Emily Ley, a wife, mother, successful business owner, and author, found herself mired in the pursuit of perfection that so many modern women struggle with. Using the Scripture found in Jesus Calling, Emily was able to give up the chase and find God’s grace along the way.
Emily: There are so many things going on, good or bad or both, when there are so many things calling for our attention, and pulling our heartstrings in different directions. Grace, the grace we get from Jesus, is the thing that comes in and lets us off the hook and says, “It’s okay. These things don’t have to get done. These things can fall. At the end of the day, what matters is this relationship that I have with you, and this connection back to God, and this foundational faith. That’s all that matters.”
Narrator: Welcome to the Experience Jesus Calling Podcast. Emily Ley seemingly has it all—she’s a wife, a mother, a successful business owner and now an author. Emily shares how she gave up always striving for perfection and found grace instead.
Emily: My name is Emily Ley, and I am a wife and a mom to three kids. I have 18-month-old twins and a 5-and-a-half-year-old new kindergartner, Brady. I’m also the creative director of Emily Ley Paper and Gifts. I’m the creator of the Simplified Planner, and I’m a new author, as well, of Grace, Not Perfection.
I was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida. It is a beach town in the panhandle of Florida, and holds a big piece of my heart. I love that city so much and I love going back to visit and see our families. I actually grew up outside of the city, north of the city, and went to a high school where we had cows and farms and fields all around us. It was really great. It was just a really cool experience.
My mom was a teacher. My dad has worked at the local power company for many, many years. I have a little brother. I had a great childhood. My family’s very, very close-knit. Family’s just really, really important to all of us.
When I was a child, I was really artistic. Looking back, it’s funny to kind of see where I am now, and what I’m doing. But, I loved art, and I loved writing. I used to write stories and I would make bookmarks and have my family buy the bookmarks. I would pedal my bookmarks around to each person in my family and have them pay me for them. I guess it’s not that big of a surprise that I’m selling planners now. But, I think my whole family gets a big kick out of that story when we remember it.
I ended up going to the college there, University of West Florida, and got a degree in English Writing, and a master’s degree in Public Administration.
Emily: My husband, Bryan, and I met when I was 16 and he was
19. We actually both worked at the same restaurant. It was my very first job. I was a hostess, and he waited tables. And I just thought he hung the moon.
Emily: Bryan’s awesome. We’re very, very different, and I think that’s what’s really cool about the two of us, is that we’re just very, very different people. It’s very exciting. Our values are the same and all of that. He enjoys different things than I do. His personality is different than mine. It keeps things exciting. It’s been 8 years now that we’ve been married.
A Change of Plans
Emily: Bryan and I got married in 2008. We had our first child in 2011, after struggling with infertility for a bit. Working in corporate America, I was climbing the corporate ladder. I had a master’s degree. I was checking off all the boxes, and wearing the skirt suits, and doing all the things.
I just found myself feeling really empty, and feeling like, “How am I going to be a mom?” which is all I really wanted to be, eventually. “How am I going to do that and do this, and how am I going to mesh them together?”
I realized, in that role that I was in, in particular, that I wasn’t going to be able to put them together, and I wasn’t going to be able to find a job, necessarily, that would fit the bill, and would give me the flexibility I wanted to be a good mom. In my head, “good mom,” for me, meant that I didn’t work the 80 hours a week I was working at the time.
I decided to just start my own little company. I had friends who were photographers, and they were starting their own companies on the sides. Etsy was new. This entire idea of “you can create your dream job” was a new thing. I just stayed up very late every night, and I worked really hard, and I Googled all the questions, and I decided to start a stationery company. I sold stationery on Etsy in the early days, while I worked my full-time job at the University of South Florida. I worked during my lunch break, and I worked late at night. Little by little, we saved up the money that I made there. Once I had enough money to build a website, we built a website. I didn’t take a paycheck for two years in that role.
I slowly and surely built the company as a stationery company, did wedding invitations and that sort of thing. Then started doing branding work, and anything I could within that graphic design realm that really made me happy, to pay myself a paycheck. A very, very, very modest paycheck.
