Wednesday, November 16, 2011

waking up to your life

The real issue of No-Spend November has been to lay bare the idols of money and stuff in my life, yet a few other things have been uncovered too.

I am becoming more grateful.

I am learning to read this life in the language of what I've been given, not of what I do not have.

Sunday night we gathered all our K-Life leaders in close. We set out turkey and rolls, and they brought the other mainstays: stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans. We borrowed a mishmash of tables and lined them up end to end and sent brown kraft paper rolling down the whole thing. We lit some candles, and Aaron put on a CD of cello music.

We're not afraid of cheesy, so yes, we sang the Doxology whilst holding hands, and yes, we partook in that time honored tradition of sharing what we are thankful for.

When it came my turn, I said,

"Sometimes I look around my life and think 'What can I not be thankful for?' That part in Philippians where Paul wrote about being content in plenty and in want--sometimes I feel like I have never had a season of want yet."

The thing about thankfulness is that is expands your soul. What you once thought a small, cramped, hole-in-the-wall flat is now a huge farmhouse with lofty, beamed ceilings. What you once thought such meagre furnishings, in need of total overhaul, are now catalog worthy displays, artful and lovely.

While, really, nothing in the circumstance has actually changed.

Only your heart.

I used to read blogs about home decor and fashion and lust after all the pretties. "If only," I would sigh.

If only Aaron made more money. If only I made some money. If only we could afford to buy new furniture instead of someone else's hand-me-downs. If only I could shop at Anthropologie and Ann Taylor Loft instead of garage sales and thrift shops.

This month, the "if onlies" have begun to slink away. I feel like I am seeing the abundance of my life for the first time. It's not about me, either--about what I've collected and curated finally being enough. No, it wheels me around 180 degrees and plants my face in front of God, and I am broken by His goodness and anguished that I have missed so much of it for 27 years.

May we take a long look at our lives, today and every day. May we breathe in and out thanks. May we, we who have never deserved, make much of the One who has always given.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thoughts on food

Hello, and welcome to a post that I have thought about for a long time. I've even taken pictures for this post and stockpiled them up. Today I read something that finally motivated me to write about


The blog post I read was about the paleo/primal diet. I had never heard of that diet, and from what I can gather, it sticks to strictly fruit and veggies, nuts, eggs, and meat. The big no-no is refined sugar.

I don't think we'll ever eat that reduced of a diet, but we do try to eat in a healthy way. If you remember this post, I came into our marriage with more of a bent to eat well, and Aaron has been a slow convert. It took at least a year, but now his palette appreciates whole grains and fresh foods in a way that he never did before marriage. I am glad that I was able to save him from that food captor of most single American males: ramen noodles.

(Aaron inserts: "I still like ramen noodles.")


I want to share a few things about how we eat, but before that, a disclaimer...

I struggled with the beginnings of an eating disorder in college. During that dark time of my life, I cut out almost all food but fresh fruits and veggies. I also ran five or six miles a day, rarely taking a day off. Now, six years later, I have found much freedom from the bondage of food and exercise, but I also recognize that it is an area I am weak in. The tendency to retreat back into that bondage is still there. So when I talk or think about food, I have to remember that while it a healthy diet is important, it should never ever be an idol or stronghold in my heart.

As my dad once told me, "I'm fifty-five years old, and I've eaten margarine all my life, and God will take me when he wants to." Haha. Daddy, I don't fully agree with your philosophy, but you do provide a good point: we should do the best that we can with eating, and we shouldn't let food become the most important issue of our lives. The big issue is GOD-- living lives that glorify Him and finish faithfully at His feet whenever He calls us home.

On the other side of the pendulum, the way we eat can bring glory to God. I think He is honored when we eat food that He created, food that naturally gives us energy and contains oodles of vitamins.

Here are some things we do:

1) Eat as little processed food as possible. The closer you can stay to the food's original form, the better. As I type this, there is a box of vanilla wafers, a bag of chocolate covered pretzels, and a bag of blue-corn tortilla chips in our pantry. Nope, we don't do this perfectly. But, in general, I don't buy a lot of snacky, processed foods. We'll eat them if I do, so it's better if I don't.

2) Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Aldi is a great place to buy cheap produce. I drug out all the produce that I bought today for a picture.

Ready for this? 3 lb. of apples, 2 lb. of grapes, 1 cucumber, 1 bag of spinach, four zucchini, four pears, three avocados, and a bag of celery for $11.49. That's not bad! Their produce prices are consistently much cheaper than our Wal-mart Supercenter.

Grilling some veggies on the George Foreman, Aaron's favorite kitchen appliance

Smoothies are a great way to get four to five servings of fruit/veggies into one meal. We always throw in a cup or two of spinach to our smoothies. You can't taste it and it adds a lot of vitamins. I make up a new combination every time. My basic ratio is 1/3 frozen fruit, 1/3 fresh fruit, 1/3 liquid (juice, milk, or water), and a little kefir or greek yogurt if I have it on hand.

A smoothie in the making

3) Eat whole grains in place of white. We eat brown rice. We eat whole wheat pastas. I make my own bread. Those are things we've done for a long time, so they don't seem abnormal anymore. I buy a lot of my whole grains at an Amish bulk foods store. It's a 20 minute drive, so I go every other month and get whole wheat flour, oat bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, and cracked wheat. The bread recipe I use is super adaptable, and each week, I add any combination of the above ingredients.

