Hope-Filled Mama

hope. encourage. inspire.

Author: Molly (page 1 of 2)

The Path of Trusting

I have spent my life striving to please others, wearing myself out in the process. I find it’s easier to serve others than to take the time to understand myself and be still before God, waiting and listening for what He wants me to do. I will find things to do, and convince myself they need to be done, before I will take the time to care for myself. I do this because I am fearful, fearful that God will not meet me, not speak to me – or that maybe He will speak to me and reveal a word, or a path I would rather not travel.

By Evelyn Simak, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

This year my small group has been reading a book called The Cure, and I resonated with the man in the book who similarly spent much of his life trying to please God. In the book, the man becomes so disillusioned and filled with pain, he decides to leave the path of pleasing God, and instead chooses the path of trusting God, which leads him to the room of Grace. In the room of Grace, he discovers that God loves him as he is. God has formed him exactly the way He wanted, to be there at that exact time, at that exact place, with his exact personality traits.

When I hear these words, they ring true to my soul. This is what I long for. Not striving, just being. My word for the year is grace. Not only grace for others, but also grace for myself. If I can believe and trust that God has created me uniquely and wonderfully, to do my own unique work, and to trust in His timing, that seems too good to be true. But it is His truth. And I need to humbly trust in that truth.

In The Cure, when the man chooses to believe he is loved, complete and righteous already in the eyes of God, his efforts turn from sinning less, to loving more. As he loves more, God heals his wounds, matures him, and releases him to his destiny – a destiny to be revealed in God’s timing.

In my life, God has brought me to a crossroads so that I might choose to trust in how He has created me. Not to be like any other, only to be me – a good enough wife, an imperfect mother, a forgetful friend, and unbelieving believer. Choosing to embrace my identity, and stopping to listen to God’s truth will continue my healing, maturing me so that I can be released to love others. In loving others, I will bring His grace to those who are broken, helping them to heal, and to reveal His glory.

Some of the ways in which I am choosing to live in my identity now, is to put down my phone and be present to the people around me. Choosing to enjoy my children in their noisy imperfect chaos, allows me to not miss fleeting moments of sweet connection. When I find myself complaining or ungrateful, I try to remember all the good blessings I have in my life. Instead of being frustrated in traffic, I try to remember to be grateful that I have a car with gas in it, that can drive on good roads.

I am also learning to say no. My first impulse is to always say yes when asked to do something. I am now trying to be more reflective about what it is I want to do, saying yes out of a true yes, rather than a sense of obligation. Taking care of myself will allow me to better love those around me.

I’ve spent a long time discouraged about my brokenness — working and working on understanding and healing myself, waiting to be released into my calling. But I’m coming to understand that I will always be broken, but my wounds will identify me less and less each day. In my brokenness, I am already made righteous. I need to walk forward in that truth, living fully in what is already in front of me, and waiting with hope for the future.

 

Ex-MLB pitcher Dave Dravecky gives an excellent talk on how The Cure changed his perspective and life.

 

Finding Me

Cheerleader. Fun. Engineer. Although seemingly contradictory, these are some of the labels I was known by during my younger years. Each label has positive associations for me — and also negative.

When I found Christ in 2000, I felt like I needed to strip myself of those labels because I was finding my worth through them. I wanted to disassociate myself from my old ways, and live a new life in Christ. And so I began a long journey of stripping away the old.

Copyright: 36clicks / 123RF Stock Photo

Previously, I had always introduced myself by quickly identifying myself as an engineer. I wanted people to know I was smart and capable. In my new life, I decided to withhold that information when meeting new people, and be judged based on my character instead.

I also decided to eliminate the fun, cheerleader part of me. Before, I had been a loud talker, bar-hopper, and a center-of-attention-seeker. I decided to take myself out of that lifestyle. As you might imagine, many positives changes came from that decision. I rediscovered my introverted side that defined my early childhood, and found great healing from spending time alone. I took time to find healthy and long-lasting friends and relationships, which resulted in a marriage, and the new labels of wife and mom.

