In A World of Pure Imagination

Faith, hope, & love.  These three easily recognizable Christian virtues from 1 Corinthians 13:13 are also widely valued as human characteristics that benefit ourselves and our society.   All 3 require an element of imaginative thinking.  To have faith, we must believe in a God bigger than ourselves and our own limited conceptions.  We hope in a future and eternity that we do not physically see, but must imagine.  We love others best when we imagine them as God sees them–immeasurably valued and worthy of glorification through Christ.

Imagination enriches our lives in many other ways too.  Getting lost in a book, dreaming up new businesses, playing make believe with a child.  But when imagination gets misplaced into the hands of an idealist, things get messy.

Idealism sounds nice but has some fairly nasty side effects.  At it’s essence, idealism is the practice of forming expectations about the way the world should operate, especially unrealistically (the dictionary’s words, not mine).  When we start projecting our idealism on a very real world, we set ourselves up for disappointment at best and destruction at worst.

My imaginative ideas about what makes the world better might not actually be good or wise.  Or even if I do happen to strike on a good vision of what the world ought to look like, the way I go about forcing my will on reality will probably hurt others in the process.

But what happened to our hope, our faith, and our love?  Don’t those require some idealism?

Not necessarily.  We need our imaginations to develop our virtues and we need optimism to live out those virtues in this often confusing and hard life.  But idealism and optimism are not the same thing.

The optimist is full of hope for the future whereas the idealist insists that the future fit their vision.  The optimist seeks ways to make the world a kinder place while the idealist works to make the world their kind of place.

Well-intentioned optimists can easily become dangerous idealists when imagination is misplaced.  Living in a country where I don’t speak the language has taught me that the hard way.  Things never go as planned and insisting on forcing my vision inevitably leads to frustration.  I’m slowly learning to redirect my imagination and view this world with optimism instead of idealism.  It’s a process for us perfectionists but I believe it’s worth it.


The last installment of my Misplaced series will hit the blog next week!  It’s about one of my favorite topics–budgeting and personal finance.  Thanks for following along so far!

Dinosaur Dreams

When I was a child I believed that I could be everything I wanted to be, in fact I told my kindergarten teacher I would become a dinosaur when I grew up.  In college, I exchanged that lie for another: “You can do anything, but not everything.”

That’s not true either.

Four years of studying entrepreneurship and economics taught me that we can expand the pie instead of fighting over the last piece.  Our Creator made us creative beings who construct buildings and businesses, families and food, and that’s a beautiful thing.

ECON 101 also taught me that our basic economic resources (land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship) are limited.  We live in a world of scarcity.  There are only so many hours in a day and acres on the earth.

I will never be an Olympic gymnast or piano aficionado, because I’m already too old for those things and I’m not gifted in those areas.  I can’t do everything.  I’m not a photographer or a coffee connoisseur or an amateur guitarist.  I can’t be anything I want.  As I get older, instead of happening upon my “true calling”  I’m mostly just getting good at crossing dreams off my list.

The pessimist in me says I’m giving up on my dreams but really, I’m just finally acknowledging that not only can I not do everything, I can’t even do anything.  Instead of chasing a vague notion of our “vocation”, Luke and I are spending time taking a hard look at the resources we’ve been given.  We still love to dream and scheme about the future but rather than hyping up false hopes, we’re thinking about what God has already provided us and how we can humbly position ourselves to receive the gifts He may have for us in the future.

There isn’t a limited quantity of happiness, wisdom, or fulfillment in the world that only the lucky few get to experience.  It just may not come in the forms we expected when we were 8 or 18. Recognizing that our time and abilities are necessarily limited allows us to more freely explore the possibilities for creation.  It’s okay when the dinosaur dreams go extinct.

The Freedom of Stuff-Forgetfulness

My husband and I are accidental minimalists.  We ditched half of our belongings before moving to California and then cut our stuff in half again before trekking cross-country again.  We recently packed everything we need for a year of living abroad into two suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and a backpack.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard.  We’ve learned a lot over the last two and a half years about what we don’t need to still live well.  Also, I watched a documentary on minimalism once, so that makes me an expert, right?

A quick Google search will uncover a plethora of articles on the benefits of “less is more” and a rising tide of counter-articles based on the idea that minimalism can lead to idolatry of nicer things instead of just lots of things.

Based on my clearly established expertise on the matter, here’s my two cents.

  1. Less stuff makes life easier.

It means less to pack when you’re moving, less options in the closet to paralyze you, and less risk of buying things you don’t really need and letting them clutter your home.  

