Shiloh Turns One!

IMG_1479.JPGI think one of the best compliments a stranger can give is “You have a beautiful family.” Someone said that to us recently and I really took it to heart. It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty when we’re around one another so much. But it is a gift. 

Shiloh Mathias just celebrated his first birthday. He is a wonderful addition to our family! He brings joy and laughter to our lives every day. I’m thankful for my rough, affectionate, opinionated, fearless, stubborn, silly boy!

I’ll be honest though – this year was extremely difficult for me. His turning one doesn’t magically make it all easier, but it’s an accomplishment.

It’s weird because in many ways my life is better now than it has ever been. I’m grateful for all our blessings. I’m completely smitten by my husband and two boys.

But life with two kids is no joke.

Hormones are no joke.

Postpartum depression is no joke.

I’ve finally admitted that it’s depression and not just “postpartum something.” And while things are mostly good, it still pops up some days. I’ve got a strong support system here to help me through it. I know it’s a been a whole year, but I’m not done fighting. I’ve come a long way and most days are a victory.

Shiloh’s birth was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. It challenged me in ways I’d never felt before, and left me feeling fantastic. I love to think back on Shiloh’s first few weeks and just relish his newness and all the people who showed up to support us.

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Born at home.
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Surrounded by people who love him.

When Shiloh was born, I couldn’t even picture what another son would be like. All I knew was Malachi and his personality. When I held Shiloh for the first time, all I could think was “We have another one.”

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Newborn thoughts…and fingers!

But it hasn’t taken this guy long to make a name for himself. Shiloh Mathias is his own unique person. He’s fearless when it comes to taking chances and climbing things. He doesn’t yet know the meaning of the word “no,” so we have to watch him constantly so he doesn’t do anything too…adventurous.

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The cute little troublemaker.

Shiloh also has a great sense of humor. He melts my heart with his smirks and frequent giggles. He doesn’t really talk yet, but he has a way of always letting us know what he wants. He finally started saying “Mama” this week, but he mostly says it when he wants food. Shiloh finds Malachi hilarious. We sometimes hear the two of them laughing and have no idea what’s funny.

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I love his brown eyes so much!
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These two know how to have fun.

Shiloh gives great hugs. Everyday he climbs on me, claws my shoulders, throws his arms around my neck, and hugs me tightly, saying “Ahhhhh!” It’s the sweetest thing, but it hurts when his nails aren’t trimmed! When he wants someone else to hold him, he’ll point at them with his index finger and proceed to jump or climb into their arms.

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Showing off those first teeth!

Shiloh’s favorite foods are avocados, watermelon, strawberries, and kale pancakes. He hates blueberries, cheese, and cantaloupe. He doesn’t mind bananas, apples, and most other foods we give him.

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Those eyes!!

Shiloh’s first birthday is a big deal for him, but it’s also a rite of passage for me and Josh. It means we survived our first year with two kids! It means we made it through a tough winter, me working three nights a week, and battling sleep deprivation for eight months. It means we took two kids to Audiofeed Festival. I think we pretty much rock.

I still feel anxious and fatigued sometimes. Not gonna lie, I sometimes go to bed at 7pm! But it’s nothing like the helplessness I used to feel. We’re so proud of our big boy growing more independent! People always comment on how much the boys have grown. I know it’s not visible, but I’ve been growing too. Hopefully growing into a better person.

 

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Shiloh, I’m sorry if I’ve let you down. I’m sorry if I’ve made it all about me. It isn’t really about me, or you. It’s about Jesus and all he’s done through us. I hope you give me grace. God is working in me just like he’s working in you. We have many great years ahead of us. We love you Shiloh Mathias!

Put Your Money Where Your Mission Is

Actions speak louder than words. My children won’t listen to what I merely say. They will do what I do. Everyday what I choose to model with my actions matters.

Money is the same way. Money speaks louder than words alone, yet how many people in today’s world actually ask for financial accountability? Finances are right up there with politics and religion in the realm of taboo topics. But why? Whatever we care about most, that is where we will spend our resources, our time, our energy…and our money.

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Make a Statement

Is your life aligned with your values, or do you say one thing and then do another? Your Money or Your Life calls this alignment Financial Integrity. If your values and your money / energy aren’t aligned, it’s time to either change your spending or change your purpose.

How do we even know what our purpose is? I believe we should all take the time to create a personal mission. (This idea comes from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.) Slow down and decide what truly matters to you. Art? Social justice? People? Travel? Faith? Community? Prayer? Make a mission statement. It can be a few words or a few paragraphs. Your mission statement should summarize your underlying beliefs and the passion that drives you. It should be specific, and narrow down all the myriad of things out there that people care about. Life has limitations. Since we are physically incapable of caring about everything, knowing what we do care about is quite important. When we’re bombarded with choices and feeling overextended and overbooked, Josh and I look at our activities and commitments through the lens our family mission. The activities that don’t align with our mission are the first to get cut.

Josh and I have a pretty simple family mission: Simplicity. Generosity. Hospitality. Community. These are more than just words to us. They are the fabric of our daily life. They are the target that we’re shooting for. We may never hit the mark, but we get closer than if we had no target at all and were blindly throwing darts in every direction. As I mentioned, our mission helps us decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. It helps us make big decisions like: “Should I take this job?” “Which house should I buy?” And little decisions like: “Should I drive or walk?” “Should I buy this now or wait till I can get a used one?”

