“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.
I woke and the house was quiet. It wasn’t necessarily early; we’ve grown very accustomed to the irregular weekday schedule that doesn’t require an alarm clock or bus routes or school bells and take advantage of the chance to sleep in. Ryan had already gone up to the studio over the garage to start his workday and the otherwise sleeping house felt like just the opportunity I’ve been craving for some quiet alone-time with my bible and journal.
I tiptoed downstairs and as I quickly tidied up from the night before – fluffing the couch pillows and tossing stray shoes into the mudroom, lighting a candle and straightening the stack of magazines – the familiarity felt like a friend. I’ve missed you, quiet mornings!
I sat on the couch with my bible open and before I even began, I felt a sense of loss creeping in. I miss how things used to be. I miss the kids going to school and hours of a quiet house and alone time. I miss popping into my coffee shop and picking up a few things at the market without even thinking about germs. I miss friends dropping by and my Wednesday night bible study and the familiar faces at pilates class. I gave myself a minute to name the things I miss most and wrote them down.
Audrey walked sleepily into the room, fuzzy blanket wrapped around her and wild hair peeking out. Brady came next. I could hear the other boys upstairs. Just like that, quiet alone-time is over, I thought to myself. Grouchiness and selfishness rising to the surface.
Just then, I glanced up to see the sunlight shine in just perfectly, casting a glow on the chair across the way.
Lift your eyes up.
Sometimes I need a full-on heart-to-heart to get a message to sink in. Other times all it takes is sunshine coming through the window at just the right moment to shake me awake and reorient my heart. Today all I needed was that streak of sunlight. Take a deep breath; life your eyes up.
This morning’s reminder was a fresh invitation to open up my hands on the loss and weirdness and disorientation and disruption of my lovely schedule (it really is a nice schedule). It was a reminder to pick my eyes up off myself so I might be able to see goodness, beauty and truth even in these curious circumstances. And it gave me (once again) the permission to trade the anxiety over the unknowns for lasting, enduring peace that is found in trusting God.
So right then, even though the room was no longer quiet and I was no longer alone, I carried on with my morning meeting with Jesus. It was different and a more distracting and I still prefer silence and solitude to help me uncover what’s going on in my heart, but also, God isn’t limited to perfect circumstances. He isn’t bound by a schedule or routine or optimal conditions. He is with us and for us and is always at work renewing our hearts through whatever the means.
Under the list of things I’m missing, I made a second list: Things that are unexpectedly wonderful. Surprisingly, that list came even faster than the first and is much, much longer.
A self-made school schedule that includes bible and journal time for the kids.
More time for Ethan to play piano.
A walk on the beach with Audrey.
Nightly Facetime story-time with my niece and nephew, Ellie and Ryan (why haven’t we done this before?!)
A pilates studio that is adapting to online classes.
Zooming with Aunt Lorrie for math. Again, why have we not asked her for high school math help?!
Bible Project church at home. So grateful for this resource.
Katie Couric morning emails. A new-to-me discovery that makes catching up on the news enjoyable.
Dinner together as a family every night.
The list went on.
Yes, this new normal is anything but normal and it’s okay to be honest with the many ways it’s messing with us. And also, perhaps the best part of the messing up is the ways it exposes the comforts and addictions and selfishness that need to be pulled out anyway. There is work being done inside my heart that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if not for this momentary blip in my nicely-organized routine.
Audrey’s little devotion of the day says it perfectly:
“I promise to meet all your needs. And while you may not realize it, your greatest need is for My Peace. I am the Gardener of your heart, planting seeds of peace. But the world also tosses in seeds. These seeds grow into weeds of pride, worry and selfishness. If these weeds aren’t ripped out quickly, they will choke out all your peace. I get rid of those weeds in different ways. Sometimes, when you sit quietly in prayer, My Light shines on the weeds and they shrivel up. But other times, I use troubles to encourage you to trust Me. And that trust kills the weeds. So thank Me for troubles, as well as joys. Because I use them both to make your heart My garden of Peace.”
So I lift my eyes and remember that this moment in time is, in fact, just a moment. I confess my worry and control and self-focused ways and thank him for using both the troubles and the joys to bring peace. And I choose to place my gaze on the unexpected blessings that only a slowed-down, messed up routine can offer.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Our oldest son is just the nicest kid – he is smart and friendly, witty and creative. He’s responsible and caring (and as sloppy as they come, but I try to overlook that part). He’s a leader in his class and has lots of friends. And he has a bully who’s been bugging him all year.
It’s admittedly not the worse bully case of all – but it is hurtful all the same. We’ve talked about it and offered suggestions for the past few months, but last Friday, my 10 year old came home with teary-eyes because this mean boy just won’t leave him alone. We talked it through and have a few positive next steps, so we’ll get the issue taken care of, I’m sure. As much as I want to step in and protect my baby, I know situations like this will build his character, teach him compassion, show him what it means to pray for his enemies. He will be better because of moments like these.
