embracing slow, again

Once upon a time, my friend and I wrote a blog series in the lead up to Lent, a significant time period in the Christian calendar from Ash Wednesday up until Easter. We wanted to slow down, to stop with the hustle, to sink our hands into work that felt wholesome and quiet, and unhurried instead being pulled along by the the noisy tug of the rushing world around us. For about 7 weeks, we each wrote one post.
Later, we compiled all of these essays into a printed book, and called it Embracing Slow.
(Side note: I still have a little stash of our second print run, that I’ve just packed into moving boxes – if you’d like one, let me know. They’re $20, including postage.)

During those days I was fairly busy (well, I thought I was) – I was at uni, finishing off my undergrad full time, looking after my family, leading a women’s ministry…

But lately my ’embracing slow’ message has seemed somewhat peremptory.
Now that I’m in the middle of packing up my house, starting a new job, continuing to work at my previous job, as well as managing the emotions and easing the transition into a very new space for my kiddos, and trying to have conversations with my husband before my eyes get too heavy of a night… well. I want to apologise.
I’m sorry if you felt inadequate.
I’m sorry if, while I was baking home made sourdough, and telling you to embrace slow, you were working two jobs, or caring for an unwell family member, or homeschooling multiple children.
I’m sorry if it sounded hubristic, if you felt lacking—if it made you feel like there was just one more thing you couldn’t do.
Because I’m there right now.
While it’s the holiday season in Australia, and schools don’t return until February, and many of us are enjoying slow mornings and bare feet and salty beach hair, I’m not (okay I’m still enjoying salty beach hair most afternoons, I’ll admit).
I’m working a crazy amount of hours, as well as packing up a house and wiping dust from forgotten corners, and brainstorming the simplest meals to make the family. I’m not complaining, and I am so grateful for my work, my income, and for finally packing to make a move we’ve been planning for a year!
I’m simply saying that I know now how irrational it can sound, this sprouting of the ’embracing slow’ message, to someone who is living a life without the luxury of time off work, or a slow summer holiday period to enjoy.

But the thing is, the embracing slow message has grown and flourished deep, and even in this busy season I’m reaping a harvest of deliberately unrushed and gentle rhythms, that I’ve been sowing for years.
So if you’re feeling like you’re drowning in busy, I’m literally there with you girlfriend, and here’s a few things I’ve learned to do in the process:

  • Stop the scroll. Don’t pick up your phone as soon as you wake up. Charge it in a different room over night if you have to. Wake up slowly. Even if it’s to a 5:30am alarm, you can still wake up slow. Stretch each limb. Let your eyes adjust. Notice the light. Make a mental list of the things you’re grateful for. Take deep breaths. And without spending twenty minutes scrolling, you’ve now got time to sip a cup of tea or your morning coffee by the window, or on the front porch, or read a chapter of a novel, or the Bible. Embrace mornings.
  • Let go of perfection. I’ve learned this out of utter necessity. There just has NOT been time to do everything. Some things I’ve had to let go of. Like the ironing basket – I’ll get to it when I get to it. No need to stress myself out about it. I’ll go to the beach instead thank you, please.
  • Meet in the kitchen. Our island bench is our communal space – it’s where we prep meals, eat breakfast, do homework, sip coffee, play card games (Monopoly Bid is our favourite, at the moment). I’ve made a conscious effort to stop here. At the end of a long day at work, it would be easy to hurry along the evening routine, but instead I’ll sit at the island bench. Often all three kids amble in, pull up stools, or lean against a cupboard, and tell me all of the inconsequential moments in their day. I could rush them, but then I’d miss this sacred, slow connectedness that comes from a stopping and eye contact. It might only be 10 minutes, but its one of the best ways I intentionally embrace slow.
  • Prioritise real rest… whatever brings rest for you. For me, lately, it’s quality time with old friends, wine, or coffee, and food, and good conversation. I’m scheduling it in, prioritising it, writing it in my calendar and smiling as it approaches. Life is busy, but we can’t wait for it to stop so that we can do the things that fill our soul. Make the space and time to do those things regardless of the busy.
  • Cook big meals. This is my secret superpower. Who cares if you have to eat the same meal twice? It means you’ve just saved a WHOLE night in the kitchen. (Also teaching your kids to cook is a win… Eden made us chicken and bacon fettuccini carbonara all by herself tonight and it was a fist pump moment).

One day, maybe you won’t be so busy.
But even in the midst of this crazy busy life, I believe firmly that there are always ways we can embrace slow and breathe deep, and snatch moments of deliberate calm in the midst of our day. I’m holding on to this today anyway.

