Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

On the Midnight Hour

At the altar of my couch

in the temple of my living room,

I am saying the only words that ever seem enough;

You are good, You are good, You are good.

I can hear my daughter’s sound machine

drifting through her door.

The sound of rain that just keeps falling and falling and flooding and flooding

and yet I am saying

the only words that ever give me an umbrella in the downpour;

You are good, You are good, You are good.

My familiar places seem alien in the shadows and the silence,

and the things I take for granted are suddenly unknown.

But I keep on saying the only words I’ve ever known,

You are good.

In this midnight hour, the most honest of moments,

when there’s no one to hear me say it

and no one to see me scared,

I find my heart has not stopped saying

You are good.

You are good.

You are good.

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On Lent

I grew up evangelical. One could even call it charismatic. (I do go to a church with two separate receptacles on either side of the stage just to hold the multicolored flags.)

Lately, I’ve been inexplicably drawn to the liturgical tradition. The world of liturgy is completely and utterly foreign to me. Many people grew up following the traditional church calendar; I had never heard of it until this year but the Lord is inviting me to experience life in what I’ve always written off as antiquated and dull.

Last December, my iPhone Bible app suggested I follow a reading plan for the Advent Season. I had an idea that Advent had something to do with Christmas, which sounded appropriately merry, so I followed it and enjoyed it. That was my first introduction to the liturgical calendar, and it was an easy one to get my feet wet with.

A couple weeks ago, my Bible app had another suggestion for me: a Lenten reading plan.

Basically all I know about Lent is that it starts with Mardi Gras with a lot of boobie flashing and drinking and craziness, and then everyone brags about giving up TV or caffeine for a month and a half. Another dead tradition, a spiritualized second try at one’s New Year’s Resolutions.

But, drawn to something very old, motivated to look past our culture’s bastardization of everything beautiful (and inspired by an article I read on HuffPost Religion), I decided to choose a reading plan and find out what God wanted to say to me through Lent. I was a day late and missed Ash Wednesday. (I cried.)

“… we can become desensitized to our needs – the real hungers –  in our lives. Observing Lent can help us wrestle with the reasons behind our perpetual consumption… [Lent] invites us to voluntarily jump off the hamster wheel of consumption and experience the pinch of abstaining from continual, thoughtless indulgence. It has the potential to give our frenetic, material selves a much needed break.” -Eileen Button, Hollow Sacrifice

When I read this quote from one of the devotionals in my bible reading plan, I knew instantly why I had felt so compelled to observe Lent, albeit in my own way.

I’ve realized that I’ve become desensitized to my real hunger, that I consume (in so many ways) without thinking or tasting or appreciating. My frenetic, material self needs a break. After all, that’s what this whole Simplicity thing is all about: Slowing down. Tuning into my actual needs. Rediscovering my deep desires. Making room for the truly valuable in my life. Exchanging that which does not last for that which lasts forever.

Lent isn’t just about giving something up, or even about living simply (as nicely as it dovetails with our family goals this year).

Lent, as I understand it, is about preparing yourself to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter by spending 40 days in penitence. It’s a season to be reminded of our own humanity, our brokenness, and our great need for a savior.

Because I run in the Bethel crowd, I know plenty of fellow believers who don’t do Lent because it’s viewed in our circle as unnecessary and even a little blasphemous.  I am already justified. It’s done, once for all. I don’t spend my life asking for forgiveness or dwelling on my brokenness, because I’m already forgiven, and I’m no longer broken. I see myself as God sees me, as He sees Christ: whole and pure and worthy to come directly to Him. My nature is changing day by day as I look into God’s face; I live not in shame but in grace and joy and fullness. Spending a full 40 days lamenting about my sin and defectiveness seems a little silly in light of the truth of my redeemed identity. We don’t really do penitence.

But we do thankfulness. Because, justified as we are, we have a lot to be thankful for. Not just salvation, but for ongoing relationship with the only one who can save me from myself. We get to live in Heaven, here and now.

