Monday, March 16, 2015

pursuit of minimalism

Since moving from my home state in 2013, most of my social life has moved from face-to-face to strictly internet updates and occasional phone calls. As I launched into social media full-time (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and recently started a Twitter), I became quickly disillusioned. I began to quickly feel disconnected and lonely. Then, came the trials of life, disappointments, and failing health. The loneliness gripped me more intensely. Life seemed to stop for me. All of my pursuits ended in closed doors. A lot of my friends were experiencing big and wonderful changes in their lives. As for me, I sat at home, watching the seasons slowly change and hearing the monotonous tick of the clock from sunrise to sunset. I have had nothing but time on my hands and, yet, motivation and inspiration and joy remain far from me. As I watched myself drift along, my anxiety attacks became a constant companion, culminating in a trip to the E.R. last month. The isolation, the lack of purpose and movement, no productive occupation - all of it has borne down upon me. To say I have been cynical, jaded, depressed, and bitter is an understatement. Some days, I am all those things and more. The most frustrating part was not being able to accurately and fully share this with my friends abroad. I mean, who writes status updates like this? I reminded myself that I could always just call and share with them where I am at. However, being the type of person that is somewhat of a nervous phone-caller [only my very closest family and maybe one or two friends do I feel comfortable talking with over phone], I avoid the phone altogether. Perhaps, the most significant reason why I have avoided my friends: shame. But most of my friends didn't even bother to call me anyway. That is a subject for another post, though, as I sift through what I have processed from this past year. Nevertheless, I must be honest...I have never felt more miserable in all my life as I have during this season. In the midst of my misery, I have been overwhelmed by social media. I am guilty of playing the comparison game as I have watched nearly everyone (even people I don't even know or didn't even know existed until recently) win the lottery at life. 

  Successful businesses, intimate community of friends, the ultimate marriages, the most adorable wardrobes, life-long creative dreams becoming realized, landing the greatest jobs, and even terrific testimonies of the Lord providing the biggest and most lavish surprises!

  Honestly, it's like watching your Pinterest boards come to life and attach itself to everyone except you. 

  Recently, my husband and I were discussing the topic of connection with social media. Clearly, the constant connection with everyone is becoming more of a disconnection. In addition, we're all busy bees just living vicariously through the lives of others. My husband pointed out how crippling this kind of "connection" is on a local level. It hinders us from really making a difference in where we are at because we're so preoccupied with what's going on with everyone else in everywhere else. My husband even drew this example further and tied it to how the news media keeps us all connected to random, mostly trivial and insignificant events in other countries. Even here in the U.S., someone in California gets to be updated on some random burglary in New York City. Who cares? Apparently Americans do because we eat it up like gluttons. There's something addictive to knowing what's going on in the lives of others, whether negative or positive. Sometimes, those events that are totally unrelated to our lives stir up a larger force than is necessary. For example, the Ferguson 2014 shooting. Whatever your opinion is on the matter doesn't matter because whatever happened in Ferguson, Missouri should stay only in Ferguson, Missouri. The loss of anyone's life is tragic, regardless of whoever they may be. Yet, we would be wise to stay out of business that doesn't concern us, as well as things we know absolutely nothing about (unless one plans on moving where such events have taken place and become involved in the local community - but, no, we'd rather just sit back comfortably into our chairs and shoot out our opinions via social media!). Since when has humanity ever taken the side of wisdom and learned that lesson? It's human nature to meddle. Whatever happens in small counties across the U.S. or the remote plains of Africa always concerns us and even though we don't live there or know anything about the people or the situation, we suddenly need to be informed and have a strong opinion on everything pertaining to every single event. Suddenly, we become disconnected from our own neighborhoods, our own towns, our own cities. We don't care about the events happening in our backyard (good or bad) because our minds are so distracted by what's happening everywhere else. As a result, our own towns and cities fail to be given the very best that their citizens have to give because we are a very distracted bunch of people.

  It's disgusting and tragic that this is where we are at. We allow ourselves to becomes slaves of the media (whether social media or news media) rather than using it as a tool for the good of ourselves and others, as my husband so wisely stated.

