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.

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 May Booklist

May was autumn leaves glued to pavement by puddles. It was city commutes, train rides, vegetable soups and yarn up to my elbows.
It was contentment and faith and prayer in bucketloads. It was sunset runs by the beach, and stormy nights.
We’re both working hard, the husband and I. There’s a teamwork that flows out of what we do, as we move in and out of the house. He does some school runs and grocery shopping, I stay present and remind the kids about sports uniforms and netball training and homework.

It works.
And in the midst of it all these books:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This has been on my radar for years. It’s classic literature. In my Instagram post about reading this one I ponder the question of classic lit, and whether we like it because we think we should, or if it actually has merit. This one was a bit of both for me. It was a slow burn (pun totally intended). I didn’t really know the context of the story, and honestly it was not plot driven enough for me to really immerse into—but the nuance and the prophetic nature of this book were incredible. It’s set in an unidentified time (presumably the future, it was written in the 1960’s) where entire walls in people’s living rooms are televisions, and ears are constantly plugged with devices that tell stories. Basically humanity is living in an entertained stupor… sound vaguely familiar? Books are illegal, because books make people think, and firemen are employed to burn houses that have been discovered to have been hiding them. It’s a profound novel, with literary references scattered throughout. I’m glad I read it.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle
I have to admit I went into this one with a little bit of prejudice but I was internally apologising to Glennon for it after a couple of chapters. I love her writing style. She’s a lover and user of metaphors, just like me—I see metaphors in the simplest things, and the way she expresses them is beautiful. I loved the insight into her family, to the things she’s done well, to the undoing of belief systems and the questioning and doubting.
As a Christian some of it did make me feel uncomfortable. Not the gay thing, not the refering to using she and her as pronouns for God (which I actually love) but more the universality of the faith that Glennon now has. It’s a faith without a Saviour. It’s her Knowing the presence without knowing the Person. But that’s my own personal bias. There is so much I could say about this book. These are some quotes I scribbled down as I read:

“This way of life requires living in integrity. Ensuring that my inner self and outer self are integrated. Integrity means only having one self…

Diving into two selfs, the hidden self and the shown self, that is brokenness.

I do not adjust myself to please the world.

Judgement is just another cage we live in so we don’t have to feel, know and imagine. You are not here to waste your time to decide whether my life is true and beautiful enough for you, you are here to decide whether your life is true and beautiful enough for you.”

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Lamott is one of my favourite authors. She brings a realness and authenticity to talking and writing about faith that is hard to find within a church context. There are f-bombs. There is death, doubt, sex, alcohol and all of it comes back around to a God that loves us regardless, to a Saviour that died for us so that we didn’t have to pretend to be perfect. They are beautiful memoirs. And God as a cat at the door is one of the best descriptions of heard about God, probably ever. It’s irreverent and spiritual all at once. It’s raw and real and full of beauty and challenges our religiosity. I don’t hold all of Lamott’s views, or share all of her beliefs, but she brings something to the table that Christianity needs, and a voice that we should listen to, if only to keep our own faith fresh and alive.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
This was book club’s pick this month, and our discussions ranged from whether we think Cormoran Strike is attractive (the general consensus was yes, in a very rugged, largely muscular kind of way, and duh because a supermodel wanted to sleep with him) to whether Robin is smart (again, yes, but she comes across like a ditzy blonde and shouldn’t have to the extent she did) and whether we could see similarities in writing style to Harry Potter (definitely, especially in descriptions of the city itself, it reminded me of descriptions of Diagon Alley) and why we think Rowling used a male pseudonym (thus eliciting discussions about feminism). I really enjoyed this one. It was easy to read and fun.

What are you reading these days??

I’m intentionally diversifying my book choices and I’ve got a couple I’m looking forward to sharing already, in my June book list!

Happy Monday!

xx

Sun-dried sheets, and the foot of the cross

Read: Psalm 21 The Passion Translation

I hadn’t ever used fabric softener until about a year ago. I discovered it was the reason behind a friend’s clothes, that always smelled so good. And I love smells.
I light double wick candles that crackle and send the warm aroma of patchouli and sandalwood into the room. I drip peppermint and bergamot essential oil into diffusers.
I spray little concoctions of witch hazel and lavender over our pillows before bed.
The smell of fresh baked sourdough makes me giddy, and the scent of a new book, or the Eucalyptus on a dewy morning. Scent makes the world come alive.