After my son was born, one day, I was pacing around my house with a laptop on one hip and a baby one the other, and I was so much more empty than I felt when I was working in corporate America, and that was a very, very weird feeling for me. “What have I done? Is it worse now that it was? Am I actually any good for this child that I love with my entire heart? Am I actually any good for these branding clients that I have as well, either? Am I any good for myself?” I was on the phone with a friend, and I said, “I am done.” It was one of those throw a dish against the wall moments, when I said, “I am done. I am trying so hard to be perfect, to have dinner on the table at 6, my house always clean, my clients always happy, and my baby always perfectly clean.” Everyone had perfect hair and six-inch heels, and why couldn’t I do it? I was just miserable.
I said, “I’m done. I am going to hold myself to a standard of grace, because that is all that matters. I’m so sick and tired of trying to be perfect.”
Leaving Perfection Behind
Emily: When I said that, it was like this light bulb moment of God saying to me, “Yes, this is what I’m trying to tell you!” He was shaking my shoulders, or something. “This is it. This message, this thought, needs to be out there, and it starts here in your heart, Emily, because you are in the thick. You are thinking these thoughts, and you just need to sit in them and let me work in you what I’m trying to do.” And so, I decided that that idea that women are so completely overwhelmed because of the pressure we put on ourselves, was going to be part of this new company I was going to make.
I thought, “I want to go into that space of women who are purchasing organizational products, looking for hope, and looking for a fresh start, and women who feel like I did, or some variant of the way that I had felt in that throw a dish against the wall moment.” I wanted to reach them, and not just schlep a product, or make them buy something. I wanted to make things that made them think, and to get inside their hearts, and help them come to those moments that I had come to, and continue to come to. I have those moments often, still.
Our very first Simplified Planner was a binder concept. I wrote on the pieces of paper. I started mocking up this idea for a page that just had your schedule, your tasks, your notes, and your dinner. Cause that’s the way my brain works. Those are things I think about during the day. I used those pages for a little while, and had them printed locally, first. That first year, they sold out like crazy. I think that first year we sold 500, which might as well have been 50,000. It was just such huge number to me that that many women were looking for something that spoke to them in a way and gave them hope and a fresh start, made them feel confident in tackling their days, with all that women have going on.
It’s just been such a crazy adventure since then. Things have grown, and grown, and the planner concept’s changed and morphed as we’ve used it and tweaked it and perfected it. I just feel so honored to be able to make a product that gives women that kind of a fresh start. Because I think it’s something that we’re all so thirsty for, deep in our hearts, so thirsty for the confirmation and the empowerment that comes with that.
The whole Grace, Not Perfection concept, when it came to me that day, when I was stomping in my living room on the phone with a friend, trying to comfort my baby, it was so powerful to me, and it was so heart-changing for me. I said, “I want to do something with this. I want to make something with this. I want to make this tangible, or give this to other women, or speak this to other women.” I wrote a blog post that I can’t even remember how many times it’s been shared. A bazillion times, I feel like. We wrote the phrase and turned it into a little art print. It became a journal, and all sorts of different things.
The whole concept of the book has evolved so easily, because it’s such a big concept, and it’s something that I think women are so thirsty for right now. We all have ourselves on the hook in such a big way that writing this message of saying, “It’s cool. You don’t have to have it all together.” And by the way, I’m totally speaking to myself on every page of this book. “You don’t have to have it all together. Your house does not have to be spotless. Your kids can have oatmeal on their face, and it’s okay.” The whole concept has just evolved in such a cool way. It’s been such an adventure to write the book.
Emily: It’s funny, I actually found a book the other day from my grandmother, it’s called My Caravan. She had given it to me, it’s a book of poems. My grandmother was really, really special to me, and actually influenced my faith a lot. She gave me this book, and I opened the cover. She passed away a few years ago. I opened the cover, and inside it, it said, “Dear Emily Sue,” that’s what she called me, “I hope that you find this book as special as I do. I really hope that one day you get to write your own book.” I sobbed. I just sobbed. I had no idea that she had written me that. I was so surprised, actually, to find it, and see it, and think that isn’t that neat? She’s totally just smiling down and watching what’s happening. She knew it would happen, years ago.
