Archive of ‘faith’ category

Contentment Challenge

I mentioned in my 2014 goals that I’m going on a spending fast for three months — today I’m going to share a little more on why and what it’s going to entail.

Actually, as a sidenote, if you look at my monthly goals, this year is starting off pretty LAME-O. I started a Paleo diet on Monday and am announcing today to fast from shopping for three months. What in the world am I thinking? On bad days, what will comfort me when I can’t eat bread or shop in Target?! I guess we’ll find out. But both cleanses are much-needed, and like I’ve said before — it’s good to take advantage of January. Everyone else is watching their wallet and their waists, so I’m in good company.

On to the spending fast….

Well, you see, for the past four months I have been on a spending spree. Buying things for the house, decorations, clothes, gadgets, you name it. I spent all summer pinching pennies for our house down payment, and as soon as we bought the house I was like a kid in a candy store. If I wanted it, I found a way to buy it.

Now, before you send the Debt Police on me — yes, there is a Debt Police and his name is Dave — I haven’t gone over budget or gone into credit card debt for these expenses. But on the other hand I have been creating that budget and making more room in the discretionary expense category than probably should be.

Here’s the truth: I love buying new things. It makes me happy. I love all the things that we bought. I love walking the aisle of Target and grabbing a cute picture frame on my way to pick up groceries. I love walking into Anthropologie and dreaming of how I can incorporate all of their kitchen stuff into my house. I love trying things on in J.Crew and envisioning where I can wear it next. I love walking the large aisle of Home Depot looking for ways to improve our home.

Part of me justifies my spending these past months:
- I need new clothes for work!
- Our house is so empty!
- I still don’t spend nearly as much as some people do!
- I have spent years getting out of debt, paying for our wedding, and saving for a house… isn’t it time to enjoy our money now?!
- We are still giving away money, isn’t it okay to get ourselves a little something? 

All of those excuses are justified, and I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending money on yourself. Please don’t hear me say that. I’m just feeling a little unsettled about it all. It’s not a money thing, but my heart. And lately my heart has become greedy and ungrateful. Not so pretty.

So I’m deciding to go on a spending fast to get back to what’s important – relationships and giving and being content with the things I have now, not constantly being consumed with what I don’t have. I want to be content in any and every situation.

I follow Nancy Ray and Lara Casey’s blogs, and they recently went on a Contentment Challenge last year, taking a fast from shopping for a few months, which has inspired this whole project.

contentment challenge

I’m going preface the rules with words from Lara Casey (she said it best):

This is not about rules.  It’s about doing what God has been urging me to do.  If He puts it on my heart to buy something for a good reason, I will do just that. Like Jesus healing people on the Sabbath, this is not about following guidelines just for the sake of guidelines.  God is bigger than rules.  It’s about fasting from something that I feel is keeping me from a deeper relationship and understanding of God’s heart.

My Guidelines (modified from Nancy’s and Lara’s just slightly):

  • Prepare your heart and organize your closet. During the week of Christmas and New Years I went through my closet and got rid of old clothes and accessories I never wear or use. This is only one of five closets I want to tackle in the next few months. If I don’t wear it, use it, or find it beautiful, it’s getting donated. (Also part of my goal to simplify and make my home meaningful and purposeful).
  • Make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months or plan for them. I have a list of things I will allow during the challenge. These include gray or khaki pants for work (I have a $50 giftcard to Gap I’m hoping will cover this) and new tennis shoes (I still haven’t replaced mine since running the marathon — ack!). Also, I am planning to put up a gallery wall behind my TV in the next month or so, but will only use frames I have at home or shop at thrift stores instead of buying them new.
  • I am fasting from buying new clothes, household items, craft supplies, accessories and general stuff. If I want to read a new book, I will borrow it from a friend or the library. The biggest tempting place will be Target, especially with their new Cartwheel App. Yes it saves so much money (download it if you shop there often!), but I also buy more things I don’t need just because I don’t want to miss out on a good deal. Food, gifts, items for basic living and experiences are not a part of this fast for me. For example, if I am making a craft with my friends (an experience) or crocheting something for a baby shower (gift), then buying craft supplies are fine. But buying crafts just to buy them or because I’m bored is off-limits. (Michael’s is another trap for me.:)
  • Focusing on giving during this time. I’d like to give something away every day. Whether something physical, a prayer or encouragement. Just something that is given to someone else. (Carrie from the Caroline G shop has a lot of ideas on little ways to encourage others. I highly recommend following her Instagram account!)
  • I am hoping to do this until April 8th. My goal isn’t to be legalistic, but to cultivate a heart of contentment and satisfaction. I may decide to end it sooner or extend it longer, but my goal is not to buy anything frivolous until our anniversary.
  • Choose something to read during this time. I read Seven over the holidays and am in the middle of reading Radical. I plan to read Whispers of Hope, 1000 Gifts and the Bible. (If you have any other book recommendations, please let me know!)
  • Gifts are okay! I have lots of birthdays and baby showers in the next few months, so I am absolutely still buying gifts. And if someone gives me something, I will receive it graciously.
  • Necessities are okay! If I break my glasses, I will buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. Ex: “I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”
  • Actively pursue something good that helps to replace your tendency to buy stuff as a source of comfort. Let’s go ahead and nix food from that list. ;) Something that points you back to what matters most. For me it may be prayer, running, painting, gardening, taking walks, making memories, or finding an organization to get involved with.

