Tag Archives: efficient living

Abundant Life in Transition: Springtime pleasure or pain??

“AHHHH! Another inchworm on me!!!”

“I can’t go outside, there are BEES everywhere!”

“ This !@#$ pollen…I’m dyin’, Babe…”

Ah, the sounds of Spring.  If the gorgeous image above has you sneezing and itching rather than sighing and rejoicing, then you’re feeling the pain of many of us as we struggle to come to terms with this season.

It seems so unfair that during the most beautiful time of the year, when the world bursts into splendid color and temperatures are ideal, there are so many other things we have to deal with.  Bugs.  Pollen.  These bizarre inchworms I don’t remember before that are hanging from seemingly nowhere, creating a spider web of every parking lot, backyard, or school campus before terrorizing my kids, hours later, as they discover them on their clothes, in their ears, in their lunch bags…

Too bad Spring has to come with so much…life.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Spring is when everything wakes up, blooms, reproduces, spreads itself around, matures, creates, combines, transforms.  Spring is the process of creating life, and it is both exquisitely beautiful and unbelievably messy.  Spring is the necessary transition that every living thing must go through in order to obtain sustainability.

Spring is temporary, and nothing in bloom or in caterpillar form will look the same in a matter of weeks, or even days.  These things will eventually turn into what they were created to be, but in the meantime, the process can be viewed as either beautiful or an inconvenient, disgusting mess.

This spring, are we going to appreciate the flowers or begrudge the pollen?  In our own lives, are we going to appreciate the inevitable transformations, growth opportunities, and transitional periods we all go through?  Will we see them as temporary, prompting us to both relish the beauty of it AND have strength to get through the messier parts?

This is life.  This is the season we are in.  Recognize it, appreciate it, use it.  Don’t stay inside and wait for something better to come along later- you and all creation have important work to do.   It will beautiful and messy and weird…enjoy the ride, and enjoy the assurance that it’s turning into something fantastic.

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.

Finding the Fun in the Dysfunctional Holiday

As soon as I logged onto the slopes report, I knew this Christmas vacation was not going to turn out as planned: 0.00” of snow.  High in the low 60’s.  Rain expected for Wednesday.

It was tempting to call the whole thing off since obviously this year we were not going to have a repeat of the past two years’ mother lode of December snow on the east coast.  It just wasn’t going to be the same.

And it hasn’t been.

The weather has been more pleasant for our little ones.  A  hike is planned for this afternoon on the snow-free trails.  I heard “golf” mentioned under someone’s breath.

Best of all, the slopes have been limited, but less crowded, thanks to everyone else who bailed on this fantastic opportunity for a multi-season holiday.  And slush is the next best thing to powder, we’re realizing.

We had to go into this vacation realizing it wouldn’t match our original idea of a “perfect” holiday, and as a result, we looked for, and found, the hidden blessings these new conditions had to offer.

How else could we apply this mindset to this upcoming week?

So many of us desperately want our holiday to be *perfect*, and thereby construct an image in our mind as to what that should entail.  We are almost inevitably let down.

Our kids are imperfect.  Our relatives are imperfect.  Our judgment in choosing gifts is imperfect.  Our cooking is imperfect (okay, at least mine is).  If your house looks perfect right now, it won’t by 9am Christmas morning.

We need to not only accept these imperfections, but embrace and celebrate them for the blessings they contain. After all, that’s what the first Christmas was all about: unbelievable blessings to the world amidst a bunch of imperfect circumstances.

A teenaged, unwed mother.  A forced census that required a long journey during the last month of pregnancy.  Giving birth in a barn.  Finding out you’re now a fugitive because the king wants to kill your new baby.

The Christmas story is most notable for its imperfections, not despite them, and so can each of our Christmases be.

Step 1: Rather than picturing the “perfect” Christmas in your head this year, imagine the worst-case scenario.  You can do this- you know what’s coming.  You know exactly what Uncle Albert is capable of after that third glass of eggnog.  You know the gift that will be fought over.  You know how your mother-in-law will act.  You can name the elephants in that room.  Play the whole thing out, start to finish, in your mind, including the repercussions for each perceived “disaster”.  If everyone is still alive by the end of this scenario, you can stop stressing.

Step 2: Now imagine you’re watching it on TV.  Pretty funny, huh?  Sit back and see the back story, the endearing quirks, the irony, the misunderstood protagonists, the characters in transition, the comedies of errors.  Separate out the meaningless details from the real storyline that you will stick with you long after the day has played out.  And enjoy the twists and turns, because after all, when’s the last time you had a great laugh over the time everything went RIGHT?

