The Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant

pageant for normal womenIn a move noted as “bold” and “long overdue,” a new pageant arrives on the scene this season.

Viewed by many as the obvious alternative for 99% of human women, the Ms. Mediocre, Slightly Chubby, Often Cranky, Bad Hair Day Pageant offers what traditional beauty pageants lack– common sense and a firm grip on reality.


Competitions are scheduled in the following crucial life skill departments:

  • Chasing a toddler through a busy parking lot while holding two bags of groceries
  • Politely helping your best friend realize her eyebrows have grown out of control
  • Speaking to teenage offspring without using all the swears
  • Messy buns and other half-arsed hair options
  • Yoga pants vs pajama pants: how, when, and where

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply quickly and decisively. Judges expect a torrential onslaught of candidates, as no one has ever shown interest in the common woman before.

Perky, thin, gorgeous women with full and natural breasts will be shot immediately upon application, officials stated in the press conference held early this morning. Shot to death, they clarified.

The pageant is expected to be held sometime in spring, but an exact date is hard to determine, as NORMAL WOMEN HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO TO BE PRANCING AROUND THE STAGE AT A STUPID PAGEANT.


When an official date is scheduled, we will be the first to let you know. Stay tuned for further details.

How to control holiday spending so you can afford to pay your January mortgage payment

control-holiday-spendingAll the shiny things are in the stores! But we want to control our holiday spending, right? Because we still need to afford the rest of our life once Christmas is over.

Today I was in Lowes to buy sandpaper for the cat (it’s a long story and you really don’t want to know), and I took a moment to peruse their lovely holiday decorations.

They have a giant JOY sign that costs $1200. I mean, it’s huge. The letters are as tall as I am, maybe taller. It would look really cool in my front yard, BUT IT COSTS $1200.

Good grief.

It’s stuff like this that wreaks havoc at Christmastime. Of course we’d like the giant JOY sign. Of course we’d like to buy our friends and family everything they could dream of owning. Of course we’d like to put plane tickets to the Bahamas in our sister’s Christmas stocking!

But most of us can’t afford these things. And if you can afford these things, I bet you aren’t actually reading this blog post. You’re too busy rolling in your piles of gold coins.

The rest of us have to get a grip on our holiday spending or we’re going to be homeless and hungry in January. Here’s how we are going to do that.

We’re going to stay out of the stores. Instead, we’re going to go to the library to find excellent, free ideas for holiday fun. There are entire books on affordable holiday ideas! But mostly, we’re going to stay out of the stores. The marketing department of your favorite store has your number, sister. They want to control your holiday spending for you, and they know what makes your heart beat faster. They know what looks so beautiful to you, their ideal customer, that you lose your mind and whip out your credit card. Trust me, they’re way ahead of you. Stay out of their way because your mortgage company will not accept “but the JOY sign was so pretty” in lieu of a payment next month.

We’re going to do some math and figure out the Christmas budget. This is hard and ugly and might involve some crying when you realize you have $20 to spend for Christmas this year. You get an hour to be depressed, and then you will pull yourself together, be proud of yourself for accepting reality, and you will get creative.

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We will have honest conversations with our loved ones. Maybe it’s our spouse, or our best friend, or our mom. This might be painful. But your loved ones would be horrified to know you’re spending holiday money you don’t have on them. Love them enough to be honest. And also, this honesty might be a life saver for them! Maybe they don’t have enough for Christmas this year, either. Maybe you can have a potluck night instead, or go to a free holiday concert together. But until we’re having honest conversations with our people, we won’t be able to take care of each other in the most loving ways.

We will remember that children do not need an explosion of presents on Christmas morning. If your kids are old enough to understand the concept, begin by helping them understand the family reality right now. They understand and can adapt far more than we give them credit for, and trust me, they’ll be able to feel your stress if you spend too much. Let their holiday be breezy and fun like it’s supposed to be. If your kid is too young to understand money or presents, then please, please, please, go to the thrift store and buy them a few delightful things. I swear to you they’ll never know the difference.

It doesn't have to look like this at your house.
It doesn’t have to look like this at your house.