  1. The freedom of stuff-forgetfulness is better than minimalism or maximalism

Tim Keller wrote a short read on “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.”  It’s a great exposition of what true humility really means and the joy that comes when you stop connecting every experience to yourself.

Likewise, there is a great freedom in just thinking about our stuff less.  Personally, I’ve found that one way to do this is by simply having less stuff.  In order to have less stuff, I’m more thoughtful about my buying decisions so that I don’t buy useless stuff, but that doesn’t mean I have to obsess over every item in my home (or currently, suitcase).  

The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 provides apt warnings against both forms of idolizing stuff–both the quantity and the quality of it.  After reminding the crowd that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” Jesus goes on to tell the parable of a rich man with many quality goods and grains to whom God says:

“Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12: 20 – 21)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the very next verse Jesus exhorts his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” (Luke 12: 22 – 23)

There’s not a perfect number of items in your closet or kitchen utensils in your drawers, but when your decorations take up more mental space than the incredible glory and majesty of our Creator, that’s when it’s time to reevaluate.  For me, it meant shipping off a few boxes to the Salvation Army.  For others, it might mean taking those thoughts hostage and redirecting them towards the things we are called by God to think about.

 Either way, it’s not the stuff that matters as much as the place we give it in our lives.

This post is the third in my “Misplaced” series–click on the words to find my thoughts on misplaced kindness and misplaced attention.  I’ve got a few more up my sleeve, enter your e-mail below if you’d like to follow along.

Rituals of Reticence

“Quiet time” might be one of the most confusing words in the Christanese English Dictionary.  It’s revered, insisted upon, and I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for not doing enough of it, but it’s hard to know what it actually is.  Quiet time involves Bible reading, of course, and definitely some praying.  I hear whispers about worship songs and something about a special chair in a corner with a quilt.  Not to mention #CoffeeAndJesus.  Or should that be #JesusAndCoffee?

I’m an ex-seminary wife, but I’m no theologian so I won’t attempt a dissertation on the means of grace.  However, I think it’s fairly clear from the Bible reading I’ve done that we are called to read God’s Word regularly and come to Him with our prayers, thanksgivings, and worship.

When I think about those activities, they have a common theme of requiring a great deal of attention.  It may or may not be audibly quiet but to be still before God requires, well, being still.  And reading the Bible well requires time, an attention span, and the mental space to reflect.

I still feel like my 5 year-old self who was constantly getting scolded in Sunday School for playing with the Velcro on my shiny patent leather shoes during prayer time. I continually find it a struggle to sit still for long enough to read Scripture well or to place my attention on God instead of myself for more than 10 seconds at a time.

But why should I expect myself to be able to be quiet before God if I’m not quiet any other time of the day?  If I can’t carve out times to think or reflect about anything without obsessively scrolling through my Instagram feed, why would my time with God be any different?

Our attention is so often misplaced, refracted by the prism of technology into infinite beams of distraction–red inboxes, blue newsfeeds, yellow snaps, and rainbows of images–all stealing my ability to focus on just. one. thing.

The habits we allow to rule the majority of our lives will naturally spill over into the times we set aside to intentionally grow in our faith and relationship with God.  If I lose my literacy by skimming online articles and headlines, my ability to read the Bible suffers as well.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Luke and I often remind each other of this quote from Blaise Pascal. The bad news is that it’s harder than ever nowadays to be quiet and alone. The good news is that replacing the rituals of distraction with intentional attention will not only make being quiet before God more natural, it will smooth out some other wrinkles in the rhythm of life.

And sure enough, when we begin to prioritize thinking over texting and listening over “liking”, we find our problems smaller, our hearts calmer, and our minds clearer.

Living in Russia without a traditional 9-5 grind has provided me with the opportunity for more mental space.  This fall, I’m going to focus on growing my attention span and creating rituals of reticence throughout my day.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on misplaced stuff (not the lost luggage variety) next week! Same place, same time.  You can sign-up for an e-mail notification in the box below.

 

Do Not Feed the Wildlife

“Please do not misplace your kindness,” read the sign at the state park asking it’s visitors to not feed the wildlife.  How many times in life do we have to hear that?  Do not tap on the glass.  Do not feed the wild animals.  What you think is kind is actually self-serving at best or destructive at worst.

I’ve misplaced my kindness almost as many times as I’ve misplaced my keys–which is at least once a day.  I’ve left bits of poisoned good will on short term mission trips. Scattered pieces of benevolence on grieving friends when I should have responded with shared sadness.  I enable my own sin by showing much too much kindness to myself and not enough to others.

When I misplace my kindness, I trick myself into thinking that I am acting out of goodwill when there might be some ulterior motives in play.   It’s one of the first steps to getting lost in the Bermuda triangle of unhealthy relationships–also known as the Karpman Triangle.

