Why I Didn’t “Treat Myself” on My Birthday

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Birthday sunrise.

My birthday was Tuesday. I love this time of year. The start of a new season and the crisp freshness in the air. Sometimes we pick apples on my birthday but this year it was a pretty hot and sunny day, still wanting to be summer.

It’s funny how my perspective on my birthday has changed over the years. This day is no longer a big deal to me. My age is no longer a very big deal to me. In fact, it’s a good thing me and Josh are the same age because I often ask him “How old are we again?” (We’re 28 now.)

When I was a kid I really looked forward to my birthday. I counted down the days. I didn’t have a whole lot of my own money so gifts were a much bigger deal.

As an adult, I have more resources at my disposal than ever before. But you know what?

I want for nothing. 

Am I secretly wealthy? No. I admit that it’s a privilege to live a simple life by choice rather than out of necessity, but we aren’t hoarding a stash of wealth anywhere, either. As believers, we want to give away more than we keep for ourselves. I want for nothing because I’ve learned the value of what I already have.¬†I want nothing because I know that my needs are met, and everything else is just extra.

And that’s something to be grateful for.

So I didn’t “treat myself” on my birthday. I didn’t go out to dinner. I didn’t even order in. I didn’t go on a fancy date. I didn’t ask for gifts. (Josh and I have a mutual understanding that no gifts means, really, no gifts.)

In fact, I didn’t buy anything.

Here’s why:

Life is Really About Relationships

I once heard it said that “Your life is only as good as your relationships.” There’s so much truth to that. Someone can have it all according to the world’s standards, but without people to share it with, there’s no fulfillment or satisfaction. I’m gonna save myself the work. Forget about “having it all.” Just give me good relationships.

It doesn’t have to be a vast network, either. We all just need a few people who we can truly be ourselves¬†with – people who are on the same wavelength as us and with whom we can let our guard down.¬†A few of those kinds of friends are absolutely priceless. I don’t care about trendy, material things now that I’m an adult. My priorities have changed. Give me quality relationships and honest people to do life with. Give me a sense of community and belonging.

I’m so thankful to have several close friends and Josh who have seen the real me and still love me. People who understand me without me wasting my breath to explain everything. People who just nod and just get it.¬†Great relationships are invaluable.

Treating Yourself is Overrated

The best gift you can give yourself aside from quality relationships is a life filled with gratitude. This means creating a simple but meaningful everyday life. A life you don’t need to¬†take a vacation from. Do I take breaks and getaways? Yes. (I’ve learned to do so frugally!) But vacations aren’t what I live for. I choose to live an authentic life daily, not just on vacation.

I love my nights and weekends when Josh isn’t working, but I don’t just live for the weekends. I don’t want to always be wishing I was elsewhere or waiting for my next chance to indulge. I want to find beauty in those everyday moments. I think treating yourself isn’t as much about doing something fancy and expensive as it is about being present and gleaning¬†enjoyment out of the everyday things. Out of the nap-times. Out of the grocery runs. Out of sitting in traffic sometimes… Everyday occurrences can be magically fulfilling.

For example, on Tuesday I treated myself to “Birthday Oatmeal on the Porch to Watch the Sunrise” and a “Birthday Run to the Library” and a “Birthday Dinner of Homemade Stir-fry.” It wasn’t any different from my usual oatmeal on the porch and my usual runs and my usual family dinners, but something about making it a birthday celebration helped open my eyes to the gifts around me every single day. It helped me live in the moment, as corny as that sounds, and be truly thankful for this stage of life. Because next year my kids will be different. I will be different. We might not have the same routine and the same rhythm to our day.

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Birthday run.

Hard Things are Worth Doing 

I love the runner’s high after a good workout. Can’t forget that birthing high after natural childbirth! That feeling you get at the top of a mountain that was challenging to climb. The satisfaction after giving something your all. One could say I’m addicted to this feeling. I like to work hard everyday. It may sound gross, but I like to sweat everyday! Hard work is seriously one of life’s buried treasures. A hidden gift off the beaten path of self-serving.

The Fray has a song lyric that says “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” While I don’t think it’s always true, I think it’s good food for thought. Why take the easy way? Why do what everyone else is doing? In my experience, self-indulgence leaves me feeling icky. 99% of the time I’d rather do something challenging I can feel proud of.

Indulging Doesn’t Fix Depression

No amount of retail therapy, fancy gifts, expensive nights out, or gourmet meals will ever cure that empty feeling inside. I know. I’ve done these things, and I’ve still struggled with seasonal and postpartum depression.

I’ve done all the “right” things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, running, and talking to friends as well. These things have helped a lot, but I’ve also faced the fact that depression is a chemical and hormonal imbalance. It doesn’t mean I’m broken and it doesn’t mean I’m inferior. I don’t need to drown out every feeling with self-indulgence. Rather, I can press into whatever pain I feel and try to use it to help others.