We will go to church and remember that Christmas was never supposed to be about blinking lights and credit card debt. We will remember a tiny baby, placed in a manger, worshipped by shepherds from the hills. We will feel profoundly thankful and we will tell our Heavenly Father how wonderful he is.

I do know this– Christmas begins and ends in our hearts. If we’re miserable and sad, no amount of holiday spending will buy enough presents to fix us. But if we choose joy and simplicity, no lack of money can ruin the season for us.

So may we choose wisely, and may we choose joy!

***

I found a few ideas on Amazon. Maybe these will help! (*Affiliate link)

Priorities: A worksheet to help you plan the next right thing for your life.

Perhaps you’ve reached a point in your life where you really want to do the best thing for yourself and your family, but you have no idea of what that best thing really is. You aren’t sure what your priorities really are.

Should you work more hours and cushion the budget?

Work less hours to be home with the kids more?

Go back to school? Find a different career? Volunteer more? Volunteer less?

The options are endless and every decision leads to a different place in the future. How are we supposed to find the best path?

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But before we get our knickers in a knot, let’s calm down. There certainly are a lot of choices in every life, but there doesn’t have to be one, solitary healthy outcome.

I’m serious. You can make a lot of different choices and end up in a lot of different places fifteen years from now, but most of them will be good and healthy and fine. You’re going to be fine and your family is going to be fine.

Unless, of course, you take up heroin or chain smoking or bank robbing. Those are terrible priorities. Stay clear of those things and you’ll probably be fine. You might become a doctor with a nanny who takes care of the kids, or you might become a stay at home mom with an Etsy shop. Maybe you’ll own your own restaurant or maybe you’ll cater small parties from home. Fine and fine.

We worry a lot about the future but seldom remind ourselves that it all works out, somehow.

But still, we have to actually make a decision and then act on it, right? Life choices all begin in the same place: mulling the problems and potential solutions over in your mind. We have to find our priorities, and we can’t do that without some serious thinking.

Today I’ve included a little worksheet/graphic for you at the end of the blog. If you like to write and think slowly, print it off and get yourself a pencil and an excellent beverage. But maybe you’ll just bookmark this link and work from the graphic itself; whatever works for you is fine.

The worksheet has one purpose– to help you identify the problem in your own life that is causing you the most pain, and then to identify one priority and solution to start on the path to simple living.

It’s easy to think “Yikes, lady. I have way more than one problem and I want to do all the things to fix everything all at once.”

And I’m here to tell you the truth: Doing all the things will make you all the crazy. . You have to say yes to a few things, the most important things, and then you’ll have to say no to a lot of other things.

This little worksheet will help you think through where you are now and where you want to be. It’ll bring you one little step closer to the next place in your life. It will help you simplify everything.

I was at a conference recently, and the Hope*Writers encouraged us with this– if we get stuck, just do the next right thing. Then repeat and repeat. I hope this worksheet will help you figure out what the next right thing is for you!

 

Printable. Find your priorities

 

 

Create Excellent Graphics for Blogs and Social Media (with no graphic design background!)

create-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-mediaHowdy! Are you looking for a good tutorial on how to make great graphics for your blog or social media? I’m here for you in your hour of need. I’ve been making graphics and editing photos for for five years, and I started knowing nothing. Zero things. I’ve learned it a little at a time, and you can too! I’ll begin with a few basics, and then I’ll tell you what sites and apps can make these graphics.

(If you’re looking for a printable to summarize all of this, here you go: printable-how-to-make-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-media . You are welcome.)

First of all, let’s start with a few very basic graphic design principles. I learned these from a book called The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams. A different, teachery one). You can find it here on Amazon (*affiliate link). I love this book because she breaks down the process into a few simple steps for novices like us. Here’s a summary of the most important principles with some graphics for examples.

We’ll start with this mess I created just as an example. There’s nothing right about this quote. I used a bunch of fonts, and they’re all sort of the same but not exactly the same. The words wander all over the screen and nothing makes sense.

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We need to apply the principle of Contrast. Similar isn’t good enough. Make the fonts the same or completely different. Evaluate the type of font you’d like to use. If it’s heavy and fat, then your other fonts should be lighter and thinner.

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This is a little better. At least the fonts don’t look close-but-not-close-enough, like when you wander out of the house wearing a blue shoe and a black shoe.

