Financial Clutter

In the continuing quest to remove clutter from my life, I’ve been putting a lot of thought as to how to apply this to my finances. What exactly constitutes financial clutter? My first thought is an obvious one…credit cards. These little con-artists hide in your wallet or purse, trying to convince you that you can afford that thing in front of you, or that unbudgeted meal out, or that vacation you really “need”. This leads to a greater accumulation of things along with a greater accumulation of debt. Clutter abounds and peace disappears. You end up awake at night under the great weight of “how did it get this bad?” When I operate on a cash-only basis (pay all my bills the day I get my paycheck, then remove my budgeted money for groceries in cash) I know exactly what I have on hand to spend. Either I have it in my purse or I don’t. No conning myself into charging it. I dwell in peace. credit cards The next financial clutter-fighter is to re-examine your definition of “wants” vs “needs”. If your finances need de-cluttering…focus on needs only. When you get in a habit of overspending, it so easily snowballs. You start off buying extra things at the grocery store, then you are eating out when you can’t afford to, followed by pedis you “need” (when you have all the stuff to do it at home except the fancy massage chair); the next thing you know you are charging a week’s vacation because you really needed a break. What you don’t seem to remember is how you will feel when those bills roll in. There’s no vacation that will make those go away. Putting “wants” on a credit card is a great way to remain in debt forever. wants vs need Another side to that coin is putting “needs” on a credit card. If you are in the position where you are going into debt for basics like food and fuel for your car, you are not in a good place. Going into debt over necessities is a sign of the need for drastic change. Yes, you may have to spend some time eating cheaply and missing out on time with friends because you can’t afford it; but you have to regain the discipline of living within your means. No, it’s generally not fun; but it is WORTH it. Yes, there are instances of people who can handle credit cards…people who can pay them off every month or only use them for things like renting a car. If you can do this, fantastic. You already dwell in peace with your finances. If you find yourself in a cycle of maxing out your credit cards and then struggling to pay them off, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you hold your breath when you hand over your credit card at the check out because you aren’t sure you have enough room on there to buy bread, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you can’t look at amazon.com without making a purchase and then realize your purchase was never sent to you because your card was rejected, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you can’t remember the last time you paid your bills where it didn’t come with a panic attack and a need for an antacid, you need to de-clutter your finances. savings Savings. You may find what I’m about to say about savings surprising, but hear me out. Savings can either be a source of peace, or a source of stress. Seriously. When your savings account is a source of peace you view it as an emergency back up. It’s there for expected issues, like car repairs, that don’t fit into your monthly budget but hopefully don’t occur often enough that you can’t replenish your savings before the next one hits. But that’s the thing, most of us seem to get hit with one thing after another. Your almost 20 year old car needs new tires, then a new a/c switch, then a new timing belt; and the same week your 7 year old laptop decides its on its last legs. Your dog needs multiple trips to the vet in a month where everyone you know seems to have their birthday. There’s always something.

Yes, it is good to have money in savings; but we cannot depend on our savings to save us. We have a Savior. He has unlimited resources. We need to be responsible with our money; but ultimately we need to remember that He is the One who is taking care of us. We cannot lose our sense of peace because our savings are depleted and we don’t have room on our credit card. We must find our constant and consistent peace in Christ. He doesn’t waiver. He doesn’t ebb and flow with our need. He is our peace, even when we don’t know how we will get through. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. Sometimes it’s a long, hard haul; but we get there, if we stay diligent and dwell on what we have and not on what we don’t. The one thing we will always have is Jesus.

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Being

In 1976, Erich Fromm wrote a book called, “To Have or To Be?” It describes how true happiness can only be experienced if you live life focused on being (valuing experiences) instead of having (valuing things). Our society is focused on having, and therefore works constantly against us. If we lose sight of being, then we get caught up in acquiring and lose ourselves.

I tend to be an all or nothing person. Some describe behaviors as pendulums, swinging back and forth from one extreme to another. Mine seems to exist only at the two end points. My struggle tends to be finding a middle ground on which to land.

girl and grandfather clock

In this newness of developing and dwelling in a clutter-free existence, I am finding I have to work hard to carve out space. I’ll be doing well one week, a place for everything and everything in its place; but then I turn around and piles of junk mail and laundry seem to have taken back over my room. I set things down, intending to get to them later, and never do. It takes work. It takes a structured, scheduled time to perform the maintenance required to keep things clutter-free. Constancy and consistency.

