Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Browsing Category Thoughts

Poetry / Thoughts

Through Glass and Fingertips

hollowed out, a log fallen
flat on the forest floor, a collection of ruins
heaped and spread, beyond repair

sand settled low in the funnel, time through glass and fingertips
the sum of years, sunk
treasures lost in shuffled lives lived facing different directions

different eyes see different things, but not the others
walls up, hearts held back
to hide in neutral, uncontested space

but love.

Love is bold, to break through
new life in the hollow
the promise of beauty from ashes, sprouted

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

There was momentum, success in writing some of the most precious stories of my heart, and then radio silence for two straight months. A series half-finished, and a heart consumed with other matters…in many ways shaken awake to responsibilities and realities that beg my attention more than my need to keep up appearances that I am a writing machine. I am not a writing machine. I am a busy mother in a season of living family adventures and challenges. I meant for it to be a momentary pause, but on occasion, moments stretch into months, and when the lungs I’ve been willfully holding breath in for many years finally exhale a swoosh of release from the need to always strive, always outrun the fear of tumbling blocks…well. The blocks have tumbled, and I have happened upon some of the most important personal discoveries of my adult life these past few months.

I have limits, and I rarely live by them. I swallow an elephant and look around for dessert. I shove some things to the side if they happen to be something I don’t really want to deal with at that time or anytime soon, and I try to fly with several overloaded satchels hitched to my wings.

It hasn’t worked out. I mean, I gave it a good run for a long stretch, but I’m halted, and wonderfully so. There is nothing especially dramatic. Just a wind of change. A hope for a healthier balance of life. I have every intention of finishing my series, it will just be on a looser timetable. I guess since I’m the boss, I can do that.

As I plunk the stories out, I will share them. Thanks for reading, and thanks for patiently waiting.

1401. The victory of a half-finished series, 1402. the quiet, but pivotal changes at my door, 1403. soul-swelling music that streams from my kitchen cupboard (via bluetooth speaker), 1404. rearranged rooms for kids, 1405. seeing the beauty of small, certain steps, 1406. the freedom to set down burdens, 1407. how words illuminate, 1408. toddler cuddles, 1409. the delightful taste of fresh oranges, 1410. embracing where I am

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Processing Pain

One photo a week throughout the year. 6/52

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I want to dig it out to see who has sent me a text message. I’m puttering around my over-stuffed kitchen. There is hardly any counter space and there is food and mess and dishes for eight people, which means it pretty much always feels like a disaster, even if I diligently scrape and rinse and stow dishes away after every meal. On one level, I’ve made my peace with it. On another level, it feels like an irritant; a constant reminder of all that I’m not good at. I reason there is not much that can be done. The space is small and there isn’t much storage space.

It’s a problem in more than one area of my life. There are a lot of things floating around that don’t have a permanent place to land. I’m not especially attached to any of it, but dealing with clutter takes a special brand of focus and energy that seems to run in short supply for me. I care far more about connection and creativity to stress about which papers go in the recycle bin and which should be filed away, so all the papers live in piles wherever they might be least likely to be disturbed. I would like to say I know where most of the important things are. I used to be able to keep those kind of details close at hand in my brain until I started having kids. Now, it is possible that I might be holding a pen in one hand while I look around for the location of that same pen on the surfaces around me, frustrated that I can’t find something to write with. I joke with my husband that I sacrificed most of my brain cells to give birth to six beautiful children, and we both laugh because its partly true.

The sink water runs while I dry one hand on the towel near me to retrieve my phone. I read the words.

“I miscarried last week. It has been rough for me. Trying to reach out.”

I flick the faucet handle down and feel instantly powerless to comfort, powerless to help in any meaningful way. My chest tightens up and tears scratch at my eyes and I suddenly forget how to pick up dishes, rinse them and set them in the dishwasher. This isn’t the first pregnancy loss. Or the second, or the third even. With each one, I watch the hope drain out from afar, and it breaks my heart. Truthfully, I don’t know the pain in any first-person way, but I imagine it and feel whatever it is that one feels when wanting to absorb the shock that someone else is feeling in the midst of their sudden emptiness.

What do I say? What can I say?

I can’t land on anything solid.