But I can’t stop thinking about this one thing, this one reality that I’ve known was there all along, but it hasn’t been an in-your-face part of my children’s’ lives until now:
the world will try over and over to tell them who they are
Sometimes it will be good, like when they win an award or score a goal or get promoted. Their friends/teammates/colleagues will offer praise and give respect and it will feel great. They will feel confident and proud and think they are pretty awesome.
Other times, it will be terrible. When they don’t get chosen or are left out or made fun of or passed over for the promotion and their friends/teammates/colleagues will laugh or ignore or say hurtful things and it will sting. Over and over and over, these inadequacies, negative comments, hurtful words will work their way into their hearts and soon enough, they will begin to believe them.
I don’t like this. Either one, really – feeling awesome because of what we’ve done or feeling awful because of what we haven’t. We base our identity on our successes or failures and that just leaves us scrambling, striving, doing all we can to be good and avoid mistakes and try desperately to prove our value to the world.
It’s so my story. Probably yours, too. Maybe all of humanity, even.
We look to the world to tell us who we are and the world doesn’t even have the right to voice its opinion in the first place.
I’m still learning the lesson. I care way, way too much about what others think of me. I always have. I’ve been reminded over and over again that basing my value on the world’s opinion of me will never satisfy, and I’m getting closer to believing it, but I still haven’t quite grasped it.
My oldest son’s bully experience has deepened my desire for our kids to have a solid understanding and confidence in who they are – in who God says they are – so that they won’t get caught up in the people-pleasing-accolade-chasing-fearful-perfectionism that so easily entangles. I want them to go through life having people either wildly approve and accept them or hurtfully make fun of and ridicule them and not waver from their belief in what Jesus thinks of them.
I want my kids to twirl, really. Not just Audrey, but the boys too (maybe it’s not the right word for them, but see the original post and the follow up and hopefully you’ll get the point). To be who God made them to be, thanking Him when they are successful, accepting His unending grace when they fail. And knowing this:
“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
So many beautiful promises in one little passage.
God is with me. He saves me. He delights in me. He loves me. He rejoices over me
God is with you. He saves you. He delights in you. He loves you. He rejoices over you.
This is the verse we chose for our daughter, but I pray it for my boys as well.
So when a bully tells my son that he’s not good enough, it will hurt. It should hurt. But he will know, deep in his soul, that because of Jesus, he is enough. He is chosen and adored and that is enough.
Note: Written in 2014, but just as applicable today
The quality I admire most in others, the one character trait I wish for our children and the word I’d love for our family to be defined by is kindness.
My friend just told me that in a study of what makes marriages last, the biggest factor was kindness. Honesty, communication, love – these are all good things. Kindness is like all of these wrapped into one.
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
We all like friendly, generous and considerate people. It’s who we want to be, who we hope to be married to and how we want our kids to be.
I am a kind person … at least most of the time. I am friendly. I am generous. I try to be considerate.
But to myself, I can be so unkind.
At barre class a few years ago, I had this sweet moment with God that woke me up to my pretty lousy way of being. I became aware that although I was kind to others, I was terribly mean to myself. I said critical, inconsiderate things in my head without even realizing. I told myself I must be perfect. That if I was not perfect, I was a failure. That I needed to do more and strive more and work harder to prove my worth. That if I was not able to do it well, I should not even try.
I actually said these rude things to myself! For way too many years! These are mean statements I would never say to a friend and words I don’t even believe to be true.
I love that the Lord opened my mind that day to recognize the ways I am unkind to myself. It is the first step to healing and transformation and the bravest thing we can do is pay attention, name the belief and decide if it’s true or false.
Where is this pressure to be perfect coming from? Who is expecting perfection out of me?
Who is calling me a failure?
Do I really believe I can prove my value through my own effort?
This is the work of renewing your mind.
It’s remembering the Truth and reframing your beliefs and attitude and behavior to fall in line. We love because He first loved us. We are generous because He provides for all of our needs. We are considerate because we trust that He calls us all His beloved.
Be kind. To others. And to yourself.
Being kind to ourselves can look like many things:
+ speaking truthful words to ourselves instead of critical lies
+ accepting our bodies and being grateful for strength and health instead of focusing on the flaws
+ filling ourselves with healthy, nourishing food instead of eating junk and then feeling even worse
+ taking time to quiet our souls instead of rushing through and keeping busy
+ laughing instead of taking life so seriously
+ spending quality time with our friends and family instead of being half-engaged
While dropping my son at school I drove by a u-cut dahlia garden with the prettiest blooms.
A big bouquet of dahlias would look so bright and cheerful in our house, I thought. It’s gray and gloomy outside and a bouquet of pretty flowers sure would make me happy.
