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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!

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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?

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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.

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Process the Visits: College Search Part 6

Now that you’ve visited a bunch of colleges, it’s time to process all of the information. I know even visiting one college can put you on overload–at least it did for me!

We used a blackboard and made 3 columns: college name, date of visit, current rank. I intentionally my daughter to be able to change her mind about which college was in first place–or last place. Here’s another confession: this list is out of date. Oops.

Anyway, using the college visit score cards created at each visit (see the previous post), kids can rank the colleges currently on their lists. It will probably fluctuate, depending on their moods and what they’ve just seen. That’s not only okay, it’s also expected. Don’t rush the process; kids need time to process all of these possibilities.

One other side note that I should have put earlier in this series is that the junior year of high school is the perfect time to start going college shopping. Don’t wait until your senior year!

Q4U: What are your best college-shopping tricks?

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Prepare for the Visits: College Search Part 5

OK, you’ve (hopefully) narrowed the list of to-be-visited colleges down to a manageable number. We visited one about a year and a half ago (that was the top pick for a while), one last spring (also a past top pick), one last fall, and four last week. Just off hand, don’t plan on visiting four colleges in one week unless you have a lot of energy! We will probably be visiting one more in a few weeks.

If you plan to do one visit at a time, start with the most likely candidate (if there is one). If you’re going to do several on a road trip, plot them on Google maps so you can visit them in a logical order. No sense doing more driving than you have to.

Again, take a look at the college websites to make sure that the date(s) you want to visit are available. Most websites have online forms for setting up visits. Some will only have tours available on certain days at certain times. When in doubt, call the college and ask to speak with the visit or tour coordinator. If possible, download a map of the campus so you can more easily find the admissions office when you arrive.

Wear comfortable clothing, but don’t wear anything too scruffy. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes; you will be doing a lot of walking all over the campuses.

Prepare a written list of questions to ask such as the following:

  • Do you have an honors program? What are its requirements?
  • What kind of scholarships do you offer?
  • Do you have work-study jobs available?
  • Is chapel mandatory?
  • How many Bible classes are mandatory?
  • What are the visitation rules in the dorms?
  • How is the on-campus security?
  • Do you have a transfer program?
  • Do you have a study-abroad program?
  • Do you have any mini-mesters (J-term or May-term)?
  • What are your entrance requirements?
  • What is an average class size?
  • What is your retention rate?
  • What accreditations do you have?

Copy this list, put a college name at the top of each one, then fill in the answers while you’re actually at the college.

Also, have your student take notes on her impressions of the college. While we may not be too worried about the dorms, our kids most certainly will be! Have your teen write down what she thinks of the dorms, the campus in general, the distance from home (write it down), the class size, and other thoughts. Make sure you do this as soon as you get in the car to go home or go to the next college. After the first college visit, they all start to blend together and you’re likely to forget which college had the dorms with the private bathrooms and which college had the best cafeteria food.

As an aside, don’t skip visiting colleges just because of distance and/or time constraints. The ambiance can feel completely different when you’re actually there than when you just look at a website. That happened to us just last week. We visited a college that looked fabulous on the Internet, but the girls absolutely hated the atmosphere when we got there. It’s off the list now.

Q4U: What else would you want to know when you visit a college?

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October Baby (review)

What happens when a 19-year-old college student named Hannah finds out that she was not only adopted, but also the product of a failed abortion attempt? She has to find out all the details. She has to figure out for herself whether the truth really will set her free. Things get messy, especially on the spring break road trip, but forgiveness and healing prevail.

Is there life after abortion? Yes! The actress who played the birth mother talks about her own personal experience with abortion in a special vignette that follows the actual movie. Abortion is a controversial and serious topic, yet the screenwriters handle it with sensitivity. The movie is rated PG-13 because of the abortion material, so use caution when thinking about taking your kids to see this unapologetically pro-life movie.

Want to go see October Baby? Visit the October Baby website and tap in your zip code to find a theater near you. Thanks to the Benham Group in Concord and Cities 4 Life in Charlotte for sponsoring the special preview and the Q & A with one of the men who helped in the creation of the movie.

Help keep October Baby in theaters by making it a blockbuster this weekend!

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Consult Experts: College Search Part 4

As homeschoolers, we don’t have the luxury of a full-time guidance counselor in an office down the hall. We’re already so busy juggling schooling, housekeeping, other kids, and maybe a job (and grad school) that we don’t have the time or the resources to keep up with all the latest college entrance requirements, financial aid, and scholarships.

Scholarship consultants are here to fill in that gap for us. They know what colleges offer which majors; they’ve got statistics at their fingertips; they’ve got all the latest information on scholarships, and they even know what the FAFSA is.