In fact, this Lent, God is reminding me that I don’t live under the law, but under grace.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” -John 1:17, ESV

“For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)” -Romans 4:15, NLT

So this Lent, I’m not giving something up so much as I’m adding some things in: thankfulness, intention, and freedom.

On Teaching Toddlers to Own Their Bodies

Adults behave curiously around small children. It’s something I’ve noticed since having my own child, and it’s a mixed bag. I appreciate when people kneel down to speak to Isabella on her level; I understand when people change their tone of voice; I don’t mind when people ignore me and address their conversation to her.

What I can’t understand is why adults would treat a child in a way that they wouldn’t dream of treating a fellow adult. People get inches from her face, freely touch her, and fail to interpret basic body language. Many people don’t seem to think twice about expressing physical affection with a child who is a complete stranger, as if children were public property.

I suspect this happens to most children but I feel like this happens a lot with Isabella. I’m definitely biased, but her remarkable cuteness invites attention from people nearly everywhere we go.

A few weeks ago, we were at a social event with friends and acquaintances, most of whom recognize Izzy but don’t really have a relationship with her. At one point while I was holding her, a man at the party came up and said hello to her. She did the usual tuck-my-head-into-mommy’s-neck-and-glower-warily-at-stranger move. He tickled her ribs and gently teased her about being shy, and she cuddled hard into me. (If you have kids you know the move- when they tuck their legs up tight and try to make themselves disappear into you.) When he tried a couple more times, she finally said, “No! Stop!” several times, quietly but forcefully. He playfully poked her a few more times before I wrapped my free arm around her and turned away, mumbling something about how she was overstimulated.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking about this incident. I feel a little bad writing about it because the guy is a friend that we know and trust, and I know that he had the purest of intentions- to interact and play with my daughter. But I felt bothered that he – like nearly every adult we encounter – had no sense of boundaries and completely failed to read Isabella’s basic body language and even her clear words.

What bothered me more was that I failed to enforce Isabella’s comfort zone when she wasn’t able to do it herself. In that moment, I chose to help him save face instead of protect my daughter. It doesn’t matter that an adult isn’t doing anything wrong, it matters that Isabella feels uncomfortable or unsafe. And because I was afraid of offending this person, I didn’t do my job.

You might think, what’s the big deal? It’s just a little innocent tickling. She’s fine.

We’re going to get deep here, but just for a second. Not many people know this about me, but I was sexually abused for many years as a kid. I’ve gone through intensive therapy and inner healing and today I’m really and truly whole. But because of my experience, I’m extremely protective of my child.

We’ve all heard the stats- 1 of every 4 girls will be molested by the age of 18. I was. My daughter will not be.

Because we can’t be with our children all the time, it’s important to be intentional about teaching them to protect themselves. Children’s brains are hard-wired during the early years, and every experience shapes their behavoir and how they relate to the world.

I think the first and most basic thing you can do with young kids is teach them that they have ownership over their own bodies. How do you do that?

1. Respect their boundaries during physical play

Most of us can easily tell the difference between a playful “stop, haha!” and a serious “stop!” while tickling or roughhousing. When they seriously ask you to stop, stop. She needs to know that she has the power to accept or reject physical affection from anyone. A playful poke might not seem like a big deal to us, but it can be a huge violation of trust to a child.

2. Respect their boundaries when giving affection

I’ll admit that it’s not always easy for Stephen and I. We’re both very affectionate people and we love to love on our little girl. But when she pushes me away when I try to kiss her cheek, or says, “No, down,” when Stephen scoops her up for a hug, we listen. As a trusted adult, your child looks to you to help establish and enforce her boundaries. Remember, just because that cute little kid is too little to physically prevent you from tickling them, kissing them, or picking them up, that doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to do it.

3. Hold them to the same expectations

Isabella stopped nursing a few months ago, and she still absentmindedly pulls at my shirt or feels my chest. When she does it, I gently but firmly tell her, “I don’t like it when you pull my shirt down.” When she climbs on my lap and jams her elbow into my pregnant belly, I stifle a yelp and remind her “That hurt me. I’d love to have you on my lap, but only if you can sit still.”