Make a Change

Once you’ve developed your mission statement, you can start to pivot your life into alignment with your mission. This definitely includes your spending.

It’s easy to decide minimalism and simplicity matter, but not actually stop buying new things and start purging clutter.

It’s one thing to say you care about a cause, but if you don’t contribute your time or money to that cause, how real is your involvement?

It’s one thing to write a blog post or share an article online. It’s another to actually show up at a fundraiser or volunteer on your days off. (I believe this growing phenomenon has been dubbed “slacktivism.”)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:14-17

A statement of faith or purpose is a great starting point. But it cannot be the ending point.

Ask for Accountability

This is where it gets awkward. I want you to take your freshly-minted mission statement and show it to someone else. Ask them to help you stay on the path and remind you of your mission statement whilst in the throws of daily life. And then….gasp….ask them to hold you accountable financially.

Is there more to your mission than finances? Of course! You are a lot more than the money you earn and spend. However, money is the biggest hangup most of us have with living out our beliefs. It’s not that we don’t have values, it’s that money feels off limits. It’s ours. We earned it. End of story.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:24

I definitely don’t believe money itself is evil. I believe it represents a lot of different things to different people, and some of these things can be problematic. Money can represent safety, it can represent fun, it can represent our plans and future hopes. Would you be ashamed to show everyone your bank statements for the past year? What would that information tell them about what you truly value?

Josh and I have likeminded mentors around us with whom we’ve shared our financial situation. They’re here to cheer us on and steer us in the right directions, keeping our values and our resources more or less aligned. (This blog is also a form of accountability for me. I’m sure I’d be flooded with questions if we suddenly purchased a new Mercedes out of the blue…. And that’s a good thing!)

Accept What You Can’t Control

Lately I’ve been a little frustrated on money we’ve had to spend around the house. Two faucets and a dehumidifier broke in the same week. They weren’t huge expenditures, but you know the feeling. “When will everything just work like it’s supposed to?” I personally like to think of money as a resource, and I’m a steward who’s trying not to waste the resources I’ve been given. I get bummed when things need replaced, not because I’m attached to the material things, but because it’s wasteful.

Yet I strive to choose thankfulness in those moments. Some expenses are simply outside my realm of control. When there’s nothing I can do to prevent those problems, I’m thankful for the money to satisfy those little irritating problems. The accompanying stress is merely stemmed from my desire to spend money in meaningful, intentional ways. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be intentional. There is nothing wrong with fixing the faucets either.

Time is Money

The flip-side of how you spend your money is how you spend your time. The two are often interconnected, since many of us get paid for at least some of our time at a job. Do you mostly waste time when you aren’t working? Do you invest in others? Do you invest in yourself?

We all have things that we would like to do “if we had more time.” Write some of those things down. This is your chance. If you aren’t intentional and make time for those things now, guess what? They will never happen. I promise if those things become a priority, you will find the time. It might mean making big sacrifices like taking a pay cut. It might simply mean waking up an hour earlier or not regularly wasting time on your phone.

“If I had more time” things are often in line with our values. They are often deep, meaningful, and worthwhile. But since there’s no due date or sense of urgency, many of those precious ideas and intentions will go un-lived. Grasp and pay attention to those “Important but not Urgent” activities (term taken from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

Live Your Values

The American Dream is overrated. I would personally rather “live my values” than “live the dream.” What does this look like? It will look different for all of us since we all have different values.

For us it meant simplifying our lifestyle and becoming more frugal. It meant moving out of the suburbs. It meant selling a car. It meant buying some bikes. It meant eating simple, meatless meals at home rather than eating out. It encompasses every aspect of life. Nothing is off-limits. Our life choices are all interwoven, and our values are in the center of it.

I hope I’m not making this sound like my family is perfect because we are definitely not. We don’t have it all figured out. We’re on a journey and that’s exactly why accountability and transparency are so important. I’m right here with you and I know what it feels like. We strive to be frugal so we have more to give, but we’re aware that it’s an extreme privilege to be frugal by choice rather than necessity. We’re well aware that the rich, the poor, and everyone in-between all need each other and can learn from one another. We strive to be a small part of the change every day.

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Okay, time to take some action. How does your spending align with your values, passions, and life mission? What can you stop doing and what should you do make more time for?

Protecting Childhood in an Adult World

As an aspiring minimalist and a believer in simplicity, this book was naturally on my list. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne was just what I needed at this point in my parenting journey. It does more than just tell you to ditch the TV and minimize toys; it met me where I was at and took things a step further.
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Simplicity Parenting:

Doesn’t over-schedule or overwhelm.

Young kids are just as prone to stress and anxiety as adults. In many ways, our society forces children to grow up too fast. Kids have the opportunity as soon as they’re born to be involved in all manner of clubs, groups, sports, and so on. While these activities can be very nourishing to a degree, us parents should be careful not to schedule too much too soon. If it’s stressful for you to get them to and from the activity, chances are it’s a little stressful for the child too. Don’t be afraid to pull back and just let young kids engage in informal, unstructured play for the first several years. 

Focuses on quality play.

