What Happens After You Purge?

You’ve gone through your things. You’ve determined what to keep and what to part with. You know what things have to go. But what will you do with them? Here are a few ideas for those things that don’t make the cut:

Give it away. There is a good chance that someone could use the things you no longer need. Do you know a mom that needs kids clothes? Does your church distribute food or clothing? Do you live near a Goodwill or Salvation Army? There are may ways to give to people in need. That sweater you never wear could really be a blessing to someone else.

Sell it. Similarly, there are many places to sell your stuff. There are lots of consignment boutiques that will sell your things for you and give you a portion of the proceeds. I recently discovered the joy of selling on eBay. It’s pretty simple to set up and account and start selling. If you prefer something more immediate you could host a garage sale — alone or with neighbors. You could also sell things on Craigslist. If you want to sell, chances are, someone is looking to buy. And it never hurts to get some extra cash.

Barter it. Bartering is gaining popularity. It’s alternative to buying. It is a way to get something you need and get rid of something you don’t. And bartering is not limited to goods. You can barter services as well. Maybe you need a Powerpoint presentation made and a friend needs your books from last semester. Each of your needs could be met with a simple barter.

Toss it. If you can’t donate it, sell it, or barter it, you may have to trash it. Some things are fit only for the trash. You shouldn’t feel bad for putting these things in their rightful place. Recycle when you can. When you can’t, toss it.

Yes, purging is difficult. Not only do you have to decide what you don’t need, but you also have to decide what to do with the items you are parting with. Thankfully, we have options. And with a little patience and creativity, you may even be able to get something in exchange for the things you don’t need. See? Purging is good for everyone.

 

Greetings From Green Lake

Greetings from Green Lake, Wisconsin!

I am here at the Midwest-North Regional Vineyard Conference. This is the first night and I am really enjoying myself. I have high hopes for the remaining sessions.
This is a time for leaders of Midwestern Vineyard churches to pull back and focus on what God has for us. The organizers have built in time for reflection and have given us questions to aid in our reflection.
The structure of this conference is differtent from any conference I have ever been to. Usually, conferences are times of rushing from one session to another with hardly a minute in between.  Usually, conferences leave me exhausted.
This one is different. Each session ends with time for reflection. We have a nice break tomorrow. The organizers stress the importance of stillness. I am learning that taking time to spend with God away from the frantic activity of life is key.
Jesus knew this well. Luke 5:16 say a that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” We know that Jesus did this and that he had a thriving ministry and a close connection with the Father. We see how Jesus benefitted from pulling away.
Somehow, we have forgotten the importance of solitude and reflection. Many of us recognize that this was important, even essential, for Jesus. However, two thousand years later many of us fail to see their relevance in our harried lives and overcrowded schedules. Jesus needed solitude and reflection. We need them just as badly.
Take time to get alone with God. See what happens. The heavens may not split for you (but then again, they may) but it will be surprisingly restorative. Try it. I think you’ll come back for more.

Five Ways to Simplify Your Life Today

Sometimes the process of simplifying can be overwhelming. There are dressers to go through, closets to clean, and changes to be made. Just thinking about all that needs to be done is enough to make you want to give up on minimalism.

Don’t despair, dear one. Minimalism is a journey. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. It might not even be realistic to try to simplify everything right away. It is probably best to do it a little at a time.

In our society, though, even one step can be a major undertaking. It can take hours to clean out a closet. It could take days to clean out a garage. What if you don’t have the time or energy to complete a major project?

Fear not. There are ways to simplify your life without committing hours and hours of time. These are things you can do even with a hectic schedule. Here are five things you can do today to simplify your life:

  • Unsubscribe from store emails. Clearing clutter is central to the minimalist lifestyle.  The clutter on the bookshelf is easily seen. Electronic clutter may not be as obvious. While it is mostly invisible, electronic clutter is a problem because it consumes your time and attention. Do you have emails from retailers?  Hit “Unsubscribe.” Fewer store emails means less time cleaning out your inbox. It will also cut you off from the store’s advertisements, decreasing the chance that you’ll purchase from them.
  • Clean out your wallet. It’s a small project, but one that will benefit just about everybody. Are you storing receipts in your wallet? Go through them. Discard the ones you no longer need. Accumulating business cards? Enter meaningful contacts into your phone. Throw out the rest. And of course, dump out all your change. Your wallet will be lighter and thinner.
  • Do a mini-purge. Choose one surface (kitchen counter, dresser, vanity) and focus on cleaning that just surface. You don’t have to go through the whole dresser, just clear off the top. Clearing even a small surface is a step in the right direction.
  • Throw out 5 things. Look through your purse, backpack, briefcase, bathroom, refrigerator or another area. Look through your old mail. Look in the trunk of your car. Find five things and throw them out. Not a big step, but small steps repeated over time can have a big impact.
  • Unplug. We spend so much time connected to our devices. There is no shortage of sites to look at, statuses to update, and profiles to manage. These things take time and energy. One way to simplify is simply to unplug; to step away from our devices and do something relaxing. You can read, go out for a walk, or take a nap. The main thing is that you clear some space in your mind and in your schedule.

Minimalism takes time, but it can be done little by little. You may not be able to do a full purge by tomorrow but you can do something small. There are small things you can do today, usually in a few minutes, that will make your life simpler. What can you do today?

There is Only One Best

Call me crazy, but I enjoy taking tests. It’s like a showdown between me and the material (or in a hostile situation, me and the professor). Standardized tests are the same for me. It’s me and the test clashing in battle, and only one of us can emerge victorious. I love it. (This is part of the reason I want to be a professional student, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

When studying for standardized tests, I often see these instructions:

Choose the best answer.

That concept is key because for a multiple choice question, there can be several good answers. Many can be good, but only one can be best. The best answer is the one that must be selected.

In the same way, there can be many good uses for my time. Reading books, studying, listening to music, knitting… any of these could be good uses of time. However, at any given moment there can only be one way to make the best use of my time.

For example, last week I signed myself up for two classes through Coursera, a website that offers online classes from top universities for free. (If you have time you should definitely check it out. The courses are awesome.) I signed up for Think Again: How to Reason and Argue and Calculus 1. I love calculus, and I love the idea of learning how to create and recognize a good argument. While these things are great, Coursera courses aren’t the best way to use my time right now. My time is better spent searching for employment, writing, and brushing up on my Greek and Hebrew.

Considering my goals, I decided to drop both Coursera courses. I hope to take more courses though Coursera at some point, but now is not that time. I sacrificed what was good and choose to do what is best.

Minimalism is about choices. We choose to live with less. We choose freedom from clutter in our homes and in our schedules. We choose full lives over fashion. We choose to live intentionally. We choose the best uses of resources – our time, talent, and treasure. When presented with many good options, we choose only the best.

The In-Between

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a lifetime of waiting. Waiting drives me crazy –  even more so when the wait is unpleasant.

Recently, I had my perspective shifted by a book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing By Jeff Goins. While I still have not completely embraced the wait (I think that will take some time), this book did give me a new way to look at waiting, even when unpleasant.

One of the most powerful things I took from this book is the idea that right now is all there is. Yes, there is a future, but I can’t live it right now. Now is all I have.

I also had to confront the possibility that the future I hope for may never be. My hopes may never be realized. What if things never change for me? Then what?

This thought forced me into a decision. If now is all I have, I want to make it the best it can be. If life never changes for me (and I believe that it will), I want to do the best I can with what I have. For me, this means going after my goals as if my very life depended on it. It means writing like the angels themselves were inspiring me. It means living fully right now because this is all I have.

In the first chapter, Jeff talks about a lesson he learned while living abroad. He spent his days rushing from one place to another without really taking things in. During his stay, though, he learned to slow down and be fully present in each moment. He urges the reader to be present right now. He urges us to take time to enjoy our surroundings and spend time with those around us.

Jeff Goins had some unique opportunities and some unique experiences, which made for a very interesting book. He talks about slowing down and enjoying life right where we are. This was the focus of this book. Jeff succeeded in helping me to embrace life as it is.

However, this book impacted me in another way. As Jeff told his story and how his life unfolded, this book gave me a dose of hope. Looking at Jeff’s story, I could see God guiding his life. I could see how God led him along and how Jeff is using all that he has learned through his experiences.