4. Employ non-physical consequences

There are times when I have to forcibly remove Isabella from a location, but whenever possible, I give her the option to remove herself, and she usually does. Stephen and I, for a variety of reasons, don’t use spanking or any other kind of corporal punishment. One reason is that I think this sends the child a message that their body doesn’t belong to them; it tells them that a violation of physical boundaries by an authority figure is an appropriate consequence for misbehavior. This is especially powerful considering that the vast majority of child molesters are adults who are in a position of trust and authority in a child’s life.

5. Use anatomically correct terminology

If you exhibit a comfort level with the correct words for the human body, children will naturally develop a comfort level with their own body. More importantly, child molesters are not going to talk to your daughter about her vagina. If she starts calling it a cupcake, you’ve got some investigating to do.

6. Teach about appropriate and necessary touch

Obviously, there are times when genuine necessity trumps a child’s objections, like diaper changes and doctor visits. Certain people in certain situations will have to touch your child even if it makes him uncomfortable. Now is a great time to start discussing these necessities and laying out the appropriate circumstances for them to occur. For instance, it’s ok for a doctor to touch you at the doctor’s office when mommy or daddy is with you. It’s not ok for an adult to take you to a room alone and “play doctor.”

 

I couldn’t get the incident at that party out of my head, because I feel like I failed. In the grand scheme of things, that one moment isn’t going to have a huge long-term impact, but realizing that every experience shapes a young child’s understanding of her world, it made me want to get a little more serious about teaching Isabella that her body belongs to her. Period. Even if it offends an adult.

Even if you don’t have your own kids, you can still help to instill this sense of body ownership. When interacting with a little one, follow the same unwritten social rules you would with an adult: give them some space; watch their body language and facial expressions; don’t dismiss their words, (no matter how cute they sound); show them respect and respond to their cues.

On Calling Myself a Feminist (even though I’m a stay at home mom)

This post is part of a link up with Kelly J. Youngblood over at Renewing Your Mind on the topic of feminism and traditionalism. Check out her post and the others that have been shared! (This is the first Linkup I’ve done. I have no idea if I’m doing it right.)

I was raised in a home where my parents generally played traditional gender roles; my mom was a homemaker for the majority of my school years, and my dad worked outside the home at least 40 hours a week. Yet somehow, I grew up free from the notion that women are bound to the home.

When I was in junior high my mom went back to school, and I thought her valiant and daring for it. She became a vet tech, a profession her school teachers had discouraged her from as a girl because she “wasn’t smart enough.” I think she determined then and there that if she had daughters, they would do whatever they wanted to do with their lives.

The church I grew up in has, to date, ordained more women than men, and half of our staff are women. The idea that women are any less than men, or that they must be relegated to certain roles in the home and church, was one completely foreign to me until high school. That was when I learned about the glass ceiling and the gender wage gap. I learned that most churches still don’t ordain women. I learned about modern polygamy. I learned about the stunning number of female babies aborted in China every year. I learned that most women worldwide are little more than property.

I was horrified by the reality of it all and dove headlong into a kind of immature, militant feminism, though I’m not sure I would have known to call it that at the time. For many years I shouted “Never!” to the spectre of marriage and children, “My whole life is ahead of me, I’m going to change the world!” (but wouldn’t you know, I fell in love with an incredible man and discovered you could be married and still change the world).

cheris KrameraeFor a long time I thought “feminism” was fundamentally the opposite of “feminine,” that anything which could be classified as conventionally female (like cooking dinner or wearing makeup or having babies) was something I should consider as antiquated, something I’ve been gloriously liberated from. As if a modern woman choosing motherhood over a career is like a dog returning to its own vomit.

I call myself a feminist, but I find myself filling the oh-so-traditional role of mostly stay at home mom, because it makes a lot of sense for our family and I (usually) really enjoy it. And though I also bear the slightly less traditional title of business owner, I often feel that I’m not allowed to use the feminist label because of how I spend most of my days: in the home. However, when I buy into the lie that my vocation makes me who I am, I’m doing a disservice not just to myself and my daughter, but to the feminist movement. That just turns feminism into another way to define me as a woman, to relegate me to a certain role, when feminism is really about freeing every woman to make her own choices.

