Toward a More Simple Life

Simplicity in Wants 

Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing have sparked a recent minimalist and simplistic lifestyle movement. In my own house, one of my daughters went from being a hoarder to a donator, and while researching and praying through this post, I collected several garbage bags worth of items to donate from my closet. (Yikes! Didn’t realize I had that much stuff!)

While the idea of a capsule wardrobe and a decluttered linen closet is appealing, this bibliophile can’t fathom a home without overflowing bookshelves. 

But does the Bible care how many pairs of shoes we own? Or how many sets of dishes we stack in our china cabinet? I don’t think so. But what God does care about is whether we’re good stewards of what he’s blessed us with and whether we’re distracted by unnecessary stuff or busyness. 

Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 4:2

Here’s the thing, friends. God gives us what we NEED! Not always what we want, but what we need. All we need is to “dwell in the land” and pursue faithfulness (Psalm 37:3). God has placed us where we are. Our job is to be faithful. That’s it! Anything more is just the icing on the cake.

When we have more than we need, we can live generously and bless others. When we aren’t striving to get more stuff, then we don’t have to work ourselves to the bone.

Simplicity in Work

When we talk about working (or volunteering), we’ve got to talk about our overstuffed schedules, too! Even good things can become burdens if they’re causing us to be exhausted on a regular basis or if they’re distracting us for the best and most important things—our individual time with God, time with our families, and needed time for physical and emotional rest. We cannot serve God from a place of emptiness and exhaustion. We can’t serve others well from that place either. 

As we progress toward midlife, we become physically and mentally less able to multitask, take on extra commitments, and go-go-go all the time. We still think we can care for our families, work a full-time job, volunteer for an endless array of activities at church, and a host of other good things. 

News flash: we can’t. It’s time to take a prayerful look at our calendars, consult with our families/significant others, and focus WELL on the most important things in life. We want to do well what we need to and do things from a place of rest, not stress.

So what are we supposed to focus on? 

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act …
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Psalm 37:6-7

That’s what we’re supposed to be doing! That’s it! Trust in God to take care of us and to dispose of our enemies in his time (not ours). 

Simplicity in Worth

All of this striving to have more, do more, and be more leads to a feeling of not enough. Ask me how I know. We are not designed for that! God made us enough, so we don’t have to BE anymore than we already are. God did all the work of salvation, so we don’t have to DO more (Ephesians 2:8-9). HE is enough. And when we can internalize that, we’ll be free to worship him the way he designed us to. 

But the meek [humble, gentle] shall inherit the land
    and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Psalm 37:11

The idea of meekness or humility here is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less. When we have a proper appreciation for who God is, we will know who he created us to be. When we focus on worship, we’ll focus less on worry because we’ll have more peace. (Yes, I know it’s not a guaranteed formula, and I am way too familiar with chemical imbalances and such. That’s not the focus here).

Simplicity in worship

The crux of the matter is the reason we’re seeking a more minimalist lifestyle. Simplicity is not a decent goal in and of itself, but only for the purpose of pursuing God. An uncluttered life enables us to focus on the main thing—knowing God. Then we will have all that we want.

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

Lest we get caught in the trap of thinking we’ll be upgrading our houses and cars if we only ask God for it, take a look at C.H. Spurgeon’s thoughts on this verse: “Do not think first of the desires of thy heart, but think first of delighting thyself in thy God. If thou hast accepted him as thy Lord, he is thine; so delight in him, and then he will give thee the desires of thy heart.” 

As I’m smack dab in middle age, I’ve come to realize that my life is to be a testimony to others of God’s faithfulness in my life. That’s exactly where David found himself when writing this psalm. 

I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.

Psalm 37:25

Will our lives ever be trouble free? No, we’re not guaranteed that in the Bible. But as we strive to keep the main thing the main thing in our lives, we can show others the beauty of the simplicity of the Gospel.

What about you, friend? What do you need to simplify in your own life in order to focus more on pursuing God? Drop me a line, and let me know!


How to Lose a Guy in 3 Emails

So, this online dating thing is supposed to be a great way to meet new people, right? You look at photoshopped pictures, read clichés masquerading as profiles, send digital winks, and attempt to start awkward conversations with strangers. If you’re lucky, some guy that sounds halfway interesting will say more than, “Hey, babe.” 