Now we need to apply the principles of Repetition and Unity. Make sure your photo, your font, and your idea blend well together. Repeat colors in the graphic (pull them from the photo, if you’re using one). Use the same idea throughout. If you have several graphics in one blog post, make sure they go together.

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Again, a little better. Now we have fonts that make sense, colors that go together, and a little bit of bokeh in the background. Things aren’t so ugly anymore!

Now let’s apply the principle of Alignment: Please don’t allow random plopping of text or photos! Have the edges line up as much as possible. Center things if it makes it stronger, or play with a bottom, right hand alignment. Draw an imaginary line and make sure it’s straight. Your eye wants to follow a line that makes sense.

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Now we have our last principle, Proximity: Things that relate should go together. Make sure the white space is also grouped, not dispersed. Things that you want to emphasize should have the larger font, the heavier color, or both. Secondary items should visually move to the background a little bit, but should still be readable. In the graphic below, the main part of the text is readable (thanks to that background circle called an overlay) and the words are also the same size. “So Listen” is what you see first, which was the point I was making with this graphic.

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Here, let me show you two more graphics to illustrate what I mean. This poor invitation breaks literally every rule I just shared. It’s an abomination.

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But here, I’ve cleaned it up for us. Isn’t it better? The same information is all available, but in a way that pleases the eye. I’ve picked two fonts (three is the max! No more than three!) and they’re clearly different from each other. The main color scheme is black and white, but I added a muted orange-yellow for some contrast. I’ve chosen a right-hand alignment, and our eye is happy to see the visual organization. And lastly, the information that belongs together is all carefully placed together. The reader no longer has to wander all over the invitation, seeking when and where to show up.

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Okay, this is all very well and good, you’re saying. But where and how do I make these things? Excellent question. I have several great choices for you. I use all three of these sites/apps a lot, and I’ll start with the one I use the most.

PicMonkey! This was the site where I started and where I made all the graphics for this post. I spend hours here every week, and I cheerfully pay for the yearly subscription ($39). I love this site so much I signed up to be an affiliate, so if you click on the banner above I’ll make a small commission. But let me promise you I don’t advertise services I don’t use, and I firmly stand behind this one. Here’s what I think about PicMonkey after five years of heavy use.

PicMonkey Pros:

  • Excellent tutorials. I’ve learned so much from their amazing blog. Here’s the link!
  • Ease of use. It’s simple to resize things, filter images, upload photos, and then save it to your computer. If you have any computer skills at all, you can quickly master PicMonkey.
  • Tons of free options. If an upgrade isn’t in your budget, no worries. You can use a lot of the features for free.
  • New mobile feature! This is brand new, as of mid-2016. And hallelujah for it!

PicMonkey Cons:

  • Your computer needs to have Flash updated and running well, or PicMonkey can’t handle the strain. Whenever things get goofy for me, I look down and sure enough– my Adobe icon is bouncing.
  • No grid to line up text and features. Other photo editors, like Canva, automatically give you lines to show when you’ve aligned with other text. I really wish the Monkey would come up with this soon.
I made this graphic in Canva.
I made this graphic in Canva.

Canva! (Find them at canva.com.) I was introduced to this website last year, and I think it has some great features. It has similar functions to PicMonkey, but the site is organized differently and has a different learning curve. I think I would have loved it if I had started with it earlier, but some of the features are so different than PicMonkey that I keep going back to what I know, especially when I’m in a hurry. Here’s what I’ve learned about Canva so far:

Canva Pros:

  • Amazing tutorials! They’ll even email you every few weeks with a new one. They’re interactive, five-minute lessons to show you how to make great graphics on their site. Click here for their Design School.
  • That grid I was just mentioning in the PicMonkey section is a huge bonus. It’s really helpful to keep things aligned and looking spiffy.
  • Your earlier designs are saved for you (if you set up a free account). This is awesome because you can go back and rework things (or find them if your computer loses your work!).