And now, with a daughter of my own, feminism is more important to me than ever. Isabella is only 2 years old, but someday she’ll enter the adult world and get to make choices of her own. And since I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I decided to stay home and raise kids (except the kids themselves), I’m devoting the rest of this post to my daughter. If she asked me today, “Why did you decide to be a homemaker?” this is what I would say.

Dear Isabella,

I don’t view my choice to be your full-time mommy as a concession or a sacrifice of any kind. I do important and valuable work every single day, shaping and guiding you through childhood, teaching you how to be a powerful person. You are a little revolutionary. You will change the world in the way only you can, in the way God created you to, and I get to be part of raising you up. I want to spend as much time doing that as possible.

I get up every day knowing that you will be watching me. I’m acutely aware of the influence I have in your life, and I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that you will never hear me say “I’m fat.” You’ll never hear me make negative comments about my body, or yours, or any one else’s.

You hear constantly that you are cute, pretty, adorable, sweet, and beautiful (and you totally are), but you are much, much more. I want you to know that you are also fearless, fun, witty, compassionate, intelligent, joyous, creative, and strong.

I want you to know that no one can tell you who you are and who you aren’t. Your identity comes from Christ and not your chromosomes.

I want you to know the value of your body and your heart and how to fiercely guard both. (I certainly will, with a shotgun if necessary.)

I want you to treat others with respect because you’ve never been treated any differently by your Mommy and Daddy.

I want you to know that you are only limited in this life by yourself.

I want you to dream great big dreams and I want to dream them with you.

I want you to do these things in simplicity because I’ve plowed the way for you, because many plowed the way before me.

I love you dearly and I love watching your grow every single day.

Mommy

 

*Don’t forget that I am off social media this month. I’d love to read your comments so please don’t leave them on facebook and twitter!

On February: We’re Going Dark

simplicity bannerFebruary: No Social Media. Seriously. None.

When I first polled friends and family about what distracts them from important things or wastes significant amounts of their time, at least 75% of people cited social media. When I hear stats about how many of us check facebook first thing in the morning, I don’t feel as “What is this country coming to??” and “Kids these days!” as some people do about it. In fact, I’m inclined to think that we’re created for relationship, and in a world where there is increasing distance between family and friends, where our lives are increasingly busy, social media provides a valuable and unique way to connect with one another.

But when you’re checking facebook 20+ times per day (yes, brutal honesty, that’s me), I think the drawbacks begin to outweigh the benefits. That’s why we decided to include this in our experiment and include it early. I have a suspicion that I will end up feeling somewhat isolated, but I also suspect that the loss of social media will push this introvert into more antiquated forms of communication like, say, texting or email. God forbid I make a phone call. Or – gasp – actually get together with people. Needless to say, Stephen The Extrovert will be totally thrilled and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s more productive at work this month.

I’m still not sure where I’m going to find the self-control for this. I might actually delete the apps from my phone and reinstall them at the end of the month. I can’t decide if that’s sad or funny. Probably both.

While I will continue to blog during February, I won’t be tweeting, pinning, sharing pictures, or updating my status. My blog automatically shares new posts on facebook and twitter, so if you reach this post (or any other this month) from one of those sites, please know that I would love to respond to comments here on my blog… just not on social media.

That’s it… we’re going dark. See you in March! Or, maybe I’ll just see you in person. Imagine that!

On January: I Kinda Suck

simplicity bannerSo, our first month is over. How did we do on our rules? What do we want to change moving forward?

Social Media: At this point I think it’s safe to say that I’m addicted to social media. I decided not to check social media more than twice a day and I’ve broken that rule almost every day. If we’re facebook friends or you follow me on pinterest, you’ll see that I’m still on there all the time. I give myself a break when I’m sitting in the car with a napping toddler in the middle of the day, but most of the time, I could and should be doing something more important. I’m updating less frequently but I’m still opening the apps and making comments. Sometimes I unlock my iPhone and facebook is open before I even think about it. January has showed me that this behavior has become second nature and that scares me.

