Social Media Can Contribute to Mental Clutter

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This is the third day I have not logged into Facebook… and I haven’t missed it.

Facebook was my cigarette even though I have never been a smoker. I would be waiting in the car for my husband, or taking a break, and would always find some excuse to get on Facebook. My husband would get back in the car and I would still be on Facebook. I would be oblivious to everything else but Facebook, getting on it while eating lunch or while a movie was on, and I would little realize that I would be passing up many moments of mindfulness. I also exchanged the work involved for real socialization (calling people, going to events, etc.) for fake ones on Facebook. Even these lost meaning for me.

This is not a diatribe against Facebook, but I find I’m relieved to take a break from it. I think of it now and then but I just watch that curiosity play in front of me and then pass it by. I may just see how much longer my indifference for it can last. I might even actually call a friend or two.

photo credit: Almond Butterscotch via photopin cc

What I Like Instead…

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After I stated some of what I don’t like In my last post, I figured I’d blog about what I am looking forward to:

A brand-new start.

As soon as Christmas is over, I relish thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year and try to erase last year’s false starts from my mind.

For one thing, I’d like to take better care of myself. I want to have a lighter, cleaner diet (and, thus, have a lighter, cleaner body). I want to incorporate more physical activity throughout my day (walking, riding my bike more, dumbbells, etc.).

I want to go paperless in 2014! My husband and I have boxes of papers and old mail that we hurriedly threw together when we moved. Many of the boxes still sit on the garage floor. I want to make it a habit to go through a box for at least 15 minutes a day to file or shred something. Eventually I’ll empty a box and go through the next one. If there’s any really important papers to keep, I’ll take pics of them with my iPad.

I want to learn more new songs and sing and play them on my guitar around town.

Aside from these things… trying to keep it simple.

Christmas is a Social Construct

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Quick. Name as many things as you can that you think have to do with Christmas:

The Christmas tree
Jesus
Santa Claus
Presents
Fruitcake
Snow
Rudolph
Candy canes
Christmas music
Frosty the Snowman
Cookies
Turkey
Decorations…

And the list goes on.

For those who like a traditional American idea of what Christmas is all about… I think that’s great and that people ought to spend this time of year in the way that means the most to them. My way of thinking about Christmastime, however, is progressively changing as the years go by, and I find that that is okay as well.

I, like some other bloggers I’ve noticed, have become disenchanted with this type of celebration in recent years, though I think there’s some parts of it worth keeping: family time – check. Time off of work to spend more time with family, spend in contemplative reflection, or get done what I wish to – check. A family feast – check. What I’m taking issue with (at least personally) is how consumeristic advertisers and other people have made Christmas. I’m talking about how I still feel the consistent weight of pressure to purchase and exchange presents at Christmas time… in an ongoing recession era, without an independent stream of income. Really, friends… do you think I really want this expectation placed on me?

And do you think I want gifts in return? Not interested in the slightest, thank you. I have all I need; family, food on the table, and a roof over my head. You see, if you give me a gift, then I feel like I have to give you one in return, or else I feel like a “taker”. If I give you a gift, though expecting none in return, you will still feel obligated to give me a gift. And the cycle goes on.

My grandmother, a very wise and practical lady, made the decision a few years ago that, at our yearly Christmas Eve family gathering, we would not be exchanging presents. To this day, none of my relatives seem to miss getting gifts. I know I don’t. We are happy just to nibble at a finger food buffet, sit around, and spend time with one another.

Every year before the gathering, my grandmother asks me, “Now you know we’re not exchanging gifts for Christmas, right?”

I am always more than happy to assure her that this is totally fine with me and always preferable. After all, Christmas isn’t really about “things”. Don’t let the fat man in the red suit (a modern-day Bacchus) fool you.

You might well counter what I’m saying by patronizingly reminding me that the emphasis at Christmastime is not on “getting things” so much as it is about “giving”. Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways. But before you dismiss me as a “Scrooge”, let me also remind you that “Christmas” is an attitude of the heart and should be practiced all year around. Like myself and most of my family and friends, I can imagine that people don’t need an over-abundance of possessions that they probably won’t use but they may need help with their electric bill every now and then. Perhaps about $30 to purchase a decent pair of pants to replace the worn-out ones. I don’t have much myself, but I would gladly give some of my bread (whether monetary or literal) to a family who truly is in need. If you have a decent job and can afford to wear Manolo Blahniks, then forgive me if my money doesn’t stretch far enough to buy you a Christmas present (and please don’t buy me a gift either. You will only embarrass me).

What about the thought that Christmas is also about Jesus Christ and his birth? You can bet I still believe in this. Did you know, however, that Jesus wasn’t actually born around Christmas-as-we-commonly-know-it? Many Bible scholars have made educated guesses that Jesus was born around the summertime.

