Hello, again.

Yesterday I walked barefoot out the back door and into the yard to cut a flower from a bush growing along the fence.  I put the pretty pinkish white bloom in a small vase and stuck the arrangement on my nightstand.  I had spent some time earlier that day unpacking my suitcase completely, carefully finding a place for each little thing.  I zipped it up and put it away.  And then marched outside to get the flower.

bedside flower

The home I’m living in right now (as I wait until I get married and move into a new home with my soon-to-be husband) has the most beautiful garden and the best smelling flowers.  When I’ve been my most stressed I’ve gone outside and just sat on the porch or in the grass.  My gracious hostess even pulled out her hammock and I have spent several hours just laying in the sun letting nature heal my tired soul.  I’ve longed to bring in one of those little flowers and put it on my nightstand so that I would get to see and smell it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  But I’ve kept myself from doing it because I knew that no sooner had I cut it and set it out then I would have to re-pack my suitcase and leave again.

I have spent the past three years on the road driving between work, seminary, family, and friends.  When I got my car 2 months before school started it had 3 miles on it.  My first brand new car.  As of today it has 83,172 miles on it.

But now the semester, my last semester of classes, is done.

About a year ago I began to realize that all the travel and multi-tasking had somehow altered the way I thought and operated.  In moments of stillness I had one of two reactions. I either fell into a deep, exhausted sleep for hours (or even days) or I quickly found other things to do.  Great things, to be sure.  I would organize dinner parties, go on quick weekend trips to visit friends or family, or paint a room in my house.  I’d decide it was the perfect weekend to clean the garage or re-plant the flowerbed.  Busyness had rewired my brain until I was fully addicted.  And it scared me.

I began to read books and blogs about Sabbath and stillness and choosing slowness.  My heart sang out!  This was exactly what I needed! These words spoke of the idolatry and illness of constant busyness and how, over time, it robbed you of the joy of connection and peace. Every line on every page felt like it was written about me, about the way I had been building my life.  And I knew I wanted to change.

I think that at the heart of busyness is an inability to believe that it’s ok to rest and trust God.  We believe that we are worth what we contribute, what we create.  And so we toil and toil.  And we place such small value on who we are that we believe we must construct something better, shinier, more efficient.  So we work hard, strive, and fill our lives with busyness.  We are so busy showing how awesome and capable we are because if we stop we will have to accept ourselves just as we are, flaws and all.  And that seems painful.  It IS painful.  So instead we work harder.  We keep busy.

One of my absolute favorite author’s, Shauna Niequest, in her book Perfect Over Present, uses a metaphor of filling up a little red wagon with responsibilities and deadlines and commitments and then having to haul that wagon with her everywhere she goes.  She describes the physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion that goes along with hauling all that junk around and her desire to just stop and let it go.  As I was reading her beautiful book for the first time last September I thought yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.  I called my fiancé and told him about the book and her analogy.  “Why don’t you just stop pulling it then?  Or at least take some things out of it?” , he said very lovingly.  “I can’t,” I said, “Everything has been superglued to the wagon…and I’m chained to the wagon.”  As much as I wanted to stop and let go, I knew that the process of releasing busyness wasn’t something I could do overnight.  It wasn’t as simple as walking away.  I was going to have to learn how to unchain myself and then take things out of the wagon one by one.

And so that’s what I’ve been doing.  I stopped writing blogs because I had to be writing papers for school and I couldn’t find time or energy for both.  In October I took a part-time appointment close to my fiancé so that we wouldn’t see each other just once a month.  Because I needed to finish school before I could make any other schedule changes, I put school as my priority and carved out specific weekends that were off-limits to anything but schoolwork.  I actively worked on letting it be ok to make a B or even *gulp* a C if that meant I got to sleep more than 4 hours a night.

This of course makes it sound like I made huge strides towards a less busy life with less anxiety.  And that is absolute nonsense.  I mean, I tried, believe me I tried.  But more often than not I still had far too much on my plate.  And what seemed like it would be manageable in December felt like the Herculean labors in February.  I cannot even begin to count how many hours I talked to friends and family trying to process my anxiety and exhaustion.  And sometimes I did ok.  Sometimes I felt more normal.  But, especially at the beginning and end of the semester, it felt like more than I could handle and there were lots of tears.  Thank God for my patient and thoughtful Steven, and all the people who held me up when I felt like I couldn’t go one more day or one more mile.