Philippians 4:12

Immediately after setting this goal, a whole host of doubts and questions pop in my head:
- But what about all of the great sales after Christmas?
- How will I rebuild my wardrobe when I am not buying any clothes?
- What about decorating my house? There are still so many things I need to furnish and decorate this place!

Then I tried to think of the people who had some of the things I wanted – beautiful clothes or a gorgeous house or the newest, nicest gadgets – and asked myself, “Do I like them for their stuff or for them?” Absolutely, without hesitation, 100% for them, not their things. So why do I want to be the kind of person with so many things? Why are we so consumed with stuff?

A while ago J and I made a list of really big money dreams we have for our future. All were focused on becoming financially secure enough to give generously and live to the fullest. None of these things included having the perfectly decorated house or stylish clothing. They are financial goals that would put us in a stable position, but all so we can live a simple life that gives generously and loves great.

My goal for this challenge is that my spending afterwards will be more thoughtful and less impulsive, that I will choose quality over quantity, and that I can bless others through my saved time and money.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for the next few months. :) We will see how it goes! I plan to touch base every couple of weeks to give update on the challenge, what’s been difficult and what I am learning.

Do you want to join me on this journey? No pressure at all. But if so, use the #contentmentchallenge hashtag to join Nancy and others.



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Hospitality Journal

“Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved.  It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment. Part of that, then, is honoring the way God made our bodies, and feeding them in ways they need to be fed.” – Shauna Niequest in Bread and Wine

“I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility.”  Shauna Niequest in Bittersweet

One of my biggest desires for our house is that it will be used to bless others. I’m not sure what that will look like over the years, but I long for it to be a place for people to gather, a safe haven to meet needs and bring comfort and community. One of my favorite books (and reinforcer of this desire) is Shauna Niequest’s Bread and Wine (quoted above). She paints a gorgeous picture of what life looks like when you open your messy home and invite people in.

As I’ve mentioned before, hosting doesn’t come naturally to me. The reason is easy, really: I’m afraid people won’t have a good time or things won’t be perfect or people won’t like me. Again, why I think that is silly, but there it is.

Most of that, I just need to get over. But some of these fears can be eliminated by preparing and planning head.

The first thing I do when I start to plan a party is think about what worked and didn’t work from previous events. But a lot of times the details are a little foggy. That birthday dinner — did that pasta dish have shrimp or chicken in it? Where was that recipe from? Do people respond better via email or Evite? Who did I originally invite and how many people came? 

I decided to create a hospitality journal, to help remember these events and make notes for future reference on what worked and what didn’t.

Here’s a little preview into what this journal looks like:

Hospitality journal - to keep a record of all events, parties and people staying over to reference later

First, find a journal that you can devote to record any time that you had people over, hosted a party, or had overnight guests over. Some examples of what to record, include:

Parties / Dinners:

  • Date of party
  • Invitation format – ex: word of mouth, evite, mailed invitation)
  • Menu – what the host cooked/prepared, what guests brought
  • Music – what playlist or station?
  • Who is invited and how many came
  • Decorations
  • Summary of party, highlights
  • What would you do differently?

Overnight guests:

  • Date
  • Who stayed over
  • Occasion / reason
  • Meals at home (ex: what did you keep in your fridge for snacks, breakfast, etc.)
  • Summary of overnight stay, etc.
  • What would you do differently?

Here’s an example from a dinner party I had the other day:

Excerpt from hospitality journal

Maybe it’s a little silly to have record of only parties and hosting, but I think having a guide to reference later should be VERY helpful for future events. (Also, it’s not any stranger than having a journal full of dinners.:)

Do you host a lot of events at your house? Do you have any tips for preparing for parties? 



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Big Money Dreams

J and I want to be used by God in whatever way He has for us. Right now, we feel that we are called to live and work in this area, and sometimes I wish that was different. I wish our calling was a little more… spiritual. Being in the trenches of relief and rescue in the middle of Africa sounds way more exciting than an ordinary middle-class life in the suburbs of Raleigh. There is a perception of extra special blessing and calling from God on those kinds of people, and for a long time I was jealous that my life didn’t take that direction.