Honestly… Christmas time hasn’t done anything to raise my spiritual awareness. I already know – all year long – that Christ came as God in human form to show us the Father, die for the sins on mankind, and rise again and share His eternal life with those who believe in Him (not trying to proselytize anyone who disagrees with me; I respect your right to disagree). I either believe in these things year-round or I don’t really believe them at all. A certain time of year is not going to make me magically more contemplative about the mysteries of the incarnation if I’m not already inclined to be so. And presents aren’t going to help me to become more contemplative, either. They might even be a distraction against the true meaning of Christmas. Go figure.

“Christmas is for the children”, one might add. Yeah. Maybe you’re right. What a grinch I am. I just love seeing advertisers step the toy commercials several notches and frazzled parents go into credit card debt to make sure they buy their children enough Christmas presents so that they won’t pout that they only got ten presents more than other older family members this year. I love seeing consumeristic greed encouraged amongst the young. I love seeing them hurriedly rip through each present, toss it aside as though it was nothing, just to frenetically get to the next gift. Yeah.

Fellow bloggers, I’m sorry if I’m being a downer this year. I probably seem really cynical to you. I hope, however, that I am helping you more than hurting you. If you like your unique (or “normal”) way of celebrating Christmas and it works for you and your family, then think of my post as no more than my personal feelings about this holiday (and really, that’s all it is). For those, however, who feel the way I do… perhaps you can sensitively share your feelings with other family members and request a different way of celebrating Christmas. You never know unless you ask and may even find that your relatives and friends are actually relieved to forego the obligatory gift exchange. Perhaps you can explain to your children that next year’s Christmas will be more about giving than receiving, as you give your child[ren] one gift to donate to a needy child and one to keep (just a suggestion). Empathy can often be easily learned by the young, and children are often made happier by being able to help others.

Happy New Year.

photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) via photopin cc

The Simplest Chili You Will Ever Make

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It’s always smart to stock up on a variety of canned goods for those cold nights that you don’t want to go out to eat or to the store. Chances are, you can already find some basic things to whip up a mighty fine chili. All you need is a small crock pot (or pot to put on the stove), a couple cans of beans, some soup, and ground beef (optional).

1. Open vegetable or minestrone soup can, strain most of the liquid out, and pour in the crockpot,

2. Do the same with the chili bean can and the pinto bean can. Strain excess liquid off of pinto beans.

3. (Optional) Open and pour in the can of chili with beef in it (yes, I’m actually making chili out of chili. I’m weird like that).

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I also chopped up some onion and put it in there to make it interesting. Really, you can put whatever you want in there… chili powder, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, other veggies… whatever makes you happy.

4. Stir it all up in the crock pot, put the lid on, and just turn it on. The great thing is that the chili need not cook for hours (unless you want it to while you are at work). Canned foods are often pre-cooked, so it’s usually sufficient for the crock pot to heat it up for an hour or so.

Enjoy!

Learning to a Walk With a Limp

It rolls in like a black thundercloud on a sunny summer afternoon, slowly sickening the atmosphere before the pressure releases and the rain breaks looses. It’s the feeling I get whenever I hear bad news… a foreboding fear of the unknown. Any sunny mood I may have had before dissipates as if it never existed, and all is just plain awful.

I received those foreboding tidings this afternoon… the depression was so instant that I, upon arriving home from an errand, went straight to bed.

I’m not just making a big deal out of a one-time event. I have usually fallen back on a depressed sort of mood by default whenever something happens that I don’t wish to happen. Or when life becomes stressful, too fast, too full. I am one of the most simple people around (not to be confused with a simpleton, though I may be that as well) and by this I mean that I prefer a simple, quiet life with no chaos and no confusion to ripple-up any smoothness of my life.

How on earth do I even have the nerve to expect life to be like that? It just doesn’t happen. Others manage to suck it up and move on. Yet I often feel… stuck.

I do what I need to do, but rarely with joy or passion. There are times, to be quite honest, I’d rather do nothing. I have to kick myself in the rear each day just to get myself moving. I suppose this is where the “limp” comes in.

Things happen in our lives to set us “out of joint”… and God allows them. He may or may not be the Author of the events that rock our worlds… but He allows them to happen. This is where we wrestle with God, always expecting blessings and a brightly lit yellow brick road… not hardship on a narrow, decaying cobblestone path. Christ never promised an easy life even for those who follow Him and this is where many of His followers obtain their limp; they have discovered that they have misjudged God’s purpose for their lives. They thought that godliness would be a means of personal gain to them; they came to Christ believing that He had all the goodies for them… and none of the pain and trials. Indeed, it does seem that we get offended with God through disappointment of our misplaced expectations; after all, Christ did promise that His followers would “have life, and that more abundantly”. He does give us certain blessings… but these are not always what we expect. Blessings for me, for example, would take the form of constant smooth-sailing, no trials, no challenges… everything going perfectly (i.e., my way). If this is how I assume a blessing from the Lord will look then I will be disillusioned with Him and stuck in immaturity till the day I die. No, Christ will not let us down with a lie. He is honest about the struggles we will experience in this life. He never promised the journey would be easy; He did, however, promise to walk the treacherous paths with us.

