Simply the Least

There is a magazine I dread coming through my mail slot every month:  “Estates and Homes”.   This free publication is filled with elite listings of city mansions and rural vacation homes (usually river or equestrian), ranging from $650K  “charming investment opportunities” to $if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford it “estate living at its best.” Why on earth they send it to me I have no idea- must be some sick sadistic joke.

What I’ve hated about this magazine is how it makes me feel.  Flipping through the thick, glossy pages, my reactions to each picture have fallen into one of two categories: snobbery or envy.  Snobbery if I’m able to label a home as gauche, overpriced, or a McMansion.  Hmph.  I wouldn’t want that one anyway.

Then…one will catch my eye. Whew.  That would be nice.  Ha! No wonder.  Estate living at its best.  Never in a million years could I have that.  Envy.

Two minutes after opening the first page, I have done nothing but remind myself of everything I cannot have, everything other people are enjoying besides me, and yet still managed to make myself feel superior to them because I’m trying to convince myself that at least I have better taste.

And this is what I do to relax and have fun!

This past week, though, I tried a different approach.  What if, when I opened the magazine, instead of viewing it as a tease for everything I’ll never have, look for the things I like that I CAN have?

This tiny change in perspective was absolutely revolutionary.  When I found myself obsessing over a certain property, I realized that what I loved was the idea of having a place to go on the weekends where we could enjoy friends, family, and a beautiful natural setting without having to drive far, make reservations, or have me cruise direct every minute of our day.

Did that dream have to come with 4 marble bathrooms and a private loading dock?

As I looked at these beautiful homes (I can call them beautiful now because I’m no longer threatened by them) I started to appreciate new things about each: This one is only 20 minutes away! This one has a volleyball net! This one is near a horse track! Cool.

Next step: What’s the LEAST it would take to enjoy those things ourselves? Could we rent a cabin a few times in these areas and explore? Are there campsites that offer these amenities? Do we have friends who’d loan us their place? Is there a special spot in the city that can become our family’s “special place” (you don’t have to own it, just love it) to enjoy on the weekend?

What’s even better, I realized that if I strip a desired possession or experience down to JUST what I want, I  am no longer burdened by the extras that would have taken up so much of my time, money, and energy.  I’ll never have to clean, and pay for, 4 marble bathrooms in order to get a spot on the river.  I realize now that even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.  For the price of those 4 marble bathrooms, I could have my spot on the river, pay for every other vacation my family would take in the next few years, and spend the excess time and money I still have left over on helping others.

And there’s something else this mentality gives me: peace, gratitude, and contentment.  If I’m ever invited to one of those fantastic houses as a guest, I’m going to be able to appreciate and enjoy it to the fullest…because now I don’t have to want it for myself, or convince myself that I wouldn’t want it anyway.

It’s okay to want things.  It’s okay to spend money we have on things that make us happy.  But what those things are can be surprisingly simple: Love.  Peace.  Joy.  Relaxation.  Time.  Beauty.  Water.  Air.  Sun.  Trees.  Family.  Space. A place to simply Be Still and Know.

If we seek those in their purest form, and we’ll be able to afford it…and have time and money leftover to help others find it, too.

“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:18


Add To, Don’t Take Away

Christopher Lowell

During the few brief years I watched daytime television while staying home with babies, I became obsessed with home decorating shows.  My favorite designer was Christopher Lowell, whose flamboyant mannerisms partnered with a very practical, affordable style that made everyone feel like they were just “this close” to having the house of their dreams.  I loved him. My husband hated him because I often tried to create that house of my dreams during children’s naptimes or whenever he went out of town, thinly disguising my rogue behavior as a “SURPRISE!!!”  He never bought it.

Anyway, one bit of advice Christopher Lowell gave me is something I’ve held onto and applied to more than he ever intended: when trying to improve something, “Add To, Don’t Take Away.”
Examples: Don’t tear out your old kitchen cabinets; paint them.  Don’t throw out your couch; recover it.  Don’t replace the carpet; top it with a throw rug. Don’t insist on new tile to update a bathroom, paint the walls a hip contrasting color.

By simply adding a “finishing touch” to what you already have, you can easily make it more attractive, updated, and usable.