Becoming a mother held great joy and satisfaction for me. I had waited a longer time than normal to get married and have kids. Because my husband and I were older when we got married, we were concerned about fertility. We adopted a year after our wedding and were blessed to give birth to two more children after that. But becoming a mother so quickly, to three, also slowed down my journey to finding my true soul-satisfying identity. With three high-energy kids, I had little time to ponder, reflect, and discover.

As a stay-at-home mom, I have struggled during the years that seem to be all about serving my family. While I love being a mom, I also struggle with the all-consuming responsibilities of being a mom. With the help of therapy, I have learned that both things can be true, and that can be okay. God has given me a gift in being known as a mom, and yet there is still more to my identity than that.

Now that my third child has started Kindergarten, I’m starting to have more time and space in my days. Consistently, I’m faced with the challenge of slowing down and taking the time I need to do this. I have to take my eyes off of the world and seek His Kingdom first. In practical terms, this means turning off my phone, having a messy house, and keeping our activities to a minimum. I have to confess I fail more often than I succeed.

But when I do slow down, take time to reflect, and give God an opportunity to speak, I find a peace and contentment that is elusive when I don’t. When I’m feeling frustrated, if I can instead respond in thankfulness for all that I do have and is going right, I am humbled by His goodness to me. In doing so, I am finding more about who He made me to be. And I’m learning is that it’s more about the journey than the results.

“What matters is not the accomplishments you achieve; what matters is the person you become.”  – Dallas Willard

This post first appeared on The River blog Estuaries on October 17, 2017.

Weeding my Garden

I grew up in the farmhouse my grandpa was born in. Our family has farmed and gardened the same land for many generations. I come from a long line of gardeners. In the rural Midwest, it’s just what you do.

My mom grows the best tomatoes; my dad grew giant pumpkins; my grandpa grew amazing cantaloupes. Along with the weather and gas prices, what you grow is also what you talk about. And you show your love for each other by sharing your bounty.

Image credit: Erich Ferdinand / Flickr

Both of my sisters are gardeners. But somehow the gardening gene skipped me. Or maybe it just sweated out of me one day while I was weeding the garden at high noon in 100 percent humidity. Or maybe the sting of mosquitoes, or the biting of beetles, or coming face-to-face with a tomato worm drove it out of me.

I’ve always enjoyed eating the bounty, but I could never bring myself to enjoy the process of growing the bounty. It’s a long and arduous journey: preparing, tilling, planting, watering, weeding, watering, weeding, watering, weeding, watering, weeding. Unless there’s too much rain, which then just means weeding, weeding, weeding, and more weeding…

Which brings me to what I want to focus on: weeding. I was back home earlier this summer, and my mom needed help weeding in the garden. While I weeded, I began to think about a passage from Matthew 13:3-9, which we studied as a church:

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (NIV, italics added for emphasis)

The thorns that choked the plants are like the weeds I pulled. They threatened the healthy, fruit-bearing plants. I noticed how easy it was to pull the weeds that were young, when the soil was still wet.

But when I came to weeds that were larger, more firmly rooted, or if the soil was drier, they were more difficult to uproot. Often, those weeds broke off at the ground, leaving the root alive and well underneath the soil. It was frustrating, because I knew those weeds would sprout again quickly, stronger than other newly growing weeds. I also noticed that my grasp of the weed mattered. If I grabbed it too quickly, or not at the right angle, again it would break off, leaving the root below the surface.

It made me think of the weeds in my life, the weeds that choke me and prevent me from living my life as God fully intended. My weeds come in the form of distraction, jealousy, irritation, impatience, judgment, criticism, grumbling. They keep me from becoming the fully functional, healthy, fruit-bearing plant that God has designed me to be.

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22, NIV)

Over the years I have weeded my “garden” and cast out big, ugly weeds. But I’ve found that the process is unending. There will always be new weeds. Or some weeds that I thought were gone were really just broken off at ground level. They then grow stronger and spring up more quickly than before.

If I want to be healthy, strong, and living as God intended me to, I need to be diligent, watchful, and disciplined about keeping the weeds from choking me. I need to pull those weeds from the moist ground, before it hardens and becomes more difficult to uproot. And if I find a root that is still underground, I may need to get my shovel and dig it out.