So… life sets us out of joint and we are left with a limp. There is always some brokenness about us and, thus, we must lean on the Lord all the more as we walk and discover that we are but mere flesh. It is finally then that we realize the true blessings of the Lord… the treasures that sometimes are only discovered in darkness. Only in the darkest times of our lives can Christ often shine the brightest and show us everything he can be to us, as He draws us into true relationship with Himself where we finally learn to seek His face, not His hand.

I am, therefore, coming to see that learning to walk with a limp is okay. The limp only means that I have been through some tough times and am not the same, yet am better for it. It is a reminder to me that I and my comfort zone are not the center of the universe, but that God has a purpose in making me progressively more Christlike through character-building trials. The limp is reminder that, in my weakness, God will be my strength and help me to stay the course.

photo credit: Michael Heilemann via photopin cc

Focus is Not the Absence of Divergent Thoughts…

I have been reading a free version of Leo Baubauta’s e-book on Focus, from his well-known Zen Habits website (I get a lot of good inspiration there). The premise of the book is self-explanatory when one regards the title. I think about how far from being focused I really am.

As I sat down to study from a textbook on business law this morning, I was very aware of divergent ideas and thoughts that kept popping up in my mind… anything designed to tempt me away from studying. My iPad was by my side and seemed to call out a siren song luring me to look for a new app, look up Paris Fashion Week 2013, or other trivia. I dismissed these from my mind and plowed on… and found it wasn’t so difficult after all.

I made this observation: Focus is not the absence of divergent thoughts but our choice to ignore the thoughts when they pop up and keep on doing what we have been doing.

I’ve Got to Be Me

There are times I just need to blog just because… I need to blog.

I think that when I started my blog, I was feeling a little overly ambitious. I thought myself a writer. Perhaps I am… in a very loose sense. Not in the sense, however, that writing is the air I breathe and the stuff I’m made of. Sometimes my passion wanes for it. I have so much to do that the thought of adding another thing to do – even if it’s writing or blogging – burns me out.

The problem, however, is not writing. The problem (or, rather, the solution) is that I need to have no expectations on myself in writing and just let the writing be what it is, whenever it occurs.

I was going to have a large readership for my blog, like various others seemed to… but I think that’s the wrong motivation for me it this point in my life. I am not even remotely entertaining. All I have are my simple thoughts… motivations.

A lot of times I write simply to encourage myself… and to include others in the process. If anyone reads or doesn’t read my blog (or find it interesting), it matters little to me at this point in my life.

I often like to write or blog to share principles that I am learning in my own life. The thought that others may actually be reading what I am writing seems like a quasi-accountability to me; if I putting out a certain vision of what I want my life to be in front of others, then I have to be that way consistently even when I am not blogging. My motivation to write a blog, therefore, may seem self-centered… but perhaps, in some way, someone else who reads it might be helped by it too.

I can write nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon has said. I can’t reinvent the wheel. That’s okay. I will write to please myself and make no apologies for it. I can only be myself… and I think that it’s the best thing for every blogger to be – oneself.

‘Tis the Season…

“WordPress moments” are rare for me now. I have taken on a more active role in helping my husband with the business… and all hell seemed to decide to break loose over the past few days (no, it wasn’t my fault). I won’t go into the details, but business has been so stressful that, by about 8:00 tonight, husband was practically in a catatonic state and went to bed early.

Up until this point, I have been interested in taking on new projects… of the musical kind, the writing kind, the artistic kind… and so forth. I have wanted to invite friends over to my home, sharing feelings of warm hospitality with them especially as Christmas draws near. After a day like today, however, I do not wish to think of adding anything else to my “to do” list.

Part of our struggle regards daily organization of all aspects of the business. Consistent systems must be devised and incorporated into the running of an office and adhered to strictly. There is the daily paper chase to attend to; there cannot be an “accounts receivable” file in two different places, and a customer database still needs to be developed. Another challenge is reminding customers that, yes, we are a business and the workers must be paid. Yeesh.

As our workdays seem to get longer, I desire simplicity in our ways of handling business and life. I seem to recognize a season of paring priorities (and expenses) down to the bare minimum, even if it means missing things I really want to do for a while in favor of tending to my family’s most pressing needs. I’m now looking at the ways I sabotage my well-being by not guarding my priorities, and now I am ready for a change.