The number of toys our children see and have access to should be dramatically reduced from what the norm is here in the US. Payne says, “As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.” I’ve already shared a little bit of my journey to minimalism with my boys minimal room and their (not super minimal, but I try) capsule wardrobes. The goal in both the closet and the toy bin should be no passing fads and not too many choices. Toys should be open-ended and allow for the use of imagination, not just noisy, obnoxious things that only perform one function. Blocks, toy dishes, simple dolls and cars are all good options for open-ended play. Less complexity means more attention. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. 

The best play consists of:

  • Touch
  • Imagination / Pretending
  • Experience
  • Purpose / Industry
  • Nature
  • Social interaction
  • Movement
  • Music / Art
  • Books
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Blocks and sticks. Lots of fun right here!

Boredom is okay.

“I’m bored.” We’ve all heard this countless times. (Or Malachi phrases it, “What can I do?”) This isn’t a bad thing. This is a natural and important step of development! Boredom doesn’t mean you need to rush out to take them somewhere or buy them something new. It means their brain is ready for some imagination. Often after Malachi informs me that he’s bored, I look over just minutes later and he’s already created a new game. Boredom is part of the creative process. Children can harness this and learn to entertain themselves and create, not just rely on new stimulus all the time. (Us adults could all learn to be better at this too. Many of us have forgotten how to be bored thanks to modern technology!)

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When bored, play with a laundry basket!

Days have a predictable rhythm. 

There is safeness and joy in some form of daily schedule. Kids pick up on order and they enjoy predictability. This is something I’m trying to work on. Going from one to two kids is when many parents discover their need for a schedule – and that’s right where I’m at! Daily rituals are repeated because they are important. Having (even just a few) daily rituals gives meaning to your day. Kids will pick up on this. “We do this everyday because it’s important.” Even if you’re a carefree spirit like me who goes with the flow on a daily basis, you can do your young kids a favor by including them in the day. Give them choices so they can feel more in control. Cue them in on what is coming up next. Give them a rundown of what the day’s events will be. Try to have some daily markers in the day at least, like meals and naps, where the kids can let off steam and recharge. It can’t just be “go go go” all the time. If you do have a crazy day or two, attempt to bookend those days with a couple laid back, low-stimulus days. If there’s a certain part of the day that is consistently rough for you and the kids, consider making over this portion of the day with a strong and meaningful daily ritual. Personally, I need to make over the 3:00 hour after naps. I’m thinking a daily walk to the park (weather permitting) is a good place to start. Any other ideas?

Kids are included in processes.

Kids need to feel useful, not just along for the ride or a cumbersome inconvenience in an adult world. Let them join in chores. Invite them to help with cooking. If you’re cleaning the house, don’t tell them to get out of the way, give them a broom instead. I’ve started including Malachi in my dinner prep and I was amazed at how well he responded! Chopping veggies is his thing, and I think it makes him *slightly* more adventurous with what he’ll try at dinner. He’s also great at unloading the dishwasher, and an enthusiastic laundry sorter. You might find your kid is way more excited to help than to just watch or stay out of the way. 

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First time using a knife. He took it seriously and did really well!

Filters out the adult world.

This means no TV. No stressful news. No discussing politics, global warming, and finances at the dinner table. No podcasts about adult topics when kids are in the car. Try hard not to burden young children with these things too soon. Cherish those carefree childhood years as long as you can. Save those adult conversations for after the kids are in bed, and have it be something special for you and your partner to look forward to. This doesn’t mean it’s all baby talk and children’s music all day long. Adults need to be adults and express themselves intellectually. I’m all about having intellectual, meaningful conversations with your kids! But there’s a line, and I think parents are fully capable of knowing where that line is, when adult issues will cause unnecessary worry and fear in the hearts of their children.

Another part of this is parents simply need to talk less. The more we talk, the less we are really paying attention. Note that this only applies to older kids. Babies need to be talked to a lot for developmental and attachment reasons. But too much talk later on can lead to “hyper-parenting,” an endless narration of everything the child does, unsolicited educational soliloquies, and unnecessary strings of compliments. It will wear you out. It will wear the kids out. You will hear them less, and they will likely tune you out as well. Kids need boundaries in order to feel safe. Attempt to quietly give them their own space with healthy boundaries to find their own voice. 

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A little exploring = a lot of learning!

Think back.

What meant the most to you about your own childhood? For me it was hours of making up stories with my Barbie dolls and summer days spent in the backyard alternating between swimming and jumping on the trampoline. It wasn’t a trip to Disney. It wasn’t an organized activity. It was the simple things. Likewise, there is incredible joy in the ordinary, everyday things our children do. This book was a nice remember to slow down and just enjoy the little things that make childhood special. 

Marriage: Happiness or Holiness?

Marriage isn’t just a one-time choice. Yes, you choose the person you marry on that day. But everyone else in the world doesn’t disappear the day you take your vows. Marriage is a choice you make again and again everyday. This thought was revolutionary to me.

My marriage is the best gift I’ve ever been given on this earth. My children came from my marriage. My husband has changed me and my own life and goals and values for the better. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. He is a treasure, and hands-down the best man for me.

But satan hates strong marriages and wants to see them fail. None of us are immune to it. He’ll whisper lies that nothing is sacred, including our marriages. He’ll tell us that our personal happiness comes first and try to convince us that we aren’t happy. He also hates community. When we fall on turbulent times, the last thing he wants us to do is reach out to one another. He wants to see us suffer and “deal with it” alone. These small lies have destroyed many once-strong marriages. 

