Purpose Where You Are

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about addressing the fact that our lives don’t always feel significant…”shiny” is the word I used. I gave a hint that I was experiencing this myself but wasn’t quite  sure how to explain it without feeling very pessimistic. Seeing that I’m not a pessimistic person (generally), I decided to wait. So here’s what I think about it all:

The idea of a shiny life is fairly standard. It may mean big houses with attached garages and cars under 100,000 miles, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes I envy those who travel the world in a year with a couple backpacks, social entrepreneurs with one really good idea or authors with a ton of them.

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Regardless, the message of chasing your dreams, acting upon your good ideas, pursuing passion disguised as work and living as an empowered go-getter is everywhere, from the college classroom to internet memes.

What I recently learned, though, is that if you ask the average baby boomer, or even the generation that came after, if they experienced this same bombardment of uncovering “what you were made to do,” they would likely say no. They worked to work.

I won’t go into what mentality is “right” or “healthy” (seeing that I’m not sure, myself). But it’s interesting to me that this work entitlement seems to be strongly correlated with younger generations – my generation. So we graduate college, and many of us want to work a job that doesn’t feel like work at all.

I’m an idealistic person. I believe in passions, coming into the fullness of who we are, and using our gifts well (and if we get paid for those gifts, even better). But when I graduated and began working full-time for a small marketing company, idealism and realism clashed right in front of me.

Let me pause and say this: I enjoy my job. I love meeting different people and figuring out how best to convey someone’s message. My boss opened this door for me and took a chance on me fresh out of college. For that, I am so grateful.

But work still does feel like work most of the time.

Here’s why: devoting yourself to anything for eight hours a day feels like a loss of freedom at first. Especially when you just left college. This job challenges me and pushes me daily to be organized, tactful and composed under pressure. College, though difficult at times, never tested me in the way this full-time job does. I like it, but it still feels like work.

The most promising realization I’ve had lately is this: it’s ok that work feels like work.

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I’d love to be a missionary one day. I’d love to live overseas for six months, a year maybe. I’d love to write and encourage for a living, and lead others to uncovering and pursuing their own passions. But even these things would still feel like work at times. And in those moments, I’d probably forget that I once considered those things shiny.

What I’m learning is that I can absorb the skills, tools and grit I’m developing now and have confidence that I’ll use them later on in life, as well. Maybe when I do those things I mentioned above.

In wallowing in the fact that we don’t live what we perceive as shiny, we rob ourselves of joy. An attitude of thankfulness turns into doubt: “Am I wasting my time? Do I deserve something better?”

I don’t want to live in those questions.

So to you, wherever you are right now: it’s ok to use your positioning to identify holes in the world and uncover what you’re suited to do. But please don’t miss out on where you are currently. Even purposeful dream jobs are dull sometimes.

The other day, I was writing in Thomas’ birthday card, and a simple message articulating all of this presented itself clearly on paper.

“I pray this year finds you hopeful for the future, but fills you where you are.”

This is my wish for you, too.

What May Not Be Shiny

This weekend helped re-charge me.

Over the last few months – with graduation, moving into a new home and starting a full-time job – I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions.

I’ve been extremely grateful. Anxious about choosing the right path. Hopeful for the future.

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I’m still processing through these things, and I’m not quite sure, at this point in time, what I want to tell you abut them.

But this weekend just filled me up.

It could have been the sleeping in on Saturday morning, Thomas finishing the semester that morning and running errands with him, being witness to a wedding that afternoon or having 20 kids show up for youth group when I normally get 12.

Do you ever catch yourself wishing your days were shinier? Do you consider your routine insignificant or downright boring? Do you wish you lived a different life?

My weekend wasn’t shiny. But it was steady and sure.

That thought’s been rolling around in my head for a few weeks now. Again, I’m not sure what it means yet, but I’m willing to probe.

As you go about this week, remember that it may not be shiny, but that doesn’t make it less important. Your work, your meal planning, your taking the dog out and cheering on nephews at baseball games.

This is the stuff that is steady, sure.