Television: We were so-so on the TV thing. It’s easy to fall into old habits, and there have been a handful of nights where we decided we’re just too tired to do anything, let’s just watch 4 episodes of Arrested Development, and we usually regret it. However, I think we’ve made a big improvement on how we were before; at least half the times we would have chosen TV, we chose reading, or cards, or drinking tea together instead. I’m feeling myself caring less about our favorite shows.

Purchasing: I think we did ok here.The only things I bought brand new were Izzy’s birthday present (we’re making an exception for gifts, and I had it picked out for weeks), a pair of cross trainers, and 2 sports bras (sorry, I’m not buying bras and sweaty workout shoes second-hand). We made no major purchases.

Tithing and Giving: We 90% fail at this. Stephen gave $20 to a new friend we met who is living in his car, but that’s it. Truthfully, I just don’t know how we can afford to give when we have to save up to pay my business taxes and buy new tires for our car and we already live paycheck to paycheck. But I suppose that’s the point of giving in faith, isn’t it? This is one of those things that feels wrong in the natural when you’ve never done it before, and we just have to decide to take the risk. So this month, I want to give… even if it’s just a little bit. Then I want to give a little more every month after.

Tomorrow is the first day of February, and the first day we officially ditch social media… and I thought this was hard before. #FirstWorldProblems, right?

On Our Have-To’s and Want-To’s

simplicity bannerOne of our major goals this year is to make sure we’re spending our time, energy, and money in a way that’s consistent with out values. For example, I deeply value time spent face-to-face with my husband and daughter. I love to feel healthy and fit, which means time spent being active and cooking every meal fresh and from scratch. I feel aimless if I’m not spending regular time in prayer, bible-study, and worship.

So how do I actually spend my time and energy?

  • Two days a week, I sit at Starbucks working while Izzy plays with my blessed and wonderful mother. I’ve gotten very good at time management because I know I only have 8-10 hours a week to meet my deadlines.
  • Four or five days a week, I go to yoga, swim, or lift weights. Isabella loves the gym nursery so much that she’ll often ask to “play… gym?” We’re both much happier afterwards.
  • One morning a week I go grocery shopping. Somehow this takes an entire morning. I don’t anticipate it taking any less time when I’m doing it with a toddler and an infant.
  • In the summer a minimum of 3 days a week are spent hiking… but it’s 7 degrees outside right now and I don’t want to talk about it.

A typical day at home:

We get up when Izzy does, anytime between 6:30 and 8.

Stephen makes our breakfast protein shakes, ideally retreating to his office (our bedroom) within a half hour to start working. Sometimes he starts much later because the kitchen is dirty and he just can’t help himself, it must be cleaned. Hopefully one of us remembers to feed the dog.

It’s cold right now, so we’re stuck inside. I spend the morning alternately:

  • photo (13)playing with Isabella (stacking blocks, coloring, reading books, chatting, swaddling  the same stuffed animal eight hundred times)
  • on my phone, absent-mindedly wasting time on social media when I get bored, followed shortly by guilt
  • checking my work email and trying to take care of necessary admin stuff while trying to keep Isabella from turning my computer off (that little power button is so inviting)
  • doing chores (dishes, laundry, cleaning, tidying up the crap that inexplicably accumulates on every surface)
  • On rare occasions like today, actually writing while Izzy plays happily (today, in an empty box from costco. “I got box!”)

The three of us usually eat lunch together. These days I’m tired enough that I need to share Isabella’s afternoon nap. We wake up mid-afternoon and play some more or go to the gym.

When Stephen gets done working I try to make dinner. I say “try” because Isabella, who has been knocking on Stephen’s door and begging for his attention all day, often chooses this moment to completely ignore him and instead claw desperately at my legs and whine while I try to cook. I get annoyed because Stephen (understandably) feels unwanted and retreats to facebook or ESPN. Sometimes we try to discuss our day and we both end up annoyed with Isabella because she’s (understandably) bored and needy and acting out.