The book Sacred Marriage talks about happiness vs. holiness. (It’s an excellent book – I just finished reading it for the second time!) If holiness and commitment is my goal, happiness will be the overflow of that. Happiness is the overflow, but not my main goal.

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What if God didn’t design marriage to to be “easier?” What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

In the marriage context, we have absolutely no excuse. God lets us choose whom we’re going to love. Because we get the choice and then find it difficult to carry out the love in practice, what grounds do we have to ever stop loving? God doesn’t command us to get married; he offers it to us as an opportunity. Once we enter the marriage relationship, we cannot love God without loving our spouse as well.

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage

All Marriages Will be Tested

If you think your marriage won’t endure hardship or be tested, you’re believing a lie. The time will come. An opportunity will arise. You will need to choose your marriage over something else. You will need to run from something. You will need to cling to your spouse intentionally.

We must never be naive enough to think of marriage as a safe harbor from the Fall…the deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.

Dan Allender & Tremper Longman

It’s so easy to take our marriages for granted. They’re awesome and all, but they become commonplace as we go through life. Years pass and we appreciate our spouse, but things aren’t as exciting and unpredictable as when we were dating. We get into a routine. Even date nights can feel like a chore to schedule, plan, and arrange for childcare! The bottom line is, I’m a sinful human. I’m not ever going to love Josh perfectly and he will never love me perfectly.

The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage. Yes, it is difficult to love your spouse. But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazily, enduringly the fleshly person who put it there.

Gary Thomas

The person who understands the evil in his own heart is the only person who is useful, fruitful, and solid in his beliefs and obedience. Others only delude themselves and thus upset families, churches, and all other relationships. In their self-pride and judgement of others, they show great inconsistency.

John Owen

Marriage Reveals Our Shortcomings

Many who have affairs aren’t running away from their spouse, they’re running from their own sin. It is easier to think “We’re not connected. He doesn’t understand me. We have nothing in common anymore” than it is to admit “I’m selfish and have skewed priorities, even to the point of mentally risking an affair.”
The mature response … is not to leave; it’s to change – ourselves.

Gary Thomas 

Yes, you do need a new life partner. But it’s not your spouse who needs to change, it’s actually you! When things are messy in your marriage, the problem can almost always be pointed back to yourself. I’ve found this to be true time and time again.

We must not be tempted to ask the dangerous question: did I marry the right person? Gary Thomas says “Once we have exchanged our vows, little can be gained spiritually from ruminating on this question. A far better alternative to questioning one’s choice is to learn how to live with one’s choice.”

Christianity doesn’t call us to focus on finding the right person, but rather focus on being the right person to someone else. If you’re bored with your life and relationship remember that it’s a never ending cycle of thrill and disillusion. You will never be satisfied until you start seeking after God himself. Marital dissatisfaction has more to do with you and God than you and your spouse.

Marriage Requires Perseverance 

They say it takes 9-14 years for a couple to create and form its being. Let it mature. Give it time. Josh and I have been married nearly 6 years. You’d think by now we’d know what we were doing, but this is an encouraging reminder that we’re still infants on this journey. There’s so much time to learn and mature together!

Right now Josh and I are in the midst of the baby / toddler years. Having small children is a season in which all couples can grow weary and exhausted and desire to get away. Many days it seems like we’re simply tag-teaming it. Sometimes we only see each other alone for a few minutes out of the day. But that’s no excuse to throw in the towel. It is only a season. We’ve made it this far, and there’s still years and years of goodness up ahead.

Why give up your whole marriage when the going gets tough? We have to adapt. We have to adjust our expectations. We have to settle in and persevere for the long haul in order to reap the rewards later. Culture tells us that separation is exciting, courageous, and we should all “follow our hearts.” But Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” Following our heart and our unstable emotions is no way to lay a good foundation. Our foundation must be built on something stronger – like God’s promises.

Divorce by definition is failure – of love, patience, forgiveness, or at the very least failure to chose the right spouse! But we’ve all fallen short. None of us is good enough. One lustful thought and boom…Adultery. Those who are divorced aren’t second-class Christians. Don’t obsess and hang onto something that had already happened. Gary Thomas writes,”Even when something as tragic as betrayal, unfaithfulness, and an unwanted divorce are foisted on us, the experience can be used for spiritual benefit.”

That’s what this whole book is about essentially – embracing the spiritual benefits that hard times can bring. If you’re already divorced or if you’re the victim of abuse or unfaithfulness, I don’t condemn you at all. Rather, I encourage you to search for the good that can be gained through these hardships and failures.

Embrace the Struggle

Struggles are what give birth to beauty. They refine us. They grow us. The Bible says time and time again that difficulties build our character (James 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:8, Philippians 3:14). Ease, comfort, and stress-free living aren’t what we were called to!

Patience can be formed only in the crucible of frustration. Marriage and family can refine us in ways that nothing else can. Life in these modern times is relatively easy, but when we start to think that it should be easy, we want to bail out the moment the smallest difficulty arises. If marriage were easy, we probably wouldn’t make such a big deal about our vows. People don’t vow to do easy things!