In God’s grace, the seasons come and go. Each day is different from the one before. Sometimes there’s too much sun, sometimes too much rain. A few days are perfect. I hope to be present to the needs of each day as it comes, tending my garden diligently, so in time, my bounty may be plentiful.

 

This post was originally written by me and posted on Estuaries on July 18, 2017.

Choosing Vulnerability

Vulnerability. This word strikes fear in my heart. It makes me uncomfortable. It probably does the same for most of us.

Merriam-Webster defines the word vulnerable as: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, open to attack or damage.

Image credit:  Anna WK / Flickr

That doesn’t sound fun, pleasant, or attractive in any way. It makes me want to run and hide. It makes me want to do laundry instead of write about being vulnerable.

I prefer the word authentic. Its definition is: real, actual, true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. That sounds much more pleasant. I love to be authentic, to sit with friends and have long talks about the big picture, as well as the small details, of life. I enjoy deep, soul-filled discussions that help me understand them, myself, and the world a little better.

I can do authentic. I’m not very good at vulnerable. But I’m discovering that there is great healing and transformation available in being vulnerable.

Research professor and author Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s the courage to show up and be seen when you have zero control of the outcome.”

The times in my life when I have been my most vulnerable have included: moving to new cities where I knew no one, interviewing for jobs I need/want, getting laid off, watching my bank account drop to my last $400, trying to get pregnant after a miscarriage, trying to get pregnant after a stillbirth, being generous when we don’t have a paycheck coming in, giving difficult advice to a friend, giving difficult feedback to a stranger, and facing people who misunderstood my intentions.

My greatest vulnerability challenge right now is trying to figure out what I want to do in my next phase of life. My youngest will start kindergarten in the fall. This will open up my days and allow me to find a career again. I’ve been out of the corporate workplace for over ten years. If I want to go back to that kind of work, it will be a challenge to prepare myself and sell myself back into it. If I want to do something completely different from my technical and business background, I will need to start from scratch, feeling my way along.

I wish I had a clear purpose and direction, but I don’t. I have a bunch of different yearnings to do a lot of very different things: Pursue writing more seriously? Explore philanthropy? Return to school for another degree? Law? HR?

I feel very vulnerable in the process of trying to choose. What if I pick the wrong path? What if I end up not liking it? What if I fail? What if I don’t make any money?

But Brené Brown teaches that “…vulnerability [is] uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Yes, feeling vulnerable is at the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, but it’s also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

I don’t want to live in fear for the rest of my life. I want to face my fear and risk failure. I want the reward of creating something of value that has an impact on myself, others, and the world. I want to have the courage to step into the arena, get myself dirty, and pick myself back up after I fall.

So I will continue to explore different options, willing myself to be courageous and try new things, even at the risk of failure. I will try to listen more to God, others, and myself. I will choose to feel uncomfortable, scared, and even vulnerable.

Embracing Grief

My husband and I awoke on a Saturday early in January, mentally preparing ourselves for the funeral of a friend. Elisabeth had lost her two-year battle with a rare form of sarcoma cancer, leaving behind her husband and seven-year-old daughter.


Copyright: antonioguillem / 123RF Stock Photo

We weren’t prepared to find out that another former member of our church family had suffered a terrible tragedy. A family of three was shoe skating on what they thought was a solidly frozen pond. The son, Trent, fell through the ice and drowned. The mother, Polly, died trying to save him. The father, Gary, was rescued and is recovering.

Other tragic stories have affected close friends in recent days, and our hearts ache with the pain of loss, the uncertainty of life, and the lack of control we feel.

Over six years ago, my husband and I lost our son, Joseph, when I was eight and a half months pregnant. After what seemed a healthy pregnancy, we found out that Joseph was very sick with non-immune fetalis hydrops. He died in utero a few days later. I spent a year and a half in grief therapy, and I continue to grieve him each day.

My intent is not to compare different losses, because that is a fruitless exercise, but to encourage us to embrace our grief. Our culture shies away from grief. It’s hard to know what to say or do when someone has experienced great loss. We fear we might make those grieving feel worse. Sheryl Sandberg gives advice on what to say as she discusses her new book Option B.

