The Thousandeth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don’t know that anyone is actually reading my blog (yet : ), but I feel I should write something even though I am uninspired because it’s a blog and the whole idea of a blog is that you write in it continuously, like a journal or a diary (gasp for air).

And journals or diaries aren’t necessarily inspired, are they?  They’re ordinary and chronicle our thoughts and feelings about ordinary life.  I don’t know about you, but for me, writing allows me to articulate and process my thoughts and feelings–something my mind doesn’t apparently have time for if I don’t do it intentionally–and thus synthesize the mess of experiences I’m going through into conclusions or at least semi-conclusions.  Sometimes it can result in something inspired or profound.  (This is probably not going to happen in this post.  But it can happen.)

So yeah, ordinary life.  For me lately that has consisted of work and home life, as it does for most.  It’s also consisted of an evolving inner life.

Work life is new.  We just moved to Kansas City 4 months ago because my at-home job was transferred to more of an on-location gig in an office here.  While moving is ridiculously expensive (especially in this ridiculously bad housing market) and we were sad to say goodbye to some true friends, I for one was positive about the move.  I’m originally from this “heartland” part of the country.  Things are familiar, people are friendly and life is affordable.  I had also reaaaally missed flat land which lays out for miles and miles and gives great views of the sky (Raleigh, “the City of Oaks,” had far too many trees to ever see a sunrise or sunset, strangely enough, not that I’m complaining about trees, because they are great and help us breathe.)

Anyway, I’m transitioning from 4 years of working at home back to working in an office.  I appreciate some things — being with other people (mostly), morning prayer (most days), having an office to spread out all my papers and leave all my papers (most of the time).  On the other hand, I’m begrudging the business casual dress code (really? at a nonprofit? in 2009? shouldn’t we just do whatever Google does?  and I’m pretty sure they can wear jeans and they also have a play room with the little balls you can jump in… yeah…)

So on the whole, you can see the pros outweigh the cons, and I am glad to have a little work community to belong to (GREAT, salt of the earth people, in all honesty) and a job to do in life.  Some days I am great at it, some days I am not sure what I am doing, but all in all, we use our God-given gifts as best as we can and make people the top priority (both those we work with and those we aim to serve) and hopefully we end up helping a LOT of hurting people, since we are a nonprofit… that’s where the morning prayer helps us do better than we normally could on our own.

So having moved approximately 1,000 miles cross-country, home life is new, too.  We are beyond fortunate to have gotten a beautiful new home, much better than we could have afforded if the market wasn’t recessed beyond recognition (so that turned out to be good for us, on the flip side).  We got a foreclosed home that’s never been lived in–didn’t realize that existed.  We’ve got our minds set on furnishing rooms right now and next I’ll think about decorating… some curtains and wall hangings might not be a bad idea to up the “homey” factor.

It’s funny buying furniture right now because at the ages of 27 and 29 (almost 30), we’re not longer looking for $25 Craigslist deals (although we’ve done a LOT of that in the past, and it rocks).  We are now buying furniture that will last us for having parents come and go, having children, and just having 10, 20, or 30 years of life happen in our home.  It’s not for everyone, but nesting is definitely for me at this stage in my life.  In a couple years, it will be time for the baby chickadees to arrive! lol  The Kutzys.  Pastor’s little friends.  The kiddos.  You know what I’m sayin.

But for now, our life is the life of newlyweds, and we are enjoying this stage.  In 8 days, we will celebrate our one year anniversary.  We will remember the vows we made, the people who helped us celebrate, and most importantly, what we love about each other.  We are blessed (awww..).

And inwardly?  Even that is new.  We left an intentional home church community in Raleigh.  We left our Roman Catholic way of life from our growing up years.  (Though we could easily go back to either way of spiritual life, as we like them both and never that officially “left” anything.)

We’ve found a new church just down the road… seriously, just 1.5 miles down the road, and how often does that really happen in our car-centric lifestyles?  I was purposely looking for something nearby, having really liked the “neighborhood church” that we just moved from, where everyone was within walking distance so it was easy to do ordinary things together like walk the dog or have dinner.

We are loving how friendly and new-person-aware this church is, and enjoying the blend liturgy here and there with a modern expression of the Body.  I think this might be a place, or the place, where we can grow spiritually and socially and in a lot of other ways.   So that is amazing.  That usually takes months of agony.

I’m about to join a gym.  Pastor is happy and furry.  Tom needs to find a good job that’s a good fit for him.  We’re learning how to cook some new foods, and about to start planning the Thanksgiving menu (Mike and Jess are coming down – woohoo!)  Autumn is at its peak.

