Simple Living Series: Get to know your stuff

When I started packing all those things up to move last time I was amazed at how much stuff I had bought and then forgot about.  You know the stuff I mean; the back of the closet, still in the bag, hidden in the shame of an impulse buy stuff.  I found candle holders, picture frames, an antique jewelry box, a ridiculous amount of t-shirts (thank you, youth ministry), and some shoes that are super cute…and uncomfortable.  And to my eternal shame most of those things got boxed up and moved to the next location anyway.

Our cluttering stuff tends to break down into a few groups.

  1. Stuff We Use
  2. Stuff We Love
  3. Stuff We Wish We Used
  4. Stuff We Wish We Loved

Stuff We Use

This category is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s made up of the stuff you actually use every day or at least 4 times a week.  So things like my computer, my hairbrush (or most toiletries in general…although not all so don’t get crazy.), and my purse.  (Ok Jesus Juke moment:  I feel like I should say my Bible.)

Stuff We Love

This category is for stuff that we love!  That shirt that just makes you feel so confident.  That coffee maker that gets that blissful first cup to you sooner.  That awesome piece of art that makes you smile every time you look at it.  Basically anything that just makes you happy- it goes here.

Stuff We Wish We Used

This category is awkward because this is the category that gives us guilt.  This is the category for the unused exercise equipment, the unused cleaning gadgets, and the unused cookware.  This is the category of “I know I should but…”.  And everybody has got it.  We have the best intentions and we buy this stuff in a fervor of get-it-done attitude (I am looking at you yoga stuff).  But the next day the fervor passes and the stuff gets relegated to the back of a closet fueling our self-loathing when we stumble across it every so often.

Stuff We Wish We Loved

This category is for the stuff that we bought because we thought owning it would make us better or happier.  Like that cute top that somehow was going to help you change your entire wardrobe but you never wear it because it’s not comfortable.  Or those shoes that are just gorgeous but pinch your toes.  Or that china set that was just so elegant in the store but that you are afraid to use.  This is the stuff that you hoped would be the glass slipper that would whisk you off to a happily ever after but it doesn’t seem to fit just right.

2 things before we go any further.  Yes it is possible for an item to fit into more than one category simultaneously and no not every little thing will definitely fit into a category (so please don’t waste precious time trying to come up with stuff to mess with my system).  But most things, probably 95%, will fit into at least one of these categories.  Frequently we just haven’t thought about which category a particular item falls in.  And we can’t decide what to do with a thing before we know which category it calls home.

So your minimalist challenge for the day is this:  get to know your stuff!

Look at all the items in your home.  Walk around, look in the back of closets, under beds, in the garage.  And ask yourself these questions about the things you see:

  1. Do you use it?  How often?
  2. Do you love it? What makes it so awesome?
  3. What would your daily life be like if you didn’t have it?

That’s it!  So go introduce yourself to your stuff and try and figure out which category it fits into.

Don’t worry I’ll wait.  Take your time! 😉

Simple Living Series: Deciding to be a minimalist

I graduated from high school in 2003.  Since then I have moved 11 times.  That’s right I have moved 11 times in 11 years.  And no I didn’t move every year.  Some years I had the joy of moving more than once.  Mostly I’m ok with moving…which is good since I want to be a United Methodist pastor.  But the last time I moved I got really frustrated with myself.  It was the first time I had lived on my own in a place that wasn’t the size of a postage stamp.  And somehow in the 2 years I lived there I had acquired quite a few new things.  Without realizing it I had filled every nook and cranny of that place.  I stood in my closet, filled with clothes I never really wore (since you always have just a few you really love), shoes I barely wore (they hurt!), and jewelry I had bought on a whim and I just felt so guilty.  I’m not super good at math (although in case he is reading, I do think it is super important, David) but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a lot of money went into building a wardrobe that I barely utilized.  And that would be one thing but every room in the house was this way.  Every cabinet, closet, and shelf was filled with stuff most of which was only used for collecting dust.  And don’t get me started on the storage closet filled with things I might need at some point but had so far not touched.  But what was I supposed to do?  Life requires stuff, right?  So I got rid of a few things, boxed the rest, and moved it to the next place.

But over the last year and a half I have begun to lean more on the hate side of the love/hate relationship I have with my stuff.  I started routinely going through my closet and mercilessly purging because it would feel so freeing to be rid of some of my stuff!  I started freaking out about things like dish towels…how many dish towels do you have to have anyway????   My stuff is a burden constantly requiring my time and attention to clean and maintain it.  My stuff wants to be the boss of me.   And I have had it.

