Casting Stones

Friends, I just have to say that I am consistently, completely and utterly disgusted by the lack of kindness in our world and the overabundance of judgment.

And we are all guilty of failing to be kind and judging; each and every one of us. That includes me. And you.

I have had a lot on my mind in the wake of the awful tragedy in Orlando and the ensuing, endless arguing, name-calling and unproductive dialogue on social media. What I see exploding all over the internet today makes me feel sick, sad, angry, and even a little defensive all at the same time.

Hopelessness for our world begins to creep in when so many precious lives are lost all at once for no reason. Hopelessness tugs at me as I watch those of us who are still here start pointing fingers and declaring where the blame “clearly” belongs.

A few weeks ago, I sat in church listening to an incredible part of a journey through the book of Romans. We talked about judgment and how we as humans aren’t fit (or called upon) to judge others. The majority of the talk was directed at Christians.

In Jesus’ time, the “religious folks” of the day sat on their high and mighty thrones, judging everyone for not being as good as they were. They condemned others for breaking God’s laws (which the others did). But they were routinely reprimanded by Jesus for their haughty ways.

Let me be clear that as a Christian with many Christian friends and acquaintances, the picture of Christianity that’s so often presented today saddens me deeply and does not reflect the kind of life that many of us lead. We’re called hateful, we’re called archaic, and we’re called out of touch with reality.

A good bit of that rhetoric will always be there; Jesus said as much.

But we are not without blame, church. We, too, like the religious folk of old, so easily sit behind our fences and point out the sins of others.

Yet Romans 2:1 says, “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”

While this passage is directed at the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, I believe it holds

kindness
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

priceless wisdom for ALL of us today; Christian or not. The Bible says to “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” (Hint: ain’t nobody justified to throw stones.)

I would also like to be clear that I believe in right and wrong. I have opinions and beliefs just like everyone else. But I also know that I am not the judge. That’s God’s job-not mine, not yours.

Hug a gay friend today, you guys. Send kind words to a horrified and scared community of fellow human beings on this planet, whom God loves. Let them, or any other individual or group that has suffered a tragedy (recent or not) know that you haven’t forgotten.

After all, your kindness will go a lot farther than your preaching.

To quote the wonderful Oswald Chambers, “Jesus Christ was always consistent in His relationship to God, and a Christian must be consistent in his relationship to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to strict, unyielding doctrines. People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.”

 

Practice What Matters

Just over one year ago today, I made a huge change and left my job to “take a year off and see where the good Lord leads me.” And what a year it’s been.

Many things changed over this past year. It was scary at first, taking such a big leap. It was hard and I spent a lot of time feeling guilty over it. Yet I knew, deep in my soul, that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

I was a good 8-9 months into my year away from work before I had the faintest glimmer of

live an authentic life.jpg
Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens Manor House – Ball Ground, GA

what I might actually be meant to do. But those 8-9 months were crucially important because of the things I learned and the ways God changed my heart.

In a way, leaving my job was the first huge step in my personal journey of simplification. Back then, Husband and I had a big dream of moving out to California. I thought about it a lot. Too much, honestly! So much, sometimes, that it caused me great discontent because I was still here in Georgia instead.

And even though I hadn’t yet learned to be thankful enough or content enough with the beautiful life I already had, that too was an important part of the journey. A major impetus to my purging and donating of stuff was the idea that I “wouldn’t want to move across the country” with many of the items I was choosing to part with.

Thankfully, something quite different emerged than discontent and preparing myself for a move that we didn’t end up making.

Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that I’d been holding onto a lot of stuff that would be infinitely more useful to someone else. I realized how selfish I’d been; how I needed to emanate gratitude instead of my own personal desires.

I started this blog to document this journey of simplification and re-discovered my love for writing. I said out loud that I’d always wanted to write a book. I even started writing a little something about my own life and struggles with fear/anxiety.

But recently, I’ve felt pulled into a different book direction: fiction. I’ve been away from

character development
The joys of the character creation worksheet!

here because I’ve been immersing myself there. I’ve been reading about writing fiction and developing good characters and elements of a good plot line.

I’ve been plotting my plot and asking friends if I can build pieces of their unique and beautiful lives into my characters.

I have no idea what will come of this. But I am going to write it. And I am going to be more diligent about coming here to write, too, because making time to practice the things that matter to us ensures we’re living authentic lives.

