Act

I have to admit: I am a collector. I especially love to collect books. I recently found yet another magazine about getting your writing published. Counting the one I just bought last week, I have five such magazines. I have a few things published, but I would like to do so much more. I have collected a lot more information about publishing than actually doing work to get published. This makes absolutely no sense.

Likewise, I have been collecting vegan cookbooks for far too long. I have recipes. Sometimes, I have ingredients. But I don’t make any of those recipes. Why am I not taking action?

I think it’s because gathering information makes me feel like I have accomplished something. I bought a book. See? I’m making progress.

The only problem is that getting more information is not progress. Getting books about writing will not get me published. Only writing will. Similarly, getting vegan cookbooks will not make me a vegan. Only making the necessary changes will.

Sometimes we can become so obsessed with getting more information, even when we haven’t bothered to act on the information we already have.

Apparently, this is not a new problem. And I am not alone in not doing what I know God has instructed me to do. The bible talks about people hearing but not implementing what they hear. James says that those that don’t follow hearing with action are deceiving themselves (James 1:22).

That is exactly what I have been doing: deceiving myself. In this case, I am deceiving myself into thinking that by gathering information I am doing what God wants me to do. The key is the doing. The key is to take action. I will never know everything. Ever. At some point I have to put into practice all that I have learned. Learning is great, but information is useless without action.

It is so easy to deceive ourselves into believing that information and action are the same.  God wants me to write and he wants me to change my diet in a big way. Collecting information about these things is not the same as taking action.

 

Start

Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Sometimes the initial step is the hardest. It is very easy to stand back and see all that you need or want to do and feel overwhelmed. I have a million things I’d like to write: books, articles, blog posts, journal entries, and the occasional poem. It’s easy to look at this list and feel paralyzed by indecision.

I have found, however, that the best approach is to just start somewhere. What is one small step that I can take today that will help me on my way? Identify one small step to take right now. Remember, you can always build on it tomorrow. But choose a small step and take it. You then have something to build on. It’s okay to start small. As long as you start.

 

No Pressure

I know one of the things that stops me from starting is the pressure to be perfect. I experience this with the thought of becoming vegan. I fear that I will slip up and have an egg and that will make me a bad vegan.

At breakfast this morning my friend just removed that pressure from me. She said that progress may look like two steps forward, one step back. It’s not a straight line. The road to success might be jagged but it is headed in the right direction.

Similarly, I feel like my first draft has to be perfect.  I can sit staring at the blinking cursor paralyzed with fear of not choosing the perfect word. As of late though, I have been learning to let myself do a crappy first draft. The first draft is just a start (there’s that word again). I will have the opportunity to revise and make my work better.

 

Address the Fear

Another thing that keeps me from starting is fear. Sometimes it’s the fear of failing. It could be the fear of the unknown or the fear of rejection. However, we have to take chances. Some things are learned along the way.  I decided that I was not going to be ruled by fear. Fear is a cruel master. It can make you do crazy things or prevent you from doing anything at all. Either of these can ruin your life. I refuse to come to the end of my life full of regret that I didn’t try because I was scared.  It would be one thing if I didn’t have the ability or resources to do something. But fear is not a reason for not taking action. I refuse to go out like a punk.

It can be hard to take action, especially if it’s something big and life-changing. You feel like the whole world (all your friends and family, at least) will be watching and waiting for you to fail. In truth, some might be. However, you can’t let that stop you because there are others that are cheering for you to succeed. There are still others that will follow in your footsteps. Don’t give in to the pressure and the fear. Just make a start. You can always improve. But you can’t improve if you never start.

From Materialism to Minimalism

About 8 years ago, an ex-boyfriend diagnosed me with a severe case of materialsm. We were functionally engaged: the guy and I were planning to marry and he introduced me as his fiancèe, but we had no wedding date and I had no ring. It turns out that we were all wrong for each other and marrying him would have been a big mistake. I had several hesitations about him, and he had several about me. One of his hesitations was that he thought I was very materialistic.