So, I splurged on that 900ml bottle of sweet-smelling fabric softener, and each time I carry a basket of wet laundry to the washing line I breathe in deep at it’s goodness.

Sometimes when I walk outside and the breeze is blowing the drying laundry, I catch it’s scent for a moment and it makes me smile.

Today I washed our sheets.
I walked through the tunnel made by them hanging in the morning sunshine, and breathed in deeply, enveloped in the white linen, smiling like a madwoman who hasn’t left the house much lately. And you know, God has burning bushes anywhere we’re curious enough to look at a more closely, and today that bush was my white sheets drying in the sunshine.

And maybe it was because it’s Good Friday, and the thoughts of the day were lingering in my mind, but the words to that old hymn came to mind as I moved my way through the sheets, and pegged down their corners; what can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus… oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow…
And I stopped, smelling the vanilla and coconut, reminded that even my best efforts of goodness will never be good enough, but Jesus will always be, and the white of the sheets was stark.

And today of course I’m reading Psalm 21 and while it is maybe about an earthly king, I look past that and see the King that went willingly to the cross.
I see the One who laid down the royal crown of gold (Psalm 21:3) and let his glory garments be stripped from Him, baring it all for all of us, and all of our imperfections.

And this, from Sacred Rhythms by Christine Sine, on suffering; “… God uses it to bring us to a recognition of our own brokenness. We can’t find true health and wholeness unless we suffer pain and admit we need the healing and redemption Christ offers…”

So tonight, after a day of sunshine, and a wash in the ocean, I’m climbing into white sun-dried sheets that smell like vanilla, and I’m letting the suffering of this Friday sink in. I’m letting the weight of an upside down world feel heavy without trying to move on too quickly. I’m remembering that it’s okay to cry out, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ and sit here in darkness and loneliness for a moment.
Because if the Psalms are teaching me anything these days, it’s that it’s okay to sit with emotion, and to not rush to quickly from it’s grasp.
We can sit at the foot of the cross, and cry for the people we miss, for the lack, for the missing, for the broken and for the unanswered in our lives. We can let the melancholy settle in our bones, as people of the Cross.
And as those people, in the shroud of darkness of Good Friday, we can still carry embers of hope.
Hope that the partial will be complete.
Hope that the lack will be fulfilled.
Hope that the broken will be redeemed.
Hope that Sunday will come.

xx

The January Booklist

Last year, setting a reading goal for myself was such a highlight.
And it really was for myself. Because reading is a form of self-care for me; switching off, curling up with a cup of tea and a novel, or sliding into a hot bath with a book, I know it’s something I love to do.
But who knows that the things we love to do are often the things that are shoved aside in favour of the things we should do, or must do, or need to do.
Setting myself a goal to read 40 books in the year kept reading on my radar.
Sometimes I would go a week or two without picking up a book, but because I knew I had a goal to reach, I always had a book on my bedside ready to go. Also, it helps that I work in a library and books are always on my radar…
But the goal made me read, and reading makes me feel like I am caring for my little self, and that has been a win.
So, this year I’ve kept the same goal, and the same thing in mind. Read. Read more. Read widely.
And then share what I read here, to keep me accountable. And also conversations about books are my favourite, so come chat!

You can also find me on Goodreads here.

