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.

The Life-Changing Magic of Simplicity

One of the things that both fascinated and excited me after reading Marie Kondo’s Books was her assertion that once you “tidied up your life for good” you’d uncover or discover long-lost passions or your life’s purpose.  In short: your life would change, beyond just having less stuff.

And after reading countless tales of Kondo’s clients who found themselves with different lives post-tidying, I stood with heart and arms open to whatever God would bring my way in the process.

Now that I’ve completed all tidying categories (plus re-visiting several and letting go of things continuously), life is indeed different; different in some of the most unexpected ways.  Now that I’ve had time to absorb the process, it’s becoming very clear to me what exactly has changed and why it does indeed feel so magical. Here are my biggest 3:

Writing.  Perhaps the most profound revelation I’ve had since tidying and simplifying is the desire to write again.  I’ve written on and off in various forms for as long as I can remember.  But I’ve realized as I’ve documented my tidying journey that writing is truly “what I want to do.”  Like….in life.  And honestly, that alone is a big enough revelation for me, especially since the entire past year has been about pursuing God and His purpose for my life.

And as I’ve begun to reflect on this, it’s quite remarkable.  I think about imagery often

life hidden under clutter
Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

used by minimalists and those seeking simplification: that your real, big, purposeful, meaningful life is hidden under years of clutter-whether physical or mental or otherwise. This impacts me so because as I look back on my life, the desire to write has ALWAYS been there.  I just meandered away from it, slowly, over time.  I came back to it a few times, but I never realized that perhaps this is what I’m meant to do until now.

I used to journal and write poems as a kid, tween and angsty teen.  I was on the newspaper staff in high school.  When I first declared my major in college, it was journalism/communications.  As a young adult, writing has always been a major outlet for me.  I’ve always had a vague desire to write a book.

Let me be clear that I regret NOTHING about the decisions I made in life… including changing majors to business/marketing, getting an MBA, and all the jobs and skills I’ve learned since graduating.  I am so thankful and grateful for the way this life has unfolded and I can see that the experiences God led me to are proving invaluable to me now.

And today…life is different; it is changed.  I started this blog and write on it frequently.  It keeps me accountable and grounded and challenged.  I have started writing a book.  I recently submitted an article to one of my favorite websites about simplifying life, and it was approved to be published.  The feeling of pursuing and doing what you love is completely magical. In a way, none of this *should* be a surprise.  And yet, to my soul, it is.  It’s a lovely, beautiful, God-given surprise and I am so humbled and grateful for it.

Photography.  Another life-changing bit of magic that has become very clear and taken me off-guard is a desire to learn photography.  After writing about letting go of sentimental items, I was thinking about my love for pictures; how being transported back to an event or place through pictures has always been one of my deepest joys in life.  And while I love capturing moments with friends and loved ones, I have always had a special affinity for the beauty of God’s creation. Among my favorite things to photograph are the ocean, beach, sky, trees and flowers.  As I’ve worked on this blog and chosen background images for quote graphics, I’ve been selecting from nature shots I have been taking for years.  Countless sunsets (and a few sunrises!), ocean and water shots, close ups of the beach, of flowers, of the sky through the trees and mountains and cliffs and pathways have been captured over the years.

Just like writing, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that I want to take a photography class, but the fact remains that I could not see it until now.  I am pleased to report that I (along with a friend!) have signed up to take an intro to photography class in May and I can’t wait!

Art. I started taking adult art classes well before my tidying journey began.  However, it has also emerged as a possible area of focus for the future.  My favorite thing to paint is (you guessed it) nature.  I love painting photos that I took while on vacation or visiting somewhere new and beautiful.  That makes the idea of learning photography even more exciting!  I’m not sure where art will take me, though I’ve had the notion to open an Etsy shop someday, possibly even as a joint venture with my fabulously talented and artistic mother.  In any case, it’s another wonderful and intriguing idea that God has planted in my mind now that I’m making an effort to live simply enough to hear it.