I actually love to cook for my family, but making dinner is can easily become a joyless and frustrating experience for me. I think this is the most stressful time of day for all of us but we haven’t yet found an easier way.

Stephen usually puts Izzy to bed around 7:30. We’re both mentally and physically tired and often spend our evening watching TV online. After a couple hours we retire to bed having barely looked at each other the entire day, which is ludicrous considering we’re both at home, no more than 30 feet apart at any given moment. Less often, Stephen will get more work done while I read or write, or we’ll worship together if one of us is one the worship team and needs to practice.

It sounds pretty monotonous. I suppose it often is. Part of it is simply life unavoidable: work must be done; paychecks must be earned; clothes and dishes must be cleaned; dinner must be cooked. Everyone can break their life down into “have-to’s” and “want-to’s.” But after I fulfill the day’s needs, am I giving space and attention to the right wants? For me, many of the less important things win out: TV over time spend with my husband or engaged in something meaningful; social media over taking a rare opportunity to write; inefficient home management over valuable interaction with my child.

Take time to honestly evaluate your own average day. Are you pursuing the things that you’ve defined as most lasting, most valuable? Or are you (like me) wasting time on things that… aren’t?

On Apples, Anger, and Choices

One evening, after a particularly long day along with Isabella, I was watching a movie I had started while she took an afternoon nap. When she woke up she started playing alone pretty happily, so I sat on the couch eating an apple, hoping to watch the last half hour of my movie.

Then she started getting restless. She went in the kitchen and asked for something that I wouldn’t give her or didn’t have, chocolate or cookies or something. She started to get angry. I started to get frustrated that I couldn’t hear the movie. She went into a full-blown tantrum, screaming and crying and stomping her feet.

I don’t remember exactly what she was upset about, but I remember with perfect clarity thinking how satisfying it would be to hurl my apple across the room at our front door.

I remember the way the apple, only 2 or 3 bites missing, burst on the front door when I acted on that urge.

I remember how Isabella, still standing in the kitchen and safely away from the door, fell suddenly silent.

I remember striding across the room, picking up the larger pieces, and throwing them against the floor, tiny pieces flying everywhere.

I remember Isabella peeking her head around the corner of the kitchen wall and watching, wide eyed, as I lost my shit.

I remember how she started to cry.

You know what? For a few seconds, it was satisfying to destroy that apple. But I’m never going to be able to forget the look on her face when I whipped around. My anger melted into shame instantaneously.

Even though it’s been nearly two weeks, Isabella remembers, too. She frequently remarks, “throw apple,” gesturing towards our entryway that was the scene of fruit carnage that evening. Sometimes she comments that the floor is sticky. She brings it up at seemingly random moments.

I apologized immediately after my outburst. I sat down with her and told her that even though I was frustrated by her tantrum, it was wrong for me to throw that apple and yell. I told her I was very, very sorry. I asked for her forgiveness, and she gave me a kiss, and we sat on the floor surrounded by millions of tiny apple fragments and hugged. After I finished cleaning up, we shared a piece of cheesecake and giggled and cuddled.

But she keeps bringing it up and I have to relive those awful moments every time. I realize that she needs to talk about it because it was a significant event for her, so I’m helping her process it by re-telling the story with her, and it comes up less and less.

But I’ve had a wake-up call. I realized today that, Oh God, it’s happened. Isabella is old enough to remember my mistakes, old enough to recount them to me. She’s old enough to have significant events etched into her heart. Oh, God, help me.

I don’t make a habit of throwing produce and shouting at my child, but I have my moments. And a time is coming very soon when I will be put back through the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced:  caring for a newborn. Only this time, a small child will be witness to my behavior. A child to whom I am the universe. A child that remembers my actions and builds her beliefs about her growing world around them.

I’ve struggled with anger as long as I can remember, and it’s clear that I need to deal with it, now, at any cost. I just don’t really know how. Yes, I believe God can change my heart, and I should take it to Him in prayer, etc, etc, but my behavior is my sole responsibility. In my reading of scripture there is a clear emphasis on self-control, and I’ve never been able to develop much regarding my notoriously quick temper.