So. Here are my reads for Jan:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Imagine. Here I am at the beginning of the year, ready to dive into a good novel. It’s evening. Husband is watching the cricket, I pull up my legs on our tan leather couch, freshly showered and wearing new pyjamas. I have a cup of tea next to me. The front door is open and letting in the summer breeze. Then I start to read. It’s slow going. Some of the writing is intelligent and insightful. I like the voice given to human stuff. But then over the next few days I keep reading, and I find it more and more difficult to pick up. It’s slow. The main character’s melancholy is depressing. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The character is going places, physically, like travelling, but the plot? I don’t even know where it’s going it’s moving at a snails pace.
So all my ‘leaping into a good novel’ dreams are dashed, because this one for me was not a good novel.
Time I won’t ever get back and all that jazz. 1 star for the writing style. I don’t know how on earth this won a Pulitzer prize!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Oh, you were hoping my January reads were going to get better? So was I!
What. did I just read.
I was drawn to this one because literary journalism is one of my favourite genres. This author followed each of these three women intimately for years, to capture their stories. I love that immersive style of reporting, Capote-style.
But this time, the result actually physically repulsed me.
It wasn’t the sex, truly. I mean, I can’t believe I’m even admitting this but I’ve watched Orange Is the New Black. I’m not a prude. I am not a G-rated only Christian girl who only watches Anne of Green Gables.
It actually wasn’t the explicitness of the book that I found so disturbing.
I kept reading, and waiting for redemption, and there was none to be found. What I wanted was for the three women to awaken to their identity, to take their power back, to have a happy ending for goodness sake!
But there was none.
And the idea presented that these kind of relationships are a normative expression of feminine desire and sexuality…
Just no.
I have to go wash my eyeballs. Another bummer.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Ahhh now this one was more like it. This was the one I read into the wee hours. The one I looked forward to coming home to. The one that took me on a journey. I love that the story is told through the eyes of a boy, as he grows up. I love the sense of foreboding that the house in the story gives, as if it’s a character itself—and it kind of is. This quote, that I quickly scribbled down, is an example of some of the profound insights into humanity, into our individual stories:
”There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”
The book is less plot driven than I’d have liked it to be, and can be a bit slow in parts. But, after two novels that left me shaking my head, this was a welcome reprieve!

Cold Storage by David Koepp
Okay, this would not be a book I would naturally pick up. But, when Harper Collins sends your friend a bunch of copies for your book club, and she drops one to your house, and then reminds you to read it with the words, “It’s not what you think, give it a go I think you’ll like it!” then you pick up the book. And then you fly through it, even though it’s about a mutating fungus and a retired Pentagon bioterrorism operative, and science fiction but oh my goodness it’s thoroughly entertaining and actually I laughed out loud at a couple of places. It was lighthearted, and even though sometimes people exploded into green goo-like substance after being infected with weird fungus-from-space, I really liked this book. Honestly, I surprised myself!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
I kept coming across this title in the libraries where I work, and it had me intrigued enough that one day I borrowed it myself. It follows a family fleeing from war in Syria and it does an incredible job of giving faces to the faceless refugee crisis that plagued our media outlets a couple of years ago. It gave them human faces and insight into their plights, and the risks they had to take to escape the war zone that had once been their places of residence. It sheds light on insufferable loss, on the repercussions of trauma, on hopelessness. Nuri and his wife Afra help to give voice to those who lost so much. It’s heartbreaking.

When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley
After reading Chasing Slow and Minimalist Home last month, I needed something to keep the ball rolling in my downsizing, minimising, decluttering life, and I came across this one.
To be honest, it was similar to Chasing Slow, but didn’t have the punch I expected. It was more focused on minimising our time on social media, and devices, than much about decluttering our homes or the minimalist movement that I’m experimenting with. There are definite faith overtones, and it reads like an extended blog. But I did enjoy listening to it as I decluttered my house some more.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising by Marie Kondo
Remember when this book went viral? I’m sure you’re familiar with her phrase about getting rid of something if it doesn’t spark joy. Well, did you know that she also empties her handbag every night because she thinks it will ‘feel full’ and then she also thanks it for it’s work that day. Needless to say, there are some ideas in this book that I won’t be implementing. But there are others that are more practical, and I think it’s helpful if you find it hard to part with material things, particularly if they’re somewhat sentimental. She doesn’t really address the practical things that we need to have in our homes, or give any ideas about how to store or organise those things. In that area I feel like Minimalist Home is much more practical. But I had to read (listen) to this book because it’s such a widely-read book in the arena of minimising.

So. I’m off to a roaring start, having seven notches in my 2020 reading belt.

On my bedside are The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, Roar by Cecelia Ahern, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and I’m currently listening to The Grown-up’s Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp.