So you know what I did? I decided to treat myself to an armful of flowers as an act of kindness. It was such a good decision.
Just one little way I’m learning to be kind to myself.
What have you done for yourself lately as an act of kindness? I’d love to hear …
I’ve recently unfollowed just about 700 accounts on Instagram. You read that right: seven hundred. I now follow right around 400 which means that at some point I was following over 1,000.
I shouldn’t tell you this because it might encourage you to go unfollow a bunch of accounts and that might mean you’ll unfollow me and that would make me sad and filled with angst and stressed out about people not liking me. But I actually think it might be the best advice I could offer when it comes to Instagram.
If it doesn’t make your life – and more importantly – your soul better, let it go. Unfollow. Turn off notifications. Maybe even delete the whole thing from your phone for a few days (or forever. Whatever works.).
I started using Instagram because it was new and fun (the filters! The rounded corners! The behind-the-scenes peeks!) and continue all these years later because it is still fun and feels important for this online business I run. I try to find that balance between posting photos that are pretty to get likes and comments and shares and ultimately grow my following and posting photos that are pretty just because I like to.
(Side note: quite honestly, I’m not sure there is a huge correlation between my number of Instagram followers and business success as we’ve gone about blogging/business a little differently. But I continue anyway).
At the same time, I’m an Instagram user and it can feel so pointless and shallow and not life-giving for me to spend time every single day scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through images of strangers’ lives and homes and kids.
Tell me I’m not alone in this … it is weird, right?!
I’m trying not to be cynical because that doesn’t really get us anywhere. I’m just in this place of deeply paying attention to what I do and how it makes me feel. Instagram is one of those things I haven’t quite sorted out.
Do I love it?
Instagram is full of beautiful photos and visually inspiring ideas. It is a way to connect with friends and family and celebrities and influencers that we don’t get to hang out with on a day-to-day basis (or ever). It has become a micro-blogging platform for quickly writing and sharing. It becomes a digital scrapbook, or even better, an actual scrapbook if you get your pictures turned into books. It has grown businesses and offered opportunity, a sense of community and humor and brought awareness to important issues.
Or maybe do I hate it?
With Instagram, we get lost in someone else’s life, someone else’s travels, someone else’s fitness/style/food/decorating/parenting journey while we stare at our phones and ignore our own. It so easily stirs up a sense of comparison and discontent. It gives us an incomplete snapshot of whoever we’re following which leads us to believe we’re somehow worse off or less-than or missing out. It creates a sense of community that makes us forget how important real-life friendships are. It lures us in with its likes and followers and analytics that feel inflating when they’re going up and crushing when they fall. It pressures us with the hope that if we post the best photos from the best angles with the best lighting and cleverest captions we’ll get noticed and liked and make it big.
See what I mean? It’s great and not great at the same time.
The good thing is, we get to choose.
We get to choose who we follow, how it makes us feel, how often we scroll and for how long. We get to decide if we post or not post and let Instagram serve us instead of the other way around. Which is why I deleted 700 follows. I stopped following a bunch of accounts not because any of them were bad or not inspiring or posted by someone who is probably a wonderful person in real life. But rather, I stopped following for one of three reasons:
- If every time I saw a post and it made me feel all compare-y and unsettled – like I wasn’t keeping up or measuring up – I stopped following. The issue of insecurity is in my own heart and has nothing to do with the account I’m jealous of, but one good step in healing is removing the thing that keeps tripping you up. There were not too many like this, but there were a few and it felt good to just let them go.
- If I was following someone whom I didn’t know and never would know, I figured I didn’t really need to see what they were doing every day. This eliminated pretty much every celebrity I was following. Except for @kensingtonroyal because I really like the British royal family.
- If I couldn’t remember why I started following to begin with and wasn’t super excited about any of the most recent photos, I unfollowed.
Just like that, 700 down.
At the same time, I also removed Instagram notifications from my phone. I no longer get a message when someone leaves a comment which means I pick up my phone and open Instagram one hundred less times per day. It also meant getting used to not having that regular affirmation in the form of Instagram comments popping up on my phone throughout the day. I’m embarrassed to say that it took some getting used to.
So that’s where I am right now. I still like Instagram. I still post and comment and scroll every day. I’m being much pickier about what I post – I don’t want to just throw a photo up for the sake of staying on top of the algorithm and keep followers.
My goal with everything I do online is to create a space where when you leave you feel better, not worse, about your life. I want you to feel less alone, more normal, encouraged to see beauty in the every day and inspired to do something creative in your home or with your hands.
I still hate it a little, too. I wish that darn followers number didn’t captivate me like it does and make me feel better or worse about myself.
