Imago Dei, housework, and writing

“There are value currencies we operate in most of the time. The leading ones for women are beauty, money, status/fame, and – in some circles – domesticity. What complicates our question of value even further is that we live under the belief that value is scarce. So it’s not enough to be beautiful, but for me to be most valuable, I have to be the most beautiful.”

Thus began a thought-provoking evening with Hannah Anderson last Friday at a local coffeehouse, sponsored by the women’s ministry of our church, Trinity Presbyterian. Hannah spoke with deep insight and intelligence, matched to accessibility and candor that I found myself nodding along with many times. Hannah is the author of the excellent book, Made for More, which was my September 2014 book of the month. I’ve also made her one of my long-distance writing mentors (she doesn’t know that) since I met her last summer when I was beginning to get serious about focusing on writing. She was tremendously encouraging then, telling me about her decision to stop running from her calling to write and to devote herself intentionally to writing for a few years and see where  it went. For her, that’s included her first book released last year, and a regular blog at She’s had speaking engagements arise from her writing, and we who heard her were privileged to be part of her circuit. She talks about “stewarding her message” and invited each of us to walk according to our value that’s not scarce but abundant because it flows from an infinite God. 

The theological term is “imago Dei” – made in God’s likeness. And it all began in Genesis, at our creation when humans were breathed into existence by a God desiring to reflect his very nature. This gives every woman (and man) infinite worth and value. Yet it’s a value that’s been marred by sin, and so we are also all desperately in need of restoration. This value has also been given to us in Jesus Christ (not earned).

And therefore, we are to cultivate the earth – our corner of the kingdom entrusted to us by God, using the gifts he has bestowed upon us. The value is the same regardless of the task, because it’s done as a reflection of who we are. Janitorial work and housework are elevated beyond their menial status usually assigned from within the world’s values. “Big” work like being the President and researching cancer are grounded by the humility that these, too, are work assignments received as gifts from the God who created us. We all have different roles.

In answer to a question of how this could apply/transfer to parenting, Hannah answered with a smile that her favorite thing to do is bring each of her children to their room and give the command, “Cultivate!” We all laughed – and made mental notes to do the same. She asked the question of each of us – “What have you been entrusted with to cultivate? In what work are you called to bring forth fruit? Who are your nearest neighbors that you are to help flourish?” 

And personally, I’m realizing the way I’ve neglected “home and hearth” in order to focus on my “big writing project.” Both are equal. Both are needed. I needn’t be apologetic about my writing, but neither am I to overlook the toilet that needs to be scrubbed or the children who need to be bathed and fed. [Disclamor: they have been regularly bathed and fed – the neglect has not sunk to that level … but it sounds more poetic this way.] These are my immediate opportunities to live out of imago Dei – what are yours?

why writers, ambiverts, and thoughtful living need both solitude and community

photo from

photo from


My husband’s staff team at church did a personality assessment this past week as part of a retreat day. His was confirmed as what I always knew (ISTJ) and what is exactly opposite of me (ENFP). The old adage, “opposites attract,” is proven true in our marriage. But that will be for another post.

The personality test stirred up my age-old frustration with who am I really? For although I tested as an “extrovert,” I have many introverted tendencies (and was just about equal on the two, with a slight preference for extroversion). It’s been suggested that I am what is termed “ambivert,” which is a combination of both. I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert, or an introverted extrovert. I’ve always enjoyed time alone to recharge, but then at the end of solitude, I’ve enjoyed nothing better than being in a group of friends or at a party. But after a day (like yesterday) of non-stop people time, I feel exhausted and in need of the comfort of a quiet activity – preferably reading a good novel, or writing, or painting, or some sort of solitary engagement.

I am also a writer. Writers are usually known as the quintessential introverts. It’s commonly thought that to do the best writing, you should be the most alone. When one has young children at home, and you’re trying to write a book for Crossway by September 1 (for example), there is great wisdom in that – and it’s true. So my husband sent me off on a 48-hour writing retreat last week, and it was blissful. I wrote to my heart’s content in perfect solitude. I took breaks in between finishing a chapter, and then I would go back for more writing. It was such a gift to my distraction-prone brain to be able to pick up exactly where I left off – without the intervening (normal) interruptions of finding that one lost princess shoe, or making sure that I started dinner on time, or answering the urgent work email/text.

And yet I found something interesting about the time away. First of all, it took me the entire first evening before I could write. I had to clear my brain of life’s distractions that accompanied me. To put to rest a few emails, and to call my mind back from all the places it scatters to in the normal course of life. Secondly, when I did begin to write, the first two-thirds of the day were prolific. I wrote more than what I had expected I could. But then – almost imperceptibly – I slowed down. The words began to drag. I was running out of steam by around 5pm of my big writing day.

writing bookMy writing mentor is currently Brenda Ueland, author of the 1938 classic, If You Want To WriteAnd she made sense of this experience:

I have come to think that there is irony in the lives of writers who sit at a desk always, tenderly or crossly protecting themselves from all disturbances, danger or uncomfortableness, so that they can work out a better literary style. … Instead of living a sedentary, literary life, assiduously polishing sentences and cultivating a prose style, he [T.E. Lawrence] lived a great life with supernatural standards for himself of courage, suffering, endurance and honor.

