Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy

Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy

by Emily Ley


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I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.

As a busy wife, new mother, business owner, and designer, Emily Ley came to a point when she suddenly realized she couldn’t do it all. She needed to simplify her life, organize her days, and prioritize the priorities. She decided to hold herself to a standard of grace rather than perfection. This mantra led to the creation of her bestselling Simplified Planner®, a favorite among busy women everywhere—from mamas to executives and everywhere in between.

Grace, Not Perfection takes this message from a daily planner to an inspirational book that encourages women to simplify and prioritize. Designed with Emily Ley’s signature aesthetic, this book gives women tangible ways to simplify their lives to give space to what matters most. With a focus on faith, Emily reminds readers that God abundantly pours out grace on us—and that surely we can extend grace to ourselves.

Have you been told you can have it all, only to end up exhausted and occasionally out of sorts with the people you love? Are you ready for a new way of seeing your time? Learn to live a little more simply. Hold yourself and those you love to a more life-giving standard in Grace Not Perfection,and allow that grace to seep into your days, your family, and your heart.

Ideas include:

  • List Making 101—tips to create effective to-do lists and get through them one step at a time
  • Simplify your life by simplifying the three major areas: your space, your time, and your mind
  • Strategies to center your day around an intentionally slower rhythm of life

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718085223
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/11/2016
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 106,440
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Emily Ley is the founder of Simplified®, a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women. Emily has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour, and Good Housekeeping. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including Best New Product at the National Stationery Show as well as Top 10 Designers to Watch by Stationery Trends Magazine. Emily and her team recently collaborated with AT-A-GLANCE® to create gift and planning collections carried in Office Depot, Staples, and Target. Emily is the author of national bestselling books Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy and A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living. Now as an author, entrepreneur, wife, and mother to three, Emily lives in Pensacola, Florida with her husband, Bryan, and their son Brady (8) and twins Tyler and Caroline (4).

Read an Excerpt

Grace not Perfection

By Emily Ley

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2016 Emily Ley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-8522-3



For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.


IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON, and traffic in Tampa was disastrous. I was racing home to get ready for date night after a big day at work. Hours before, I had nervously and triumphantly handed in my two weeks notice. It was official: I was leaving the corporate world to dive headfirst into the fledgling design business I'd nurtured in the wee hours for the previous two years. It was finally time to devote my attention to the endeavor that had stolen my heart and ignited my passions: designing meaningful paper goods for life's most special moments. Though I was eager to get home to celebrate, I spied a drugstore ahead and turned in to the parking lot. Twizzlers suddenly sounded like a great idea.

This might be where all you mamas giggle and remember the first telltale sign of your pregnancy. Gracious. I should have known something was up! I'm normally a gummy bear girl.

I pulled into my driveway a few minutes later. The Twizzlers were long gone, but a pregnancy test was tucked away in my purse. Without much thought, I tossed my purse on the counter and took the test to the bathroom. I wanted to be sure I could safely enjoy a glass of celebratory champagne that evening. I had learned after months of disappointment not to put too much thought into those tests. Too much thought always equaled too much heartache.

I saw the ink begin to appear and impatiently set it aside. For such a small thing, that test packed a pretty big punch. It scratched at a very raw, painful spot in my heart that I desperately wanted to ignore on that happy day. Our years-long road of infertility had been paved with more bumps and potholes than we ever thought we'd face, and I wanted nothing more than to be a mama. Remembering that I'd purchased an unfamiliar drugstore brand, I picked the box up to read the instructions one more time.

Confused and suddenly breathless, I laid the test, the instructions, and the box next to my bathroom sink. I held the test next to the diagram on the crumpled paper and, in an instant, felt my heart begin to race and my breath leave my chest. I looked around the empty room, desperate for someone to run to, to scream with. Memories of pill bottles, doctor appointments, and infertility procedures flooded my head as tears gathered in my eyes. I heard Bryan's truck pull into the driveway as the tears fell down my cheeks. Though I'd scoured Pinterest for months for the perfect, photo-worthy way to tell him he'd be a daddy, I ran to him — a red-faced, tearstained mess — and blurted it all out. "I don't ... this thing ... the Twizzlers ..." I caught my breath through a beautiful, ugly cry. "A baby. I'm pregnant." It was perfect.

* * *

Becoming a mama on February 16, 2011, was the most pivotal experience of my life. My heart suddenly existed outside my body in this chubby little ball of all that is good in the world. Every emotion seemed heightened. Food tasted sweeter. Tiredness was now exhaustion. Love was a totally new feeling.

"I love him so much it physically hurts," I tearfully confessed to my own mom as she folded a tiny blue onesie and put it in Brady's dresser.

She paused and smiled. "That never changes."