A Place to Gather

When we first got married, I thought I had a “vision” for our home.

I had a subscription to HGTV magazine, was an avid pinner all throughout college and frequented many blogs about home decor, craft projects and furniture makeovers. It was all very aspirational.

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So when we rented our first house, likely styled in 1972, I was a little peeved at my rusting stove, the carpeted bathroom, and the lamp in the corner that looked like it belonged in Narnia.

Despite my home being less than magazine-worthy, I discovered I loved having people over. Parents came for dinner. A sister came to play with the dog. Friends came from out of town to sleep on the floor and hang out with us.

Around the same time, I listened to a podcast with a couple writers who were talking about their homes. One expressed her desire to have a home that is a natural gathering place. Always welcoming. Always available. A place that provided respite for people who just wanted a break.

That podcast gave me some clarity. I realized that regardless of what my home looked like, I could determine how people who entered it would be treated.

Since then, I’ve experienced a cheesy amount of  joy in hosting. You know how some things in life just fill you up? For me, this is one of them.

One of Thom’s friends lives a few hours away. He came to visit a few weeks ago, and a home-cooked meal and a futon with clean sheets seemed to give him a sense of peace…a piece of home.

The very next night, we went to dinner with my brother, his wife, and a couple cousins. Afterwards, they came to our house to eat dessert and play games. We sat on the floor and played Yahtzee, watched basketball and laughed much as everyone confessed quirks they discovered about their spouse upon getting married.

And last weekend, we hosted eight middle-school girls from the youth group. They decorated cupcakes, made a mess of my kitchen and belted out every song lyric from Frozen. Afterwards, one of the youth boys stayed an hour or so – processing what it will be like to go to college next year and telling us his big dreams of inventing electric jets.

This is such good stuff. It’s not perfect, but it’s good.

Cooking dinner or dessert, putting sheets on a spare bed and letting people sit on your couch are small things. Sometimes we turn them into stressful things when we think about how to perfectly time the meal, or how the guest bedroom is a dumping ground for everything that doesn’t have a place and is in no way, shape or form fit for company (just me?). Fight against those stressors.

We don’t vacuum as often we as should, my kitchen sink disposal sometimes smells bad and we still only have two patio chairs that suffice as dining chairs right now.

But we welcome people anyway. That’s my new vision.

Idols

We experience God in different ways.

Obviously.

This past fall, I watched a simulcast conference thing with a couple of hugely popular Christian teachers. They had to decide whether or not the conference would feature a music set. Ultimately, they decided against it, saying that it’s easy to let worship be a result of a specific mood or environment that music often sets. They wanted people to praise God because he’s God. No fancy stuff attached.

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Photo Credit: Wai Shaw of Flickr Creative Commons

So yeah, I sometimes fall into that camp. I like my music, and it definitely draws me near to God when I let myself really listen to the lyrics, the movement.

Books do the same for me. I have a growing list of books I want to read, categorized as Christian non-fiction because I gain a ton from other people’s words and experiences. I love being poured into that way.

I also experience God in hearing how he works in other’s lives. Recently, I’ve felt a lot of joy over Thomas being able to pray with kids at work and give the gospel to them straight. That is so cool.

The heart problem, though, is that all these things have not been God himself. They’ve been substitutes, rather than complements.

I’ve taken my favorite books and made them the bible.

I’ve taken powerful songs and made them prerequisites for drawing near.

In the beginning, there was God. At the end, there will be God. And I think to myself, “Isn’t that enough?”

I’m working on it. Maybe it’s just the human way of seeking something tangible related to faith. I may not see God face to face, but I can read about how he’s moving, regardless. I can listen to something beautiful and be reminded of beauty.

But he alone is enough.

So I’ll repeatedly need to get back to the basics. Just God, and without the fancy stuff.

If any of this relates to you (particularly those of you in modern or contemporary churches), I’d encourage you to read this article. It’s a good one. 

Why I Cook: A Manifesto

A funny thing happens when you move out.