But I’ve made it.  I have one paper left and one final.  I think Steven and I have grown even closer and I think I’ve learned a lot more about what matters to me and what doesn’t.  What matters is people.  Making time for phone calls and visits and meals with people.  People I’ve known and loved for years and people I’m meeting for the first time.  Being present with people and being sure to hear and see them.

Augustine restless.png

And what matters more than anything else is my relationship with God.  Augustine said that our souls are restless until they find rest in God.  I believe that.  And I’ve been restless and filling up my days, sometimes in pursuit of trying to understand God, when what I should have been doing was stopping and smelling the little flowers.  Letting the sun shine on my face and fill me up with light.  Feeling the abundant love God has for me, just as I am without having to prove or be anything, through the world and people around me.

My life has changed a lot in the last few years.  I have learned so much, grown so much, and discovered that God’s goodness is so much greater than I ever could have imagined.  In this new chapter of my life, I want to let God write a story that is full of love, joy, peace, faith, and grace.  And I think all of that starts with resting.  So that’s what I’m doing now.  Resting in the sure and certain promise that God is love.  And that, if I will slow down, if I will let God rewrite the busyness addicted parts of my brain, I will be able to see and feel that love of God in the every day stuff of life.  And that is, after all, what this blog was always supposed to be about.  The way that the Divine works in the ordinary, daily stuff.

So let’s try this again, shall we?  I’m Becca.  This is my blog.  It’s about the stuff of everyday life- mine and yours.  And it’s about the way that God shows up every day in beautiful and powerful ways.

 

Why I love Advent and hope you do too

I know they’ve been playing Christmas music on the radio for days.  And I know Hobby Lobby has had Christmas decorations out since July.  But believe me when I tell you- it is not Christmas time yet.  No, seriously.  It’s not.

Today starts the season of Advent- one of my favorite liturgical seasons!  It’s the time leading up to Christmas where we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ-child.  It’s a season of reflection, prayer, and peace as we wait expectantly to celebrate God With Us.

Don’t get it confused with Christmas!  Advent and Christmas are linked but they are not the same thing. Christmas is the feast and the party!  Advent is the fast and the quiet time.  Christmas is bright lights!  Advent is the patient lighting of just one candle at a time and sitting in the darkness waiting for the full light to come.    Christmas is crazy!  Advent is calm.

In a world constantly in motion and at full blast, Advent is an invitation to a time of intentional stillness and quiet. 

I have this mental image of a pregnant, teenage Mary just sitting on the hillside of Nazareth.  I was fortunate enough to be able to visit that town this past March.  I picture her sitting under the pine trees, looking down at the town with her hand resting on her pregnant belly.  Still and peaceful as she waited for her son to be born.  I imagine life for Mary was not easy and that her pregnancy could easily have been one filled with worry and fear.  She was an unmarried, pregnant girl in a strict religious community.  She had plenty to fear.  But when I read her beautiful response to the news that she is to be the mother of the Messiah I see a young woman who has found peace in obeying and trusting God.

And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
~Luke 1: 46-55

Each week we light one candle on our Advent wreath.  Each candle represents a different idea- hope, joy, peace, and love.  These are things I want in my life this Advent.  And I know I won’t find them in a mall or a store.  I won’t find them if I’m so busy running around I don’t have time to be still and seek the blessings of the Father.

It’s so easy for us to become wrapped up in all the things that we “have” to do for Christmas.  There are presents to find, buy, and wrap.  There are parties and events to go to and host.  Every kid is in at least 3 different Christmas concerts.  Every church has a full calendar of Advent activities.  There’s a house to decorate and lights to put out.  Family pictures to take and Christmas cards to send out!  There are a million things to do and to get done.  And sometimes all the Christmas cheer can feel like it is just too much.  It becomes an endless list of chores instead.

Dear friends, the world has sold us a lie about the meaning and value of Christmas.  Don’t buy into it.  

This Advent I’m inviting you to lay some of that down with me.  Get out your calendar and write down all the things you plan on doing.  What events do you have going on?  What parties have you been invited to?  Sit down and honestly map out your December.  And then…just pick a few things.  Say no to things that don’t help you connect with the spirit of Advent.  If it doesn’t help you to reflect on the gift of Christ, just politely decline.  I don’t know what those things are for you.  For me, it’s mostly the shopping and decorating.  I don’t feel the need to buy huge gifts for everyone I’ve ever meet.  And I spent a grand total of 1 hour decorating my house for Christmas.  Is it simple?  Yep. Is it still charming and cozy?  Absolutely!  I don’t need 3 days and 20 boxes of decorations to put me in the holiday spirit.

