As we draw near to Easter, I have been thinking about what good news might sound like right now. Would it sound like peace and reconciliation between vengeful populations? Would it be the sound of the “right” presidential candidate winning the election? Would it sound like rain falling on California’s parched land?
Gratitude: I’m working on it. It seems that outside the month of November where Thanksgiving is nestled, our culture isn’t a particularly grateful one. We’re consumers by economy, and as a result we’re constantly told to want more, acquire more, dream of more. While there is nothing wrong with more— of the right thing, that is– it can often lead us to feel dissatisfied with our now.
Aaron and I recently decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International— a program that connects vulnerable children with people who desire to be a part of those children’s journeys. Compassion’s sponsorship program has been vetted by research after many years in operation, and I am so excited to share more about this partnership once I start learning more. Our little friend’s name is Santiago and he lives in Mexico. He’ll be turning 5 years old in June!
Back to gratitude: it’s hard to cultivate. I find that often the inspiration to be grateful is based on guilt– our lives are so much better than those of others (perhaps my life compared with Santiago’s) and I am supposed to remember to feel grateful for all the conveniences and luxuries I enjoy.
But gratitude really should not require comparing your situation with someone else’s so that yours doesn’t look so bad. Instead, it’s a manner of acknowledging that while nothing is for certain and that we are far less deserving than we seem to think, good things have come our way. Somehow, despite the offenses we’ve committed, the mistakes we’ve made, or the misfortune we’ve experienced, we still live and breathe in a world in which purpose can be found. That’s worth celebrating.
Building practices: why we need habits
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I’m a proponent of both ideological change and habitual change. Without one, we can’t really have the other. Our actions are shaped by our desires, just as our desires are shaped by our actions.
So when it comes to gratitude, I don’t think we can just wait until we “feel it.” Instead, we can train ourselves into habits that help us see the realities we hope to see– the myriad blessings in our lives, the good work to which we are called, the truth that sets us free.
I had promised in this Instagram post that stories and photographs from the Sahara would come out this morning, but alas– we have a surprise visitor with us tonight and I’m not quite done editing.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about why most of us hate to wait. We dislike waiting in line at the grocery store. We don’t like to wait for our meals at a restaurant. And we certainly do not enjoy waiting to hear the outcome of something in which we’re deeply invested. At the edge of our seats, completely without control over the situation, we experience a tiny bit of humiliation in the limits of our power. We already know what it is we want, but no matter how much we will we cannot make it so….Continue Reading
Have you ever wanted to drastically change something about your life? Perhaps it was a habit you wanted to quit, or a habit you wanted start. Maybe you wanted to finally “grow up” in an area of your life, such as your finances, your health or your relationships. Perhaps you’re seeking to make a transition in your career or interests, but find yourself doing the same thing year after year. Why does that happen?
I’ve been wrestling with some gut-wrenching career and life decisions. Robert Frost’s poem about the road not taken has never resonated so powerfully with me.
Did I miss the the Happy New Year gravy train? Despite being barely a week into 2016, I feel like I did. How quickly we move along these days– and what’s the rush, really? It seems as though it will be January for a while.
So let me indulge in a little reflection. As I type this, the rain is falling heavily for the first time in a long time here in Southern California. The looming gray has kept the day dim and further clouded my sense of adjustment back to our regular routine. It feels as though we were only just wandering through the alleys of Morocco’s medinas moments ago, and yet those visions and sounds seem so far away. Indeed, a blur.
2015 in review: confessions and observations
What a year. We traveled in 5 continents in 2015 (Utah, Japan, Ecuador, Spain, and Morocco), moved house, and settled into Pasadena life. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Aaron sank his teeth into year 2 of Ph.D. work, began seeing a handful of clients, and did lots of research (mindfulness, anyone?). I saw my tutoring business take off, my blog grew by a power of 10, and I ended the year feeling a desperate need for change. More on that later.
On the blog, I further explored minimalism and its implications on my daily life. To be honest, I feel as though I’ve exhausted the topic (perhaps the topic has exhausted me), but the movement seems to be roaring in its upward trend. Should I write more about it, I wonder. For simple living advocates, the most important aspect of simple living is actually choosing to live simply. We can discuss it, share it, teach it and preach it, but in the end it must be a vehicle towards something else. And that’s the thing only we ourselves can define (e.g., the life-changing magic of finding your purpose).
Don’t see in this the looming shadow of despair however. Simplicity Relished will go on as my little blog, only I hope to grow in the topics that I explore this year. When I pulled together my ebook on courage (7 Days of Courage: Finding Brave In Your Everyday Life), I realized that what I desperately needed was the strength, focus, fortitude and fearlessness to pursue what I believed mattered. Call it intentionality, call it courage– I needed more than simplicity in order to face my fears, send the lies back to hell and press on.
There is something to be said about perseverance when it comes to blogging. All the blogging tips in all the world can’t give a blog what it needs to survive: a purpose that inspires the blogger and serves an audience. That purpose has to be big enough to stay relevant through different seasons of life. Even if we make little adjustments here and there, a core that is strong enough will remain the same.
