the challenge in hindsight.

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I’m sorry things have been quiet on the blog lately. I loved the October writing challenge, but I’ve also very glad for a break from writing every day. Now I feel rested and have some ideas for the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a some thoughts on my experience with 31 Days of Purposeful Simplicity.

1. I’ll never forget my writing process for the series, because in September I experienced a terrible bout of insomnia. I’ve struggled with sleep at different times of my life, but this was unlike anything I’d known. Ambien did nothing for me. I’d pop awake at 1 or 2 in the morning and be filled with dread at the long, lonely hours stretching ahead of me until everyone else woke up.

You’d think an introvert would enjoy that, but stack up a few sleepless nights up and you feel like a crazy person. But somehow, in those hours, I wrote. I wrote half the blog series during those nights. That and watched Pitch Perfect way too many times. Thankfully things are much better now, thanks to an adjustment in my anxiety medication.

2. I was surprised by how much I loved writing all month. I just kind of got swept away in my topic and lived in my head way too much, but I even enjoyed that. I thought several times, I wish I could do this every day. But I can’t, and I realized it firsthand. Things suffered around the house and I sort of lived in a perpetually distracted mode with my family. They were gracious, but it was good to come back to myself at the end of it. One day I’ll really write.

3. I tried my hardest to keep blog posts short and pithy and clever, in the style of other blogs I read. But I just couldn’t. Short blog posts aren’t really me. That’s okay though, because I learned that those who have trouble writing short blogs are probably better suited to writing a book. Writing a book! That’s a fun thought.

4. I needed the words I wrote. I can’t tell you how much junk God brought up in my heart as I shared the things I’ve learned. It’s as if He was gently reminding me, The learning never stops, Julie. You write these things as one who’s still in process. I’m so glad He did it, because it’s always, always worth it to face the hurt and sin in my heart. Repentance and healing happened, and November truly feels more peaceful as a result.

5. Finally, my very, very favorite part of the challenge was talking with you about the series all month. Thank you to those of you who brought it up in emails, texts, conversation. You all help me learn by processing what you’re learning and you encourage me to keep on going. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without you. I love this little community.

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To read this series of blog posts, click here.



day 31: resources for purposeful simplicity.

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Well friends, we made it. Thank you very, very much for journeying along with me this month, through peeling back layers of noise to find a quiet heart, through applying Purposeful Simplicity to different areas of life. It’s truly been a pleasure.

I leave you with just a few of the resources that have helped me move me toward a life of Purposeful Simplicity. I highly recommend all of them. Happy end-of-October!

Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller

Sensing Jesus, Zack Eswine

The Nesting Place, MyQuillyn Smith

One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp

Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne

A Praying Life, Paul Miller

The Mitford Series, Jan Karon

the novels of Marilynne Robinson, particularly Gilead, Home, and Lila

Lara Casey’s Powersheets goal-setting system

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day 30: simply bible study.

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Sometimes the hardest thing about reading my Bible every day is not knowing where to begin. So I thought I’d tell you about my very simple Bible reading plan this year, which David shared with our church a few months back.

We’re reading through the letters of Paul in the New Testament, and if you read two chapters a day you can read all of his letters 8 times in a year. Here’s how it works:

There are two lists to read from each day, the first is Romans – 2 Corinthians, and the second list is Galatians – Philemon. I started by putting a bookmark at Romans 1 and Galatians 1 and reading a chapter from each a day. When I finish list one (i.e. arrive at the end of 2 Corinthians, I begin the list again).

Sound confusing? It’s really not. Because the lists are uneven in length, you’ll never read the same two chapters together. I’m loving this plan because of it’s simplicity, it’s brevity, and because of all the unity to be found in Paul’s writing.

I though I’d go ahead and tell you how I spend my “quiet time,” not because it’s the only way to go about it, but sometimes hearing what someone else does sparks an idea in your own mind.

I do my Bible readings with a cup of coffee and notebook in hand, and choose a verse or two each day to copy out when I’m done. This makes me slow down and reflect on what I’m reading. I’m always surprised at how often the verses I copy are exactly the truth I need to hear that day.

After this, I pray. My prayer life was revolutionized when I started writing out my prayers. This works for me because I love writing and it helps me concentrate. I either do this in my notebook or on my laptop in a Word document. I don’t over-spiritualize my prayers: praying is just talking to Jesus. I tell Him about my life, the highs and the lows. I thank Him for his gifts. I ask Him for help — for me and for other people. I ask Him to weave the words I read that morning into my heart and make them apart of me so I will be more like Him.

