Things I learned in year 41:
God uses friendships to encourage our faith.
I’m not an avoider; I am an engager.
Speaking honestly and sharing my desires and preferences is a more loving way to be in a relationship than protecting myself and keeping my thoughts to myself.
I like making pretty things.
Teaching your firstborn to drive is terrifying. But once he gets his license, it’s amazing.
Wearing the same two pair of jeans again and again is better than having 20 that you don’t really love.
Prepackaged food is not as good as homemade.
Except Pop tarts. They are still delicious.
Asking for help is one step. Receiving the help with grace is another. Both are good and necessary and healthy.
Black lives are deeply valuable and the wounds run so much deeper than I ever knew. Listening and learning is heartbreaking and hopeful.
I really enjoy baking.
Clarity is not the ultimate goal. Sure it would be nice, but it would lead to self-reliance and that is definitely not the end goal. Trust is.
Nicely painted nails makes me feel like a grown up.
Filling in your brows makes a big difference.
I can do hard things. We all can.
Beauty matters because it reminds us of God’s goodness.
Seasons of deep, soul-important work are good. So are seasons of rest and gratitude and delightful contentment.
✨ Here’s to another year of growing and learning and embracing and delighting.
This book has been a long, beautiful journey and it is so exciting to finally share the title and cover with you!
I have so many things to tell you about this book … let’s break it up into a few sections.
what’s the book about?
About six years ago, God began to gently wake me up to the ways I was trapped in trying to find my identity in places that would never satisfy. When I looked around at my life, it was full of wonderful things and still, I had this sinking feeling of dissatisfaction.
Is this it? Is this all there is? Because if so, why do I still feel so unsure and anxious and like it’s all up to me to prove my worth but I can never quite get there?
Living like this is exhausting. It’s a life of worry and self-reliance and looking to a very fickle world to tell us who we are and determine if we are enough.
Thankfully, Jesus offers an invitation to a better way to live.
“Come to me,” he says. “I will give you rest.“
He whispered these words to me at the height of my brokenness and after a five-year journey of deep spiritual transformation, I finally experienced what he was offering all along.
This is the story of how God’s grace moved me to this place of accepting his invitation to a life of quiet confidence. I hope my continuing journey will inspire and equip you to find you own unique identity in Christ.
We went round and round searching for the perfect title for the book until finally realizing it was right in front of us: Freely and Lightly.
It is both the hope and the promise.
The phrase is pulled from the Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30, which is the structure for the book and, more importantly, the process of spiritual formation Jesus invites us to.
Burdened and heavy is no way to live. I needed free and light. Perhaps you do too.
the cover design
They say you’re not supposed to choose a book by its cover, but I do pretty much every single time. Covers are important.
I was so excited for this step in the book-making process. I have watched so many authors reveal covers and thoroughly enjoy seeing what creativity comes out in representing the message of the book through design.
The first round of cover designs came back this summer and it was very exciting. The initial designs were pretty, but not quite right. So my publisher asked if I would come up with another version of the cover.
Here were all of the options:
As you can see, coming up with just one option was impossible 🙂
When it finally came down to it, we decided black and white stripes on the spine just felt right and very classic Emily. I love that it wraps all the way around so when you place it on a shelf, you’ll still see the cute watercolor stripes!
I initially wanted the title to be in text, but my very wonderful publisher pushed for my handwriting and I’m glad she did. Inside the book are handwritten labels on all of the illustrations and Scripture verses so it makes perfect sense to give a peek at what you’ll find inside on the cover.
As for the artwork, simple felt better. I wish I had a love for bold and colorful, but when it really comes down to it, I love neutral and simple. The book is filled with illustrations in my imperfect watercolor style and picking just one piece for the cover was hard!
We all decided that this little potted plant was the right choice. The new growth of the sweet pea start feels fresh and hopeful, exactly what I hope the message of the book will be. Also, fun fact, this little plant was a gift from my mother-in-law’s garden and I love that little nod to family.
I can’t wait until this book makes it into your hands. How I hope that with each turn of the page the words and art will be a deep breath, a gentle wakeup, and a delightful reminder that you are loved and God is good.
The official release day is March 2, 2021.
You can preorder today (with special preorder bonus goodies to come!).
If you are not already subscribed to my weekly newsletter, I invite you to join! This is the best place for getting updates on all things Freely and Lightly related.
Thank you, my friends, for your encouragement and excitement over this project. You are the absolute best.