Some things I’m saying yes to:  Christmas craft night with girlfriends, Coffeehouse Talent Show put on by our church’s youth choir, and a young adult ministries Christmas party.  I plan to make as many of my gifts as possible so I’m sure I’ll spend some hours working on those.  I’ve already turned down a couple of invitations that sounded like so much fun but would just be too much for me this year.  I’ve also told some people no, I can’t help with certain events.  I have to say that one is harder.  I feel sort of guilty for not helping but I really believe it is important to say no sometimes (although I always offer alternative names of people to ask).  Just because something is good doesn’t mean it has to make it on your calendar.  And just because you think people expect it from you doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.  Advent is not about meeting the world’s expectations.  It is about finding the hope, love, joy, and peace that come from God as we wait for Emmanuel.

The main thing I’m saying yes to this Advent is some white space on my calendar.  I’m going to take time to rest.  I have a special Advent devotion book that I’m going to read each day.  And I’m going to serve others as best I can.  I want to slow down enough to notice the people around me and offer them help in any way I can.  I want to be extravagantly generous in ways that matter- in small acts of kindness and acts of love and service to my brothers and sisters.

I love the quiet calm and watchful peace of this season.  I love the time of dark knowing that the time of light is coming.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I think about the fact that God, creator of all things and author of all life, loved us so much that he came as a human being and lived with us and died for us to bring us back into the family.  I love Advent.  I hope you do too.

Some cool things to check out as you start your season of Advent:

Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas:  I love this blog and adore their book!  You can read my favorite blog post here and order their fantastic book on liturgical living here.

Simply Wait:  Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent– this is the devotional that I’m using this year.

101 Days of Christmas:  Don’t be fooled by the title.  This book is full of some great recipes and craft ideas for a fun and easy Advent.

How to not pray like a Gentile

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and study about different spiritual disciplines, or different practices that help us grow in relationship to God.  I have found some practices that I really enjoy and that help me to draw closer to God but others are more difficult for me and less rewarding.  But I ran across some advice the other day that has really been troubling me.  It said “Start your prayer with a request for what you need from God today.  Get yourself filled up first so that you can pour out for others.”

Theoretically I get it and partially agree.  You cannot pour into others if you are not full of the peace and presence of God.  Spending time every day (yes every day) to reconnect and find rest in our Creator is the faithful work of a follower of Christ.  But should we really start our prayers with requests about what we need?

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

~Matthew 6: 7-8

Is it really my top priority in my intentional time with God to ask Him for things?  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for things we need I’m just questioning whether or not we have to pray for that first.  Should our prayers start with the list of things we need?  What does that say about how we feel about God?  Is He just a supernatural Santa Clause there to give us what we ask for?

And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the things we need but I definitely think we have some issues knowing what we need.  A lot of the things we think we need are really just wants (see previous post).  If we pray for things we think we need before we ever ask God what it is He thinks we need we are missing out on an essential part of our relationship with God, namely, trust.  Trusting that God will provide what we actually need is foundational to our faith in and relationship with God.

Last weekend I got to spend an evening with sister and her family, including my one year old nephew, J.  Little J loves to talk but he doesn’t actually speak English yet so when he needs stuff he just sort of shouts and mimes things.  I have no idea what he needs although I try to guess.  But his mom and dad always know what he needs and they make sure he gets it.  Not only that sometimes when he asks for things in his baby language they know what he is asking for but they also know it’s not good for him…and they don’t let him have it.  Because they love and know him so intimately they know what he needs without him having to form any fancy phrases (or even simple ones) to ask for it.  And no matter how loud he gets, if something is bad for him they love him too much to give it to him.  Because providing for needs and discerning needs from destructive wants is what good parents do.  And our God is a great Father/Mother.

“Pray then in this way:  Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

~Matthew 6: 9-13

I think it’s critically important for us to start our prayers recognizing that God is holy and that as His children it is our desire for His will, not ours, to be done.  We start with silence and let God tell us what we need and trust that He will give us what we need to survive and serve that day.  Not necessarily a feast because sometimes what we need is a fast.  Sometimes we need plenty and sometimes we need to abstain.

