The Art of New Things

I’m not always good at new things. I love the idea of new things, but many times I can’t quite get behind them enough to follow through. This is why I was a bit nervous when I signed up for the the 31 day blog project again. The concept  of writing something every day is exciting, and even more exciting is the idea that people would come and read my words, but the space between the warm fuzzy of your comments and encouragement and the time it has taken this month to write all these thoughts is wide and there are days when I haven’t wanted to keep working my way across.  But here we are with only a few more days at the end of the month, and I have a plan to keep writing, and a plan to move just a wee little bit from here to my own website, another new thing to learn.

I sometimes think the idea of newness is a bit addictive. New is shiny and flashy and exciting until the time comes to put the work into it deserves.  Then it’s… well, it’s work.  Work isn’t always flashy or exciting so we abandon the old, new thing and move on the the latest, greatest new thing – on and on we go until we have piles of new things all around us but nothing has really changed at all, except for the amount of space our new things require.  And we just keep searching for that next “new thing” fix.

The reality of newness is that it isn’t an concept, a one and done approach to life, but an art.  Each and every new thing is an art and we are one of two people. We’re the people who just keep buying more art, or we are the artist.  The artist sees something beautiful and works to bring it to life.  The medium doesn’t matter, what matters is the true genesis not in acquiring but in creating. Ask any artist and he will tell you that beauty doesn’t just happen.  It’s work. It’s work and sweat and sometimes tears. It’s falling and failing and trying again, sometimes starting over completely from scratch. It’s not walking away when the shine wears off because you know that somewhere, buried deep, is a thing of such immense beauty that the world is less without it.

This is true newness.
We are the artists and the medium is our lives.
We can keep dressing life up, and masking it in all the trappings the world has to offer, or we can get to the real work of peeling away the dross and the excess, bringing to light a beautiful new thing that’s never been seen before, nor will be again.

But we have to decide to stop looking everywhere else and focus on the work at hand: our own unique life.
What we make of it will be our life’s work or our life’s waste.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Rev. 21:5

 

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My Road to Minimalism

The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1

 

I know that not every person who calls himself a minimalist also identifies himself as Christian. I don’t believe that in order to be a Christian a person must also be a minimalist.  I want to be very clear about those two things before we go further today.  Throughout the month I have shared mostly how-to’s and observations about minimalism that could be applied to most people in most life situations.  Today, I am sharing the more personal story of how my faith and minimalism are bound together.

As I mentioned earlier this month, we came to Georgia from Florida unexpectedly.  This move is what finally spurred us down the road to minimalism.  But even before that, we made two decisions that would forever change the way we handled money and possessions.  In the spring of 1998, I became pregnant with my second child. My oldest child was two months old.  We joke now that we prayed for God to make it possible for me to stay home one day,  but we didn’t enunciate and God thought we said MONday. At the time I was a high school teacher. We crunched the numbers a thousand ways, but there was no way to arrange them that made returning to work after the birth of our second child a wise financial option. Honestly, I never wanted to return to work after our first child was born, so I was ecstatic that the math only proved what I already knew: it was time to come home.  Our family of four soon grew to a family of five living on one income.  We lived more simply than many we knew, but we still hung on to the American ideal, and lived well beyond our means.  Leaving the workforce was a step, but a tiny one, and we still had far to go.

About three years after the birth of our youngest daughter, my Hunky made the decision to leave his position as head athletic trainer at the same high school I left three years earlier.  That year we entered ministry for better and for worse.  We were part of a very mission minded congregation, which slowly began to change our thinking.  Over our six years there, we began to look at the world and our place in it quite differently.  However we still tried to reconcile what we knew of a world in need with what we wanted from the American Dream.  We overextended in buying our first home while attempting to live generously in other ways.  I certainly don’t think it is wrong to own a home, but I know for us, it was not one of our wisest choices.  Yet, I believe it was all part of God’s plan to teach us what lifestyle He intended for us.  I do not regret the time we spent in that house, in fact I have many wonderful memories of our time there and even today would love to live in a smaller space as that house was.

When it was time for us to leave Florida, the decision was sudden and shocking. We had not prepared for a drastic life change nor had we expected to leave the state. Our little house which we bought at the very top of the real estate bubble was next to impossible to sell from the market basement, add some catastrophic flooding to the area three months prior, and we were stuck.  The house foreclosed and the financial consequences were beyond our ability to absorb.  From a cultural standpoint, we were ruined. From God’s viewpoint, we were finally ready to get started.  When you’re standing in the rubble of a life, about the only thing you can do is reevaluate everything.  You know there is going to be rebuilding, but it’s time to decide if the same blueprint is what you want any more.  For us, it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.  As we packed…and packed….and packed….and packed our possessions in preparation to move, I began to question the contents of every box.  As we considered places to live from the viewpoint of everything being temporary, we found our needs had drastically changed.  The family that came to Georgia four years ago, bears little resemblance to the family that resides here today.  Every thing we thought we wanted, every marker of success, every physical possession we have retained has been through a refining fire.  We have new eyes and new hearts to go with our new lives.

We lost everything, but it wasn’t until we willingly let it go that we were truly free.
We have gone from financial devastation to being more fiscally stable than we have ever been.
We no longer view possessions with permanence but place our priorities in eternal pursuits.
We’re living more prosperously with less than when we let culture define prosperity for us.
The road to get here is one I would never have embarked on voluntarily, but I am grateful to have been set on it all the same.