Canva Cons:

  • Things get a little weird when I go to download my graphics. Sometimes. Other times it’s fine. I seem to have the best luck if I download a jpg instead of a png. I think it might be a problem with how Canva interacts with Firefox on my work computer.
  • Resizing images (which is something I need to do all the time) takes a paid subscription. Since I pay for PicMonkey but I’m not made out of money, I don’t have a subscription with Canva. I do tend to keep about $10 on my account there, though, because some of their elements are pay-as-you-go.
I made this graphic in WordSwag, and I think it took me two minutes. So fast and easy!
I made this graphic in WordSwag, and I think it took me two minutes. So fast and easy!

WordSwag! I was also introduced to this app just last year, and it’s been a huge time saver.

WordSwag Pros:

  • Absolutely zero graphic design stress. You pick a background or photo, and then you type in your text. From there you pick from many, many different text styles, and the app makes it perfect for you.
  • Pixabay photos are connected to the search feature. This means you have thousands of copyright free pictures to choose from.

WordSwag Cons:

  • Mobile only, as of this writing.
  • Limited options for tweaking the text. Sometimes things are almost right in WordSwag, but not quite. For example, I write about God a lot since I’m a faith-based blogger. In some WordSwag options “God” will be written “god,” which means an entirely different thing to my reader. There’s no way for me to simply fix that little g. I have to pick other options until I get the capital I need.

My goodness, I hope all this information helps you! If you have questions, find me on Facebook. You can find the link to the right and below this post. Again, here’s the PDF printable to summarize it all: printable-how-to-make-excellent-graphics-for-blogs-and-social-media.

Thanks for reading, and happy graphic-designing!
Jess

How to find contentment when your season of life is just really, really awful

How can I be content when this season of my life just totally stinks?

If you haven’t slept eight hours straight in weeks (or years!), this post is for you. If you can’t find contentment because your life is a terrible, awful mess, this post is for you.


If you have bills piled high on the counter and a lot of zeros in the checking account, this post is for you.

It’s also for anyone who is being literally smothered to death by small children, health problems, marriage struggles, or relationship issues.

If every single one of those things has landed upon you simultaneously, then let’s have a nice little chat.

I know you want to have a great attitude in the midst of the struggle. I get it. You’re not trying to mope around and spread gloom and despair. You see that Pinterest meme that says life isn’t about avoiding the storms, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.


And you want to believe that’s possible, but your life is this terrible, complicated mess and all you want to do is have three free hours to nap. And then you want to be able to afford to buy some really cute shoes.

You’re not asking for much.

You just want a little bit of quiet time and a little bit of money to go further than the basics. You’d love to find contentment, but your season of life really sucks stinks and you are sick to death of it.

I’ve been where you are. I was once a young mother with little money, a little house, and very, very little sanity. I felt stuck and crazy, and this was because I was stuck and crazy. There was no getting out of our situation unless a nanny and a trillion dollars fell from the skies.

I had no choice but to plug along, day after day, making the best decisions I could with what I had. It felt like things would never lighten up.

Contentment (and a better life!) can be sneaky

Here’s the thing– while I trudged along through the endless days, things did lighten up. The kids learned to sleep through the night and eat regular food and then they went to school. My sanity returned and eventually our finances balanced out.

I’d like to offer you a miracle cure to fast-track you through this season of life, but I can’t. I can only tell you this secret– it’s the trudging that eventually makes all the difference. Trudging along is really a thousand little choices every day that feel inconsequential all by themselves. Really, no one notices if you wipe a snotty nose a hundred times a day or restrain yourself from that $6 latte again.

You might be tempted to think those little choices don’t matter.

But, my friend, you’d be wrong. It feels like we’re going nowhere, but really every single one of those actions is digging us a little bit further out of the muck.

contentment is found one step at a time

It’s the sum total of all those steps that makes the difference.

One day you look around and realize you’re in a better, more wonderful place. But you wouldn’t have gotten there without the thousands of tiny steps each day. You’ve found contentment, inch by agonizing inch.

We pay off debt with each individual dollar that isn’t spent other places.

We love our children with a hundred hugs and a million kind words. Also, many bags of goldfish crackers and trips to the park.

Marriages are healed with many gentle responses and so, so many words bitten back.

I know it feels endless and hopeless. But don’t underestimate the value of the tiny things in this very season of life. They might be the very things that change the future.