Now, I could stop this blog post right here, and we’d all have plenty to work with for the next week.  Just walking around our houses with a new eye to “what could I add?” rather than “what needs replacing?” can save us thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. Look at our furniture, our wardrobe, our yard.  What little touches could we ADD that would give life to what we already have?  Chances are, we even already have most of these finishing touches- they’re just in the wrong place.

But I want to take it a step further.  What about other aspects of our lives that don’t seem to be working for us?  Our career? Our bodies? Our marriage?  Our temperament? Our past?

Just because we don’t like what we see doesn’t mean we need to start over- it means we just need to take the next step.  Somewhere, within our grasp, is the key to making it more attractive, more usable, more enjoyable.

And let me take it one last step further.  Why don’t we all see just how little it takes to take everything to the next level? What’s the absolute least we can add to something to make it enough?

We will go into more detail about all the ways we can apply this concept to almost every aspect of our lives in upcoming posts.  For now, let’s take the following week to stop ourselves every time we hear ourselves saying, “I need a new…”, “I wish I didn’t have…”, or “If only I’d…” and replace the thought with, “All I have to do is…”

Viewing everything you own, have, and are in a positive light, ready to be used and appreciated, is exactly how we are meant to live.  Philippians 4: 8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” I believe this verse doesn’t mean to keep your head in the clouds and ignore the pain, suffering, and evil around you, but rather to recognize and appreciate “anything that is excellent or praiseworthy” and stop obsessing about all its faults.

Please take some time this week to do this.  Since I finally started looking at the world this way, I have saved myself from so much unnecessary pain and expense from everything from remodeling to even surgery and grad school.  See the good in what you already have…then perhaps do that one thing you know you need to do to make it right…but don’t tear down what you’ve already done, even if it’s not perfect.

When God made the world, He saw that it was good.  I believe He still feels that way about it, and us, despite the flaws.  We can do the same.

This week:

  1. Create a list with three columns.
  2. Every time you hear yourself saying an “I need/I wish/If Only”, write down exactly what’s bothering you in the first column.  Don’t go out LOOKING for things to get bothered about, just empower yourself IF it happens.
  3. In column 2, write down something positive, noble, true, useful, pure, lovely, or admirable about the offending object/trait/person/entity.
  4. In column 3, brainstorm a few easy/free/cheap/obvious things you could contribute to the situation that could possibly change your mind about it.
  5. Pick the absolute easiest thought from column 3 for at least one item and go do it.  Now.

Are We Properly Dressed for the Party?

In the past few weeks, we have been talking about how we HAVE more than enough of everything we need; it’s just a matter of recognizing it, appreciating it, and using it…despite, and often, because of its flaws.  The items others may cast away or look down upon can become some of our most valued treasures, giving us freedom from worry, debt, wasted energy, or at least constant cleaning.  The ugly towel.  The dated couch in the basement.  The blue Formica counter tops.

We’re learning to stop judging and start enjoying.

Now, can we apply that same mentality to ourselves?

I struggle with this constantly in my own life.  When I open my closet doors, I recognize that there’s already enough in there for whatever I need to do.  I don’t need to rush out to buy a new outfit just because I’ve been invited to a party, and of course, never refuse an invitation because I don’t have the right outfit.  I just open the doors with confidence, recognize the gifts it contains, and start partying.

But when I look inside myself, I so often fail to recognize that there’s already enough in there for whatever God needs me to do. When a big opportunity calls, my instinct is to either insist I need something MORE (more education? more experience? more talent?) before accepting the invitation, or…even worse…decline because I’m not “properly dressed.”

How many parties are we going to miss out on in our lives before we realize that God doesn’t care what we’re wearing…he just wants us to show up?

In fact, how often have you been put at ease by someone else’s casual dress at a party? I know I’m drawn to these people, the second I walk in the door.  They’re the ones I know aren’t judging me; who don’t have to look better than me to enjoy themselves, and who are able to make me feel better about myself (and my outfit) in the process.

God’s party is the same way.  The more cracked, flawed, dingy, or under-dressed we are when we show up to do His work, the more people will be able to relate to us.  The more they will be able to see God in us.