Then you get a conversation going, but it’s probably the most stilted, unnatural conversation you’ve ever had in your life. That’s ok, though, because there’s potential! You’re excited and respond eagerly to the incoming messages. Then he asks for your number, and you’re sure you’re finally going to get a date. It’s about time, after all, since you’ve been stalking profiles for several months. 

All of a sudden, the messages stop. What happened? You were sure he was The One! Or at least that you were going to get a free Starbucks out of all your efforts!

I’ll tell you what happened! Here’s your free guide to how to lose a guy in three emails:

  • Be too eager
  • Be a cold fish
  • Ask him tons of questions to get to know him
  • Don’t ask any questions
  • Return every message right away
  • Wait a few days, at least, before returning messages
  • Be proactive and message him first
  • Wait for him to initiate every correspondence
  • Tell  him all the details about your kids
  • Tell him you’re not interested in hearing about his kids
  • Ask him to go to church with you
  • Tell him he attends the wrong denomination
  • Say you hate sports
  • Run faster than he does and leave him panting in the first block
  • Text him good morning
  • And goodnight
  • Be possessive
  • Tell him you’re meeting other guys for coffee as well
  • Say you’re madly in love with him the third time you meet
  • Be totally disinterested in his most passionate hobby
  • And my final tip: actually give him your phone number!

Oy! Dating in this new-fangled age of digital matchmaking is hard, so we may as well laugh about it! What’s your best/worst tip for dating later in life?


I Graduated!

Where have I been? What have I been up to? Where am I going from here? Well, here are a few answers.

The most exciting news of this past spring is that I finally finished my master’s in English degree from East Carolina University! YAY!! It took three reeeaaaaallllyyyy lllllooooooooonnnngggg years, but it was worth it (at least, I hope it will be!). I already have a part-time job as an adjunct English professor at our local community college, which I love. However, I really need a full-time job now, so I’m busy looking for one.

Where else am I headed? Well, I’ve decided to keep this blog as is for now and continue posting homeschool and organizational stuff as well as reviews here. I’ve started a new blog, too, to talk about the rest of what happened to me this past year. It’s called Just Bethany: Reinventing Myself. Feel free to check it out.


My Daughter, the Writer

I am proud to announce that my daughter, Mercia Dragonslayer (no, that’s not what her birth certificate says!), is a guest blogger over at Write It Sideways! Please check out her wonderful tips for NaNoWriMo, 5 Ways to Avoid One-Month Insanity. I’m so proud of her!! Check out her blog, Slaying Dragons, for all sorts of fun and crazy writing and drawing ideas.


Four Tips for Your College-Bound Homeschooled Kid

Having been homeschooled from the second grade through high school, I know personally what a wonderful experience it can be to be taught by one’s parents in a warm, loving, and supportive environment. Many homeschool parents may be nervous about their children’s ability to thrive in a college environment away from home, but, as a CBS article indicates, homeschooled children tend to perform even better than their non-homeschooled counterparts. Still, making the transition to a radically different learning environment is no easy task. Here are a few things to consider as your children prepare to apply to college.
1.      Thoroughly research schools that most fit your child’s interests, beliefs, and personality.
One of the biggest mistakes that parents and college-bound kids make when looking for schools is that they consider only brand names like Harvard, Stanford, or well-reputed state schools. This search method completely neglects to take into consideration various other factors that contribute to a successful collegiate experience such as geographic location, particular academic strengths, availability of certain extra-curricular activities, as well as religious beliefs. Decide which of these factors are most important to you and your child and make a list of five to seven schools.
2.      Call or email each school on the list and determine what their application guidelines are for homeschooled children.
Different schools have different requirements for homeschooled children. You can be sure that they will ask for standardized test scores, a personal statement, and more than likely a few letters of recommendation. Some schools require that homeschooled applicants take the GED in lieu of a high school diploma. Be sure to keep track of each school’s requirements.
3.      Ensure that your child will be able to secure letters of recommendation from adult mentors well before the application deadline.
Most students who attended a traditional high school can easily secure letters of recommendation from teachers. For homeschooled students, however, finding recommenders can be a bit more complicated. The best recommendation letter sources for homeschooled students are adults who can comment on the student’s talents, abilities, and values. These include pastors, coaches, or other extra-curricular instructors like music teachers. Make sure to request these letters well before the application deadline.
4.      Spend considerable time studying for standardized tests.
For most universities, there is no magic formula that will get your child into the college of his or her choice. Admissions committees look at a bunch of different qualities that are revealed in the personal essay, recommendation letters, and more. Still, for homeschooled students, it is especially important to do well on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, since admissions committees have no recognized standard of academic performance by which to judge your homeschooled child. Spend several months studying for these tests, and remember that these tests don’t necessarily test intelligence; they test how well your student can take a standard test. As such, practice is the key to a good score.
Getting into college is really the biggest hurdle in the entire collegiate experience. Once your child is accepted by several schools, try to visit each to determine which school fosters an environment where your child will thrive. Good luck!

