (Not really, but if you ever get it, I will tell you what it takes to kick it fast!)

I kept my notes by my side while my children worked through their english and math lessons. I canceled plans to be places I wanted to be—sometimes by choice, other times because of illness—in order to write.

I stayed up late into the night again and again to bring my notes together in some coherent sentences, and went to sleep at the same time as my husband about two times this entire month. That is what it has looked like to bring you this series, which I offer to you with love. I hope you have found it useful.

This time has been precious, sacred, and deeply meaningful to me.

Soon I will be making some small changes to my blog sidebar, and I am planning to send email newsletters to those who would like to receive updates on recent blog posts and other relevant news. If you wish to receive updates on individual posts, I recommend using Feedly or Bloglovin’, but if you’re fine with hearing from me every 1-2 weeks or so, subscribing to my email newsletter would be your best bet.

Lastly, I want to let you know that hearing from you encourages me. When you read something that resonates, it helps to know. When you share your stories and hearts with me, I am deeply encouraged. I am honored by the time you would spend to read my words, by the ways you reach out to connect, and I hope that you’ll continue doing both as I keep on this journey.

Thank you so much for your encouragement.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6

********************

I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Life & Faith / Motherhood / Soulful Simplicity

A Simplicity Journey

Welcome friends.

This is day 29 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

*******************

I’ve been taking small steps toward simplicity every day for half of my life.

When I started, I wouldn’t have called it simplicity. It looked more like survival. I was the oldest child in a family fractured by divorce, my heart torn into five pieces that will never find their way back to the same original shape. I navigated my last years of high-school, attempting to feel as little as possible so I didn’t hurt so much. I chose Jesus for myself in that time, and have never regretted it a single day.

After survival, the steps looked like grief. When I left my mother’s home and went to college, I let the dam finally break and cried buckets of tears for months. I cried daily, prayed often, and poured out my sorrows into songs that I wrote with a sweet friend who journeyed alongside me through that tough season and every season forward.

After grief, the steps looked like drama. A young man sought my hand in marriage and I was all kinds of terrified about it. I tried sending him another direction. I tried to deflect his love with excuses and intensive conversations, but the good thing was: for the first time, I was thinking about my heart and what I wanted for it. In the end, he won me over and has added good things to my life ever since.

After drama, the steps looked like loneliness. I spent my first year of motherhood in an unfamiliar city without an established community to look to for support. I was 23 and knew nothing about raising a child, only that the deafening silence of being home alone with her for hours a day made me feel desperate to fill the empty space with anything. Except I couldn’t. For the first time, I tasted what stillness of the soul can accomplish…how margin and whitespace makes room for deep work within my heart.

After loneliness, the steps looked like surrender. The news of a third baby felt initially like an ill-timed joke, falling in the middle of our very poorest, most vulnerable time as a family. It was no joke, and after a stretch of wrestling with God about that timing, I started embracing the reality that I could argue with God about what is good for me, or I could give myself to the tasks He put before me. I chose to give myself to it.

After surrender, the steps looked like grace. I grew in faithfulness to my mothering task, and started learning about what it might look like to put my whole heart into the purpose of seeking the highest good for my family, even if it meant humbling myself, and learning how to receive what God gives with gratitude despite the times I do not completely understand it. I learned how to value small things done with great love.

After grace, the steps looked like diligence. I dealt with a minor health issue through my fifth pregnancy, and learned how to create new habits and live by my priorities like never before. I discovered a strength in me I didn’t know was there.

After diligence, the steps looked like joy, and that is where I currently stay; aware that life is a gift and that God really does heal, mend, restore, and redeem. I am walking proof of it.

Soulful simplicity is a journey, not a destination.

It is not an ideal to be worshiped, or an island to land on. It is an invitation to discover the peace, goodness, and healing of God in your own everyday life.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 1:13-18

********************

I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!