This doesn’t apply only to the physical realm of my room. I need to apply the same scheduling and effort to my spiritual life. The looming expenses of life focus me back on the having. Just being with the Lord, hearing and meditating, gets lost in the clutter of my mind. To maintain the space to hear from God, to listen, to dwell in peace, I have to carve it out and keep it protected. The joy I find from creating is there waiting, but it never seems to take the priority when other things pop up. Circumstance conspires against me; I give in too easily. An extra 1/2 hour of sleep seems more needful until….

tea and view
…until I realize I’m awake all night with thoughts swirling around because I haven’t given myself that time to process things in the still and quiet. I became lost, once again, in my to-do list instead of guarding my quiet time to listen and to create and to be with my Jesus.

Then suddenly everything seems harder. Frustration makes dropping a pencil a catastrophic event.

Not all is lost. I know that. I’ve done well sticking to my 7 foods only meal plan. Another 11 lbs gone.

But I want the peace back. I don’t want that creative space I just found to slip away so soon. So I’m back with my figurative pick-axe, carving out some more time for thoughts and considerations…for listening and artistry. To focus on being and experiencing.

I need to find that dwelling place. The middle ground. And land firmly with both feet, planted.

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De-Clutter Your Food

The last year of my life has been about improving the livability of my life. I have worked to improve myself at my job and at home. I have worked to organize and simplify. I have stepped up into things that God has led me to, and opened my hand to release my plans to Him…and I have waited. I am still waiting on some things.

As I have waited I have tried to focus on doing everything I can to make the most of the lessons I am learning. I have seen the benefits of removing clutter and how it soothes my soul. I have reaped the benefits of spending time researching and teaching things I used to expect others to do for me. I am focusing on including creativity regularly in my life. While this is definitely still a work in progress, I know I am in the right place, doing the right thing.

Removing the clutter from my life has been of so much benefit, I wondered where I might benefit from applying this lesson that I hadn’t yet thought of. Sure, the garage and my room/office are obvious places to de-clutter; but there are other areas of my life that need work…areas that seem to always need work.

So I decided to see if I might apply this lesson of removing the clutter and creating space to my area of greatest weakness…food. My part of the refrigerator and pantry. My shopping list. My daily meals. Have you ever thought of such things as being cluttered? I hadn’t, until recently. Now it seems like a revelation.

cluttered pantry

My pantry shelf is a mess, filled with bits and pieces of items that have been in there for ages. Things I purchased because I had a coupon or it was on sale and I thought I might use them for for small group snacks or tea with friends or Christmas cookie projects with my sister’s kids; but that never happened. I have “just in case” items that are there for if I am sick or if I run short on groceries unexpectedly. A poor woman’s stockpile. If I look at them with my new, healthier, de-cluttering eyes…I see the stuff of distrust and unhealth. I have gluten-free thai noodle packs in case I get sick and there’s no one to help me. The stuff I bought with no real need for them are there because I’m afraid I won’t have the money at some point in the future to buy what I might need. The way that clutter in a garage or room points to the fact you don’t trust you will have what you need when you need it, my pantry items were saying the same thing. I gathered and held onto things that I might need because I feared. I feared they wouldn’t be there when I did need them.

My grocery list often spoke of the same thing. Everything on sale with a coupon that I could get the most of (not what I needed to meet my needs). I didn’t trust I would have enough.

So I have spent time decluttering this part of my life. I went through and threw out all the expired items. I gave away things that weren’t expired that I didn’t have any immediate plans for. And I de-cluttered my grocery list. I went back to the “7” plan, buying only the dietician approved chicken, eggs, whole grain bread (gluten free), sweet potatoes, spinach, apples, and avocados.