So today don’t assume you know what you need because you don’t know what you will face today.  Don’t worry about fancy phrases or getting it just right.  Be humble.  Be sincere.  Be open.  Start your prayers the way Jesus taught us by asking for God’s will first and trusting Him to provide your daily bread.

 

 

Simple Living Series: Buy only what you need

con·sum·er·ism

noun

1. the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.

2. the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

It’s that second definition that hits me in the gut every time…because it is absolutely true.  Our society absolutely has a preoccupation with getting more stuff.  And there are lots of reasons for this preoccupation.  We think we need it.  We think we deserve it.  We think everyone else has it.  We think it will make us happy.  And despite the fact that 99% of the time none of these things are true we still persist in clinging to these flimsy reasons as an excuse to acquire more and more stuff.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these scary numbers.

Over $250– How much each individual plans to spend on Halloween this year

$350 Million– How much Americans spend on pet Halloween costumes.

$2 Billion– How much Americans spend on Halloween candy.

Frankly we are just lucky today is Halloween and not Christmas because you don’t want to see the scary numbers that come down for that holiday.  Do we really think we need to spend $2,000,000,000 on…candy?  Does this not seem crazy to you?

If you’ve been keeping up with the the Simple Living Series you know what happens to the majority of the stuff we buy (if not check it out here).  We trash it and it populates landfills for years and years.  We are always going to have trash and until some genius invents a way to reuse every single piece of our trash, we are going to have landfills.  On the previous post of this series we talked about some alternative approaches to dealing with the things that we accumulate.  But the truth is that we need to be concerned about the fact that we are constantly and actively accumulating all these things that will have to be dealt with later.  Instead of having to declutter every so often, we need to look at why we are accumulating useless possessions in the first place.

We need to unplug from the consumerism machine.

Make no mistake, it is a machine and we are totally plugged in.  Like…Neo plugged into the matrix plugged in.  Because the consumerism machine is creating a false life for us that really only exists in our heads and all the while it is draining the life from us. (I’m sorry if you haven’t seen The Matrix because you won’t understand how truly brilliant that analogy is.  Go watch it now…I’ll wait here.)  The consumerism machine has us convinced that it is feeding us, making our lives better, happier, and fuller, when in reality it is slowly killing us and stealing our joy.

Here’s how it works.  You are at home after a long day at work just watching some TV and a commercial break comes on.  3 minutes later you are back to watching your show and chances are good you can’t even remember the commercials you just watched.  But later in the week you recognize a song on the radio and can’t remember where you have heard it before until you realize it was an advertisement for a particular thing.  Now you’ve got the jingle stuck in your head.  That weekend you get bored, so you decide to go to the mall.  You don’t need anything specifically but you’ve been wanting a new pair of shoes and you’ll just walk around the mall.  You end up spending 4 hours at the mall trying on clothes and shoes and looking at other stuff.  You buy a thing here or there and walk out with 3 shopping bags of stuff.  Stuff you now have to find a place for in your home. 

Confession:  The absolute most dangerous place for me in my battle with consumerism is Target.  I go in for a legitimate reason- like toilet paper or dog food- and leave with a new shirt (it was on sale!), new shoes or pjs, and that new Threshold household thingy (their new line of Threshold stuff is the cutest, most adorable bane of my existence). 

We buy things we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted 10 minutes before we saw it because we are programmed to do it.  We are programmed to believe that buying things will make us happier and fix the problems that we have in our lives.  If only we had that kind of mascara, our eyes would look bigger and more beautiful and we would finally meet a great guy!  If only we had that new fishing gear then we would be catching all the fish!  For every need we have there is a device, outfit, piece of equipment, or general thingy that will fill that need!  One problem:  most of these needs are manufactured.  We don’t need 100 pairs of shoes.  We don’t need a bunch of different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks.  Our kids don’t need every educational toy in a toy store.  Need isn’t the correct word for any of this stuff.  The word is want.  We want it.  And living a simple lifestyle means realizing the difference between need and want.

