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).

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Imperfect Transitions

When I begin a journey, I have a clear picture in my mind of the destination. Sometimes this is a strength, and other times, it’s a weakness. Driving home from my parents house always approaches its end with a clear view of the foothills of the Appalachian mountains right before we exit the interstate and ends with another view of my beloved foothills as we turn into our neighborhood. I feel a sense of home when I see the mountains that watched over my journey into adulthood. When I plan out a project, I have a clear picture of the end product and often get frustrated when what I produce is less than Pinterest perfect, which is most of the time.

When I started writing this blog, I had delusions of grandeur of a book contract within six months of my first published post. The Lord has chiseled away at my imagined perfect endings over the past several years, regularly redirecting me to being present and grateful in the process instead of in the end product. More than two years ago, this blog provided an outlet to process my grief after losing my daughter Cora. Grief is a funny thing; it stays part of the very fiber of your being but eventually, it blends into who you are and doesn’t remain a healthy thing on which to focus. Over the last year and a half, I haven’t been able to share or process “out loud” for all to see. Processing things in private has been a gift to me. Grief informs my motherhood, but my son’s life isn’t about the short life of his older sister. The Lord certainly has a mighty purpose for His life, and I can’t wait to see how He moves in Littleman’s life.

My life has kept moving at an almost blistering and simultaneously slow pace since I stopped writing regularly. We walked through a healthy pregnancy closely monitored by the best medical team I could ask for, we welcomed a Littleman into our family and have started the lifelong process of parenting a baby that we get to know, and Husbandman finished his masters degree. (GLORY, HALLELUJAH, PRAISE THE LORD. Let’s not do that again.) All “big” things that take forever until all of a sudden, they’re done. I play ukulele now, sort of. More importantly, the Lord has been growing my desire to study His word and speak hope rooted in truth into other people’s lives.

I want to write again, through a new lens. As I told Husbandman the other day, the lens through which I want to write is still being incubated and sharpened. It’s too new and squishy to tell the world about yet, but I’ll share soon. While it incubates, I’m going to keep working on my PowerSheets for 2018. (More info on them here. They’re the bomb. You should do them.) If you’re in a goal-setting sort of mood too, listen to the Goal Digger Podcast interview with the creator of PowerSheets, Lara Casey.

I can’t wait to see where this process takes us, friends. I’m glad to be back. 

The Reformed Misunderstood-Super-Special-Unicorn-Introverts Club

I’m an introvert. But I’m not a Misunderstood-Super-Special-Unicorn because I’m an introvert.

Last year, there were so many blog posts about “how to take care of an introvert”, “what is an introvert”, and “what makes an introvert special”. They got on my nerves, even though I saw truth in the posts, because the posts glorified introversion to the detriment of extroverts.

What is an introvert? Introverts recharge alone. Extroverts recharge with other people. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that you hate people. It means that being with people takes your energy instead of renewing it.

I like extroverts. I’m married to an extrovert. Extroverts make my life better because they’re way more fun than I am. They help stretch me as a person because their perspective is so different than mine. Sometimes, the extroverts in my life don’t really get where I’m coming from, but, let’s face it, I don’t get them either.

The Bible doesn’t say anything (to my knowledge) about how introverts just need the world to understand them better. The Bible does, however, talk about people being differently-gifted and how they should use those gifts to honor God (1 Cor. 12). No gift is more “special” than another, and God uses them all. So, introverts, it’s time to turn in that introvert gold-star.

Most of these posts are focused on how other people can care for an introvert. “Make them a pillow fort and leave them alone” works sometimes, but the focus of the posts make it seem like introverts aren’t responsible for self-care. News-flash world: I’m an introvert, and if I need some alone time, I need to ask for it. If Husband-Man (one of the world’s biggest extroverts ever) needs to go out and be around humans, it’s his job to initiate that interaction.

2015.02.01 Introverts

So how does an introvert take care of themselves without being self-indulgent?

  1. When you need alone time, take it. When your friend calls and asks you to hang out , if all of your “social-time” budget (IE, you’re full of people) has been maxed out, it’s okay to say “no” and ask to schedule for a different time. Side-note: Don’t flake on your commitments all the time. Hold true to your word and time commitments if you can.
  2. Use your alone time for good. Don’t spend it all in self-indulgent pursuits. Instead, focus on growing your relationship with God. I’m not saying don’t read for fun or have hobbies, but don’t spend all of your alone time on things that don’t have eternal ramifications.
  3. Get out of your own head. It’s really easy for me to think about what’s going on in my life, and to fixate on the negative. Then begins the downward spiral of self perpetuating sadness. The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10), and wallowing in self pity doesn’t fit that bill. Think about what’s going on in your life, and keep going. God is good even when you get caught up in your own head. God is good when things don’t look like they’re going your way (Romans 10:18-30).
  4. Get the heck out of the house. Make friends with some extroverts and go somewhere and do something out of the norm. Remember that part in the Bible that says to not neglect meeting together with other Christians (Heb. 10:25)? Introverts are not exempt. Get out there and be friends with people.
  5. Don’t hate on extroverts. They’re just as important as you are, and your life would be crazy boring without them.