I’m proud to say I’ve made so much progress this past year. It’s been challenging having a new baby and adjusting to life with two kiddos, but I think we’re finally on the other end of it and I feel like the weight has been lifted. I love my family and my life so much right now. It isn’t always easy. I still look forward to bedtime, like most parents with small children do, but I thoroughly enjoy interacting with my boys and watching them learn and grow. I often want to pause time momentarily and hang onto every precious thing they say and do.

Long-Term Goals Over Temporary Pleasure

I write a lot about the benefits of frugal living and all the opportunities frugality has opened up for our family. The flip-side of living in the present is also having long-term goals to look forward to. This is what makes it easy to say no to every little whim and treat. It’s so empowering to have a family mission statement (Ours is Simplicity. Generosity.Hospitality.) and use it to center ourselves and decide what’s important. Little by little, we chip away at those dreams and that mission statement. It takes time, but we know we’re headed somewhere. How many of us are merely existing and feel like we’re floating aimlessly with no real purpose? I know I have felt like that, so my family mission is a great reminder that I’m heading in the right direction.

Simple living may not feel that simple at first. There may be withdrawal symptoms for the first few weeks or months after giving up an old habit. But if you stick with it, that withdrawal fades and the temptation eventually leaves. It happened when I gave up sugar. It happened when I stopped buying clothes.

Long-term goals take time, but they are so much more valuable than an ice cream here and a Starbucks drink there. I’d rather save money on the daily things and put it toward those larger goals. And the cool thing about getting older is that time flies by faster. So invest. Not just financially, but in people, in relationships, and in yourself. Good things take time.¬†

Do you treat yourself to nice things often? How do you¬†limit yourself or handle the expense? How do you keep “occasional treats” from becoming everyday habits? What are your favorite free or frugal gifts?

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Birthday selfie in my swapped “new to me” outfit!

Fast Fashion is Like Fast Food…

…It’s cheap, poor quality, and most people eventually regret buying it.

If you found my blog through the recent Huffington post article about our clothes shopping ban, welcome! If you haven’t already, check it out! 

Since the ban is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d expand a little bit on the idea of clothing waste.

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My closet is nothing special. Just a closet.
When I started my clothes shopping ban in June 2015, I did it to save money, save time, and minimize my closet. I wanted to jump off of the crazy trend merry-go-round. I just wanted to wear simple clothes that I liked, even if it meant repeating the same things again and again. Now that I’ve learned more about how clothing is overproduced and goes to waste, I’m even more excited about not not buying new clothes. “Fast fashion” is produced to keep up with the latest trends and sell quickly. If it doesn’t sell, it often gets shredded and tossed in a dumpster. My ban made me realize how much I already have. It helped me see that I can get by with less than I than I think I can. So even though I’m technically “allowed” to buy new things now, I no longer want to.

Marketing Makes Us Want More

Now that my ban has ended, it’s not like I’m hurting for clothes to wear. I’ve bought two Goodwill dresses, and I’ve been given some things, but I haven’t supported any big retailers in the process. There’s no rule that we need to own lots of pairs of jeans and lots of shoes and a different dress for every occasion. No one says that you need a new dress because you got invited to a wedding, or a new swimsuit every summer. The idea that we need more than we have is simply advertising. Media can be sneaky. Everyone is selling something. Not just stores, but commercials, print ads, online ads, emails, Pinterest and Instagram. Once we’re aware of the advertising all around us, we can start to see through it.

When seasons change, I admit I still get the slight urge to “fill in the holes” in my wardrobe. But now I realize that that’s just a feeling created from years of old habits. It doesn’t actually mean I need anything. I can wait till the cold weather (or warm weather hits) and see how I fare. Logically speaking, if I had what I needed to get through last year at this time, shouldn’t I have everything I need to get through this year too? Hmmm….

Clothing Shouldn’t be Disposable

The recent book Threadbare exposed me to some of the techniques used by stores like H&M and Forever 21 to sell more clothes. One of them is an ever-changing inventory of new items. Trends are followed so closely and abandoned so quickly, that being “current” means shopping every week. Clothes are made so affordable and low quality. They aren’t made to last, they are simply made to sell. I’ve seen a lot of these “fast fashion” styles at my clothing swaps that I host about twice a year. They’re styles that catch our eye long enough to buy them, but they end up in the back of the closet rarely worn because the trend passes and the fit and fabric might not actually feel that nice.

I love the little frugal mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” That’s exactly how I feel about my closet now. It’s okay to buy a replacement when something is actually worn out. Then it’s entirely appropriate to send your worn out garment to be recycled and replace it with a second-hand or ethically-made new item. But how many of us are really wearing out our clothing? My guess is we’re more likely to get tired of the style than we are to really wear it out. The bottom line is, buying well-made, recycled clothing is cool. But we’ll make the biggest impact by simply buying less to begin with.