Yours, knee-deep in moving boxes.

xx

The one where I pack up my house.

Packing boxes are strewn haphazardly throughout our house.
Last week we signed our first ever official tenancy agreement.
We have an official moving date.
We’re on the move.

Signing that piece of paper signified signing off the end of an era—the end of our lives being lived in our beloved beachside suburb, the end of daily driving these familiar streets, the end of my oceanside runs, and quick corner store trips for bread and a sneaky croissant. It’s goodbye to our little primary school just a handful of metres away, that has faithfully schooled all three of our children and was one of the best decisions we’d ever made for them.
I’m believing that we’ll look back on this decision one day – one that we made slowly, carefully, over the course of this year – and say exactly that: well THAT was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
Staying put, in many senses of the word, just doesn’t make sense for us any longer.
While it isn’t easy, this stretching and growing, and ground-taking, and intentionally pursuing the things we know are calling us forward, it’s also exhilarating.
The big smoke has been calling us, and we’re answering the call with gallant gusto.

Yes, to adventure. Yes, to new. Yes, to refusing to become stuck.

Signing that piece of paper also signified the miraculous provision of God.

You see, we’ve been hunting for a home in a particular area, for months. I’ve been watching the rental market since February, seeing beautiful homes come and go. In the last six months though, Western Australia has become a very attractive place to live – thanks mostly to our closed borders, and zero community spread of Coronavirus. So suddenly the rental market is flooded. We began viewing homes, and applying against hundreds of other applicants. Emails beginning with, “We regret to inform you…” had become a regular part of my week. We stopped showing the kids the houses we’d viewed, because we were getting their hopes up for naught.
What are you up to, God?! What can I learn in this? How can I trust You more? Why do you hate me? Became regular prayers thrown up in exasperation, or anxiety, or anger, or trust and surrender (sometimes all of those emotions in quick succession, on the daily).
What if we didn’t get a house?
“Well, we can just stay here another year. Re-enrol the kids back into their old school.”
The thought made us all feel suffocated.

I journaled this on the 13th December:

“Everything and everyone is annoying me. Everything hurts. Like when you get those invisible prickles in your skin, and you’re mildly aware that they’re there and then something brushes against you and it hurts. Everything is brushing up against my prickles. It feels like nothing is moving forward — there’s resistance in everything we want to do.”

Two days later I received a message, in response to a post I’d made in a Perth Rentals Facebook group, which went a little bit like this: “Hi Emma, I’ve seen your post. Here’s a link to a house I’ve put an offer on in the area you’re looking at. It settles early January, and I’m looking for tenants.”
My heart leapt, until I saw the price she was asking for the rent.
I replied. “Thank you so much for reaching out, the house is beautiful and in the perfect area, but unfortunately out of our price range. This is the maximum we can afford. I’m sure you’ll find tenants very quickly in this market. Thanks again anyway.”

A couple of hours later, the miracle: “It’s more important to me to find the right tenants. I can drop the rent to your price.”

I was tentatively hopeful – after all, this could be a scam.
But what followed was a phone conversation in which our future landlord says, “I think you guys are the answer to my prayers”, and then a meeting for coffee, in which we discover mutual friends (friends we had only just made at church a few weeks before, and who happened to pray for us to find a house there and then, standing outside church), and in which confirmed the authenticity of what was happening.

I’ll be honest. A part of me was still worried this wasn’t real, or that something would go wrong. Maybe when we viewed the house in person, it would be too small. Maybe she was just a very good scammer. Maybe she’d find another tenant who could pay her original price. Surely this is the miracle we’d been hoping for… it’s too far-fetched to fall apart.

A week later we’d seen the house and signed the paperwork.

Now, we have a house to move into, and a story to tell.
The story I’ll tell myself when I doubt God’s faithfulness, or His timing, or when I try to anticipate the way in which He’ll answer my prayers.
Because He’s always escaping the boxes I try to confine Him in.
I must remember to let Him work His way, and stop worrying about the way He’ll show up or not, and let Him surprise and delight us His way.

Praying that you find the same surprise and delight this year too.

Here’s to packing a house, and new adventures.

xx

Glancing back, moving forward

For a very long time, I’ve had a quote up on a letter board in my home: Keep leading us forward. It’s a verse from the book of Proverbs. I believe it’s God’s heart for us, for us to keep looking ahead, to keep being lead forward, not to dwell “on the former things”.

