I have always wanted to keep a journal. I picture a cornucopia of notebooks overflowing with stories, profound observations, and a snapshot of what my life was like when I wrote it. I picture future generations poring over my words, marveling at the life I led.

It's not that I'm so narcissistic to think that I'm oh-so-much-more-fascinating than everyone else. It's that I think everyone has a story, and everyone's story is worth sharing. I sure wish my ancestors had kept a journal - we don't often get to hear the inner workings of our relatives' minds.

The problem is, there have been waaaaay too many embarrassing moments when childhood journals were discovered in memory boxes, when the private angst I spilled onto the page as a youth resulted in howls of laughter from both my sisters and present-day me. Or the pretentious prose just comes off as annoying, rather than just sharing a story.

Now every time I try to journal, I find myself trying to edit so that Future Me won't make fun of Present Me. The resulting words end up dry, factual, and dull. No emotion. No personality.

In fact, I think the only times I've ever successfully kept a journal have been during my travels to other countries. I love looking back on the details of the trip that have long since escaped my memory. I love reading the funny quotes recorded and the highlights of the day. It's so much easier to journal when you feel you're doing something out of the ordinary.

My goal for this next year is to record everything. Ordinary or extraordinary. Emotional or factual. Silly or profound. It's getting written down, because I want to remember it all when I don't remember it anymore. I want my child and future children to know what their early childhood was like from my point of view.

My word of the year for 2014 (in place of New Year's Resolutions) was discipline. I feel really good about my word. I hit my lowest weight ever in 2014. I started to work from home. I read a good amount of books. I stayed somewhat faithful to writing on my blog. I even flossed a few times.

I know it's only mid-November, but I've already chosen a word for 2015 - stories. I'm writing my own story, I'm connecting with others to learn their stories, and I'm reading even more fiction and biographies.

This post was inspired by this article.

Do you journal (successfully)? Do you use prompts, or just write what's in your head?


book talk #2 - 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

I wish I could read for a living and get paid for it. Along with getting paid to learn languages. That would be awesome.

Since no one has come out of the woodwork to offer me such a job, I'm going to pretend I'm getting paid to write this blog post.

So basically, I'm pretty obsessed with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. I had heard a few friends talk about this author, and specifically this book, and finally put it on hold at the library.

There are a lot of things competing for my attention in life, like my husband and daughter, Criminal Minds on Netflix, and work. So a lot of times I'll borrow a book from the library, get bored 50 pages in, and never finish it within the allotted time. Then, I'll go online, renew it, and forget to read it again. At this point, I normally give up and just return the book.

Not so with 7. I couldn't put it down, and it was definitely not what I expected. Basically, I expected a lecture on how our culture is consuming at an alarming rate, and Christians are no better, so this lady took matters into her own hands and made everyone else feel guilty about it.

I could not have been more wrong about the tone of the book. Jen comes from a place of repentance, humor, and freedom. Freedom to me is the key word. We are no longer bound by Old Testament laws, nor are we trying to earn our way into heaven with our good works. Books like this can come dangerously close to implying such things. Instead, she is simply recognizing that fact that it is really easy to let our Christian freedom run amok, and it's also a good idea to stop and do a heart check every once and awhile. Are my treasures on earth or in heaven? Am I loving God first and my neighbor as myself? Those are good questions that in no way guilt us into recycling, adopting 10 kids, and selling every extraneous thing we own.

Jen's experiment was this: What would it look like if I did a temporary fast from food, clothing, stuff, stress, spending, screen time, and waste? She stuck with the "7" theme - one month for each of her seven categories. Seven food items for a month, seven clothing items for a month, etc. Her "council" of friends each interpreted the fast in their own way, participating in a way that made the fast fit into their own lives.

I didn't come away from the book feeling guilty for the blessings God has given me. I came away from the book more thoughtful, thankful, and excited to share my love for God with others.

In my opinion, it's definitely worth a read - I laughed, I cried, it moved me (Veggie Tales reference anyone?)

Let's end with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"...Scripture calls us to the practice of fasting- from food, from greed, from selfishness, from luxuries. It isn't just the experience; it's the discipline. It changes us. Fasting helps us develop mastery over the competing voices in our heads that urge us toward more, toward indulgence, toward emotional volatility."


working from home - a learning curve

What a weird world we live in. Jobs are no longer things like "farmer," "seamstress," and "banker." (Although those jobs still exist).