There is Simply Too Much

At all of my clothing swaps, each of us women bring about 1-3 trash bags full of clothes. 1-3 trash bags full that we aren’t wearing. That should give us an idea of the overconsumption that is taking place here in the US. After the swap, most of us find some nice things to take home. But I’m still left with 8 or 9 bags leftover to donate. I’ve called a couple local charities and many of them have more donations than they know what to do with. Space is an issue, and our clothing moves in and out of our closets so quickly now that even small charities can’t store all their donations and end up bringing their excess to Goodwill.  While I’ve never seen Goodwill turn away a clothing donation, much of their extras get sent to either Goodwill Outlet and sold by the pound, or sent to a textile recycling factory. Listen, recycling is better than a landfill. But recycling uses precious resources. What we all need to do is simply buy less to begin with.

When I was in the midst of my clothing ban there were several things I wanted to buy but couldn’t. I wanted another pair of fleece leggings. I wanted another pair of leather boots. I wanted more bras. I wanted a few more sweaters in the winter. But I made it work anyway. Now I no longer care, and I’m glad I saved the money and resources by avoiding those purchases.

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Love my swapped pajamas my friend didn’t want!

Some Practical Tips

When you find yourself wanting a new article of clothing desperately, try these tricks before you buy to differentiate the Needs from the Wants.

  • Shop your friends’ cast-offs first. With the endless cycle of new and cast-off clothing coming and going from most people’s closets, there’s no reason for us all to buy new. Host your own swap and see if anything there can meet your needs for free…and be saved from the trash heap.
  • Borrow. Another way my friends helped me out during my shopping ban was by lending me things. This can apply to any clothing, but especially maternity and clothes for kids! These items are only needed for a short time, and then they can be washed and returned or lent to the next person to have a kid.
  • Shop used. If you can’t find it for free or borrow from your friends, check out your local thrift shop next. While it’s not completely devoid of waste, thrift shopping is cool because it’s not supporting the big fashion retailers. It’s cast-offs longing to be reused rather than recycled. Their footprint is much, much smaller.
  • Put it on a list. Give it time. Delay the purchase as long as you can. You might find, like me, that writing it down instead of buying it helps. It gives me a way to act on the item without purchasing it. See if you still want it after a month. Wait to see if a used one shows up at a thrift store or garage sale.
  • Say no to trends. As much as you can, stick with pieces that are well made and have a timeless style. My style has changed a bit since my clothing ban started, partly because I’m no longer following ever-changing trends. I have mostly mix-and-match tops and bottoms that go with anything and can be styled different ways to match the changing seasons. Even though I try to have a minimal wardrobe, there are endless ways to wear things in fresh ways.
  • Do some research. Everything you buy is supporting something. Do your best to find out what you’re actually supporting with your dollars.
  • Avoid the mall. In my experience, this is where most of the fast fashion resides. (But freestanding stores like Target and Old Navy aren’t exempt either.) Malls aren’t made for shopping with a purpose. They are meant for killing time, meeting up with friends, and browsing the racks. Just spare yourself the temptation and avoid this place.

It’s Not Really That Crazy

I realize that my family is extremely privileged to get to do things like shopping bans by choice. Throughout history, families have made sacrifices and given up unnecessary spending out of necessity. Today, many families in the US and around the world struggle just to put dinner on the table. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I’ll have a place to sleep tonight. If the idea of being frugal is nothing new to you, then you know that my family is nothing special. We’re simply trying to be practical with the resources we’ve been given. We’d like to spend as little on ourselves as possible, in order to have more to share with others. We want to tread lightly on this planet so future generations aren’t left cleaning up our mess. We want to give a nod to those who are already living this way, and we want to issue a friendly challenge to those who are caught up in the overconsumption rat-race. It is possible to live on less. Many people are already doing it. 

I’m sitting here writing this in some awesome swapped duds – shorts from Elizabeth and a shirt from Christina – and a sweater I bought secondhand about five years ago. I’m very thankful right now. Like any new habit, there might be some withdrawal symptoms at first, but if you stick with it you’ll be amazed at how easy it is! I don’t plan on ever going back to my old way of shopping. I don’t ever plan on spending $200-$500 a year on clothing like I used to. This isn’t a shopping ban anymore. This is just my life. I want to stop the waste of overconsumption. I’ll gladly pick my clothes out of what other people are throwing away if it means not supporting a wasteful and unethical industry. I’ll opt out of the comparison game. I’ll opt out of keeping up with the ever-changing fads. At first I needed rules in order to stick with my decision – it had to be an absolute ban in order for me to overcome the addiction. But there no longer need to be hard rules because my thinking has changed. I’m never going to shop the same way again.