  So, what is the solution to this problem? For me, personally, it has been wrestling with this concept of minimalism. Recently, I have been so overwhelmingly inspired by the blog, Becoming Minimalist. I resonate with so many of Joshua Becker's posts and am so thankful someone is brave enough to step out and live and speak on minimalism here in the U.S. Minimalism is such a vast concept because it entails an entire way of living. It is holistic, I suppose you could say, since it leaves no ground uncovered. It covers the whole of a person's existence. I started my journey towards minimalism last summer when I began selling household items. Initially, I was merely saving up to buy myself a decent camera, but what I didn't realize is how addicted I would become to getting rid of unnecessary items in my life. Suddenly, most everything I owned lost its meaning and purpose. If they were gifts, I didn't lose the memories. The memories are not in the item, but rather in the person. Slowly, one thing after another, I began saying goodbye to a good majority of my earthly goods. Our one bedroom apartment finally became a comfortable one-bedroom apartment rather than an over-stuffed one-bedroom apartment. There is a freedom that I cannot quite describe that comes along with living on less. You don't experience it immediately. It kind of sneaks up on you and, suddenly, you realize that this is the kind of life you want to live. In addition to this, with living away from my closest family and friends, it dawned on me how much more of value they are to me than living a luxurious and well-furnished life. Obviously, they have always been my everything, but I didn't realize just how much they are truly my everything in this life. That is one of the reasons I bought a camera, to be able to capture memories of them every chance that I get to visit them. Their smiles, their presence. Those are the things that I want to adorn my life with. With another potential move this summer, I am envisioning what my and my husband's new apartment will look like and I have only one decor pursuit in mind: photos! Photos everywhere! Naturally, displaying them artistically will be important, but I want the faces of everyone I love on the walls of where I live. I want that daily reminder that they are, and will always be, the best gifts I have in this life.

  In constant pursuit of a minimalist lifestyle, I asked myself, "how can I transfer this to my social media/online life?" I have been so burdened by the constant noise and distraction that social media brings to my life. I am in a constant love-hate war with it. So, I have asked myself what I do love about it. The people I know - the people that care to know me. The ideas that I want to implement into my life. The pages that inspire me in my pursuit of minimalism and things of value. Slowly, I have begun chipping away at the amount of pages or people I follow via Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. I deleted my Twitter when I realized that it didn't appeal to me much and hardly anyone I know is on there. My goal has been to follow less than 50 pages/people on my accounts. One of my biggest pet peeves has seen some friends following 300 or 500+ people and pages. Really? Do they even read every single one of those updates from those pages? I highly doubt it. As a result, they end up missing the updates from the friends they do know because their friends' updates are drowned in the massive sea of updates. Sadly, I know the feeling of never being seen on my social media accounts because that has happened to me countless number of times. A few friends of mine would completely miss important things I wanted them to read or view because they are following 500+ pages and only happen to check their account every other day or so. Well, if you aren't checking your account every hour, clearly you will never see what someone posted yesterday because you are following 500 other accounts that are daily (sometimes hourly) posting updates. Our social media newsfeeds are blown up with a bunch of updates that don't enhance our lives nor do they concern us. It's ridiculous. I wish people would just realize how absolutely silly this all is, but sometimes we are so busy allowing ourselves to be distracted. I understand how tempting that distraction is because I, too, have allowed myself to do that time and again. 
  As I will continue to decrease the amount of pages and people I follow on all my social media platforms, it allows me the freedom to focus solely on those that I do love to follow or those whom I personally know. While I stopped using Facebook last year to follow friends (I deleted it and then created a new one just to follow pages), I became aware that I missed hearing from and sharing with a few people that are only on Facebook. I plan to return to Facebook soon but will only add a very small amount of friends. One of my other pet peeves is adding people just because they requested to be my friend. These people could be individuals that I had met and known during the duration of my college years, or when I went to Bible school, or wherever. Or, they could be relatives that I had known at one point in my life but have never talked to or seen in person in the past 10 years. They could also be a friend or family of a mutual friend. Sorry, but just because we know the same person doesn't mean that you and I actually want to invest in talking with one another. If you want to become my actual friend, that takes a lot of time, not just following and liking and commenting on my updates. And, lastly, this one irks me the most - when someone requests to be your friend after they saw a mutual friend "like" or commented on a big eventful update you posted. Thank you, Facebook, for letting people who aren't on my friends list see my updates through our mutual friends. Ugh. When I got married two years ago, I had a lot of marriage updates and wedding photos on my Facebook. Suddenly, people I had been briefly acquainted with years before started requesting to be my friend. I even had a relative want to add me, who has never reached out to talk to or see me after years. Although I had pursued them in my younger years I was always met with silence and flakiness. *facepalm* *facepalm* *facepalm* While it may offend or cause people to wonder why I won't accept their friend requests, it doesn't bother me anymore to ignore requests. If it isn't obvious to them why we shouldn't be "friends," then there's nothing I can about that. It's about time that someone use social media correctly instead of becoming a slave to its every suggested friend and page.