The more they will be able to start seeing God in themselves.

We have to start appreciating our flaws and weaknesses and baggage and blind spots for what they are: ice breakers at God’s party.  Whatever we’re wearing, whatever we are, whatever we have, we have a place at that party, and we have that place NOW.

It’s time to start doing whatever we’re being called to do, and prepare ourselves to accept that call the minute it comes in…without even looking in the mirror first.  We look just fine.

And just look at God’s written invitation to us for this party:

2 Timothy 3:17 says, “Everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” And Ephesians 2:10: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

The invitations are endless.  We’ll find them throughout the Bible.  We’ll see them in every person you meet.  We’ll recognize them in every need that grabs our attention.

And not once will it come with a dress code.

You’re ready.  You’re able.  You’re perfect.  Just start enjoying it and bring the rest of us with you.

Living Off Winter’s Harvest

**This week, I’m re-posting an entry from a previous blog of mine, The Wasteless Mom, as we continue to looks at “Abundant Possessions.” As always, believing that there is more than enough of everything to go around (provided we recognize it, appreciate it, and use it) enables us to not only save time and money, but learn to see everything as a gift to be cherished…leading to peace, joy, and contentment.

Here is some practical advice on how to start this habit just by walking through the house, written in 2009 when the economy first took it’s big downturn:

It’s winter, and we’re all feeling it. As with all animals, it’s time to bunker down, conserve, and ride it out in the faith that spring will come. And some of us are facing a much harsher climate than others.

However, nature has a way of providing animals a way to survive this season. For some, it’s excess fat. Others: a stash of acorns. Still others, a long sleep.

Yes, it’s winter for us, but we what many of us are forgetting is that we have also just came off a large harvest. While our money stash may no longer be there, we probably all still have a lot of STUFF that we’ve built up and never used. Stuff we’ve ignored, wasted, underappreciated, or squandered.

So now’s the time to find that stash in your home and not just survive on it, but enjoy it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be shocked at the amount of stuff you have hidden in your home that will carry you for a long time, in many different ways:

  • Food: Start here. Go through your freezer, pantry, and frig and make a list of all the ingredients you have. Then try to plan an entire month’s worth of meals from it. With the exception of a few quick trips to the store for a very few items, I bet you can do it. If you need help, has a feature where you can enter an ingredient you already have, and get a list of recipes using it. And remember, none of us facing bankruptcy or forclosure is too good for cheap coffee, frozen vegetables, or domestic beer!
  • Toiletries: Inventory the half-used bottles of shampoo, toothpaste, lotion, hairspray, etc. and put them all in one place. Then use them. And they don’t have to be your favorite brand.
  • Clothes: Now is the time to Bolddiscover the otherItalic Bold90% of your closet. Spend an indulgent afternoon trying on absolutely everything you own, but, contrary to former advice, not with the purpose of getting rid of what you don’t like, but in order to like what you already have. Make it work. And if some things seem out of date, try just changing the shoes and the belt- that can instantly update the whole look.
  • Entertainment: This is probably a gold mine for you. Remember all the classic novels you bought and never read? The unfinished crafts in your basement? That huge pile of old music CD’s? Pull them out and make yourself a pile, vowing to get through them before you go “consume” anything else. I will never, ever get through the great books I thought I couldn’t live without…and never opened.
  • Kids’ Activities: BoldKids are even worse than we are about ignoring the abundance of toys and treasure around them, so they will need our help in this. It’s all about the presentation. I went around my house and gathered up all the overlooked toys, books, coloring books, and crafts, and put them away in a closet. Now, every time my kids express boredom or criminal deprivation over not having something new, Voila! They appreciate the “new” toy (even if they recognize it) more than ever before. A good lesson for all of us.

Have fun with this. How wonderful that all of those purchases that seemed so important at the time are finally getting their day in the sun! And never overlook the positive environmental impact you are making by using what you already have.

In the words of Sheryl Crowe, “It’s not getting want you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”


The Blessing of the Ugly Towel

We own the ugliest towel ever made.  Dingy gray with maroon and orange stripes.

I have no idea how it came into our possession, but there it was one day in the laundry basket, and it made its way into our linen closet.

