ending well & other things I’m bad at.

Featuring that one planner everyone owns by Rifle Paper Co, that one bedspread everyone owns from Ikea, and my favorite wool socks.

There are few things as satisfying as finishing a great book. Knowing that I spent weeks (albeit sometimes days, or even hours, depending on the story and my schedule) devoted to finishing one thing and finally reaching the empty pages at the back is a unique form of relief. The definition of closure is flipping the last page and reaching “The End.”

I grow attached to characters and the message; often I’ll write my favorite quotes down on pieces of paper and stick them around my room to find later to help me through the post-book depression that starts to settle in soon after I’m finished. For awhile I’ll mope around and refuse to read anything ever again because I’m convinced it just won’t measure up. I’ll tell all of my friends that they have to read this book because I feel some sort of strange loyalty to it. One day I’ll go to the library to find another piece of fiction to tide me over and the cycle starts all over again: read, fall in love, finish, mope, move on.

That’s what ending well looks like to me.

Sometimes I wish life’s seasons were divided into chapters and bound by hard covers. That way  ending well would look like living the story, falling in love with it, finishing the season, mourning about the good times in memorandum, and eventually moving on a little wiser and stronger than before.

This time though, I’m eager to shut 2016’s cover. Screw the process. I want to duct tape this year shut, shove it away in a box marked “NO” and never look back. It’s easy. It’s quick. It allows me to ignore the tough stuff instead of doing the gritty work of sorting through this year. During a couch talk – aka the slightly less dramatic equivalent of a driveway car talk – with my sister, I realized that in order to move forward we have to decide what to bring with us from 2016.

Here’s an unpopular opinion: 2016 wasn’t actually the worst year ever.

Life really sucked when the Black Plague hit Europe in 1346. I’m also going to give a HARD PASS on going back in time to 1861 when the Civil War was taking place. I lived in North Carolina for a month this year, and even though that was less than ideal I would gladly take Charlotte in 2016 over 1861. Just saying. And I’m going there: World Wars. Hitler. Genocides. Even though you can make valid comparisons of these past crises to current world problems, the list for “The World’s Worst Year” is pretty thick.

I don’t want to invalidate the pain that has scarred this year for individuals and people groups. People made choices that left others hurt and confused about where they belong, if they belong. That’s devastating and shouldn’t be made small. But this year hasn’t had more or less letdowns than others. We have always been living in a world that is bleeding from the inside out, it just became more obvious this year. If anything, 2016 was the year that left me feeling a little less naïve than before because of this realization.

Surreal is the best way to summarize how I felt looking at the state of the world and my life after this year. It was hard to believe I was actually seeing and hearing things. Most things I held as true and safe were challenged. I kept saying that I felt older after reading the news of another worldview shattered. A lot of my good friends have expressed feeling frustrated by this constant second-guessing of what is real in their lives as well.

Life never gets clearer, you just get more sure of yourself.

I wrote this quote down on a sticky note and kept it on my work computer. It’s been acting as a subtle reminder that I need to rip the 2016 box open and sort through it. Otherwise it’s going to sit on my shelf for years taking up valuable space in my heart. So I’m holding the triumphs and trials of 2016 in my hands and choosing to keep close the moments – good and bad – that made me feel more sure of who I am. Kind of like a weird, mental version of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I’m in my mid-twenties and these are the kinds of books you read when you’re trying to pretend to have your life together.

Moments like standing next to my best friends when they got married are the ones that show me that this year mattered. Or times when I took a risk and learned something new. Or where I was when I found out about Brexit or the US election results. And how I felt when I looked at the picture of the little Syrian boy in the ambulance. This highlight reel of living 2016 out to my edges is what I’m able to point to as experience, wisdom, and has revealed more of God’s heart to me.

