Tag Archives: contentment

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.
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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.

Giving from Abundance, not Debt

This is the “Season of Giving.” We are being asked left and right to give and give and give, both to loved ones and worthy causes.  Our time, our possessions, and our money.

This is also the time of year when we are gearing up for New Year’s Resolutions, which usually involve our vows to increase whatever activities we believe will make us healthier, wealthier, more productive, more organized, and, I believe if you’re reading this blog, more of the kind of person God wants us to be.

We need to be very, very careful.

We know, in theory, that we should not spend what we cannot afford this holiday season.  That means only giving if we have a surplus of funds.  Otherwise, we get debt.

Simple, right?

Giving of our time and talents should be treated the same way.  All of us have been given a surplus in some way.  Perhaps it’s an ability to organize.  Perhaps it’s a gift of extra time due to grown children, or a romantic breakup.  Maybe our surplus comes from an  advanced degree, a knack for computers, a gift for decorating, a large bank account.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

Our surpluses are all unique to each of us, and we are meant to enjoy and use them.  No surplus will last forever, so while we have it, enjoy it and share it.  THIS is the place from which we are being called to give.

What we are NOT being called to do, however, is give out of “debt.”

This means we are not being called to say “yes” to things out of a feeling of guilt or obligation.  It also means we are also not being called to give out of our own deficits of time, money, knowledge, talents, or interests.

Under these circumstances, we will end up burnt out, resentful, and inadequate.

I learned this the hard way the minute I said “yes” to a certain volunteer job.

It was for a worthy cause, an honor to be asked, a friend who did the asking.  The problem was, it wasn’t anything that had ever hit my radar before, and required skills that were out of my comfort zone.

And I knew I would do a terrible job.  And I was right.

After a year at the helm, no one argued when I stepped aside to make room for my successor, who did a FABULOUS job and still holds the post to this day.

Now, what if I’d just said “no” in the first place? This person could have been sharing his spiritual gift all along! Instead, my people-pleasing stood in the way of someone else’s calling.

I imagine God’s plan to heal the world and smooth out the injustices of mankind as a wave washing over a rippled, muddy beach.  With every powerful wave, the particles clinging to the tops of the sandy ridges are washed into the crevices, until eventually the surface is smooth and even.

God sees our peaks.  He also sees our valleys.  He has a plan to even them out, if we let Him.  This means sharing our abundance, and accepting help for our deficits.

He is not calling us to dig deeper into our debts.  He is not asking us to give what may be abundant to someone else besides ourselves.  He is not comparing the worthiness of each gift we possess.  After all, He’s the one that gave them!

And he’s not asking us to give to the point of being miserable.

2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” This passage doesn’t mean put on a happy face and dig deeper (though many church treasurers may wish it did), it means give in a way that makes you happy, fulfilled, sustained, empowered.

Don’t feel like you have anything to give right now at all? Then maybe it’s time to let God fill up your deficits by facing them, and asking for help.

Feel intimidated by others’ abilities and gifts? Don’t.  They aren’t yours to give, and God never expected them from you.

Feel frustrated you can’t give any money or time because you have none at the moment? Wait.  Wait in anticipation (which means be ready for it) for a wave of opportunity to wash over you and allow you to painlessly and joyfully share the abundance you have.

**This week, spend some intentional time on the following:

1)      What abundance in your life can you easily identify that could be shared?

2)      What deficits do you have?

3)      What deficits do you see in the world that need your surplus?

4)      Who in your life has an abundance in your deficit areas? Could they either partner with you, or replace you, to fill a need in the world?

5)      What potential abundances do you have that need to wait for a better time to share?