All of a sudden, Mom’s not there to make a full meal every night consisting of a protein, starch and green veggie. Someone has to do it. And by that I really mean get dinner on the table, green veggie or not.

The kitchen is one room in the house I really take ownership of. The guest bedroom is extremely unorganized, my bedside table is a wreck, but my kitchen actually makes sense.

I’m thankful that cooking and baking are not burdensome. I enjoy both, as long as I have time to do so and don’t feel rushed. Lately it’s become even more clear to me why I cook and why I bake. So here it is, my kitchen manifesto. Or something like that.

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I cook because I love to eat. Bacon, potatoes, brussels sprouts, rice, cheese, pasta, chicken and wine. Good white wine. Rolls, kale, pizza, brownies, muffins. You get it. And if I don’t have the budget to get these things at restaurants (I don’t) then we need an alternative. Cooking is the alternative.

I cook for the pride of making something really delicious. When I look at my pretty plate of food, or have onions sautéing on one burner, sauce simmering on another and who knows what in the oven, there is something magical about it all coming together. And when it happens to come together at the same time, it’s pure glory.

I cook because it keeps me humble. I’ve made beer bread that was terrible, and some ultra healthy zucchini bread that was even more so. Rolls have turned out tasting too much like yeast and muffins come out too bland. Chicken underdone. Noodles too soggy.  It teaches me that I have so much to learn.

I cook for Thomas. Because he can do better than frozen pizza and buttered noodles, dang it.

I cook as a creative outlet. Monday through Friday, much of my time is spent on the laptop. Evenings and weekends roll around, and I tend to unplug. Kneading dough for pizza tonight felt so great because I could touch it, mold it how I wanted. Finding external ways to express creativity is healthy.

I cook for tradition and to carry on the recipes that both my mom and mother-in-law hold so dear to them. From breakfast casserole to cinnamon rolls to brown sugar thighs, these recipes are worth sharing. Plus, it gives us something to talk about when we’re together.

I cook to share love. And joy. And goodness. Because a tasty bite can instantly provoke feelings of peace and satisfaction. One good dish may not save the world, but it can change how we view the world and our own problems, even if it’s for a mere moment.

Your hobby, or maybe just whatever you do day-to-day, matters. It really matters. What you cook, play, study, teach or sell, these things are important things, and to identify why we do them can be reassuring.

Sometimes we do them for the wrong reasons…because we feel like we have to or the world would fall apart if we didn’t.  And other times we do them because we just plain like it.

Whatever you do, I hope it brings you some kind of goodness.

The Art of Discipline

One of my goals for this space is that it is an authentic one.

A place where I can be honest and vulnerable and, just maybe, some of you will be vulnerable with me. I want it to be a place of safety and encouragement and a general openness about what the heck’s going on in our worlds, together and individually.

So let me be honest about where my mind is right now.

I don’t always enjoy sitting down to write. I’m oftentimes not too fond of how my posts unfold – the selection of words to somehow express the thoughts that I hang onto long after conversations have ended, the thoughts that sometimes wake up with me and lay to rest when I do.

And I have this bad habit that can plague a writer – or anyone – to only act upon inspiration. When I actually feel I have something to say.

Lately, I’ve felt “emotionally balled up.” Still not sure exactly what it means, but that’s how I described it to Thomas. Like I’ve been so busy churning out stuff during the day that when I get my couple hours in the evening, I just want to watch Dexter and eat a brownie. Not blog. Because finding the words to explain those thoughts would take too much energy, and it’s already 10pm. That’s what I tell myself.

But those thoughts and questions haven’t gone away. I’m reading Emily Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways right now. In it, she contemplates the art that God charged each one of us to make, though it takes various forms. She talks about the freedom that God gave us to add to creation with our art offerings. It’s prompted me to question what kinds of art I have to offer, if I’m using my skills in the most effective way, and whether I’ll have the courage to step up when it’s time for me to step up. To dream a little.