As I mentioned at the beginning, community is key when it comes to maintaining a strong and steadfast marriage. I have a group of women and Josh has a group of men that meet regularly and talk about these kinds of things. We text each other often and ask about issues of the heart. We confess our sins to one another and extend grace paired with accountability to one another. Confession may seem unnatural and difficult at first, but I think it’s an important step. Confession makes our sin more real to us. It forces us to not hide from ourselves. Confession rejects the lies that “it’s not a big deal” and “I can handle this myself.”

Gary Thomas mentions that being faithful doesn’t require we snuff out our every passion. It’s okay to be passionate. Just be passionate about the right things. Our passions are what lead us to fight for our marriage, justice, and God’s kingdom. There’s nothing boring about being an old married couple! Not if you embrace marriage the way God designed it, as a lifelong adventure toward him. I’m ready to rise to the challenge of being a couple on fire, always working on perfecting our relationship, and radically passionate for God’s work and kingdom. 

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Why Frugality?

In light of recently quitting my beloved job that I held for nearly 8 years, I’ve been re-reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. While I definitely don’t think everyone is called to spontaneously leave the workforce like I did, I think this book makes some great points about time, resources, identity, and what “making a living” really means. It provides steps to help readers take control of their finances enough to retire early in life, work part-time instead of full-time, or work full-time and donate the extra money.

I often write about the how of frugality (how to take frugal vacations, frugal ways to hang out with friends, buy groceries frugally, stop purchasing unnecessary clothing, and stop shopping just for fun.) But today I’d like to explore the why of frugality. It’s about a lot more than just saving money.IMG_8358

Frugality makes us less reliant on paid work.

Even those of us who like our jobs and feel we’re making a contribution can recognize that there is a larger arena we could enjoy, one that is beyond the world of nine to five: the fulfillment that would come from doing work we love with no limitations or restraints – and no fear of getting fired and joining the ranks of the unemployed.

-Your Money or Your Life

And even if you like your job, imagine if there was no stress or weariness when you got home. The energy your job takes from you, keeping you from accomplishing other things, is part of the real cost of working. If you were to deduct the energy, the commute, the clothing, and the conveniences you must pay for as a result of working, what would your true hourly wage be? Would anything be left of your paycheck?

Is the cost of working making you go broke?

After I analyzed our spending patterns it became clear that nearly half of what I made was spent on the job; that is, spent on gas, oil, repairs, lunches, a little here, a little there, and most of it unrecoverable. In short, I could stay home, work part-time where I live and actually save money by making half of what I formerly made.

– Larry G,  Your Money or Your Life

Frugality maximizes enjoyment.

There is no word in the English language for choosing “enoughness” and living at the peak of the fulfillment curve mentioned in Your Money or Your Life. “Frugality” doesn’t quite capture the joy of living with enough, but it’s the best word we have.

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Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them. Your success at being frugal is measured not by your penny-pinching but by your degree of enjoyment in the material world.

Your Money or Your Life

By material world, the author means the simple pleasures of a walk, fresh air, a good book, or a healthy meal. Not excessive consumption. True appreciation. Frugality is the opposite of a spendthrift. A frugal person looks in the closet and is thankful for those well-loved items, not always feeling like they have nothing to wear.

Frugality truly enjoys. It’s not just about saving money, but it’s a whole lifestyle. Consumerists rarely slow down enough to actually enjoy the things they acquire. Consumerism is a never-ending treadmill of dissatisfaction.

We don’t need to possess a thing to enjoy it – we merely need to use it… For many of life’s pleasures it may be far better to “use” something than to “possess” it (and pay in time and energy for the upkeep.)

-Your Money or Your Life

Frugality shares.

We love walking to parks instead of having a big yard to maintain. We love going to the library rather than owning every children’s book ever written. There is value for our kids to learn how to share too.

The sharing side of frugality helps foster community. We’re not all just looking out for ourselves, we’re looking out for our neighbors and lending a helping hand when needed, borrowing before buying, giving of our time, helping out, sharing meals, and listening to one another.

Frugality doesn’t have to be about stockpiling and saving so we can buy an even better thing someday. It’s about cultivating a life of meaning through selfless thinking and generosity.

Frugality doesn’t waste.

Frugal choices are often greener choices. If you believe that money equals life energy, then it’s a foolish thing to waste. Frugality is about maximizing resources. Reusing, refusing, and recycling. Whenever we spend money we’re consuming something, whether it’s raw materials, replacing something worn out, or consuming food. That’s why we’re called consumers. One of the greenest things you can do is simply buy less stuff.

We also make a point in our family to use cold water rather than hot, dry clothes outside, and rarely run the furnace or AC. These are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things and we notice the difference in our energy consumption and our bills.

Frugality is healthy.

Overconsumption can affect our bodies in negative ways. Overeating can give us health problems, stress from overworking can result in hypertension, lack of sleep, and hospital visits. In the same way, frugal choices are often healthier choices. A vegetarian diet is cheaper, greener, and good for your body. Walking and cycling is a fantastic mode of transportation as it reduces stress, increases stamina, and improves mood – all in addition to saving on cars and gas.

Frugality frees up money and time for what you truly value.