My encouragement to myself is that I do not have to be distracted unless I choose to be. 

  It seems so simple and obvious and, yet, how easily and quickly we lose self-control. But the pursuit of minimizing the unnecessary in every part of life is worth it. That is what I am finding from day to day. When I stop putting my time into "catching up" on the lives of people I don't really know anymore (or never knew) and stop investing in relationships that have evolved, changed, and drifted away, I realize that I have more time and energy to love the handful of people I do know. Also, in pursuing minimalism, it has dawned on me that it truly is O.K. to let people and things go. It doesn't have to be done in bitterness or disappointment. Life is very much like the changing of seasons. Some things remain, some things leave. Yet, it is also good to mourn and grieve those hard and sad changes. The first 25 years of my life were marked by constant things. But near the end of those years, many changes came along and most of them were very difficult. Those changes brought an end to the life I once knew, but they also ushered me into a new one. Now, I can say that I have entered into an entirely different and entirely new season. To my own astonishment, I have found that beginnings are just as hard as endings. I don't know where I am going in this new chapter. I want to hold onto everything from the old, but am slowly learning to let go and to travel a little more lightly and with more focus into this next season.  This is what minimalism is teaching me.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reflections from February

February came and went. 28 short days.

My February this year was filled with every emotion in the book. All that is lovely and all that is messy. It's my birth month. My wedding anniversary. Golden memories.

Now February holds a new first ever trip to the emergency room.

I hope others catch my sarcasm when I talk about spending the week of my 26th birthday in the E.R.

Panic and anxiety attacks are not something to make light of, I know. One day, I will see how unfounded my fears and worries of this season have been. One day.

In this season of my life, there have been present cares and anxieties intermingled with the precious memories.

Just let it be. Let it be.

That's what I am learning. Letting all that is not okay, not pretty, and not happy just settle down into my day and coexist with the things that once were. The transition from 25 to 26 has been challenging, painful, and heartbreaking, and yet filled with more grace than I ever thought was possible. Amazing grace how sweet the sound! The grace of Christ is larger and sweeter than I have ever know before. All of me is broken, unstable, and fading. I am not always mentally well. My body hasn't worked the same ever since it was plagued by chronic stress and heartbreaks. My heart is often downcast. Yet my soul feels closer to heaven - to the Home that I am traveling to - the arms of my Abba. Whatever my 26th year brings, may His grace abound evermore.

The losers, the ones lost in the labyrinth of life, lost wandering in the maze of life, are the ones made amazing – by the One who solves the mazes of life.
You don’t need higher self-esteem.
You need greater self-grace — that comes from the depths of His grace.
Amazing grace in your self-talk — makes everything amazing.
And it all comes round like a circle — His grace that you accept for yourself — is the same grace you then extend to others — which then graciously circles
back to you.
// Ann Voskamp //

  I don't have this grace thing down very well. For years I was a nazi, a triumphant soldier of legalism. Judging, always judging. Always quick to point out all that was "less than" and "not enough" - in others and in myself. I was attracted to ministries, groups, books, and sermons that pushed, pushed, pushed. More, more, more.

When I say that I have changed, I sincerely mean it. Only God and myself know the drastic transformation that has fully occurred in my thought-habits and my heart.

Before, I wanted to talk about the "deeper, victorious Christian life" and all the self-denying paths we must walk to get closer to God and experience deeper intimacy with Him.

Nowadays, I want to talk about Grace and how that is drawing me more intimately to Him even when my thoughts, behavior, and actions rarely reflect a "sold-out" and "victorious" Christian. Grace, so freeing and comforting. Grace. It makes me feel safe and honest with my Jesus.