There’s a lot of interesting thoughts on this theory and I’ll list some additional resources at the bottom if you want to learn more.  What I’ve found most valuable about this diagram is that it demonstrates how easy it is to slide from role to role, usually as a result of misplaced kindness.

Misplaced Kindness (1)

 

The Rescuer sees a Persecutor hurting the Victim.  In an effort to help the Victim, the Rescuer misplaces their kindness and starts attacking the Persecutor, thus becoming a Persecutor themselves. Now the original Persecutor is the Victim. That is just one scenario of thousands but the basic gist is that once you are in the triangle it’s very easy to just change dysfunctional roles instead of breaking out and working towards healthy relationships.  In healthy relationships, no one is a Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.

We respond to triggers from others and end up taking the bait, even though it’s poisonous.  Just like the wildlife at the park, we grow dependent on emotional food that is completely devoid of nutrition and even go out of our way to access this psychological Wonder Bread.

I’m committed to breaking out of the cycle in my head and in my relationships by placing my kindness in such a way that is truly loving to others and honoring to God.  This takes a lot of wisdom, which I don’t always have, but fortunately I serve a God who delights in giving us His wisdom (James 1:5).  So much so that He dedicated several books in His Word to finding and attaining wisdom!  Not a bad place to start.

This post is the first in the Misplaced series–a series inspired by a summer of leaving a life behind in California and starting a new one in Russia.  I’ll be talking about the infamous Quiet Time and much-debated Minimalism next!  Follow along by entering your email address for blog updates.

 

 

Karpman Drama Triangle Resources

General Overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle

Official Site: https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/

Focus on Victimhood: https://www.lynneforrest.com/articles/2008/06/the-faces-of-victim/

Breaking the Triangle: http://www.johngouletmft.com/Breaking_The_Drama_Triangle_Newest.pdf

Not A Travel Blog

When asked what I write about on my blog, I always respond with a tentative “lifestyle things?” although I don’t really know what that means.  I started writing here 8 years ago and since I’m free from all pressures of monetizing the site, I’ve never defined my genre. Content marketing has a powerful gravitational pull and I’d like to keep this corner of the Internet free of all gimmicks, content gating, and gotchas.

What I do know is that this is not a travel blog.  My husband and I currently call Saint Petersburg home and we hope to travel more than we normally would over the next few years, but this will still be my place to share my musings on the world around me, which just happens to be in Russia right now.

Moving to Saint Petersburg has felt like becoming a child again.  I’m slowly sounding out words on buildings as we walk by them, am fascinated by the bright colors of the buildings and parks, and it takes so much longer to do simple tasks than it feels like it ought to.  Just charging my phone is a 3 apparatus ordeal.  And there is the child-like wonder to it as well.  New sights and sounds amaze me and each day is a new adventure as we explore the town, transportation system, and shops.

Daily life here so far is very similar to life in the States on a large scale, and very different in many minuscule ways throughout the day.  The downsized toilet paper and circle electrical plugs, for example. Differences that are neither bad nor good, just different.  These small changes were threatening to throw me off-kilter (is this what they call culture shock?) until I read this passage from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet:

It was only days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence.  They arose when the rationality of the hross [a being from a different planet] tempted you to think of it as a man.  Then it became abominable–a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat.  But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have–glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth–and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.  Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other.  It all depended on the point of view.

By no means am I suggesting that Russians are extraterrestrials, rather, I’m realizing more and more how similar we all are.  But moving to a foreign country can feel like an other-worldy experience and I’ll drive myself crazy if I’m finding the small differences “disgusting” instead of appreciating things for how they actually are and finding the similarities delightful.  As Lewis put it best: It all depends on the point of view.

I’m a big believer in dreaming and doing but reality is a  strong force to be reckoned with. Our expectations about what reality should look like often cause us to be disappointed when life doesn’t deliver.   I’d rather rejoice in the ways it gives me joy instead of constantly comparing reality to what I think it ought to look like and ending up feeling like everything is just a little bit (or a lot a bit) off.

мы идем в Санкт-Петербург

The bags are packed (almost), our visas are in hand, and we’re cleared for take off.

It’s been a while since I posted on here–the last month has been dizzily and beautifully full of family and friends as we completed our coast to coast journey.  In between visits and festivities, Luke and I have been doing our best to learn the language via online tutoring and hours of flashcards.

I’ve been working on a series about Misplacement during this season of transition and displacement from our California home as we wait to find our Russian one.  The last tweaks are almost done (yes, sometimes I actually edit things before I post them) and I’m excited to share these summer musings with you all!