I’d love to answer any questions you have about the book or the process or anything else you’d like to chat about! Please leave a comment below and I’ll respond back.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 NIV
Summertime draws out the worst of my body insecurities. Swimsuits and shorts and sleeveless shirts that expose my pale skin and less-toned-than-I-wish arms and tummy that stretched out too many times to ever be flat again.
When I get insecure, I reach for the easiest forms of self-comfort: comparison and consumerism.
First, I compare. Who looks best in a swimsuit? Who has better skin? Who has cellulite? Who has skinnier arms? I play this ugly game in my head always looking and assessing and trying to figure out where I stand.
Then, I consume. Maybe I just need a cuter dress or sunglasses or sandals or nail polish or coverup or sunhat or tank to feel better about myself, even if just for a moment.
Compare and consume. Compare and consume. On and on, trying to make the insecurities go away.
Cultural wisdom would tell me to stop comparing and instead turn my gaze to how strong and beautiful and capable my body is. I birthed four kids! I can run! My skin will age well!
Cultural wisdom would also tell me to buy the things that make me feel better about me. Self-tanner! New cut-off shorts! Little chunks of silicon you stuff into your bikini top!
Trust me, I’ve tried all of these. There is value, of course, in both positive self-talk and choosing outfits that fit. But these tactics alone are insufficient.
One morning a few weeks ago, I became aware of the ugly compare and consume habits that were happening inside me. The good news about God is that He is full of grace. He knows this tender part of me. He’s faithful to pull me out of the pit and realign my heart.
That morning on my bed He reminded me that I was caught up in looking to outward things to heal the inward muck. I was self-focused and self-consumed and kept grasping for a shiny new thing to make the insecurity go away. A new dress is nice and finding a swimsuit that flatters is reasonable, but my inner dialog was getting out of hand. He made me and loves me and has far more important things for me to do than obsess over skinny thighs and a closet full of adorable outfits.
The truth is, all of our insecurities are made obsolete when we remember our unchanging, forever identity as deeply wanted and valued children of God. With His help, we can clothe ourselves with compassion, not comparison. Kindness, not judgment. Humility, not pride. Gentleness, not criticism. Patience, not perfection.
And whether we put on the cutest summer dress or not, we can have all the confidence in the world that we are chosen, holy and dearly loved.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 NIV
She burst into tears. “I don’t like school! I’m never going back!”
This was so out of character. First of all, Audrey isn’t one for overly-dramatic emotional outbursts, and second, she LOVES school.
After some consoling and wiping tears and taking deep breaths we got to the bottom of it:
Her beloved Mrs. K. had taken maternity leave and the brand new Miss B. was doing everything differently. The kids were noisy and disrespectful, the regular, comfortable routine was shifted, everything felt strange and messed up and she just wanted things to go back to how they used to be.
She’s a girl after my own change-resistant heart.
The next morning when I went in to wake her for school, she looked up at me with her wild bed hair and barely awake eyes. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about it and decided that I’m just going to keep reminding myself that today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day.”
Positive self-talk is important and valuable and I’m not here to dismiss it. Keeping those words in her mind all day would surely help her look for the good instead of focusing on what was going terribly wrong. So I smiled back and told her that was a great idea.
But I couldn’t leave it there.
On the way to school, a song popped into mind from my childhood. Perhaps you know it too?
🎶This is the day (this is the day), that the Lord has made (that the Lord has made) I will rejoice (I will rejoice) and be glad in it (and be glad in it) 🎶
I sang it to her and she giggled and for a brief moment in the school drop-off line, the Lord reminded me of something so simple, but so profound: It’s not actually about having good or bad days. Surely there will be both and more often than not, good and bad will show up on the exact same day. No, we can’t put our hope in having day after day of good days. I can’t set my daughter up for that.
Instead, that little song taken from an ancient song reminds us that whether life is smooth and comfortable and the way things “should” be or whether it has turned upside-down and feels strange and disorienting, it is still a day the Lord made and we are wise to rejoice in it.
BUT ALSO, the psalmist in 118 is referring to one particular day that changed every day after … the day when Jesus died and defeated death and made a way for us to be healed and set free and no longer bound by our own efforts to save ourselves. THIS is the day we celebrate because that one day changed every day going forward. It points to the greatest act of God on our behalf and this is worth rejoicing and being glad about.
So whether a day is good or bad or a mix of both, we can live and breathe and move confidently in the truth that Jesus has and will and is continuing to redeem what is broken, restore what is lost, and renew all things.