Ask yourself if the expenditures in your life are propelling you in the direction of your values. For this, I look to our family mission statement inspired by the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Ideally what I spend my money, time, and life energy on reflects my values and my mission statement. What you spend your money on paints a picture of who you are and what you truly value. You may say you value something but your spending doesn’t reflect that. Be true to who you say you are.
Financial integrity means your spending and your values align. If they don’t, either change your spending or change your purpose. Give to causes that you believe in. Invest more in hobbies, health, hosting, or education if those are things you value.

Honestly ask yourself if what you’re spending money on is bringing you fulfillment in relation to the life energy it cost. Chances are you’re overspending on some things that bring you very little real fulfillment. Maybe there’s even some areas of you’re life that are important to you and you aren’t investing enough there.

I could easily never write again for how many things I have to do in a day, but that’s a decision I’m unwilling to make because I love to write. It makes me happy and it keeps me sane. Far too often, we shunt aside the very thing that brings us the most happiness because we deem it “unworthy” of our time.

Frugalwoods

Take the challenge. What’s your purpose? What do you truly value in life? What is so important that you’re willing to put all of your life energy toward it? What frugal steps can you take to help you move toward your larger dreams?

The Insta-Scam

I frequently give things up for a period of time in order to clear my mind and reassess my priorities. 

The next big thing I might need to take a break from is scrolling Instagram.

This is because for me Instagram can represent an overindulgence in commercial aesthetics and vanity. These are all things I’m susceptible to fall into.

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We tend to post our highlights rather than the ordinary…this creates an imbalance.
I know I stopped wearing makeup a while back, and I’ve mostly stopped buying clothes, but I’m still a visual person. I’m a filmmaker and an artist so it’s easy for me to get carried away with aesthetics.

Focusing on my physique rather than fitness when I workout.

Focusing on how my home looks rather than the people who fill it.

Focusing my attention on a profile of images centered around myself rather than the individuals who fill my life and make it worthwhile.

Yes, I believe art and beauty are important. However, it’s possible to take these ideas too far. Art and beauty should ultimately point to God, not to myself. I need all the help I can get to focus my attention outward rather than inward each day.

Josh and I plan to visit a Bruterhof community in New York next month. I’ve been preparing by reading the writings of the community’s founders and I’m floored by how self-centered I am. The beauty of communal life is detachment from one’s self and focusing instead on loving one’s community.

The best way to experience nothing is to keep looking into yourself. But the more you are able to look outward and forget yourself, the more you can be changed by God…

Please give up your wanting to be loved. It is the opposite of Christianity. The prayer of St. Francis says “Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.” As long as you seek to be loved, you will never find peace. You will always find reasons to envy, but its real root is self-love.

-J. Heinrich Arnold, founder of the Bruterhof community

If I’m supposed to stop thinking about myself so much, I’ve got to break away from this over-saturation of perfection and self-focused postings.

It’s easy to fall into temptation again.

The temptation to focus on what I want and what I “need.”

The temptation to think of my children as a hindrance to my “true calling” or worse, a mere decoration in my perfectly styled room.

Jealousy wells up in me. Not of anyone I personally know, but of these images being sold to thousands of unknown followers.

The Insta-famous celebrities have it all. Perfect house, perfect bodies, adventures, getaways, happy families. Or so it seems.

Every image is staged and sponsored. Every image is selling something. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I know full well this isn’t reality. This is a carefully constructed image. I know these girls struggle. Just recently this blogger I admire shared how she feels about this crazy game.

I’m only jealous of these Instagrammers because I don’t know them personally.

If I knew them I might see the struggles and the hurts they deal with.

If I knew them I’d see them as real people and not as a brand.

If I knew them, we could share our hearts and not just our images.

As it is, I need to step away.

Only when I look up from my phone can I see that life is awesome. My marriage is fun and solid. My kids are smart and hilarious. My community is raw and genuine and lovely.

This world doesn’t need anymore “perfect” strangers on the Internet for us to measure ourselves against and get burnt-out and depressed when we don’t measure up.

I need to realign myself, first with God and then with the world.

Less time spent in front of the mirror, more time spent in the Word.

Less time spent seeking attention, more time spent seeking His will.

It also forces me to ask myself what is my motivation when I post things online?

Almost everything we post says something about our needs and wants.

Almost everything we share has a motivation behind it, even if we aren’t aware.

Think about it. You may think you’re posting just for you, but if it doesn’t get any likes, you’re let down.

I recently read a Wait But Why article “7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook” that opened my eyes and made me more self-aware of why I post the things I post. Wow, I never realized I was so needy!

Sometimes I really get excited about something and want to share it.

Sometimes I’m also looking for affirmation or trying to make my life appear a certain way.

Sometimes it’s both rolled into one.

“My life is interesting. I’m not boring. I do fun things! See?”

“I’m a good parent. I’m doing it right.”

“I workout. Great day for a 20 mile bike ride!!”

“I go to hip restaurants. I drink craft beer. I’m refined but not too stuffy.”

“I have a great family but I know how to have fun too. You’ll find approximately 1/2 to 1/3 of my Instagram photos are of my kids. That’s no accident. I want to show the world that I’m a parent but I’m also a lot of other things.”

“I do awesome things, and more importantly, I tell everyone that I do awesome things.”

I’ve written more about fulfillment and the need to share everything awesome we do here, after giving up my smartphone for a month.

I’m not singling any of my friends out for posting these kinds of things. I certainly do it myself. Most of us don’t even realize that we’re looking for affirmation.