When he said this to me, I scoffed at him and told him that the problem wasn’t that I was materialistic. The problem was that he was broke. I believed that he was intimidated by my stuff because he couldn’t afford that lifestyle.

Part of the problem is that I was listening to some theology that promoted the accumulation of stuff.  They advocated hoarding, calling it “abundance,” and taught that more stuff and more money indicated God’s blessing.

A few years later, I learned proper exegesis, and I realized that the theology I had embraced was questionable at best. I learned that money was not an indication of God’s blessing. I learned that God loves the poor and that he expects us to do the same (rather than condemn them for their lack of “faith”). I had a paradigm shift.

In 2011, I stumbled upon a website about minimalism. The idea was foreign to me, but somehow it struck a chord with me. I realized that my focus shouldn’t be on getting more and more stuff. My focus should be on living life to the fullest and helping others to do the same.

Since that time, I have embraced minimalism and have been working to root out materialism. Materialism is sneaky though. It has many faces. Sometimes it shows itself in our tendencies to stock up when there is a sale. We buy six bottles of shower gel because three just won’t do. It can show up as a desire to compete. Your friend has a stunning new purse and that makes you want one too. Materialism can show up as fashion obsession. We have to have the latest fashion items in the latest color, and we have to have them right now.

For me, contentment is the key to curbing materialism. When I see and appreciate what I already have it makes me less likely to get obsessed with what I don’t have. Yes, it would be awesome to have that new Too Faced eye palette, but I have a really nice palette already. I love the colors that I have. Why do I need more? Contentment says, “What I have is enough.” This attitude is like kryptonite to materialism.

Practicality also combats materialism. Yes, another purse would be nice.  But how much use will I get out of that purse? Where will it be stored? Would the money used to purchase it be better used elsewhere? Sometimes thinking things through is enough to redirect that desire to have more.

Embracing minimalism has brought me face to face with my own materialism. While I feel that I have made great progress, I still struggle with materialism sometimes. I still want things. The difference is that I have learned to be more content and to think more practically. These have been most helpful in rooting out materialism in my life (this is an ongoing process). What has helped you?

2014 – The Year of Discipline

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! I’m not one for yearly themes. I don’t do catchy slogans for each year. I don’t get caught up in making predictions about the coming year. I typically just see it as the passage of time. Another page to flip on the calendar. Nothing more.

Yet, for some reason, I feel like God is wanting me to take advantage of this season, this fresh start, to make some changes. To be perfectly honest, this is not about the calendar year, 2014. Some things, (regular exercise, cleaning up my diet, more commitment and consistency in writing) were implemented in 2013. This is more about me setting a mental milestone for the changes that God is making in my life.

Similarly, this is not about making New Year’s resolutions. Those things never work. This is about me living as God intends for me to live — in 2014 and beyond. I feel like there are some things that God wants me to work on at this time in my life.

Self Control. This is a big one. It is all-encompassing. I think that God wants me to exercise more self control. That is one fruit of the Spirit that I really need to work on. I feel that God wants me to exercise more self control in the way that I eat and take care of my body. He wants me to eat the right foods. He wants me to exercise regularly. But I also think that God wants me to be more careful about how I spend my money. I think he wants me to be more mindful of how I spend my time. I feel that God wants me to focus on what needs to be done rather than doing whatever I want to do or whatever feels good.

Spiritual Disciplines. I feel that God wants me to be more intentional about pursuing him this year. I think of the Spiritual Disciplines as sort of a spiritual workout or a way to become intentional about getting closer to God. I will be doing more writing about this in the coming year.

Study. I feel that God wants me to set aside more time for study. This generally fits with the instructions that God has given me (to study). It is time to devote myself to that. I also serve as a small group intern at my church, which means that I lead the discussions just about every week. This requires preparation on my part and more time in study will make me much more effective in preparation for discussions.