I’d still love to live in California someday. But the circumstances in which I find myself really shouldn’t matter. Writing and reading and cooking and taking pictures are important to me; my faith and friends and family and pets are important to me – so I’m planning to practice doing and loving each of these to the best of my ability.

The Art of Abandon

As I’ve continued to read about and pursue minimalism in my life, I’ve found that it beautifully complements and encourages what I’ve been learning in my faith walk as well. In fact, I’d say these days, the two are deeply intertwined.

Letting go of material possessions and learning to hold loosely to the things that remain has me viewing my own faith in new light. It has me holding myself to a higher standard than I used to and questioning my motives. It has me fired up about how many of us might be missing out on the joy of a simple life; a life of real, full, joyful abandon to our God. A life that isn’t searching for security or happiness in the things of this world, but finds joy in the beauty of the present moment. True contentment.

Since I began my own version of this journey, I’ve become increasingly wary of and skeptical of the pursuit of material possessions. I’ve also realized the many, many ways that I (and tons of other Christians) justify these sorts of pursuits. In fact, the message that we all need something bigger, better, or more is so ingrained in most of us that we barely have the ability to recognize it. We work hard to afford all the things we think we need.

Far beyond material possessions, we all get so bogged down in OUR lives and OUR wants and OUR finances and OUR dreams and bettering OURselves and OUR everything that we forget there’s a greater purpose to life than US. My biggest beef with a lot of the literature on minimalism (and even a lot of what I’ve heard in church culture) is that it subtly encourages selfishness. Today’s world encourages far too much focus on ME. This too is such an integral part of our culture that we hardly notice this preoccupation, either.

Without intentional vigilance, we become shackled and consumed by our stuff and by our own concerns. We forget that life is about our Creator, and not what He can do to help us achieve our wants. We want to control our lives. We forget to let Him control, to hold loosely, to be “cautiously carefree.”

My favorite morning devotional is “My Utmost for His Highest,” written by Oswald Chambers. I love it because it’s not all fluff. It’s real, challenging, and causes the best kind of uncomfortable soul-searching for Christians.

Monday’s devotional said, “Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the Word He puts in us? Is it the Devil? No – ‘the cares of this world’ (Matthew 13:22). It is always our little worries. We say, ‘I will not trust when I cannot see’ – and that is where unbelief begins. The only cure for unbelief is obedience to the spirit. The greatest word of Jesus to His disciples is ‘abandon.'”

This is so timely and practical for us, Christians. Ultimately, our attempts to control our lives shut God out. Ultimately, control is unbelief – a huge sin. I think many Christians have decided to serve a very small God. We aren’t abandoned. We’re holding on tightly to things, beliefs, ideas about how we think our lives ought to turn out, our problems, our frustrations, our looks…the cares of this world.

We forget there is a world after this one; that our hope comes from Him alone.

In a fantastic message this Sunday, our pastor gave a list of 4 specific things we do that incite this conflict with God and spark His wrath:

  • We suppress the truth
  • We stop seeing God in creation
  • We don’t give thanks
  • We buy into the religion of “me”

How much of this do we see in ourselves, in our actions? Are we letting the Truth of God’s Love flow through us? Are we actively looking for His love all around us? Are we thanking Him for everything we have (and don’t have)? Is our religion more about ourselves and what we want than it is about Him and His purposes?

As pastor Alan said, we have over-desires. It’s the culture we live in, it’s the insidiousness of being too focused on ourselves. And in Romans 1:18-25, we see God giving people over to their desires, in hopes that they, that we, will return to Him when that thing we want or think we need doesn’t satisfy (because it can’t).

The mere idea that God would “give me over” to some earthly thing I desire because He wants me to find it void, and return to Him is terrifying to me. I hope I never hold onto any care of this world that tightly.

The cares of the world scream at us, pull us this way and that, promising to eventually

cautiously carefree
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

make us feel peaceful, feel at home. But nothing on this earth can do that. Nothing here can fulfill that longing we have. That is the hope of Heaven!

Let’s stop pursuing it in our material possessions. Let’s stop pursuing it in our relationships. Let’s stop pursuing it in our worldly accomplishments, in a quest for perfection or in the way we look.