I wrote and rewrote the ending of this post a million times, each one a variation of “I can’t control this anger.” But that’s a lie. I am not powerless over my power. I am not the Hulk. I am a human being with an option to sin or not sin.

When it comes down to it, I make a choice. I can talk all I want about my lack of self-control, about what feels like an overwhelming biological reaction, but I’ve always had the self-control to keep from physically hurting my child. Clearly, I make a choice not to act on certain urges, and a choice to act on others.

The fright and surprise I saw in my precious child’s eyes that day comes back to my mind, fresh and raw as if it had just happened, every time I start to feel the tension build and the heat rise in my belly. I scared her, and I won’t do it again.

On 2013: An Experiment in Priorities, Balance, and Purpose

simplicity bannerHappy New Year! I always love New Year’s Eve and I looooove resolutions. I love seasons in nature and in life, and I’m very good at assigning deep meaning to everyday things… perhaps a little too good. But the transition into 2013 felt incredibly important to me.

We spent the evening with my parents and sister playing games and eating chocolate and drinking wine. Stephen and I celebrated being able to keep our eyes open till midnight and hit our pillows promptly at 12:01. Fun, but not very different than past years. But it felt weighty to me. It felt extraordinary.

Yesterday marked the first day of our year-long experiment in simplicity. We’ll be closely examining our lifestyle and making changes- big and small- to make our life more balanced, intentional, and, of course, (drumroll please…) simple.

We’re examining how we spend our time, energy, and (groan) money. We’re reducing our waste, eliminating distractions, thinking about how our lifestyle affects our global community, and investing in what’s most important to us. We’re actually making changes.

We invite you to join us in asking yourself:

Do my choices reflect my values?

In almost 6 years of marriage, Stephen and I have consistently found our two biggest distractions to be social media and television. The time we spend on these two activities is downright embarrassing. I think the only thing more embarrassing is our bank account, which is usually empty, because we’re terrible at sticking to a budget, constantly “sacrificing what we want most for what we want now” (Gordon B. Hinckley).

First, we’ve come up with a few rules we’re going to stick to throughout the year:

  1. All Social Media (facebook, instagram, twitter, pinterest) limited to set times during the day- once in the morning, once in the evening. I’m one of those people that gets on facebook first thing in the morning, often before I’m even out of bed, and then at random intervals throughout the day. I’m not doing that anymore.
  2. Consolidate our TV time. We have 4 or 5 shows we really like and we usually watch them on Hulu the night after they air. What usually happens is we re-watch an episode of something else and and episode of something we aren’t crazy about and before we know it it’s 10:30 and the evening is over. Instead, we’ll pick one night a week and watch all of them on Hulu that night, keeping our other evenings free to read, write, or – yes- actually spend time together.
  3. No purchasing brand new. We spend far too much money on new things that we could easily find used. So next time I need a pair of jeans, or we start looking for a double stroller, I’ll go thrifting. Obviously, we’ll make exceptions for things like razor blades and underwear… because, gross.
  4. Push major purchases back 1 month. One big problem we have is making major purchases spur-of-the-moment. We’ve decided to make ourselves wait a full month on any purchase over $100, with the idea that the excitement will wear off and we’ll avoid buying stuff we don’t really need.
  5. Tithe and give. I believe in giving. It’s one of our deeply held values, but we don’t really do it. I think there’s no more important time to give than when we have little.

Second, we’ll be choosing a change to implement every month. We’re looking at this whole thing as an experiment, so I’m sure we’ll find that some adjustments work well, while others don’t.