Enter my decision to be a minimalist.

I don’t know how you feel about your stuff and I’m not trying to tell you what to do.  Deciding to live with less is a decision I’ve made after a few years of reading, studying, talking to people, and consistently paring down my stuff.  I’ve found that it is really true…I don’t need as much stuff as I thought!  And more than that I love having more space and less clutter!

And now I’m moving again.  This time from a house into an apartment.  A smallish apartment that I fell in love with because of its quiet, beautiful community and simple layout.  It’ll hold just what I need.  And that’s the point.  Not to just get rid of a bunch of old stuff but to really find the joy in living with less.  To appreciate small things and find contentment in enough.  I’m done buying a bunch of stuff because I think I need it until I forget about it.  I want to buy just what I need and really enjoy it!  I want to enjoy the things I already have and actually use it.  But mostly I want to make space so that God can move.

My life is, and has been for a very long time, filled to the brim.  With work, friends, family, school, and church I always have a full calendar.  I love all of the ministry, learning, and working I get to be a part of and I love all the people I get to share it with.  My heart is full!  I want to make intentional space so that my life can be full of those things without the weight of consumerism and material possessions holding me back.

So this starts what I hope will be a regular series on something I’m passionate about- finding joy in living with less.  I’ll share my transition with you guys and talk some more about some of the myriad of reasons I’m starting on this adventure.  My hope is that it makes you think about the things that you are holding on to and that we can find common ground as we work out what it means to be content with enough.

 

For more info on minimalism or how to become a minimalist check out these sites:

What Is Minimalism?

21 Benefits of Owning Less

http://bemorewithless.com/

Or check out these books*:

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

I love Francine Jay and her book Miss Minimalist started me on this awesome journey to less!  This book is great with helpful hints and lots of inspiration.

Living in the Land of Enough by Courtney Carver

The thing I love about this book is that the author references her faith something I totally identify with.  This one definitely tops my minimalist book list!

Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life by Joshua Becker

This book has some great tips and advice to get you on the way to cleaning and decluttering your house right away!
*Full disclosure- I have read these books and I think they rock but I am not some kind of fancy-pants reviewer.  So if you don’t like ’em don’t blame me.  No one has paid me for mentioning any of their work and all opinions are my own.

 

 

Smelling the Roses

My sister had a science teacher in junior high who was teaching them about different parts of the body.  To help them remember  olfactories (which is something in your nose…it’s your sense of smell I guess) she told them that old people smell. Ol-Old-Old people smell.  I thought it was hilarious.

The other day I was giving some test taking tips to a student who was experiencing a lot of test anxiety.  I told her my best tip is to spray yourself with a certain kind of perfume- whatever kind you like- each time you study.  Then right before the test spray yourself with it again.  Your sense of smell will help you remember what you studied.

One time I heard a sermon about the Kingdom of God.  The sermon equated it with coming home and how for the preacher coming home always reminded him of baking bread.  The ingenious worship director placed bread machines throughout the worship center so that all throughout church that morning everywhere you went it smelled like baking bread.  It really drove the point home…and made me hungry.

All of this to say that there is incredible power in smell.  Apparently a lot of what we taste when eat a delicious meal comes from the smell of it. (Click here for more weird facts about smell.)  Try it some time.  Pinch your nose and take a couple of bits of something.  Then let go of your nose (what a weird thing to type) and take a deep whiff of whatever you’re eating (this will probably not make much of a difference with Lucky Charms so ya know…try it with real food) and see if you notice a difference with the next couple of bites.

The way things smell can bring us so much enjoyment but we don’t often stop and really smell things.  Lately I’ve made a practice of taking a deep breaths as an attempt to relax and enjoy each moment.  And I’ve noticed there are certain things that I just love to smell.  Garlic roasting, laundry as it’s tumbling around in the washing machine, the weird chemical smell of a nail salon.  I love the smell just before and after a good rain.  I like the way the library on campus smells- old books, plastic technology, and wood polish.

In an article from the Mirror Online (look for the link below) it says “Studies show that 75% of emotions are triggered by smell which is linked to pleasure, well-being, emotion and memory…”  So maybe the expression stop and smell the roses isn’t such a joke after all.  Maybe we are designed to be able to have this small moments of joy and stress-relief throughout our day by stopping and smelling something good.

Have you stopped?  Have you appreciated any of the tiny, beautiful details around you?  Are you so busy running that you don’t even see the roses?

