Thursday, January 31, 2013

Simple Living or Simply Living

One of our Mission Interns, Katie Davis, posed some questions to the missionary community about simple living for a project she's doing.  I thought, hey, what a great topic to write a little bit about.  It's something I think of often, and surprisingly is one of the attributes that attracted me to being a missionary (that's not a typo).

I've always been fond of simple living, and I think my parents taught it to me at a young age.  I never thought we had less or not enough, but we didn't really splurge on anything (except maybe trips to Frontier City).  So what is simple living?  Is it something we should all strive for?  Or does all the hype boil down to simply living?

My work as a CASA volunteer has taught me more than a few things, but in training, we learned the difference between a minimum level of care and a higher level of care.  For children, you want them to have the world, but the state only requires that parents provide a minimum level of care.  Simple living, in my previous opinion, was like the minimum level of care.  Your diet, recreation, and travel is limited by your financial resources.  You are able to provide for basic needs, like eating healthy, going to the doctor, and maybe seeing a matinee now and then.  The finer things in life, like formal dining, vacations, and new clothes are out of the question unless there's a special occasion.

Simple living for me, now, doesn't really look that simple.  I've realized that you don't have to give up on recreation, or fine dining, or that cute pair of shoes.  Simple living, for me, is learning when to give and when to take.  Maybe I want to see a movie this weekend and go have dinner; then I guess I'll cook breakfast instead of picking something up from the deli or getting Starbucks on my way to work.  Personally, I made the decision that my physical and emotional well-being demanded more exercise.  I was unsatisfied with my lack of options due to living in an "unsafe" neighborhood.  The gym membership looked really expensive, until I realized that my monthly membership was the same as a new outfit (on sale).  For me, that was a good trade-off.  I would be happier with that than with a new outfit every month.

Keeping track of your spending is the best way to figure out where all your money is going.  Then, it's easy to organize and prioritize.  The hard part is sticking to the budget you create.  Simple living isn't always about sacrifice.  When we frame it as sacrifice, it seems difficult and daunting.  The truth is simple living is about prioritization and financial responsibility.  You may realize that once all that stuff you thought you needed is gone, you are free to simply live. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu!

I feel myself saying goodbye a lot, like TOO much.  Granted, I was lucky enough to spend my first 19 years in the same bedroom in the same house, but since then, I've moved 11 times (if you include the move home every summer).  For some, this may be no big deal, but a life that feels constantly in transition leaves you wanting to settle down.  I realized this morning that I may understand something about the kids I work with that I thought I didn't.

When kids arrive at Murphy-Harpst, they've usually been in 15-20 different placements.  We're near the last option for them.  So my transitional life is not so hard for them to understand.  Although, my situation does include a stable family and friends that I get to visit, key items some are missing.  I was trying to pinpoint the normality of moving, making new friends, and leaving again as I thought about the chance of having lifelong friends.

The average American family moves every 5 years, which is funny because it takes nearly 5 years to get really close to someone (I think).  Most couples spend 3-5 years dating/engaged before they get married, and I doubt many people would argue that it takes that long to get to know someone on a deeper level.  So is the possibility of a lifelong friend, someone who has seen you through it all unlikely, or impossible with this instability?

Maybe unlikely, but optimistic me chooses to believe it's hard work but not impossible.  Our culture has made hard work less desirable, which is obvious by the explosion of commercialized one-stop shops.  Grocery stores sell personal items, usually have a pharmacy, and even school supplies, because it's convenient.  The top 5 retailers (Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreen, and Costco) are all based around being quick and cost-efficient.  But, do we apply this same criteria to our friends?  Do we make them quick and cost-efficient?

I was trying to do a case study on myself.  I thought of my 5 closest friends (friends who are related, not included) and was considering how long we'd been friends.  All except one are friends I have made in the last 5 years.  Obviously, this is because I've been 1000 miles from my childhood home, and everyone would agree that long-distance friends are less convenient and more work.  Now, I'm not saying that every friend should be lifelong.  I'm simply saying that relationships are vital to humankind, and the constant shuffle puts a strain on us to constantly say goodbye and make new friends.  We've created a culture where it's not cool to live in the same town you grew up in (especially if it's a small town), and we look forward to big promotions and moving to a new city with new people.

 Fresh and new is something to be desired, but is it keeping us from engaging in real friendships?  Real relationships?  I am blessed by the community I live in, the new friendships and relationships, but I can't help but hope for a day when those friendships are established, and the pressure of making new friends is gone.  There's another move in my near future and probably one or two more.  But instead of dreading that final resting place, I look forward to it, wherever it may be.

I laugh, because sometimes I think the kids I work with know more than me, and in some aspects, they do.  Some are much younger than me, but they already understand the importance of relationships and look forward to a resting place, a life that is not in transition.  I pray this stability is found for them soon.

I don't think it takes 5 years to form a solid relationship.  I thought I would celebrate when kids were healed and left us for a new home, but I realize that now when they leave, they're not just kids, they're my kids (our kids), and there's a bond that will be broken.  I dread the day each of them has to leave and hope that their next place is the last one.  For now, I can only wish them the best, say a prayer, and bid them so long, farewell!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cats and Dogs

Last week, I flipped on the TV one morning while I was eating breakfast and Marley and Me was on.  I had never seen the movie before, so I watched about thirty minutes of it, and it got me to thinking about dogs.  Then, during science/astronomy club, one of the kids brought up the idea of a continuum in which all animals are related and just at different places on it.  This train of thought is silly, but if there was a personality continuum from cats to dogs, where would humans be?  Or do we range the spectrum?