The point is I’d like us all to be a little more self-aware online.

To ask ourselves honestly why we post the things we do.

To make changes in our lives where we can to eliminate the needs that social media fills.

To realize that striving after a perfect image is not only impossible, but it can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

We all need affirmation. But how can we make it better?

  • We can start by trying to give more affirmation than we take – and give it in real life whenever possible.
  • We can try spending time with close friends who affirm and build us up, rather than looking for it from the online masses.
  • We can do awesome things and not post them for a change just to make sure we’re not doing them for the the “likes” and “reactions.”

We owe it to ourselves (and our friends) to chill out sometimes. None of us are as perfect as we make ourselves appear online.

Remember that by filtering out the dull and sharing only the good, we can unintentionally and unnecessarily cause those closest to us to feel inadequate. Theodore Roosevelt said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t think any of us truly want to alienate and compete with our friends. That’s not what true friendship is. True friendship is laying our lives down for one another, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

What God’s telling me this week:

  • You must lose yourself to find your life. (Matthew 10:39)
  • Look in mirror less.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

1 Peter 3:3-4

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

  • Fill yourself with Him only. Worry less about your own wants and desires.
  • Focus less on your own sin and your own thoughts. Yes, even focusing on your sin too much can be selfish.

I am grateful that you recognize your sin, but I plead with you to stop thinking about yourself, your past, and your depression. You will only become more depressed. That is not repentance. Think of your inner being as a clear pond that mirrors the sun, the stars, and the moon. If you stir up the mud at the bottom, everything will become unclear and cloudy, and the more you stir it, the cloudier it will get. Become quiet and stand firm against the devil. Then the water will clear again, and you will see in its mirror Christ’s love to you and to the whole world.

-J. Heinrich Arnold, founder of the Bruterhof community

  • It’s time to move on past your own self-absorption and fully immerse yourself in others and in serving.

I think there’s a lot of good uses for social media. I love how it connects me with people I love all over the world. What are your tips for a simpler online presence? How can we opt out of the comparison game while still staying connected via the internet? 

The Real Food Balance

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White chili and homemade bread! Yum…
Before researching food became a hobby, I honestly didn’t know how to be healthy. As a kid, I thought it was normal to have stomach aches everyday. As a young adult, I didn’t realize how much food I ate was processed (Pop-tarts, bagels, Wheat Thins, snack cakes, frozen pizzas!) I didn’t know the difference between a whole food and a processed food. I thought sugar was okay and fat was unhealthyI read nutrition labels but not ingredient labelsI was a total novice. 

When Malachi was born I went through a health-food kick. I read all the blogs and books I could find on real food and healthy eating. I wrote this post in 2013 and I still think it’s a great overview of real food.

It’s taken us nearly three years to figure out the right balance of healthy, delicious, frugal, and easy-to-make. Lots of trial and error. What works for our family definitely won’t work for everyone. Tastes and lifestyle make a difference. So does where you get your food and what resources you have where you live. Josh and I went through several “food phases” before we got to where we are now.

What I’ve found is that it all comes down to balance.

The Convenience / Healthy Balance

The first phase I entered was switching out convenience foods and pleasure foods for healthier alternatives. That’s it! Fast food is convenient but not healthy. What we needed to ask ourselves was at what point were we going to put convenience ahead of our long-term health? It’s not easy to take that first step on a whole food journey, but it can be done! For me it took having a baby and caring what he ate to get my own eating into shape. It also helped to have resources that made it look do-able. It’s hard to get excited about something that seems impossible from the get-go.

It was slightly less convenient, but totally do-able to start making my own healthier snacks rather than buying ice cream or brownie mix. That one small step made all the difference. I was a sugar addict before this switch. This was just the beginning, but I had to start somewhere. One thing eventually led to another.

The easiest steps to get healthier now:

  • Just say no to the drive-though – Yes, it’s easy, but I have yet to see anything healthy come out of a drive-through window.
  • Stop sweetening your coffee – I drink coffee everyday either black or with just cream, no sweeteners, natural or artificial.
  • Drink tea rather than soda – I’m pretty sure quitting soda is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. If you currently drink soda, you’ll notice a difference if you do this and nothing else! You can replace it with something else enjoyable like unsweetened green tea or sparkling water. Those cravings will go away, I promise!

The Healthy / Frugal Balance

Lots of things are healthy but not frugal. One needs only step in a Whole Foods Supermarket to know what I’m talking about. Once Josh and I started eating a real food diet, I didn’t care too much about frugality. This was my second phase. I thought nothing was more important than our health. We bought as much organic produce as we could, organic whole milk, and organic chicken or grass-fed beef at least once a week. Even shopping primarily at Aldi and Trader Joe’s, it got expensive. I was able to cook everything from scratch, but I was also trying new recipes every week which contributed to the growing grocery list. We also got sucked into “Health and Superfood Consumerism” which is my name for things marketed as super healthy in the form of powders supplements, and smoothie boosters.

What we do now is a little simpler and a lot more affordable! We actually save money by eating healthy this way. We stopped buying “designer” meat products and opted for a vegetarian (with some fish) diet instead. We get our protein and calories from whole grains, legumes, eggs, milk, and cheeses. Nothing fancy. Nothing expensive. If it’s organic at a good price, great. Otherwise I’m not too concerned about buying all organic anymore.