I love my time with Jesus now, I look forward to it, I go to bed earlier and wake up earlier for it. It’s my lifeline.

I close with a word to moms of very young kids who are just trying to snatch what sleep they can get — forget waking early for Bible reading. Way back when I had two kids under two years old and was in the same boat, my counselor told me, “Julie, just choose a verse a day and if you can, copy it out on a note card. Hang it above your kitchen sink and let that reading be your quiet time. This isn’t about checking something off a list; it’s about spending time with Jesus throughout the day.” That was immensely comforting to my harried, exhausted soul.

My prayer for you today is that you come to know your need to spend regular time with Jesus and that you find great joy and help in it.

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day 29: purposeful simplicity is spending time with jesus.

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We’ve talked all month long about Purposeful Simplicity and some of the barriers that keep us from it. I’m learning that the one vital thing that helps me remember my purpose is spending time with Jesus.

There are voices all around me and voices inside of me beckoning, tugging me away from Purposeful Simplicity: telling me there’s no happiness to be found there, no joy, no fulfillment. They tell me I need to prove my worth by how I look and who I know and what I do. They tell me to compare myself to women around me to make sure I’m doing better. They tell me there’s no way God’s Word is relevant to what concerns me here and now in 2014.

But they’re wrong. Those voices are dead-end streets, promising many things and delivering emptiness and heartache.

In the end the problem isn’t with the voices; it’s with my own heart which so desperately grasps at anything that will give me comfort and a sense that I’m somebody special. My heart is like a writhing, tantruming toddler, demanding what I want and totally blind to what I need.

And so my heart needs help. It needs help every single day. It needs to pour out all these burdens and desires and dead-end-road stories to Jesus. And then it needs be still and listen, because God’s voice is quiet and He will never force Himself on me. That’s not the way He works. His love is gentle — not like the other voices that bombard me and clamor for my attention. His love is patient and He will wait. But I won’t experience the blessing of hearing Him if my heart is noisy.

I can make a plan, I can become organized, I can research and learn. But in the end none of it will work without the One True voice.

That’s where I find a life of rest. That’s where I find Purposeful Simplicity.

I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free. – Psalm 119.32

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day 28: purposeful simplicity is learning who I am.

Yesterday I wrote about finding contentment in knowing my place.

One way to find that contentment in the here and now is through learning who I am.

It’s so funny, in my late teens and early twenties I would’ve told you I dreaded my thirties. Getting older sounded so . . . boring. I felt like fun needed to be had as quickly as possible before I got old.

Isn’t that silly? The greatest surprise so far of my thirties is how much I enjoy getting older. Sure life has way more responsibility know. But lately I see so much value in growing up.

I’m not quite 33 years old, but thus far my thirties have found me living in a new kind of settledness. I think it’s about me learning: 1. Who I am, and, 2. Finding peace with who I am rather than trying to be someone else. It’s about me letting go of what others think about me. Now I’m excited to see how much more settled I’ll be in my forties and fifties and beyond. I hope I never stop growing and changing and becoming more settled in Christ.

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I’ve begun to learn to take responsibility for my own well-being. I’ve begun to learn not to lose myself in motherhood but to be my own separate, unique, growing person. I’ve begun to give my husband freedom to do the same. I’ve begun to learn how to be fun. Doing this has the benefit of helping me love my family even more. It also inspires our kids to see their parents enjoying life and being interesting people rather than racing around catering to their every whim.

This is a process, friends. Some of it has happened through suffering, through God taking away things I thought I needed to give me what I really need. Some of it is finding people I look up to, who are living quiet, interesting lives at peace with who they are. Finding someone who lives in that settledness is a beautiful thing. I ask them lots of questions. I learn from the lessons they’ve learned.

Some of it has happened through trial and error. I’ve tried out ministry and failed at it. I’ve tried it and been able to do it but found it draining. And then other things I’ve tried and loved.

The same is true with hobbies. I read an article about how the very act of trying new things regularly stretches our brains and makes us healthy. So I both want to continue hobbies I love (like reading and writing), and regularly try new things (like crochet or camping). Even uncomfortable things, like public speaking, have allowed me victory over fears and I have a greater peace with the person God made me, and also the way He helps me take risks.

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David and I are in a season of wanting to have fun with our friends. Intense spiritual conversations are valuable, but what about going bowling or going to the movies or a day at the zoo? It’s deciding to play a game together instead of turning on the TV. It’s taking a break from a myriad of house projects to go see a matinee with our kiddos. We’re learning that shared experiences add to our memory banks and that laughter is good medicine.