However, the other day I had a glance back. I’m an old fashioned, page-turning-ink-smudging diary kind of gal, and while Google calendars have definitely helped manage my all-over-the-place hours, and keep the family in the loop, I cannot shake the habit of a paper diary. As a young girl, one of my favourite things to do between Christmas and the New Year, was to prepare my diary (and probably only bookish, nerdy 90’s Australian girls would remember those fold out Dinky diaries with aaaaall of the stickers?!). I would add in all the addresses of my family members, and everyone’s birthdays, term dates, and then write lists: best friends, favourite pets, boys I hated.

Now, my favourite paper diary of the last four years is the Moleskine week to an opening, with one whole lined page for notes and lists and scribbles. My 2020 Alice In Wonderland has made me smile all year!

So, the other day in the city I bought my 2021 Moleskine. On the train on my way home I got busy transferring some information from the old to the new, when I began to flick through the pages of twenty twenty. It wasn’t just work shifts I found scrawled in there, but coffee dates with my husband, dinners with girlfriends, a girls weekend away (um, did that even happen this year?!), a once-in-a-lifetime contract opportunity with the State Library, the date Amie started learning ukulele, my gum graft surgery, the date Joel went for an interview and landed his first job, that month that I ran almost 40km because I’d lost a friend and running eased the hurt.

There were the private victories—high-fives in our marriage, in our parenting; a bonfire of paperwork signifying the end of hard times, birthday stargazing and a debt paid.

How could so much be squeezed into one year?! While it’s been so easy to focus on what’s missing in these last few months of 2020, having a glance back made me re-discover the highlights, the wins. And reminded me again the importance of writing it all down. Write it all down.

One of my favourite verses penned by the prophet Habakkuk tells us to, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
‭‭

Sometimes I’m not aware of where I’ve run to, until I reflect on where I’ve been. And I can do that because I’ve written it, made it plain to myself, so I can remember the faithfulness of God in times my prayers don’t seem to be heard.

I listed out all of these wins, losses, victories, and hopes of 2020, and I smiled. It’s a visible reminder of all this year held—awe and loss, gratitude and surrender. I feel proud of the things I’ve carried this year, carried and carried on. I feel grateful for the community we’ve built, for new friends, and the loyal ones that are still here after all this time.

And I feel hopeful still, that the best is yet to come.

xx

PS my friend Amanda Viviers is the queen of end of year reflections. In fact, she’s got a tool to help you do just that; a book with reflection questions and lots of space to process your year and your hopes for the one ahead. It’s an incredible tool to help you to move into new days. You can find it here.

My act of defiance: hoping again


I was awake before the birds this morning.
Awake to hear my husband’s alarm ring out, awake to see the darkness fade into bright sky through that one crooked slat in the blinds. Awake to notice I’d opened my eyes to a Christmas carol, it’s tune softly humming in my mind, my favourite: O Holy Night.
This line A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices over and over.

Hope, I think to myself, head still heavy on the pillow, feet straying to a warm patch over by his feet, what is hope?
My mind immediately answers in the words of Dickinson, because my brain is always a jumble of quotes and poetry, Hope is this thing with feathers, that perches in the soul.
I don’t know Emily, I ponder, rolling over, I think hope is heavier than feathers.

There were moments this year that I’ve tasted hopelessness.
Where hope has seemed less like the thrill from my favourite carol, and more like a far away idea, evasive and selective. Where are you? I’d whisper to the dark, Is there hope to be found here?
And through valleys of hopelessness, I found that hope was something I could not escape.
I cannot hide from it.
I cannot give it up.
I cannot let it go.
Somehow, hope is my act of defiance.
That I dare hold on to hope, in the face of so much that feels hopeless.
That I defiantly keep believing that tomorrow will bring the answers. And if not tomorrow, then the day after that.

I’ve found time and again, that hope is the life raft in a rough sea.
Hope doesn’t still the storm, or placate the waves, but it gives us something to hold on to. Something that causes us to say, with a defiant upward tilt of our chin, Well I think the answer might still come. Maybe tomorrow.
And after a thousand tomorrows, after disappointment threatens to drown us, still we cling to that raft, and we stay afloat, buoyant in the churning and unpredictable waves.
The defiance in us dares to believe that tomorrow is a new day, and there it is, the fresh hope again that in this new day the answer will come, the miracle will arrive, the storm will cease.
We cling on for dear life to the life raft, and we feel our fingers slipping and we’re tired, and it takes everything for us to say the words out loud;
This is hard.
I feel alone.
I need help.

And I’ve found that even if my aching fingers slip, loosen, let go, instead of drowning, I find myself pulled in, and up.
It was a phone call, with a smiling voice on the other end.
It was a gift, a book wrapped in paper, unexpected.
It was an aunty’s empathetic ear over a morning cup of tea.
It was a city jaunt in the comforting company of old friends.
And then I realise that I don’t have to hold so tight after all, there are other hands holding us, that had already laid hold of us, as we laid a hold of all the hope we could muster.