But the more I read God’s word, the more I realize we are all given the same commands and the same mission. The people serving in full time ministry were not given special instructions, we are all called to serve the poor, care for orphans, and love our neighbors. Just because I have a normal 8 to 5 job doesn’t mean my role in the Body of Christ is any less valuable than those who work full time in ministry. There are plenty of orphans and neighbors in Raleigh that need some love.

We also see a great opportunity to be used in a mighty way through our finances. One of my favorite things about getting out of debt and financial secure is the ability to give. Oh my gosh I love it. Oftentimes being wealthy gets a bad rep. It sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? And of course it can be, but I don’t think it has to be.

Ya’ll, we have some big dreams for our money. Some simple, some practical, some crazy. Some are a little selfish, like going on trips, saving for retirement, blessing our family, etc. But most of our dreams are to bless those around us and those who do work in full-time ministry. We want to use our money for good.

My-Money-Dreams

For more details, or if it’s easier to read in text:

  1. Buy a house cheaper than we can afford so we are in a position to give generously and not be stuck in ridiculously high payments.
  2. Save for and buy new used cars in cash so we don’t have to finance ever again.
  3. Go on an international trip before we start a family.
  4. Increase the amount we save for retirement, and don’t touch it until we retire.
  5. Give away at least 15% of our income to our church, missionaries, and local organizations. Give more if we are able!
  6. Have a savings account to use for random acts of kindness or spontaneous needs that friends or family have.
  7. Move to a house with a live-in basement, or create a space in our home, to provide families or couples or students free or cheap housing whenever they need it.
  8. Continue to support our missionary friends, and take a trip to visit each around the world.
  9. Start one or be actively involved with a local ministry that fights injustice.
  10. Adopt a child (if God calls us to), and/or help other families afford adoption.
  11. Have a gift drawer or closet full of treasures to bless friends and family with.
  12. Grow a garden full of flowers and plants to fill my home and give to friends.
  13. Have a kitchen full of fresh healthy food to feed anyone that stops by.
  14. Save and afford to go on one missions trip a year (or every other year) as a family to teach my kids about other cultures and experiences.
  15. Save and pay for our children’s undergraduate college education.
  16. Pay off our house early.
  17. Save and pay for our children’s weddings.
  18. Bless our grandchildren with trips and gifts and memories.

Oh my word, just looking at this list fires me up. I want to be able to give generously, live fully, and invest into relationships. Of course we don’t need to be rich to do any of those things (except for maybe the trips), but it’s about choosing people and experiences over stuff. God’s kingdom over my kingdom.

Steven-Covey quote on Success

At the end of my life, I don’t want to have wasted this time. I want to look at all of the resources I have — money, talents, gifts, relationships — and be satisfied with the way I used them. It reminds me of the parable Jesus tells about the servant who managed the bag of gold wisely:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” – Matthew 25:23

If I want to bless others in a big way in the future, I have to cultivate that attitude and start blessing others with the little I have today. I need to live simply. Save and stay out of debt. Be diligent and work hard at my job. Give more than what is comfortable. And invite people into the mess of my life today.

What are your big money dreams?



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My Friday Night Broken Heart

Last Friday our church had a documentary screening on human-trafficking. It wasn’t our typical relax-over-homemade-pizza-and-TV Friday activity, but we decided to go anyway, reluctant as we were.

The video was about 90 minutes long, and afterwards there was a panel of church leaders and members who shared how they were helping in the area and around the world to fight the problem. J wanted to stick around and talk with some people at a few tables afterwards. We bought a Tiny Hands bracelet at a booth, and then I asked if we could go. He tried to make conversation on the way to the car, but I just couldn’t speak.

Once our car doors shut, I lost it.

For five minutes in the church parking lot, I cried uncontrollably. Deep gut-wrenching sobs. I wept for the orphans sold into slavery. I wept for the girls herded and bargained like cattle. I wept for the children whose parents permitted, even encouraged, a lifestyle of prostitution, because it was more profitable than other professions. I wept for the women on display in Amsterdam windows for men to purchase for the night. I wept for the women who were tricked by the glamor of a Pretty Woman happy ending, stuck in abusive and violent lifestyles. I wept for the millions of children sexually abused by trusted family members, beginning a life of shame and fear and self-worthlessness.

But above all, I wept because I felt so helpless. The problem was so huge. The number of women too high. The trafficking too smart. The corruption too big. How could I do anything to make even a dent in this problem? It was too much, the evil too great.

It’s easy for me, and most of us I think, to feel helpless and then move on. Feel sad, but chalk it up to another issue we can’t do anything about. Go about our lives and assume someone else will handle it. Someone with more resources and more leadership and more access for change.