Step 3: Proactively prepare for the hidden blessings.  Know your mom will overbuy for your kids? Then return a few gifts you had planned to give them, and enjoy the savings.  Your sister-in-law is a control freak?  Call her up now and delegate to her everything you don’t feeling like doing.  Strongly suspect your husband hasn’t gotten you anything?  Find the perfect gift for yourself, then plan a day after Christmas where your husband will take the kids to allow you to go out and get it yourself (plus a mani-pedi, in “interest.”) Can’t spend the actual day of Christmas the way you’d like to due to uncooperative extended family?  Plan a Boxing Day (Dec. 26th), New Year’s, or Three Kings Day that’s more intimate, more social, less materialistic…whatever you sacrificed on December 25th.

Step 4:  At the end of it all, reflect upon and appreciate what made this year unique.  Chances are, it will be all the quirks, drama, chaos, little crises, and messes that created the chemistry you will never, ever be able to repeat once the kids are older, the crazy elderly relatives have passed on, the random girlfriend was dumped, and the sister-in-law finally adjusted her meds.

Next Christmas may be more perfect, but I bet it won’t be more fun.  For now, let’s all enjoy the ride.

Merry Christmas!!!!

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?

Ways to Fully Enjoy the Advent Season

Upon opening the last present Christmas morning, my then 5-year-old uncle famously walked over the Christmas tree, pulled the plug, and announced, “Christmas is over.”

It was probably 8am.

Don’t we often feel that way? Not only has advent been replaced by a frantic countdown calendar entitled “Only – Shopping days until Christmas!”, but the concept of “The 12 days of Christmas” has been completely forgotten.

Somehow, the entire Christmas season has been reduced to that single moment of our families running down the stairs and saying “OOOOOHHHH” at the magical bounty we’ve created for them under the tree.  Starting the season early just means getting a jump-start on locating, purchasing, wrapping, and cooking the items necessary to create this snapshot image.

Trying to save money, reduce waste, and spread contentment and gratitude under this mindset is almost impossible, because we’ve created this formula:

Christmas = room full of gifts, therefore fewer gifts = less Christmas = deprived kids.

Many of us add an hour of church on Christmas Eve to this equation, plus nagging reminders to our kids about the Real Meaning Of Christmas, the Joy of Giving, and the Threat of Coal in the Stocking, but we all know the above formula is the dominant one.

But what if we gave ourselves and our family an entire SEASON of authentic, sustainable gifts, and then made Christmas morning last for days and weeks, rather than an hour?  Sound exhausting and expensive?  Exactly the opposite.

Through trial and error, and some stumbling across wonderful advice from friends and authors, I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive and even FREE ways to help us celebrate Advent as an entire season of sustainable joy, abundance, and gratitude rather than a frantic race leading to a fleeting moment of indulgence and entitlement.  Many of these tricks are for families with young children, but can be adapted to any situation.

3 Fun Ways to stretch out Advent:

The Bean Jar:  Starting December 1st, set out an empty jar next to a bowl of dried beans.  For each good deed done in our family, a bean goes into the jar.  Yes, it works the other way, too, in our house, at least. Christmas night, Santa replaces the beans with jelly beans (therefore knowing how Good or Bad everyone was), taking the dried ones back to make soup for the tired elves.

The Book Basket: This involves wrapping up 25 Christmas or winter-themed books and letting the kids unwrap one per night.  I use books we already have, but throughout the year search thrift stores and library sales to add a few surprises.  My kids LOVE this tradition, and even though they read chapter books independently by now, they cuddle up next to me (yep, even my 11-year-old) and allow me to stretch out a little more childhood in our family.  Plus, they get to unwrap 25 presents before Christmas morning!!

The Activity List:  Starting NOW, start brainstorming fun things you’d like to do this Christmas season.  Put a price limit on the entire thing, and treat the budget like one of your Christmas gifts…opened early!  Make sure many can be done spur-of-the-moment.  I seriously urge you to involve your kids in this list, because when I asked mine what they wanted to do, the simplicity of it often shocked me: Draw a picture of Santa Claus.  Make a paper chain for the Christmas tree.  Sing a song.  These are the things kids treasure, and we often miss them because we’re trying to give them a Barbie Dream House.

The best part of all three ideas is they give us practical and teaching methods to get the season in line with our values.  The Bean Jar encourages us to help others, recognize good behavior in our kids, and begin a healthy dialog about right vs. wrong.  The Book Basket can start the habit of a nightly devotional with our family, especially if we choose our Christmas books carefully.  And the Activity List can encompass service projects, educational opportunities, and time for fellowship.

With all of this, the Christmas season is already looking pretty good, and we haven’t even gotten to Christmas morning…that’s next week!