Because I sense an overall theme of discipline, I am calling 2014 The Year of Discipline.  I sense that God is taking me to a new place this year and I can’t drag my old habits along with me. I have to let go of some things and adopt some new practices. It’s time. This will be a good thing and I am excited to see all that happens in my life.

This is also the start of my church’s annual 30 day fast, which begins today. It’s just a time to step away from the things that occupy our time and energy (my pastor calls them the snacks of life) and focus on God. Feel free to join us. I plan to check in later and let you know how things are going.

I’m also praying that 2014 will be a great year for you. Is there anything you feel will be a major theme in the coming year or for the next season of your life? Feel free to share in the comments.

My Favorite Websites in 2013

This time last year I wrote about five books that rocked my world in 2012. This year, I’d like to share some of the websites that have been valuable to me in 2013. It’s nothing formal. I simply thought of the websites that I visit most frequently and those that I find most interesting. Here are my favorite websites of 2013:

Goinswriter.com – Goinswriter.com has become one of my favorite sites. The author, Jeff Goins, provides support and inspiration for writers. He has a unique perspective on the writing life and becoming a writer. I find myself going to his site for encouragement, too. His stories about his life are inspirational and he has a way of relating truth in a very disarming way. If you are interested in creating anything, I urge you to check out Goinswriter.com.

SamSpurlin.com – I’ve been reading SamSpurlin’s work for years now. He is one of the bloggers that helped me to embrace minimalism. Sam Spurlin now writes about personal development and positive psychology. I enjoy his posts about productivity and development. His site is definitely worth checking out.

WritingForward.com – This is a great site for writers. The author, Melissa Donovan, posts educational and inspirational articles that have really helped me as a writer. If you write, or want to, visit WritingForward.com.

RelevantMagazine.com – I love Relevant. I subscribe to their magazine but I also enjoy the unique offerings on their website. Relevant is a Christian magazine that fully engages the culture. Because Christians don’t spend their lives in church, Relevant doesn’t restrict its focus to matters of church and Christianity. Relevant also discusses current television shows, secular music, politics, social justice, and all the other aspects of real life. Any time I am looking for something interesting to think about I go to RelevantMagazine.com.

These are the websites that I visit the most. However, there are several websites that I visit on occasion for entertainment, information, or inspiration. Here are a couple:

WaitButWhy.com – This is a site that I discovered through a friend’s post on Facebook. The author has unique viewpoints and I actually find his blog informative and entertaining. The author has caused me to think differently about some things. He has a great post about putting time in perspective. Check it out to see what you think.

ZenHabits.net – This is a great blog about simple but successful life. The author, Leo Babouta, has a great story of how he has changed his life. At one time he was a smoker, overweight, and deep in debt. He simplified and changed is lifestyle and he transformed his life. He lost weight. He has fewer possessions an is a much better place financially. I can usually find inspiration and good information when I go to ZenHabits.

There are so many wonderful blogs and websites that I could write for hours about things I find on the internet. In this post I just wanted to highlight a few of the sites I frequent the most.  They have helped me as a writer and as a person. What websites have rocked your world this year?

 

Thoughts of Christmas

Christmas is here. Two thousand years ago, the day of Christ’s birth was full of hope and beauty. While Christmas has become very commercialized, many take time to think about the message of Christmas.

The past couple of days have been busy with visiting and cooking, but I choose to pause and think about the significance of this special time of year. As I think about the message of Christmas, two things really resonate with me:

Fulfillment of promises. The Old Testament is full of prophecies about the coming Messiah. In the birth of Christ, all of those promises were fulfilled. God has a long history of fulfilling his promises. He has kept his promises until this point and he will continue to do so. The promises that God has made to you will come to pass.

The arrival of hope. So much of the message of Christmas is about hope. Because of Jesus’ coming we have hope for a new life on earth. Because of his death and resurrection we have hope for heaven in the life to come. Because of his promises we have hope for his return.

As you go though this day, take some timr to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. the birth of Christ cnahged the trajectory of the human race.  Let is change your heart as well.