We have not been taught how to grieve for others, let alone ourselves. Yet we all will grieve and suffer loss in our lives. When those who love us choose to surround us, it reminds us that we are not alone in our grief.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” – Job 1:21 (NIV)

Erin Coriell, a writer and end-of-life-care advocate, writes, “In many indigenous cultures, grief is often a collective experience. Through sacred rituals and praise, grief is expressed out loud as a uniting force of remembrance. In the Mayan culture, each individual is given permission to grieve openly and mourn completely at the time of loss.

“Here in the West, we seem to have placed a time stamp on grief. There seems to be an unspoken expectation that after some time, one will simply get on with life. This concept seems to be wrecking our entire culture. If we are unable to grieve in community, it is nearly impossible for individuals to heal fully. Grief demands to be heard, from all beings. This grieving thing makes us human, it is what unites us all at our core.”

In my own experience of grief, I was never offended by someone’s attempt to comfort me. I always appreciated, and still do, when people remember the son that is no longer with us. We did not experience the joy of living life with him, getting to know him, and making memories with him. But almost every other type of loss does. The memories of the life lived together will remain for a lifetime.

My great-aunt lost her eleven-year-old son in a drowning accident many decades ago. She and her husband have talked about him every day of their lives since; they are now in their nineties. Each time I see her, she brings up her son to me because she knows that I understand her heartache. I acknowledge her pain, and we cry together.

It does the heart and soul good for loss to be acknowledged. It validates our grief. Instead of prolonging the grief, it helps to release the grief.

Life continues on, which can feel like a curse and a blessing at the same time. Yet that is where I found my hope. Our loss took me to new depths of feeling and empathy for others who have suffered loss. It is a gift, if I choose to use it to help others. It also took me to new heights of joy when we were blessed with a daughter two years after our loss. She is a constant reminder to me of God’s promise to comfort those who mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

My faith was strengthened when I discovered I could stand on the other side of loss and still claim that God is good. I am encouraged by others who have done the same.

Today I am witnessing great bravery, grace, and faith by the spouses and families who have been left behind. May God continue to uphold them and give them courage, strength, and perseverance to soldier on.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” – Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

Loving Your Enemies

I have a hard time loving the people I love. I get irritated, frustrated, and often do not respond to them in love. I’m short with my husband, I yell at my kids, and I can judge when I shouldn’t.

And this is with the people I love, hold most dear, and for whom I want the best.

Image credit: Marcelino Rapayla Jr. / Flickr

So it’s very challenging to read Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV, emphasis added).

Ugh. So hard! Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This means loving the person who cuts me off in traffic and the people who misunderstand my intentions and spread rumors about me—and even loving those who want to harm me.

How do I do that?

I think one way is to fight fear. I believe fear keeps us trapped in misunderstanding and judgment. As it says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (NIV).

My husband I got involved in the nonprofit Prison Entrepreneurship Program a little over ten years ago. The organization goes into prisons and teaches inmates how to use their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills in legitimate ways when they are released. It is an intense program with a rigorous application process that seeks out people who are sincerely ready for change in their lives.

Initially, it was scary to think about visiting prisoners who have sold drugs, stolen, and murdered. But what we found instead were broken people who had a rough start to life and had a hard time loving others. Getting to know them and their stories helped us see them as individual people, desperate for a chance to redeem themselves.

This experience helped me love the thief who broke into our home about three years ago. He stole almost all our jewelry. We don’t have a lot of expensive jewelry, so he was likely disappointed. Most of our heartache was over the few pieces handed down over the generations that had sentimental value.

The police never caught him, but I can imagine some of what his life story might be like. Whenever I think of him, I pray that God might change his heart and grant him the opportunity, desire, and courage to change his ways. I like to think of my prayers as a redeemed form of vengeance.

Far more challenging is to love those who wish to harm me. Reading the news each day can make me fearful. Stories of torture, murder, and terrorism make me suspicious of others, and I want to shield myself and my family from the world and the unknown.

I recently attended a talk by author Fouad Masri, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon. The Lebanese civil war in 1975-1990 cultivated his hatred of foreigners and fellow countrymen. However, the war also prompted him to start studying different religions, including the teachings of Jesus.