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Old clothes. Happy hearts. Cheesy captions.

 

Stuff Vs. Experiences

It’s been proven that material things don’t make us happier. Once our basic needs of clothing, food, and shelter are met, more doesn’t equal better. It just becomes…excess.

This, as well as many other interesting psychological studies and statistics, are found in the book¬†Stuffocation.¬†This book has a slightly different angle than some of the minimalism and simplicity books I’ve read in the past. Most of the books in this genre suggest the answer to society’s massive overconsumption problem is minimizing, downsizing and shedding the clutter. Author James Wallman has a different theory.

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The answer to the stuff problem, Wallman says, isn’t minimalism or simplicity. Those things are nice, but they will never take over society to the extent that materialism has.¬†He has a point. In some ways “the simple life”¬†can be quite¬†complicated. People who opt out of the hustle and bustle of the daily grind might discover that living off the grid is harder than conforming to the status quo. Growing your own food from the ground up is easier said than done. (I’m a terrible gardener, at least right now I am.) Chopping firewood is much more difficult than simply programming a thermostat. And living alone in a cabin, while simple, can be downright boring and isolating for even the most introverted individual.

Minimalism, while freeing for those who are tired of the clutter and waste of overconsumption, can be equally frustrating when the competition turns from “must have” to “must get rid of.” Extreme minimalists will count every object they own, spending large amounts of money on custom multi-use furniture and tiny eco-homes. Seeing who can get by with the¬†least amount of stuff has become a¬†new status symbol¬†in some circles. It’s a crazy, reversed form of materialism that is just as materialistic as its counterpart.

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Even minimalists can be materialistic in their approach.

No, Wallman says the answer to our overconsumption is primarily experiences.¬†He predicts that in the future more and more people will build their lives around what they do rather than what they own. It’s an intriguing concept. Memories last a lot longer than mementos. And they don’t clutter the house. Win / win.

There’s drawbacks to this theory of experiences, of course. Social media makes it all too easy for experiences to be shared for the sake of comparison. This “extrinsic motivation” isn’t nearly as fulfilling and healthy as “intrinsic motivation,” which stems from our own curiosity and desire to explore. Still, it’s not entirely a bad thing that experiences can be shared online. We can learn a lot about someone by what they do in their spare time – things we would never know just from looking at them. And this social pressure to get out and do things rather than just acquire things could actually be a positive thing.¬†

Wallman lists several reasons why experiences might be the answer to dissatisfaction due to overconsumption, and backs them up with phycological studies. 

Reasons Experiences Make Us Happier than Possessions:

  1. Experiences are more prone to positive reinterpretation.¬†Even when experiences go wrong, we can usually look back on them and laugh. There’s no real redeeming factor to a regretted purchase.
  2. Possessions are prone to hedonic adaptation.¬†This is the phenomenon of needing more and more of the same thing to get the same level of thrill or satisfaction. It still can happen with experiences, but it’s much less noticeable.
  3. Experiences are harder to compare than material goods.¬†You’re less likely to worry about your choice, worry about all the other options, and worry about the status implications. It’s quite easy to compare different generations of phones, or different years of cars. It’s nearly impossible to compare a trip to Spain to visit family with a cruise in Alaska. No two experiences are alike, and therefore, they are less likely to lead to comparison and dissatisfaction.
  4. We’re more likely to view experiences as contributing to our identities.¬†We all strive to find or create ourselves when we shop for things, work our jobs, listen to music, and pursue hobbies and interests. Our view of ourselves is crucial to our happiness. Wallman suggests that experiences contribute far more than what we own to shaping our identity and our feelings about ourselves.
  5. Experiences bring us closer to other people.¬†A shared experience – either present or past – will unite two people far more than driving the same car or owning the same earrings. I know I have an easier time meeting new people when we’re experiencing something together. There’s an instant connection and a starting point for a relationship to grow.
  6. Materialism leads to clutter. Clutter is an unintended consequence of overconsumption that, left unchecked, can lead to stress and unhappiness. Clutter can even cause family strife. It may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it is not something to be overlooked.
  7. Doing something rather than having it is more likely to engage you.¬†Whether we know it or not, we all seek to be “in the zone.”¬†When we’re in the zone, we feel alive, aware, and engaged in the moment. This state of appreciation and satisfaction is derived from doing, not from merely owning things.
  8. Your motivation is more likely to be intrinsic for experiences. While it is possible someone might do something like go to a concert or go golfing for the extrinsic purpose of social bragging, it is more likely that someone is doing these things for the inward, intrinsic value.

My biggest critique with this whole concept of “experiencing” the good life, is that it’s still looking for happiness in created things (even if they aren’t physical things) rather than the Creator. While I truly enjoy and thrive on experiences, I’ve found that in my life true happiness cannot be found without losing¬†myself¬†and looking to God for my identity.