I mention God a lot in these blogs but I don’t really address the fact that yes, I am a Christian, and yes, my life has been completely changed by following Jesus. Maybe that’s because I’m afraid that somebody will assume things about me that aren’t true based off of what they read. So here it is: I’m passionate about loving God and His people (that’s you, that’s everyone). I still drink far too many margaritas and say things I shouldn’t and that’s ok. It doesn’t change the fact that I am completely sure that God has called me His daughter, even if I’m not sure about a lot anymore. That’s big for 2017.

I’m bad at making resolutions. It’s hard to set measurable goals when you only have a sliver of an idea of what you want or how God is working in and through you. But I want to give 2016 credit where credit is due: it made me more into the Emily that I want to be in 2017.

In 2017 and for the rest of my little existence here, I want to see people and run toward them rather than running away because I’m uncomfortable. I want to celebrate well and dance hard and often, because some things – like love, hope, and forever promises – deserve to have a bottle of champagne popped and a killer playlist. I want to freely forgive. I want to travel because I can and pet dogs because I can and vote because I can and love because I can. I want to be bold and say the things I mean and hug people a little closer because no one gives good hugs anymore. And I want to ride my bike more.

So as much as I want to ignore 2016, it mattered. And 2017 will matter, too. And one day all of the years will add up and matter a whole lot. Then everything that happened won’t matter at all because I’ll be way too focused on praising God for who He is and has been all this time.

Here’s to becoming more of who we already are.

Dressember 2016: Day Sixteen

I wrote a guest blog for one of my dear friend’s Dressember Campaign to end Human Trafficking. Read why I didn’t wear pants for a month here:

Dressember 2016

Day Sixteen: Emily Flanagan (Seattle, WA)

I love my morning coffee and cozy blankets. I live my life in scarves and will often go out of my way for the things that bring me the warm fuzzies, like visiting old restaurants or wandering my favorite bookstores. I love my comfort.

But I also avert my eyes when I’m at a stoplight and a stranger is holding a sign on the corner. And I’ll politely excuse myself when a woman at church begins to share stories from her past. I avoid tough conversations and plug my ears when I hear news that I don’t like. I love my comfort.

When I first heard about Dressember a few years ago, I didn’t get it. How can simply wearing a dress solve an issue as big as human trafficking? The answer is: it doesn’t.

What I mean is – simply wearing the…

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the good life.

I’ve been walking a pretty steady pace in 2016, and then November came into my life. November cranked the speed all the way up to 10 and told me to keep breathing.

Each weekend in my planner quickly filled up with celebrations, conferences, trips to the airport, and promises. In the moments between scheduled appointments, life’s news decided to push in for space as well. What little room I had to rest and recoup was filled with a mosh pit of hard feelings – the blues and the mean reds and even the confusing combination of violet, too.

At first glance, I’m usually pegged as an extrovert who is a “yes” person. I’m a chatty gal who loves a good happy hour with friends and holds her own when talking to strangers, so it’s easy to assume that I’m most relaxed in a group of people.

Hard as I have fought to uphold this image, the older I get the more I’m realizing how much alone time I need to function as a person who loves people well. I look forward to cancelled plans because that means I can go for a run or read a new book. Showers are the best because I have an excuse to be alone. After parties I turn myself into a blanket burrito for a day just to feel human again. At the heart of all social interactions, I’m an introvert of introverts.

Needless to say: November was exhausting.

Every other blog and op-ed circling the Internet seems to have the same feeling that we all got socked in the gut and we’re not sure why. I think we’re all just looking for someone or something to blame so we can move on with our lives, but when there’s no one to point to you just feel stuck.

How do you move forward when you don’t know how or who brought you to the place you’re in? It’s a desert out there and God feels far away. It feels like he dropped us off here in 2016 and left us with the clothes on our back and a canteen to build character.

Lately I want to throw my hands up and say “I don’t want to be here, I want to be there.” I’m guilty of treating this “desert” as the in-between before my actual life. Like once I move or get promoted or make 10 new friends or join one of those hip, niche gyms then the things that made November so full of disappointment won’t have a hold on me anymore. We’re all slaves to the next thing that makes us feel whole again.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with hope. But the cocktail of hope and the in-between is a dangerous one. It mixes feelings of discontent with the reality of now. Because in the midst of all of the crap November brought, there really has been a lot of light.