So, to end another monthly post...I am sharing my favorite snapshots from this past month. I am still learning the ins and outs of my DSLR [and editing!] and it frustrates me because I want to be "better" at it, but even in photography...I find Grace.

I have an unofficial tradition of putting on my wedding dress every anniversary and taking pretty pictures. I need pretty. Like, all the time. My husband doesn't get it. That's okay. ^_^

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

[two full years]

 Two full years. That's how long it has been since we exchanged vows and said "I do." I still remember driving to his apartment with him after the wedding reception and thinking, "I'm a wife now! And we are going home to our apartment!" 

Two full years of marriage to the man who was my first-ever kiss, my protector, my real-life fairytale, and has continually proven to be my dearest friend.

I have always dreamed of a lone ranger with untamed, passionate youth, yet full of wisdom that comes from age and experience. From the moment we first met, I knew he was a man so unlike all the others. It was "love at first sight" for both of us, yet it took two years (ahem! Took him two years...) to finally confess it to each other. I love our story because it reminds me that the Lord delights in giving the most magical surprises. 

Nolan was a surprise in every single way.

He first entered my life five months after a painful betrayal of a friendship with a young man that I had originally thought there was potential in. It was a humbling experience, but I had yet to come to full forgiveness even five months after it all came to an end. Then, here came Nolan..."friending" me on Facebook at the request of my cousin (who was obviously still in the match-making business, haha! ;)). My cousin had told me just three months earlier that this guy she knew in New Mexico had come to the Lord and had called to share with her the story of his new life. I remember vividly the day she told me a friend of her's at come to the Lord. I was sitting in the grass of the college campus that I had been attending, still heartbroken and still trying to figure my life out. It made me smile when I saw her texting me this news on my phone. I sensed a comforting confirmation that the Lord was truly still at work in this world even in the midst of much failure and heartbreak. Five months later, this young man and I were getting to know little snippets of one another on Facebook, of all places!! I recall our first mini-conversation was regarding Scripture. Shortly after, he and I discovered we both enjoyed blogging. Reading his blog was a way for me to get to know his thoughts a little more. However, at this point, I was busy preparing to leave to a Bible retreat/school for 11 weeks over the summer. I was seeking renewal in my relationship with Christ after the previous year's heartbreak and the last thing I could bear was another "potential" in my life in regards to a relationship. 

Was I deeply attracted to Nolan at this point? You can sure bet I was! 

He was handsome [that smile, those blue eyes...swoon!] articulate, clearly loved Scripture and the Lord, a thinker-type, reserved, and held good manners.

But I just couldn't bear it. I wanted it all to stop. My heart couldn't take it. 

  I meant to never speak to him again for, at least, three months (as I had made plans to deactivate my Facebook that summer and only write letters to a few close girlfriends and family). I thought, maybe he will have forgotten me by then. Then, in my inbox arrived an unexpected email from Nolan. In the email he requested the address of the retreat I would be attending so that he could write me. My heart fell and then soared! Now, I would be distracted all summer long by this young man while I was trying to renew my relationship with the Lord! I heartily confess that I can be an obnoxious hyper-spiritual sort of person. I couldn't comprehend how a friendship with a man could actually draw me unto the Lord because I didn't think it was possible due to my past experience. 
  From June, our letters began and even as I excitedly awaited each one during that long summer, I began to see how pure his intentions towards me were. In all of my communications with Nolan from the beginning of our friendship, he never once flirted with me [I don't believe we actually flirted until we were engaged, which is most amusing!]. He never once led me on. He always asked me simple questions, nothing ever deeply personal. I never felt that he was asking me to unveil my heart. He simply regarded me as a friend. I have said before that if anyone were to read all our handwritten letters and our emails, no one would find anything terribly interesting or romantic in them because all the letters read just like anything you would find from a friend writing to a friend. Although it was so difficult for me to spend two years slowly building a friendship with a man I was head-over-heels in love with yet couldn't ever express it to, I am genuinely thankful for that period of time of not-knowing and taking things slowly and waiting on the Lord and Nolan. 