And that’s where I am. Twenty minutes ago, I had to wash dog poop off my hands (an attempt at a snowy walk that went rogue). Inside my front door, rock salt still needs swept up. But I tell you that to tell you this. Through the mess, it’s easier sometimes for me to throw up my hands at it all and eat the brownie. But here I am, with a quiet moment, letting myself write, and not because I feel inspired. And I already feel a little bit better.

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When The Hype Fades

The beginning of a new year seems to bring to the surface all the motivation we didn’t really know we had.

Suddenly the goals and ambitions that discouragingly crossed our minds in 2013 seem feasible in 2014. We get ambitious. And losing those pounds, starting that project and becoming a better friend/wife/etc. can actually be reached.

So far this month, I’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles about goals and resolutions: the beauty in sharing our personal goals, why not to share our goals, reflections on the past year and things we want to be true of the next one.

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Photo Credit: Emma Bilyeu

I’m a believer in change. I believe that people can reach their goals and they don’t have to let them fizzle as the deadness of winter kicks in.

But here’s the tough part: the deadness of winter kicks in.

We fall back into the comfort of routines. The comfort of worrying only about what’s on our plate each day, rather than what’s on our plate in addition to the fact that we’re not achieving what we’d like to. We get tired. We don’t feel emotionally connected to our goal. And the thing we were so pumped up about a mere month ago again seems like a daunting or logistical mess.

But for the many excuses I make for myself to not just start working towards a goal, there are a million people who I could compare myself to and envy what they have accomplished…simply because I want to achieve it, too. And I start to perceive those people’s lives as easy, glamorous or somehow more enticing than my own. Which is sad.

Jessi Connolly wrote recently, “It’s beautiful when the Lord ignites passion in us to do THINGS but it’s terrible and breaking when we’re measuring our worth against how things they happen for other women.” Read more of that post here.

I am so guilty of this.

In my life, discontentment manifests itself in comparison – and, ultimately, envy. I begin to notice my lack, rather than my plenty. My day as ordinary, rather than a gift. My goal as insignificant, rather than change-generating.

If only the pure energy behind our goals in January remained through the winter. If only we could just remember how good it felt to eat healthy, make tangible progress on our projects and be intentional in our friendships.

Then maybe we wouldn’t be so dead set on looking to others to see if they’re doing any better than us.

It doesn’t have to be like this. I’m sure of it. I’m just still working through how to stay on top of my goals through the blah-ness of winter and keep my zeal through the goodness of spring. And summer. And fall.

Join me in trying to figure this out. What will keep your goals from fizzling out?

As We Close Another Year

Changes have come fast and furious these last few weeks.

Some I’ve handled more beautifully than I imagined I would. Some have been rocky.

The Thursday before Christmas, the husband and I (and the dog daughter) moved into a new apartment. The days leading up to the move, I realized just how ungracious I can be surrounded by a tornado of stuff I’d rather just put in a closet and not address. Our belongings were in a state of upheaval, and my soul felt the same way, too.

It occurred to me how important “home” is to us. Especially for two individuals who love their space organized just so, being rooted somewhere is comforting. And just days away from Christmas, it didn’t seem like ideal timing. Then again, when is anything ever perfectly timed?

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We packed. We recruited help. We moved.

And we love it!

In a matter of hours, this new apartment become “home.” And with some greenery on the door, the tree in place and big bulbs outlining our garage, it actually felt like it.

I prepped myself for the alternative, halfway thinking that our first married Christmas –  in a new house as a young wife – would evoke neutral, borderline scary/sad feelings. I was so wrong. For some reason, an attitude of thankfulness came more naturally than I expected, and I wasn’t so locked into my traditions of the past that I couldn’t appreciate my own reality. Even if I did nearly recreate the same Christmas morning breakfast that I’ve had the past 21 years of my life. So what.

That’s not to say my expectations of this first Christmas – in a new home as a young wife – were all met. I expected to surpass my doubt and make some yeast rolls with ease. Rather, I curdled the buttermilk on the first attempt. I expected to wrap presents creatively and instead gave up trying to package a round candle and stuck it in a bag.

And the wonderful news is…that’s all ok.

