9 min read

An unembellished life

This is the post I've mulled over for several weeks, well, actually months. It was a post that was inevitable, I just wanted to write it at the moment in which I might burst if I didn't start typing, and here we are.

At some point along the way, I got caught up in how my life looked rather how it actually was. I know that in part, this is a natural tendency of mine, and that it's a part of my personality to care more what people think. Everyone cares what other people think to some extent, but some of us care more than others. This isn't always a flaw, but it requires some proactiveness for healthy boundaries.

Over time, my surface goal became, "Make the world love me," not because I felt inadequate, but because I wanted to be adored. Behind every idol, there's a lie. In this case, the lie was that I wanted to feel adored by people who aren't really a part of my life because I felt my life couldn't otherwise be fulfilling. I needed to first realize that I'm already adored by my Heavenly Father, and incredibly loved by my family and close friends, and really, that's enough. That's enough for my heart, that should be enough for all of us, without having to garner the acclaim of every mild acquaintance, in-person, or online. I read Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist several months ago and I've been thinking about it since. It's not a book I embrace 100% wholeheartedly, as some parts are a bit too mystic in nature and I would argue perhaps not biblical, but there were moments in her writing that nearly made my jaw drop. Here's one section, in particular:

It's easy to be liked by strangers. It's very hard to be loved and connected to the people in your home when you're always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you're giving them aren't cutting it. [...] It seems to me that one of the greatest hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it easier than true, slow, awkward, painful connection with someone who sees the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult. It's better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way. We know that's true. But many of us, functionally, have gotten that math wrong in one season or another. (page 113)

This describes much of my life to a "T," for as long as I can remember, especially with the noted neglect to my family, and at times during the years I've known him, to Nicholas. My pursuit of being likeable or charming comes at the cost of slighted relationships and missed moments for connection, because I was too busy taking a picture of a moment, or wondering how I was being perceived in that moment to experience it.

When we moved to Austin, a part of my took pride in the fact that we now lived in a cool place. There were sleek, minimalist coffee shops, succulent stores, live music, and a balmy heat nearly year-round. Naturally, we were more exciting people because we left everything we knew to move far away from everything we'd ever known. I enjoyed feeling satisfaction in those things, and I enjoyed how those things made my life appear more exciting, or maybe more enviable.

Let me be clear—there's nothing wrong with sleek, minimalist coffee shops or buying succulents, or enjoying Austin's music scene. This is a really fun city and we love so much about it. My error was (too often) enjoying those things for other people. There were moments where I wanted my life to appear to be hip and put-together and enviable, since it felt to me like that would give my life worth.

Here is another excerpt from the book:

Along the way I've realized that most of the hard work during my last couple of seasons has been claiming authority over my own life. This is not a group decision. We're not voting for "most this" or "most that" in our yearbooks. T his is actually my life, and it doesn't matter a bit if it would be lovely for someone else to live. What does it matter: does it feel congruent with how God made me and called me? Some of us are made to be faster, and some slower, some of us louder, and some quieter.

The truth was, we liked Austin (and we still do!), but we miss family and if you look past all the enjoyable parts of being in a lively city, relationships and community take time and effort.

Even as I write this today, I'm not writing as someone who's overcome every struggle with appearances and idolatry of wanting to be loved by all. I still struggle, but I feel more equipped to be on my guard, knowing (1) my susceptibility to this type of idol, and (2) that satan isn't creative in his temptations; he likes to recycle them. In the meanwhile, I pray that my idols aren't chronic ones, that with each passing year I long for the world's approval less and long for more of Jesus.

However, I wanted to touch on areas where I've grown since I started thinking more with a mindset of enjoying the present that God has given me. Because by making my life appear in a different light than reality, it's like saying to God, "My actual life, the one you gave me, is only a poor substitute for the life I'd design for myself." What foolish talk that is. My "life ideals" based on other's perceptions are empty and found wanting in the light of the fullness of life He offers to His children. The life He's fashioned for me, this current life, is the best life because He made it.