These new emotions were confusing and overwhelming. I loved Brady with a new part of my heart — with feelings I'd never experienced before. I loved him with an all-encompassing love that I wondered if he'd ever understand.

Our new little guy didn't like to sleep. At all. During those late-night feedings, I'd search the Internet for all the ways to be a great mom: the best Facebook-worthy styled photos to capture his growth, the coolest toys around, the fanciest celebrity-designed nurseries, and the most dapper little-man outfits. One night, as Pinterest ran dry, I laid my phone on the armrest of the rocking chair and closed my eyes. Exhausted didn't even begin to describe how I felt. Brady had finally fallen asleep — his little head nuzzled into the space between my shoulder and chin. I breathed his sweet baby smell and prayed for him. And as I did, God laid an enormous truth on my heart: "I love you the same way, Emily. I get it."


I tried for a long time to be the Pinterest-worthy girl with the Pinterest-worthy home and the Pinterest-worthy marriage and the Pinterest-worthy child. I wanted the world to know my life was pretty effortless and I had it all together. I wanted to be the girl people pointed out on Facebook and said, "Did you see that super-cute, over-the-top thing she did for her kid's birthday?" To me, that translated to, "Did you see how much she loves her child?" Sweet validation! I'm doing a good job! I'd think. I must be — people I don't know very well approve of and admire me.

It was a destructive way of thinking. I thought if I proved my worth by wearing the perfect clothes, having home-cooked dinners on the table at six, raising perfectly dressed children, and presenting a perfectly curated Instagram feed, I could finally rest. Then I could say, "I did it!" I would have earned the love and admiration of my friends, of my family, and of God.

To me, perfect meant my parents were proud. Perfect meant my husband was proud. Perfect meant my children were proud. I believed the lie that perfect meant I was worthy. It turns out, grace was already there to deliver me from that emptiness. I just hadn't realized it yet.

Here's the thing about grace: you don't have to be perfect to embrace it. Grace is free — for imperfect and unworthy people like you and me. Did you catch that? You don't have to be perfect! I don't either! Jesus took care of that for us. He went before us and made a way. While we are busy trying to plan extravagant birthday parties and have exquisitely put-together homes, God has set a standard totally outside our realm of thinking. Instead of calling us to be hopeless overachievers, he calls us to "walk by the Spirit ... [with] love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:16, 22-23). Nowhere in there did He mention perfect birthday parties, size 4 jeans, home-cooked dinners, or spotless homes.

In fact, I don't think God really cares a whole lot about all of that. God cares more about us abiding by His commandments and loving big-feeling deeply alive and free from the traps of perfection and comparison. He's watching us scurry about, saying, "Sweet girls, why are you so hard on yourselves? All this worry and busyness is for what? I've given you all you need."

God is pouring grace on us every day, abundantly and without restraint. So, sister, if God is giving us so much grace, why on earth aren't we having a little more grace with ourselves? Why are we running ourselves ragged trying to measure up? I don't know about you, but I find this rat race of ours exhausting. And it's really easy to feel like a hamster in a wheel chasing an impossible glossy-magazine standard we've set for ourselves. Grace, and only grace, offers us a way to step off that wheel-a deep breath, a place to rest, and the opportunity to slow down and savor what truly matters.


I started to get my feet back under me post-maternity leave. Some days I felt like I had this new mom thing down, and other days I wanted to hide in the bathroom with a bag of gummy bears. Regardless, one year into life as a full-time designer, I was determined to prove to the world that I could do it all. But here's the thing about doing it all: even if you can do it all, no one can do it all well.

I took client calls while nursing. I worked frantically during nap times. And playtime at the park was a regular event for the three of us — me, Brady, and my iPhone. Instead of enjoying the best parts of a job I loved and a child I adored, I burned my candle at both ends trying to keep up. You can imagine how far that got me. Still, I was determined that I didn't need help.

One morning, I paced a circle around my house attempting to multitask. I can still remember the sound my bare feet made on the laminate wood floor while I bounced three-month-old Brady in the carrier strapped to my stomach. I was helplessly trying to pacify him and answer a design client's questions about the breakdown of her new brand colors. I tried to sound peppy and focused so the client knew I was devoting all my attention to her, but Brady was clearly ready to be fed. After the call was over, a flood of tears and frustration washed over me.

I called my business partner and close friend, Lara Casey. "I can't do it," I told her matter-of-factly. "I'm failing at everything. Everything." Lara just listened. "I thought I could do it all. I thought I could be the picture-perfect mom running the picture-perfect business, but I'm just so tired. I haven't washed my hair in days. I'm failing everyone. I've got to find a new standard," I said. God had been pouring grace on me, but all I wanted to do was prove to the world that I could do it all. This was a breaking point. I was done. Feeling totally incapable of reaching the incredibly unattainable standard I'd set for myself, I laid it all on the table at this moment. Something had to give. My standard had to go.