Seeing that in his life gave me hope for my own life. I have no idea what is happening. I can’t see what God is doing. In fact, I accuse him regularly of doing absolutely nothing. But if God guided Jeff, it made me consider the possibility that perhaps he is leading me, too. Maybe I am slowly learning things that I will later use in the life God has planned for me. Maybe this is all a part of the plan.

I was really encouraged by Jeff’s insights and his story. It helped me see things differently and it helped me to see God differently.

I urge you to pick up The In-Between. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful read.If you’re stuck in the waiting phase, this book will help.

Influence and Inspiration

It’s half-past midnight. My mind is buzzing with excitement and inspiration. Maybe I’m too excited: I can’t sleep.

I am feeling so inspired because I spent time with my friend, Lisa, who has always been a positive influence. Actually, my day has been good overall. It started with some reading and journaling while sipping on a salted caramel mocha (fabulous). After a great writing session, lunch at my favorite restaurant, and some inspiring reading, I spent the evening with Lisa.

We took a walk and talked about her upcoming move to Texas. We started talking about the things that Lisa has learned and I feel like her enthusiasm has rubbed off on me. I’m not moving to Texas (unfortunately) but I am really excited about what’s happening in my own life.

After floundering for a very long time, I now feel like I have some direction in my life. I feel like I have some guidance about how to live the life I want. I feel that God has given me a sense of how to get there. I just need to act on what he has shown me. I feel like the next phase of my life is beginning.

Sometimes when transitioning from one phase to another changes have to be made. In this case, I need to shed three things:

I need to part with some of my belongings. I have some clothes that need to go to Goodwill, shoes that need to go in the garbage, and jewelry that needs to be given away. My life is simpler than it was but it needs to be simpler still. A full purge is in my future.

I need to let go of old ways of thinking. Or perhaps I should say that I need to change old ways of not thinking. I still seem to have some mindless activity in my life — mindless eating, spending, and TV watching. I must trade these mindless activities for meaningful activity. My goals must be in the forefront of my mind.

I need to eliminate things that waste time.  There can’t be hours playing online games and hours in front of the TV. Minimalism is about choices. I must choose to do things that matter.  For example, it is more important that I write than it is for me to catch all my friends’ Facebook statuses.

While I am making some changes to my life during this transitional period, I hesitate to say that I am taking control of my life. I prefer for God to take control of my life. I believe fully in his Lordship and control of my life. But what I am doing is making a space for him to work. I am acting on things he has already instructed me to do and watching to see how he works.

One short evening with a friend getting ready to enter her next phase of life has inspired me to get ready for the next phase of mine. It’s amazing how we are influenced by those around us. Who inspires you? How do you prepare for change?

9.11

I remember exactly where I was. I was in school in Carbondale, Illinois. I walked into into the room where my study group met only to find it empty. There seemed to be a crowd gathering in the student lounge, though. Just as I was walking in, a classmate was walking out. Tears filled his eyes. I asked what was wrong. He responded that the Pentagon had been bombed. His father worked at the Pentagon, and as of that moment, he did not know if his father was okay.

I went into the student lounge and watched in horror along with my classmates. While my friend didn’t have the details exactly right, he gave me the gist. Terrorists had attacked our country and people were dying. Our country would never be the same.

Every year, there are blog posts and facebook posts, and business signs that remember and honor those who died and those who served. I want to add my voice to theirs. I want to remember those who lost their lives and those who saved others. I am praying for those who lost loved ones on that day twelve years ago. I know that the pain never goes away. We surround the surviving families with love and empathy.

This country is not perfect. We are fractured and divided, and at times, misguided. But I love the fact that we can put aside our differences to mourn and give honor where it is due.

So as we pause twelve years later to mourn the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, we do so with compassion. We pray. We honor. We remember.

Creating Space in Your Life

I am a firm believer in journaling and I try to write as often as I can. I was journaling last night about how I seem to have gotten off track lately. I haven’t been eating well enough or exercising enough. I haven’t been writing enough. I have been to busy with facebook and texting and watching TV. I want to see change, but in order to to see it I have to make room. I have to create a space.

This phrase came to me last night as I journaled, and it seemed to resonate within me. I need to create a space for the things I would like to see in my life. How can we create space in our lives for the things that are important?