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How to be a not-terrible hostess this Christmas season

As I write this, the holidays are approaching and you’re the elected hostess. It’s entirely possible your house is already filling with guests in some sort of Christmas Vacation scenario, and your Cousin Eddie’s dog is rooting through the trash while his tenement on wheels is parked in your driveway. The bedrooms and couches are filled to capacity and you’ve started smoking your hidden cigarettes again to ease your nerves.

How to be a great hostessYou want everyone to enjoy their holiday and their time in your home. But you’re also freaking out a little and wishing you’d moved to Iceland last year when you had the chance to transfer to the Kirkjubæjarklaustur office.

Just in time to calm your nerves, I bring you The Reluctant Entertainer (affiliate link*), the book that reminds us that hospitality is about opening our lives to our guests, not trying to impress them with our superior decorating, cooking, and cleaning skills. Being a great hostess doesn’t have to look like what we see on TV.

“Opening our lives” means sharing our actual lives, not the perfect ones we fake for social media. The pile of shoes by the front door can stay. So can the toys spread across the living room floor and the heap of clothes you hide on the far side of the bed.

The nasty garbage and the pile of dishes that smells like something died in the drain might be going  a little far, because generally guests do enjoy being able to breathe through the nose without gagging. And a wee bit of attention paid to the bathroom never hurt anyone, either.

Guests need comfortable places to hang out, good food, and some clean towels. Mostly, they want our presence, and not the jacked-up, anxious, nervous-breakdown-hostess edition. They’d like the calm and relaxed edition of us, the one who eats too many cookies and then hides the dirty cookie trays in the oven.

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On the other hand…some of you may be dreading your guests for good reason. They might be picky, demeaning, and critical, with a tendency to make pointed comments about your scuffed baseboards.

Guess what.

This says a lot about them, and nothing about you.

Their criticism comes from a dark place in their heart, and you don’t have to go there. Go about your business. Eat another cookie. Take a nip from the flask you keep in the top cupboard. But don’t let them convince you that you’re the problem.

You enjoy your holiday, be the best hostess you can be, share the joy of the season and the gift of Christ’s birth, and move on. They’ll go home soon and you can nap all through January.

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Halloween Reframe: How we can reclaim the holiday for good

So, I’m sitting here in a house that’s stuffed to the gills with Halloween candy. Almost twelve pounds, to be exact. And while I’m sitting here and the smell of sugar is wafting out of the cupboard, I’m thinking deep thoughts.
Halloween candy!

These deep thoughts tend to be comparisons between the Halloweens I grew up with and the Halloween I know now. Way, way back in the 80s, our conservative church culture viewed the holiday with suspicion and fear, like perhaps Satan was in the streets gobbling up little children as they went from door to door.

One of these things is not like the other...
One of these things is not like the other…

It seemed safer to stay home and watch TV and avoid Satan all together. Oh, sometimes we could go to the school party at night, or maybe the church put on an alternative Harvest Party– a little bit of Halloween, but not too much.

I get the general idea behind the mindset. It’s absolutely dangerous to go dabbling in the dark, spiritual realm. But whether we like it or not, I think we can all acknowledge that our communities and neighborhoods are on the move Halloween night. Not only are things hopping, they’re coming right to our doors. And we’re going to right to theirs. hot pink mums

We had a neighbor move in two months ago, and I swear to you I’ve seen his face three times (at a distance) in eight weeks. There were two weeks where I wondered if he’d actually died in the house and we should send in a rescue team. I’ve looked for ways to introduce myself, but he skitters in and out like he’s afraid of the fresh air.

Guess what, buddy. We’re coming over on Halloween and we’re going to introduce ourselves.  Prepare yourself.

Another set of neighbors held a party on Saturday and we had a chance to catch up with people we usually just wave at while passing. Small children ran rampant through Josh and Heather’s home, battling with plastic weapons from their costumes. During this chaos Josh and Heather calmly chatted with the adults, watching their house being slowly torn to shreds. They just laughed and said they’d clean up in the morning. They were more interested in building friendships than protecting their carpet.

gourds and pumpkin

I’ve been watching our friends online and I’ve seen pumpkin carving parties, trunk or treat preparations, and group outings to the pumpkin farm. I love how people are coming together over chocolate and giant orange vegetables. We can reframe this holiday and use it to reach out, to grow closer, to strengthen friendships and start new ones.