  • January: Goalsetting (There’s no more powerful tool in goal setting than writing them out, making them plain, and having to be accountable!)
  • February: NO social media. (At all. Yikes.)
  • March: Purging (Sorting, selling, giving, and throwing away stuff we don’t need.)
  • April: Practicing positivity (No complaining, self-deprecation, or negative speaking.)
  • May: No restaurants or coffee shops (We’ll give the money away instead. Somebody is getting very blessed this month.)
  • June: Our global impact as consumers (Go fair trade, organic, no slave labor.)
  • July: Shared cooking/cleaning schedule (Divy up and schedule household responsibilities.)
  • August: Reduce our waste (Switch to all cloth, try composting.)
  • September: Family devotional time (make regular time to for family time together in worship and prayer)
  • October: Relationships (Relationships can either enrich or distract us. We’re going to experiment with a balance.)
  • November: No TV at all (Yep, right in the middle of the fall season. I did that on purpose to make it harder!)
  • December: Advent (Evaluating the year- what worked, what didn’t – and celebrating Christ With Us as a family.)

It’s my aim to write one or two posts a week – don’t laugh! So check back often to see how things are going, and join us in whatever aspect of this thing resonates with you. Also, make sure you bookmark Stephen’s blog as he’ll be sharing his perspective regularly.

Here’s to a simpler 2013!

 

On Fences, Walls, and the Kindness of Jesus

wall around city around wall I don’t know if it’s still a thing, but when I was in high school we had Age of Empires for our family computer and I honestly can’t even come up with a ballpark figure on how many hours I wasted on that game. I was addicted. But my favorite thing was never the actual game. Instead, I loved creating my own scenarios, many of which I never even played. I spent hours making perfect, giant kingdoms, surrounded by miles of highly complicated fences and walls and bridges and moats and guard towers with soldiers and knights strategically placed throughout. Seriously intricate. Then I would make my enemy’s kingdom tiny and stunted in comparison, congratulate myself on an afternoon well spent, and wonder why I wasn’t enjoying the vibrant social life of my peers.

My life is like Age of Empires.

wall in front of gateOver the years I’ve carefully constructed a complex and elaborate system of walls and gates, many layers deep. My ability to create boundaries is something for which I’ve even received compliments and commendations. I’m profoundly skilled at protecting myself. The problem is that, like my perfectly crafted imaginary scenarios, I rarely take the risk of actually playing the game.

I do think boundaries are healthy, and there are certainly seasons and circumstances which call for them. I was abused for many years as a child and pre-teen. I was constantly bullied and alienated by my peers. I was deeply wounded by a few key friends as a teenager. Each of these major events caused me to create a healthy boundary to protect my heart. But each time I sustained an even minor offense or trespass, I added to those healthy boundaries.

Over the course of 27 years, I’ve nurtured and cared for those walls as they’ve spread like weeds and rooted themselves deeply in the soil of my heart. Every time I’m hurt, it simply confirms the necessity of my boundaries and encourages me to add to them. Pride and fear shaken together is a powerful cocktail, making it virtually impossible for anyone to really get to know me, and keeping me from meaningful relationships. I easily recognize guardedness in other people because I’m the most guarded person I know. I think it comes off as condescending but I’m really just scared of what everyone will do to me or think of me.

This September, I asked God to teach me how to live fearlessly. Every day, I feel the pull towards it. I hear the invitation repeated.

Live Fearless.

Live Unrestrained.

Live Open.

Live Free Indeed.

Last Sunday Jesus said to me clearly, “It’s time for real freedom, Rachel. Will you take my hand and walk into it?”

“God is kind, but He’s not soft. In kindness He takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life change.”

Romans 2:4, The Message Translation

One of the things I’m learning about Jesus is that He isn’t harsh. He’s gentle, but He’s firm. Good, but not safe. I was scared of what He would say about my behavior, that he would demand I make impossible changes in my life. But over the last few months, He’s lovingly revealed my need for Him. He’s tenderly led me to examine my behavior. He’s quietly begun to soften my heart. In fact, this Simplicity project is a product of my journey towards Jesus.

He has asked me to make some impossible changes, and they’re happening simply because I’m allowing myself to be moved, the same way a physical therapist works with an patient. He guides me in the work but I have to say yes to it and, often, endure the discomfort.

So I’m saying Yes again, I expect I’ll have many chances to choose Yes over the coming months, I’m allowing Jesus to tear down those walls. Bit by bit or all at once, I have no idea, but they’re coming down either way and everyone is going to see what’s really behind them.

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