We can create a space for God to work in our lives. This may look different for each of us. For some it will mean taking on leadership at church. For others, it may look like  finding a new job or starting a new business. It may look like applying for graduate school. It might be as simple as asking someone out for coffee. The idea is to see what God might want to do and then take a step in that direction.

We can create a space for God to speak. This is so important. But for me, it is also the most frustrating part of being a Christian. What does God want? In some cases, I know. For example, he didn’t want me to harm my former employer (though I really wanted to). But does he want me to go back to school? Or relocate to Fort Lauderdale (please, please, please)? Or run for public office? Do you need to seek guidance? Create a space for God to speak. That might mean spending more time in the bible. It might mean seeking godly counsel. It might mean spending some time with some good music, your prayer journal, and a steaming cup of tea. Create a time and a space to hear from God.

We can create a space for fitness. Is it your goal to exercise five days a week? Be sure to put that time in your schedule. Trying to eat healthier? Have you allotted time  to buy groceries and prepare your meals? The main thing is to set aside time for health.

We can create room to grow. Do you want to be a better painter? Writer? Pianist? Prestidigitator? Hone your craft. Put in some practice. In this case, my writing seems off. Maybe it will right itself if I create a space. For me, that will look like getting up a little earlier and spending more time writing. What will it look like for you?

Life gets busy. If we’re not careful we can lose sight of our goals and our dreams. What would you like to see in your life? How can you create space for that to happen?

 

Rest

This is the last day of my vacation here in Playa del Carmen. I spent the last three hours or so in a chaise on the beach. I had a nice conversation with a gentleman from Denver. I wrote in my journal. My main activity, however, was sitting and looking at the water and the passersby. No running around. No shopping. Just rest.

As I lay on my chaise, I was struck by the importance of rest. I live a busy life. We all do. The ever-growing To Do lists and the demands of work and family are enough to keep us going for days. This is precisely the reason that we should make rest a priority.

Rest is so important that God himself set aside a day to rest. He also commanded his people to rest on the Sabbath. This time is needed to rest from our physical labors, but also to take a break from all of the things that consume our mental energy. We need time to relax and also to reflect and plan.

Sometimes things get so busy that it seems that I have no time for rest. The opposite is true. If I try to go too long without resting then I am less efficient. I get irritable. I am easily distracted. Adequate rest enables me to produce quality work; usually in less time.

The key for me is to do things that are truly restful. Activities like checking Facebook, playing games on my iPad, and watching TV are not restful for me. These things consume time but they are not restorative. For me, resting is reading, sipping a cup of tea, talking with family, or journaling. These are the things that fill me up so that I can give attention to my work.

I used to have a teacher that would always thank God for rest and refreshment over the weekend. And I now thank God for times that rest and refresh me. This vacation has been a wonderful respite for me and my family. I am grateful for every minute.

Simple Pleasures

Life can get crazy. Our To Do lists are too long and our stress levels are too high. For me, life is difficult right now. I have a lot of unanswered questions and there are a lot of things I’d like to see happen in my life. Sometimes, I can get caught up in the stress, frustration, and uncertainty I feel about the future.

Then I bring myself back to the present moment. All I have is right now. I can’t control the future. There is no sense in getting worked up about it. All I can do is make my best effort to enjoy right now.

For the minimalist, pleasures abound. I don’t need an elaborate scheme and a whole bunch of stuff to enjoy the moment. Today, I’d like to share a few of life’s simple pleasures that you can experience right now:

 

  • A steaming cup of good tea
  • Perfume
  • A good dinner
  • A hot shower
  • Writing in a journal
  • A nice walk outside
  • A long nap
  • Reading a good book
  • Talking with a good friend
  • Reading your favorite blog
  • A cool drink (Especially if that drink is a margarita)
  • Time with family
  • Holding a baby
  • Listening to your favorite artist
  • Learning something new
  • Polishing your fingernails
  • Going to bed early
  • Making a fruit smoothie
  • Doing yoga

 

There are a thousand ways to enjoy the moment. Many are free and don’t require anything special. When I focus my time on doing what I can to enjoy my life right now, it makes a huge difference. My mood is better. I am more productive. I am more hopeful.

These are some of the things I turn to when I need a pick-me-up. What are your favorite simple pleasures?