Often the most fulfilling things are experiences where I totally forget about my own problems (and my own happiness) and focus only on serving someone else. It can be as simple as listening to a friend talk when they need a safe place, forgetting about my own agenda. Or lending a hand if someone needs childcare. Or hosting someone in my home even if I think I feel too tired to entertain. It’s a great contradiction to the “do what makes you happy” mentality, but I’ve found it to be true time and time again.

Perhaps¬†experiences are the answer to overconsumption¬†inasmuch as they help us see God better or connect with fellow humans. I’m still not 100% sure, but I think they might play a part in the equation.

My favorite points from the book relate not so much to stuff or lack of stuff, but to a new way of experiencing life in general.

Be Here Now.

My old choir director used to say “Wherever you are at, be there.” It was simple but true. While at choir practice, he wanted us to be 100% present, not thinking about all the other places we’d rather be. It meant we’d¬†do a better job and we’d enjoy ourselves more. If you’re always wistfully off somewhere else, think about all that you might be missing out on right in front of you. And how does it make those around you feel if you’re never fully present with them?¬†Distant? Unimportant? Uninteresting? Commit yourself fully to where you’re at and enjoy the synergy¬†of being in that¬†place and time fully.

Be Your Own Audience.

I put this into practice a while back when I took a month-long break from my phone and social media. I didn’t realize how much of what I did I did for the sake of posting! It was humbling. What would it feel like if I never posted anything that I did ever again? Would I feel fulfilled simply by doing without the sharing? It is hard because I love photography and writing, and those are big parts of social media. I probably take way too many photos for myself, much less Facebook and Instagram. I find it helpful to have the “not sharing” mindset when deciding whether or not to do something…even if I do end up sharing a pic or two afterward.¬†Honestly ask yourself “If no one knew I was doing this would I still do it?”

Put People First.

Ask yourself how your experiences will draw you closer to other people. Will you make new friends if you sign up for that class? Will you and your spouse connect if you go on that trip? I thrive in social environments, but I’ll be the first to admit that meeting new people can be awkward and difficult. The key that I’ve found is to¬†do something together.¬†Maybe it’s volunteering. Maybe it’s running together. Maybe it’s grocery shopping. Shared experiences are a powerful way to drive relationships forward.

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Camping! It’s about the people, not the camping itself.

What are your thoughts on stuff vs. experiences? Is it a fair comparison?¬†What about when our stuff gives us a good experience? Do you find intrinsic motivation to be more satisfying than the extrinsic motivations in your own life? If experiences aren’t the answer to the overconsumption problem, then what do you think is?¬†

New York Reflections

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Our family had the great pleasure of getting to¬†visit a rural Christian community in New York this August. It felt like something from a dream or a movie. Beautiful countryside dotted with houses and animals, with families walking barefoot down the winding roads that led from building to building. I’ve never experienced such radical hospitality in my entire life. Our room was filled with welcome notes, coffee, snacks, and fresh-cut flowers. But it didn’t end there. That same love and care trickled into everything the community¬†brothers and sisters did. It brought to mind the Mother Teresa quote: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” That great love was everywhere. From all the welcomes and smiles and handshakes, to how the kitchens were cleaned. From how our laundry was washed and so neatly folded, to how someone always stepped in to¬†babysit so we could attend the community meetings and campfires…or simply sleep after driving through the night.

Radical and Simple

I’m convinced that love is the purest and most radically simple answer to all the world’s questions. Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Not by the cars we drive, the politicians we vote for, or by what we complain about on Facebook. Pure, unselfish love will change the world.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I often hear these verses read at weddings. It’s a nice reminder at weddings, but realize that we aren’t just called to love our spouses. We’re called to love our neighbors. We’re called to love our enemies.¬†Yes, our love toward our family is vitally important. But if it ends there, we’re missing out on the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Believers are called to so much more than nuclear family love. We’re called to radical, world-changing, love.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:32-36

This is why Jesus said they will know we’re disciples by our love. Because our love will look different from the love the world gives.

Community and Commitment 

We all have more in common than you would think. At first it might seem like life in such a community is quite different – and yes, it is quite different from the “American Dream.”¬†But I daresay all believers are called to community in some shape or form.¬†We aren’t meant to walk this Christian faith alone. I can only imagine how lonely and difficult that would be.