At the moment I have all the candy in the high cupboard over the fridge. I like to tell myself it’s because I’m hiding it from the children, but really it’s to slow myself down from eating all of it before the trick or treaters show up. Because when the little ghosties and ghouls come begging, I’m going to be ready for them.

They might leave my porch a little bit afraid of the over-friendly lady handing out twelve pounds of candy, but they’ll certainly know I was glad they stopped by. I’ve decided this is a chance to love my neighbors, and community. And I may take a wee nibble of chocolate while I’m at it.

What about you? How does your family approach this subject?

How to find your blue carpet friends (and why you need to!)

blue-carpet-friends-3Are you surrounded by friends who get you? I mean, do you have friends who support you in all your life choices? I think they’re key to living out your calling and dreams, and here’s why.

I have this good friend, Betsy, who is also my hairstylist. Now that my hair care routine requires quite a bit of dye to restore my luscious locks to the color I remember them being at age 25, Betsy and I get quite a bit of quality time together every six weeks.

The last time I was in the shop we started talking about priorities in life, and the toll they take on our finances. For example: choosing to travel as a family and/or enrolling the kids in a Christian school. Both are wonderful options, but neither comes cheaply. We talked about making all the budget areas stretch so we could fit our priorities into our financial picture without taking on debt.

And then we really got on a roll and examined how our friendships can be the key to helping us stay on track with our life choices, or they can derail us in the most dangerous ways.

I told her about how many years ago we’d chosen a completely different preschool for Caleb, because the community at his older sister’s preschool included people who actually went to the yacht club. They drove SUVs the size of my living room. They gave birthday parties for three year olds that cost hundreds of dollars.

I was out of my league in my rusty Chevy and wee little house and homemade cupcakes. So far out of my league, that for Caleb’s preschool experience we chose a little school in a farming community to our south. I felt far more comfortable there, like my life goals made sense to them and then, in turn, to me while I was there.

Betsy understood exactly what I meant, and told me about their friends with blue carpet. “They can afford new carpet,” she said, “but they have other priorities. They just haven’t changed it yet.”

That blue carpet brings something important to their relationship. It’s a statement. A reminder that not everything in life has to be perfect. It’s okay to have financial limitations or life goals other people might not understand.


It’s camaraderie, too. When we can peer into a friend’s life and see tangible proof that they feel no need to have everything matching and new and shiny and perfect, we can hold our our mismatched little lives close together and feel like we’re on the same team. Someone gets us.

On Thursday nights I take our kids to a local youth group and pull my beat up Sienna in next to my friend Kris’s beat up Sienna. We open up our trunks together to try to locate the leaks we both have, leaks that soak our trunk carpets in a good rain. We’ve been bonding over weird things since our college days, but those leaky trunks are just one more piece in the friendship.

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It’s not like friendships start and blossom over things like wet carpet or blue carpet or even brand new carpet.

They blossom when something in me recognizes something in you, and we feel like we’re understood. We might not have the same life goals, we might not have the same blue carpet or old minivan, but we understand that you’re picking your important things and it’s okay for me to pick mine, too.

Friends who support us while we carve out our lives are one of God’s greatest gifts. So, today, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice your friends’ oddities and quirks and mismatched life. And may you say, out loud, how wonderful you think it all is. Your words might just give them the courage and joy they need today.

Flop down on their blue carpet and tell them it brings out the blue in their eyes. Climb into that minivan and say, “Oh, no. Mine smells so much worse than this. This is fine.”

Blue carpet is a way to connect and encourage. It’s kind of precious like that.

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Creative Contentment: how to have fun instead of slowly dying from despair

creative-contentment

I used to think that being content meant I was so blissfully, joyfully happy with life that I lost all desire to change anything.

I didn’t know how much room for change we have, even while living a simple life. There’s so much room in there. So much variety. So much freedom and creativity involved.

Being content is all well and good, but sometimes we get a little bit sick of the way things are.

We yearn for something different. Better.

Then perhaps we mentally chastise ourselves for allowing discontentment to creep into our thoughts. Or, at least this was the way for me. But I’ve realized something important recently– it’s possible to be content while absolutely changing everything.