Who wants to form a Reformed Misunderstood-Super-Special-Unicorn-Introverts Club? I’ll be there. Even though it involves being around other people. Because that’s actually really good for me.

Endurance

This post is part of the 31 Days Writing Challenge, in which a group of writers post a piece every day for the month of October. Want to read all of my posts in this series? Click here

Day 28

This Tuesday, the last Tuesday in October, I wanted to share the most significant scripture to me in my time of waiting. It’s one that took a long time to come to peace with, because I struggled with it’s truth.

Romas 5:1-11 (ESV)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

My suffering produces endurance, that endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

It has nothing to do with things getting better in a physical sense. It has only to do with drawing closer to Christ. That’s it.

This truth doesn’t feel good at first. I want to be rescued from my pain. But instead of my idea of a rescue, I am rescued by a God who sees fit to allow me to suffer to draw me closer to Him.

When you consider it, it’s good. It hurts, but it’s good.

So, my friends, endure. Hold on. And rejoice in your suffering.

True Fitness Motivation

I don’t spent a lot of my time browsing Pintrest, but I like it. Using it feels like I’m building my own magazine, and catching a small glimpse of what my friends and strangers with good taste are interested in. For my readers that don’t spend their time on Pintrest, there are blocks of images that are complied from your friends that you “Follow”. So, when I sign into Pintrest, I see an endless wall of pictures with captions associated (“pins” that you can “pin” to boards, just like a cork board). Some are shared by my friends, and some are what are the most popular on the site. When you select an image, if you scroll down, you can find similar pins.

And one very popular caption is “fitness motivation”. I like to be motivated to be fit. I want to be fit. And I work really hard to take care of myself. But the images that I see on Pintrest are just that. Images of other people that I scroll through on the internet. (While I’m sitting on my computer, not being active.) And sometimes these images have inspirational quotes attached to them about working hard, hurting today, and how much better I’ll feel tomorrow.

I don’t feel motivated to work out after I see some of those images. They’re usually of women that are in top shape, who look like it’s their job to be in shape. They’re tanned and oiled, and they’re small. And the majority of the associated inspirational quotes have to do with making someone feel bad that they broke up with you because you’re so physically fit now. They’re about working out so that you can feel great in a skin tight dress. It’s about not having a muffin top and how much better you’ll feel after you hit some magical moment with your physical fitness.

And I struggle with my weight. I gain weight easily, especially when I’m stressed out. (And I get stressed out pretty easily.) I also seem to have a tendency to injure myself in strange ways that keep me from exercising as effectively as I’d like.

And I get really, really discouraged about my body. My clothes aren’t fitting the right way, and it makes me feel bad about myself. I get on Pintrest, and see images of women who are far more physically advanced than I’ll ever be physically, and that makes me feel worse. And I watch TV and look at magazines and see the same images. The same messages. They tell me that I’ll feel good about myself when I finally am “fit enough”. That if I buy this work out or weight loss system that my self worth will skyrocket and I’ll be beautiful to strangers and old acquaintances alike. And I start to believe that. I believe that I’m not good enough right now, and that I won’t be happy until I hit some unknown mark in the future.

Now, I want to be clear. The women featured in this media are in great shape, and I hope that they’re healthy and happy and have a strong sense of self-worth rooted in who they were made to be by Christ. I start to have issues when I compare myself to someone else, and when I start to believe that my happiness and worth lies in how I measure up.

Being fit is truly a worthy pursuit, if done so to take care of the bodies that God’s given us and not to validate our existence. And if done with the knowledge that you are are enough even before you take your first step.

So, self-loathing is not real fitness motivation? Indeed, it is not.

Fitness motivation

What should motivate me to be fit then?

  1. You are the Lord’s creation and temple.
    1. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)- Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
    2. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
    3. Romans 14:7-8 (ESV)- For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
  2. You were made with worth. You are worth the time and effort.
    1. Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)- For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
    2. Psalm 139:14-16 (ESV)- I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
  3. It makes you feel good, and can even help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  4. It has cardiovascular and other health benefits.
  5. Have you ever had the opportunity to feel strong? Speaking from personal experience, when you’re able to compare how strong you feel this month to how you felt last month, it’s wonderful. Do you struggle with the big water bottles for the cooler at work? Start working out, and next month, try to pick up the bottle again. It feels so good.

These are just a few of the things that motivate me to be fit and healthy. What motivates you? I’d love it if you’d share.