This month I’ve been on six different planes and have spent weekends in four different places. At each stop along the way I’ve been able to share a meal with someone I love and do something I’ve never done before. I’ve checked two dreams off of my bucket list and have lived out the true stories I will tell my kids someday when they’re falling asleep. Disappointment won a lot of battles this month, but joy won the war outright.

Here’s a piece of wisdom that I’ve tucked away for the especially gray days:

“Whatever is happening in our lives right now, that’s God’s best for us. Even if what I think is best is different, He knows. And I want to live out His best and honor that gift.”

Yes – life does feel a little lost right now and God feels too big and far away in the midst of the mess. Where I’m at doesn’t feel like what’s best for me and what I think would be the best is over there… wherever there is. I’m learning that I don’t need to feel like everything is okay to come, sit at His feet and wrestle through the hard stuff together. He knows I’m tired and I need a moment to be upset. But He’s also a good gift giver, so good that I found myself sitting in Main Street in Disney World with a cup of warm coffee humming “The Good Life” and “Holly Jolly Christmas”.

It feels good to breathe in the now rather than wishing for less than. It might even be what’s best.

a Cubs win means more curses are ready to be broken.


W.

For those of you – like me – who don’t necessarily follow baseball and you might have sworn off all media for 2016 (not a bad idea, in hindsight) the Chicago Cubs just won the World Series after a comeback, a rain delay, and a 108-year “curse” hanging over their heads. A curse that said no matter how hard the Cubs tried or how dedicated their fans were, they would never quite achieve what they wanted to… except when Wednesday happened and it was shattered. For-ev-er.

Curses get a lot of credit they don’t deserve. It’s easy to justify crappy situations by pointing to something beyond our control, like a curse, and shifting all blame to it. I made a joke the other day with a friend that my dating life is cursed by me being the one before the One (has only been true once…maaaaybe twice, but it made us both laugh). It’s easy to say “unlucky” or chalk a bad situation up to being cursed rather than face the fact that maybe it wasn’t our turn. Or maybe we didn’t have the faith & patience & perseverance to break the curses weighing us down ourselves. 

In the words of Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.” Some things in life truly just happen, but I don’t want to credit life’s magic moments to just coincidence. It’s the victories, the W’s, that we need to lift up on our shoulders and hoist in the air. Let’s give them the facetime instead of the curses. Things like a 108-year-old curse being broken deserve to be celebrated more than just another mark in history. They deserve parties and parades, the toasts and speeches written about their long time coming, and they deserve to be recognized as on purpose. Things like the Cubs winning the World Series make me hopeful that all curses are just waiting to be broken by a group of ordinary people with extraordinary callings. 

This is not a political post. I promise I will not say the names of Those Who Must Not Be Named. But 2016 has made me cynical, and I’m not the only one. There has been a lot of disappointment in the state of the world and it can make a gal feel blue. Instead of letting all of the things going wrong dictate what we speak about 2016, I vote that we start talking about all the curses that were shattered this year because that’s what really matters. 

There are victories happening all around – like human trafficking busts and documentaries like 13TH being brave enough to tell the truth and love stories of people pledging stick by each other for better OR worse. These are the stories worth celebrating and telling our grandbabies about one day. Stories of hope breed dreamers, and we need more of those in our lives to grow up to be the curse breakers of the future. 

I believe in people, regardless of how unqualified and imperfect they are. I will root for the underdog and I will bet against all odds for the One to change the game. We give curses too much credit because it just takes one win, one person, one ruling, one change to shut it down forever. Even if it takes awhile, they always come to an end if you’re patient enough to keep the faith that promises curses are only temporary. So let’s keep the hope and let the rest of 2016 be a year of the W. 

restless wanderer syndrome.

home

I love autumn. I love the pumpkins and apples, the boots and scarves, the new Bon Iver album and old Death Cab for Cutie records that seem to always play in the background of my life. I love eating soup and reading when it’s an especially rainy day. I love hiking in the brief sunshine and running in the crisp air when it’s an especially bright October day.