Merry Christmas!

Lessons from A Christmas Carol

I love holiday entertainment. I love to watch Christmas specials on TV. I love Christmas music — even when it’s nowhere near Christmas.  And I feel that A Christmas Story is one of the best films ever made (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”).

This year, I decided to do something different. I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I have seen several versions of the movie, with Bill Murray’s Scrooged being my favorite. It’s old now but it is really hilarious.

The movies are great, but I wanted to experience the book. I wanted to experience Charles Dickens’ work. The book is always better, right? Of course, my time reading A Christmas Carol was well spent. I came away from this book with four important insights:

Invest in Relationships. Some of the most touching scenes in A Christmas Carol were from the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirit showed Scrooge scenes from his death. Scrooge was really saddened by the fact that no one cared for him once he died. There was no tenderness or affection for him. The world seemed largely unaffected by his death. Scrooge seemed deeply affected by the fact that no one mourned his passing. His life seemed to count for very little.

There is joy in giving. Scrooge spent his lifetime amassing wealth. He was cheap and stingy. Before his encounter with the three ghosts Scrooge didn’t even want to use coal to keep his office warm. He hardly spent money on himself. He certainly didn’t spend money on others. When asked to give money to the poor, Scrooge nearly kicks the solicitors out of his office. After visiting with the three ghosts, Scrooge is much more generous, and he feels the joy that comes from helping someone else.

Money can’t buy happiness. When we struggle financially we often believe that if we only had more money we’d be happy. The truth is that money and happiness have nothing to do with each other. Too often, celebrities with lots of money commit suicide. Every year we hear about celebrities in rehab for substance abuse. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was wealthy but miserable. His nephew was poor but happy.  Money does not ensure happiness. Nor does poverty ensure misery. Relationships and purpose make our lives rich, even when we have little money.

There are eternal consequences for how we treat people on Earth. Jacob Marley wore a heavy chain in the afterlife because he loved money more than people. He warned Scrooge that his chain would be just as long, if not longer. Marley adjured Scrooge to change his ways. This was part of a fictional story, but the idea is very biblical. Luke 16:19-13 tells the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate begging and the rich man took no notice of him. When both men died, the rich man went to Hades and the poor man was carried to Abraham’s bosom. Likewise, when Jesus judges the nations, he rewards or punished people based on how they treat others (Matthew 25:31-40).

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, but it offers timeless truths to those with an open heart. This tale chronicles the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. As we prepare for Christmas, may we remember the lessons found in A Christmas Carol and carry them all year long. As we do this, we may find ourselves transformed as well.

Merry Christmas!

Anticipation

Teavana tea is my guilty indulgence. I love tea. Teavana is my favorite so I ordered some on Cyber Monday. I carefully selected my teas (and got a great deal, by the way) and started dreaming about enjoying my tea once it arrived.

Well, it took Teavana two full days to process my order and another four days to ship it. During my time of waiting I had this excitement about my coming package. I waited with great anticipation of the arrival of my tea.

I stalked my email to see if I had received a notification that my order had shipped. When the notification finally came I started to track the package… several times a day. I wanted to know exactly where my tea was and when it would arrive.

On the estimated day of delivery I tracked my package first thing in the morning. I just couldn’t wait. When I got home from work the tea was sitting on my porch. I smiled as I took the package inside. I enjoyed every second of opening the box and looking through its contents.

I am glad to have my tea (it’s my favorite), but I miss that sense of eager anticipation. I miss the feeling of knowing that something good is coming. I miss having something to look forward to.

As I think about this Christmas season, I think about all the years that the people of Israel waited for the Messiah. The scriptures are full of prophecies about his coming. I’m sure that people looked everywhere to see if there were any signs of his arrival.

I think of Mary as she awaited the birth of Christ. The angel told her that she would bear a son, the savior. Still, she had to wait nine whole months for him to be born. I’m sure she dreamed of holding him and playing with him and raising him. Then she anticipated him growing into a man and saving his people.