I stopped bouncing and pacing in my bedroom next to a pile of clean, unfolded laundry. "I'm not doing this anymore," I told Lara. "I'm done trying to be everything to everyone, trying to prove a point to the world. I will not chase this impossible standard. I'll hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection."

Imagine me stomping my foot on the floor while saying that, because that's the resolve I felt. Though I've fallen on my face daily since then, simply making that statement aloud freed my heart from a world of burdens. I'd honestly believed that being "put together" in every area of my life would equal happiness. Chasing perfection had been my way of searching for joy.


Have you ever visited Disney World with a three-year-old? You have to do it. To a three-year-old, everything is new and everything is exciting (until they melt down in front of Cinderella's Castle, but that's another story for another chapter). In early 2014, we took Brady to Disney World. I planned that trip months in advance, with attention to every detail so that it would be magical in every way. And Disney World didn't disappoint. Bryan and I took Brady to a live performance first thing in the morning. He was enamored with the characters and loved every minute of it. When Mickey Mouse himself came onto the stage in all his Disney glory, Brady jumped to his feet, threw his little arms high into the air, and gasped with the most electric, wide-eyed, genuine excitement I've ever seen. There's just nothing like a three-year-old meeting his beloved Mickey for the first time.

That's heart-bursting joy. That's what we're all after. Somewhere between three and twenty-, thirty-, and fortysomething (I left out fifty, because I'm convinced all the fifty-year-olds I know have this figured out), we lost that joy. And now we're all trying to find it again. Our grown-up circumstances, mortgages, taxes, jobs, and social media comparison have sucked the wind right out of our sails and made us all a little bit unhappy inside. And here we are, convinced that getting down to our college weight and a maintaining a spotless home sounds like a pretty good way to be unabashedly happy again. The truth is, if we take care of ourselves the same way we're nurturing everyone else, we'll find all sorts of joy and be better for everyone we love.

My come-to-Jesus moment with my baby strapped to my chest helped me realize that I needed to take care of myself or I'd have nothing left to give my little ones. It wasn't an indulgence or a pat on the back. It was do or die. If my heart was going to keep me going, it was going to need attention. It was time to give myself permission to be a priority again-starting now.


What does extravagant joy look like to you? When was the last time you were esctatically happy?

No. 1

No. 2

No. 3




Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.


HOW ARE YOU? Like, how are you really?

My friend Lara asks me this question a lot, and I can always tell that she's ready for me to lay it all out for her. What a gift, to be able to spill your heart and be heard. So I'm asking you the same question. How are you? Take a minute and a deep breath. Consider the way your heart feels, the way your hands move, and the rhythm of your heartbeat.

How are you? Seriously ...




I'll start. I'm tired. After my first bundle of joy, I had twin babies. And they were both up last night. I had a hard time falling back asleep, worrying about one of them trying to climb out of the crib. I'm overwhelmed. I'm writing a book, preparing for the holidays, and designing next year's Simplified Planners at the same time. I skipped breakfast this morning and am functioning on one nonfat grande cappuccino. Sound familiar? My responsibilities seem crushing at times. I'm the caretaker of my family. I'm a mama. I run a company. I manage lunches and dinners and staff meetings and schedules and production calendars and playdates. I have a lot going on. I want to be everything to everyone, so I'm running on empty these days, even though I know better.

How do we even begin to have grace with ourselves in these situations? In my head, I know it means forgiving myself for my mess and finding peace in my circus. But if you're like me, you know it's easier said than done. It all comes down to this question: What good are we when we're overwhelmed, overbooked, and overcommitted?

You are a living, breathing vessel of love, sweet friend, and so am I. We need care, rest, nutrients, and full hearts to be able to speak life into the people we love.

Imagine a beautiful car created with precision, craftsmanship, and attention to every tiny detail. The car is bright and shiny and beautiful its first trip around the block. But after a while, the car stops being a showpiece. It runs errands, shuffles kids back and forth to soccer practice, and endures rain, wind, snow, and mud. It gets bumped and scratched and left in the garage without washing. After a while, it's obvious the car needs a good wash and a tune-up, a refill of gas, and maybe a coat of wax, or the car isn't going to be good for anyone anymore.

Isn't that car just like you? If you run yourself ragged caring for everyone but yourself while expecting perfection from your hands, body, and mind, you're in for a rough collision with reality.


Okay, so we're not machines. We don't run on diesel, and we don't have an ignition switch (as much as we might like one). Our hearts are moving, loving, organic things. You might say our hearts are wells — deep and wide. If our well is not fed by a freshwater spring, where it can be replenished and refilled, we have no water to give to the ones we love. If our well is fed by a stream of comparison, anxiety, and stress, guess what we will have to give to our families? Sharp words, headaches, and impatience will brim at the top. Nothing good can come out of that poisoned well. But what would we have if we let our wells be filled with things like rest, laughter, confidence, good tea, hugs, and adventure? I want to overflow with that sweet water.