One of my children dashes through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement with a younger sibling in hot pursuit of some stolen treasured item that went down the stairs with the former. My guess would be it is a bouncy ball or a flip-open magnifying-glass toy, but I don’t care enough to ask or intervene.

I keep looking at the text and wish I could be instantly there, holding her head in my lap, stroking her hair gently, and praying for God’s comfort to meet her in the sorrowful moments—in this sorrow-filled season of uncertainty—while we both cry about it.

It seems unfair to encounter sorrow after sorrow when the desire of the heart is great. Maybe it is unfair, or maybe it is part of what is knitting us closer together. I have never miscarried, but I have seen other hopes die. I know the pain of loss in other ways and these reminders of it are what keep me tender-hearted and compassionate to others in their own seasons of struggle.

With all my heart, I wish I could find a way to help her around the pain instead of having to watch her go through it, but I’m aware that I don’t have that kind of power.

I fumble with my phone while I dry the other hand and manage a lame text in response. Lame because it accomplishes nothing, fixes nothing, and doesn’t make me feel any better either.

I sit down on the floor of my kitchen, my back against the cupboards under the kitchen sink. The only comfort I have ever found in these moments when my heart is deeply grieved comes from Jesus. It feels simplistic to put it like that, but it is true. When I discovered for myself that He shows up and enters into the wounded, hurting space to set a weeping woman free from lifelong fear, freeing her—or rather me—from the heavy responsibility to hold every last thing together, from the grip of despair, from the anger that drains all the beauty out of life…when I discovered that every last ache will one day be redeemed by the power of His all-consuming love; that was a day that changed everything for me.

I turn my heart inside out and beg for His sweet mercies to land close to the broken heart on the other end of this text thread. I ask Him with fervor to gather up her brokenness and comfort her the way He has comforted me in the lowest moments of my life. Tenderly. In the protective way of a good Father. Lord, in Your mercy, let it be so.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV

1331. new shoes for all the kids — at 70% off, 1332. the beauty and mystery of transformation, 1333. late night dreaming-while-awake, 1334. seeing a vision coming to life, 1335. fabric for a new baby banner for a friend, 1336. engagement party for a girl I knew when she was less than 10 years old, 1337. a lasagna gift, 1338. roozy boozy showing me where her feelings live, 1339. hubba-la-bubba-la baby babble, 1340. purple birthday plans in the works

Motherhood / Thoughts

The Generous Parent

I sit on my deep red couch with my journal open on my lap. The chatter of childhood surrounds me as my six kids alternately play and argue their way through the morning, fighting over random toys or who gets to be in charge of the pretend play scenario they have cooked up. I make a list of things I shouldn’t forget to do, and jot down notes of quiet thoughts I simply don’t want to lose track of in the momentum of family life. I write down: What does it mean to be a generous mother?

About then, my seven year old plops on the couch next to me and leans into my personal space. One part of me wants to send him back to play with the others and preserve the gloriousness of not having someone touching me at every moment, but before I give that command, my eyes fall across my journal page—a Holy Spirit invitation to recognize that this is a moment I can choose to be generous with my son.

Even though I really want my space and a little room to think my own thoughts, I close my journal and put my arm around him for the awkward cuddle of a long-legged, tender-hearted boy who feels the need for midday mama-snuggles. I know these days won’t last, and just this once, I feel satisfied that I am aware of his need and prepared to sacrifice my space for a few minutes of filling his heart with my attention. In this moment, I am a generous mother.

I don’t always make the gracious choice. In my heart, I want to, but tiredness, busyness, and spread-thinness impedes my ability to give my children my best at all times. Most often, I am stumbling through parenthood, powered by love, but not always able to get the tenderness I feel for my kids to show through gentle actions and encouraging words.

Nothing else has illuminated my humanity and the daily struggle to circumvent selfishness in order to humbly serve my family quite like parenthood. I find that sometimes even small gestures of kindness require a significant effort (especially when I am short on sleep, and consequently short on patience). Sometimes it is easier to stay focused on my to-do lists, and on the never-ending tasks of ordinary life, without pausing to attend to the little ones who simply want my attention for a few moments.