And it anchors our souls, this knowing we are held, not adrift in a sea of chaos*

And right now, more than ever, our world is weary.
We’ve lost jobs, businesses, loved ones, friendships, communities, certainty.
Here’s a hand though – grab hold if you need to. Reach out, call for help, hold on.
Tomorrow is a new day.

xx

* Elisabeth Eliot

dear you—take heart

I bought a t-shirt, and I’ve been living in it.
Take heart, I whisper to myself when I hear news reports.
Take heart, I murmer again when our rental application is declined.
Take heart, I sob when I hear back after a job interview and I’m not the chosen candidate.
Take heart, I breathe into her hair as my arms wrap around my daughter.
Take heart, I belt out in song in the car, when the sun is shining on a new day.

I know it’s not easy. I know you’re probably facing tough things too.
But taking heart is an active verb, a holding on with both hands.

I’ve (still) been reading through the Psalms. It’s my go-to when I don’t understand, when I don’t have the answers, when my prayers don’t seem to be heard.
Today I read Psalm 73.
Yes! I thought, Yes! The prosperous don’t seem to have any troubles. (v 5) There they are just enjoying life. They don’t have to worry about where they’re going to live, or what will happen if they don’t get a permanent job, or how they’ll pay the mechanic. Yes! Their hearts overflow with follies (v7) because they don’t seem to have anything important to worry about.
The Psalmists just seem to get how I feel. Yes I’m envious. Yes. It feels like I keep my heart clean all in vain! It feels like I keep believing and hoping all for nothing, every morning I’m rebuked—I’m told no to the house, the job. I’m stricken! Yes! (v14)

And always, in the Psalms, I’m given permission to feel.
To feel the envy. To feel stricken. To feel weary.
But then I’m reminded again and again to take heart. It’s not about the here and now.

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God” (v 17)

His counsel and wisdom are ours. He holds our hands, continually with us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

So I take heart again. Two-handed.
I write lists of what I’m grateful for in the here and now.
I entrust the future to Him.
I do what I can, and breathe prayers as I let it go today and watch the daisies dance on my doorstep.
I bring the little I can, I say yes, I offer my portion, I laugh a little and it loosens the knots in my stomach.
I look around at this, here; look what He’s given me!
I lather on things that smell good; lotions and oils, and I mascara my eyelashes and brush my teeth twice a day, and string up some twinkling lights. I stay up too late reading, I bake bread, and sweep the floor, and hang the laundry. I take fresh sourdough to work and the smell of it fills the workroom; by morning tea it’s almost all gone, and I’ve shared what’s in my hand while I shelf books and make jokes and smile inside that I’m here.

I let go of what I can’t control, and then I take heart and take it hard and fast and refuse to let go.

Because whatever you’re holding tight for will come, and we can simultaneously take heart and let go and dance.
Because if it’s not this messy middle today, it’ll be a different one tomorrow.
Because today is filled with the answered prayers of yesterday so take heart, He’ll overcome again, and again.

And again I’m grateful and the gratitude is what keeps us from sinking.

xx

Classic Weet-Bix Slice

Ahh the classic afternoon tea treat of West Aussie kids.
Weet-bix slice.
Any time we were called in from playing backyard cricket in the cul-de-sac, and served up a square of chocolatey goodness was a happy day – especially if we were allowed red cordial with it, am I right?
I’ve tweaked it over the years, reducing the sugar, adding extra coconut, and discovering a whole packet of chocolate melts create a thick, crisp icing.

Our eldest daughter makes it often in our house, she doesn’t have to twist dad’s arm for a trip to IGA for chocolate melts, he knows exactly what they’re for and he’s got the car keys in his hand before she can finish the sentence.

I hope you read all of this in the most ocker accent, straight from the 1990’s because that’s certainly how it was written.

“Kids, come inside! Ya mum’s made afternoon tea!”

Enjoy x

Classic Weet-Bix Slice

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

We find it easy to weigh the butter into the Thermomix and melt, then add all the ingredients together and blend until combined. But you can definitely do it the old-school way by melting the butter and stirring in the crushed weet-bix and other ingredients by hand.