Now people have job titles like web designer, dog walker, blogger, and independent consultant.

There are about a zillion and one ways to cobble together a living from the comfort of you own home. There are about a fillion more ways to piece together 86 part time jobs as your own employer. It's kind of awesome. 

Some people call these "side hustles." Others call it: "my husband is a teacher and I'm staying home with the kids so we have no money so I better figure out a way to change that." It's an official term.

Anyway, that's me now! I'm working from home! It's one of the most exciting, stressful, confusing ways I've ever decided to make money. 

I'm still a rookie. I've only been doing it for six months. I'm learning as I go. I am still trying to figure out the best schedule for Pippa and me. Working from home is one thing. Working from home but also being a stay at home parent is another thing altogether! Inspired by Molly's thoughts on working from home, here are mine:

>> plan your day...kind of  on the advice of a more experienced mom and friend, I try to write out the top things that need to get done the next day. I think Zig Ziglar was also a proponent of this strategy. I used to do this on notecards. Now I just write it on a giant mirror I use as a white board. With kids, you can do your best to stick to a schedule, but they often have minds of their own. The list keeps me from being overwhelmed with "to-do's" when Pippa goes down for her nap. 

>> get non-work stuff done when your child is awake  I used to panic, trying to get work, blog, devotions, chores, and exercise all done during one hour and a half nap. I realized that was impossible, so I decided to do computer-based work when Pippa is sleeping. Now I have her "help" me with chores and exercise with me. It's not a perfect solution (she did scratch me in the face in the middle of a "serene" yoga session), but it works for now. 

>> do your work in your "office"  before we moved we had absolutely no extra space to put a desk. In our new place, we have a loft area that works both as a playroom and an office. I have my very own desk, vision board, and fitness orb that is also my desk chair. When I bring my laptop to the sofa, MUCH less work gets done. More surfing the net happens. It's not productive. When I stay in my desk area, I have my vision board, my mirror/white board, and my calendar to keep me focused. Plus, Pippa can play in her kitchen if I have any loose ends to tie up after her nap. 

>> work in mini blitzes  I can only stay focused on one job for so long before I feel burnt out. I strive for about 45 minutes of good, solid work before I take a break to read a blog, get a cup of coffee, or throw in a load of laundry. I don't really have other people to motivate me and hold me accountable, so I have to find little tricks to keep me working. Which leads me to my next point...

>> be a boss  specifically, your own boss. If I don't hold myself accountable, no one will. If I decide not to do income-producing activity, there is no income. I have to give myself goals with deadlines. I have to write down my goals and read them aloud daily to stay motivated. I have to stay organized. I have to be focused on my "why" (which is why my vision board is right above my laptop). If I don't treat myself as a professional, then this is just a hobby, not a job. I must continue my personal and professional development without prompting from anyone else. Luckily in my job I get to earn as I learn.

 >> socialize  working from home, and being a stay-at-home parent can be lonely if you let it. I have to force myself to get out of the house each day to interact with other people. (The library has become my best friend - free and full of other parents and kids). I also have an amazing group of women around the country working toward the same goals. We have a message thread going to help motivate and support one another. 

>> be flexible  no explanation needed. 

Any other tips from experienced work-from-home veterans?


prayer - go big or go home?

I have to admit something. And I really hope I'm not alone when I make this confession.

I have often felt like my prayer life is a struggle.

And it's not that I don't know how to pray. It's not for lack of people, situations, or things to pray for. I honestly think it's because I have never felt like it's enough.

Which is a radical thing to say as a Lutheran. Scripture alone. Faith alone. Grace alone. It's been hammered into me since my youth - nothing I have ever done, am doing, or will do is enough to gain salvation. It's only through faith in the blood of Christ, sent by God out of his undeserved love for me.

So why do I even bother to think about not praying "enough?"

Well, simply put, the Bible tells us to pray continually. To be faithful in prayer. It often seems a lofty and unattainable goal.

It's like this:

Have you ever forgotten to pay a bill or send an email? You always seem to think of it when you can't take care of it - then forget again when you return home. The longer you go without completing the task, the more you don't want to think about it. It becomes this giant storm cloud looming over you. When really, if you just took care of it right away, it would barely register as an event in your life - much less a problem.