10 Reasons You can’t be a Minimalist Pt. 1

I haven’t been a minimalist for very long, but I have heard a lot of reasons why people can’t be minimalists themselves. The funny thing is I’m not asking anyone to change how they live.  Yet it seems the knee jerk reaction to a going-against-the-grain life style is a defensive position.  I don’t think non-minimalists are evil hoarders intent on undoing the world. I do think that at the very least, we could all benefit from examining why we live the style of life we live. This goes for everyone. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Minimalism is my way of examining my life, continually.  You don’t have to be a minimalist to do so, but I do want to help dispel some of the lies telling us, “you can’t.”  We’re going to tackle this in three parts so it isn’t overwhelming.

1) I don’t have time to be a minimalist.
This is one that I actually agree with at the outset. Time is our most valuable commodity and it’s being used by the minute and the hour, day after day.  All of us struggle to find time for the many things demanded of us.  I’ve been actively pursuing this lifestyle for two years now, and I am still making loaded trips to the thrift store with our stuff.  If you want to start minimizing, all you need is 5 minutes and a place to start: a drawer, a room, a closet, a junk box. No one is timing you; it isn’t a contest. Set aside five minutes a day and work on that space for all of the five minutes. Today…tomorrow…the next day, until it’s done. Then pick the next space and do it again.  If you can do more than five minutes, awesome! If you miss a day or three, who cares? Start where you were and keep moving forward. The key is to not let things re-gather in the space after you have finished.  So what if it takes you a month to do two kitchen drawers?  You still managed two kitchen drawers! The further you go, the more time you have because you won’t be constantly spinning trying to find where you left something or figuring out where this thing goes, or tripping over things in the corners.  Pick a spot. Set a timer. Go for five. We all have five minutes.

2) I don’t know where to start
This excuse pairs well with number one so I won’t reiterate everything. There is no template here, no right place to start. Find an area that is manageable and preferably one that yields fast results. The faster you finish the first task, the more likely you are to start a second. Get started.  I have a few cautions. Do only one area at a time. When we start more than one project, we generally create more chaos and are less inclined to finish. One area, any area, as much as you can each day for as long as it takes. You’re practically an expert already! Be sure you have a place for trash and a box for things you plan to give away or sell. This way you aren’t making more piles as you go.

3) My husband/ wife/ significant other/ parents/ dog/ goldfish is a pack rat
This is not an excuse because being a minimalist is only about you. Yours is the life you are examining, not anyone else. No one around you has to change, only you. You go through your things, your clothes, your desk, your toiletries.  We all have areas that are exclusively our own, more even than we realize. Begin with your things.  It’s very likely that after some time, whoever you share your space with is going to start changing as well.  My own husband recently did a major overhaul on his wardrobe before we moved last summer. I didn’t have to nag or make barbed comments.  Change is a gradual process, and people have to want it for themselves before they will join you.  If you want change, then begin changing you. Don’t let what others won’t do be the roadblock in your journey.

4) I have kids
This may be the most common and most disturbing argument.  When we moved from one state to another four years ago, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff my children had accumulated in eleven years of existence.  There were enough clothes for a village, enough toys for a nursery school and enough trash to cause me concern for the future of our environment. Most kids today are absolutely glutted with stuff.  We throw them birthday parties with forty friends and every single child brings a gift. We want each Christmas to be bigger and more wonderful than the last. They are bombarded constantly through the media with the message that they must have the latest, greatest, biggest, best, newest of everything.  It’s no wonder they can’t even keep their room clean, they don’t know where to start either! Your children don’t know it, and they will fight against it, but what they need more than anything in this world is for us to help unburden them from this load piled upon them, help teach them appreciation for what they have, and how to focus on what really matters.  Later in the month I will devote an entire post sharing how we’ve managed minimalism with our own three teen-age girls.  I truly believe that we continue to do our children an enormous disservice if we allow them to be the reason we won’t minimize.

Part 2: HERE
Part 3: HERE

31 days

I’m Expecting

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about expectations lately.
I have many.  Whether that is a good or bad thing doesn’t matter because anticipating the future is part of my personality, a part which has led to some of my most enjoyable seasons and also some of my hardest.  The problem begins when  expectational me hangs out with perfectionist me.  Perfectionism is a trait I am retraining slowly.  I apparently overlooked it in this area of my life as I find it running rampant.  Expectational me hopes things will be a certain way, then perfectionist me sweeps in yelling, “Wrong! wrong! wrong! None of this is how it should be. IT IS ALL A CATASTROPHIC FAILURE!”   When I allow perfectionist to be the only voice I hear, I allow myself to be robbed of anything that is good about the situation, and even worse, feeling as though I was cheated out of something that was owed.

Robbed and cheated: I’ve heard about someone who works in exactly those ways- seeking to kill, steal and destroy.

It’s a difficult realization.  I’ve been using the enemy’s own weapons against myself, and doing it so perfectly that he doesn’t even have to come near.  But as in all things, something difficult has a positive side. Despite the fact that I may have been my own worst enemy, I also have the most deeply vested interest in changing this pattern of behavior. I can control the way I respond and react, not quickly or all at once, but slowly, changing small behaviors one at a time which eventually leads to big change.

I believe expectations are good, but I also believe that I need to stop expecting events to unfold just-so.  Life happens. Usually it happens without input, advice or direction from me, but my response doesn’t have to just happen. I don’t have to let the perfectionist run around screaming and pointing out all the flaws. I could, in fact, let the wide-eyed wondering me take over. She likes to point out the beautiful things, the things that are seldom noticed by a frantically screaming perfectionist. She has mastered the art of being still and observing small miracles, but she is inherently quiet, so she seldom receives my full attention. It’s time to change that too.

The words “slow, small and still” continue to speak wholeness  over my life in the most beautiful ways.  Their very unassuming nature waits on my reflection and acceptance of what is and who I am and guides me gently in finding the answers to the differences I seek. What I am learning is not to let go of my expectations, but to temper them, and to allow reality the grace to be different then I imagined but to be beautiful anyway.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.