In summary, Ueland says that to be a great writer, you must be fully living a life outside of your writing. She proposes that your writing can only be as engaging and courageous as your life is. So perhaps motherhood is perfectly suited for writing, instead of opposed to it. And perhaps it’s not only ambiverts like me who need both total solitude and engaging company. Doesn’t a life lived thoughtfully and fully require both?

day 29: wake

As I approach the end of the 31-day writing challenge, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit weary of this type of writing. I am eager to share with you, my readers, what has been on my heart. And this format does not best lend itself to that. Plus I’m realizing that I would much rather blog 1-2 times a week with what’s flowing from my life than to write every day. Quality v. quantity. I did take a break last week to share about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I look forward to following up on that soon. Other topics in my head and heart –  generosity Macedonian-style,  a few book reviews of Teach Us to Want, Simplicity Parenting, and In Our Lives First, and the ever-present reality of embracing imperfection. So, thank you, dear readers old and new for following along this 31-day journey. We’re nearing the finish line! (And I was also happy to know that even the Nester who organizes write 31 days posted about her break, almost simultaneously with her sister, Emily Freeman, writing the same. I am not alone. !)

But – back to today’s word. It’s a good one. Here I go – five minutes of writing unedited:


photo credit:

photo credit:

What will it mean for you to wake up today? What will it take for you to be awake? Fully awake in your life, generously opening up your hands, your heart, your mind, your gifts to the world around you? For me waking starts with a shower, quiet reflection and journaling, reading the words of life (Scripture), and then a good, strong cup of coffee with French Vanilla creamer in it. I wake so that I can be present with my ever-energetic 4-year-old twin daughters, so that I can engage with the friends I will meet today and the strangers whose paths will cross mine. I wake in order not to miss life as it passes me by.

Spiritually, I must also daily wake my soul. There’s a quote in our home painted by a friend years ago that says, “We who would be born again indeed must wake our souls multiple times a day.” It is so true. I must wake up to my life, to the spiritual realities within which I dwell. For battle – we wage daily against the spiritual forces of darkness whether aware or not – and for love. Love requires all of my faculties to be awake.


For the rest of my 31-day writing series, click here.

embracing imperfection, part 3 (or, how imperfection frees me to create)

One of the first assignments was to draw a self-portrait. In crayon, no doubt. Sounds simple, childish even. And is that what paralyzed me in front of the box of 64 Crayolas? I would dare to take one crayon out, only to have to put it back because it didn’t seem quite right. Do I start with the eyes? or the nose? Or the outline of the face?

Trying to create art paralyzes me sometimes. And it’s my drive for perfection, to be perfect and produce perfection that often holds me back. Nestled underneath that desire is a fear of imperfect, of failure, of disapproval and messing up. When the art I’m working on is visual colors on a page, it can be easier to jump over that hurdle of fear mixed with desire – but when the art is words capturing ideas on a screen. Aahh. That can stop me in my tracks. I can honestly say that most times I begin to craft a blog post, I start with beating down the doubts inside of, “you have nothing to say … what new thing can you add to this topic that hasn’t already been written well [better] by someone else …?”

But I am called to show up and to offer myself, my story, my words, my heart. All of those are imperfect. The more you know any of me, the more you’ll see my imperfection. Yet I don’t want that to paralyze me, just like I don’t want that to hold you back from offering yourself either. In fact, when you (my friend, sibling, parent, husband, pastor) admit your imperfection, it frees me to acknowledge mine. And also to find strength not to allow my own imperfection hold me back from my offering. 

Emily Freeman is teaching me through her book A Million Little Ways. I read this yesterday, and inside I said “yes!”

Knowing we can’t fully live the words we call others to live can keep us from ever saying the words at all. … Just because you can’t fully live your life the way you so long to live it doesn’t mean you don’t fully believe it’s possible with all your heart. And it doesn’t mean you are forbidden to share what you’re learning unless you are living it perfectly. Christ is in you and wants to come out through you in a million little ways – through your strength and also your weakness, your abilities and also your lack. … God calls us his poem. And the job of the poem is to inspire. To sing. To express the full spectrum of the human experience – both the bright hope that comes with victory and the profound loss that accompanies defeat. We must make art, even in our weakness.

So what’s your poetry? Your imperfect poem you’re being asked to write today? For me, it’s a poorly rhymed poem expressing thanks to the preschool teachers my girls have learned from and loved this year, their first year of preschool that ends today (sad!). I offer it here, not because I think it’s beautiful art but because it’s imperfect art. Not my best poem and certainly won’t be published anywhere, but here’s to hoping that it will bring big smiles to the two women who have certainly brought big smiles to my three-year-old daughters in their first school experience.