Need:  things we must have for survival.  Food, water, shelter. I would say we also need love and loved ones that we can trust.  We need some sense of security and safety.  We need some kind of purpose for our lives and we need work that fulfills us.  We need to be in relationship to God.  In fact there are lots of Bible verses that deal with what we need because this struggle of want vs. need is not a new problem.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.
~Psalms 23

If God is our shepherd we won’t want for anything. This is not to say that everything will be easy and wonderful in the way that we would like it to be.  But we will be provided for in the way that we truly need.  Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”.  Not give me a big Costco so that I can go buy stuff in bulk.  Instead, give me what I need to survive, and serve, just today.  We don’t need as much as the consumerism machine wants us to believe we do.  And recognizing that fact is the first step to freeing yourself from it.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

~William Morris

I love this quote because I think it speaks so directly to helping us determine whether or not we really need the things we accumulate in our homes.  And we have to be ruthless when deciding if our possible purchases fit these qualifications.  A thing may be useful but not useful enough for us to give it a place in our home.  A personal example of this is a stationary KitchenAid mixer.  These are beautiful pieces of kitchen equipment and many baking recipes do require a mixer.  But, even though I like to bake, I have learned from experience that I really only use a mixer about 4 or 5 times a month (with a few exceptions for holidays).  So a better tool for me is my small hand-held mixer that I can store easily in a cabinet or drawer.  Maybe you bake all the time and you would use this mixer every day or several times a week.  By all means buy yourself a beautiful mixer!  But just because something has the potential to be useful doesn’t mean it deserves a place in your home.  In the same way, you can think something is pretty or cute but if it is not so uniquely beautiful that it greatly inspires or motivates you then it doesn’t deserve any of the coveted space on your counters or walls.

Before you put another thing in your cart or click Submit Order on Amazon or Etsy (obviously talking to myself there) ask yourself 4 questions.

Is this thing useful?
Do I already have something that will fulfill the same function?
Is this thing uniquely beautiful? 
Will I use/enjoy this thing for many years?

It’s that easy.  4 questions with real, honest answers.  Don’t be controlled by the consumerism machine.  You have the power to unplug and determine what your true needs are for yourself.  Be discerning and ruthless as you determine what you will let in to your home! Instead buy only what you need.

What to do when you are all wound up

Do you remember playing tetherball when we were kids?  You know the one where the ball is attached to a string on pole?  You hit the ball back and forth with another kid trying to get the string all wound up on one side or the other.  You hit the ball and it goes round and round winding up the rope in one direction.  Your opponent hits the ball and it unwinds and starts to wind up the other way.  Round and round the ball goes getting wound up and down and up again in a new way.  Eventually the winner is whoever can hit the ball so hard that ball goes around the pole so fast that the other player can’t act fast enough to stop it and all the rope is wound up tight.  Remember this game?  (I found these awesome tetherball videos for your viewing pleasure.)

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel a lot like that tetherball.  I’m just being whacked back and forth getting wound up about one thing and then the next.  Budgets due at work *whack*!  The house is a mess *whack*!  Accidentally replying all to that unfortunate email *whack*!  Parent/teacher conference *whack*!  Whatever the things are in your own life that cause you to get all wound up.  Confession time:  Nothing in this world makes me crazier than messy, dirty, and cluttered spaces.  And currently both my office and my home are in transition for a move.  So my office is a disaster.  My house is a disaster.  And I am a disaster.  I am all wound up and feeling pushed around by stuff outside of my control.  I want the stress ping-pong to stop but I can’t make it stop.

 Ever felt like that poor little tetherball being whacked back and forth between one stressful situation and another?

It is incredibly difficult to stop or even slow down this kind of stressful winding up.  There are a lot of things we have to deal with that we simply cannot control.  We cannot make our co-workers more agreeable or easier to work with and we cannot make our jobs any easier either (unless you get a new job).  Sometimes you are going to come up against deadlines and it is going to be challenging and exhausting.  We cannot control things like accidents or disease.  A phone call from a doctor or a police officer has the ability to send us reeling and change our lives forever.  We cannot control other people in our lives.  Our friends and family have the ability to make our lives very stressful.  Certain situations are always stressful- moving for instance.  Any kind of change can wind us up and make us feel like that out of control tetherball.

If this is where you are right now, please know I am sorry and I want to pray for you.  It is an awful, awful feeling to be trapped and tossed about by circumstances we can’t control.  It is not okay and I am so sorry.