Again, I go back to Oswald Chambers as he writes, “Jesus did teach that His disciple must make his relationship with God the dominating focus of his life, and to be cautiously carefree about everything in comparison to that.”

So Christians, let’s keep asking ourselves: what is the dominating focus of my life? What do I spend most of my time thinking about, doing, talking about, writing about, reading about? Is it my relationship with Him? Or is it the cares of the world?

Let’s be vigilant; aware of the culture around us – both inside and outside the church. We will never be perfect, but we must strive to be holy in our relationship to Him. Let us hold loosely to all else; cautiously carefree and abandoned to His will alone.

 

Therefore, GO

Part of this process of simplifying life involves taking a hard look at myself and my habits. This means I must be willing to confront ugliness and disobedience to God in myself.

I used to think way too much about myself and what I wanted. God has been changing my heart in big ways, and I am so thankful to Him for that. After all, if I am to place Him above me, I want and need Him to shine a light in my darkest places.

As a Christian, the idea of dying to self and living for Jesus is not new, but in this journey it’s becoming more real and tangible. I must become less, He must become more. Giving away material possessions and the resulting desire to have less rather than more encourages me to look up rather than in; encourages me to lower self and elevate Him.

Of course, I am far from perfect and still tempted to spend too much time thinking about me. The very hardest thing to let go of is your own life-in complete abandonment to what God has planned. But His will is best, not mine. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.”

Likewise, the notion that as believers, we are called to tell others about God is nothing new. And I think this command can look very different in different people’s lives. But the fact remains that if we are not telling others about Jesus, we are not being obedient.

Matthew 28:18-20 says: “Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Therefore, GO. This is part of God’s will for believers. What does GO look like in your life? In mine? I believe the Lord will show us if we will only give up control and let Him. Today, GO might look like sitting in the quiet and writing. Tomorrow, GO might look like inviting a friend that’s struggling to dinner or coffee. Next year, GO might look much bigger or much different. Regardless of what GO looks like each day, month and year, God promises to be with us. That is great news!

And as I learn and practice simple living one day at a time, I find it easier to be present in the present, not wishing or worrying about tomorrow’s GO. Of course we can’t take day-to-day living to an extreme; some planning and thoughtfulness about the future is certainly not wrong. But it becomes a hindrance if we do it in excess. There is a difference between obsessive planning and an unyielding adherence to our own idea of what God is going to do vs. trust, patience and flexibility.

see blessings
Photo: Taken en route to Riviera Maya, Mexico

This is something I have to be very diligent about, given my propensity to control. The practice of letting go has never come easily to me. Perhaps that is the reason I feel compelled to pursue it now.

I would encourage finding ways to let go. What are you holding tightly to that might need to be abandoned back into His care? Take a break from worrying, take a deep breath and see all the blessings you already have. Look at the life God has given you with fresh, thankful eyes. There’s always something to be thankful for.

Remember that feelings are fickle and it’s a choice to indulge in the negative ones. As a fantastic article I read this morning pointed out, “You can stop complaining about your life circumstances, about your losses, about how the world is, and just let go and love what is. Just be. Just accept. Just appreciate.”

You have all you need to enjoy today. Practice looking up instead of in and be flexible enough to go where He leads, when He leads.

Cultivating Mindful Living

It’s been about a month since I resolved to stay off Social Media and avoid mindless internet browsing until after 12 pm.

Honestly, I felt the benefits of this from day 1. Mornings, especially mornings where I have to be somewhere by a particular time, are much less rushed. I feel calmer without all of the “noise” that accompanies social media posts (think politics) and the internet in general.

That being said, I still have moments where I am uncomfortable; moments when I instinctively reach for my phone as a distraction. I think I am still learning just how much this dumb rectangle has enslaved me.

If there’s a lull in conversation, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m waiting for someone to arrive, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m not ready to jump into the days activities and feel like lingering longer, keep occupied with the phone.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve cheated on some of my mindfulness goals a time or two. Like popping on HGTV with my Sling TV app during lunch this past weekend (which I haven’t done in WEEKS) because, in my own words, “It’s the weekend and I don’t care.” I’ve opened social media roughly 3-5 times before 12 pm; most times I caught myself and closed it. Other times I was actually looking for something specific (like testing how quickly WordPress publishes my  blogs on Facebook after I linked the two).