But let’s be real: Fall is a transition season that makes you crave Home. All of the changing leaves and weather and even wardrobe make a person want to cling to something steady, which is hard when you’re living in transition yourself.

Like most people, I used to think home was a place – but I realized that you can live somewhere and not feel at home. So then I thought home was a feeling, one of being relaxed and safe – but this feeling frequently changed, depending on who I was with at the time. Then I thought home was with certain people, which is semi-true but as much as I want to I can’t hold onto people and claim them as home. And I think in the end I’ve landed on this: home is the space where you know those around you and can be known by them. Another word for this is ‘intimacy’. Whether it’s a place, a feeling, or people, home is an intimate space of being fully known. 

I’ve been extremely lucky to have two homes, each on one end of WA’s stretch of I-5, and now I’m currently living somewhere in between. When I lived in Bellingham, I missed the people who know and love me well back in Vancouver. And when I was in Vancouver, I missed my community in Bellingham. Now I’m in the process of building a new community, a new home, with new people – which is risky. It means letting people knowing all of the good and all of the bad, most of which I don’t want anyone to see. Far too often I run away from this out and I’m left retreating from the deep relationships God created us to have. Because if I am fully known, I risk not being enough.

Enter in a term I like to call Restless Wanderer Syndrome.

Restless Wanderer Syndrome (RWS) is this thing that happens when you look at your life and you’re always in pursuit of something better, usually based off of what someone else has. It’s a symptom of our culture’s deep evil of always thinking something better is out there, something that makes you feel more whole, complete, and enough. Humans have been struggling with RWS for years and if you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament of the Bible. There’s tons of stories of people who look at what God is doing in their neighbor’s life and then they decide that what God has for them sucks and they ditch that for what they think is better. In the end, these people somehow always end up lost in a desert to spend the rest of their days lonely and bumbling around until they come home to what God promised them years ago. RWS is the worst curse because you’re never quite home, and how sad is that?

Maybe you can connect to this nagging feeling of wanting home. We are privileged because we grew up in an era where we can call our people whenever we want, use WhatsApp/Skype/FaceTime to call my friends living overseas, see life updates via Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/_____ and text whoever you want without limit (who remembers the days of paying 10 cents per text am I right?!).

Technology is great, but it still doesn’t replace intimacy within your relationships. Relationships exist far beyond a double-tap on a picture or even separated by space and an iPhone. They happen when we strip down technology’s walls and show up. When we’re there, unfiltered and letting yourself be real and known by the people around you. I’m not saying technology is bad, I think it is a really wonderful thing, but I am saying that in order to create a home you can’t run away when it gets awkward, or leave if you find a cooler crew to hang out with, or even hide behind social media and say you’re in community with someone. To experience home you have to quit running. You have to be willing to personally show up and stay long enough to be seen, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be frustrated with the process of building new community, especially in a new church. Sometimes it can feel like everyone has already been at this party and you showed up late, so now you have to look busy by getting a drink and pretending like you’re definitely supposed to be there even though the person who invited you isn’t there yet. No one likes being the new kid. No one looks forward to kicking it alone in the pews while everyone else sits down with their friends. For a large part of my life I’ve played an integral part of building community, so when I’m on the outside it feels strange. I always feel welcomed, but it’s almost a constant reminder that I don’t quite belong yet.

One of the reasons I love following Jesus is because he is a person who says everyone belongs. He didn’t wait for someone in the synagogue to say he was cool to start building community, he just did it because he knew that first and foremost he was in right relationship with God. Jesus flipped the script when it comes to dinner parties by eating with pimps, gang members, swindlers and prostitutes. He kicked it with folks that the religious people of his time deemed unworthy to be seen with. But God’s love doesn’t work like that. It is wild, unashamed, and proud to be seen with you – no matter who you are, what you look like or what you’ve done. God is just excited to BE with you in His house. You are more than enough because He created you.