Owen Wilson makes this comment about Marley, the family's labrador-retriever: "A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his."

On the other hand, I would make this observation about my cat: "Kaiser doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. He expects to be fed and have your full attention at all times, regardless."
Kaiser, helping write the blog, of course!
Perhaps, humans don't fit on the scale because you can rarely find someone who doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull.  I am guilty myself.  Last weekend, I got to return "home" to Durham and the Duke campus. At brunch on Sunday, I thought to myself, wow, it's been a long time since I had to actively listen to a conversation to try to understand what's being discussed.  I like educated folk.  Their conversations challenge me.  And then I thought, does anyone talk to me and enjoy it as a challenge?

Maybe, maybe not.  I did realize this, though.  We are all educated, but on different subjects, different experiences, and different cultures.  For example, I would be just as compelled with people who never attended a day of college and have never missed a NASCAR race.  Because, for me, NASCAR is an education I've never received.  This quote from the movie struck me, because I was thinking who are the educated?  Aren't clever and dull opinions?  I can look at someone and say that person is dull, but he/she may intrigue the following person, because they have different educations.

And then, I got to the question of the dividing line, the rich and the poor.  This video, put out by the UMW and Global Ministries is awesome, because it asks that question, "Who are the poor?"  Each of us could be considered depending on who our comparison is.  If Bill Gates is the comparison, there are a LOT of poor people.  If I am a rich person, there are quite a few less poor people.

I hear people (kids and adults) say that they want to be rich some day.  But how do you define rich?  Do you want to go shopping with a credit card that has no limit?  Is there a dream car or house you desire?  Do you want to pay bills and not wait til the next paycheck arrives?

Proverbs 22:1 says,

"A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich;
    a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank."

When you start feeling poor, recognize the relativity.  There's always someone poorer than you; and there's always someone richer than you.  When you feel the least educated on a subject, know there's another subject that you may be the most educated.  And don't ever let anyone tell you you're dull, because they can't see your cleverness.

I'm guessing regarding the last phrase that differentiates Marley from Kaiser, it's a continuum that goes from Humanity to Deity.

God says, "Give me your heart, and I will give you mine," while we say, "give me all of your attention and don't let me be hungry."

God responds to our reply and grants most of our wishes, but how do we respond?

Give God your heart, and God will give you a heart of gold*
*though it has no value in USD

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Old Things New

Tis a new year and we survived the Mayan apocalypse!

It's hard to believe over a month has gone by since my last post, but I guess that's to be expected with the busy holiday season.  Quick recap of December.  The kids and I were blessed to do Mike Slaughter's bible study A Different Kind of Christmas, I wrapped approximately 300 gifts kindly donated by church congregations and individuals in the area, and my family got to come see the splendor of Cedartown, GA.

With the new year, you'd expect a new me and some new blog posts I assume.  For those who didn't notice, the past 6 months have been a roller coaster, but one thing was continuous in my blogs: the country music song titles.  Now, maybe you're looking for some new music to motivate you in the new year or maybe you just wondered where I got all these fantastic titles.  Below is a list of all the blog titles and artists for you to enjoy.  I challenge you to make a Pandora station with one of them and see the gems you find.  For this week, find something old and make it new.

"Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold"

Dreamin' with my Eyes Wide Open - Clay Walker
What I Love about Sunday - Craig Morgan
Independence Day - Martina McBride
Emotional Girl - Terri Clark
Long, Slow Beautiful Dance - Rascal Flatts
I Didn't Know my own Strength - Lorrie Morgan
Unanswered Prayers - Garth Brooks
Christ Alone - Edens Edge
Words I Couldn't Say - Rascal Flatts
Rain is a Good Thing - Luke Bryan
Shotgun Girl - JaneDear Girls
Just Passing Through - Jason Aldean
I Wanna Do it All - Terri Clark
Life - Phil Vassar
Just Another Day in Paradise - Phil Vassar
Ready to Roll - Blake Shelton
One Way Ticket - LeAnn Rimes
Family Tradition  - Hank Williams, Jr
Grow Young  (With You) - Coley McCabe
All my Ex's Live in Texas - George Strait
Love is a Beautiful Thing - Paul Brandt
Cruise - Florida Georgia Line
Like the Rain - Clint Black
You Know How I Feel - Bryan White
These are my People - Rodney Atkins
Everyday's a Holiday - JaneDear Girls
Love Without End, Amen - Randy Travis
What Kind of Love are we Talkin' Bout Here - Chris Cagle
You've Got to stand for Something - Aaron Tippin
Shine the Light - Sugarland
One Heart at a Time - Various Artists
Old Things New - Joe Nichols

I was blessed to worship with the United Methodist Women of Trinity UMC in Rome this morning and will be preaching at Aragon UMC Sunday.  Please keep me in your prayers and look forward to my sharing the message on my blog Sunday afternoon :)  God bless!