When Jesus was being presented at the Temple, Mary and Joseph met a prophetess named Anna. This is what the scriptures say about Anna and her reaction to Jesus:

 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)

 She, like so many others, eagerly awaited the arrival of the Messiah. She lived in anticipation and she was full of thanksgiving when she saw her hopes come to fruition.

When I hear these stories I think about my own life. God has made some incredible promises to me about my life. He has spoken to me about calling and family and destiny. Though I really hate the waiting, I have to admit that I feel a great sense of anticipation about the things that God has promised. There is something about the anticipation of something good that really makes the time of waiting much more bearable. When I get weary in waiting, it is the anticipation of something good that sustains me.

As we experience this season of Advent, let us remember the anticipation of all who awaited the birth of Christ. Let us celebrate the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

Let us also wait with great anticipation for the things God has spoken to us, looking forward to good things and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

The Christmas season has officially begun. This is a happy time for most. It used to be a happy time for me. I used to love shopping for gifts, wrapping them, and watching people open them. I used to love the time spent with family and the amazing food. Christmas used to be a lot of fun.

Since my mom passed away, Christmas has lost much of its appeal. My life changed, and not for the better. I miss her every day and all the memories associated with Christmas make it harder. My grandmother passed away last year and this made Christmas even more difficult.

All of this is complicated by the fact that I am in a very bad place in life right now, and every Christmas marks the passage of another year in this place. It’s a reminder of all that has not changed in the last year.

I know that Christmas is supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be a time of joy and hope. Unfortunately, Christmas now represents loss. It is a shadow of what Christmas used to be. It brings up memories of better days gone by and serves a painful reminder of how difficult things are now.

I understand holiday depression. I experience it though I know that there are many that experience it to a greater degree. This time of year has become known as “Suicide Season” in the medical field. It can be a time of great joy and celebration or a time of sadness and stress. So how does a Christian (that should be celebrating) endure a difficult holiday season?

Find Beauty. Though this time of year can be extremely difficult, there is beauty to be found. Many neighborhoods are beautifully decorated. Go out for a ride or a walk and take in the beauty. If you live in a colder climate, there is often snow. Some people find a snowy scene beautiful. The night sky is beautiful. Appreciate the beauty around you.

Give. I am not necessarily referring to presents (though gift-giving is great). I am talking about giving to those in need. Giving money at a local church or other charitable organizations can make a huge difference in the life of someone struggling with hunger, medical issues, or other problems. There are many organizations that help people around the world, for example, WorldVision and Samaritan’s Purse. Knowing that you are helping someone can be rewarding.

Escape. We all have to take a break eventually. Sometimes it helps to get absorbed in a really good book or a fun project. Do you enjoy scrapbooking, knitting, or a reading? Perhaps you have a favorite movie. It can be good to take a break from your life and get lost in something you enjoy.

Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine. The holidays are unlike any other time. We are expected to shop, decorate, and attend several parties. This is enough to throw a person off their schedule. During the holidays it is important to try to continue doing the things that structure your life: exercise, sleep, church attendance, family time, and healthy eating. These things can serve as anchors so that you do not drift too far off course.

Lean. Ask God to help you get through this season. Pray and study. Spend some time with your journal. Take one day at a time.

Get help. This is crucial. Reach out to a doctor or counselor if you need help getting though this season.

Nurture. When I was in graduate school I saw a counselor every week. During one particularly difficult time she urged me to do what is life-giving. For me, that means journaling, reading, and doing creative work. It may mean something different for you. The main thing is to do what is life-giving for you. Enjoy simple pleasures as often as you can.

The Christmas season can be difficult, but like every other season, it will pass. Hopefully, we can all find little pockets of joy as we journey through it.

Hunting on Thanksgiving

This Thursday, millions of Americans will gather to give thanks. It is a time for reflection and quality time with family. It is a time of celebration and great food. It’s an opportunity to stop and acknowledge all our blessings.