So here’s a little bit of real life truth. I’m expecting some changes this year. Despite my love of my students, I might be ending my foray into self-employment. I won’t go into the reasons here, but wrestling with my next professional steps has consumed me the past couple of months. Along with the shift includes a small possibility that Aaron and I will spend some time overseas. As options materialize, I will share them here.
What I do know is that, in the midst of this rocky, exhilarating and unpredictable decade we call our 20s, I need this blog. I need you as my reader, keeping me in this space where I can center myself again on what I truly care about. Thank you for being here.
My word for 2016 and a few little goals
I like the idea of having a word for the year. Despite it seeming more like a word of the moment, we can dedicate ourselves to an ideal or commitment for as long as it’s something we truly need. So my word is fortitude. I want the strength, perseverance, bravery, vision, and focus to move forward this year. Fortitude makes me think of a large ship crashing through the most threatening waves. It may rise and teeter and dip, but it continues forward, wave by wave. I want to be fearless that closing doors is okay. I want to step into something, step into it deeply, and say yes at crucial moments in the journey.
As far as setting goals, perhaps I don’t have any big ones yet. However this year shakes out, though, I want to find myself choosing to thrive. I want to inspire and to be inspired; to discover new corners of God’s word in which I can rest; and to increase my generosity to my community. Aaron and I are going to find ways to take better care of our bodies, hopefully together. We’ll be developing new recipes for home cooking, committing to more exercise and hopefully continuing to get enough sleep.
Coming to SR in 2016
I hope this year will bring nothing less than amazing content that you find helpful, interesting and encouraging. At the very least, I’ll be working on the following:
- All the Spain and Morocco posts! I love writing about travel and have missed it since our summer trips.
- Occasional lifestyle pieces: sometimes all these reflections and instructions can be a bit head-heavy. I’ll occasionally share a recipe, decor tip or fashion photos to lighten things up.
- Posts on courage, social justice, generosity and community: things that keep me going. This is my decision to push the boundaries on simple living and explore its purpose a bit more explicitly.
- A product! I hope… 😉
What are your hopes and dreams for 2016? Let’s tackle this together.
Merry Christmas, sweet friends. It’s funny how travel can take you far away– and then closer than ever– to the heart and soul of the season. From the moment we stepped foot in Sevilla to this very moment in Barcelona, I’ve encountered strange new reminders of the glorious moment in history that we celebrate on Christmas Day.
Perhaps the best phrase the captures this, for me at the moment comes from “O Holy Night”:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
In our postmodern age, we don’t really like the word “sin.” I won’t go into its theological definition here, but I will say this: our world is pining. We are pining for more peace. We are pining for more freedom, more hope, more joy. And as much as we desire these things, we are constantly robbed by the errors– the evil– of others and of ourselves.
So when Christ appears, the soul feels its worth. A thrill of hope and a weary world comes to life again. A new and glorious morn has come and is coming again.
And no matter how we express this longing, no matter where we come from or where we are going, we know to cherish this time of year as a time to renew our trust that something– perhaps someone– is coming for us. That this world is to be made new. We can only hope in this. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. Bon Nadal.
We are now a culture obsessed with authenticity.
We’ve donned a peevish perspective on social media, on networking, on new friendships– basically on anything that might not feel “real” enough to us. We expect everyone to divulge everything.
Authenticity is a good thing (at least, it used to be). The notion that I can be honest about my emotions, my progress, my struggles, and my opinions is a freedom I’ll continue to cherish.
But this trend of being authentic– of chasing some imaginary level of authenticity– is a tiresome game. I’m wary of its pushy nature, because it’s starting to look a lot like any other attention-mongering scheme.
Authenticity has become what we expect; and what we expect is to be shocked. We love confessions. We love peering behind the curtain to see the “real deal.”
In other words, authenticity is no longer pure. It’s fraught with expectations, pressures, and a strangely insecure self-confidence that seems to be throwing wisdom to the winds.
Demeanor, (n.): outward behavior or bearing(e.g., a quiet, somber demeanor). Synonyms: manner, air, attitude, appearance, look.
The past few weeks have been chock full of failures, frustrations, rejections, and struggles. But you wouldn’t know it if you came over to my house for some coffee and a brief conversation. While nothing drastic has happened I’ve faced unusual emotional ups and downs, and even a bit of insomnia from the stress of a few unique situations. And I don’t know that you would ever find out, if I didn’t choose to be open about them.
You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life choosing to be calm and collected. My demeanor somehow tells everyone that I am not just fine— but that I’m thoughtful, humorous, open-hearted. It says that I don’t really need help. It says I’m content. It might even say that I don’t have much to complain about.
But this is far from the truth. Find me after a day of work or fighting maddening traffic, and I’ll have a hard time saying anything positive to anyone. Catch me in that moment when I’m frustrated beyond consolation that something isn’t perfect– and I’ll be anything but composed or collected.
Usually, for better or for worse, I get the chance to collect myself before I interact with other people. By the time I’m in conversation with a friend over coffee, or working with my next student, I’ve got it all under control again.