I wanted to document a few ways I'm currently (and over the last few months) trying to chose present over perfect, addressed to myself in a mildly bossy tone:

  • Don't be a coffee snob (in home brewing). Enjoy coffee as one of God's good gifts, but know your life is not more full because you bought fancy coffee just to take a picture of it. Practically: we love Trader Joe's Light City Roast Coffee Lys Kaffe (a light roast blend) and it's less than eight dollars for 12 ounces. And you've received fun, special coffee as gifts recently, enjoying it more because it's a treat, once again. Also, you don't have to buy styrofoam cups for your own use, but don't be too snobby to drink out of one on occasion.
  • Don't be a yarn snob. Use what yarn you have in your stash, not feeling the need to buy all the expensive indie-dyed yarn that's beautiful in pictures (and in person!). Practically: I knit a colorwork cowl entirely from stash yarn, and I occasionally buy beautiful indie-dyed yarn, but with the right motivation, and I have a specific project in mind. Bonus: I've bought a few skeins for gifts, so I have to enjoy it without taking pictures of it ;)
  • Embrace simple meals. Cooking makes me feel alive, although I forget that on the days I don't feel like cooking. Practically: I've been planning for easy, nutritious "tried and true" meals that make good leftovers. There's no shame in not making 100% of your food from scratch, especially if trying to do everything from scratch leads to kitchen burnout and wanting takeout more. I'll buy frozen sweet potato fries or zucchini "noodles" as a shortcut sometimes.
  • Bake for fun, sometimes. Not just the trendy recipes that are dairy-free or vegan, or whatever. Practically: I made Oatmeal Chocolate chip cookies today (a recipe I made all the time in college, but haven't baked since we've lived in Texas), just to enjoy them. I did sub in coconut sugar and gf 1-for-1 flour, since that's what's in our pantry. Enjoy eating those cookies whether or not you take a picture of them.
  • Don't go to places just to take pictures. Go to the coffee shop whose coffee you want to drink on that day. Practically: I've been frequenting Vintage Heart a lot the last several months because (1) they feel less pretentious, (2) that cardamom latte, and (3) good music, quiet atmosphere. And on the subject of pretentiousness, see the first bullet point, ahem.
  • You don't need the best of everything. I'll spend hours researching things we need, just for Nicholas to point out we really don't need them. Practically: we have decent pens, and pillow covers, and all the silly little things I think we need in the moment that we don't truly need. I have more than enough clothing that's just as nice than what's featured in the current Athleta catalog.
  • Choose family (and close friends) first. No interaction with these cherished people is wasted time. Practically:  If I'm tired and Nicholas comes to bed and wakes me up to tell me something he's excited about, or if I have to pause Gilmore girls for him to tell me a story, this is worthwhile time. Sometimes it's a good idea to leave your phone (and IG in the other room). I feel silly typing that out, but I frequently need the reminder. Also, taking a trip to Minnesota to spend time with my parents, and a quick trip to Ohio for a landmark family birthday were highlights of our fall.
  • Take pictures, but take them for the right reasons. I love documenting our life here. I love revisiting old posts about trips we took or glimpses into what our life was like in 2014, and that's wonderful. Practically: Take pictures when you notice pretty morning light peeking through the blinds. Take pictures of you and your very best friends and you and your husband on date night (if he lets you ;) Take pictures that inspire awe for your Creator.  And yes, take pictures of your fika and those cookies you just baked, because that makes you really happy.

I like practical lessons, and I will likely blog about this from time to time in the future, as I learn more lessons about it and about my own heart. In an "online" world, it takes a lot of refocusing to see what's right in front of you as more important than what's on a screen.

The books or the music [or art, or career, or relationship] in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came though them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found. C.S. Lewis

I'm a work-in-progress, that's for sure. But I'm thankful for some additional mindfulness to this over the last few months. You can have a truly lovely life without the world there to see it all. When I slow down enough to realize that my unembellished life is actually really wonderful, then thankfulness can root itself in my heart.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgives your sins, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:2-5

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear :)


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