“Enough is a staying word.” – Hannah Brencher.

Staying is growing my roots deep, even if it’s much easier to remain on the top soil. It’s a painful process to be vulnerable, open, honest, and raw, then to be ripped up and placed somewhere else where you have to grow through the process of knowing/being known all over again. Building genuine community is hard. It’s tiring and all I want is to stay, root, and be Home in one place forever. So I default to my RWS and I run. And then God gently reminds me, “Come Home. I see you. Be patient. You belong.”

So to all of the people doing the good, hard work of building a new community: remember that at the end of all your running, you were created by God to crave a place called Home. Risk vulnerability. Be brave in your relationships with others. Stay awhile.

two thoughts.

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Preface: I am not a musician, however I am a “stomp-your-feet-and-sing-along-because-you-can” kind of person. If you need a harmony to back you up, let me know. Keeping that in mind, this is not about to be an album review but rather more of a late night commentary on the present state I’m in.

Joseph sang at my favorite college dive bar a few years back and since the moment they stepped on stage I was hooked. These sisters have a sound that is beyond this world. Their melodies don’t make you greedy for their talent, but they leave you thankful for the gift it is to stand and listen and join with them in a special moment of experiencing something only they can do. I’ll continue to fangirl about them for as long as they keep making music – which is for a long time, I hope!

Have you ever listened to a song that is so applicable to your life at the moment that you had to stop everything you’re doing just to hear it? Well Joseph recently released a new record and today as I streamed it on my car ride home I had to pull over and stop to listen to their song “Honest”.  There’s a line that says:

There’s always two thoughts one after the other – I’m alone, no you’re not. I’m alone no you’re not. – Honest, Joseph

After a full year of waiting, I packed up my bags and moved to a new city. A familiar city, but a new one nonetheless. There are few times in my life where I have been so certain that where I am is exactly where I am meant to be, which is exciting! But these two thoughts keep coming: I’m alone, no you’re not. I’m alone no you’re not.

Every twenty-something has probably experienced these two thoughts at some point. We’re saturated with various social medias and technology that’s forcing us to be connected to everyone all the time, and yet we still go home and sleep alone at the end of the day. We walk through life filtered to prove to the world that we’re okay, even if we’re scared out of our freaking minds because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing or how to even get “home” without using Google Maps. It gets old, you get tired, and the two thoughts come – I’m alone, no you’re not.

I think a shift in a person’s life can lead them through this series of unpacking the boxes of what they have known. Moving is more than just physical, there’s a mental processing period where you have to marry where you’ve been with where you are. Some things you bring with you make sense and they stick almost immediately. But some things feel uncomfortable in the new space even though you were once so sure of them.  You begin to doubt what was once true.

Change unwraps truth.

I’m alone, no you’re not. I don’t think we as humans would ever seek truth if we never experience doubt. That’s the whole point isn’t it? The experience of doubt is just the beginning of a greater desire to know what is true.

It’s true that you as a person are alone. No one has been in your brain and experienced life exactly the way you have. There is only one you. This is fact: I’m alone.

No you’re not. But I am not alone ever ever ever. My community might look different than what I’ve experienced and I can’t wander into my roommates’ room for a glass of wine and a ukulele jam session after a long day, but I’m not alone. There’s a million people around me experiencing similar things and trying to do their best, too. I’ve got a phone full of people to call who are each experiencing their own “alone”.

The two thoughts aren’t a contradiction between doubt and truth, but it’s big truth anthem given from two perspectives.

I used to be scared of my big doubts and worries because I thought they would somehow undo what I had built my life around. Now I’m seeing that this process of unpacking doubt is leading me into deeper truth as a whole. It’s a long to-do list of ripping tape off of boxes and unraveling, but ultimately the new space will start to feel more like home again.