In Galatians, we read, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (5:13-14). The last line of that passage is so powerful: love your neighbor as yourself. We usually think of that command as centering around others. But it's about us too. God is telling us to love, nurture, and care for ourselves and to love others that much as well. I don't know about you, but if I loved and nurtured my neighbor (or my children!) the same way I care for myself sometimes, I wouldn't be doing any of them a whole lot of good.

Before our twins were born, an average day at my house began with my three-year-old son, Brady, bounding into our bedroom bright-eyed, full of energy, and ready for the day. I, of course, had made sure he was in bed by eight the night before. Then I'd stayed up four more hours doing laundry, catching up on Parenthood, and clearing out my inbox to make sure the next day wouldn't escape me. Groggy, I'd pull myself from my bed and let him watch a cartoon while I frantically showered and threw on workout clothes. I typically had no plans to work out, but I always thought wearing workout clothes meant I was ready for anything. (Or maybe leggings and a T-shirt pulled from the hamper were all I had energy to pick out.) From that minute on, I played chase with my day and continually found myself ten steps behind. My outward appearance definitely matched the way I felt on the inside — frazzled and exhausted.


Excerpted from Grace not Perfection by Emily Ley. Copyright © 2016 Emily Ley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, xi,
1. Discovering Grace, 3,
2. The Empty Well, 17,
3. Planning and Simplicity, 35,
4. Margin for What Matters, 57,
5. Surrendering Control, 73,
6. Invest in Your Person, 89,
7. Savor the Circus, 101,
8. Your Community, 115,
9. Routines in Relationships, 133,
10. Gratitude Changes Everything, 147,
11. Define the Life You Want to Have, 163,
12. Get Your Hands Dirty, 177,
13. Mom Guilt Is a Liar, 185,
14. Cultivate Contentment, 197,
15. Love Your Season, 207,
Thanks, 221,
About Emily Ley and The Simplified Planner, 225,

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Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read and super helpful!
Bowtiesmakemesmile More than 1 year ago
I have been dealing a lot with depression lately and it was the first book that caught my eye. I started reading it and I actually felt like if I was talking with her! I love books where I feel connected with the author. I haven't read a book in more than 3 years & I'm always alone lately at my house. This was a very comforting book and I felt accompanied by her the way she wrote. Her life descriptions, it was like if I could just see it all! I loved it and I wish I had more stars to write a review since 5 stars isn't enough. I would give her 8 stars ♥
JLYoung More than 1 year ago
This book is full of lovely stories of the author's life. She mentions a few verses here and there and I find myself so disappointed that it pretty much ends there. The rest is what can I do to change my situation, to bring joy for myself, etc. she repeatedly mentions grace grace grace but it seems like it's more I give myself grace than dipping into the grace Jesus has bestowed upon me. This book is lacking the depth of insight about the only thing that is the reason I am free, the reason I don't have to be perfect, the reason I can have true joy... it's not about planning meals, doing things to love myself, etc it's about Jesus. This is a simple self-help book. Doesn't rock the boat too much. It's ok. If you want a pounding about having Nothing to Prove there are better reads out there. I received this digital book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I expected more out of this book and am rather disappointed.
JLYoung More than 1 year ago
This book is full of lovely stories of the author's life. She mentions a few verses here and there and I find myself so disappointed that it pretty much ends there. The rest is what can I do to change my situation, to bring joy for myself, etc. she repeatedly mentions grace grace grace but it seems like it's more I give myself grace than dipping into the grace Jesus has bestowed upon me. This book is lacking the depth of insight about the only thing that is the reason I am free, the reason I don't have to be perfect, the reason I can have true joy... it's not about planning meals, doing things to love myself, etc it's about Jesus. This is a simple self-help book. Doesn't rock the boat too much. It's ok. If you want a pounding about having Nothing to Prove there are better reads out there. I received this digital book from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I expected more out of this book and am rather disappointed.
BriannaVenzke More than 1 year ago
The gorgeous craftsmanship of this book paired with the powerful content is a dream. Thank you so much Emily for pouring your heart onto these impeccably designed pages.
EmilyFrancophile More than 1 year ago
I decided to review this book after an acquaintance from college, who knows Emily personally, posted about it on social media. It's a good book with a simple but powerful premise. Ley owns her own company, as well as mothering three children under the age of five (have mercy), so she knows how crazy life can get. And much like her famous Simplified Planner, Ley helps you mitigate your chaos while still embracing whatever season of life you find yourself in. 4/5 stars.
caroline97 More than 1 year ago