Like any other mom, I want to give my children the best of everything, whenever possible. I entertain hope that they might be spared suffering, ridicule, poverty, and challenges throughout their lives. I pray for those things, but deep down, I recognize that I can neither promise nor guarantee safe distance from adversity. I often forget that what I can give them, and what they really need in these years at home, is a parent who is invested, attentive, and tuned in to their emotional needs in addition to their physical ones. I forget that generosity doesn’t always mean giving them stuff. Sometimes it means allowing the inevitable interruptions of childhood, and purposing to give my attention generously to each as they seek me out.

At Christmas, we give gifts wrapped with paper and tape that can be opened in the excitement of Christmas morning. Every other moment of the year, we have the opportunity to give gifts that are only opened with the tenure of relationship, by forged connection and trust built in the mundane moments. We must recognize that our attentive presence is invaluable for our children.

This is what it means to be a generous parent: to see and embrace our children, to hear about their dreams and worries with listening ear and words of encouragement, and to celebrate the small victories they have in every stage of development. If we can do these things in their years at home with us, they will see return on our investment throughout the rest of their lives.

*This post originally appeared as a guest post for Meredith M. Dangel. 

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

Soulful Simplicity / Thoughts

The Truth About You

Welcome friends.

This is day 18 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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

Life is full of all kinds of messages about who you are and what you need.

They say, “You are sick! You need this product to make you feel better.”

They say, “Your house is a mess! You need a swifter wet-jet to make it clean!“

They say, “You are out of the game! You need to get a new outfit and land an interview for a new job!”

“They” say a lot of things.

“They” say a lot of things that are not true, as well. I didn’t write the toughest ones, because it stung a little too much to see them out there, because even though “they” say those things, I often believe what “they” say about how I look, what I don’t do well, and all the ways I don’t measure up.

I am guessing you might know a little bit about those kinds of thoughts?

Pursuing simplicity of the heart is about carefully discerning if the messages I receive—from an outside source or from within my mind—are true or not. Just as with real clutter, this helps clear away not only the unnecessary things I dwell on, but the untrue things as well. 

The problem with messages — true or untrue — is they require a response from us. There is no message going in that does not prompt a response going out. Sometimes the response is to absorb the message and believe it, even if it isn’t true. This happens often, and many times we hinge even bigger belief systems on a core thought that is not true. Sometimes the response is to identify which messages are untrue and reject them along with the heavy burdens they bring.

Much like I try to keep clutter from coming into my house, I try to keep clutter from coming into my heart as well. Some things just need to be left at the door.

Today I want to tell you some true things about yourself.

You are incredibly valuable.

Your value is not determined by your productivity or your perfection or the lack of either.

The things you believe in are evident in your life, whether or not you talk about them.

Every morning, you have the opportunity to start over.

Your words matter. They will build up or tear down. Words are never neutral because they are loaded with power.

You can learn so much from children–your own or other peoples’.

The mundane tasks you do in your home are much more important than it feels like they are. They are the very things that build a life.

The season you are in will not last forever. If it’s a good one, cherish it. If it’s a difficult one, persevere friend. Ask for help or encouragement if you need it.

You are capable of more than you realize.

You can embark on an adventure anytime. I find imaginary adventures with kids to be the most entertaining.

Your intentions matter, but your actions matter more.

You are resilient.

You are enough.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

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

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 / Thoughts

Love Others Well: Be Attentive

Welcome friends.

This is day 17 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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

I am thinking of a friend who—every time I see her—leans in for conversation, listens to what I have to say, and engages in a more intentional and interested way than most people do. Whenever I spend time with her, I go away feeling deeply loved by the attentiveness she gives to me whether we have five minutes or five hours to hang out.

This got me thinking about how to love others well, mostly because I see her do it with such grace. There is more than one way to love others, for sure, but the way I want to discuss at the present moment is loving well by listening well.

It takes intention to love others well in this way. We can only listen well, or become attentive in relationship, is if we create enough of a margin in our lives to be able to respond when someone reaches out to us and turn our attention to their needs, spoken or unspoken. Taking a phone call at a critical moment, or rearranging our schedules to meet with a friend face to face can sometimes be the difference between the pit of despair and the bedrock of hope.

Attentiveness is a product of simplicity, and is a highly-valued gift in a culture where time is a commodity that is typically given first to productivity. Attentiveness is more than listening; it is being aware, conscientious, interested, and observant. It is an investment that turns back an unpredictably high return in almost all cases. It reinforces the building or re-building of trust, and when one party is truly attentive to another, there is weight behind whatever response is given to the sharer, because the attentive party has no agenda other than to comfort, acknowledge, support, and resource the sharing party.