It was a horrible tragedy, when his friend lost his wife and three children to a shelling accident, that led him to pray, ”The more hate there is in Lebanon, the more I want to be a soldier of love. The more war there is in Lebanon, the more I want to be a soldier of peace.”

Masri started to pray for his enemies. Now he lives in the U.S. and teaches others how to view Muslims as people who need to be loved by us. Masri helps people see Muslims as Jesus sees them, without fear, with a need for the truth, and a need for the Savior. When we reach out, we will find people like us: fearful of the unknown, desperate for connection and better understanding of each other.

I’ve begun to pray and plan for a time when I have the opportunity to befriend a Muslim. God, give me the courage and wisdom to know how to start a conversation, build a relationship, and speak words of truth when the timing is right.

Praying each time I hear discouraging news helps combat the feelings of hopelessness and despair. God, I pray for justice to prevail in this world. I pray for the hearts of those who commit these crimes. Please transform their hearts to know your truth and to act in love.

And most challenging is the call to forgive. God, please give me your heart of forgiveness. As Jesus forgave those who hung him on the cross, may I choose to forgive, with the confidence that your justice and mercy will prevail in the end.

Fight fear, love your enemies.

Note: This is a post I wrote for Estuaries in May 2016, which still feels very relevant for today.

The gift of honesty

I used to be a liar and a cheat. My indiscretions mostly included lying to, and cheating on, boyfriends. At the time, I viewed myself as a good person, and I really didn’t like confrontation. So instead of confronting difficult situations, I choose the easy way out and lied, which allowed me to maintain several relationships at once.

I can’t really remember my first lie, but it probably involved my first serious boyfriend in junior high. I was receiving attention from more than one boy and I didn’t have the integrity, or desire, to limit myself to dating one person. Over the course of three years of dating, I cheated on him multiple times. Thankfully, “cheating” on your junior high boyfriend usually involved pretty innocent activities. But over the years, and in different relationships, my transgressions increased in their severity.

I’m extremely grateful that no children or animals were harmed as a result of my lack of integrity. But I do deeply regret the heartache I caused along the way.

God graciously brought me to a place where I recognized my deceit, and even better, brought me along a path of healing from it. He first broke my heart, and then provided a long season of singleness. During that season, I learned to highly value honesty and integrity. When I met my future husband, it was his honesty and integrity that most attracted me to him. It was no surprise that we both mentioned integrity in our wedding vows as one of our most treasured aspects about the other person.

Bruce Muzik, a writer, seminar leader and coach, learned about integrity in a more dramatic way. He radically changed his life after admitting his infidelity to his wife. It ended his marriage, but gave him the freedom and gift of honesty. He also went on to face and confront his secretly-held racism by moving into a South African ghetto as the only white man among 100,000 black Africans. This helped him develop a passion to help others lead a more authentic and fulfilled life by facing deeply-held secrets, and confessing them to those we keep them from.  He now teaches and coaches others to do the same. He tells his story in the TED talk below.

Bruce teaches that “the secrets we hide have a devastating impact on our life. We are forced to lie about who we are, and we present ourselves to the world as something that we are not. If we do this long enough, we lose touch with who we authentically are. Our aliveness gets replaced with numbness. And that numbness can lead us down paths of despair. Bruce tells the story of a man who wrote to him, confessing that he has cheated on his wife for most of their married life. He was despondent and had considered suicide rather than face the truth of his infidelity.

The consequences of keeping our secrets to ourselves can often far outweigh the consequences of actually sharing our secret. When we share our truth with others, we release ourselves from our self-imposed prison, and we empower others to find their own peace with the truth.”

Bruce’s ex-wife went on to find the love of her life soon after their marriage ended. They are still good friends as a result of his honesty with his betrayal. Bruce went on to fulfill life-long dreams and inspire thousands of others to do the same. Once I found the peace and deep satisfaction that comes with choosing a life of honesty, I can never imagine going back.

 

The truth may hurt for a little while, but a lie hurts forever. —  Unknown

 

 

Making Room for New Friends

This story starts with my stalking another family.

Last spring, our neighbors in the house to our left moved out without saying goodbye. It wasn’t much of a surprise.