If you live in the Carolinas and want to meet someone face-to-face, I highly recommend Elizabeth Hartley of Scholarship Gold. Her office is in Lake Wiley, SC. We (my hubby, my daughter, and I) met with her for 2 1/2 hours last fall and it was money well spent. Elizabeth listened to what my daughter was looking for in a college (majors, size, location, Christian, etc), and then listed a bunch of colleges to look at. She also gave us a log of helpful information about scholarships, as well as scams to avoid. In addition, she’s only a phone call away for a follow-up chat. We also came away with a binder filled with helpful forms and websites for the entire college process. She also works with traditional school students.

If you’re not in the Carolinas and/or don’t want to take the drive, then I highly recommend Lee Binz, The Home Scholar. Lee’s two homeschooled sons got scholarships to top-ranking colleges, so she practiced what she preaches. She has different books, DVDs, webinars, phone consultations, and more to help you through the college scholarship search. She also has a bunch of resources to help you prepare your student’s transcript. In addition, she has free resources, so there’s no excuse not to check out her site!

Q4U: Have you used a consultant? If so, how was your experience?

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Online Previewing: College Search Part 3

When I was in high school, a musical group from a Bible college came to sing at our church. The guys were really cute, and I liked their music, so I decided that I wanted to attend that college. Oh, the college also had the major that I was interested in :-). I sort of half-heartedly took a look a a few other colleges, but my fate was sealed when my number one choice offered me early admission. I think I had applied and been accepted before my parents realized fully what that meant. So, I went to college and graduated four years later with no debt (thanks, Mum & Dad!).

All that to say that I have no idea what I’m doing with daughter number one right now. I do remember that my brother had quite a different experience in choosing a college. I vaguely remember that he had stacks and stacks of catalogs in his bedroom, and we visited quite a few colleges before he settled on one.

Instead of stacks and stacks of catalogs, we now have the Internet. Thank goodness! Today’s college search tip is to utilize the wealth of resources available at the tips of our fingers. Start by checking out local colleges and other colleges you’ve heard about online. Look at the websites with your college-bound teen to get a feel for what’s offered and what the campus might be like.

When your child takes the SAT or the ACT, if s/he creates an online account, which I highly recommend, s/he will start receiving postcards and information from colleges that match her/his profile. Check out those college websites, too.

Look for college fairs in your area. If you belong to a homeschool e-loop, chances are that someone will post information about a local college fair. Attend, be open, talk to the admissions counselors. Oh, and take your student.

Here are some general college prep websites to check out:
College Board
ACT Student site
Peterson’s College Search
U.S. College Search

Q4U: What are your best online college search tips?

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When I Grow Up: College Search Part 2

When I grow up, I want to be a storm chaser, a meteorologist, a horse trainer, a missionary, a writer, and a teacher. Yes, all at once. This is what I heard from my older daughter. Now she’s narrowed it down to teaching English in high school with a (very large) side of creative writing. Of course, that’s subject to change.

What do you do when your teen either has no idea of what she wants to do (my younger daughter) or has too many things she’s interested in to decide (my older daughter)?

First, let your teen pursue some of her interests, even if you think she might not want to stick with it. I knew that meteorology had way too much math for my older daughter, but I signed her up to take a 1/2 credit, online class when she was in 9th grade. Sure enough, she was over the whole meteorology thing before she even finished it. Let your teen shadow someone her field of interest. Get some extra workbooks at a curriculum fair or education store. Check out the plethora of online offerings. Have her volunteer in a variety of settings.

Second, have your teen fill out personality and interest surveys. We used The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers, by Jill Dixon. We found it to be very helpful in pointing out different types of careers that suited my daughter’s interests. You can also check online for many other kinds of inventories and tests. For younger children, be sure to expose them to a wide variety of careers and possibilities.

Another resource we found helpful was Homeschool, High School, and Beyond: A Guide for Teens and Their Parents, by Beverly Adams-Gordon. It’s a time management, career exploration, organization and study skills course. It’s worth 1/4 credit; I had my daughter do it at the beginning of 9th grade as we were plotting out her four years of college. She didn’t end up following it exactly, but at least it was a starting point.

You may also find Senior High: A Home Designed Form+U+La, by Barbara Shelton, to be helpful. I looked at it and incorporated a few ideas, but we did not use all of it.

One last resource is Homeschoolers’ College Admissions Handbook, by Cafi Cohen. I must confess that I have not read this book (yet), but it is sitting in my to-be-read pile. It looks helpful :-).

Third, don’t panic if your teen still doesn’t know what she wants to do, or if she changes her mind as often as she changes her hair style. That’s perfectly normal. In fact, I read a statistic recently that said 78% of students change their majors during their college experience. (Don’t shoot me for not remembering where I saw that number!)

Q4U: Do you have any other tips for helping your teen choose a career?

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The Titanic

Just wanted to mention that one of my favorite authors, Tricia Goyer, has a brand-new book out, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, that takes place on the Titanic. Next month marks the 100-year anniversary of its sinking. A few days ago, I had the privilege of writing a guest post for Tricia about our trip to visit The Titanic Exhibit. Go check it out and get Tricia’s new book, too!