In my years-long journey toward inner-healing, I was blessed with quite a few friends who offered me this brand of attentive friendship. Those women have my deep respect, admiration, and gratitude, because the ways they loved me through that season have significantly marked my life for the better. I would say the attentive care of these friends (and also my husband) created the space I needed to sort out my inner turmoil and embrace the good (and sometimes unexpected) things God wanted to do in my life.

I guess I just wanted to say: Do not ever underestimate how powerful it is to listen well. When you offer someone your attention, you are in a unique position to also offer them hope, encouragement, and strength through whatever battles they may be going through. This goes for friends. This goes for spouses. This goes for children. Next time you have the opportunity, I encourage you to give this gift generously and see what beautiful things come of it.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

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

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 / Thoughts

Discover Your Real Priorities

This is day 4 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first few posts in the series, you can check them out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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

I had a baby earlier this year. He is a butterball of lovey goodness, and I am cherishing these months of his sort-of-littleness. Those of you who know him understand why I must describe him as sort-of-little. He’s young, but not actually little at all. He was 10lbs 4oz at birth, and at 7.5 months is now 22lbs.

The year before he was born, I challenged myself to run or walk ten miles a week, every week for 2015, and managed to log 600 miles for the year even though I was pregnant for half of it and wasn’t in the best shape when I started. That was a real victory for me, as I have never been a consistently active person. Before that year, I always intended to prioritize fitness, but never made it happen. I would have told you that health was a priority for me but that was not entirely true until 2015 when I verifiably got moving and kept moving.

Many people don’t realize that their intentions and priorities are not the same thing. We intend to do plenty of things that we never actually do. For something to be regarded as a priority in our lives, actions are needed to affirm that what we declare to be a priority is truly a priority. In the process of pursuing simplicity over the past few years, I have learned that what I think my priorities are and what they actually are don’t always match. It is a conundrum that is easily fixed, but can cause a lot of grief if the imbalance persists without being addressed.

I have no desire to tell you what your priorities should be, but I do care that today you go away with a mind to honestly identify what your priorities truly are so that you can be sure you are making deliberate choices toward living them.

Real priorities are evidenced by the choices we make—how we spend our time, money, and energy—and by how we organize what is in front of us in order to live by those priorities.

Before we get too much further in this month of Soulful Simplicity, I would encourage you to take an honest evaluation of what your priorities are based on what you do, not what you intend-to-do-but-don’t-really-do. What are your real priorities? Please note I am not looking for the “right” answer. I’m looking for the truthful answer. And actually, you don’t even have to share that with me. Just think about it. Thoughtfully.

If I say my priority is to have a well-organized home but there is clutter in nearly every corner of every room (true of my house in this present moment), it is safe to say that having a well-organized home actually isn’t a priority for me. Did you know that it is really ok (and sometimes advisable) to not stress out about having the neatest and most organized home? (Type A friends can pick a fight with me now…I can take y’all). My true priority is that my home be a sanctuary for all who live and visit here. Sometimes that priority involves doing stuff in the organization and tidiness zone (not my forte), but it also includes sometimes tending my soul by taking time to pray or write or read a book, thereby leaving dishes in the sink overnight. Sometimes it involves ignoring laundry for a stretch while I teach my children and take time to invest in their growing hearts and minds. Sometimes it means getting motivated to tackle all the unglamorous mundane household things so we all have the space we need to live in harmony with each other without total meltdown.

If my house is a bit disheveled here and there, but my family relationships are flourishing — I am succeeding at living into my priorities, and can celebrate that victory. When I can see that I am living into the true priorities I have, I am inwardly encouraged and find energy to outwardly keep moving in that direction. I can see the value in the work I do, even in the tasks I don’t like as much but need to be done.

In this way, identifying your priorities helps you understand your purpose, and when you are clear on your purpose, you gain a wonderful momentum that allows you to infuse the passion you have for the things that are most important to you into the tasks that are necessary to tend those things well. Determining your true priorities helps you establish reasonable expectations for yourself, and helps you set healthy boundaries in areas where things have a tendency to get out of hand.