The community members made a lifelong commitment when they decided to join the church. When I first heard this, I thought it must take extreme dedication. But then it occurred to me – aren’t all believers called to a lifelong commitment? Aren’t we all called to “take up our cross and follow Jesus?” To surrender our lives to his plan and his purpose, going where he calls us and serving where he asks us to serve? In that mindset, the lifelong¬†commitment to the church wasn’t so radical at all. It was simply an extension of what we’re all called to do after we give our lives to Christ. And with all that community support and accountability, it might actually be easier to follow Christ in a group than in isolation. It was all summed up in a song we sang around the campfire under the stars:

No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

Benefits and Surrender

There are numerous benefits to living in a community such as this. Quality childcare. No unemployment. No poverty. Lifelong friendships. Meals, housing, and even laundry are provided to all members. But everyone I talked to shared the same sentiment:¬†that one can’t simply join a community because of the benefits. One must join because they feel called to follow Jesus in such a way. The benefits of community are simply the fruit that grows when a group of people surrender¬†themselves to the Lord’s work and die to themselves.

I noticed a beautiful¬†appreciation¬†placed on children and the elderly. The ones who our society deems “the least of these” were elevated to a place of honor.¬†Mothers didn’t need to¬†worry about childcare. The elderly didn’t need to worry about retirement or care in their old age. Single men and women weren’t living alone, waiting for a spouse. Families were there to surround them, support them, and live alongside them. No one was lonely or forgotten. How lovely is it that all these benefits come from complete surrender!

Listening and Sharing

I think we all mutually encouraged one another during our stay. We’re living out our faith in different ways, but it’s all pointing to the same Jesus. His example is the inspiration for everything. I enjoyed how the community brothers and sisters listened to what us visitors had to say. There were ongoing conversations, not just preaching. In fact, there was no main speaker at any of the meetings we attended. It was a big circle where everyone had a chance to talk and everyone was listened to. Iron sharpening iron. Just seeking together. You know it’s working when someone asks a question, a couple other people share their thoughts, and then a lightbulb goes off in your own mind and you have something to contribute. I found myself scribbling pages and pages of notes, some of which I still haven’t finished processing and reflecting.

Come and See

A lot of people I’ve talked to about the trip are interested in the details of daily community life. That’s good and all, but if you’re stuck on the details then you’re missing the real point. Communal¬†life is simple. No one owns private property or their own money, yet everyone has what they need. Everyone is seeking the good of the group¬†rather than their own good. It’s not perfect, they all readily admit, but they’ve been doing it for generations so I’d call that a successful history. Other than that, the details are just merely details. If you’re interested in learning more, there is standing invitation for anyone¬†who wants to come and see.¬†That’s what we did and it was incredible.

Sometimes Community Hurts

I’m well aware of the fact that some people carry scars left from¬†so-called Christian communities that have hurt them. I’m also aware that some communities are accused of living life “in a bubble” and not interacting enough with the outside world. These are very valid concerns, and need to be pondered and addressed. It’s far outside the realm of one blog post to address and fix all these problems. The brothers and sisters at this community didn’t shy away from questions about these things. They realize that they are only human and no matter how idealistic their lives might look from the outside, that they have to practice forgiveness on a daily basis. They have seen people hurt. They have seen people leave the church. They have also seen healing and reconciliation in some cases. There’s no way around these kind of issues when you’re dealing with imperfect people. All we can do is give one another a small portion of the enormous grace God has given to us.

What Does This Mean for Us?

I’m still processing how everything we learned might impact our lives here at home. Josh and I have felt inclined toward some fashion of community living ever since we read¬†The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. We don’t, however, feel called to join a community existing somewhere else. We strongly feel that our place right now is St. Louis, and we’re in this area for a reason. So right now we’re waiting with open hearts and minds for the next opportunity. It might mean staying where we’re at and¬†continuing to open¬†up our guest rooms when a need arises. It might mean selling everything and downsizing to an abandoned school or other facility.¬†It might mean living alongside refugees in an apartment building. We have no idea.

What I do know is that God desires¬†us all to willingly surrender our plans and our belongings into his will. Even if he doesn’t call us to give it all up, just knowing that we’re willing to do it is liberating. We aren’t tied to anything except God and one another. That means no matter happens to our home, our finances, our belongings, we know we’ll be content. And as long as we have the means, we’re ready to be that safe place for someone else who needs it. That’s the essence of community.IMG_1312.JPGIMG_1323.JPGIMG_1370.JPG

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Philippians 4:12

How can we create a thriving community in our daily lives, with our church, our friends, and our neighbors? What does it mean to surrender our plans and resources completely to God? How can we “do small things with great love” everyday as a way to impact our world without words?

Will Kids Ruin My Body?

IMG_5003_2Can I just be frank with you?

I’d like to encourage those that aren’t mothers, but are maybe concerned about the changes their bodies will go through.

It’s not as scary as you think.

I used to wonder if having kids would “ruin” my body.

Having kids does change your body.

Pretty drastically.

Things stretch and go back differently.

But they do go back.

You gain weight in weird places and lose weight in other places.

You turn to mush immediately following birth, and then things slowly tighten up again.

My belly button is no longer an innie.