Ordinary life is the best thing we could ask for at this point in time.  So here I am, grateful, and just would like to soak in that gratitude right now… like a piece of bread in some foamy, vanilla-flavored egg batter, about to become scrumptious French toast…. totally soaking up that thankfulness. 🙂

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The dangers of one thing leading to another

It all started with a little back pain.

It was the day before we were about to move from our temporary “corporate apartment” to our new home in Kansas City.  With sheer glee, I was mentally scheduling each moment of the next day: sign the closing documents at 10am, unload our cars, buy some cleaning supplies, clean the floors and bathrooms, and eventually, close to midnight, greet my parents in the driveway as they came into town for a visit.  I was looking forward to all the things you do when you move into a new place.  And I knew that unloading all our furniture and belongings from 2 mobile storage units was part of the plan — woohoo, manual labor.

back painBut I was having back pain.  I’m not sure how it started as I hadn’t moved or lifted anything yet, but something was definitely out of whack. It was getting worse at an alarming speed — every hour it hurt more.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning without a ear-damaging shriek of pain.  (You see, I had a shifted pelvis just a year earlier… whether from playing in the Dead Sea with its quicksand-like suction or carrying overly-heavy bags in airports, I don’t know… but I shifted my pelvis.  And it hurt, bigtime.  Tom was the lucky person who got to see me wake up one morning, just crying like a baby because of the pain.  Meds didn’t help.  What I needed was a chiropractor.  Only when I was able to start getting chiropractic adjustments did I finally experience sweet relief from my terrible back pain.  Everything went back to normal.)

So suffice it to say, when my back started hurting about a month ago, I knew what I needed.  No aspirin, no extra sleep or special stretches or whatever it is people recommend when your back hurts… I needed someone trained in adjusting my entire spine.

My previous chiropractor in N.C. had given me a list of doctors he recommended in the KC area (I guess they had the same philosophy or approach).  So I finally looked at the list and called someone.  The name of the person I reached wasn’t the name on the list, but I had reached a chiropractor’s office, so I set up an appointment.

Thus began my journey into the unknown.  He took some x-rays, had me do some exercises and adjusted me.  I was back on my way to feeling great.  I was glad that a natural method was so effective.

But as practitioners of natural health, the chiropractors were interested in more than the alignment of my spine.  They are interested in total health, which includes just about everything.

In particular, it includes the area of nutrition.  A few visits into my treatment plan, they gave me a list.  The first page was good, healthy foods to add to my diet.  The second page contained foods and ingredients to avoid.

I appreciated their approach.  No pressure involved, and no high expectations.  He simply said, just choose two things to change and focus on those two.  That’s all.

Now for some reason, I had been drinking a lot of diet soda recently (or diet pop, as we say in Kansas).  We’d been guzzling down diet root beer, diet Coke, diet Sprite, diet orange soda, you name it.  It was our fizzy, fruity drink of choice.

Well I know aspartame (the sweetener in most diet sodas) is not a good ingredient, but it had never bothered me too much.  At least I wasn’t consuming lots of calories, right?

For some reason, I decided one thing I was going to do was eliminate diet soda.  I was going to can the cans for good (or at least till Christmas, that’s what I told the doc — don’t you hate making a health/diet change that is F-O-R-E-V-E-R ?  So scary! lol)  The other thing I decided was to eat fish like wild salmon once a week.

So all of a sudden, without really thinking about it, I had given up diet pop.  Interestingly enough, I started having to think about it a lot because apparently I had been reaching for it mindlessly for years.  It took a few days to remember that water was my new beverage, or apple cider, or anything else but diet pop.  (But it’s so convenient and cold, how it’s already in a can in the fridge!  Making water requires a glass… and ice… and turning the faucet… oh my!)

(Wow this is a long story isn’t it? lol  You’ve come this far, you might as well finish.)

Well giving up diet soda felt good.  I didn’t need it.  I definitely didn’t need the carbonation and chemicals in my body.  I started to think about food and chemicals… about organic products… about health and weight loss in general.  I started talking to the chiropractors about it while I was at their office.  For some reason, giving up diet pop opened up a new curiosity and a new world to me.

One day, they happened to mention this book called Skinny Bitch.  I had actually heard of it.  My mom read it, and here was its impact on her – she instantly became a vegetarian after reading it.  So I knew it was powerful.

They started telling me a little bit about the book.  You see, the book really doesn’t have all that much to do with being a skinny bitch.  Ha!  (Although it’s written in a really funny, foul way, as if your friend is smacking you across the face saying wake up and realize why what you’re eating is making you unhealthy.)