Are you beginning to see how identifying your priorities can lead to freedom from impossible or unfair expectations of yourself? Are you beginning to see why the pursuit of soulful simplicity has become one of my top priorities? I’d love to hear from you if you give this exercise a try and see some benefit in it.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 NLT

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

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 / Thoughts

What is Soulful Simplicity?

This is day 2 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October! If you missed the first post in the series, you can check it out here. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

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

You get up every day. You go all the places, do all the things, chase all the kids, make all the meals, sort all the laundry…and drop into bed every night, depleted, exhausted, and wishing that there were some way to actually recharge or refresh in time for the rat race that will begin again tomorrow. True rest is what you long for, but you are resigned to the fact that it just won’t happen like that. You know you will wake up tired, and you will begin a new day with a mostly empty tank, wishing for relief that never seems to come in a satisfactory way.

I know way too many people who operate on mostly empty far too much of the time. I was one of those people for a number of years, and I was well acquainted with eyes that watered often because they were just so tired. Even more than my physical exhaustion, my soul was curled in around itself, deeply burdened with anxiety, fear, and the wounds I carried with me, keeping me preoccupied with trying to keep my head above water—desperate for rest that I couldn’t find anywhere. My home outwardly reflected my inner struggle, and just like I couldn’t seem to get past the hard inner things, it was extremely difficult for me to feel like I was making any progress in the basic household areas either.

I have come to believe that there is no space—home space or heart space—that is completely unaffected by the things that are hidden away in forgotten corners or buried deep in closets you don’t want anyone to open. Clutter (spiritual or physical) is never a static entity. It is a sly fox, an irreverent foe that actively hinders you from experiencing freedom, peace, and rest—succeeding largely because most people perceive clutter to be a benign thing, instead of a formidable force that works against our peace. Clutter, in all its forms, provides a constant low-grade resistance to our ability to move forward. If it feels like your life is working against you, it very well might be.

Some things need to be carried (and I am not saying that even a simplified life isn’t a lot of work), but the weight of what you carry needlessly (or store or manage or shuffle around) robs you of time. It steals away the lightness of your spirit and weighs you down, making everything in your life more discouraging than it was ever intended to be. I’m talking about the clutter around your house, and the emotional baggage in your soul.

For many people, simplicity is about physical spaces being tidy, about homes being sparsely decorated and nicely designed, or it might be about having an open calendar or living successfully on a frugal budget. All of these can be true, but I would assert that they are an incomplete picture of what soulful simplicity really is.

It is the thoughtful, intentional allocation of your time and attention to whatever you are responsible for, but soulful simplicity also encompasses deeper, intangible things that affect the outer, visible things in life. It speaks of the structure and the strength at the core of your existence. It is a methodical process of clearing away everything extra (inside your heart, and inside your home), eliminating whatever is unnecessary so you can see clearly what has been left untended that needs to be dealt with in order for you to find true rest.

In Matthew 11, verses 28-30 Jesus says, “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.”

Everything I have learned about soulful simplicity is born out of this invitation that Jesus offers to anyone who will listen. Soulful simplicity is an invitation to recognize that the time and attention you give to any task or endeavor is a valuable commodity that should not be tossed around haphazardly. Without an effort to hold space for the most important things in life, essential things can be quickly overrun by other demands and distractions at a cost that many people sorely underestimate.

Living deep in clutter and emotional baggage is something like living in the weeds. Many people spend all their energy trying to chop the top off the weeds. Pursuing true, deep-hearted simplicity helps you to pull the weeds out by the roots and begin unearthing the riches of abundant life in God, recognizing that you can actually do something about the cycle of over-stuffed, over-filled, overwhelmed life you have.

The pursuit of soulful simplicity means that I examine closely every aspect of my life in order to make deliberate decisions about what I give my energy to. 

It is a perspective, a filter through which I strain everything that flows through my life, so that debris that doesn’t belong or isn’t helping me, is weeded out. Simplicity is a deep inward journey toward wholeness that turns itself outward, and within time has made my home a place of sanctuary and my family relationships ripe for peace, connection, rest and adventure.

“The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

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

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 / Thoughts

An Invitation

Welcome to 31 days of Soulful Simplicity! I am eager to share this series with you. Thanks for taking the time to spend a few minutes here.