Author Bio:
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, students, teachers, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

Q4U: Have something homeschool and/or organization related to share with my readers? Wanna be a guest blogger? Let me know; I’ve got some open spots in the next few months!


How to Bless Homeschool Moms Who Have Chronic Illnesses

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today!

They look normal. They look healthy. They even look happy. Most of the time anyway. But they aren’t any of those things all of the time. I’m talking about homeschool moms with chronic illnesses. On the surface, they look normal, so we expect them to act normally. But they can’t.
Chronic illnesses can’t be cured even though they may be managed—sometimes better than others. They deplete energy, happiness, and general feelings of well-being. Often, they cause wide-spread pain. Homeschool moms who have chronic illnesses feel misunderstood many times. These illnesses are not all in their heads. They can’t just get over them.
These illnesses are not like other common sicknesses that elicit sympathy automatically. Please don’t think I’m trying to downplay the seriousness of other physical ailments; I’m not. I’m just trying to highlight a misunderstood category of illnesses.
People don’t want to talk about chronic illnesses because they don’t know what they are, and they don’t know what to say. Numerous chronic illnesses are also invisible, meaning that they’re not obvious. I’m just going to list a few of them, even though there are many, many more: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anxiety, lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and depression. If you were to take a poll of the homeschooling moms you know personally, I’d bet that many more of them have a chronic illness than you thought.
Homeschool moms (or anyone else) who have chronic illnesses don’t want to be defined by their diagnoses; neither do they want to whine about them all of the time. Okay, maybe they would like to whine, but they usually suppress the urge! But, they still need our understanding and our help. Here is a partial list of ideas to let those special homeschool moms know that we love them and want to help them:
  • Ask how they’re feeling—and really mean it, but be aware that they may not want to talk about their illness(es)
  • Take them a meal or cookies for no reason
  • Offer to take their kids on a field trip
  • Don’t make them feel guilty for not being able to do extra activities
  • Offer to watch their little ones occasionally
  • Offer to teach an elective such as art, state history, music, or science labs to their kids as well as to your own
  • Don’t ask them to take on additional jobs or service projects
  • Don’t distance yourself from them because they can’t keep up with activities that you used to enjoy together
  • Send them an email (or even a snail mail card) to let them know you’re praying for them
  • Give them a hug—they aren’t contagious
  • Understand that no matter which chronic illness(es) they have, their energy level is much lower than it used to be
  • Understand that they’re even more frustrated by their limitations than you are
  • Ask if there’s anything specific you can do to help
  • Do for them what you’d like your friends to do for you if you weren’t feeling well

Dear Sisters, I leave you with some scriptural encouragement to bless your fellow homeschooling moms. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). “Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress” (Philippians 4:14). “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:40). (All references taken from the NKJV.)


Best Invention Since Dried Spices

I totally forgot to take a picture of my spice cabinet beforehand, sorry! Suffice it to say that it was a disaster, and I could never find anything I needed. I had a small lazy susan and another spinny thing with holes in it. These pictures are the after:

Here’s my disclaimer: I paid for these spices racks from the Swivel Store (well, the As Seen on T.V. store in the mall) myself and this is a totally unsolicited review. They’re $19.99 for one, but so worth it. No installation, no assembly. What could be better? I just love them!