It’s so easy to hold ourselves, our homes, our skills or spouses, for example, up to such high standards. Sometimes, we just need to allow ourselves to adapt to the new scenario in front of us. Give ourselves the chance to bend and flex as needed, and grace when things don’t go as planned. I don’t do that often enough.

My Christmas was one of deep change. A healthy, happy and somewhat challenging change. I hope you had a meaningful one this year with your family and friends. Shall we jump into 2014?

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Slow It Down

You learn a lot about yourself at 5:00pm after a long day with somewhere to be in the following hour and a dinner to throw together in that time frame.

Or maybe that’s just me. A couple days ago.

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I don’t handle rushing very well. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I enjoy being punctual, but a character flaw in that I err on the side of freaking out internally when tasks are more hurried than I’d like them to be.

I get moody. Quiet, though my head still spins from the day.

It occurred to me, as I made pumpkin waffles for dinner (a great recipe, if a little high-maintenance), that I am a better version of myself when I have even ten, fifteen minutes when I get home to sit. Decompress. Talk to husband and love on my pup.

Because all those things are compromised when I don’t take that time. Lord knows I can’t read a recipe and pay attention to anything else simultaneously.

It’s like our souls need time to recalibrate. Maybe for me that’s every day at 5. Regardless, I’m beginning to pay attention to my character at the end of a long day, and I don’t always like what I notice.

The best version of myself arrives when the mess and stress have time to fade away before jumping into the next thing.

Do you like who you are at 5:00pm?

When You Don’t Know The Timing

Lately, the husband and I have been tossed around by plans. Together we’ve encountered a number of job prospects, rejection emails, injuries, delays and flat out times of waiting. Much is unknown.

I think often about what I want to be true of our lives, for certain. Like traveling on big trips, pursuing our dream jobs, creating a family, teaching that family what it means to live life for God, taking risks and genuinely enjoying where we are at each stage.

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Photo Credit: Maco of Flickr Creative Commons

But I’ve noticed, when I think about these things, that there’s one particular barrier that gets in the way of having confidence to move on decisions, or taking steps in a definitive direction: the idea of “correct” timing. 

Like wondering when the right time is to sponsor a child. Or have our own kids. Or go on an extended trip. Or get my hair cut.

I tend to exaggerate the importance of “perfect” timing because I believe, far too frequently, that my plans are my own. That everything is on my (and the husband’s) shoulders.

Sometimes I talk myself out of whimsical ideas or doubt a decision not because I fear whatever it is I want to pursue, but because I’m more afraid of screwing up the timing of the decision. Or missing out on something because my timing was selfish or too rushed. Can you relate?

Interestingly enough, I just started reading a book by Sarah Cunningham called The Well-Balanced World Changer. In the very first chapter, she talks about how we maintain this fear that if we miss God’s promptings, our life no longer has a chance at being completely meaningful. She writes, so lovely:

Even if we miss some sort of cue along the way, I firmly believe God maintains an uninterrupted desire to bless us just as much as he would’ve had we been more attentive or responsive.

In our human economy, if we don’t execute the ideal, the backup plan is usually lesser. It’s the best and least taxing secondhand way to get something accomplished, given that we already missed the absolute best path. It’s more work, less rewarding, and may not produce an equally good outcome. But it’s the best we’ve got.

Not God though. God can insert the backup plan right over the original and weld them together. He can make this draft of the plan – forged from your successes and failures – so productive, so enriching, that it’s as if the first plan never existed.

My eyes were a little glossed over from staring at my Nook so intently. I read and re-read this, staying on that page and letting these words sink in.

Our plans B, C, and Z (or lack of plans altogether) could turn out to be just what He intended all along.

So take heart. God can redeem anything that we happen to mess up.

Or maybe we just need to get out of our own way in the first place.

Living Outside of Me Update — For those of you following my Living Outside of Me series, bless you. I haven’t written in a while. But I did want to let you know that as of this week, we have sponsored a young girl from South Africa named Mbasa through World Vision after much consideration. She’s beautiful and we can’t wait to hear from her in a few months. Click here to learn more about World Vision’s child sponsorship program.