Let me start by saying: simple is not the same as easy. Simplicity is a sneaky, upside-down concept that might surprise you as you break it open. On one hand, it can be a straightforward idea—but I would be willing to bet that you haven’t quite seen what simplicity is really capable of.

Simplicity will absolutely wreck your life.

It has wrecked mine in the very best way, and that is precisely why I’m here to warn you invite you along on that same journey. I am writing this series on soulful simplicity not because I am an expert at it, but because I have been a student of simplicity for some years now, and have discovered that anyone who will engage in the pursuit of soulful simplicity will find themselves on the way to (or in the midst of) a beautifully abundant life. That is my prayer for you.

Soulful simplicity is not just about having less and doing less for the sake of having less and doing less. It is not about merely conquering clutter or implementing slick systems to make everything in your life efficient (although those can be excellent). Soulful simplicity is about pausing, evaluating the status of your heart and the condition of your home, to intentionally make space for what will give you life, joy, and freedom.

Remember I said at the beginning simple is not the same as easy? If I can be real for a moment, pursuing simplicity can be fairly uncomfortable at times. It requires courage and honesty to look closely at our hearts and our homes in order to discern what is necessary, helpful, and worthwhile…a process that sometimes shines a light in places we would rather not see. The journey also requires patience, tenacity, and sometimes a bit of heavy lifting to get the (physical or spiritual) junk out. You will be asked to make tough decisions, and there can be a number of big feelings on board for the ride, but having experienced the beauty of a soulfully-simplified life, I have to say, I find it to be worth the trouble. If you decide to dip your toes into this incredibly rewarding (but sometimes uncomfortable) pursuit, please know that I am here for you–to encourage, pray, listen, or offer ideas.

It’s a journey. I am still in process myself, but I’m also full of hope that if I can share with you some of the insights I’ve gained along the way— you might also experience the peace I have come to know, you might become well-acquainted with rest, you might find relief from stress and worry, and you might find your aching places restored to wholeness. This is the unexpected, beautiful way that the pursuit of soulful simplicity has wrecked my previously frenetic, exhausting life.

The practice of soulful simplicity is a daily intention to clear away whatever is unnecessary to make room for what is lovely and life-giving.

If you are longing for deep and abiding peace within your soul, if you are in search of a way of living that allows you freedom from a busy, over-stuffed schedule, if you are eager to leave behind the loud, busy, stress-filled life for true rest and a lightness of heart, consider this series an invitation to discover or re-discover intentional and practical ways to establish habits of soulful simplicity. Thanks for being here.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

*Find all the posts in this series here.

Family / Thoughts

What I learned in 2015, Part II

One sibling photo a week throughout the year. 50/52

Last week, I posted the first half of this list. Here we pick up in July. 

July

In July, I celebrated 10 years married to my best friend and sweet heart. We did a photoshoot to commemorate how we have grown together with our crew of awesome little people, and to announce our pregnancy in photos.

> I have learned that a lot of adventures can be crammed into ten years with someone you love.

> I have learned that love expands in all directions when its growing. It expands up like a strong tree, and deep like a river dumping into the ocean, and out…like a pile of joyful little faces that keep us constantly on our toes.

> I have learned that laughter is therapeutic.

> I have learned that love is about giving all you’ve got, and then giving more. When two people are doing that, marriage is a beautiful thing.

> I have learned that I don’t need crazy vacations or far-away trips to enjoy time with my husband.

August 

In August, we were busy doing summer things. We didn’t do any crazy stuff, and minimized our travel this year, but we made memories doing simple fun things together.

> I have learned that the rhythms we create for all the various parts of our lives together are incredibly important for the peace between us.

> I have learned that just because I sometimes feel inadequate, does not mean that I am. For sure, I lean hard on God’s grace every day, but I also think He graciously grows a mama’s heart and equips her to be the perfect care-taker of her family.

> I have learned that living a quiet life is a worthwhile pursuit. It doesn’t mean having no voice. It does mean faithfully cultivating wholeness in and around ourselves, and finding contentment in our current season.

> I have learned that a simple summer can be very fulfilling. Aside from some trips to the wading pool and a few adventures with friends, we spent time together doing normal, fun, summer things.