What are you reading? Do you have a reading goal for 2020? It might not be as ridiculous as 40 books fo rate year – maybe it’s just one a month?

xx

Simplifying: Why I need less stuff

Right in my ear, as I hung out the freshly washed sheets in the summer sunshine, she said, “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
Marie Kondō that is, in the audio book of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I’ve recently read Joshua Becker’s The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life and also Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow.

They’ve all made me increasingly aware of the excess stuff that has made it’s way into my home over the years.
I have always been good at decluttering, and letting go of some of the stuff—you know, passing on toys and clothes the kids grow out of, and clearing the pantry of out of date packages… but it’s seemed that no matter how much decluttering I’ve done, the contents of our home hasn’t stopped swelling, and a significant amount of my time and energy has gone into tidying, reorganising, sorting, and moving a myriad of things into different spaces.
All of it to make me feel organised, clear-headed, and productive.
But what I’ve found is that even when those things are in a different space, and maybe not so visible, the stuff is still there, and still takes up space in my home and my life, and eventually the contents accumulate and spill out onto various surfaces, and then I spend more time, energy and money (plastic storage tubs anyone?) reorganising again.
The thing is, to our cultural standards, I’m sure that what I own isn’t excessive. In fact, as I’ve been more and more intentional about not accumulating more, I have been more conscious of what those around me fill their homes with—and more and more I want to excuse myself from the race. You know, the one you’re subconsciously running in—the race to have more, and new, and bigger and better.

I want out of the culture that says we must consume in excess.

Because my lifetime accumulation of stuff is suddenly overwhelming.

Today I cleared out three small bedside drawers, and filled a shopping bag full of rubbish.
It was full of notebooks I’d used only a few pages of, cords for devices I no longer own, dried up gel pens and birthday cards from years gone by. All the things I was keeping ‘just in case’ had begun to encroach on my ability to live freely, lightly. And all of it felt like wasteful excess. Unnecessary multiples whose only purpose seemed to have been only to provide momentary thrill and sparkle of owning something new.

I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want. – Marie Kondō

Every year we try to take the kids on a staycation in our city. We stay in a hotel overnight, wander streets for coffee and ice-cream and order room service. It took me a while to work out why our time together at these times was such quality. How did we connect with the kids so well? Why was it so easy to give each other attention? How did conversation flow so freely?
I have come to the conclusion that this occurs because there was is no distraction. It’s intentional. Because the hotel rooms are empty of stuff, so our focus changes—there’s no tidying to do, so we invent things to do together.

I’m not saying I want a home as bare as a hotel room, but I do want to intentionally curate a home where the focus is on the people in it, rather than the stuff we’re surrounded by. Because even stuff that is hidden well in drawers and cupboards and excellent storage spaces and curated organisational containers, it still encroaches on my ability to breathe deeply the freedom that is found in undistracted time with people.

So this year I’ve made a quiet promise to myself. To explore minimalism. To not add to my wardrobe, kitchen, bathroom cupboards, or kids rooms without deep thought and intention.
To shop for needs, not wants.
To stop keeping things ‘just in case’ and to hold on to the material things in my life lightly. To create a home that allows me the space to love my people, and to have the time to pursue the life I want (and really, to spend less time organising and tidying my writing space, and more time writing in it!).

xx

How to do Christmas memories well: a step by step guide for us all

Here’s my (non exhaustive) how-to list to simplify Christmas, and enjoy an evening with your people:

1. Choose a Christmas movie. Specifically, choose Elf because it is the very best one. Following that, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is also a winner.

2. Don’t stress about the dinner dishes. Don’t snap at the family for not helping with said dishes.

3. Dessert need not be extravagant—a simple rice pudding (coloured green because, Christmas) and vanilla ice cream is perfect (our movie night tradition). Or, vanilla ice-cream with Milo sprinkled on top, a la our childhoods, is also a cheap and easy option, and just as loved.

4. Don’t worry about washing your hair, just have the quickest shower you can so you can spend more time with aforementioned people.

5. Gaudy Christmas t-shirts, mugs and hats are optional, but recommended. Pjs non-negotiable.

6. Take the time to get your bean bag just the way you like it right away, so the rustling doesn’t disturb the movie-watching.