For me part of learning who I am is not taking myself so seriously. I’m a perfectionist and want to get everything right the first time. Which, clearly, does not happen. So I’m in a process of learning to laugh at my own self-introspection and lighten up a little.

It’s also learning my personality style and living within those natural limits. I’m such an introvert that after an evening out I most certainly need an evening in to read and go to bed early. After a couple busy days filled with people, the kids and I need a whole quiet day at home where we don’t see anyone and just focus on being together. Finding peace with the personality God gave me brings rest and joy to my life.

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Finally, learning who I am means facing my weaknesses and asking for help. It’s realizing the ways I’m most tempted to sin and to believe lies, and seeking accountability and people who will speak truth to me. It’s accepting that parts of who I am need to change so I will be more like Jesus.

What are ways you’re learning who you are, right here and now?

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day 27: purposeful simplicity is knowing my place.

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. . . that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – I Tim. 2.2.

I’m coming to learn that a life of Purposeful Simplicity is understanding my place in the world and finding contentment in it.

I think most people — especially women — bristle at any reference to “knowing our place” because it’s reminiscent of the 1950’s propaganda that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

That is not what I’m talking about. But. It may be a little what I’m talking about.

Let me explain.

We’re fed the belief from all around us that we can have it all and that we should have it all right now. We should have an awesome marriage (if we want to be married) and healthy, talented children, and a great house, and a job that’s fulfilling. We should get to pursue our dreams.

The form this message takes in the Christian world is the push to “make an impact” or “change the world.” I understand that the sentiment behind these phrases is for us to look outside ourselves and reach others. But sometimes in focusing on changing the world we can start focusing on making a name for ourselves. We can strive for a bigger and better ministry than God wants to give us. We can forget that following Christ is leading a peaceful and quiet life, being faithful in the little ways that no-one notices.

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Not all of us get to have awesome marriages. Not all of our ministries are successful and growing. Not all of us have healthy and talented and thriving kids. Most of us wouldn’t say we live in our dream house or even that our job is always fulfilling. Some of us are involved in the, let’s face it, very mundane work of keeping house and raising children. Life seems to throw constant curve balls and just when we take a step forward financially we seem to take two steps back.

We can begin to feel like this isn’t what we signed up for, this isn’t our “happily ever after,” that this isn’t “making an impact.” We can be frustrated and bored and unfulfilled. We can look ahead to a better season of life when we really get to pursue what we want.

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I know I’ve felt that way. If you asked me 12 years ago, graduate school was a non-negotiable. It wasn’t “if” I’d go, but “when.” But I got married and needed to work so we could have health benefits while David did ministry. A couple years later I got accepted to a graduate program in Philadelphia, then got pregnant with Judah and decided to be a stay-at-home-mom. We’ve considered grad school on and off over the years but I’ve never felt a deep-down peace about it.

So I’ve set aside my dream — maybe forever — for the dream that God has for me. Of following my husband in ministry and being home for my kids. And yes, actually this new dream very much involves my place being in the kitchen. I’ve chafed and resented this at different points, but lately I’ve come to find peace in it. It’s the place God has for me. Why am I striving for more?

I love to write and to blog, but have a very specific sense that this is not the time to promote my blog. I don’t regularly check my stats. I don’t promote it on social media. I don’t think those things are wrong, but deep down I know they’re wrong for me right now. They’re striving beyond the place God has for me in this season. He’s given me this opportunity to write, but He’s said, “Your place is to be small and to find freedom in being small.”

I love to do ministry and have intentional relationships with women, but because I’m homeschooling two grades I can do very little of that right now. My mentor said to me, “Julie, there will be years when you have time and space to pursue women; now is not that time. Will you accept that? Will you accept that God can use other people to disciple women right now and that He wants to use you in a different way, in your home with your family?”

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I share these specifics in my life, but of course  your place may be completely different. That’s the beauty of how God made us all.

Maybe you’re a working mom, and so your place is accepting that you can’t be really involved in your kids’ school or in many other friendships right now.

Maybe you have very young babies and your place means you have to say “no” to regular serving in church.

Maybe your marriage is struggling and your place is to accept the struggle and reach out and ask for help.

Maybe your husband works crazy hours and your place is knowing you can’t practice hospitality in this season of life because you need any family time you can get.

Maybe you’d love to go to graduate school but have a sense that you shouldn’t be taking out more student loans, so you wait until a season when you can afford it.

Maybe your place is finding contentment in plodding along in a mediocre job, working hard to get out of debt before you pursue your dream career.

I think having dreams is fun and good. But demanding dreams is bad. Pining for dreams can be bad. It makes us miss the gifts and the calling God has for us here and now. It can make us miss a life of purpose.

