Thirty

img_20190106_184116_800My thirtieth birthday has come in much like 2019- with regular, lovely, grueling rhythms that I feel God using to shape parts of myself that I can’t think about right now because my mind is full of diapers and formula. Our new baby, who I’ll introduce properly soon, woke up at 5:15 hungry, and her almost two-year-old brother woke up at 5:30 for no good reason other than he heard another human or maybe because he’s almost two and he does what he wants. Husbandman and I divided and conquered until the baby was done eating, and I sent him back to bed because I couldn’t understand his English: it had escaped to that sleepy place where it made sense in his head but something got mixed up on its way out. LIttleman and I had breakfast by ourselves and played until Husbandman woke up and they went to the early service at church. The baby woke up right after they left because she senses when I’m going to have a few moments to myself and must be part of them like she was when I was pregnant, and I worked with her to eat and go to the bathroom until Husbandman and Littleman came home. (How did I forget how much work feeding an infant is?) More food for Littleman, cooking for the grownups, laundry, discussions with Husbandman about frightenly adult things that I would rather not deal with right now, naps for Littleman, an awake baby as soon as Littleman went to sleep, rinse and repeat. What day is today? Oh, right. It’s my birthday. I’m thirty.

I don’t have new wisdom now that I have a new number in the tens place of my age; I’m too full of thoughts about who needs to eat when and the last time everybody pooped. I’m happy to be thirty- I’ve been looking forward to this age. My twenties were a roller coaster. College, marriage, work, losing an expendable organ, graduate school, scary health things with Husbandman, getting pregnant, buying a house, losing a baby, getting pregnant again, having a living baby, learning to parent, getting pregnant again, and having another baby to bring home from the hospital. Many of these experiences have left scars, and I’ll be the first to admit that I carry a few wrinkles and more than my fair share of grey hairs because of them. But I’m grateful. I have seen God’s goodness in lack and in plenty, and I can still say with confidence that He is good.

I want my thirties to be meaningful. I am under no impression that they will be only full of fun, lighthearted experiences, nor do I want them to be. I have learned the most about God when I have walked through hard places; so I know that when I walk through them again, He will be right there with me. I want my work to bring value and encouragement to other people. My prayer for my thirties is that they would honor God and build up His kingdom, and bring opportunities to speak life and truth into the lives of the people that He loves.

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Minimal

The month of January is usually full of resolutions and thoughts about a new year and new goals. Most people want to lose weight, be a better person, read the Bible, be a better friend, write that book that we’ve always wanted to write, to exercise, the list goes on.

I love the start of a new year. The cold air whispers hope into my mind that swirls with new possibilities and ideas. I have longed for the last few months to make a new start with a right focus.

I have been so distracted. I have spent valuable time on social media that should have been spent on more meaningful pursuits. I have spent time watching random YouTube videos that both dull my mind and make me feel mildly like I’m missing out on life somewhere else while I miss out my life right here and right now. I have avoided dealing with painful emotions and stress by eating and watching Netflix instead of sitting down, studying my Bible, writing, and praying. I have muted my struggle with self-image by purchasing new, “exciting” items that give me a rush when I buy them that wears off within days.

While Husbandman and I were on Christmas break, we watched the documentary “Minimalism” that sparked a lot of conversation. (I’m so thankful that we both work in higher education and get such generous breaks.) The movie follows two men and their associates who have dedicated their lives to sharing their journey to actively pursuing less in a quest to find satisfaction in their own lives. According to their website, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important- so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” (source: https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/). They say that they’re ultimately pursuing happiness while they work to keep their material possessions to a minimum of the most useful tools.

At first glance, that sounds perfectly sane. Happiness is nice. I like being happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy?

In her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, Marie Kondo encourages her readers to discard items that don’t “spark joy”.

Possessions “sparking joy” sounds great.

But is the root of true happiness or even joy what I possess or what I do not possess? Is it seeking my happiness?

Minimalism and decluttering to pursue happiness joy on the surface sound Biblical. Christ Himself didn’t put effort into accumulating material possessions but trusted God to provide for His daily needs. But in modern-day culture, the main impetus of minimalism seems to be on wanting less things in order to live a more personally fulfilled life. That fulfillment is still self-centered. These are not inherently bad things, but they encourage people to pursue their own happiness and satisfaction outside of Christ.

I am a Christian; I have committed to following Christ. The root of my decisions to keep an item or discard it should not be my own happiness or perceived fulfillment. I want to determine how to live my life while pursuing a right-ordered heart. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered:

“37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40( ESV)

My greatest calling isn’t to pursue my satisfaction, even if that comes from service to others. I am to love God with all I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. I am, however, not exempt from living a personally intentional life. As a Christian, I should be careful in my consumption of financial and material things; not dulling my senses to the emotions and needs of others and myself.

So how do I pursue a life that honors God and doesn’t fall into the trap of minimalism for self gratification?

That’s my plan. That’s what I want to pursue this year “out loud” with you all: examining the motivation of my heart in light of God’s truth as I seek to live with minimal distractions. There is so much joy in pursuing the Lord. There is so much freedom.

As John the Baptist said about Christ when discussing his role in Christ’s ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV).

A New Year

On December 31, 2013, Husband-Man fell asleep while we watched the Lion King. We had planned on going to a friend’s house to ring in the new year, but his stomach hurt so we stayed home. That stomach ache turned into months of pain, weight loss, visits to doctor’s offices, and eventually a diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis. It heralded high medical bills, sleepless nights, and a year of waiting for changes and developments.

On December 31, 2014, Husband-Man and I watched four hours of Crocodile Dundee, ate pizza, and went to be early. As we lay in bed before falling asleep, we talked through this unexpected year that stretched us farther than we could ever have imagined, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the new year. We have big plans, and we’re looking forward to another year together of learning how God uses our rough spots to continue to point us to Him.

I am thrilled to see 2014 come to a close, but as we prayed last night and this morning and thanked God for our blessings that sprang to mind easily, I couldn’t help but think about the blessings that hurt the most. We thanked God not because of what we have, but because of who He is. We thanked Him not for what makes us feel comfortable, but that which makes us draw closer to Him. I praise God that we had the year that we had. We often comfort ourselves with Philippians 4:13, but often fail to take the verse in full context. In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul says:

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

The hopes that I held in my heart for 2014 we not all met. In fact, most of them were answered with “wait”. Most of 2014 found us in great need of the Lord, and we were able to walk though the experience because God gave us the strength. God is good. God provides every day, and blessed my little family by leading us through pain and uncertainty. As you plan for 2015, know that God sees the plans that you hold dearly in your heart. And He loves you so much that He won’t give you everything that you want.

Happy New Year, everyone. May you be blessed by drawing nearer to God is all situations.