I’m alone, no you’re not.

The two thoughts keep coming and it’s quite beautiful and messy all at once. So now that you’ve read my vague and ambiguous thoughts, go check out I’m Alone, No You’re Not from Joseph and be reminded that we’re all one tribe trying to find our way back Home.

the key to resilience

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“When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”

Why is Life giving me lemons? It’s February and lemonade doesn’t make sense, making that saying null. Sometimes I want to throw those lemons right back at Life. Life, take back your lemons, I don’t want them! You can’t even do much with lemons anyway!

Then Life is all “No take-backs!” and I’m stuck with these freaking lemons.

This season has been a doozy for me. Nothing particularly heartbreaking or life-altering has happened, but little things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to have been piling up and eating my insides. It’s easy to let this spill over into 90% of conversations I have:

“I just need to vent for a second.”

At every little defeat I have been throwing myself a pity party and I wanted everyone else to join in with me. I’m all for lending a listening ear, but I received an attitude check the other day when I was “venting” to a friend. I realized that I was not speaking life-giving words. My heart was bitter, my joy was diminished, and I didn’t feel any better after my vent-sesh because nothing was actually different. All of this whining left a gross aftertaste in my mouth, which usually means I should start praying.

And get my hands on some Orbit.

My generation has this stigma where everyone is allowed to whine about their life on social media if any part of it is not what the world told us we should expect. Humor is sarcastic and opinions are critical instead of constructive. All of this hostility is not becoming of us, Millennials. We look like a bunch of Pig Pens from the Peanuts walking around with a dusty cloud of negativity that infects everything we touch. Posting on social media about how much your day sucks over mine doesn’t change the situation we’re in, it just makes us look grimy.

Whether I vent to a friend or on social media, asking others to validate my problems is just another form of complaining.

And complainers are annoying. We all know them, too – they’re the people where when you ask “How are you?” they  respond with everything going wrong in their life. Complainers are joy-suckers. They magnify their own life’s little tragedies over seeking joy in ALL circumstances. It’s selfish, really. Complaining isn’t something we were made to do, and yet we default to it so easily whenever things go wrong.

This doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to feel sad or frustrated by life’s circumstances. I also think it’s important for healthy, honest sharing to happen within communities about where people are at spiritually – and that might include some parts that aren’t all shiny and happy. But there is a way to still be resilient by recognizing that things don’t always go the way we want them to and still choosing to walk forward.

Resilience has much less to do with my feelings and much more to do with my choices. Resilience is choosing joy, despite circumstance.

Choosing joy in a sucky circumstance is simple: you create it.

God is a fixer. A redeemer. A healer. A re-arranger of sorts. God is making – it’s a process, people! – ALL things new.

Creating is the exact opposite of complaining. When someone creates, they are proactively not being ok with the present state of things and have chosen to change it into something different. Creating ushers in newness and wipes away the grimy layer of negativity, defeat, and even apathy about the way things currently are. When I create, I feel satisfied and full because that’s what I am made to do: to make and fill and subdue this earth.

You don’t have to be an artist or a musician to create. You can enjoy the process of making anything – whether that’s writing a poem, arranging flowers, coding something fun, forging a new trail on a run, or cooking really bomb enchiladas. Exercising your creative muscle is less about the outcome and more about the healing process of making something new out of what you have now.

For the past two weeks, every time I felt that little swell of “woe is me” rising up, I chose differently. I cooked a meal. I tried a new hair style. I lettered a verse for a friend. I learned a new dance and sang a new song and I haven’t once felt like moping, even on the especially gray days.

It’s hard to throw a pity party when you’re in the process of creating something different. So next time if Life hands me lemons, I could whine about how annoying they are and how I can’t even do much with lemons… or I could squeeze the crap out of them make something useful. If I don’t have sugar for lemonade, the least I could do is make a salad dressing.