And that towel has made that journey from laundry to closet probably more than any other towel we own….because we use it all the time.  That towel is the first one I grab to give to any of my absent-minded children to take anywhere, because I don’t care if it ever comes back.

That towel is freedom.

Contrast it to the expensive, monogrammed white towels I insisted on buying that look really nice…as long as they are never used.  Don’t wipe your hands on them if you’re dirty.  Don’t leave them on the floor- they’ll get dirty.  Don’t wash them with any of the other towels because they’ll get dingy.  Fold them the right way or they’ll get wrinkled (yes, wrinkled! Towels!)

As I look around my house, I realize I can divide up almost all of my possessions into the kind I own and the kind that own me.  The older, shabbier, and cheaper the item, the more likely it is to give me peace and freedom in my life: the “outdated” Formica countertops I don’t need to treat and salt and oil.  The “mid-century modern” (read: 1970’s) couch in the basement the neighborhood kids are allowed to play “war” with.  The aging Chevy Blazer outside that doesn’t need to go into the shop every time it gets a scratch or ding because we just don’t care.

As long as these things work, why on earth would we ever replace them? Because we’re worried about what other people will think.

How many times do we spend our time and energy and money on possessions that are not going to actually improve our lives, but rather make us slaves to them and the image we are trying to create?  How many times have we let others’ opinions (or perceived opinions) tell us what we “need”, when what we have is already working beautifully in our lives?

I venture to say that this single human habit is almost exclusively responsible for the current debt crisis much of the “developed” world is in right now. Yes, it’s possible to spend money we don’t have in pursuit of genuine pleasure, but if we are honest with ourselves, many of us spend based on appearance rather than function…and it’s appearance to others, not even for our own pleasure.

How many old towels, outdated kitchens, and scratched up cars do you have in your life that give you genuine freedom and peace in your life?  What new, expensive, high-maintenance possessions are others (either real or imagined) pressuring you to buy that you not only don’t need, but will become a slave to?

What blessings do you enjoy in your life for which you need to stop apologizing?

Being content with possessions others may feel are beneath them takes courage and self-esteem.  It also requires a spirit of gratitude and humility:

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” (I Timothy 4:4)

But the rewards are endless:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  Phil 4:11-13

“For godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs….you….flee from all of this….take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  I Timothy 6:6

We Already Have It, We Already Know It, Just Ask.

The morning of December 26th, I asked my kids what they wanted to do.  “Go shopping!” was the universal answer.

I’m sorry, what? Do you SEE all the toys literally at your feet amongst the clutter of paper and boxes? You can’t play with these for even a DAY before asking for more?

We see the ridiculousness of this mentality so easily in our kids, but how often do we see it in ourselves?

As the New Year dawns, we are full of two things: resolutions and clutter. Accomplish these, throw away that.  Acquire this body, get rid of these old things.  Learn this new skill, stop doing that.  Pursue and purge.

And according to most magazine covers, this effort will involve a shopping trip (for organizers now!), a gym membership, and a class of some sort.

What if instead we just started playing with all the toys at our feet?

Yes, the boxes and wrapping paper need to be recycled, and if something is broken in our lives or closets, it either needs to be fixed or thrown away.  We can start with that.  But instead of looking at everything we own and are as being inadequate, why don’t we just start USING what we have?

You have a perfect body already.  You just need to USE it, and it will reveal itself.  You’ve already been given the great advice on how to solve your problem- just take it..  Your shelves are filled with life-changing wisdom and entertainment in the form of books you’ve already bought, just finally read them.  Start with the Bible.

But what if, after we’ve inventoried our house, our bodies, and our lives, we realize we still don’t have enough to get us started?  Stop and Ask.  Don’t go out and shop.

That network of love and support we crave and so often ignore is also supposed to be used, and within it is all the help and advice and abundance we need- we just need to pay attention to it, and use it.  When I didn’t know what books to read this year, I asked my Facebook friends.  Since I don’t have any of them, I’ll ask my local library, who will give them to me for free.  That tool you need to complete your task? One of your friends has it and considers it clutter.