Ingredients

  • 125g butter
  • 6 crushed weet-bix (60g)
  • 1 cup self raising flour (120g)
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (30g)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa (15g)
  • 2/3 cup caster sugar (we do around 90g)
  • Icing sugar and cocoa for the top, plus additional castor sugar OR use chocolate melts with olive oil for a chocolatey top (definitely our go-to!)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 (Celcius)
  2. Melt the butter
  3. Add the dry ingredients and stir through until combined
  4. Press into baking tin, and bake for about 15 minutes (it hardens a little on cooling so don’t overcook it or it’ll get too crispy!)
  5. Wait till it cools (the hardest part!) and spread liberally with a mix of icing sugar, cocoa and a bit of milk to make a chocolatey icing, or melted baking chocolate with a tbsp of oil.
  6. Make yourself a cuppa and dig in!

dear you — you don’t have to have all the answers

Dear You,

I know. You see it there with its soft layer of dust and you want to gently wipe it down, pick it up. But it’s hard isn’t it? There’s always something else vying for your attention. There’s always another book to read, instead.
Maybe you manage to pick it up and open it, and then you glance beside it to your phone, and your world is there instead, so you open that, scroll through and are left… well, empty.
Maybe you’re like me, and you want to read, and you want to understand but gosh, so much just does not. make. sense.
Why does Jesus want to keep His miracles a secret? (Mark 5)
Why did Jesus always talk in parables? They’re riddle-like, and what if they don’t mean what you you think they do? (Mark 6)
What does it mean when it says the disciples hearts were hardened? (Mark 6)
Why does Jesus refer to the Gentile woman as a dog?! (Mark 7)

And not understanding frustrates you, and makes you feel foolish, I know. Me too.
We frown at these ancient texts and we try to squeeze them to fit into our modern culture and when they don’t fit, we throw up our hands and leave the whole book to amass a fresh layer of dust.

But you, like me, need to know this:

You don’t need to have all the answers.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of faith.
The Bible isn’t written in stories and parables to keep us out, but to draw us in.
It’s written to lead us to the good questions, the big questions, the hard questions.
It pulls us to conversation, to going around and around and asking each other, what if? What if it means this? Today, it spoke to my heart this way.
It asks us to imagine; imagine walking dusty roads to Jerusalem.
Imagine walking up stone steps to the temple, or piling stones along the way to remember what was behind you, and hope for what lies ahead.
The Bible calls us to imagine what mercy and justice would look like in our time, in our day, and to walk that out humbly with our words, our actions, our service.

Ancient poetry moves us towards the bigness of God—the one who keeps the sea in its boundaries, the moon in its place, the sun rising another day. It grounds us into self-reflection, the reality of our own human failings, our messes and mistakes; and then shows us a God who is kind, in a Son who walked the earth teaching us to love our neighbours.

Dear You, why don’t you find a quiet place today. Retreat. Open the book, flick through it’s fine pages. Rest in the Psalms, or land in the gospels and follow Jesus through Israel as He sought to show us how to lift our eyes to an invisible kingdom. One where friends lay their lives down for one another, one where the stranger crosses the street to help another who looks and speaks differently to himself. A kingdom where hustling puts you in last place, but allowing others to go first is what wins the prize.

I found Him this week in the Gospel of Mark, calling a woman who’d been bleeding for a decade, Daughter. I found him, asking the blind man, What would you like me to do for you? and then restoring his sight to him. I found him getting hungry, tired, grieving, compassionate. Human.

Along with the questions and the lack of our understanding, I’ve had glimpses of this Jesus and the band of imperfect, often faithless men who followed him, hungry for all he had to teach them. And I saw myself in those disciples too; often getting it wrong, often full of fear not faith, yet still hungry for all He has to teach me.

Dear You, don’t worry if you don’t have the answers.
None of us do, but it won’t stop us from looking.

xx

PS reading through the gospels this September with Hannah Brencher and a whole bunch of girls all around the world and it is good.

the august booklist

It’s the second day of spring today.
I love nothing more than watching the seasons change, and the light in my house change, too. The sunshine through the blinds paints stripes across my bedroom wall.
If I leave the blinds open in our back room, the sunrise makes it glow.
There are kookaburras—I don’t remember hearing them this often, and I wonder if they’re nesting.
I haven’t been reading much lately. For one, uni is back for the semester.
Secondly, we are on season seven of an eight-season tv series (that shall remain nameless to protect my reputation as an upstanding Christian girl) and knitting and watching has taken priority over reading.
So it’s small potatoes for August. Just three reads. However one of them is a must, must, must read. Please do, so we can talk about it’s loveliness:

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
This was last month’s book club read, and the first one that I didn’t read in time for book club discussions and now I’ve read it and I’m so sad, and I’ll 100% be hijacking this coming month’s book club meeting with my thoughts about this one. I listened to the Bolinda audio version of this one (ahem, Bolinda is also now following me on Instagram, just a sidenote) and it was wonderful. Set in early 1900’s Oxford, in the shadow of a coming war, a dictionary is being created. Esme, our protagonist, grows up in the shadow of both. It’s a fictional tale that encompasses the suffragette movement, and draws on real people and events and it is lovely. Historical fiction is my favourite: books where I am simultaneously immersed in a story, (strong heroines are a bonus) and am learning about places and people and events that did actually happen. Love, love, loved this one.