But who cares.

My body is far from destroyed.

On the contrary, I’m more conscious of my body.

I take better care of it.

I eat better than I did before children.

I workout more than I did before children.

And my motivation has changed.

I no longer workout to “burn calories” or look a certain way.

I recently saw some photos of myself when I first got married.

I was so different.

I was skinny, but I was addicted to sugar.

I’d never done cardio in my life.

Even when I started going to the gym, my mind was in the wrong place.

I thought working out was to make up for eating too much.

There was guilt and there was punishment, an endless cycle.

There was vanity, as I wanted the perfect abs, even if it meant being hungry.

I didn’t understand nutrition at all.

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How I used to workout.
Not anymore.

I workout to stretch myself.

For recreation.

To meet goals.

To get stronger everyday.

To maintain my mental health.

And to live a long healthy life with my kids.

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Now I do this.
It’s kind of amazing how much my life has changed in 5 years.

Ironically, after two kids, I’m the healthiest and fittest I’ve ever been.

And it’s not punishment.

Physical activity truly enriches my life.

I don’t want to go a day without it.

I think it’s incredible how training builds endurance.

The more we *kindly* ask from our bodies, the more they give us.

One day a hill leaves me breathless, and a couple weeks later I’m like “what hill?”

I don’t stress or obsess over my accomplishments.

They are a byproduct of doing what I love.

They are simply the results of riding my bike more and refusing to drive to the library or grocery store.

I’d encourage those who “hate exercise” to pick a new hobby.

Take up swimming, boxing, cycling, martial arts or acrobatics.

Do something that challenges you and makes you feel strong.

My kids are a part of this.

If it weren’t for them I might never have started.

They’ve changed how I see myself. They’ve changed how I treat myself.

It’s not in spite of them but because of them that I’ve changed my lifestyle.

I used to show more skin, but I never had the self-confidence and self-assurance that I have now.

My body did some amazing things.

Labor and birth remains one of my proudest accomplishments.

In fact, giving birth was the strongest I’ve ever felt.

And the weakest.

It was the most I’ve ever felt anything ever.

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Strongest moment of my life.
“Will kids ruin my body?”

Having children didn’t ruin my body like I thought it would.

But, more importantly, I realized I was asking the wrong question.

My tummy isn’t just something to try to make perfectly flat again.

It cradled each of my boys for nine months.

My body is so much more than a size.

So much more than what the scale says.

My body isn’t exactly the same as it used to be.

But it’s awesome.

It’s better.

I’m not afraid of my body being a fluid, changing thing.

Our bodies are always changing anyway.

No matter how fit and healthy I am, I will continue to age, sag, and wrinkle.

It does no good to fear these changes.

I have to accept myself and all my “imperfections.”

Accept that no matter how much weight I gain or lose, I’m a person of value.

I am beautiful and loved.

Even if I have to get rid of some of those ridiculously skinny pants I used to wear.

My body post-babies isn’t about my belly button or skinny jeans.

It isn’t really about me at all.

Even if our bodies don’t go back the way we want them, I don’t think they’re “ruined.” Far from it.

Even if our bodies don’t go back the way we want them, I think our children are a huge part of what makes us beautiful. 

So please don’t fear the changes – whether they are due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or simply getting older.

It’s all vanity and it will all disappear.

Rather, respect the journey your body is on.

Ps: I feel like I should add a disclaimer on Postpartum Depression, as it is one of the complications of pregnancy that truly can ruin everything if left untreated. I’ll write more about this in detail soon. For now, here are some resources to hang onto: 

Postpartum.net 

Depressionafterdelivery.com

Postpartum hotline: 1-800-773-6667

Suicide hotline: 1-800-784-2433

10 Ways to Save Money

I recently wrote about “Why” of frugality. Today I’ll get back to the “How.” Here’s 10 practical tips inspired by the book Your Money or Your Life and from my own experiences. Decide which tips might work best for you. With a little practice, these can become a way of life.

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Hiking is one of our favorite frugal pastimes!

10 Ways to Save Money

1. Stop trying to impress people.

“Other people are probably so busy trying to impress you that they will, at best, not notice your efforts. At worst, they will resent you for one-upping them,” writes Vicki Robin. It’s more about inflating the ego than meeting real needs. Do we really need more clothes or more pairs of shoes or can we get by with what we have? Do you think you need status symbols to fit in at your job? Chances are your boss didn’t hire you based on the car you drove to the interview. Chances are that most of the pressure you feel to look a certain way or demonstrate a certain amount of wealth are imagined. I personally don’t choose my friends based on what they wear or the trends they follow. Assume your friends are people of character and won’t abandon you if you start wearing the same things over and over.

