Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lay down your life

John 15:13 King James Version  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I love this bible verse. So much so that I asked a friend to cross stitch it for me and it hangs in my kitchen.

On the surface this verse looks really straightforward - it's asking us to die for the people we love. We could probably extend that to the causes we believe in, like our country or fighting injustice. Like Christ. He died for us. Simple, right?

But I think this verse is so much more than that very literal interpretation.

You see, in my super cushy life, I don't have much chance of dying, either for a cause or a person. Because of my lack of exposure to death, and sacrifice in general, it's super easy to believe that I'd really die for another. (This is the part where I start singing "Ride" by 21 Pilots: "a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room. But I don't see many bullets coming through...metaphorically I'm the man, but literally I don't know what I'd do." It's a great song. Go YouTube it.)

Because for most of us our lives are unlikely to be demanded of us, we feel we can hear this verse and walk away in smug self righteousness. "I'd totally die for my neighbor. Go me!" End of story, right? Not only is that probably untrue, but it's incredibly shortsighted. There is so much more demanded of us in this verse. You see, we are conflating the words life and death. The story of our lives is not summed up by how we die! (Imagine the obituaries that would make! Lol!) If we understand that our lives are more than just how we die, why do we treat this verse so narrowly?!

For me, this verse can be boiled down to 2 things:

1) Live for others.

2) Risk yourself.

I can't really treat them as separate topics, though, because they are inextricably linked. So here goes!

Lay down your life for your friends to me means "live your life for others, not for yourself." This kind of self sacrificial living is a much greater demand than simply becoming a martyr for a cause, or a human shield. It expects us to live for others EVERY SINGLE DAY instead of just one moment of extreme conflict. Now, don't get me wrong, standing up to injustice when your life is on the line doesn't sound easy. But this verse challenges us to live each and every single day of our existence in a certain way. That takes diligence and practice and perseverance. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.." I want this one in my kitchen, too. It was in my kitchen growing up.) We live our lives for others by valuing the welfare of the people around us (and in this global world, that means EVERYBODY) more than we value our own. That doesn't mean self abuse. It means making choices that allow others to shine, even if we do not. It means not getting our way all the time, and not whining about it or calling attention to it.

Ok, so we live our lives for others. But nuts and bolts, what does that MEAN? Well, here comes #2. We risk ourselves. And for us in our soft beds and comfortable lives that may sound weird. What is risky about the way we live? And I say, exactly! So what holds us back from doing the right thing - letting your husband pick the movie on movie night; re-prioritizing when you are busy up to here and someone comes to you in need; spending your money wisely so you have enough to give to others with greater need than you; approaching a homeless person and trying to help; asking someone on the side of the road if they need a ride or a jump or a cell phone; sticking up for a cashier or waitress getting abused by another customer; confronting that friend who is saying something racist; publicly admitting you are a Christian... What in the world stops us? Fear and Pride.

We are afraid of so many things in our world that shouldn't be scary. But the biggest one? Looking (or sounding) stupid. And where does that utterly irrational fear come from? PRIDE. We don't want to lose our standing in social circles by doing something daring. Uncomfortable. Unpopular. Nonconformist. RIGHT.

Well, my friends, I challenge you to risk yourself to live for others today. Go out there in the world that is lacking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and put yourself out there. Try something small to get you started. My favorite one to suggest is saying "God bless you" instead of just "Bless you" to people. It's subtle, but a start. Get your mind thinking about the ACTUAL consequences of doing a particular thing - is there really going to be a backlash? What is it? Is it more important to avoid those negative consequences and allow the situation to continue as is, or is there more value in acting? Get in the habit of making a quick pro/con list in your head when you see a situation. And then act.

A side note/disclaimer: I do not have any kind of degree in theology. My thoughts are my own and may or may not be absolutely correct. I also am super duper flawed. I do not practice what I preach. As Paul said (Romans 7:15;18-19 NIV) "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." So please, don't look at me and my stupid messed up sinful self and use it as a reason to hate Christians for being duplicitous and hypocritical. I freely admit that I am no better than you or anyone else. I struggle all the same as you. However, I am trying to listen to the Word and figure out what that means for me, in my slice of existence for my speck on the globe at this moment in history. Those are the thoughts I have shared here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Listen to people who don't agree with you

A few years back, when this blog was more active, I read a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and I began writing this post. The world has changed profoundly since I began writing this, and I think the message here is more important than ever.

Back to Rich Dad, Poor Dad: Simply put, it is inflammatory. The first half of the book was so infuriating, I wasn't sure reading it was good for my health. My blood pressure skyrocketed every time I cracked the cover, because I would get SO angry with what he said.

But I stuck with it. I read the whole book. Context didn't help me agree with him, but I understood his arguments. And while I don't agree with him on a LOT of things, I do actually agree with him on some things. And that was really surprising. Because, while we can be just POLAR OPPOSITES on some things, we did have some things in common. When I started the book I thought there was going to be absolutely nothing in there of any value because we were so far apart on so much. Our values were out of sync. But the truth is, I learned from it.  I learned how he looks at the world, and what he believes to be true. I listened to his arguments and even though I disagreed with a lot of the conclusions he came up with (as well as some premises that he began with) I just kept reading.