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard
Imagine this; you go to work and are accosted by your librarian-boss, who introduces you to Western Australian Premier’s Book Award winning author as, “Emma-Lee, she’s a great writer… [insert something something something about your blog which is fuzzy because you are playing it cool and also blushing and also thinking crap one of my bosses reads my blog, how?! Hi Kate, if you happen to be reading this too]”
Author proceeds to very warmly greet you and chat to you about what you’re working on.
Internal dialogue: Um, shit, what am I working on? Blogging? Journaling in the mornings? I’m a terrible writer, I’m going nowhere fast!
Anyway, lovely author walks away and you are left for the rest of the day thinking about what you’re even doing with your writer-life, and also placing a reservation on one of the copies of his books at the library.
All that to say, last week I met Holden Sheppard, he was lovely, and then I read his book in less than 24 hours.
It’s set in Geraldton (Gero, for all you West Aussie folk) and about three high school guys struggling with their sexuality. Each of them have very likable qualities, occasionally I admit to forgetting which one was which. This one isn’t for the faint hearted. There are some explicit scenes. It is heartbreaking. It also tries to end triumphantly, but I didn’t feel triumphant. It took me a bit to shake. It is brave though, and needed. So is compassion. So is friendship that crosses the boundaries of belief and sexuality and difference.
Holden Sheppard also now follows me on Instagram.
Am I an influencer yet?

Suffering is Not For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot
This is a book put together of some of Elliot’s preaching messages (which is a disclaimer to anyone with love for grammar and the well-written word. This is literally transcribed from her speaking so it’s not always correct). I don’t know what I was searching for when I picked this one up. I guess in a world of uncertainty—my work life is uncertain, our financial world always has an element of uncertainty, where we’ll be living next year is uncertain, where our kids will go to school is uncertain—I’m feeling, as we all are in Covid-season, the weight of this uncertainty and trying to find answers. I think all the answers I could find in this book are summed up in this quote: ‘Just start thanking God in advance because no matter what is about to happen, you already know that God is in charge. You are not adrift in a sea of chaos.’
I’ve reminded myself of that a lot lately and it’s somewhat comforting.
Faith is my whole world, and despite this fact it’s fairly easy to lose my grip on it, and instead start wobbling along with the rest of the world. But I am not adrift in a sea of chaos.
Say it out loud, it helps.

So, I hope your month has been full of lovely reading moments, curled up in blankets or in sunshine, and watching the light change with the season.
I don’t even know what book I’m picking up next – any recommendations?
Also, are you doing the Goodreads challenge this year? I’ve read 41 of my 40 book goal, so anything now is a bonus!

xo

Six months of Instagram: how we became friends again

It’s been six months now since Instagram and I became friends again.
It was ‘the great Instagram break-up’: you can read about it here, and my thoughts after a little while away from the grid here.

Our relationship has always been complicated—love/hate, I suppose they’d say. Really I didn’t love it’s hold on me. I didn’t love feeling like it’s slave, drawn to my phone in all of those unconscious, mindless ways. I didn’t love not being present for others.
I hated not being present to myself.

And I did not love the way I felt after I scrolled. Feeling small.
It know that my shrinking wasn’t the fault of the highlight reels, of the shiny families I’d see, of the exotic holidays, successful businesses, and beautiful influencers. I can’t blame any of them for my shrinking. The smallness I felt came from inside of me; they weren’t hemming me in (my favourite verses, 2 Corinthians 6:11 in The Message). But the comparison was making me small and I couldn’t hear myself amongst all the noise.
So I deleted my entire account. Thousands of followers, a beautiful community that had been built – gone.
I needed to quiet the noise, I needed to stop seeking created things and find space to hear my Creator.

At first it felt the way it does after you leave a concert: after the assault on ears and eyes, the hot mass of bodies, the sudden cold night air prickles your skin and the ringing, pulsing in your ears is disconcerting. Too quiet.
It was just me. An ocean of me.
Then I was echoing Nemo’s dad, “A fish can really breathe out here.” Smile.