It sure simplifies things. I know exactly what I need and how much it will cost me every week. I am eating healthy foods without having to stress over counting calories or worrying about portions. I save money and eliminate waste because I only buy what I know I will eat by the end of the week. Nothing goes bad. (Except sometimes the avocados, because they have a sneaky way of being hard one day and overly ripe the next; but even that I’m getting better at determining!)

organized refrigerator

I also include a Sabbath break with my eating. During the week, I often face cravings (don’t we all?) but they are easier to deal with when I tell myself that if I’m still craving it on Sunday I can have that thing. I allow myself a Sabbath meal to be free to eat what I want, no guilt. (Just one meal, not a day of eating poorly or a weekend…as that tends to be much harder to walk away from when Monday comes around). One meal is easy. Half the time my cravings don’t last until the weekend, which gives me a better sense of self-control. The boundaries of the healthy groceries allow me to lose weight without focusing on what I can’t have (only on what I do have). My Sabbath meal reminds me that I am free to eat what I want, within boundaries…and that boundaries are for my own good. I see how negatively sugar affects me with so much more ease when I rarely have it. It makes it easier to choose to avoid it.

I find that I enjoy the food I do have. I enjoy my Sabbath meal more than I would if it were a frequent occurrence. And I enjoy trusting that God will provide for my needs. It’s no longer about me scraping by to take care of myself. It’s about being thankful for what I have and resting in the provision of God’s plan.

I wonder what other ways I can apply this?

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The Journey from Clutter to Creativity

The last few months I feel I’ve been on a quest. In an attempt to write a Bible study on how to live life with intent (to make and keep goals, to manage clutter and stay organized, to prioritize, to rest) I have been forced to walk out what I am learning and will soon teach.

For the most part, it has been good. I mean really good. I set goals for myself (those nagging things that have needed doing for the last year but I found every possible excuse to put them off). No more excuses. I had to reprioritize when I realized outside factors (namely the weather heating up earlier than I had hoped) were going to be a problem. I persevered through frustration and difficulty and not only completed the organization of the garage, but also of my room/office. I get a goofy grin on my face as I pass through the garage now and see the neatly stacked and numbered boxes. I re-enter my bedroom/office and the clutter that now is tucked away in decorative boxes has given way to space. This space acts like a balm to my soul, beckoning me in to peace.

decorative boxes

This space allows me the ease to enter into a time of quiet. It allows me to spend time in the Word. It allows me time to be creative. It seems suddenly easier to paint or sketch or write. As the clutter around me comes under control, the clutter in my mind follows suit. I can think. I can rest. I can dwell in the quiet and wait without the eerie feeling something I have forgotten is about to come crashing down on me.

I have had this week off. The first few days were filled with enjoyable outings intermixed with room maintenance and necessary shopping. I like productive days. I like feeling I have crossed things off my list. Today, however, I caught myself feeling stressed out about not getting enough done and then laughed at myself when I realized that this is my vacation time. I didn’t HAVE to get anything done. I didn’t have anything on my list that couldn’t wait. They were all “want to’s” not “have to’s.” I could rest. I decided to take a little break in the middle of my week to maintain it as a stress-free zone. Peace returned.

I still got a lot done, I just managed to enjoy the day while doing it. I’m learning to do this more effectively. Enjoy the days, vacation or not, busy or not. I’m learning to build in rest and to protect it. When I do this, I hear from Him so much better. My creativity flows freely. Instead of feeling like I need resuscitating, I feel alive. I feel options instead of feeling doom.

creativity

I realize I cannot allow myself to stifle the creative parts of me any more. They are there for a reason. They are a part of who I am. They need nurturing and protecting. Just as much as I need a good night’s sleep to be the best of who I am, I need to consistently create. It motivates me to get through a work day or a chore day so that I can settle in and let creativity flow. It brings peace and restoration to me in a deeper way. It gives me purpose.

I don’t know why I never saw it before. If you were imbued with a creative streak (whether it’s cooking or computing or painting or dancing or gardening) you were meant to do that thing. We were meant to find a way to use that thing to bring glory to the One who created us. It wasn’t meant to be squelched by others’ opinions or rationalizations. We are at our most purposeful when we use every gift we were given.