So what’s the answer?  Well it’s not avoidance.  You can do all the right things to stay healthy and still get sick.  You can be the most productive worker in your office and still struggle with a particular assignment.  You can have an amazing relationship and still have to work through difficult issues.  You cannot out run it.  You cannot out plan it.  You cannot stop it.  S@#* happens.  And you can’t avoid it.

So now don’t you feel super encouraged?  Ok that’s it!  Have a great day!  Ok no, I’m totally kidding.  But seriously, I get it.  You can’t avoid it. You can’t stop it.  And all you want is to stop being whacked around by the stress and trouble in your life.  So what do you do?

I’ve only found one thing that works, at least for me.

I have to stop being the tetherball.  I have to step away.  

Get out of the game.  Take a break.  It does not make my problems go away.  I’m still going to have to face all that.  But for one day I don’t have to fight those battles.  For one day I can just breathe deeply and rest fully.  This sounds easy but can be very difficult to actually do.  If someone you love is battling cancer it can seem incredibly selfish to just step away for a day.  If you up against a deadline at work taking a day off can seem incredibly stupid.  But I’m not kidding when I say sometimes you have to just unwind.  It doesn’t have to be any big soul-searching retreat.  It can be as simple as spending one day at home in your pjs not doing laundry, chores, or answering emails.  It can be a movie-marathon.  It can be an epic bubble bath + good book combo.  It can be a day spent working on a project that does feed you- maybe a home DIY project, gardening, or a special craft project.  I’m not the boss of you.  YOU have to know yourself well enough to know what will feed your soul and let you rest (if you don’t  know what feeds you, you have a much, much bigger issue on your hands).

So my guess is now you are coming up with a list of reasons (excuses…let’s be real) why you can’t possibly take a day off.  You’ve got responsibilities!  You’ve got kids!  You are the primary caregiver!  You are the point person on the project!  No one else will take care of that!  Listen…some of that might be true.  Maybe even all of it is true.  But you still aren’t the most important thing in the world and the world will keep on spinning if you take a day off.  You can find someone to take your kids for an afternoon.  Or have time to yourself while they are at school or once they go to bed.  You can ask another family member to come take care of your ill loved one for a day (and choose a day when that is possible with schedules of doctors appointments and treatments).  You can delegate responsibility to another team member- and you know that once you take a break you will come back much more productive.  Letting yourself get so wound up that you snap helps NO ONE.  Stop pretending that it does.  You don’t have to be foolish and you do not have to be a martyr.

It may be difficult.  You may even feel some guilt (try to let that go) but when you are being whacked around by trial and tribulation and you are feeling all wound up you have to take a break.  You have to stop being the tetherball for just a little while and find your balance again.

 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.
 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
~Exodus 14: 10-14

When you feel slapped around by life remember that these aren’t your battles to fight alone.  And, I know this is going to make you uncomfortable but, you can’t win these on your own.  Life is hard.  We get stuck between an army and a wilderness.  Don’t just stand there and think it is better that you were dead (whiny Israelites can’t even see the redemption right in front of them…oops…I do that too).  Stand there and trust that the Lord will fight for you.  God will fight for you.

You are not a tetherball.  You are a loved child of God.  You can take a rest.  God will fight for you.  So for today…you only have to keep still.

Simple Living Series: What to do with the stuff

Hey it’s the fourth part of my series!  Huzzah for sticking to a series!

So having decided I want to live with less I am now forced to look at all of the things I own and decide what to keep and what to get rid of.  Then I have to figure out what to do with the stuff I want to get rid of.  I’ll be super honest and admit that I mostly wanted to throw it away.  Because I have a big trash can and that would be super easy.  And when you make the decision to get rid of it you just want it gone!!!!  But then I did some googling and learned some stuff that changed my mind.

In the United States we throw away enough trash each year to cover the entire state of Texas…twice.

Y’all may not know this but Texas is freaking big.  This is a lot of trash.  250 million tons of it to be exact.  And that trash isn’t going to remove itself.  The waste industry is a $52 billion/year industry.

We throw away enough aluminum for the entire auto industry to build new cars for a year.

Not only that but the average American family also throws away about 6 trees worth of paper every year.  We dump most of the magazines printed in the U.S. each year (about 8 million tons) into landfills. If we recycled just half of them, we could save over 12 million cubic yards of landfill space.  Americans throw away enough used motor oil every year to fill 120 supertankers.