This will be our first Thanksgiving without my Grandmother. It promises to be different. However, my family has survived the loss of my mother. We will also survive the loss of my grandmother. We will go on with our loved ones in our hearts.

This has been a difficult year for me. Of course, I have had financial trouble due to my lack of work. It’s been a tough year emotionally. It’s just been tough all around. Things are hard. Some days it’s hard to find things to be grateful for. Some days I can find something. Other days the mountain of problems is so high that I can’t see anything else. That is my reality right now. So how will I get through Thanksgiving?

For me, the best way to approach Thanksgiving is to go hunting, and I don’t mean hunting for bargains at the money-hungry retailers that will be open. I will approach Thanksgiving with a God Hunt. This is something that a friend recommended to me though she usually uses it with children. Simply put, a God Hunt is looking for ways that God is at work in your life. What good thing has happened to you today? How did God bless you today?

Though I am not a child, I find this exercise useful. When things go wrong it feels like God is on vacation while my life falls apart. When I am on the God hunt, I stop and evaluate each day. I look for the places that God is at work and I thank him for working in my life. Somehow, seeing God at work in my life (in even the smallest of ways) is extremely comforting. It lets me know that he hasn’t abandoned me. It gives me comfort to know that he is still there. More importantly, it gives me hope for the future. Seeing God work in my life today builds a sense of excitement for what he will do next. And sometimes you need that little bit of hope to get through the day.

So this week we pause to thank God for our many blessings. We stop to corporately acknowledge the ways that God is working in our lives. However, Thanksgiving has the added, and often under-appreciated, value of giving us a bit of hope for the future. I hope that this week’s celebration does that for you and those that you love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Adventures on eBay

In the last month, one thing in particular has helped me to take minimalism to a new level: eBay.com. I have sold purses, old perfume, old jewelry, and even old books on eBay. Setting up an account is really simple.

Find Stuff

Look through your closet, bathroom, dresser or wherever else you keep stuff. Look to see if there’s anything there that you don’t use. Clothes, shoes, beauty products, anything. And don’t rule something out just because it is used. I have sold five bottles of used perfume on eBay. My aunt has sold used shoes. If you are looking to sell, chances are that there’s someone looking to buy. If you don’t want it, put it on eBay and get some cash for it. And a little extra cash is always good.

Set Up Your Account and Set up Your Auction

It is really easy to become a seller on eBay. Within a few minutes, I had registered myself as a seller. It took a bit longer to set up my first auction. There are a few steps involved. The loading of the pictures took the longest. You’ll also want to write an interesting description for your item. Set a price, specify shipping, and publish your post. Simple. And it is even easier with the mobile app. I only use the mobile app now because it is so much faster and easier.

Get Paid

Make sure your PayPal account is linked to your eBay account. You can go in and transfer the money to your checking account. There is an initial probation period. During this time, eBay and PayPal are checking you out, making sure you’re not defrauding people. During this period, it takes about three weeks for funds to clear. Funds clear faster after probation.

As you sell, eBay and PayPal get paid, too. They each charge a small fee for their services.

The Downsides

While eBay has helped me to simplify and make some extra cash (enough to pay student loans last month!), there are some downsides. The first is the constant running to the post office. I actually went to the post office twice today. It takes time out of your day to drive to the post office, stand in line, buy postage, and drive back home. This is time that could be spent writing, doing yoga, or doing laundry.

Another downside is that listing things on eBay can take time. Depending on how much you want to list, you could spend hours putting stuff on eBay. I have gotten faster, but it still takes about 7-10 minutes per item.

There is also packaging to consider. I am constantly going to buy bubble envelopes, boxes, and bubble wrap. I am always scouring the house for a box or newspaper to ship things in. Shipping supplies also cost money. This has to be figured into the cost of the item and whatever you charge for shipping.

Overall, selling on eBay has been a very good thing for me. There are some drawbacks, but I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives. If you have things you don’t need and wouldn’t mind having a little extra cash, consider using eBay to help you simplify.