I’m still walking this out. I still have a long way to go. But now I am excited. I am anticipating amazing things. I have expectations of peace and connection and genuineness in a deeper-than-ever way in my life. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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At Ease

Some time back, a friend of mine went on a mission’s trip to Haiti. She was a part of Friendships, an organization that brings aid around the world by cargo ship to wherever it is needed most. Joining them on that trip was a group of young men who acted as security. They had para-military training and went, in uniform, with the missionaries and aid-workers to protect them.

As in many other parts of the world, church services in Haiti tended to run for four hours or more. These young men had to stand, “at ease” for the entire service, at their assigned positions. When my friend had the opportunity to talk to one of the young men during a lunch break, she commented, “At least you can stand ‘at ease’ all that time and you don’t have to stand at ‘attention’.” The young man lowered his head and smiled and said, “Actually, it’s much harder to stand ‘at ease’ for that long than it is to stand at attention.”

He went on to explain that the hardest part of standing at “attention” was that sometimes your hands might cramp but you could easily and unnoticeably straighten them out. When you stand “at ease” with your hands behind your back, your shoulders and upper back and arms get sore pretty fast. Trying to stretch them would be very obvious and would not be acceptable.

at ease

I was thinking about that and how it relates to some life lessons I’ve been learning recently. I’ve been working on writing a study about setting goals and keeping them, learning to prioritize effectively, and the importance of balance in our lives. I’ve noticed that “at ease” is deceptive in our daily lives too. We tend to idealize the concept…that a “life of ease” is something to aspire to, and if you plan effectively you can achieve it in your retirement. Most of us settle for a little “at ease” once a week; and if we are really lucky, an occasional week of ease for vacation once or twice a year.

To us, ease means comfort. Comfort means a lack of strife, a lack of effort. The problem is that if we allow this to become our mentality, it saps us of our momentum and we languish. We grow weak and feeble. We cannot tolerate hard work and all around us becomes clutter and chaos. In the same way a steady diet of comfort food packs on the pounds and leaves us non-functional blobs, a steady diet of ease leaves us unprepared for the challenges of life. When they hit, like they inevitably do, they will hit us harder and more easily defeat us that if we are lean, mean, functioning machines.

comfort food 1

In contrast to ease is rest. While ease is about facing nothing but what requires no effort, rest is about choosing to dwell in a place of tranquility. While ease creates weakness, rest restores strength. In the past couple of months I have worked very hard. I cleaned out and organized my part of the garage. It was hard work; but now if I need something, I know exactly where to go to find it. Whenever I go out to the laundry room I glimpse the fruits of my labor and I smile, contentedly. I’ve finally reached that place in my room. Clutter has been removed and necessaries are contained in beautiful decorative boxes or baskets. Space has been created. I walk into the room and I feel peace, like a salve, come over my soul. This peace, however, not only required effort to achieve, it requires effort to maintain. Should I slip back into “ease” mode, my room will quickly spiral back into clutter and chaos and peace will disappear. Sure, I might still be able to function, but at the cost of peace. I know from personal experience I can only function like that for so long before I become one stressed out, deeply unpleasant person.

I have learned the difference between ease and peace. I want peace. I’m willing to work for it. It’s worth it.

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Life-by-numbers

A couple weeks ago I bought a paint-by-number. You can stop laughing now. I had a week off but couldn’t afford to go anywhere. I knew I had a goal to organize my garage that week, but that was something so NOT enjoyable that I would need frequent breaks doing something I DID enjoy to maintain my motivation. (Ok, I confess. I do enjoy organizing things and I have received many “What were you thinking?” looks or comments about spending my vacation having gone through 91 secretary boxes of stuff being stored while I’m renting a room at a friend’s house. I was tired of having to go through a dozen boxes every time I needed to find something, so I went through them each with a voice recorder next to me, speaking out what was in each box as I numbered them; then I went inside and wrote each number and list of items on an index card. Very satisfying when you are done, not so fun when you are in process.)