My grandmother was the one that really influenced my faith in a big way. She was a singer, and she actually, back in the big band days, she wore the big sparkly dress, and she would go to the, I guess there were military clubs. I don’t know. I have pictures of her wearing these beautiful gowns with her hair all curled and pretty and the big band behind her. There were lots of military people there. She would sing.
She would sing hymns, I remember, in the car. After she would sing these songs, she would tell me about Jesus. She would tell me about her faith. It was very joyful. It was very, almost simple. It was just this childlike faith where she found such joy in the fact that God cared for her in such a big way. I was just enamored with her, and with the way that she loved God in everything that she did. She talked about him like he was her best friend. She influenced me in a really, really beautiful way, in that sense.
I’ve been through some hard stuff, especially with pregnancies and infertility. My first son was very, very, very high risk. Finding myself in those situations, or in those really stressful situations where life is just really heavy, and there’s so many things going on that you can’t really get above water, I feel like that’s where I’ve felt God the most.
I got my first copy of Jesus Calling from my grandmother. She gifted me a Bible, and she had my name engraved on the front of it, and a copy of Jesus Calling. She wanted me to have those things, because she wanted me to have the physical tools I needed to have my quiet time every day.
My grandmother used to always say to me, I was, believe it or not, a very hyper child, and kind of always into everything, and wanted to do projects, and talked all the time. My grandmother would say, “Emily, be still. Just be still.” Then she would quote the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” That is my absolute favorite verse in the Bible. “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s Psalms 46:10
Grace and Simplicity
Emily: I always try to take a couple minutes every day to just sit down with my Bible, with my devotional, with my planner, and get my grounding for the day, and get my feet under me, get my foundation under me. I think that’s what’s so great about Jesus Calling, is that it’s so clear, and it’s short. The pages are short. I’m able to read it and digest it in a short amount of time. It’s so clear, and helps me just map out my day in a beautiful way, in a good way, in a positive way.
I think as women we take care of so many other people. We take care of our families, our kids, our parents, our friends, and we don’t often take care of ourselves. I always think about myself as having a well that I need to fill up.
If I don’t fill up my well, I’m not going to be able to give anything out of it to anybody else that’s any good.
If I fill up my well with stress and worry and working too hard too fast and not enough sleep, that’s what I’m going to give out, and that’s not any good.
Narrator: Emily’s journey to Grace, Not Perfection has enabled her to focus on the things that matter most in life. Emily hopes to show others how important it is to reassess what really matters most to each of us too, and how we can get to a place of simply enjoying our lives amidst the chaos. Once again, Emily.
Emily: I really believe that grace and simplicity are tied really closely together. When we find ways to simplify our lives, to get back to what really, really, really matters, the things that really speak to your heart, that really fire your heart up in a beautiful way, I think that’s where grace finds us the most. In real rest, and in real focus on what really matters.
For more information about Emily’s new book, Grace Not Perfection, please visit http://emilyleyblog.com/gracenotperfection/.
Narrator: Next time on the Experiencing Jesus Calling Podcast, we bring you stories of courageous women who are a part of The Next Door, a non-profit organization that helps women who have been incarcerated or who are dealing with substance abuse issues, find hope and strength for a new season of life.
Patience: The Next Door is hope. The Next Door is hope for any person who walks through the door. Not just a client. No, I mean any person who walks through the door. Everyone you encounter has hope. Hope for the work that we do. Hope for each other. We support each other in a way that is un-explainable.
It’s difficult to walk through the front doors of The Next Door and say, “I want to do something different for my life. Even though I’ve been doing this same thing for fifteen years.” That’s hard. Every day, they never cease to amaze me. They come in the door and they want to do something different. They want to change their lives. They teach me something new about just being a human every single day.
Narrator: Our featured passage from Jesus Calling for today’s show comes from the December 21st entry:
My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems closed, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears–through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease in which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles–and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.