I think all of these things feel so magical because I am realizing that they’ve always been a part of me.  They are utterly life-changing because I now have the time, space and energy to pursue them.  There is no part of me that feels sad that I haven’t focused on them until now; I know that God’s timing is perfect and I wouldn’t trade His path for me for anything.

I’m excited to continue challenging myself, letting go, simplifying possessions, habits, thoughts and anything else that God shows me.  Ultimately, He will get the glory for anything that I accomplish, and I know that He will use me in whatever ways He sees fit to better His Kingdom.  My prayer is that I remain open and willing.  Cheers to simplicity!

Be Intentional & Live More

One of the things I have constantly struggled to do is to be present in the moment and live each day calmly and intentionally. I have a tendency to over-book, always say yes, figure things out, and control things. Unchecked, these tendencies result in stress, anxiety and worry. While some thought must be directed beyond the here and now, excessive planning and fretting over the future robs us of enjoying the present.

When our to-do lists are too long to appreciate beauty in the present moment, we are missing out on some of the greatest things life has to offer. It’s hard to focus on a conversation with a loved one when your mind is racing to the next thing on your list (and the next thing after that).  You’ll never see that bright red robin with a fat belly skip across the front porch in the morning if your nose is buried in e-mails while you inhale your breakfast so you can rush out the door.

Between our busy, busy lives and countless forms of “entertainment” at our fingertips, we’ve become a rather distracted society. And as I seek simplicity in life, I’m finding that minimizing distractions is perhaps the most efficient road to a more intentional life.

Many, many things cause us to be distracted. Over-stuffed schedules and to-do lists, minimize distractionsclutter and closets and drawers stuffed to capacity, pings and clings coming from our computers, phones and tablets, advertisements screaming at us from the radio, TV, internet and now, even screens in elevators on our way to the doctor’s office.

I’m not sure it matters exactly where you begin to reduce distractions in your life, as long as you start somewhere.  Start looking at your life through a different lense.  What are the things that you value the most?  Would someone looking in on your life from the outside be able to see those things clearly?  Are you spending the majority of your time on those things? If not, what needs to change? If yes, are you still feeling overwhelmed or stressed? What distractions can you eliminate?

I believe that God has a plan for my life (and yours!).  I also believe that we have free will. That means that God is not going to shove His plan or Himself down our throats.  We have to make a choice.  Sometimes, we have to take a step toward His outstretched hand. Sometimes it feels terrifying to take that step, even if it’s small.  Sometimes, taking the first step isn’t that tough but somewhere after that, we start to question and doubt and panic.

In the past year or so, I’ve probably given away close to 50% of our stuff.  Most of it was shoved in storage bins, forgotten, unopened and un-enjoyed for years. Other things we gave away or sold were more difficult to let go of.  I made the difficult decision to leave my job last June.  We cancelled our subscription to cable TV.  I’m staying off of social media sites for the first half of each day.  I have less material things to keep up with, clean and organize.  I have less on my to-do list.  I spend less time watching TV and less time on the internet.  I’ve re-discovered my passion for writing and creativity.  I’m spending more time with the Lord and my family, friends and pets.

This is my journey thus-far and the power of LESS in my life is making room for MORE of what really matters to me.  Your journey begins wherever makes the most sense for you, or wherever you feel God leading you.  But you must find time to slow down and listen and look.  Listen to God, to what He’s placed in your heart.  Look for the blessings and beauty that surround you in the present moment.

Because I eliminated the distraction of social media and mindless internet browsing from my morning routine, I had time to play fetch with my dog yesterday morning before my training session at the gym. Because I decided to eat each meal without distraction, I saw a beautiful, fat, red robin skip across my porch this morning. Because I decided to give things away, I found a desire to own less instead of get more.  Because I took a year off to seek the Lord’s will for my life, I’m writing every day.

Being intentional about life and how you spend your time matters.  It might even matter in ways you’d never imagined!