In the meantime, I plan on sharing travel updates and discoveries on this blog.  I don’t want to spam everyone’s Facebook timeline with travel posts so if you’re interested in:

Joining our journey through the written word (and some pictures): follow this blog

Tracking our trek via image: follow me on Instagram

Contacting Luke or I in real time: message me on WhatsApp.

Luke won’t have a smartphone or possibly his current phone number, so your best bet is WhatsApp using my phone number.  I’m assuming you already have it if you’re interested in talking, but if not, put your e-mail in the box below and I’ll send it your way!  This will be the best way to get a hold of us directly, as opposed to messaging on Facebook or Instagram.

Road Trippin’

 

IMG_20170703_184306Because let’s be honest, the end of a 7 day journey gets pretty trippy.  When you start making up your own idioms.  When a McWrap sounds gourmet compared to your daily diet of peanut butter sandwiches.  When you start playing the alphabet game against yourself — and lose.  You see your spouse’s best dance moves and more corn fields in Minnesota than you ever care to see again.

Life with Luke is certainly a grand adventure–full of braving lightening storms in a tent and hiking in hailstorms.  The endless fields of the Great Plains were the perfect canvas for great planners to paint their future dreams.

PANO_20170703_105541

And so..The Adventure Begins

6 years ago this month, I was driving my trice-recycled ‘94 teal Chevy Malibu with the windows rolled down from my high school to the Senior Picnic–just days before graduation.  “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer came through the radio waves and it just seemed right.  I was full of optimism and excitement for a fresh chapter.  And what better way to kick off the next adventure than a class-wide picnic with my 700 other classmates?

If I remember correctly, the picnic was lame and I didn’t know where to put myself, like the rest of my high school experience, because some things never change.

I was driving to my last day of work this morning, in my ‘10 Ford Focus that mercifully doesn’t spray water in my face every time it rains like the Malibu did so I’m clearly moving up in the world.  Andy Grammer’s familiar tune came warbling through the FM again and I felt the echoes of that same optimism bubble up.  And then a new Maroon 5 song came on with the same tune they were using 6 years ago. Some things really never do change.

But some things do. I’m more cautious now than I was back then.  I’m not as willing to chase every idea but have learned to patiently wait for my dreams to surface.  I’ve stopped caring about eating lunch at the cool table and although I’m slower to act on new ideas, I’m braver in carrying them out.  During the last 6 years, I pushed to find the limits of how many things I was capable of doing simultaneously and now I’m content to find the few things in life that are worth pursuing deeply.

I’m thankful for nostalgic songs that inspire reflection–even if that includes some awkward high school memories–before starting this next adventure.  Besides learning the Russian language and acquiring a fur hat, one of my biggest goals for our time abroad is to grow in wisdom, character, and flexibility.  Hopefully by the next time I hear Andy Grammer on the radio in June, I can see those fruits in my life.

Until then, just gotta keep my head up.

It All Started With Anna Karenina

I promised some exciting news in my blog post last week so here goes…Luke and I are moving to Russia!  More specifically, to the Saint Petersburg area and even more specifically than that, to Pushkin.

This is old news for some of you and out of the blue for others, so I’ve compiled a list of the frequently asked questions we’ve gotten over the past few months.

Q: Are you crazy?

Maybe.

Q: Why Russia?

Luke spent a summer in Siberia a few years ago and it’s been one of his dreams to go back for a while.  One of the main goals for our time there is language acquisition, for Luke to use for further academic studies.  He’s also excited to gain more teaching experience, another important step for his career trajectory.

Q: What will you be doing there?

Luke has been hired by a language school to be a full-time English teacher.  I also plan to do some teaching on a part-time basis, while also pursuing some dreams and doing more professional development.

Q: Isn’t it cold there?

Yes.

Q: Why now?

Luke is between graduate schools right now and we don’t currently have debts or dependents to tie us down.  After reviewing our 5 and 10 year flow charts (no joke), we realized that if we were ever going to pursue this adventure, there’s no better time than now.

Q: When do you leave?

The first leg of our journey is to get from the West Coast back to the MidWest.  We’ll be leaving SoCal at the end of June and flying for Saint Petersburg in mid-August.

Q: When do you come back?

We don’t have a specific date yet, but the teaching contract is for one year.

I also promised to reveal what our joint anniversary gift was from last week.  You might have guessed it by now…it’s a travel guide to the Saint Petersburg area!  We are so excited to explore our new city–some of our current top sights to see are the Hermitage Museum and the homes/estates of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy.

Because after all, it did all start with Anna Karenina.