That's how prayer sometimes feels for me. Whoops, I forgot to pray before that meal to thank God for the endless supply of food and nutrition he has blessed me with. I complained to my husband, mom, and sisters about that problem before I remembered to pray about it. I worked so hard to achieve a goal on my own without asking for God's blessing. I made a huge decision about my life without consulting the Lord first.

Before I know it, I feel so ashamed of how little I communicate with my Father in heaven that I don't even want to think about it.

Good news, though! God still wants me to pray, anyway. He commands me to talk to him. He listens to me. He answers me.

Not because I was the best at remembering to always turn to him first in thanksgiving, supplication, or acknowledgement.

But because of what he's done for me. He bought me and redeemed me - I am his own dear child! Parents - no matter how often your children forget to call (oops, sorry Mom!), do you not still want to hear from them?

You guys, I've got to stop treating prayer like it's a phone call I'm obligated to make 3 times a day. Instead, the answer lies, as always, in thankfulness. It is a gift and a privilege to approach the great I Am. May my gratitude overflow to the point where I can't stop thinking about God. May I hunger and thirst to speak to my Father. May I remember all that he has done for me, and boldly ask for his blessing. May prayer be my first thought instead of my last resort.

After all, the Creator of the Universe is on my side - and he wants to hear from me! It only makes sense to start and end my day with him. It only makes sense to ask for his help and advice. So this week, I am meditating on this verse from Proverbs:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6


what i'm reading lately...and stuff

While checking out my books at the library earlier this week, I couldn't help but be impressed by the lady next to me checking out a stack of books 3x the size of mine.

Because I'm working on connecting with others (outside comfort zone alert!) I rehearsed a few times in my head to sound nonchalant and friendly, then I cleared my throat and heard myself say, "Looks like you've got a lot of reading to do!"

Mercifully, though I caught her off guard, she was very gracious and responded that she is always in the middle of several books at once. I got really excited because I, too, am currently in the middle of not 2, not 3, but 4 books. We bonded for a minute about that, but then Pippa went boneless and tried to slide discreetly from my iron grasp. That was my cue to get home. (Parenting is all about following your instincts you guys. #gemofgenius)

Anyway, I like to share what I'm reading with others, so either we can geek out together about books we have both read, or so that others can get ideas and recommendations for new books to read. Or so that others can give me recommendations. I get really weird about reading books that everyone is reading. Like, I decide it's too common of a book, and just know I won't like it. But I absolutely crave personal recommendations from people whose taste and judgment I trust. (Does anyone else always want to spell judgment with an "e" in the middle? I remember learning in 5th grade, while preparing for the spelling bee, that it's a tricky one. That and raspberry).

So without further ado, the books I'm currently in the middle of (and yes I know I'm not supposed to end sentences with a preposition, but I'm a rebel like that):

>> Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard -  having already finished Killing Jesus by the same authors, I borrowed this book from my dad. It's a fascinating peek into the lives of some of the most famous Americans in recent history. It also serves to reinforce my instinct to never be president. It just sounds really stressful.

>> The People's Bible Commentary - Revelation by Wayne D. Mueller - in my quest to read the Bible cover to cover, I finally reached the last book. Revelation is an amazing vision of what is to come, but I seriously needed help with what John's visions meant, since I'm not an ancient Greek scholar. A friend from Bible study offered to lend me this commentary, and I've been chewing on it piece by piece ever since. Fascinating. Terrifying. Comforting.

>> Ziglar on Selling by Zig Ziglar - I'm turning to the best and the brightest to learn more about my current work-from-home job.

>> Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay, PhD - I don't believe in subscribing to one holy grail method of parenting. Each child and each parent is different, and we have to use our common sense to figure it out for ourselves. But it doesn't hurt to do a little reading for pearls of wisdom.

As you can see, I'm heavy on the non-fiction right now. Any good recommendations for a good fiction book are appreciated. (Yes, I've already read Gone Girl, no, I don't like Nicholas Sparks books.)

My goals are to incorporate some fiction in Spanish into my rotation, and finish at least one book/week. Tough to do when juggling 4 books at once. But there's so much to read! How can I just do one book at a time?

What are you currently reading? Do you read one book at a time, or juggle several at once?


magic wand

In my quest for personal growth, I listen to a podcast every day during my afternoon walk with the Pips and the Pabs.

Lately, I have been studying about how to connect with others. As an INFJ, I love the deep meaningful conversations, but struggle with small talk. It's beneficial for me to have a few questions in my back pocket that I can bring up to learn more about others - because that's what connecting is all about!