It’s okay to want things to be different, even while we try to live simply, being thankful for what is.

We don’t have to live in drudgery and quiet despair for the rest of our days, relabeling it contentment and then fading into the gray. We don’t have to put up with clothes that have turned into tatters, or a 2002 Corolla that was a really good deal but makes you sigh every time you look at it.

Let’s talk about how creativity can help us be content and keep some fun in our lives.

For example, we have a house that I love, but there were some things that didn’t quite feel like home in our house. I absolutely knew that I should be nothing but thankful for that place, because millions of people would gladly trade places with me. But I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite right.

Finally I gave myself permission to start changing things. Even though the cabinets were only a few years old (and I’d picked the dang things out myself) I started painting them. I repainted a few walls for a second or third time. I went to the nursery and bought a few excellent plants to fill in the landscaping. I framed some photos of our trip to Ireland and hung them in the kitchen, right where they make me happy ten times a day.

My goal was to be content with the house. It took a lot of work and creativity to get to that point. Sure, I could have passively accepted everything just as we found it the day we got the keys, but then we’d still be living with bare white walls and really, really ugly bathroom cabinets. Who has the time to live with that kind of hideousness?

Let’s take a look at a more challenging scenario– The Corolla. My husband loves cars. He loves them fast, he loves them quirky, he loves them sporty. The Corolla is none of those things. It’s a four door sedan with four cylinders and a radio that works only sometimes.

Creativity isn’t really going to help him much here. We could get him some fuzzy dice and maybe a pine tree air freshener, but it’s not going to help the gutless engine or the automatic transmission. I think what we need is creative financing so we can trade some vehicles around. I’m happy as a clam in The Corolla, so maybe it’s time to trade the van for something jazzy for him to drive. Or maybe we can adjust some of our financial plans so a different car is on the near horizon.

Maybe he’d like to ride this bike instead of The Corolla?

I think the man needs some hope, super bad. He’s absolutely committed to being a mature grown up about this whole vehicle situation, but I see him shudder every time he looks at The Corolla. I’m not making that up. The gray despair is swirling around his ankles, threatening to suck him under. I love this man; I can’t let him die slowly of a four-cylinder engine.

I don’t want you dying slowly of despair, either. Whatever is going on in your life, I want you to live simply and joyfully. Here’s what you do:

  1. Choose your priority. Whatever it is– staying home with the kids, getting your budget under control, running the organic blueberry farm– identify what’s very most important to you.
  2. Cheerfully make a list of all the secondary stuff that’s bothering you, and then find the antidotes to those problems. Think wide. Think long. Brainstorm with your most creative ideas. Throw out any ideas that interfere with your priorities, but just go crazy with trying new things.

I can’t wait to hear what changes for you! Please, let me know.

Home Contentment Series Part 5: Finally, now I can buy things for the house.

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You might be asking yourself if there will ever be a good time to buy things for the house. And I’m here to tell you that yes, there’s a time and a place! Let’s get right to it.

{Welcome to our home contentment series! You’ve joined us on our last day. You can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 and catch up with us.}

Perhaps by now you’ve lost hope. We’ve been at this home contentment series for four solid days and you’re just about to send me an email to tell me I’m an idiot and you hate these ideas. You are ready for the part where we get to burn the ugly old couch and get a new one. Please don’t email me hate letters, because I do understand your frustration. I totally agree there’s a time and place to buy things for the house.

You don’t have to put up with the old, the ugly and the stinky for the rest of your life. Just a few weeks ago I took my pizza pan for a walk–straight to the trash. It was awful and we’d put up with it for five years. Could we have afforded a new pizza pan before that? Yes, but I was feeling cheap and frugal. So I put it off and put it off.

But there’s a point where cheap and frugal are just plain dumb, my friends. We cross the line from good common sense to tacky and dumb. There’s nothing wrong with buying new things when we need new things. Furniture wears out. Carpet gets stained. The fridge dies.

Except this couch, which we purchased in 1999 and it REFUSES TO DIE. I will own this couch until I'm dead. Maybe they'll bury me on it, I don't know.
Except this couch, which we purchased in 1999 and it REFUSES TO DIE. I will own this couch until I’m dead. Maybe they’ll bury me on it, I don’t know.