The book is more about how eating meat, dairy and any chemicals (additives, preservatives, artificial-anything, non-organic-anything) is making us all not only fat, but also contributing to the rise of illnesses like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and a lot of other sad conditions.

The book is pretty horrifying.  The idea is kind of to shock you into realizing just how true their theory is, but it’s not hard.  When you have factory farms and animal abuse and pesticides and mass production and all the things we have today so inherent in our food chain, it’s quite easy to reveal it for the disgusting (and often cruel, inhumane) process it is.

I’m not totally new to vegetarianism.  When I was younger, I gave up red meat entirely for about four years.  I’m not sure why I went back except I guess I lost my passion and wanted a hamburger. lol  But I have that in my history.  I’ve also learned a lot through exploring farmer’s markets, the benefits of eating organic, and watching movies like the recent Food, Inc. as well as Fast Food Nation.

It’s not just me — we all seem to be opening our eyes to the fact that the way we eat is not right and it has to be changed.  We are so removed from (and so apathetic about) the most intimate thing in our life — the food we put into our bodies.  It’s gotten out of hand, but we all seem to be realizing it.  Even the Obamas have planted a garden on the White House lawn that they and many others eat from.  So we’re making progress.

Well this whole run-in with giving up aspartame, and reading Skinny Bitch (I bought it and read it in one scary, scary evening lol, it’ll shock ya), and thinking about how inhumane and unsustainable meat eating is… it’s really had an impact on me.  I was just reading an Amazon review on the book Omnivore’s Dilemma which I need to read, and this guy summarized my feelings perfectly:

This has all made my head spin and my heart ache over the past month. Faced with the facts, I actually feel as though I am mourning the loss of my old diet.

That’s where I’m at.  Following what my mind and my heart say is right for me most likely means becoming at least vegetarian, if not vegan at some point.vege

However this isn’t something I can do overnight.  I need to learn the practical skills to become a healthy vegetarian.  So right now I’m looking up recipes, and experimenting with new foods and just mentally getting my head around the whole idea.  This is drastic, no doubt.  But for me, one thing led to another, and I must make a choice.

I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about healthy living and eating (it’s fundamental to living “the good life”… plus I have a funny story about a healthy Indian restaurant we just found, and my new favorite veggie websites).  I’ve even got a lot of thinking to do about whether humanely-raised meat from small, sustainable farms is okay for me or not.

But for now, let me just leave you with this.  There are a lot of videos on YouTube about vegetarianism, but this one is fun in a pop culture type way. All your favorite people who you never knew were vegetarians.:

Show me the money, girlfriend/boyfriend!

thumbs-up-suze-ormanHave you ever watched The Suze Orman Show?  This lady is awesome.  First of all, she’s a woman who is very empowered when it comes to personal finance (obviously), which is awesome in and of itself.  Secondly, she makes getting angry very entertaining to watch… we’ve got the opposite of non-confrontational here.  And third, she refers to people as “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” in an uber-uncool, motherly, yet endearing way.  Gotta love her.

Well Suze has a motto that is worth mentioning.  It’s pretty simple, maybe even a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s good to lay out the obvious to make sure it’s still obvious.

Her motto is: “People first, then money, then things.”

That’s the order of priority… a firm, unchanging pecking order of what should have our attention and affection.  You wouldn’t necessarily expect a personal finance lady on a national cable network to honor the all-surpassing importance of people in our lives.  Even if she did believe it, she wouldn’t have to make a big deal about it.  But she says it every time, and I appreciate it.

Somehow Tom and I caught a few episodes of her show on CNBC recently.  She has this segment at the end called “Can I Afford It?” The idea is that people have honed in on something they just have to have — a luxury car, golf lessons for their kid, a teeth cleaning for their dog, whatever it is — and they have to lay out all their finances so Suze can rule yea or nay on their case.

All their numbers come up on the screen – take-home pay each month, mortgage, credit card debt, retirement account and savings account.  She asks them some questions about where they are in life because major life changes will have an impact on their financial scorecard.  In the end, she gives them her coveted permission or gleefully yells DENIED!  (“Ya fired!”)

But what’s got us about this segment is just the sheer volume of cash that these families have.  It’s not unusual for the caller to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in an emergency savings account, and the same if not more (over $1 million) in their retirement account.  The take-home pay they cite is often upwards of $6000, $8000, $10,000 or even more PER MONTH for one family… and that’s sometimes just for two people as the sort of people who call in are often empty-nesters.