But more than anything else, we absolutely cannot, must not cut ourselves off this year from the greatest resource we have and are ignoring: our God.  Just look at the promises of abundance so many of us (myself included!) walk away from, every year:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5)

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2)

“If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us- whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14)

 We cannot spend another year walking away from grace, peace, wisdom, and “anything (good) we ask for” while spending our time, energy, and money trying to acquire it on our own, only to throw it away.  Every gift we need is right in front of us, and being offered to us- let’s just recognize it, appreciate it, and use it!

Knowing THAT makes it a guaranteed Happy New Year!

This week:

  1. Walk around your house, and inventory what hidden blessings there.  What do you already have that you just need to use?
  2. Who in your life do you need to simply pay more attention to? Make a list and start today.
  3. What do you already KNOW you need to be doing to have the life you were meant to have? Don’t go beyond the obvious.
  4. What are your stumbling blocks? Who do you know that can give you advice, guidance, and support on them?
  5. Find your Bible.  Decide today, if you haven’t already, to start using it as a primary resource for everything you need.  If you don’t know how to start reading it, ask, follow a lectionary study, or, at the least, you can follow my quick guide:
    1. For learning the core of the Christian message, read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
    2. For quick, handy advice: James and Proverbs
    3. Other easy, digestible books: Philippians, I and II Corinthians.

I wish all of us a year in which we recognize what amazing gifts we have at our fingertips, and use them to create Love, Peace, and Joy in ourselves and in our world.

The Only New Year’s Resolution We Will Ever Need

Do any of your houses look like mine right now?  What about your waistline?

As I look around the wreckage the holidays made of my home and my body, there is just one thing I can do:

Make a LIST.

Oh, this has been my coping mechanism for years, dating all the way back to middle school when, in scented marker, I’d check off “wake up” and “get dressed” in my day planner as my mom discreetly monitored me for OCD.

And this is Peak Season for list making, where gluttony and regret meet the promise of redemption in the New Year, so I suspect I’m not the only one who’s tempted to craft an elaborate Resolution List that will, in one sheet of paper (or tabbed spreadsheet, in my case.  I’m not kidding) turn us into sainted, organized millionaire triathletes by year’s end.

A list that we know, even now, will be forgotten by January 10th.

Why? Because it’s built on guilt, reaction, and anxiety – things God never wanted us to have- and isn’t based on what every single one of us truly wants and needs in our lives:

Love, Peace, and Joy.

That’s what we’re all trying to achieve.  That’s what we are all called to spread.  That’s the only New Year’s Resolution we will ever need.

If we simply resolve to pursue Love, Peace, and Joy, it can guide us in everything that we do, every instant of the day.  Will buying this thing bring peace in a month (when I get the bill)?  Will this career choice bring me and my family the most joy?  Am I paying attention to the things I love? Am I going to feel joy after smoking this cigarette/saying the words on the tip of my tongue/cheating this one time/skipping my workout…

If we are tempted to do anything that does not spread love, joy, or peace in ourselves or others, it’s not worth doing.  Period. 

 There’s another way this Resolution can revolutionize our upcoming year.  We can learn to recognize the opportunities to experience peace, love, and joy in our everyday tasks.  Instead of “having” to clean up the house, we can appreciate it as an act of peace.  Cooking dinner becomes a conscious act of love.  We will find joy in countless small moments that otherwise would have gone underappreciated or squandered.

So, if we do this correctly, we can experience love, peace, and joy…the ultimate happiness…100% of the time.

Is this really realistic?

Yes.  In fact, it’s been promised to us:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

None of these verses says that love, peace, and joy are things we need to work for to achieve…they are gifts already given to us.  We just need to recognize them, appreciate them, and use them.

And look for them in the right place:

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

This is where everything we need and want comes from, and where it’s being handed out freely.  God is just asking us to recognize, appreciate, and use Him and His power.

And if we did that, what couldn’t we accomplish this year?

So look up from the list, look above the clutter, and put your eyes on the ultimate prize: Love, Joy, and Peace for yourself, your family, and your world.

If we all work toward that together, we know that in everything, God will be for us, so who can be against us?

May God give you abundant love, joy, and peace in 2012. Happy New Year!