This is part of life and it’s okay to buy new. But there’s a difference between buying a reasonable new tool, and buying things just because you’re in the mood for something flashy and you don’t particularly care how it affects your finances.

We know new things won’t solve the deeper problems in our souls, right? So let’s consider a few questions that will help us dig deeper. Are we trying to pacify something that needs to be addressed with prayer or counseling or a smack in the head, or are we actually making a mature and reasonable decision?

Here are things to ask yourself when evaluating a purchase:

  1. Is this a tool that will serve our family well? Will it serve us better than what we already have? Maybe the new couch has a hide-a-bed, and your guests can use it. Maybe it doesn’t smell like dog or Great Aunt Myrna’s Pall Malls. Fine and excellent. No-Aunt-Myrna stink is a dang good reason.
  2. Can we actually afford it? I know, huge bummer. But the fact remains that contentment is shot to hades when the credit card bill shows up and you don’t have the money to pay for it. Do yourself and favor and wait until you have the money for it. Or go on a long and serious hunt for a version that you can afford. I’ve dedicated serious portions of my life to searching for a high-quality, inexpensive couch/house/rug/bed. It’s fun! It almost makes me understand those weirdos who sit in the woods for all of November waiting for a deer to shoot. Except I’m warm and darting in and out of resale furniture shops, not sitting in a tree stand with a weapon.

    I found this chair at an estate sale for $150. Best purchase ever.
    I found this chair at an estate sale for $150. Best purchase ever.
  3. Have I waited a reasonable amount of time before replacing the old thing? If you’ve been living with the inadequate or hideous item for long enough, you’ll know. This isn’t a hard and fast rule you can memorize, but more a level of maturity you will know by instinct. If you’ve been a grown up for a long time while you suffered, then good enough.
  4. Is it really, exceptionally beautiful? Will it make us very happy? Happiness doesn’t always follow the rules of common sense. Right now I have a painting of two old, pudgy ladies in their old-fashioned bathing suits, and they’re tiptoeing into the ocean together. There’s no practical use for that art piece (I use the term loosely). It just makes me really happy, okay? I found it at the resale shop for $20 and love it every time I see it. If a purchase makes you feel the same way, then that’s a pretty good reason. Do we really want to go through life being practical and beige and safe? No! Sometimes we want to see fat old ladies going for a swim.

    Well, here we have Exhibit A. I don't have a good explanation, I just love it. The end.
    Well, here we have Exhibit A. I don’t have a good explanation, I just love it. The end.

Now that you know I have disturbing taste in art, let’s move along.

Back to one last point. I’ve found it helpful to have a plan for what needs to be replaced. This gives you the ability to prioritize your purchases, working slowly through the list as finances and common sense allow. Your plan will depend on you. What do you hate the most? What’s in the worst shape? What doesn’t fit your family anymore? You know. You know what your family needs. Come up with your plan and work it. (The free checklist below has a place to make this list. How helpful is that!?)

One day you will look around and feel so much better about your home. I know it might feel like it’s too far away and you’re still tempted to charge all the shiny things on your credit card. Before you make that step, may I make one bold suggestion? Pray about it. Now, God is not some magic genie in the sky, waiting to drop blessings on your head when you say the magic words. But I do believe, after many years of seeking God and learning more about Jesus Christ, that he is deeply and intimately involved in the lives of those who seek him.

This is the new couch we paid cash for. The Lord did not drop it out of the sky.
This is the new couch we paid cash for. The Lord did not drop it out of the sky.

He will not drop a new Pottery Barn couch from the clouds. Your carpet will not magically roll back and reveal perfectly restored mahogany floors just because you begged God hard enough to get what you want. He’s not your grandpa in the toy aisle.

But I know that many, many times over the years he’s provided things for me that I could not have provided for myself. Usually it’s when I’m in the middle of trying very hard to have a great attitude and hunt for something that’s close enough to what I want, within our budget. But he is a God who loves us and wants to provide for his children, and I have personally experienced that many times over.

If you think (or know!) you’re one of those children, try praying about it. See what he opens up for you. He might not choose to work miracles on your material possessions, but he might work a miracle in your heart. And trust me when I say that’s even better.


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