Ok I think you get my point.  We are throwing away a lot of stuff that could be recycled or reused.  And all that trash has an impact globally.  We generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year. If we composted that food, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road.  There are 5 known garbage patches floating in our oceans from trash that didn’t make it into landfills.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
        reflecting our nature
    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
        the birds in the air, the cattle,
    And, yes, Earth itself,
        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
    God created human beings;
        he created them godlike,
    Reflecting God’s nature.
        He created them male and female.
    God blessed them:
        “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
    Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
        for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

~ Genesis 1: 26-28

God gave us responsibility over the Earth and told us to be good stewards, to be responsible, for all the things in it.  God’s beautiful creation is ours to care for and marvel at.  And we’ve gotten really good at filling it with trash.

In light of all of that there was no way I could throw away my purge-stuff and feel good about it!  The idea isn’t just to get rid of stuff but to learn to live with less- to be a good steward of my resources.  So once again I turned to the Internet.  I got online and have been selling stuff on online yard sales in my area!  I just take a picture of the thing I’m looking to find a new home for, post it online with some info and a price and wait.  And I haven’t had to wait long.  So far I have sold: curtains, a bag of work clothes, a box of picture frames, a shadow box, and 2 glass pumpkins.  Next on the chopping block are scarves, purses, and shoes.  I’m not selling it for much but it only takes $30 to fill my gas tank so a few things at $5 goes a long way to putting extra dough in my pocket which is really just a bonus since I wanted to get rid of the stuff anyway!  This can be a hassle if you don’t have the time to photograph each thing, post about it, and respond to any questions or comments.  Plus you do you have to meet up with whoever you are selling the item to unless you ship it, which has its own set of hassles.  I’ve just started sticking the items for sell in my trunk so that I’m ready to meet up with any buyers any time of day without having to run home real quick.  So far it hasn’t been an issue.

One of the things I quickly discovered was that there were somethings I couldn’t donate or sell.  For instance, when I was 9 my grandfather got me a nutcracker for Christmas.  He passed away from cancer that year and it was the last gift he gave me.  For years afterward family members would give me nutcrackers until I had quite the collection.  And I loved them.  They remind me of my grandfather who has now been gone 20 years.  My grandmother who passed away in 2008 usually gave me a nutcracker and so they’ve become a cherished memory of her as well.  But living in small spaces meant not having a place to display my collection and over the years my beloved nutcrackers have taken up permanent residence in storage units, attics, and spare closets.  So when I started going through my things I had to make a decision on whether or not to keep the nutcrackers.  I don’t want to sell them; they are priceless to me.  And I don’t think donating them makes any sense either.  So I’ve been giving them away to loved ones and I have to say I feel really good about it.  I have kept back 4 out of the 28 that have a special meaning for me and I have found other people who can cherish and love my other nutcrackers and what they mean to me.  So if you have heirlooms or gifts that have sentimental value but that don’t meet your criteria for keeping them think about who else would love to receive them as a gift.

There are plenty of other ways to find new homes for your stuff.  You can donate nice clothes to women’s shelters or community closets.  There are some cool organizations who help people improve their lives and provide for themselves by giving them professional clothing to go on job interviews.  And if you have some old formal dresses you want to get rid of you can also donate to groups like Operation Prom to help a young man or woman who wouldn’t be able to afford dress clothes  go to prom.  Then your stuff can become something that gives hope and joy to someone else!  What a great way to fight against consumerism and make your stuff work for you again!  I’ve also checked out Freecycle but haven’t posted anything on there yet or found anyone looking for what I’m giving away so I can’t say for sure how that one works but I’ll let you know if that changes (if you’ve used it please let me know how it’s worked for you!).

So that’s the plan: sale, give, and donate.  My 3 ways of simplifying my stuff without contributing to the landfills and waste!  There’s a lot of joy in knowing that someone else is finding enjoyment from my things.  Do you have any other tips, tricks, or thoughts on how to find new homes for our stuff?  I’d love to hear about it!  Happy purging!

Is United Methodist just a punch-line?

“The church is full of oxymorons.  Want to hear one?  United Methodist.”

I laughed.  It was funny.  But I also winced.  Because it’s painfully true.  Our unity as a denomination, as the church universal, has been a joke for a long time.  I can’t imagine what it looks like to people standing outside of our Christian community.  Well I sorta can.  I’m sure it looks ridiculous.  I’m sure it looks like we are haters and liars.  We say one of the marks of the church is unity…and then proceed to fight it out Jets and Sharks style (we do have some awesome songs and hand motions).