This is the truth I hope sinks down deep into my daughter’s heart. Mine too.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
If asked if I’m picky, I’ll answer no. That’s not my style of control. I like to be flexible and open-minded, and I hope most people find that I’m easy and pleasant to be around. But ask me if I’m particular, and that’s a different story.
I’m particular about how the dishwasher is loaded because obviously, the bowls fit best on the lower right rack. I’m particular about the sleeves of the t-shirts facing the same direction when folded because they stack better that way. I’m particular about eating my food while it’s piping hot, and get a little grouchy when I have to wait at the dinner table for my less temperature-concerned family members to arrive. I’m particular about practically every aspect of my work that might reflect back onto me: graphics, emails, packaging, branding. I’m particular about how the kids look when we go out, especially when we take family photos.
Being particular is normal. We all have our preferences. It’s when those particularities become cemented in our minds as the only way that they cross over to the arena of control. Ouch, right? Control is especially ugly when I prioritize my own preferences over my care for another person. It’s what happens when I rearrange the dishwasher, huffing under my breath about my son’s incompetency in doing it right. It’s the urge to take over when my daughter is not folding her clothes properly and the self-righteousness that comes out when I take a bite before we all gather to pray because I just spent all this time making food and I want to eat it while it’s hot. It’s the overworked and stressed-out result of not asking for help or trusting another person to do what I mistakenly think only I can do and not caring if the sweater is itchy or the pair of pants is uncomfortable because it is what I want you to wear, and you will wear it.
My preferences are usually harmless, but they can creep in quietly, and soon enough I find myself being particular about more than just the day-to-day things like promptness and how the pillows are arranged on the couch. Instinctively, my eyes search and my hands grasp for opportunities to express my way. Control makes me feel powerful, and I like feeling powerful. It puts me and my great ideas in charge, and I think me and my ideas are pretty great. It allows me to be responsible for me, and that feels better than trusting. But control can also cause me to hurt and disregard others and make poor choices. Control assumes that I know best, but what God whispers (or sometimes hollers) is a knowing of a different kind.
“Be still and know,” he says.
“Know that I am God.”
So I humble myself and find my rightful place once again.
Relinquishing control reminds us that we’re not truly in charge. Letting go of the need for things to go our way allows space for God to have His way in us. Releasing control is just one of many small ways we make room for new growth. Life with God is the very best partnership, and it’s one big, amazing lesson in collaborating, considering, and giving up control. This is what leads to real rest.
(This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my upcoming book, an illustrated memoir about identity, transformation, and Jesus’ invitation to real rest. I can’t wait for you to have it in your hands next spring. If you want to be on the waitlist for early notification, please leave a comment and I’ll add you to the wait list!)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV
“Mom, let’s arm wrestle!”
The boys find great joy in this game. Over the last few years, these children of mine have eclipsed me in height and weight and shoe size and, without a doubt, arm strength. And yet, they still like to challenge me, just to see, can I really beat mom? Every single time they laugh and act surprised and egg me on, “Mom, try!” as I fight with all my strength and laugh back and assure them “I am trying!”.
It’s not even a competition; they win every time.
I want it to be this way. I want them to grow and work hard and build their muscles for health and enjoyment and good use. I want them to be strong.
But, even more than physical strength, I want them to be strong in character. Strong in convictions, in knowing truth from lie. Strong in self-control and firm in who they are. And I want them to be courageous; courageous to act and lead and make wise choices. Courageous to admit when they mess up and brave to try again. I want this for them, and I want it for me and you, too. Because, my goodness, fear, and discouragement just keep coming at us day after day, don’t they?! We could all use strength and courage.
The bad news is, the strength and courage required to combat fear and discouragement are not achievable on our own. We can give it our best effort, and perhaps succeed for a time, but it’s always a temporary fix. No matter how much we train or try, we’ll fall short.
But there’s great news, too. It’s not up to us. We will receive exactly what we need as a result of this: God is with us, wherever we go.
We chose this verse for our firstborn, Ethan (whose name means ‘strong’) when he was just a baby. And with each consecutive son, we chose it for them. It is the prayer of my heart for each of my boys:
Be strong, my child, when you look fear in the face. Be courageous, my son, when you feel inadequate, knocked-down, and discouraged. For the Lord is good and powerful and full of grace and HE IS WITH YOU. He will never leave you alone or forget about you and you can never get beyond his reach. He is for you. He makes you strong. He makes you courageous. Always remember this.
These words are for my boys and also me and you and every other son and daughter of God. This truth is for all of us, wherever we go.