What I do next is up to me. I get to decide whether or not I agree, whether his ideas are sound, and whether or not I will choose to take some of his advice, or any at all.  But if I had not read his book, I would not get the benefit of another perspective. I couldn't possibly have understood his points without reading what his justifications were.  I could have assumed I understood, but I wouldn't have, in reality. So listen. Think. And THEN decide.

I am not telling you to swallow everything every book/person/news article/etc. feeds you. Quite the opposite. But when we listen with open minds rather than shutting down when someone doesn't agree with us, we expand our mindset and learn to make changes to our own beliefs and worldview.  It makes us better people.  So try not to get mad, try not to throw books out windows, and decide for yourself what is right and what is garbage.  But don't shut it out.  It could teach you something.

Further reading: How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

On Being Brave, Not Perfect

I listen to public radio. Like, a LOT. Yesterday as I was running errands for my mother in law, I caught part of an episode of On Point. The guest was Reshma Saujani, the woman who started Girls Who Code - a program that encourages girls to explore technology with the hopes of bridging the gender gap in the industry.  But she wasn't talking about coding... She was talking about sociology.

Her argument is that we as a society foster risk taking in boys while we teach girls to be perfect.  Doesn't sound so sinister. And yet, she pointed out the damage this does.  Women do not want to fail. I don't think anyone LOVES failure, but women really really don't.  We would rather quit entirely than fail at something.  And when we do, we experience massive backlash, both from our own internal monologue AND from the world around us.  We think that if we are not naturally amazing at something, it is not worth doing.  Being "just ok" at something is not acceptable.  We must either excel, or do something else. Listening to this show, I slowly began to realize that this had been the habit of my ENTIRE LIFE, including the conversation I had had with my husband that morning.

You see, I like being the best.  I get a lot of pleasure out of having the best brownies or the cutest outfit or making the prettiest things. But its not just pleasure.  I also NEED that positive reinforcement to feel I am doing well. But its not just feeling like I am doing well.  I CRAVE that positive reinforcement to tell myself I am a worthwhile person.  So failure?  Well that basically tells me I AM a failure.  Not that I did something wrong, but that something is wrong with ME as a PERSON.  That my value as a human on this earth is somehow lessened. It sounds preposterous when I type it out, but as I sit here writing, I can list you out dozens of times I have been paralyzed for fear of failure.  Here's a particularly good one.  I did not write the final English paper in my Junior year of high school.  It was worth more than half my grade.  I did that a lot in school, you see.  If I didn't know exactly how to begin and how to make it THE BEST PAPER EVER, I simply wouldn't start.  I failed a lot of classes that way, but I didn't fail the assignment... I simply got no points because I couldn't bear to be scrutinized and be found lacking. If I never tried, I couldn't fail.  Repeat that about a hundred times and you have my high school career. And Jr. Hi.  And basically everything after 2nd grade. Yikes.

So that leads me to today.  I missed a big chunk of the show, so I listened to it this morning via podcast. My world opened.  Her closing words were some advice on how to be brave.  The first was to practice being imperfect.  The last one was something like "just do it" so I decided to Nike myself.  I have wanted to write a blog for so long.  But I worried about things like, "what if no one reads it" and "what if people disagree with me and argue in the comments and its upsetting" or "what if what I write isn't correct" or "what if I never get any followers" or "what if it doesn't have a unifying theme and all my posts seem haphazard" or "what if I don't look professional..."  I constantly cut myself down over real or imagined threats to my perfection and therefore my self worth.  So here I am, publishing a post I have NOT rewritten 100 times.  Or even twice (Edited to add: yeah ok, I couldn't do it... I ended up at least proofreading and changing some wording...).  Although I did google the definition of sociology just to make sure I was using it right.  And of course I looked up Reshma's name so I could spell it correctly.  Twice.  But I am putting myself out there.  Raw and unfiltered.  Bravely.  Because with all the time I would spend agonizing over this post and rewriting it forever and then NEVER ACTUALLY PUBLISHING IT, I could be doing what I really want to do... Going back to school for fashion design.  Yep, that's the conversation I had with my husband this morning.  I am tired of being too afraid to live my life. Here is to many more brave, imperfect moments.  Let's do this together, women!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Never Pay Full Price and Making your own deals

Part of making money is saving money, right?  Everyone knows that a penny saved is a penny earned, and I don't know anyone who blatantly wants to overpay for things.  However, looking for good deals can be confusing.  How do you know you are getting a good deal?  How do you know when is a good time to buy? Where do you go to find amazing deals?  Well, lets try to demystify some of this...