It’s definitely challenging to just BE in those blank spaces of life and that is the thing I want to work on the most. The truth is, learning to be mindful is not easy-it’s work. But I believe if I keep working at it, mindful living will become my habit rather than acquiescing to constantly available distractions and an inability to focus.

After several weeks of eating my breakfast in solitude at the little table off the kitchen by myself, it still feels weird to sit in silence and NOT be playing on my phone or iPad. It still feels like an effort sometimes. Yet I know it’s fostering more of a sense of calm in me as I start my days. It’s forcing me to be present, be in the now.

And that’s truly one of my big life goals: to live as much in the here and now as possible. We’ve all heard “take it one day at a time” so often that it hardly holds meaning anymore. But if most of us would stop and think about that, I think we’d realize that perhaps we spend a lot less time in the here and now than we should.

The Bible says that God gives us grace for each day; that we ought not to worry about the

enjoy the journey
Photo taken: Kennesaw Mountain, GA

future. To me, living mindfully and focusing on His presence through each part of my day is the ultimate freedom. Not worrying about tonight or tomorrow or next week/month/year. Not being so preoccupied by stuff or my to-do list or what I want to accomplish that I lose sight of what’s truly important in life.

I want my journeys to be as full of love and joy as my destinations. And it is in the seemingly mundane moments of life these past several weeks that I’ve seen the power of a daily focus on God’s presence and the present. I’ve seen more beautifully colored flowers and trees while driving to and from my normal weekly destinations. I’ve heard more bird songs as I’ve sat quietly with no distractions on the front porch. I’ve smiled at more strangers while I grocery shop.

The big moments of life are certainly great, but it is when I’m present enough today to notice the tiny ones that my heart explodes with joy, gratitude, and love for the journey itself.

Re-naming The Bucket List

It’s a rather chilly day in Georgia today. I am NOT a fan of cold weather, but I think (and hope!) we’ll be seeing the last of temperatures in the 30’s tonight…until next winter. Still, it’s gorgeous, the sky is brilliant blue and the cheery afternoon sun is making our home office bright, warm and cozy. I couldn’t resist coming in here to write a little something!

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Happily, there is no shortage of books written by people who found a bigger, more meaningful, more purposeful life after simplifying. One such book is called “You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s cheap). How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and You Can Too” by Tammy Strobel. (She writes on a great blog called Rowdy Kittens.)

At the end of each chapter, she includes what she calls “micro-actions” that you can take to simplify and be more intentional. In a way, they are each challenges to focus on those things in life that truly embody happiness (hint: it’s not possessions!).

I highlighted a couple micro-actions that really interested me and one was to create a bucket list. Let me begin by saying I kind of (really) hate the term “bucket list.” To me, it suggests a list of outlandish things that you’d probably never do, but once you were “getting older” or found out you only had X months to live, maybe you’d think about trying to make them happen because, darn it, you’re almost out of time.

But Tammy Strobel points out that making a list of things you want to do before you die is a great way to clarify your priorities in life. I’d honestly never thought of it that way but it makes sense. If I were to sit down and think about things that I REALLY want to do in life, what would that list look like? AND WHY WOULD I CALL IT A BUCKET LIST? I don’t want to wait until I am staring death in the face (or even until I hit an age that might be considered “old,” whatever that means now) to pursue things I want to do before I die! I’d rather call it a LIVING LIST and start thinking about it now.

So I did.  Here is a sampling of items on my living list (though I’m sure I haven’t completed it yet):

  1. Learn photography
  2. Write a book, get it published
  3. Travel to beautiful places
  4. Sell at least one painting to a stranger
  5. Ride a horse on a beach
  6. Go on a hot air balloon ride
  7. Try Living in a tiny house
  8. Live in a completely different part of the country

Once you make such a list, Tammy suggests asking yourself some questions:  How expensive is it? How can you change your life to achieve these things? How many of them involve buying more stuff? What kind of emotional experience does that stuff embody? Is there a way to get that same emotional reward without buying another object?