7. Get up when the kettle whistles—without being resentful. Yes, maybe you cooked the dinner and cleaned the kitchen and made the dessert so why should I have to make the tea as well?! Because you’re creating memories, and creating space, and sometimes that means you either a) roll up your sleeves and take a breath and get it done or b) ruin the moment with your resentment. I recommend option a. Serve your family well.

8. Settle in. Don’t forget to take stock. Notice the way your 13 year old son sits against your husband, the need for affection unhidden and unashamed. Take note of the fact that she’s brought out her comfort blanket that she’s had since she was a newborn, and refuses to give up even though she’s turning 12. Smile at the way the youngest eats her ice-cream, methodically, intentionally, letting her lips only remove the top layer on the spoon at a time.

9. Laugh out loud. Laugh in anticipation of the hilarity that you know is about to occur. Laugh at the one liners and the slap stick and then laugh at everyone else laughing. This can only occur if you’re as engaged in the movie as everyone else. Leave your phone in the bedroom.

10. Catch eyes with your loved one across the room, where he’s sitting with kids’ legs splayed over him and Christmas lights reflected in his eyes. Let that feeling swell until you feel like it’ll burst in your chest.

And that’s it. All you need is your people. Or your cat, it’ll work the same. The other night when my husband was on night shift, I watched You’ve Got Mail, with only the cat for company. I pretty much had the same swelling, heart-bursting gratitude.
All you need is to be present right there in that moment. All you need is to be grateful.

It’s easy to get caught up in it all: the consumerism, the having and the buying and the doing.
I have moments where I feel like I need to keep up with those Joneses, the ones with their styled living rooms and extravagant new decorations and Christmas trees. I scroll Facebook and it tells me I need the latest Nutribullet, and that dress she’s wearing from Sportsgirl.
I’m pulling out of the competition though, because when I’m comparing, no one wins anyway.
I know by now that the want for more is insatiable, and immeasurable.

This I can measure though, but it’s not measured in the same way as collected inanimate things.
This life I can measure with gratitude. This living room full of living, breathing, heart-swelling, life-giving folk who remind me that I don’t need the holidays or the new things or the clean floor (okay sometimes I really need the clean floor)—that all I really need is to find the place within me that says, Oh God, I am so grateful.

And that is enough.

xx

on getting half way and holding on to hope

I’ve been running again.
It’s the best stress relief after sitting at a desk for the majority of my day.
I only do five kilometres, which takes just under 30 minutes.
I plug in my earphones, make sure my sneakers are laced up tight, close the gate behind me, and start jogging. At first, my legs feel heavy. Instantly I wonder how on earth I’m going to be able to make it the whole five. In my head I’m already working out a shorter route, the one that’ll take me home quicker, the one that’s only maybe three and a half, not five.

My heavy legs pound the pavement and I turn up my podcast or audiobook—I always run with something like this, I need the distraction, the focus on something other than how awful it feels as my legs turn to jelly and my chest burns (I’m definitely no athlete).
Something happens after a little while though, and I find I’m not thinking about running anymore, I’m just running.
By about 800 meters I can see the ocean, and by 900 I’m running alongside it.
It looks different every day and I can divert my mind from my sharp breathing with cloud formations, and the silky blues of the ocean as I try to spot the fins of dolphins across the surface. My face and neck develops a thin layer of sweat, and as the air hits, cools the warmth of my face, which I know is pulsing beetroot red.

There’s a half way point that’s marked by metal bars on the footpath.
At that point I can either keep going, as the path takes me home the short way, knowing I’ve copped out of the whole five kilometres. Or I can turn around, and go back the 2.5 it took me to get there.
I’ve been turning around. Almost every time lately, I slow slightly, take it wide and loop around those metal bars without stopping. The direction of the wind changes, and forces my ponytail to the front of my shoulder. I adjust my hair and carry on, knowing now that I’ve gone too far to change my mind. There’s only one option now, and that’s running until I get all the way back home, holding nothing back.

Running is a head-game.
The minute I tell myself I can’t, I won’t.
If I don’t let myself consider the can’t option, then I can, and I do, make it home fast.
Imagine how good I’ll feel when I’m done. I’ll be one step closer to that fitness goal.
In fifteen minutes the pain will be over. Look at your capacity—once upon a time you couldn’t even make it to the next streetlight. Imagine when you can go for forty minutes.
Those thoughts keep me buoyant. One foot goes in front of the other and I don’t stop.