4) We don't eat margarine. I had to mention this one for you, Dad! We use butter 'round here, and it is tasty! I don't keep track of how much fat we eat. This is something I've intentionally let go of since my extreme eating days in college. My basic philosophy on fat is as long as it's natural and in moderation, go for it! We eat butter, and I cook with heavy whipping cream.

The butter's always on the ready

5) Eat ethnic. Not only is it exciting to try new recipes from different countries, they are often healthier than typical American fare. Google search coconut milk, quinoa, or couscous, and try a new recipe!

I love the spices that are in ethnic dishes!

There you go. We're definitely not health-food nuts by any stretch, but I think the things we do are good starting points, and they are pretty simple to incorporate into any diet.

A great resource for eating a more natural diet is the book, In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. I checked it out from our library last winter, and it definitely changed the way I think about food.

The last thing I will say about food: we believe in celebration. In the Jewish culture, God established times of feasting and celebration. Aaron and I think those times are still important for us today, times to commemorate what God has done and rejoice in the good things we've been given. Do we eat in celebratory fashion everyday? No. But, we'll likely never stop eating cake altogether, because the value of celebration means a lot to us!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No-spend November

We are nine days into an experiment that I always thought would be the dog-poop of all experiments. I'd heard of others doing this experiment, and I'd watched from afar, thinking, "Noble, but that would stink."

And now we've stepped into the dog-poop, and it's not crap. I think I might have been standing in the crap all along.

We are not spending any money for 30 days. When I say "any money", there are obviously some exceptions. Food, yes. Toilet paper, yes. (We are down to one roll. I did think about leaves...there are so many on the ground right now.) 1 or 2 dates, yes. But anything else, no. Clothes, no. Knick-knacks for the house, no. Garage-saling, no. Online shopping, no.

The first day, I thought it would be interesting to make a list of all the things I would normally buy. I was working on a sewing project that night, and I reached a point where I wanted to hop in the car, drive the 10 minutes to Wal-mart, and pick up what I needed. I thought the project was a goner 'til December 1. But, I went through my sewing stash, and whadda you know, I found something that worked.

A revolutionary thought came out of that moment:

"I have never really had to make-do with what I have."

I thought of my grandparents. (Hey grandparents! Love you!) They grew up during the Great Depression. They know what it is to make-do. Even my momma, growing up in the 50s, knows. Abundance never outweighed leanness for her family of ten.

But knowing how to make-do is not the real issue at hand. I wanted this to be a post about that, how cool and exhilarating it is to make-do, to get creative, to start seeing what you have with a grateful heart. I even took a picture of a beautiful teacup in the perfect dusky light. Look there! When you don't spend, you find beautiful teacups you forgot you had, and you enjoy them.

That would have been a quaint blog post. I really did like that picture.

What I really have to tell you, though, what is beating inside me wildly and will not stop drumming, is the truth that my spending habits uncover what is in my heart. It's not just money and stuff and receipts. I would like to separate them out like that. But, no. When I stop spending, and I roll up the rugs to sweep up a little bit, I realize how messy and gross my heart has become.

Most of what I buy is about me.

About how I can be satisfied.

About how I can be fulfilled.

About how I can appear cooler to people, more fashionable and stylish.

About how I can feel like I've arrived, or I've made it.

And those motives? I can't take those motives lightly. I looked in the gospels, and Jesus pulled down woes upon such hearts. His Kingdom is the antithesis of motives like these.

But oh grace. Grace that He should bop me on the head hard for a life selfish and small, yet He doesn't. He uses my silly experiment to crumble my heart and stands ready to help with the rebuilding, a new blueprint at hand.

What He wants to do with us is far beyond us. Aaron always tells our K-Life kids, "There is a bigger story. You are part of it, but it is bigger than you." What He has given us is not for us. May our hearts always be broken when we realize that we have used His gifts for our own kingdoms.

I don't know completely what to expect from here on out. I'm not saying that we can't spend money and follow Jesus too. I'm not advocating a poverty theology. I'm just sayin' that I have, at times, been crazily piling stuff onto my back and looking in the mirror and taking pictures of my neat things and trying to follow Jesus.

It's so much easier to go unburdened.

This unexpected freedom, this joy I didn't see standing to meet me--they remind me of a yoke that was promised to be light.

I wanna wear that light yoke, and I wanna believe,

"It's all about Him."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What I thought I wanted

When we returned from Tennessee two years and a handful of months ago, from the honeymoon of smoky hills and homemade breakfasts and sweet muscadine wine, we settled into the business of a boy and a girl living together.

I squeezed the toothpaste from the wrong end.

He left his socks in the strangest places.

And I woke up early alone and mourned it. The man I married does not wake up early. Nor does he drink coffee minutes after waking. These things I thought important, integral to the meshing of two lives into one. We would sit on the couch and watch the sun roll up from the ground. We would whisper hopes and dreams for the day and pray over steaming mugs of dark roast.

Somewhere in the last near-30 months, I let go.

I released that ridiculous expectation. Repeated mornings of pouncing on Aaron, sleeping curled under comforter, did not go well. Dragging him out of bed and thrusting some chai at him (his preferred hot drink of choice), did not produce the meaningful moments I had imagined.

In the waking alone, I have found great beauty and rest. It is my silent time, the hour of the day before anything else has woken to clamor and tug at my attention. It is my communion time, stillness to speak to God and silence to listen to God. And when I do hear the creaks of stirring, watch the old bedroom door struggle open, my heart is prepared to be something kind, something gracious, something generous to that man I gave my life to.

Funny how we make ourselves miserable sometimes to create what we think we need. What we refuse might actually be the better gift, given by a Father whose knowledge is deeper than ours.