I don’t have answers to all of these questions, but pretty much everything on my list is an experience. Not only that, they are experiences that I want to either share with others or that I hope will help/impact others. I have a good start in some areas; I’m signed up for a photography class in May and I’ve been writing my brains out for awhile now. And I suppose not everything on my list has to be expensive, but travel certainly can be!  I have no idea what it costs to go on a hot air balloon ride. 🙂

One thing my little list DOES tell me is that when I sat down to think about it, the things I

things i want are not things
Photo Credit: Flower Fields, Carlsbad CA by Sunil Jagadish

want out of this life are not things. Sometimes I wonder what my list would have looked like a couple of years ago. Maybe it would have more “things” on it. Or maybe it wouldn’t; maybe the list would be the same and the answers to the questions above would just make it even more obvious that my time and efforts hadn’t been focused in the right place.

I’m not sure what additional changes to make to pursue some of the items on the list. I know there are many, many options but I also don’t need to have an answer right now. Sometimes, it’s just fine to sit with a question in your heart until the way becomes clear. Further, I’m focused on submitting to God’s will for my life. I believe that He puts desires in our hearts. I want to grow closer to Him so I might recognize the desires He placed in me vs. desires I may need to let go of.

He will lead us to the next steps if we will let Him. As I’ve taken steps, some huge, some small, I’ve come to realize that I feel more alive and closer to Him when I am taking the RIGHT steps.

Maybe a good first step is to think about your one life and make a list of the things in your heart. If you’re far from those things, ask God to show you how to inch closer. Better yet, ask Him to show you if they are His will for you in the first place. We are all here for a reason and I, for one, want to discover mine!

 

 

Community = Love

There’s nothing quite like finding and joining communities of people. Whether it’s a sports team, a book club, a small group from church, or an online community of like-minded individuals, they foster a sense of belonging and encourage us to think outside of ourselves.

When you’re part of a community, you have the privilege of learning from people withcommunity love whom you share commonalities, but who may be very different from you. I love this because it challenges me to consider views and opinions that perhaps I’ve never thought of before. It is an invitation to connect with people who might be outside of your typical sphere.

For years, Husband and I did not really know anyone in our neighborhood. But we’ve met several couples that hang out pretty regularly and with whom we have quite a bit in common. At the same time, we are the only couple in the group without kids. But I love watching their sweet families grow and change, and learning from these fantastic mothers that I have met. I know that I can’t relate to the struggles of parenting, but it sure is nice to know there are a few doors I can knock on (and have knocked on!) when I lock myself out of the house.  Not to mention I will have no shortage of places to run for advice should I take the plunge into motherhood myself.

We have an amazing community group from church that we meet with and learn from regularly. While we share our faith, we differ broadly in occupations, gifts and life stages. We help each other move and throw each other baby showers. We have girls nights and we encourage each other through tough times.  Each one of these women and men are special and I am grateful.

The farther I get from my old self and the pursuit of “stuff”, the more clearly I see that these types of communities and my “communities” of other friends and family are to be cherished. It’s not that I didn’t know that before. It’s just that now I have more space for it, and I also have a clearer, less cluttered mind to fully appreciate it.

Just recently, I’ve discovered how large the community of folks searching for a simpler life is. It is a wonderful group of writers, experimenters and encouragers. People who come up with new ideas, new challenges, new ways to simplify and share the revelations they’ve had in their own lives.  While I’ve only just begun to “join” this community, I highly value these strangers. Their blogs, articles and books have inspired me in my own journey.

Several months ago, when I first had the idea to start this blog, I stumbled across a site called No Sidebar, which is a collection of articles meant to help people “Design a Simple

screen-time
Photo Credit: NoSidebar.com

Life”.  I noticed a link at the top of the page that said “Write for us.” I clicked it, read about being a contributor and bookmarked the page. “I’m gonna beef up my blog and someday, I am going to submit something to this site,” I thought to myself. Today, an article that I submitted to No Sidebar was published. (The photo on the right is what they created to go with my article!) In just a few weeks time, I realized that writing is what I want to do in life and a stranger liked something I wrote enough to publish it on his website. It’s humbling and incredible and amazing. Perhaps, just as I’ve suspected, writing for a living could be what God is calling me to do.

Ultimately, I believe each one of the communities I belong to is helping me become the person I’m meant to be. I am so thankful for each of them. My dream is that someday, God will use my words to inspire and encourage people in a big way. As I continue to let go and let Him flow through me, who knows what the coming weeks, months and years will hold. Through it all, my eyes are on Him.