Now I don’t mean to be freaking out here about normal levels of wealth (although, please note, with 2 billion of our fellow humans living on $2 a day or less, this most certainly is NOT “normal”).  I know that this is indeed standard for many American households.  It takes a lot of moolah to keep a roof over our heads, heat/AC, and food arriving on the table, meal after meal after meal.  Health care costs, car-related costs, utilities, insurance, child care, entertainment, travel, gasoline, gifts… the list goes on forever.  Life in America, especially, runs on green.

But the numbers really give me pause each time I see them.  Wow, I think.  A lot of wealth passes through our hands each and every month.

And the retirement account levels that people call in with are especially flooring.  I can’t remember the formula she gave to give a very rough idea of what you should save for retirement, but suffice it to say we should all have millions in the bank before we give our final two weeks notice.

I can’t help but think something is wrong with the way we are approaching retirement these days, and with the way we are approaching our middle-aged and elderly citizens (and family members).  Must we face old age so independently, so defiantly, so securely surrounded by bank accounts with lots of zeros in them?  Must we depend so little on our family and friends?  Must we induce such fear in ourselves because we have not been able to save that magic number of Benjamins?

There’s got to be a better way…

A new blog, an epic topic

I like making lists.  Do you like making lists?  “To do” lists are the most common, as well as “to buy” lists to remind me what to pick up at the store.

But have you ever made one of those lists where you write down everything you are thankful for?  A gratitude list.  For me, it always starts with Tom, my family, a place to call home, good food to eat, the love of God (who is Love), our dog, and eventually gets to the more trivial… “brightly colored post-it notes…” and “10 more minutes on snooze.” lol Or similarly, maybe you’ve made a list of things that make you happy.  These lists are fun to make.

Well in some ways, I see my new blog as an ongoing discovery and celebration of these best things in life… things that constitute The Good Life, at least for me.  Sometimes a recognition of the little joys in life.  And sometimes, on a deeper level, an intimate, introspective look at the things that truly matter.  …if there even is a distinction between those two (we will see).

I realize this phrase “the good life” has as many meanings as interpreters.  For many people, “the good life” means forsaking busy civilization and learning to live peacefully and self-sufficiently in nature.  For others, it means acquiring the most luxurious goods this world has to offer and never needing to worry wear your next dollar will come from (quite the opposite!).  For me, it means something else entirely.  It’s a way of life that I am beginning to think about and define in this 27th year.  And well, I’m just bold enough to think the entire inter-cyber-net-universe needs to get this inside scoop!

I think an incredibly fascinating place to start with this search, as with all searches, is Wikipedia.  This site holds all the answers, if you didn’t know.  But since it’s community-edited, it’s always interesting to see what has been said and what’s been left out.  “The Good Life” entry is fascinating for this reason.  It’s relatively short for such an immense topic.  Why is it that this is all that’s been written about the ultimate experience of human existence?

THE GOOD LIFE

The good life is a term for the life that one would like to live, or for happiness, associated (as eudaimonia) with the work of Aristotle and his teaching on ethics.

RELIGIOUS APPROACHES

There has been a pattern in the life of the Christian Church of monasticism or ascetism, wherein members of the body of Christ separated themselves to be consecrated to a more contemplative lifestyle, or decided to live in voluntary poverty in order to better meet the needs of the world.

Recent developments in this field have been made by what some call the new monasticism. Young men and women, both monogamous married couples and celibate singles, share their homes and lives, usually in the inner city as a means and method of growing in their faith and ministering to the marginalized and hurting people surrounding them.

NON-RELIGIOUS APPROACHES

There have been many instances throughout history, especially American history, of individuals or groups of individuals attempting to return to a simpler state of existence, or, as Henry David Thoreau said, “to front the essential facts of life”. Thoreau wrote his influential memoir Walden about his personal experience with simple living. A century later, Helen and Scott Nearing published a series of books on “the good life” detailing their alternative lifestyle.

SEE ALSO

* Eudaimonia
* La dolce vita (The Sweet Life) – Federico Fellini’s 1960 film may be seen as an antonym of ‘the good life’ concept
* Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

REFERENCES

* Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World by Jonathan R. Wilson
* The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing
* Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
* School(s) for Conversion edited by Rutba House
* The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claibourne
* Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider
* Walden by Henry David Thoreau
* The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

…Back to me now.

So that’s a very interesting look at what is meant by “The Good Life.”  I will be reading some of these books and other materials and digging deeper as part of this blog.

But I also have my own ideas of what needs to be on the “official” entry.

Stay tuned…