You have taught us our letters,
And now we can count much better;
We know how to spell our names,
And follow the rules of a game.
We have learned to share
Under your tutelage and care.
We stand in line and wait
And can look at a calendar to find the date.
You’ve introduced us to school,
And how to follow its rules.
You’ve welcomed us with love
Reminding us of God above.
For all of this we say THANK YOU –
And that next year we will miss you! 


learning to play

It used to come easy for me. My two younger brothers and I would build blanket forts and lego castles and watch our hamster spin around her clear ball beside us in our “rec room” that I always thought was “wreck room.” Because it was a wreck! The room over the garage with its orange-black industrial-strength carpet, and my mom never had to see it unless she came up to see what we were doing, and so it remained a happy wreck of the detritus of play most of the time. I played school there and my brothers were my reluctant students; we had a comfy beanbag we would fight over until it began to lose its stuffing one small styrofoam ball at a time. An ancient typewriter and I would be the “secretary.” There’s a great picture of a birthday party – maybe my 6th? – where me and all the little ladies are smiling big (with gaps for lost teeth) while sitting atop an old mattress in that room. And two of those girls are friends now with kids who were our age, and we still keep in touch. (Shout out to Shelby and Schelyn!)

Play was never work; it wasn’t “have-to;” it was our life. We lived for play. We came home looking forward to play, having to be coaxed to do homework at some point; but then it was always the return to play. My parents didn’t put us in lots of programs or schedules when we were in elementary school. They innately understood that play and family-at-home-with-nothing-to-do time was what we needed the most in those early years. They entered into our play as they could. Cultivating our creativity with frequent trips to playgrounds and parks and outdoor picnics and bedtime stories where we traveled with Susan, Peter, Lucy, and Edmund into the magical land of Narnia at the back of the wardrobe. When we wanted to have our own backyard putt-putt course, my parents trucked us around to the local putt-putt establishments asking to purchase/donate the green carpet for our course. And we did it – “Pine Acres Putt-Putt” – our 9-hole wonder – lives on, featured in a local newspaper where the archives from the ’80s hold our proudly displayed homemade sign.

Somewhere along the way, play became work. How? When? Why? I don’t know. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint, but I suspect for me it got buried in the “big work” of academic pursuit and the stress of working my first job and the angst of learning how to navigate relationships as a young adult. Add to that the pressure/dream I had to do big things for God, and somehow I forgot that big things for God must start with learning to be little with God. For that’s who we are as people – we are as small as a child splashing in the waves before the eternal horizon of an ocean, as blessedly tiny as the way I feel each time I drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am small. I am meant to be small, and therein lies the greatness of any person – embracing the small, learning to play where I am and in accord with who I am.

My children are teaching me. Brene Brown  and Gretchen Rubin are teaching me. To play (again). I am learning to be as free to play as a child in a sandbox. For I am not God – HE is. I am free to play because the world does not rest on my shoulders. I am free to play because it’s the only way I can manage the weight of the small corner of the world that does rest on my shoulders. I’ll end by asking you (and by sharing with you) one of the best questions of this e-course on The Gifts of Imperfection – what’s on your “play list”? Not your iTunes one, but the list of things that fit the “properties of play” (from Stuart Brown):

1. Fun for the sake of fun
2. Not required.
3. Awakens my heart.
4. Lose track of time.
5. Able to lose myself in it.
6. Exponential creative potential.
7. Hard to stop.

I’m hoping a picture of my “play list” will inspire you to create your own.



Five Minute “Friday”: paint

Another week of catching my breath while juggling preschool drop-offs and pick-ups with a busy counseling schedule, and not one but two kids’ Easter parties, and hosting a small appetizer & dessert thank-you for the missions team at our church last night, and in the midst of it all, seeking to create time and space for soul-art. How fitting that this week’s word is “paint”!


Paint is just too messy. This has been proven over and over again in the short 3.5 years I’ve had with my twin daughters. The handful of times I’ve allowed us to “take the plunge” over the precipice into paint, we have all come out quite colorful. And usually that includes my language (inside my head), with notes to self pasted across my brain like post-its of “why it’s NEVER worth it to paint with twins,” “better NOT to be creative in this way,” “reasons why to keep the painting at preschool with the experts,” etc etc. Can you relate? So in reality, our house rule is that we’ll be creative with anything but paint. When it comes to my kids.

my little artists

my little artists


But how ironic! For I still love to have a paint brush in my hands, whether to repaint a room or to dabble with words and color on a canvas. Art was always a favorite subject, and it was an elective of mine through high school. Somewhere along the way, I learned that art is too messy; that it’s inefficient; that mine isn’t as good as ____. And how those lies squelch the creativity of a creative being! 

We are all artists. I am learning that anew through A Million Little Ways and The Gifts of Imperfection e-course and my own soul when I take time to step off the treadmill of performance and simply be.

I am a creative being. And so are you. Even if paint isn’t your medium, what is? Paint the art of who you are across the canvas of your life today. Without shame. With abandon. Regardless of the mess. Maybe, just maybe, I might have the courage to do the same for my preschoolers!