2. Don’t go shopping.

Realize that shopping “just for fun” is filling other needs. I’m definitely guilty of this. I do it a lot less now that I have two small children, but sometimes me and the kids like to get out of the house so we’ll go to the store. I try to be honest and at least acknowledge it for what it is – a need other than material belongings. We avoid the store whenever possible, opting instead for the park, friend’s house, or the library. We keep a running list of the things we truly need on the fridge. When the list gets urgent enough, we go to that store and we buy only those things. We try to derive as much enjoyment as possible out of shopping for our “needs” that there’s no desire left to browse for “wants.”

3. Live within your means.

This simply means spend less than you make. Pay off debt quickly. Wait till you have the cash to buy something, forcing yourself to wait. Understand delayed gratification. Just because you qualify for a loan doesn’t mean you can “afford” the item. Make a plan to pay off your existing debts if you have them, and then resist the urge to take out more loans. Josh and I use credit cards for almost everything, since we discovered how to utilize reward point programs. We are careful to pay the balance off every month. If you’re prone to fall in over your head with credit cards, the risk outweighs the benefits – stick with cash and debit only.

4. Take care of what you have.

I try to be a good steward of everything that’s under my care. This includes our bodies as well as our homes and possessions. Take good preventive care. Be healthy and treat your body with the same care that you do your most prized possessions. Around the house, we try to stay on top of repairing broken things promptly. When we update something on the house we try to get the most efficient and cost-effective version possible in order to save resources in the long run.

5. Wear it out.

Don’t simply upgrade for the sake of upgrading. Kill it before you replace it. Many of us don’t actually wear out / use things up before we buy a new one. And then we don’t get rid of the old one “because it’s still perfectly good.” At that point, not only have we bought something we didn’t need, but we’ve added clutter to our lives. For instance, I waited until our blender completely stopped working to buy a new one. I wear my favorite clothes and shoes for years until they are beyond repair before getting a replacement. What I don’t like enough to wear out completely, I give away so someone else can use it up.

6. Do it yourself.

Insource everything you can. Learn how to do common things like sew buttons, cut hair, and bake. No amount of cutting coupons or searching for deals will payoff as much as doing it yourself. It all comes down to whether or not we’re willing to try something. Don’t be afraid to learn new skills. YouTube makes it easy to learn just about anything. The satisfaction that follows after a simple home repair is thrilling! Be realistic, of course, and don’t try anything too dangerous. Gradually increase the size of your projects as you grow comfortable. Consult friends and experts if you’re lucky enough to know some. If you do have to pay someone to do something for you, pay attention and ask questions.

7. Anticipate your needs.

This eliminates paying extra for last-minute convenience as well as impulse buying. Plan ahead, know when you will run out of something so you can get it for the best price before it’s gone. Plan for leftovers rather than fast food on busy days. Plan to make coffee at home rather than buying it out. Also anticipate your weaknesses. If you find yourself spending money on the same things day after day, find a solution or a replacement habit. The savings for replaced habits aren’t just one-time savings – they are compounded every time you don’t do the thing.

8. Research before you buy.

Don’t buy things just because they’re cheap. (Resist those Black Friday doorbusters and bargain bins at IKEA.) A bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it. A bargain also isn’t a bargain if it is poorly made and breaks quickly. I personally hate researching purchases, but it’s so helpful for pricy items. I researched kitchen faucets for months before choosing ours. Read reviews online, go to stores that carry the item, and wait for sales. Get the best quality you can afford because it’s more expensive to replace things multiple times due to lack of quality. For instance, we once bought a cheap plastic replacement handle for our dryer and it broke again within a few months. The second time we went for a stainless steel version.

9. Buy it for less.

Most new items depreciate immediately. Even if they have resale value it’s nothing compared to what they sold for in the store. Keep this in mind and buy second-hand as much as possible, either online, at thrift stores, swaps, or garage sales. Know how much the new item goes for in case the seller is asking too much. Sometimes Goodwill charges more for a new in box appliance than Craigslist. Ask around if you need an item that might be sitting in your friends’ or family’s basements. If you can buy / swap it from a friend, it’s a win / win /win: they gain space, you gain an item you needed, and it saves all those would-be-wasted resources!

10. Meet your needs differently.

There’s often multiple ways to meet a need. Get creative and branch out. If you shop to prevent feeling lonely or bored, try a run in the neighborhood or meeting with a friend instead. If you need a break in routine, try a stay-cation instead of a vacation and see if it helps. When spending, stop telling yourself “I deserve the best.” The best isn’t treating yourself to this or that, the best is building a fulfilling life with your expenditures matching your life’s purpose.

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Only when you cut back and live within your means will you have the excess to give and invest in things that truly matter to you. You might find, like we have, that frugality will become a new default. It doesn’t mean you’re depriving yourself and not enjoying the world – frugality can actually free us to enjoy the world in more meaningful ways.

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!