When I was younger, although certainly old enough to know better, one day I got mad at my sister.  She was annoying me even after I had asked her repeatedly to stop.  Finally I started yelling at her and then…I tried to choke her.  Not my finest hour.  I quickly realized this was a bad idea…like super quickly…and stopped.  I hadn’t consciously thought “Oh I should choke her now” but I was just so ticked off!  I was a kid, I was mad, and I had zero impulse control.  I don’t really remember what happened after that.  I remember letting go and backing away.  I remember her crying.  I remember my mom staring at me in disbelief as my sister had told her what happened.  But I mentioned it to my mom the other day and she doesn’t remember it.  My sister doesn’t really remember that much of it either.  But I remember it very vividly as one of the most shameful moments in my life.  I am the big sister.  My job is to love and protect and encourage.  But I got angry and it got ugly.

My sister and I are very close now.  We talk most days, although we both have very busy schedules so we don’t get to talk every day.  We definitely don’t agree on everything but we do respect and love one another too much to let that be an issue in our relationship.  We are sisters and that comes first.

I recognize that the bad blood and difficult divisions between our denominations and our church members run much deeper than anything that exists between my sister and I.  We don’t have centuries of animosity and bitter fighting between us.  But scripture tells us to love each other as brothers and sisters so we need to look at how families interact when they are at their best and try to learn from that. That means being respectful even when we disagree.  It means listening even when all we want to do is get up and walk away.  It means agreeing that no matter what we disagree on we are still family; we still love each other.

It doesn’t mean finding creative new ways to separate ourselves.  It doesn’t mean choosing sides and throwing separate parties during annual conference.  It doesn’t mean congratulating ourselves on our ability to be “mostly civil” when radical, familial love is the standard we are called to.

One of the fundamental parts of the Christian life is the celebration of the Eucharist, although some of us call it the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Table or maybe something else I’m not yet familiar with. We don’t all celebrate it in the same way, look at it in the same way, or celebrate it at the same time.  This fundamental ritual (sacrament, ordinance) of our faith shows the seriousness of our divisions.

Jesus sat at his table and blessed the bread and the wine in the presence of his actual enemy, Judas.  Yet as Christians we can’t come together over this same holy meal because we cannot agree on theological issues.  Don’t misunderstand me- the divisions in our denomination and the church universal run deep and a long way back.  I respect that these divisions are real and are often heartbreaking and critical for people.  Hear me clearly: I don’t deny that these divisions are real and important.  What I am denying is the idea that we can’t find a way to still be one church.  Really?  We can’t all agree that Jesus is Lord?  We can’t come to his table?  We can’t disagree with someone and still worship with them?  Still exist as one church?

It gets easy to separate from those who disagree with us when they aren’t people that we know or love.  And that’s hugely problematic because loving our neighbor is the second greatest commandment we have.  Is there any debate there?

If instead of seeing division and debate we saw people what would happen to our church?  If we picture it as one big feast with all the members of our church family seated at the table what would happen to our view of the church universal?  Could you stand on your chair and cast them out?  Could you refuse them a seat?

I’m not saying we have to agree.  Because frankly I’m not going to agree with everyone and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  But I don’t want to be the church without Africa.  I don’t want to be the church without Asia, Europe, South or Central America.  I don’t want to be the church without women, men, or children that don’t look like me.  I do want to try to love people as Christ loves them and see them as Christ sees them.  I want to find ways to compromise, to agree to disagree and to let that be ok.  Because I don’t want to not be in community with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

This first semester in seminary has been a struggle for me.  I’ve struggled with the sheer volume of differing thoughts, doctrines, and opinions.  How can we possibly hold all these things together?  And the truth is we can only do it if we hold them with an open hand.  If we close our hands and decide that these things alone must be right then we will have to let go of the ideas and people that don’t fit.  But if we hold them with an open hand we are able to stay in community and conversation.

I don’t agree with you.  I think your theology is sketchy at best.  But I love you as my brother/sister.  I love you because you too are made in the image of God.  I don’t want us to be divided.  Can we talk about it?  Can we each be uncomfortable so that we can at least be together?

I don’t have any real answers.  I only have a burning desire to take seriously our calling to be a united church.

I want to come to the table our Lord has set for us, together.