God offers so much freedom and fulfillment if we humble ourselves and accept our place, if we accept that our lives and our families may very well look unremarkable to the world and that’s okay.

We find freedom when we accept that there are dreams we may never get to see realized. We find freedom when we give to God the unfulfilled places in our life and let Him fill us up with Himself. I think this sort of simple acceptance is the path to joy.

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day 23: community.

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The best way I know to forge ahead with a life of Purposeful Simplicity is by doing it in community.

I don’t think any one thing has changed me as much as living and growing and learning in a community of Purposefully Simple people. Here are a few thoughts about this kind of community:

1. You have to seek it out.
Even if you’re surrounded by people modeling Purposeful Simplicity, you have to intentionally seek out these relationships. Usually purposeful simple people aren’t flashy, they aren’t broadcasting their life choices for others to see. They don’t do that because they don’t need outside affirmation to be at peace with where God has them.

I learn purposeful simplicity from a wide variety of sources, not just one person, and I look first in places where my path naturally crosses with others’: my family, my church, my neighborhood, the kids’ home school friends. That way I’m already running into these folks and able to have snatches of conversation naturally without adding to an already full schedule. I think this is what it means to find your community: community is the people around you.

Rather than formally asking people to meet together or mentor you, use the little natural bits of time when you see each other. That’s living with purpose. The best way to draw people out is to ask lots of questions, and then listen. Share with someone, “I’m learning about this, how does it look in your life?”

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2. Look in unlikely places
You will need to look in unlikely places for the kind of friends to help you on your journey. They typically aren’t attention-getters and they’re often overlooked, even in the Christian world. They’re humbly living for Jesus day by day. They may be way older than you or way younger or in a season of life wholly different than yours. They may not be eloquent or dress like you or create Pinterest-worthy quotes. But the great difference is they’re living it out. You can watch them, it’s in the little everyday choices. There’s much power in finding friends like this because it’s the little choices that make a life.

3. You may have to start it.
Have you considered that you may be the one to influence others toward a Purposeful Simple life? If not, think about it. Now, what I’m not saying is to be the broadcaster and the opinion-giver when no-one’s asking for your opinion. I’m saying, if you’re living as a learner and growing and being changed, and most of all if God is filling you up with peace and joy, then that’s attractive to other people. Look around at people who you can share what you’re learning with in different areas of life. Read the same blog posts. Listen to the same podcasts. And then discuss what you’ve learned. Take this journey together.

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4. Remember where you’ve come from.
We don’t judge folks who aren’t in the same place on this journey, because we always remember where we’ve come from, and how far we still have to go. We spend much more time confessing and repenting of our own failings and learning new habits than in critically examining the people around us. In our Purposefully Simple community, we live as a fellow-learners, not as the teachers who have all the answers.

In this blog series I’ve become painfully aware, over and over, how much I need the very words I’m writing. Just ask my husband or friends. I don’t write as one who has arrived, but as one who’s learning, in fits and starts, right along with you. There’s freedom in understanding this rather than trying to hold together my image as a “teacher.”

5. You should be friends with all different people, but who influences you?
Of course we can’t surround ourselves with people who feel the same way about Purposeful Simplicity and shut out the rest of the world. We all have people in our life who think very differently. I think this is one of the biggest gifts and also obstacles to Purposeful Simplicity.

I can’t tell you how many friends I have who are caught up in the American rat race of more, busier, and better because they’re looking at their family, their neighbors, fellow parents at their kids’ school. They are looking at the wrong friends. If all you have is one kind of voice speaking to you, that voice will shape you. So don’t necessarily cut those friends out (unless the relationship is just plain unhealthy), but let the voices that you listen to be different.

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6. You are going to have to open up.
If you want to make any progress on this journey, you’re going to have to be transparent. This comes easier for some of us than others. I just don’t think our learning turns into real growth unless we open up to other people about where we are and let them speak into our lives. That’s what God created the Church for. We can’t do this on our own.

I’d venture a guess that if you even opened up to some of the “wrong voices” I mentioned above, you may find more people like you than you realize, who deep down are weary and burdened by going with the flow, who long for the wide open spaces and fresh air of a Purposefully Simple life. It’s worth a try.

7. Finally, if you struggle to find a human community that feels the way you do right now, don’t despair. Pray for one, but in the meantime keep surrounding yourself with podcasts and blogs and books by people you look up to. Process them through writing or talking to just one person. In my life, you all, my blog readers, form part of my community. I love your comments, your own blog posts, your emails and our conversations about Purposeful Simplicity. I love learning from you.

 

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