Anyway, one of the best connecting questions I have learned is the magic wand question:

"If you had a magic wand that made time and money of no consequence, how would you spend your time?"

This is an awesome question because it really gets to the heart of what is important to someone. What gets their heart palpitating. What excites them!

For me, it would be spending time abroad doing 2 things:
1. Helping others, volunteering, spreading God's Word.
2. Learning other languages!

I know some people barely "get through" their language classes in school. I, on the other hand, would be happy to spend all my time studying vocabulary and honing my grammar skills. Like this guy - my former Spanish teacher and his awesome family. Bonus: he gets to study language AND use it to spread the Gospel.

If I could wave that magic wand, we would be off on my dream vacation, which involves dragging my family to a beach in Costa Rica, or downtown Buenos Aires to study Spanish for fun.

If I could wave that magic wand, Pippa and I would be on a video chat every day with a native speaker, paying to learn more Spanish.

That's my passion. And I really want to pass that on to Pippa.

So yeah, I know I'm not a native speaker, so the Spanish I speak with Pippa is not going to be perfect. I know that the best way to learn a language is immersion in the culture. I know that! I want that! But, I have not yet reached the magic wand stage of my life. I'm working on it, though!

In the meantime, I am using all the resources available to me fo' free! Podcasts, websites, library books, and Spanish language toys. Keeping my own language skills fresh so I can speak more confidently to my 1-year-old.

That's why I'm dedicated to making Spanish a priority in Pippa's childhood. It's my happy place. The answer to my magic wand question.

What about you? "If you had a magic wand that made time and money of no consequence, how would you spend your time?"


rejoice always

In 8th grade I couldn't wait for high school. I wanted the challenging classes, the higher level of sports, the expanded pool of potential friends. I wasn't satisfied with my class of 16 students. I wanted more.

I enjoyed high school for awhile, but quickly grew to see how totally immature everyone was. (Get over yourself, 16-year-old Emily. You're not better than everyone else just because you read Anna Karenina.) I wanted lively debates, intellectual conversation, the freedom of college life, and and even more expanded pool of potential friends (although the joke was on me - my college was smaller than my high school).

When I arrived at college, I reveled in the ability to go to McDonalds at 2 in the morning without having to tell anyone where I was going. Never mind the fact that my parents and I had a trusting relationship when I was in high school and they never gave me an official curfew. I was free! Free! But, then I started getting bored there, too. The classes weren't challenging enough, the winter was too long (ok, I stand by that gripe), and the city was too small. I needed to travel, expand my horizons with fascinating new characters and stories of adventure.

After graduating college, Justin and I got married and moved to Minnesota. I felt anxious that I didn't have enough friends my age. I felt my youth slipping away, and desperately tried to cling to it. I didn't want to be tied down, and I didn't want to become boring. I was so worried about what others thought of my life that I couldn't truly enjoy it.

That is the attitude I sustained for a good decade of my life. I have since repented of my ungrateful attitude, but I don't regret it. I don't regret it because I have learned so much from that period of my life. I have grown and changed.

Our culture calls it FOMO, I believe. Fear Of Missing Out. And I had it long before social media became a part of my life. I have always been an avid reader, and because of that, I was terrified of living a normal life - a life not worth writing about or reading about. I feared I would miss out on the best education. I feared I would miss out on the friendships and relationships. I feared I would miss out on travel, and all the life lessons that come with it.

But the funny thing is, even as I was fearing missing out, I was experiencing all those things. I learned so much, I had many great friendships, and I saw a multitude of unforgettable locations.

For the first time in my life, I am in a place of gratitude. I am in a season of ease and abundance. I no longer look at life as a competition to see who can accomplish the most or travel the most or learn the most.

I have everything I need and more.

He has blessed me in ways I could never have imagined. I could never have planned this life. I could never have dreamed up the circumstances that would make me this content. God knows me better than I know myself. He knows what I need even when I'm praying for the opposite.

And I know that if all of this went away in an instant, I would still have a God worth praising.

Life is good, friends. We certainly go through seasons of hardship and sadness. I have my own struggles, too. But those struggles aren't worth comparing to the glory God has in store for us. Our joy in in the knowledge of our salvation - what God has done for us. The earthly blessings are icing on the cake!

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)