As I would take a break, I’d allow myself a half hour or so of time to work on the paint-by-number. It’s pretty large. An authorized copy of a much larger work by a recognizable artist. While it’s not in my preferred palette of colors it’s a beautiful Parisian street scene set in the 1940s. I found it enchanting….
paint by number box
and frustrating. As I began to work on it, I enjoyed not having to think about what I wanted to do or accomplish or did it look enough like what I wanted it to look like that people knew what it was…like I do when I do my own artwork. I focused on finding clusters of the number that corresponded to the tiny tub of paint in my hand. I ended up having to buy “cheaters” (reading glasses) from the local drugstore as I was going cross-eyed trying to read the small, detail patches. I became increasingly frustrated with being able to see the numbers through the paint. I became more frustrated by the way you had to try to lay the strokes of paint alongside each other perfectly, so the lines didn’t show and so the shape of the color didn’t overlap onto the territories meant for a different hue. I lost track of the times I mistakenly covered up the number for an adjacent space because the brush they gave me was too big, and the smallest one I had among my own supplies was still too big.

As I held the painting up close enough to read the numbers, all I saw was the mistakes. The bleed throughs, the overlaps, the ugly brushstrokes that had been forced into play by trying to cover up the numbers. My jaw was tensing up every time I sat down to work at it. About halfway through I was ready to quit, it just wasn’t turning out like I had hoped.

Then, one night, after a few days of ignoring the painting, I glimpsed it from across the room and realized it actually looked pretty good. The distance, both in time from my last sit down with it, and from across the room, made all those flaws imperceptible. All I could see is what the original artist had captured (-ish).

I had been caught up in all the tiny little details, frustrated by all the tiny little problems. I missed the intention of beauty. I literally missed the bigger picture.
paint by number van gogh
I do this a lot. In life, especially when my emotions are swinging like a pendulum, I tend to let the little problems become big ones. They add up, one on top of the other, until something as small as dropping my pencil becomes the dam-breaker and I end up in tears, convinced that it was the worst day ever. It’s something I’ve always done, and likely will continue to have to keep in check the rest of my life.

But the bigger picture is that I’m getting better at it. Now, instead of a year of gloom and doom, trying to glimpse any ray of light at the end of the tunnel (and likely shooting it down as an oncoming train) within half an hour I am reminded of the bigger picture. I look for the truth of the matter, like that my focus is in the wrong place or that I’m looking for something where I shouldn’t. Once I recognize that truth, I am almost instantly comforted and at peace. Granted, this has been an exercise I’ve been working on for over 20 years now…I’m just glad that as I’m getting older, the battles in this war last far less time. I guess that proves that point. That I am improving. That I am becoming stronger, more adept at fighting lies and finding truth. At least I hope so. I know I still have far to go, but I’m getting there.

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Heavy

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on here. My world has been a little cock-eyed of late. Crooked. Askew. Like the tilt-o-whirl rides at the traveling carnivals that were so enticing when I was young (and now look like a hellish collection of deathtraps in my middle age).
tilt a whirl

First the vet told me my beloved dog of 14 years is likely dying. The xray showed fluid building up around his lungs. She said it’s likely cancer or valley fever, but that the tests to diagnose either were not only prohibitively expensive, given his age they would likely kill him. So I brought him home. I researched everything I could try. Nothing worked. I’m just trying to keep him happy and comfortable…and keep praying that somehow the vet was wrong. He has good days and bad days. I cry a lot.
Kobe

Then my mom fell and broke her leg. We were told the surgery was dangerous, but she’d be confined to bed if she didn’t have it. Anyone who knows my mom knows how miserable she’d be with that. The surgery was successful, but then there were the clots. Another round of what-ifs and please prays. She’s now back at the assisted living center on increased blood thinners and able to continue her physical therapy. But we still worry and pray. I worry about my dad who doesn’t sleep or eat well when she’s not home. I worry about my sister who has a stressful job and has to deal with this herself since our other sister and I are so many miles away. So we call a lot and feel helpless. We hope and pray that it all works out well. And I cry some more.

There’s so much weight to life. So much heaviness. The burden of responsibility that makes you long for the carelessness of youth (when you wanted nothing but to grow up fast so you could be free…ignoring everything your parents and teachers and everyone over the age of 20 told you about the truth of growing up).