I’d love to know where you’re at with Instagram. Do you love it? Not love it? Do you have any tricks or boundaries you’ve set to make it work for your life? Let’s have a heart to heart about Instagram …
In late November I sat on my closet floor praying. There were tears, of course, because I cry easily and I was just so desperate to hear from God. I was struggling with what to do and how to move forward and I needed clear direction. If 2018 was anything for me, it was the year of finding freedom. September, in particular, was the month where much of that healing finally happened and it left me asking the question, what now?! Now that I was free of lies and finally found the answer to my four-year question of WHO AM I, I just needed to know what to do next.
God was so gracious to answer me gently and He spoke to my heart right there on that closet floor:
Be an artist.
It wasn’t really shocking, this Be An Artist directive. After all, I love creating and decorating and painting and making. I’ve always loved these things. I have even built a business around doing and sharing and teaching my favorite creative endeavors. But that’s not what He said. He didn’t say, DO art. He said BE an artist. As much as I love doing art, teaching art, admiring art, I have never truly identified as an artist. Artistic, sure. Creative, yes. But in a million years I would never introduce myself as Emily, the artist. And I think that was the problem.
Deep, deep down in the truest part of me, I am an artist. I always have been. But instead of living confidently in that, I’ve tried to be other things and pushed the artist part way down. Being an artist felt silly, unimportant, less-than. What really mattered, especially in this online business that I run, was consistency and growth and strategy. And all of that – while super important for running a business – became who I was trying to be and the work I was trying to do and, honestly, it just wasn’t working. Not only was I not good at it, but it was starting to burn me out. I became cynical, tired, uninspired, done.
That’s the thing: when you are not being who you are made to be, it drains the life right out of you.
To be totally fair to the situation, I had my husband and business partner who is very clearly the entrepreneur/growth/strategy person right by my side. I didn’t really need to try to be the business-y person I was trying to be, but I felt like its what everyone wanted from me and expected from me and the right thing to do and I’ll do anything in my power to not disappoint. So I played the part – or at least tried to – and there’s been this gnawing tension that I couldn’t resolve ever since. My answer to this persistent tension, unfortunately, was throw it all away! which is clearly not the right answer. I’m so good at swinging the pendulum far and wide and this was just another example of it. Which lead me to that morning in November, crying on my closet floor asking for God to please, please, please help me figure this thing out.
Be an artist, He said.
It was so clear and concise and I had no desire to ignore or dismiss it. I just wanted to obey. So I pulled out my watercolors and started a new painting.
This is where I’d love to say that my heart was instantly at peace because FINALLY, I was living into my true identity!
But instead, this is what happened:
I was almost finished with the flower bouquet I was painting and stopped for a second to run upstairs. What for I can’t remember but what I do remember is thinking to myself as I climbed the stairs, that painting is terrible. I’m not an artist. I don’t even know what I’m doing. How quickly I had forgotten what God said of me! A few minutes later when I came back downstairs, Ryan was looking at the painting and showered me with compliments. This painting is amazing! How did you do that?!
The contrast was not lost on me.
I could choose to be hard on myself, to compare, set unrealistic expectations and give up OR I could live into the identity God gave me, listen to positive voices from people who love and care about me and just keep trying. This whole ‘renewing your mind’ thing is real, my friends. What voice would I listen to? The one telling me I was terrible? Or the one saying, “this is who you are, now be it.”
I worked a little more on the flower painting and when I shared it, the response was so kind. It helped boost my confidence. I did a couple more paintings in December, but it was a busy month and you know how that goes.
So at the end of the month when this idea popped into my head about doing a daily sketch each day in 2019, it felt like the right next step. It would mean I was walking in obedience to be an artist. It would mean I would be practicing art every day and surely would improve. It would mean I could build up more confidence to create illustrations for the books I will write someday. It would challenge me to look beyond the camera for capturing beauty in the every day and go an extra step to paint it.
And so the daily sketches began.
I’m using the hashtag #thisismydailyart on instagram to categorize the paintings. It always makes me smile when I think about this song I grew up on. This painting practice feels a little like daily bread. It feels like sustenance for my soul that is coming from the Lord. It’s an act of worship, this living into my true identity thing. It’s an act of trust and obedience and while it’s vulnerable and risky, it feels like the very best and most joyful thing I can do.
I am sharing the sketches each day on Instagram partially for accountability and partially because part of being an artist is sharing that art with the world. You can see them all right here.
Those daily posts mean that my Instagram account looks different than it has in the past. From a professional standpoint, that feels terrifying. Anytime you stray even slightly from what you’ve been doing, the chances of losing followers are good. But, I remain sure that this direction for me is right and I’m so grateful for the sweet comments and encouragement I have received since the beginning.
And here’s my encouragement for you:
Trust in who God made you uniquely to be. Then be it.
If you are not quite sure who you are, oh, friend, this is the greatest work you can do. Ask Him, pay attention to your dreams and little girl aspirations, look for what makes you excited, motivated, energized. You will find her. You really will.