I’ve written about how perfectionism has stolen joy in my life, and how pushing those high standards on myself has damaged my relationship with others. Eventually I snap– goodbye, eloquent and thoughtful self, and hello, monster.
This week was more difficult than most. For the first time in months, perhaps, I felt stressed. Truly, overwhelmignly stressed.
It was not the good kind of stress that pushed me beyond my comfort zone and made me work hard at my endeavors. It was the kind of stress that made me constantly tired, impatient, and selfish. The kind of stress that drained my reserves so that I had nothing left for anyone but me.
Perhaps I should count myself fortunate not to face this kind of stress regularly. Perhaps there are some who know not what life is like without feeling this stress all the time. But I know that there are circumstances outside my control that can bring on these feelings again, so I want to do a better job of dealing with them.I want to be able to lift my own spirits– and the spirits of others.
Many well-intentioned people have recited the adage, Comparison is the thief of joy. I myself have been one of those people.
However, I’ve realized that this adage scratches at the surface of a much deeper issue.
I do not believe that comparison has to steal joy. The mere act of realizing somebody is taller than I am does not immediately make me discontent with my own height. Did I compare? Yes. Did I lose joy? No.
This is one of the dilemmas that we often have as individuals, and as a society: we blame the wrong source for our woes. Or, as one of my best friends used to say, we need to attack the lion, not the flies buzzing around the lion.
Here’s what I’m getting at. The mere act of comparison is simply observing, perhaps taking stock of, the differences between one thing and another.
We compare all the time. We compare deals at the grocery store. We compare phone plans. We compare career options. We compare different pairs of shoes to decide which one to purchase.
Comparison is an important act of discernment. If we weren’t able to compare, we would be unable to make wise decisions.
So, the word is out! I wrote a short ebook which I’ve already shared with my email letter subscribers. Today I want to make sure you have the opportunity to receive it for free in your inbox, and to tell you a bit more about it.
The book is titled 7 Days of Courage: Finding Brave In Your Everyday Life. It’s a workbook that reflects on seven aspects of practicing courage, with practical applications for each day of the week.
I hope that 7 Days of Courage will come in handy whenever we feel the need to work through some fear, or when we are about to face an important challenge. Courage will hopefully expand your definition of what it means to be brave, and show you little opportunities throughout your everyday life to choose courage.
Until our early 20s, many life decisions are made for us.
We’re told to attend school, we’re told to do our best, we’re told what’s socially acceptable and what’s not– we’re raised by our families, our friends, and our society.
So when it’s time to make a big decision later in life, we’re often found unprepared. I’ve never had to choose between two things in which one is not clearly the answer, we realize. What do we do now?
The truth is, wise decision-making is a skill that requires practice. It feels even more intimidating to practice that skill when your job, relationship, education or passion is at stake.
How can we practice on reality?
Here’s the tough realization we all have to come to: when there’s no absolute dichotomy of the moral vs. immoral decision (or legal vs. illegal decision), what we choose comes down to wisdom.
And we gain wisdom in practice, in seeking counsel, and in choosing to grow as human beings.
A story from childhood
When I was in 5th grade, I applied to attend a different middle school. One of the application questions was: If you could invent anything, what would it be?…Continue Reading
We often talk about courage on a grand scale: the courage to chase our dreams; the courage to live simply; the courage to challenge the unsolvable problems of our day.
But how do we muster up that courage, when we live within the confines of our obligations daily? Why not learn to intentionally choose courage everyday?
I’m currently staying with a couple who run a community program for children in a low-income neighborhood in Ecuador. I’ve been so inspired by their quest to bless and nourish this neighborhood, where even some cab drivers in the city refuse to come. That’s identifiable courage.
But how do they do this on a daily basis? They make brave choices– both great and small. A momentary decision can be minute in comparison, but nonetheless courageous.
I’ve decided to start practicing more courage in my daily life. It’s not everyday that I get to travel to places like this and drink in the goodness of serving others. When I’m working or tending to other obligations, it feels like I don’t really need courage. So I made a list of things you and I can do– on practically any day– to be brave. And I focused on relationships and service, since those are the areas where we can regularly choose courage, and do the most good….Continue Reading
When it comes to work and career, it can be a bit overwhelming to look at all of your options. You probably have
many choices more choices than you think: stay at your current job, start a side-hustle, get a new job, wait for a promotion, quit and do something totally different, do multiple jobs, go back to school, join the circus. Ok, maybe not the last one.
But what happens when someone asks, “What is your dream? Are you pursuing it?”
I’ve always found follow your dreams to be a particularly annoying platitude. Follow my dreams? What does that even mean?
More importantly, it is intimidating to look at others who appear to have followed their dreams, and done so successfully. There are so many entrepreneurs whose lives have dramatically changed because they built their business in the right place at the right time (with the right people). There are even more individuals on traditional career paths who seem to have won the prize– the only prize.
In other words, the potential competition is discouraging, to say the least. It can be scary to look upon someone else’s successes; we’re tempted to think, why should I even try? She’s already got this.…Continue Reading