Today, may you take the time to stop, smell the roses, and appreciate the small details of the good things around you.

PS:  I hope your day doesn’t stink!  (See what I did there?)
Check out this article for some more interesting facts about smell:  http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/20-fascinating-facts-sense-smell-1977351#ixzz3F0KJqWnN
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Forget and Forgive

It’s Thursday morning.  Spent all of last weekend in San Antonio on a girl’s weekend with my mom, sister, aunt, and some other lovely ladies.  Worked the beginning of the week squeezing what used to be a 5 day work-week into 2 days (I was out Sunday).  Drove to Dallas Tuesday night, got to campus and went to bed.  Up early on Wednesday to read for class, and go to class for 7.5 hours, wrote a paper, and attempted to be social (which really just looks like me eating and nodding…or being incredibly grouchy…I’m grouchy this week).  And now it’s Thursday.  I usually get to the library early and get as much work as possible done all day.  I have a spiritual formation group at 1:30 and a class from 6-9 but I spend the rest of the day reading or writing or whatever other work I have.  But it’s Thursday morning and all I have managed so far is a shower, a trip to Starbucks where I chugged a double shot of espresso and watched Netflix on my laptop, and now I am in the library in a comfy chair with my feet propped up on a table (possibly not supposed to be doing that) reading some stuff I found online last week.  So…a productive morning to be sure.

I am certain you have had days like that.  When the work of your life just doesn’t seem to compare to the sweet, sweet idea of doing…nothing.  When you need to drink a cup of coffee and just troll around online.  Or take a long walk outside.  Or read a book you’ve been neglecting.  Or whatever your thing is.

To be sure, the work of our lives is just that- work.  Whether it’s a job someone pays you for, a ministry you feel called to, a tiny human (or humans) who you are caring for and raising, volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about, or whatever it is, the things that we dedicate ourselves to can sometimes become overwhelming.

It is a joy to have work to set your mind and your might to but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have times when your brain is tired and your body is worn out.   

Today is that day for me.  And yes I will still drag myself to class. Truthfully, once I get there I will probably really enjoy it because my professor is SO SMART and I love hearing what he says about New Testament interpretation.  But all that other stuff I would normally be doing this morning…I’m going to forget about it and forgive myself.  Maybe after lunch I’ll feel up to it.  Maybe it won’t be till tomorrow or Saturday or Sunday.  But most likely it’ll be later this afternoon when I’ve let myself take a break for a while.  Cause sometimes you need to take a break.  Yes the work you do is important but it’s not more important than you.  There is always someone who can pick up your slack for a while.  Someday you’ll be that person for someone else.  Forget about it for right now and forgive yourself.  And then get back to it tomorrow.  Or Saturday.  Or next week.

Because you aren’t valuable for the work you do but simply because you exist.  

You don’t have to do anything today to earn your spot in the world.  Right now you can breath and it’ll be ok.  Seriously…it will.  Promise.  It might not feel like it but it really will.

Forget it and forgive yourself.  Hang in there!  If I can pray for you today I would LOVE to do that.  Just comment or message me!

Hello again.

It’s been about a million years since I posted.  Life gets busy…I find other things to do.

Today however I am feeling the need to write.  To explain to the universe what in the world is going on in my head right now.  Mostly because seminary is a weird, weird place.

I’m in the library now, theoretically finishing my reading assignment for class tonight and writing a self-inventory of my current understanding of the New Testament.  Not sure what to write I’ve ended up here instead.  The guy behind me is typing so aggressively I think he must be trying to punish the enter key on his keyboard (seriously…what could it have possibly done to merit such torture???  calm down!!)  The guy across from me is reading something old looking…and text messaging up a storm.  There are scantly clad undergrad girls wondering around outside and dazed-looking grad students scurrying around with those backpacks on wheels because they have too many books and NO TIME!  Did I mention seminary is a weird place?

One of my classes is called Introduction to Christian Theology…a very serious title.  One of the assigned readings for that class asserted that theology is “paying attention to God” and how God is related to everything going on in the world (or I suppose also how everything going on in the world is relating to God).  It’s been stuck in my head since we read it last week…theology as simply paying attention.  Here, at school, I only have 1 thing to do…school…so things seem to move a little slower and I seem to notice a lot more of the small things.  Like how I really really like blueberries.  And the odd way the buildings smell- old, musty, and…something else sorta spicy.  I notice how kind and eager for contact people are…and how guarded and careful some people have had to become.  See earlier note about noticing the aggressive typing of the guy behind me.  Basically I’m just sort of creeping on everyone and everything around me.  And I’m finding it very, very interesting.