In the early days I reached for my phone more times than I could count. But when I did there wasn’t another world to get drawn into anymore. No more interesting lives, or profoundly shared quips and ruminations. There were no more exquisitely dressed children, or expensively decorated living rooms, or stories to drown myself in.
Now, there was just me.
Me and the people in front of me daily, and weekly.
Then, I knew what it felt to be a slave to my phone.
Now, I know what it feels like to breathe free—to stare out of train windows, to study my daughter’s freckles, to chew on Words that bring life; He has a thousand ways to set you free, you are truly the poetry of God—his very handiwork, They will fight you but they will fail.
I know what it feels like to fold bread dough and to watch it rise, smell it bake and hear the crackles of the crust as it cools on the bench. I know what it is to look at each other over a giant slice, leaving butter at the corners of our grins.

I know how to witness beauty and really see it, instead of the rectangular version through the lense of a camera.
Then, after 10 months, I re-entered the ‘gram. Tentatively, intentionally.
And now, I’ve been there six months.
The world is much bigger than my grid of squares; 94 photos cannot possibly sum up the richness, the suffering, the beauty, the laughter, the tears, or the growth of six months of life. I know what it is to seek that beauty. To forget the world of squares, to be here in this one wild and precious life, to seek after what is True and Eternal.
But, it’s nice to try to capture and share some of that sometimes too. To share the beauty, and reveal our truths, and find those who say, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one’ (Thanks CS Lewis). To see and feel connected to other worlds, and lives and stories. To wear our hearts on our sleeves, in the hope it helps someone to no longer hide. To give our book recommendations, record the quirky things our kids say, to breathe deep at the ocean while saying, ‘look at this! Is it not magnificent?!’ while trying to pan the glory in front of us.

It’s okay to be there, but be right where you are too.
It’s okay to scroll and smile and watch, but clink glasses on a Friday with your besties while your phone sits at the bottom of your bag.

We can learn how swing our legs deliciously through linen sheets, taking note of our bodies, reclaiming our thoughts as we wake slowly to our day. We can learn how to leave our phones in other rooms, forget their existence.
We can discover what it feels like to read after the house has long gone to sleep, immersed in story until our eyes hurt, just one more chapter until we flick off the lamp, letting the story continue in our dreams.
We can experience the frustration of learning new things, like knitting, and the elation of completion.
We can sit on the porch without a to-do list, and crunch celery sticks slathered in peanut butter, listening to recounts of the world of our kids, remembering what it was like to be allowed to sit next to your best friend in class, get your pen license, run in a race.

We can be here and there. We can both/and. Successfully.

So Instagram and I are friends again, and I’m going back to who I was, who I am.
Just Em. Inside and outside the squares, but mostly just not worrying too much about inside the squares, just inside me. A whole ocean of me.

xx

the booklist—june & july

One of the things I’ve always loved about reading, is that particular books take me back to specific places and times over the course of my life.
My bright pink copy of Sophie’s World which I read in Year 11 takes me back to that searching, trying-to-understand-all-the-things period of my younger life and my super smart friend Amy, walking together from my house to hers.
My battered copy of Blue Like Jazz was my first glimpse into real, non-religious, authentic relationship with Jesus, and reminds me of Year 12, drinking coffee for the first time, and drinking vodka for the first time too.
The Hobbit reminds me of a camping trip when I was 11, curled up in the back seat of our old Holden, and Karri trees.
I read Redeeming Love when I worked my first job at a law firm on Barrack Street in the city. I was 17. It reminds me of my chocolate brown pencil skirt and square-toed heels, woollen scarves and the firm’s lunchroom where I read while waiting for my sandwich to toast.

Every time I read a book that I know will stay with me, I also know that this moment in time will stay with me too. Some of the books I read in June will forever remind me of stacking shelves at the State Library, of commutes to the city with rain chasing itself down the train windows, and leaves glued to wet pavement.

Here’s what I’ve read since the beginning of June:

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Yes, the world’s climate and a desire to learn and to embrace the stories of black people informed some of my reading choices. Looking back through my booklists I realised that although I was reading somewhat diversely, I could be more intentional and thoughtful in my reading. This one is a memoir of a black Christian woman who shares her experiences as such, in ministry, life and the world. It was beautifully written but at the same time I felt like it lacked a handle—she spoke openly and honestly about the ways in which white people had gotten it so wrong, but I wasn’t given any tools as to how to make it right. What is the right thing to say? How should I speak to you about those issues? It left me hanging, and nervous to say anything.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Firstly I’ll say that this book is so necessary. I grew up in the 90’s and the Australian history we were taught at school was not only lacking, but misinformed and whitewashed. This book challenges the notion that First Nations people in Australia were hunter-gatherers and attributes them with incredible intelligence, innovation, agriculture, engineering and kindness. It draws on historical facts, artefacts, diaries of colonists, the experiences of First Nations people from other colonised countries, and other evidence. It’s fact-driven, yes, but needed. I’m so glad that our kids are being taught a more accurate history in schools, that we are slowly changing the narrative, and that Indigenous people themselves are rising up and challenging the white story. Read this. And while you’re at it, track down the kids version too.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
To be honest, I started this one because I had a big, monotonous job at the library, shuffling a section of biographies and 900’s from one section to another. I needed an audiobook, and this one happened to be available instantly on BorrowBox. So, over two solid days I listened to this book and it. was. incredible. It absolutely came alive thanks to Stig Wemyss and his absolutely incredible voice acting skills and Eli’s poetic, melancholy, thoughtful narration was so beautifully written. I went in with zero expectations, and came out awed at Dalton’s writing, laughing at some of the very Australian one liners and in shock at where the book took it’s readers. Set in 1980’s Brisbane, it’s a very Australian bildungsroman, with some profound observations about life and family, humour and a plot you could never predict—it was brilliant. (Warning, lots of explicit language!)

The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Mystery/thriller novels have never been my thing, except for a brief phase when I was fifteen and read a whole bunch of Agatha Christie that I found in the depths of my Nanna’s cupboard. Foley had been recommended to me at the library multiple times, and then I saw that The Guest List was one of Reese’s Book Club picks and I happened to come across a copy that I snatched up. I read it in less than 24 hours. It was psychological, intriguing and set in the peat bogs of Ireland (I had to look them up!). You guys, this was like a modern day Agatha Christie! Switching between points of view sometimes irritates me, but I liked getting a glimpse into the minds of some of the characters. It was a fun and easy foray into a genre I don’t usually read!

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
I am drawn always to anything set in New York City—it’s my wanderlust muse, my dream. This one is set in Greenwich Village in the 60’s, sold.
The story tackles friendships, marriage and faith, but there’s something more than that… this insight into life, humanity that was beautiful and thought provoking.
Sometimes I felt the characters were being used only to portray specific viewpoints, and there were some changes towards the end that felt out of character for them. It was character driven, explorative, and full of beautiful impressions of growing up in life and faith. It wrapped up a little too quickly towards the end though, felt a bit forced.
But a delightful story.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
This book deserves it’s own blog post; maybe one day. For now though all I can say that Sarah Bessey is one of my favourite authors. I love that she is explorative in her faith, suspicious of organised religion, and has clearly experienced the hurtful side of ‘Christianity’, yet she examines God and faith and Christianity in a way that is not condemning or blame casting, or finger pointing. I love that she is an unashamedly Jesus-loving, tongues-speaking, halleluja-ing woman, who also unashamedly calls out our (my!) religious, proud and pious mindsets. I simultaneously love her writing and am jealous of the way she articulates the nitty-gritty heart stuff. I’d like to write like her when I grow up, thank you please.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith
The first of this series was our Bookclub’s choice for May (see The May Booklist Here). I was told they got even better than the first, so I ventured to begin the second. Strike is faced with a gorier and more dangerous crime to solve this time, and Robin continues on as his trusty sidekick, despite the obvious annoyance by her fiance. I must admit one of my favourite aspects of these books so far (definitely intend on reading the rest) is the traipsing over London, and lots of eating of English food and drinking beer. I love the imagery of the old pubs, with their dark bars and cosy booths, as Strike and Robin discuss various aspects and suspicions of the crime as it snows outside.

Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber
Okay so I listened to the audio version of this and when I finished, promptly ordered a paperback. It’s the kind of book that can become a rich resource for doing the deep work of mental health. White knuckling: it’s when we hustle through pain, painful experiences, hurt. It’s when we tell ourselves (or listen to others who tell us) to try harder, knuckle down, push through. And it’s not good for us. Kolber’s approach, as a clinical psychologist and a Christian is to try softer. And she gives us very practical, doable ways to help us identify our white-knuckling, and gently slow down, observe, and be kinder to ourselves. The book is a counselling session that is illuminating and full of care. I can’t wait to get my hard copy to underline and dog-ear, to refer to the tips and tools that are laid out throughout it’s pages. It’s a must read/do/apply.

So. I’m at 36 books this year. Reading for intentionally learning, soul-caring, slowing.
My to-be-read pile really isn’t getting any smaller though!
This month I’ve got The Alice Network, Love Her or Lose Her, My Brilliant Career and a biography about Miles Franklin. What are you reading/hoping to read?
Also, I start Semester Two of uni today, wish me luck!

xx