All of my spices are in one place and are easily accessible. And, since I put my spices in the racks alphabetically and labeled each shelf (you really shouldn’t be surprised), there’s no excuse for spices ever being unfindable.


The Master Plan

Before you click to a less scary sounding post, let’s take just a minute and look at what kind of master plan we’re discussing. A master educational plan takes a look at the whole picture, not just, “What are we going to do today, Mom?” It takes into account our children’s learning styles and our family philosophies as well as the subjects and topics that will be taught each year. As fun as choosing a new, random topic each week can be, doing so without a plan can be more detrimental than helpful to our overall educational goals. Yes, I do believe in teaching to our children’s interests—to a certain point. The problem with that is that they’re kids; they don’t know what they need to learn and what they don’t know. If it were up to my daughters, we would not own a math textbook!
Are our kids going to be prepared for a formal high school or even college plan? What happens if we study medieval history three years in a row and never get around to studying the world wars of the past century? These are some of the questions driving the idea of a master plan. Providing a structure for not only math and English, but also for history and science gives a framework around which our kids can fit odd facts, war dates, inventions, and people. After all, studying World War II wouldn’t make much sense without having studied World War I and other events of the twentieth century. Randomness is like having paper figurines to represent major people and events in history and telling our children to put them in order on a blank wall—with no dates or references. One of the goals of homeschooling is to produce well-rounded young adults. Academically speaking, this means that they will have a general knowledge of most of the major historical events and scientific inventions and literature from different time periods and countries.
When should we implement our master plans? The earlier the better. But what if our current intention is just to homeschool for kindergarten, or just through fifth or sixth grade? Then a master plan is even more important. If our goal is to eventually matriculate our children (back) into the school system—public or private—we for sure want them to be prepared and on par with the rest of their classmates. This is not to say that we should use the exact same curriculum that those schools use, but it is to say that if we know a child will go to the public school in grade six and study early American history, it probably would be a good idea to study something other than that in fifth grade. Many books and websites that detail in general what should be learned in which grade. For instance, no matter which curriculum we decide to use, we probably want to make sure that our kids master multiplication by the end of fourth grade at the latest.
How can we implement this great master plan once we have it down on paper? We start by working backwards. We know where we want our kids to be ten years from now, five years from now, or even one year from now, so how are we going to get there? It’s obvious that math and grammar need to be taught incrementally, and most math and grammar textbooks follow the same general flow of thought. Personally, I think it’s best to stick to one publisher/curriculum for those subjects so as to provide the most thoughtful flow and to avoid as many gaps as possible. Of course, if a particular curriculum is just not working for a certain child, by all means, switch it out. For history and science, if we want to make sure we’re covering all the bases, it’s best to lay out a plan for each year. I prefer to stick with the same publisher/curriculum provider for these subjects as well, for that very reason. Publishers tend to make their subjects flow from one year to the next. Children also know what to expect if we use the same publisher/curriculum from year to year. Of course, I certainly understand the need to switch things up occasionally, but I always stick to the master plan as far as the topics being studied. If you love the idea of unit studies, try to make sure they fit into the general flow of the historical period or scientific area you’re studying for the year.
Here is one suggestion for a master plan covering history and science that can be implemented with just about any curriculum. Study these subjects in three four-year cycles, starting in first grade. Each cycle would cover different topics, have different reading materials, and, of course, require increasingly higher levels of mastery. For history, break it down like this: year one ancient history, year two medieval history, year three early American/world history, and year four modern American/world history. Science could look like this: year one life science (animals, people, and plants), year two earth science/astronomy, year three chemistry, and year four physics. Or, years one and two of science could be swapped to correspond with the traditional high school science cycles. I must give credit to Susan Wise Bauer of The Well-Trained Mind for this original idea. This plan makes it easier to teach more than one child at a time; just have each child in the same time period for history and the same general topic for science. Younger children can begin in whichever year’s cycle the older children are studying; they’ll eventually cover all of the same materials.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2011 issue of Home School Enrichment, in my “The Organized Homeschool” column.