The absurdity of it all grabs me sometimes.  These fancy buildings (totally have a crush on the library) and important scholarly terms (ask me about eschatology…no wait, please don’t) all seem a bit absurd if the light is right and you tilt your head a little.  But then there are also moments of such eye-opening clarity and soul-refreshing honesty that you think “oh, yes. finally.”   It’s like everything else- a mix of the beautiful and the broken, the holy and mundane (guy behind me just burped LOUDLY).

And there are a lot of new ideas and new cultures and new ways of thinking that I just don’t know what to do with.  A professor yesterday told us that the story of Barrabas might be just a metaphor for Jesus taking the place of every human being on the cross.  Really?  Ok…I’m not sure what to do with that.  In another class we discussed the brokenness of systems- like juvenile detention systems- but can’t figure out how the church should address it.  Not sure what to do with that.  My roommate anointed the furniture in our rooms with olive oil from the kitchen so that she could feel the presence of God.  Not sure what to do with that.  There are people in my classes who struggle with whether or not they even believe in God…and they are in seminary?  Not sure what to do with that either.

At first all of these things had me worried.  What am I going to do???  And then the answer…which is such a gift…do nothing.  Just be for now.  Let it all exist in all it’s glorious tension.  Let it happen around you and flow through you but don’t hold on to it.  Just let it be.  At some point I’ll have to wrestle with some of this stuff but I’m not graduating tomorrow…I’ve got time.  Today’s job is just to pay attention to God…and get back to work on this self-inventory.

Toughen Up, Buttercup

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I’m a Southern belle from Texas through and through. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s back porch one afternoon talking to her about something or another that I was working on or wanted, I honestly don’t remember now what it was, and she was encouraging me to go after it. She said ” There are no shrinking violets in our family.”

Is this just a Southern expression? I don’t know who else says it but it’s definitely an apt description of most of the women in my family. We are tough, stubborn, opinionated, and hard working. We get stuff done even
though sometimes we run right over people to get it done. That sounds negative but truthfully it’s one of my favorite inherited qualities (the ability to drop grade A sass at a moment’s notice is also in this category).

Sometimes I get the impression that I am supposed to feel negatively about this ability to just push right through stuff. I rarely feel guilty about it though because in a culture that avoids conflict of any kind, including healthy conflict, and spends 30 minutes crafting the perfect vague and unassuming email I tend to find myself uniquely situated to help move things along. And I like that.

I wasn’t always like that. I mean opinionated and stubborn sure but ready to tackle problems? Not so much. Avoidance was the order of the day. But I was blessed by some really tough situations when I was younger and it taught me that it’s better to deal with stuff head on and aggressively than to let them build steam and cause more problems for you later. You tackle enough of the tough stuff long enough and you start to realize that it’s not so tough after all. You CAN do this…even if you thought you couldn’t.

I know there will be more problems that come my way and no matter how tough I am I won’t be able to tackle all of them. I can’t cure loved ones who get sick or create jobs for unemployed friends. But I can go to doctor’s appointments, do research, and hold a frightened hand. I can keep the faith when it seems like no help is coming and I can ask everyone I know if they are hiring or know of someone who is. I can’t think of many instances when there isn’t something you can do…even if it won’t fix everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have cried buckets when people I love have been hurting and there is nothing I can do to alleviate that hurt. I have spent long hours in prayer asking for answers that didn’t come. But, as I’ve grown, I have learned that crying and sorrow aren’t the same thing as surrendering to despair. And I have found the ability to move forward in the faith knowing that unanswered prayers don’t mean that your prayers weren’t heard.

The world is broken and not as it should be but people of faith are tough people. We aren’t tough because of the things we have weathered but because we know the One who calms the storms. We press on and fight on and look for blessings in broken places because we know that the brokenness of this world doesn’t have the last say. We know that sorrow, loss, death, ruin, and decay are going to come to an end one day. We don’t bow to the powers of this world because we know that only Jesus is Lord…so nothing else can be.

Stuff is going to happen and you are going to have to be tough. But you don’t have to be tough alone.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4: 4

So be brave today. I know it’s hard and I know it feels like it is coming at you from all sides.

But…

It won’t always be this hard.

It won’t last forever.

You don’t have to face it alone.

Go get ’em.