We’ve lived in our home for over eight years. During most of that time, an elderly lady and her adult son were our next-door neighbors. We were friendly but didn’t have much in common. The tenants that followed, a middle-aged woman with two teenage children, were pleasant but busy, so we didn’t see much of them.

Copyright: oksanaok / 123RF Stock Photo

 

When the owners were preparing the house to rent out again, I decided to be aggressively friendly to find out who was moving in. I’m so glad I asked. Turns out, the new tenants were a family moving from Texas with two small children. I was super excited. On our block, we have been the only household with young children. Although we have many friends, we have never had neighbor friends. I started counting the days until our new neighbors moved in.

When the day arrived, I kept an eye on the house for any signs of movement all day. I had a card, bouquet of flowers, and a pie ready to give them. But the sun set with no sign of them.

As I was getting ready to go upstairs to bed, I saw a light on next door. They were there! I quickly grabbed my welcome gifts and headed next door. I rang the doorbell. No answer. Maybe they were putting the kids to bed? I didn’t know what to do. I began to rethink my strategy of ringing someone’s doorbell after 9 p.m. Maybe not such a good idea? I worried that I was going a little overboard. Was I becoming a stalker? I left the flowers and the card by the front door, and headed back home.

I decided I needed to cool my jets so I didn’t scare them off—or cause them to call the police. The next few days I saw very little activity at the house. Maybe they had changed their minds or found another home to rent?

But then, one day, they were there: a mom, a dad, and two kids. The mom and kids had traveled a few days behind the dad, who had just started his new job. And just as I had hoped, it was the beginning of a great friendship.

We started doing play dates and having dinner together. We celebrated our children’s birthdays together. I introduced her to my friends, who then became her friends. We shared each other’s stories. Our kids played well together sometimes, and not so well other times.

Having a friend living in such close proximity adds a layer of involvement and commitment to friendship, if you let it. And that involvement and commitment can result in a greater layer of joy and depth of meaning.

It could have gone down a different path. I already have lots of friends. I’m also busy taking care of three little kids and volunteering at school and church. I could have kept to myself, waved to them when I saw them, and gone on with my busy life. I could have found a thousand things to do instead of opening up my messy home and inviting them in. I didn’t know ahead of time if they would be different, unfriendly, or unlike me.

I could have chosen differently. But this time I chose to put myself out there, to be brave and vulnerable and seek out a new friendship. I took a risk.

I can’t take all the credit for choosing wisely this time. I believe that God placed this family on my heart and grew my love for them before they even came to California. And I’m so grateful I listened to His voice.

At the beginning of December, the family moved fifteen minutes away to a bigger home with more space for their new baby. Now we will need to be more intentional about our time together. We won’t have the benefit of everyday in-person conversations to learn about our lives. We’ll have to check in frequently and plan our get-togethers. The logistics of our friendship will change, but my love for them will remain the same.

The only way to have a friend is to be a friend. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

A Year of Fasting

As October 12, 2015, quickly approaches, economic forecasts have been adjusted to include an upswing in the retail sector. This date marks the end of my yearlong clothing fast. On that date last year, I committed to abstain from all clothing purchases for a year. My husband cheered, my friends gasped in shock, and retailers shed tears of grief.

It was a fast I never considered possible, and one I never wanted to partake in. But when our church fasted from technology for a month last year, I took a serious look at what I might really need to fast from.

Technology is not my issue; the love of shopping is. And I knew a month was not long enough to really get to the heart of my issue. You can read more about my early fasting days on my previous post.

Along this journey, I discovered a few reasons why I over-shop. It defies logic, but one of the reasons is that I have too many clothes. With too many clothes, I forget what I have, and buy more of the same, more than I need. To combat this, I’ve begun to purge my clothes and focus on the pieces I really enjoy. I plan to build my wardrobe around those pieces so that they work together to give me more options.

I’m also addicted to the deal. I’ve never met a clothing sale I didn’t like. I receive multiple mass emails a day, each with a “special” sale I must get to before it’s too late. I often fall for this Marketing 101 trick. During my fast, I ended up deleting those emails each day as a discipline. They reminded me that a new deal comes each day, there will always be another sale, and there will always be more clothes to buy.