Then it occurred to me. There is one thing that is lighter. One burden of weight that I have lost that makes this time so much more bearable. I’m not alone. After 14 years of living alone, I’m now renting a room from a friend. While there have been a lot of adjustments for us both after such long periods of aloneness…we both realize that things are so much easier when you aren’t alone. You don’t worry about choking on a hot dog and no one finding you for days…or weeks. If your back goes out or you have a cold, there’s someone to help you (and someone for you to help when they need you back). There’s someone to listen to your bad day report. There’s someone to share Thai food with. There’s someone to encourage you to eat a salad instead of something full of cheese and salt and fat.

And I have some exceptional friends. The ones who, when they don’t know what to say, just stand there with their arm around you and it somehow makes everything better. The ones who start crying before you do, and call to check on you to see how you are doing. The long distance family that you reconnected with on facebook who make you remember that there are others out there who care about the same people you do, and even cared about them before you were around.

Being alone was a mantle around my shoulders for so many years I had given up on being otherwise. But for now it’s gone, and I’m glad. I’m so glad. And thankful. So to any of you reading this, who took a few minutes out of your day to care about my thoughts and think about my cares, thank you. You make the world a little less lonely too.

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In this life there will be pain

It’s a strange time of life when you start attending the funerals of your friend’s parents, and watching your own grow more frail. It’s one of those defining moments of adulthood that rails against that internal part of you that still feels a child. It’s even stranger when your own friends, people your age that you’ve known for years; or even people you’ve only met a few times, are the ones being laid to rest.

I watched my sister go through it just a couple weeks ago. A lovely gal, one who radiated genuine love in the way fake people try to emulate, lost her battle to cancer. I listened as my sister grieved and helped her children grieve. I witnessed many loved ones post their thoughts and prayers and emotionally-burdened words online in an effort to find peace together.
funeral
Then last week I opened an email. In it was the memorial service information and a picture…of my friend. We went to the same church years ago. I listened to her cry and yell when her husband left her. I welcomed her into a single women’s Bible study I led when she felt out of place in the married women’s study she had been in. I helped her find a new job to support herself.

But the thing we had most in common, aside from our love of the Lord, was the pain we lived in. She had been in an accident and suffered from chronic pain and chronic migraines. I lived with both of those too. We often compared notes on what brought relief and what didn’t. We shared our fears about trying to deal with pain when there was no one to help us. We both knew what it was like to be looked at by others who didn’t live with chronic pain. The ones who thought, if it was a good day and you were managing well, that you weren’t really in that much pain. The others who would, when you weren’t dealing well, rather be anywhere else than near you. We both knew the power of a positive attitude, and how much worse the pain seemed when you allowed yourself to think of it as never, ever going away.

I didn’t find out until the middle of her memorial service that she had killed herself. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to stand up and say, “Wait, what? She what?” I wanted to run out of the service, and I did leave as soon as I could. I’ve never been good at processing emotion in front of other people. I drove off to a parking lot and cried and screamed and sobbed. She just got married. She seemed so happy. Why? What could have robbed that from her?
pain
But I knew. I knew from the number of times they mentioned how much pain she lived with at the service. I knew from the friend who said, after I mentioned she lived in chronic pain, “That’s why. It was the pain.” But mostly I knew because I’d been there. I’d been in that place. When you are lying there in so much pain that you have to focus to breathe and you can’t find one position that gives you relief and the best of the medication you’ve been prescribed does nothing but make you nauseous. I’ve begged God to just take me home.

I think that’s what’s been the hardest. To know that place, to know exactly where she was and to know that I’ll be there again one day, or many days…and to know that sometimes, in that moment, nothing else matters but ending the pain.
It’s the thing that makes me long for heaven the most. “…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev 21:4 NAS). No more pain. No more death. No more.

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Getting Real About Online Friends

A friend asked recently about whether I thought it was possible to have a true, deep, real friendship with someone online.

While a few years back I would have jumped on the “absolutely not, facebook and all social networks are really superficial and you have to be face-to-face with a human being to really be friends” bandwagon.
get real
Then I went to school online.