But then I think of the African slave trade. Abolition didn’t happen over night, and it didn’t happen from one person single-handedly abolishing slavery. It took years of hard work and awareness and advocation and reform from thousands of individuals who cared enough about the lives and humanity of those persecuted.

I want my grandkids to learn about this issue in their history class. I want it to be a horrible thing that used to happen. On the same list of past horrors like the Holocaust, African slavery, genocide. I want them to ask me if I did anything to help, and I want my answer to be yes. To show them tangible ways of how an average middle-class girl in North Carolina can make a difference, albiet small, in changing the world for the better.

 

Here is the trailer for the video, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.

On Blogging, Boston & Fridays

Oy! How is it Friday already and this is my first post? I didn’t mean to take a blogging break on here, but I guess I needed one. To be honest, I am in a bit of a blogging rut lately. I go through spurts where I love blogging and have dozens of posts I can’t wait to write and get on here… and other times, not so much.

I’m blaming this break on the weather. Since I work full time, I have to write these blog posts either before work, after work or on the weekends. And lately the last thing I want to do is get behind a computer screen any more than I have to. Spring is too short, and I want to experience as much as I can before it turns to hot, humid summer.

This week I have been sad for Boston. And angry. There are a lot of things to fear when you run a marathon–the trek, the pain, the mental strain–but fearing for your life should not be one of them. And crossing the finish line after hours of running is such a sense of joy and relief and accomplishment! I hate that was taken from some people. Supporters and volunteers are so vital and precious to the race. When I approached the finish line at the Charleston Marathon my sisters, husband, parents, friends, and hard-working volunteers were there, cheering and supporting me. This week there was a friend, parent, husband, sister, volunteer that was injured or killed, and that makes me sad.

Growing up, I liked to view God only as loving, full of grace and goodness. Stories about God’s wrath and judgment scared me. But as I have gotten older and learned more about the evil in this world and the character of God, justice has become one of my favorite qualities. God is not only compassionate, loving, and gracious, but equally just and righteous, demanding payment for all evil in this world. It isn’t scary any more, but comforting to know that all of the wrong in this world will one day be made right.

On a lighter note, it’s Friday and the weekend is upon us! Sometimes I marvel at how sweet Fridays are. They come once a week, consistently every seven days, but each time there is a happy energy in the air that fun and rest are coming. I enjoy working and love staying busy, but each time Friday rolls around I realize how powerfully sweet a break from our routine can be. And how happy that it comes once a week!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday is Coming

Good Friday was the arguably the worst day in the history of mankind.

Jesus — a man who controlled the weather, healed the sick, comforted the brokenhearted, fought for social justice, and sought to bring a kingdom of peace in the midst of an oppressive Roman government — was crucified. His closest friends, the men who quit their careers and followed him like nomads, deserted him and denied their connections with him. He was beaten, mocked, and put through excruciating physical pain. Worst of all, the relationship that had forever existed between Jesus and the Father, an eternal oneness in Love that no one can even comprehend, was severed. This was a pain so great no human can even fathom.

What is good about a day like this? It should be named Worst Friday.

And Saturday? It should be called Sorrowful Saturday. After Jesus’ body was put in the tomb, it was eerily quiet. A day of so many unanswered questions. The disciples felt foolish for wasting three years for a man that just… died. They wondered, after witnessing thousands of miracles, why Jesus wouldn’t fight back. He just… gave up. The new kingdom they longed for vanished and they were left disappointed and devastated.

It was Bad Friday, until we get to Sunday.

Sunday — the resurrection. Jesus rose from the grave and conquered death forever. The veil was torn in the temple, providing a way for all people to enter the presence of God. The wrath of God for all the sins of the world were poured out on His perfect son, so that we might be called blameless. We are not only forgiven, but counted righteous. It was the greatest gift for those who believed, followed by an even sweeter gift — the promise of his Spirit to give us abundant life. This terrible day ended up being a victorious, beautiful day or redemption, love and hope.

 

Many of us are going through Friday right now. A time when evil is winning. Surrounded by pain and sorrow and disappointment and brokenness and death. Or maybe we are on Saturday, that quiet day after a tragedy filled with so many unanswered questions. We look at our circumstances and ask, Why would this happen? How on earth can anything good come from this?

But my friends — Sunday is coming. It’s coming! It has been written and planned before time. It will happen! We are the lucky ones this side of the cross to get a sneak peak into the end of the story. And spoiler alert: Good wins. Evil will be wiped from the earth, and there will never be any darkness, because the glory from the Lord will fill the earth. We will have new, perfect bodies, without sickness. There will be no strife or jealousy, but only love and goodness. These things are promised for those who look back at that weekend two thousand years ago and say, Yes, that happened. I believe. 

I am thankful for this weekend, for so many reasons. It gives me great hope. The hope that one day we will look back on all of the days where it looked like evil prevailed, and call them Good.



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