Life is a head-game too.
And hope-thoughts keep me buoyant, putting one foot in front of the other.
It’s so tempting to stop sometimes isn’t it? It’s tempting to take the short road—the easier one that doesn’t have as many benefits. Some days, it’s harder to block out the thoughts that come and tell you that you can’t. Some days you believe that you can’t, and that giving up is the only option.

Buoyancy. I believe we were designed to live light.

Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life… For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.*

And one of the ways I stay in that place of less worry, less anxiety, is by making sure I’m winning that head-game.
Just like when I run, I refuse to consider the idea that maybe I can’t.
Just like when I run, I focus on beauty instead of the pain I might be feeling.
And just like when I run, I don’t stop when I’m half way—I hold on to hope.

God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.**

xx

* Matthew 11:28-30 TPT
** Isaiah 40 MSG

pen and ink: an old-fashioned revolution

I sent out an email last week.
My first, to a list of people who’ve chosen to read my words and connect with this online space of mine.
It’s got a little story, and a little something I haven’t shared here, and a little list of things I’m loving, and a little list of how-to ideas in embracing slow.
It felt sweet to write, because it was going to people who’d said yes to receiving my words… different to blogging and posting out into what often feels like a silent void (hello, anybody out there?).

I called the e-newsletter pen and ink, because for quite a while now, that’s where I’ve been showing up—in pen and ink.
In words on the page.
In early mornings.
In my Moleskine journal and my (new, Mother’s Day gift – that I bought for myself and gave to my family to give back to me, isn’t that how we should do it?) fountain pen.

I sit, and the ink flows out, and sometimes it’s neat and sometimes it’s messy and I’m not just talking about my handwriting.

So when I was putting together my email I just kept thinking, I wish I could write this in ink, on paper. I wish I could connect with people behind the screen. And a little seed of an idea started to grow.

The seed began when I read a chapter in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. She advises to just write, keep writing and don’t stop writing, and tells a story where she wrote letters and poems for people. She’d set up a spontaneous writing booth at a Summer Festival and had a waiting line all through the day. People would give her a subject line or ask her for a poem on a topic and she’d just write. “My rule was that I filled one side of a piece of standard-size paper, did not cross out, nor did I stop to reread it… I filled a page like I did in my notebook. It was another form of writing practice.” Natalie then says years later she got a letter from a man claiming that when he joined the Coast Guard he only took two things with him: photos of his family and what she’d written him three years before at a summer bazaar.

I want to write for people words that they’ll tuck up and carry with them for years later.
I want to write words that inspire and uplift, just the way I try to do here, only with paper and ink.

So, at the bottom of my email, I wrote this:

If you got this far, I’d love to reward you with a real letter on paper written in ink. A love letter from my heart to yours. The first three people to reply with their mailing address, will get one in the mail for real.

I thought maybe one person would respond.
I doubted, thinking letter-writing is probably too old-fashioned, a bit out dated, and a rather nerdy endeavour for the common population to care for (all three of these are perfect descriptions for me, by the way!).

Well I thought wrong.

The responses came rolling in. Actual, real-live people from across Australia were replying, responding. Saying yes I want real human connection away from the screen. Yes to pen and ink. Yes to words scrawled by a stranger, folded into an envelope and slid into iconic red boxes, whisked to their letterbox.

So I didn’t stop at three.
So each evening I’ve been writing letters and praying as I write. And the words are laced with hope and encouragement and grace, and I’m sending these hope-words and handwritten prayers to people I’ve never seen face to face.

I don’t know what they look like, I don’t know what season they’re in, I don’t know their struggles or triumphs or their quiet daily wins. But I’m sending prayers and I’m sending a whole lot of vulnerability, and a whole lot of cheerleading and high-fiving (and, a spearmint and chamomile teabag from me too).
In words, on paper.

One person responded to tell me she was going to buy some paper so that she could write a return letter, and while she’s at it, she’d write to other friends across the country – and that maybe I might just have begun a revolution.

A revolution of championing each other, with the written word.
How fun.

xx