But my most significant insight during my fast is that I turn to shopping when I feel upset or insecure. Doing so fills a temporary need and distracts me from the real issue at hand: a sense that I never have enough or am enough. Shame researcher Brené Brown describes the heart of my issue in these words: “We live in a world of scarcity. Which means we feel like we never have enough.”

Writer and entrepreneur Sarah Peck writes:

Living in a world of scarcity means that we’re constantly searching for the next thing to fill us up, the next destination or achievement to make us whole. Our world is filled with messages that tell us we don’t have enough space, enough stuff, enough clothes, enough fitness. We’re never skinny enough or pretty enough or good enough or rich enough.

This scarcity model drives consumption and accumulation; it spurs us to want more, to buy things because we think it will fill the void. We press to work harder, to get fitter, to buy more clothes, to acquire more things in the name of filling the hole.

The problem with scarcity, however, is that you can’t fill it or fix it with things.

The answer to scarcity, ironically, isn’t more. It is enough.

What you have is enough. Who you are is enough.

My fast has forced me to look for satisfaction in the things I already have. It’s given me an opportunity to be more creative in the way I use my clothes. But the biggest gift of all has been the mental space it has given me. Knowing that I can’t spend time shopping has freed me up to spend my time writing, exercising, meeting with friends, and focusing on my kids.

Surprisingly, I haven’t really missed it like I thought it would. Fasting from shopping has been life-giving, instead of the sacrifice I thought it would be.

As I approach the end of my fast, I don’t want to fall back into my bad habits. The real challenge begins now: I want to choose to be satisfied with what I have and who I am.

Combatting the Negative

A few months ago, I was standing in the changing room of our gym when one of the members started complaining about the parking. During busy times, there usually isn’t enough parking for the number of people who belong there. As I listened, I was agreeing in my head. I’ve often thought, For the amount of money we pay, I should be able to drive right up a find a parking spot!

The complaining woman left, and the woman she was speaking to turned and said to me, “Really? We belong to this beautiful gym, and all she can do is complain?” Her comment took me by surprise and then humbled me. She was the one who was right. There are many wonderful things to say and appreciate about our gym. It has beautiful pools, plentiful equipment, and a wide range of exercise classes. It’s also beautifully maintained with many amenities and a friendly staff.

It struck me that I often fall into that trap, noticing the negative, looking for what went wrong, or might go wrong, or will go wrong.

I do it with my husband. When my husband cleans up the kitchen, I’m more irritated that he left water on the counter than grateful that he helped.

I do it with my kids. I tend to notice when the kids misbehave more than when they behave.

I do it in traffic. I do it at the grocery store. I do it more than I want to do it.

Psychologist and author Rick Hanson explains that we’re built this way:

Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.

That’s because—in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived—if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick—a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species—WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.

Besides the sheer injustice of it, acquiring a big pile of negative experiences in implicit memory banks naturally makes a person more anxious, irritable, and blue. Plus it makes it harder to be patient and giving toward others.

 

But we don’t have to stay that way. I don’t want to stay this way.

Every day hundreds of good things surround us and happen to us. If we stop ourselves in any given moment, we can probably list multiple good things that are happening to us at that very instant.

For example, when I’m in traffic, I’ll remind myself: I have a car, I have a car that works, I have enough money to pay for gas to get to where I need to go, and it’s a beautiful day (as it almost always is in California).

When my kids have sent me over the edge, I remind myself that they are healthy, smart, and incredibly cute. It also helps me to remember that kids usually act like… kids.

When I’m falling asleep at night, a time when I can start to mull over in my mind the negative things that happened that day, I’ll instead tell myself that I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, my neighborhood is relatively safe, and my children (usually) sleep through the night.

As you start to practice focusing on the good in your life, it combats the negative and shifts your mindset. Life will still be challenging. But practicing a positive bias can help us find more satisfaction and joy in the life that we have. Dr. Hanson explains that focusing on the good actually changes your neural structure to improve how you feel, get things done, and treat others.

Every time I shift my thinking to the positive, I notice that my mind clears, I’m less anxious, and I start to relax. I realize that the sky isn’t falling and I’ll probably live to see another day. I begin to enjoy my life more.

 

A negative mind will never give you a positive life. – Unknown Author

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

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