I didn’t expect much from my online university experience. I figured it would be mostly me being left alone to study when I had the time and get as much out of it as I put in. I thought I might like it more than a land-based university experience. I already had one of those for my undergrad. It involved paying to park nearly 2 miles from my classes, walking through copious amounts of allergens in 100+ heat to arrive wheezing and sweaty outside a classroom where a group of students crammed inside to listen to the professor talk about anything from the subject we were paying for to their favorite day of fishing, and then we’d leave again to run off to our next class. We’d never speak to each other (unless the prof forced us into a debate-type situation). Most profs gave up on getting us to talk, discuss, contribute since there were only a few geeks like myself who would have something to say and everyone else sat in stony silence.

My online classes kept the same group of us in classes together for over a year (some through the entire program). It quickly became clear from online classroom posts which students were there to encourage each other, which were there to sabotage each other, and which really shouldn’t be there at all. Those of us in the first category quickly formed a Facebook group and began helping each other. Initially it was the student camaraderie that I had hoped for and never found at the land-based institution; but it became more. We started sharing personal difficulties with each other, and encouraging each other. The first time a few of us met at our Residency, we embraced each other like old friends. Others I’ve still never met, but even though I’ve graduated over a year ago, we are still in touch via Facebook; not just in touch, but they are often the first to message me encouragement or prayers when I post about a difficulty; and I do the same for them. These people are precious to me. Yes, you can be on Facebook and have nothing but superficiality with those you “friend”; but with these people, we have found a way for it to be more than that.

This last week, I watched another Facebook phenomenon. A dear friend of my sister had been battling cancer. There was a Facebook page created to keep everyone praying for her advised of her status. A few days ago, her husband posted that they were back at chemo, hoping it would deal with the fluid around her lungs. Many responded back with words of support. A short time later he posted that his precious wife would soon be going “home”; and it pulled the rug out from under us. An outpouring of love and support began being posted on the page. People started sharing messages directly to the dear woman, thanking her for love, her friendship, her example. It allowed people who couldn’t be there a chance to say what they wanted to her, to find a kind of closure. It allowed everyone to grieve together.
online friend special
I think an online friendship is what you make of it. Absolutely you have to be careful, there are nuts out there, not to mention predators; but most of us can also see some value to social networking. The way it reconnects you with people you haven’t seen in ages, the way you can keep up with family who live thousands of miles away; but there is also the potential for many great things. Birthday reminders for those who would otherwise be forgotten. Prayer requests spread like wildfire. A chance to type out your heart when you tend to trip over your tongue. If you choose to be real, genuine…and take the time to find the others like that out there…I absolutely believe you can have deep, meaningful friendships with people online. I do. We cry together, pray for each other, and hope to be neighbors in heaven so we can finally meet. Our schedules and the miles between us would never allow us to connect in person, at least not with the regularity needed to develop a close face-to-face friendship; but the choice to be real online with each other has allowed us something precious. And I’m thankful.

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Flaws of Beauty

Flaws. I hate them. I think I always have.

As a first-born, my artistic and perfectionist temperaments have always been at odds. Flaws have been the bane of my existence. Since I was a small child I have been reluctant to do anything I could not do perfectly. Even as I was learning to draw or paint or sew, I would cry tears of frustration and destroy all the work I had done to that point if I saw even the slightest flaw in it. My mother, in her wisdom, would calmly tell me that she (also a first-born, creative, artistic person) had come to learn that when you are making something, it is the flaws in the creation that show that it was hand-made. “It gives it character,” she would say. I still struggle to see it that way.
flaws and all

Today, a friend posted a brilliant blog article about how women see their bodies.
This Is My Body

As most women do, I have also waged a life-long battle with hating my body. When I look back at pictures of myself when I was younger I remember how much I had hated this lump, or that thickness, or my stickie-outie-chin. Of course now I’d give anything to look like I did then.

But as I read the above linked blog article, a thought occurred to me. What if we looked at what we perceive as flaws in our body as marks of our Creator? Not flaws, but distinctions of character. My crooked pinkies and sweet grandmother’s chin are signs of being lovingly made. The sags and crinkles and blotches that come to all women with age, instead of being hateful, are marks of distinction, like the craquelure of a painting. They are marks of our uniqueness and our value.
craquelure

Could we do that? Could we change our mindset from flaws to value? Can we remove the big “defective” label we have put on our own foreheads and replace it with “priceless”? I think if we truly saw us as our Creator did, it would change everything.

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