I am a firm believer in the principle of "never pay full price" (aka NPFP).  I think it comes from my crafty side.  If you are crafty, you probably know that you never go to Joann's or Michael's without a 40% off coupon AT LEAST.  30% off is maybe acceptable if you have to have it right away, but if you can wait, there will be a 50% off coupon or sale coming up at some point.  So hold out and look for the deals.  Why do I know this?  Well, I shop there frequently, and I am familiar with how their ads work and I know the inventory they sell intimately.  I also know there are other shops around and if I can't get it one place I can get it another.  I also know when an unbelievable deal comes around, and I buy what I need then.  I shop a lot, so I know what a good or a great deal looks like.

If you aren't shopping craft stores, these principles still hold true.  If you buy groceries a lot, you may notice that milk coupons come out about every two weeks, and when one store has one, usually they all do.  If you are like my family, you can't go 2 weeks without buying milk, so I hit up more than one store to use my milk coupons or I go to somewhere like Walmart that takes competitors coupons, and I stock up ahead of time.  Milk expires, but not THAT fast, and I know we will use it.  I also know that once in a while my local store has amazing deals on canned goods.  I buy as many as they will let me (or usually a case if they have no limit) because I know I will go through them, and they have a long shelf life.  If you wont drink that much milk or use that many canned tomatoes before they go bad, don't fall into the trap of buying up on it only to throw it out.  Know your household needs, and buy the things that work best for you.

So how do you find out what a good or a GREAT deal looks like?  The answer - do your research. For things like groceries, you need to do it a lot.  For larger items, you need to do some shopping around. Get yourself comfortable with pricing and asking questions.   Ask sales people if there are any promotions coming up, and also ask about ones that just ended that they can still sneak you in on (sometimes it is easier to get them to cut you a deal if they know they will get a sale on the spot). Talk to others about it and see what they are seeing and spending. Look online for sales.  Even if they are not in your area, you may be able to get an idea for what a good sale price looks like and then wait until one comes up by you.

Next, how do you know when to buy?  Well, first of all, don't be in a hurry.  If you wait to purchase something until you need it right away, you don't have time to wait for the good deals.  Plan large purchases as much in advance as you can.  For many those large items you only buy once in a great while, like appliances, cars, or electronics, there are certain times of the year that are better than others for buying. Most consumables and durable goods have a cycle, meaning they come out with a new model around the same time.  There are tons of guides out there from consumer organizations and budget or shopping bloggers that can help you figure out when items are going to be clearanced out to make way for incoming stock or to clear space as the seasons change.  As long as you don't mind having last year's model of washer and dryer or waiting until summer is over to get that larger grill you have had your eye on, this is a great way to save.  Save even more by buying floor models.  A few dings and dents can save you a bundle!  This also applies for smaller things like clothes and food, but you may be less likely to wait when the payoff isn't as big, and I don't blame you! Decide what your needs are and wait only when it makes sense to you.

Over time, I found myself wishing I had a coupon for 40% off for everything.  I went to the grocery store, and I wished I could pay less for the meat or flour I was buying.  I went to get a new computer after mine died, and I swear I felt physical pain paying sticker for it.  Buying Christmas presents, I wished everything went on sale as much as I wanted, and even if it was on sale, I wanted a better deal.  Our last question was, where do you find amazing deals?  You can go to flea markets, garage sales, outlet stores, and more, but this is kind of a trick question.  The answer is, don't find them, make them.  When you go to the store to buy a new fridge, knowing that you are buying at the time when the new models are coming out and you have your eye on the floor model, let the sales person know that you saw a similar fridge at a competitor's store for less and ask if they will match the price, or ask if you can get a % off discount because there is a large scratch on the door, or ask if they can apply the promotion they are using to clearance their stock on the floor models, too... Don't be afraid to ask for a good deal.  There are about a million ways to talk a price down, and generally, you will be successful.  Be creative, and most importantly, don't be shy.  Bartering is a skill that many cultures nurture from birth, but us Americans seem to have missed the boat.  Haggling over price makes us so uncomfortable, we would rather pay way more than necessary to avoid doing it.  Its a bummer that it makes us so uncomfortable, but that has some bonuses, too.  People you are buying from are also so unused to people asking for a deal, they rarely say no.  Use the social awkwardness to your advantage and make yourself a GREAT deal!  You should still attempt to find those great shops that always have a good deal or hit up craigslist and local garage sales for things, but never miss the opportunity to haggle, even in a retail store.

Do your research, shop around, look for the right time, ask for a deal, and buy up when you find a GREAT deal.  You could be pleasantly surprised, and your wallet might be, too!

A note on haggling:  This can be a slippery moral slope.  Many people view haggling as dishonest or rude because you are "cheating" someone. That is simply not true.  Garage sales and craft fairs are a few examples of when people expect to haggle, but even your local chain store has a large markup they can come down on.  I take the opinion that it is the seller's responsibility to stay firm on a price.  The seller always retains the right to decline a sale.  That said, I may argue my case, but I will never manipulate someone into doing something they clearly are not comfortable with.  Bottom line: if it feels slimy and wrong, don't do it.