I did not do anything to make our relationship come about. I simply took one step after the other, learning the painful art of trusting that there would be a place for my foot to fall after each step. I confess that I had much fear and anxiety in me during intervals of that time, especially because there were also many hard and grieving things occurring in my life at home that I had yet to have answers in, either. Every morning, I awoke to unanswered questions and I spent many days walking through each one.

The February that he came to visit and first expressed his heart to me was all the more lovely because of those two years of silently waiting and aching.
 Then, the following February, we were enjoying a quiet and simple wedding next to a field of blooming peach trees.

It was magical. All those memories of our budding romance seem to have a haze of golden light around them in my mind. But when I call it magical, I mean that it was all Spirit-led. Not due to my own worth. I was not pure-hearted or doing all the "right" things through our friendship. It was totally the Lord's doing. He chose to bless me, to bless us, with a gift of something that we could never ever take credit for. This, our marriage, it is a gift. Even after two years, during financial and job struggles, moving to a new state, experiencing massive heartbreaks and disappointments, being isolated not by choice, and so many varied valley-lows and mountain-top-highs. It is all a gift, even when I cannot see it. And there were many events that happened towards the end of our first year and into our second year that I cannot see or accept as gifts. To me, those event ruined my marital bliss. Yet, I now understand all of those things are teaching me Grace at deeper and deeper levels. And Grace is always what brings renewal in my marriage, come what may!

God never promises that just because a marriage begins easy and fairytale-like that it will remain that way, at least not all the time. He means us to walk through everything we could possibly walk through together. Only then, years away from now, will we have battled every battle that gifts us with the understanding and the humility to Love as sacrificially as He loves. I hope I learn to appreciate that God's "fairytales" are more colorful and massive and far-reaching. Certainly, they will always end in "happily ever after" because He shall be the one we meet at the end of our days here on our earth and that is the happiest happily-ever-after that shall ever be! Being married has made me even more desirous that day, that very moment, when faith and hope will fade because Love will be present.

On a humorous note, while I thought I was undergoing the cruel torture during those two years of waiting for an answer....little did I know until later how long Nolan's mother was waiting for her son to make a move and "just say something!" to me. Apparently, after the first time he and I met in person [about 7 months after we had first met online and had been writing], he went to visit and parents and told his mother, "She is way out of my league." Then, he continued to give his mother further impressions that he thought nothing could ever happen between us. Nevertheless, a mother's love always knows and she kept affirming and encouraging him in small, subtle ways. Today, that same mother is now a dear friend and a second mother to me. Gifts and grace abounding.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

transitioning to the new year & photo project

 January was a strange transitional month. Much of myself is still stuck in the previous year, always filtering and analyzing my life. Now that February has arrived, I sense a little more courage in myself to step into this new year. 

I have taken on myself a little blogging project. At the beginning of each month, I hope to post photos taken from the month before. These images I took throughout the month of January with my DSLR camera and, then, I edited them with Photoshop Lightroom 5. I am so thankful I finally have these tools to begin enjoying small and personal artistic endeavors. 

I know now that I can make it through more than I thought, with less than I thought. I know better than to believe that the changes are over, and I know better than to believe the next ones will be easier, but I've learned the hard way that change is one of God's greatest gifts and one of his most useful tools. 

// Shauna Niequist //

 // 01/30/15 // It snowed today. A gentle and quiet surprise. //
 In seasons of hiddenness our sense of value is disrupted, stripped of what "others" affirmed us to be. In this season God intends to give us an unshakeable identity in Him, that no amount of adoration nor rejection can alter. 
// Alicia Britt Chole //


I was gripped by a fierce nostalgia before and during the capture of this last image. Then, the thought came to me, when will the colors of my life's seasons merge to create this kind of glory?

New Mexico has a startling, wild beauty. I could not settle here, but I have enjoyed its landscapes.

Whenever it snows, I think of this poem by Sara Teasdale:

I stood beside a hill 
Smooth with new-laid snow 
A single star looked out 
From the cold evening glow 
There was no other creature 
That saw what I could see 
I stood and watched the evening star 
As long as it watched me.

Beautiful images, words, poetry, and songs. I'm committed to keeping these beautiful things always in the forefront of my life. I feel a soft joy in collecting these things, a chance to be wholly myself.