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A Good Story

I love a good story.  I’ve always loved reading and I can remember getting really, really, excited about the next The Babysitters Club book (shout out to you 1990’s).  There’s something about a good story that just draws you in and makes you believe anything and everything is possible.  Good stories don’t all have great writing.  Sometimes the writing is only ok but people will find the story compelling (thus the success of the Twilight series).  But when you combine great writing and a good story you end up with something absolutely amazing.  The book series that immediately pops in my mind is the Song of Fire and Ice series, although lots of people are calling it the Game of Thrones series now since it has been made into a tv show.  Don’t get me wrong I love the show…but the books!  It’s great writing with a great story.  The characters are amazing!  And for me, ultimately that is the sign of a good story.  How interesting, engaging, and dynamic are the characters.  Jamie Lannister is one of those characters.  He seems so evil (his nickname is the Kingslayer…so…not the hero then), so twisted (he is a little too close to his twin sister…if ya catch my drift), and so selfish.  But the more you read the more you begin to see him as something else.  And over time he starts to change and transform.  I haven’t finished the series yet, mostly because neither has the author.  But good stories take time.  I’ll wait.

 

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This picture has a pretty good story behind it.  I guess technically it has a lot of stories because it was taken while I was on a trip to Israel with my bible study group and other people from that church which is also where my parents attend.  So my parents were on this incredible trip with me.  And we learned a lot about a lot of stuff.  And I could tell you about all the jokes and laughs because there tons.  Clearly somebody had said something that made me laugh and giggle in this picture but I don’t remember what it was now.  I don’t even honestly remember taking the picture.  I was jet lagged and had been taken all over Israel where everything is uphill so my memory of picture moments is sketchy at best.  But this is still my favorite picture from our trip.  Not because of where we were or how adorable we look but because it’s me and my mom laughing and hugging.  ‘Cause that wouldn’t have been such a likely picture about a decade ago.  We fought A LOT when I was a teenager.  I was difficult and more than a little crazy and my mom had her own stuff to deal with (like we all do) and we just kept colliding.  I remember the time I told her in one particularly painful phone call that I didn’t believe in Jesus anymore.  She cried.  I was shocked she didn’t already know.  It took work, lots of patience, lots of talking, honesty, and unconditional love (my mom’s particular specialty) but now we are best friends.  I trust her 100% and I love her like crazy.  I didn’t know we would ever be able to be this close or that I would ever think of her as my friend. We share our faith as easily as we share everything else.  I count on her for guidance and support more than any other person on this planet and I am never let down.  Our relationship is such an unexpected gift.  And this picture captures it perfectly- love, fun, and faith.  That’s me and the Tougs (my mom’s awesome nickname).  I think we have a pretty good story.

I have these two great friends who are in youth ministry.  They got married a few years ago after finding each other later in life.  They both have other kids but they are older- in fact they just graduated their youngest daughters from high school.  And they also just found out they are expecting a baby!  We were celebrating this incredible news last weekend when my friend started to talk about his reaction to finding out he is going to be a new dad again at 51 (his wife has given me permission to say she is only 37 😉  Seriously they are one of the cutest couples on the planet).  I thought it was really beautiful.  He said “I lay down to go to sleep at night and all the sudden open my eyes, look at my wife, and am like…we’re pregnant!  It’s crazy!  Who gets to have such an amazing life?  To find her, to share in this amazing, fulfilled life, and to have a baby now?  Who gets something this crazy good?  Who gets a life this good?”

Who get a life this good?  The redeemed.  That’s who.  Those who know they have been bought at a price and brought into the family.  People who are living in the richness of God’s grace.  Life isn’t always perfect or easy (I would imagine a baby will add some new challenges) but it is always blessed.  Every redemption story is a good story.

 

I don’t know what your story is or what you want it to be.  I don’t know what kinds of tragedies, mistakes, and heartaches have been written on your heart.  But I do know it isn’t too late to celebrate a good story.  The redemption that was offered to me is offered to you too.  You don’t have to write another line.  Let the Author and Perfecter of our faith write your story.  God is the ORIGINAL writer and He writes some good stuff.  He writes stories of love, rescue, peace, joy, defying the odds, and so much more.  The Bible isn’t a collection of just random stuff.  It’s the collection of the redemption stories of our faith.  It shows and reminds us of the power of redemption.  Because in the redemption story what was cursed becomes blessed, what was damaged becomes whole, and what was broken becomes beautiful.

 

May you find grace in the redemption of your story.  May you see the ways God is already at work in your life just waiting to bring you back into the family.  And may you find joy in a good, good story.

 

I would love to hear your story of redemption if you would like to share it!  You can email me or post it in the comments.