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.

 

Today, Smile at Someone.

There’s a cashier named Wanda that works at our neighborhood Publix grocery store. Every time I am shopping there, I look for her when I’m choosing a line. She’s got this incredibly warm, bright and happy way about her.

Today, I got lucky and ended up in her line. She cheerfully said hi; I told her hello and how much I love that she always has a smile on her face. She said that she loves her job; loves “making a difference.”

Then, she told me a story. A woman came in once and Wanda was her normal smiley, chatty self. The woman smiled back as Wanda talked and rang up her groceries. The woman walked away.

On the surface, this sounds like a non-event. Someone smiled; someone else smiled

talk to people
Photo: Tybee Island, GA

back. But a few minutes later, Wanda said the woman came back and thanked her for making her smile. The woman told Wanda that she hadn’t smiled in over a year because her daughter had been murdered.

Isn’t it amazing that a simple smile can change someone’s day or provide a moment of relief to someone grieving? It takes no time, effort or money to smile at someone. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, do it anyway. Smiling will make you feel better and may have a much larger impact on someone else than you realize.

I don’t know about you, but Wanda’s little story gives me chills when I think about it. It makes me want to be a better person. It confirms all the reasons we shouldn’t be judging others, and all the reasons we ought to look away from ourselves and up from our phones. Make an effort to talk to the wonderful people you encounter in seemingly mundane places and for goodness sake; SMILE!

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.

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.

The Power of Noticing Things

People are busy these days.  Busy and distracted.  If you pause and look around at any given point in your day, I bet you’ll see a lot of people staring down at their phones, oblivious to the life that’s parading right in front of them.

Sometimes, I am that person.  But I don’t want to be that person. Because life is too short to miss out on the beauty and wonder that’s around us every day.  There is nothing quite like taking a breath, looking up, looking around and simply noticing things.  No matter where you are, there are beautiful things to notice.  The powerful act of noticing can lead to a thankful heart, which can lead to love, surprise, joy, selflessness and ultimately, contentment. Remember that we can’t appreciate or be thankful for something that we are too distracted to see!

Challenge yourself to slow down in small ways.  Eat meals with your loved ones without

the power of noticing
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

any distractions from phones, computers or the TV.  Go outside for a walk, long or short, each day. Take 10 seconds to write a little note for someone you love.  Notice other people in your path and smile.

Perhaps there is a place or space that particularly speaks to your soul.  Go there sometimes. I have a particular affinity for the ocean and fields of flowers. Alas, I cannot be by the ocean or in a field of flowers at all times.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not surrounded by beauty; that I can’t seek it and find it.

If I slow down and look for it, I always find it.  It incites a childlike whimsy in me that I quite love.  If am intent on noticing things, looking for beauty, I find it in a perfect spring breeze blowing through my hair as I take my dog for a walk in the morning.  I see it in the little buds that have suddenly popped into bright pink spring flowers outside my dining room window.  I see it in the faces of my loved ones, in kindness from strangers, in kitty purrs.

What types of things are you most likely to notice?  What speaks to your soul?  The stars, the way a bridge is constructed, the changing of the leaves in the fall or smiles from a stranger on the street? I bet if you take even a few minutes each day to look up from whatever is distracting you, you can find a little piece of refreshment for your soul. Better yet, perhaps you will pause long enough to notice that you could offer a bit of refreshment to someone else’s soul.

Want to simplify your life?  Look up from your phone, look away from yourself and start looking for the beauty all around you-I promise you will find it.