A hardboiled egg isn’t nearly as exciting as the bars in brightly colored wrappers and protein supplements made to taste like cookie dough shakes. But it’s more affordable and more natural so that’s a win / win in my book.

Real (frugal) food rather than (expensive) health foods:

  • Hard boiled eggs instead of power bars or protein powders.
  • Fresh fruit instead of dried fruit and fruit leathers.
  • Homemade kombucha instead and plain yogurt instead of probiotic supplements.
  • Homemade bread or no bread instead of “designer” sprouted breads.
  • Rice and beans and veggies instead of meat at almost every dinner.
  • Oats instead of organic, gluten-free, sprouted breakfast cereals – just a fraction of the price, less processed, and no added sugar!

The Frugal / Convenience Balance

You won’t stick with a whole food diet (or any diet) if it’s too inconvenient. Convenience always wins in the long-term. And unfortunately, the most frugal thing to do is make everything from scratch.

When I found myself making everything from scratch, I started getting burnt-out and resentful. I would spend hours in the kitchen everyday, while baby Malachi napped or watched. It wasn’t sustainable. Making it easier on yourself will help you find the balance that is sustainable over time.

Things I no longer make from scratch:

  • Yogurt – This was fun at first, but time-consuming every week. I started buying organic plain whole milk yogurt, which is still only $2.99/32 oz. at Aldi. That’s about the price of just the organic milk!
  • Tortillas – Another thing that’s great to make but was a lot of time in front of the stove. Trader Joe’s has handmade 100% whole wheat tortillas that are almost as good as the ones I made. Mainly we just skip tortillas and do salads and burrito bowls instead.
  • Ketchup, BBQ sauce, and other dressings – For the most part we just don’t use “dressings” other than good olive oil. Our tastes have changed that much! When I do need condiments for something, I’ve been buying them and giving away what we don’t use. Making my own was hit-or-miss and they often went bad before we used them up.
  • Pasta sauce – This is 50/50. I’ve been making white sauce from scratch from milk and butter and buying tomato-based sauce. It’s simply not cost effective to make tomato sauce myself and Aldi currently has organic pasta sauce with all good ingredients for $1.89 a jar! I can’t beat that!

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Ah, homemade yogurt! Haven’t made this in a while!
Things I make from scratch to save money:

  • Bone broth – this is one the healthiest and simplest things you can make. On the rare occasions we do buy meat, we buy a whole chicken or turkey and I simmer the bones all day and freeze.
  • Dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas – I make them in the crock-pot. They take all day, so I do it the day before I want to use them. It does take a little planning, but it isn’t difficult or stressful. I keep one or two cans of beans on hand too just in case I need some in an instant.
  • Baked beans – So much cheaper in addition to the fact that the kind from the can has additives and lots of sugar. It’s a win at every summer gathering!
  • Brown rice – No shortcuts here. I also make this in the crock-pot. I measure 2x the water to the rice and set on low for about 4 hours until most of the water is absorbed. We save a lot by buying 25 lb. bags of rice from our local Asian market rather than instant rice from the grocery store.
  • Bread – We don’t eat bread a whole lot, but when we do it’s homemade. I use 4 cups white whole wheat flour, 2 cups water, 1 package yeast, and 1 Tbsp salt. That’s it! And a bread machine on the whole wheat 1.5 lb. setting.
  • Vanilla extract – vanilla beans and vodka are all it takes to make some seriously good vanilla extract at a fraction of the cost. No real effort involved here!

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Vanilla extract is affordable, easy, and never goes bad!
Yes. It is harder to make everything from scratch. But I believe it is healthier and it saves money because the ingredients are nourishing and hearty. I can make dozens of different healthy, filling meals out of the same pantry staples and seasonal vegetables. To make it more frugal, I’ve stopped meal-planning every week with lots of new recipes. Instead I buy what’s in season (and therefore the cheapest) in the produce section, and I build my menu around that.

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What real food looks like to-go.
Ways to make Real Food Convenient:

  • Stock fridge with fresh fruits and veggies every week.
  • Hard boil eggs ahead of time.
  • Get rid of all easy-access junk food.
  • Crock-pots – I have one I use mostly for rice and one I use mostly for beans and veggies.
  • Prioritize – we still buy some things already prepared. As long as they have fewer than 5 ingredients they’re not considered highly processed. I definitely don’t make my own pasta, and about half the time I don’t make the sauce either!
  • Plan ahead – when I worked, it was important to have a plan. I often cooked on my days off so there were leftovers or something in the crock-pot on the nights I worked. 
  • Leftovers – frugal take-out, as I like to call them! If you stop eating processed foods, it’s easier to cook in large batches and either freeze or store the leftovers in the fridge for easy access. This will reduce the possibility of needing to eat out because there’s “nothing in the house.”
  • Repertoire – I’m not trying out new recipes everyday. I’ve built a pretty steady repertoire of dinners that we like that incorporate lots of easy things like beans and veggies. When potatoes are cheap and in season, I make my favorite potato soup. When cauliflower is beautiful, I make cauliflower curry. I limit new, unfamiliar recipes to once a week or less.

I hope these suggestions come in handy as you figure out the correct frugal / healthy / convenient balance for your family! Go easy on yourself and ease into any lifestyle changes gradually. It’s a process! Enjoy the journey.