September

On the first of September, I resurrected my photography business that had been closed for about 2 years, since the birth of my fifth child. I also learned that our coming (sixth) child is a boy!

> I have learned that some things I have ‘given up’ are on the shelf for a reason, and I never know quite when they will come back around. It happened with music 10  years ago (still on the shelf), and I thought there would be a longer stretch with photography as well, but I was surprised to see this one back so soon.

> I have learned that living with open hands makes it easier to let go of things…and receive them back when the time is right.

> I have learned that I can operate a business that works for me, my passions, my family’s needs & my personal limitations, even if it looks different than every other person I know in the same industry.

> I re-discovered how much I love creating heartwarming photos of kids and families.

> I learned that just when I didn’t think I could be more in love with an unborn child, my heart swelled even bigger learning about the little boy we will welcome in February.

October

In October, I attended a writing retreat in the woods with one inspiring group of women, and read a book about vulnerability with another inspiring group of women. I guess the theme for this month was connecting with inspiring groups of women!

> I recognize that my own perspective about my life story and purpose has changed from what it used to be. At one time, I saw the story through a particular lens, and that lens is now different…which is a good thing.

> I have learned that I am a writer, even if my writing journey looks different than other writers.

> I have learned that living a whole-hearted life requires being vulnerable…and even though vulnerability means there is a possibility of being hurt, the possibility of connection and relationship is worth the risk.

> I have learned that I can ‘hear’ a lot when I make time to be still and quiet.

> I have learned that it is okay to recognize what I don’t do well and own what I do.

November

In November, my husband made us an exquisite dining room table with his own hands and a friend’s tools (I’ll post photos when the matching benches are done), I took the longer glucose tolerance test to determine if I have gestational diabetes this pregnancy like I did with #5 (I passed the test! No GD!), and I also taught 10 weeks of chemistry to a group of 6 & 7 year olds.

> I learned that I enjoy handmade things over manufactured things almost all of the time. Sometimes it is the artful piece itself, sometimes it is the heart that went into making it, and sometimes its a mishmash of both of those things.

> I learned that part of cultivating gratitude is creating the space and habit of giving thanks. I named our new table, our “Thanksgiving” table, and we will sit at it every day of the year and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

> I learned that my pie-making skills are reasonably good, after making the second pie I’ve ever made in my life for Thanksgiving.

>I learned that there is a lot of art in scientific disciplines. I’m still not highly technical, but I have developed a greater appreciation for science through the process of teaching it last year and this year in our homeschool cooperative.

> I learned that my husband’s chemistry background is rather handy, even though he no longer directly uses that education in his career. It was fun to step into his intellectual world to learn about chemistry in order to teach it to my students. For the bad rap it gets, I also never realized how incredibly fascinating chemistry really is.

December

In December, we have been spending our time staying focused on lessons, since we will likely take a break around the time our baby arrives, and we have also been doing advent-related activities and projects. I have completed not quite 600 run/walking miles for the year, which feels like a giant accomplishment for me.

> I have learned that the peculiar loneliness that comes in this season of motherhood is kind of tough to overcome, despite valiant efforts, but I know other mamas experience it also.

> I have learned that I enjoy burning candles in the evening. I have been lighting them before dinner, and blowing them out before I go to bed.

> I have learned that pregnancy with 5 other kids in the house is going by at lightning speed. We have only 10 weeks left before we meet our little boy, which is a wild thought.

> I have learned that I do not require a great variety of Christmas music to be happy with our holiday tunes. In fact, there are really just 3 albums I have listened to at all this month.

> I have learned that through ups, downs, bumps, and bends, God continues to surprise and delight me with unexpected goodness in unexpected places.

——————————-

“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

——————————-

Update on run/walk goal for week 50 (the goal is to complete at least 10 miles per week): 10 Run/Walk miles traveled, 589mi in 2015

——————————-

1161. miles walked – so close to 600! 1162. craft/holiday party with two fun friends, 1163. life-giving time and holiday festivities with new friends, 1164. a small round of christmas cards out to family, 1165. a new ornament for the tree, 1166. the friend who thoroughly and lovingly cleaned my kitchen…way above and beyond, 1167. a night out with my sweetie, 1168. loud carol-singing by a 3 year old, 1169. grace to get through a few challenging days at home, 1170. updated materials for the new year regarding my photo business