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.

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.

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.

2 for 2

We’re officially clocking in on our second year of marriage today, and I’d give this whole married thing a solid two thumbs up.  So far, we’re 2 for 2 as far as amazing years of marriage go.

After birthdays and Christmas and Valentine’s Day, we both felt like our gift-giving abilities were limited so we’ve made it a tradition (2 years in a row counts as a tradition, right?) to go in on a gift together for our anniversary and pick out something that is edifying to our marriage or brings us closer.

IMG_20170604_174605

This year’s gift.  Can you guess what it is? 🙂

I’ll be sharing about the gift we chose this year next week on the blog (some related exciting news coming soon–stay tuned!) but in the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned from last year’s anniversary gift.

His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage

We thought we had read all the marriage books before we got married, but we were wrong.  This one is my favorite because the author isn’t afraid to deal with the reality of a married relationship.

Central to the book is the concept of a “Love Account” that we each have with everyone else in our lives. When we feel loved, a deposit is made in the account. When we feel hurt, a withdrawal is taken out.  For two budget nerds, this double-entry accounting method of describing a relationship had a great appeal but I understand that it sounds a little too mathematical to some.

These Love Accounts explain why you can be in love with our spouse/significant other but still have an affair with someone else.  You can have two love accounts with lots of deposits each with two different people.  As you can tell by the title, the book then describes how to keep withdrawals to a minimum with your spouse and how to avoid making the wrong kind of deposits in someone’s love account who isn’t.  What I really appreciated about this perspective is that it explains why

(A) trust and love can be eroded but recovered

(B) it’s easy to get stuck in a non-stellar relationship (romantic or otherwise) but not be able to let go if the love deposits are just marginally greater than the love withdrawals.

One of the ways we can make deposits in the right love accounts is by enjoying recreational time together. During the chapter on this need for joint leisure, the author frankly states that if you don’t share any favorite activities, you’ll need to do some brainstorming to find mutually enjoyable hobbies and then ditch your favorites to make time.

We hear about sacrifices in marriages in vague terms, but I loved the bluntness of this author’s approach.  Being married might mean giving up your favorite activities.  And that’s okay.

All this to say, read the book.  Whether you’re married, engaged, dating, or not interested, it’s an insightful look at how we love.  It’s encouraged me to not always insist on my way. It’s also inspired me to be more intentional about finding ways to make those deposits into Luke’s love account.

For a $12 book, I’d say that’s a pretty good ROI.

Lead Me Not

I first learned about the wisdom of working out but not over working your self control in Social Entrepreneurship 101.  We were discussing how to facilitate change in a community and the professor referenced a study conducted by Dikla Shmueli and Judith J. Prochaska where smokers were asked to actively resist eating a treat in front of them for 15 minutes.  Every 15 seconds, they had to pick up the plate, smell the treat, and then put it back down without eating it.  For some, that treat came in the form of freshly baked brownies while the other group of smokers had radishes.

After the 15 minutes, the participants were given a 10 minute break.  The results?  Participants who resisted sweets were more likely to smoke during the break (53.2%) than those who resisted vegetables (34.0%).1

So if you’ve got some bad habits to kick, experts recommend that you beat them one at a time.  Giving up sugar, Netflix, and taking up running all in the same week might just pull your self-control muscle, making it too sore to even get you up with your alarm the next morning.

Instead, focus on one goal at a time and eliminate the everyday temptations. Pick a different route to work if yours sends you right by the donut shop.  Put fruit instead of sweets out on the counter.

In 1 Corinthians 10: 13b, we are encouraged by the fact that, “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  We can trust Him to give us the strength we need to resist the temptations we inevitably will face.  But when possible, it is wise try to avoid temptations rather than continually facing and fighting them.  Some sins, like pride and anger–are hard to avoid entirely.  When Jesus instructed his disciples (and us) on how to pray in Matthew 6, He didn’t say “help us to resist temptation” but rather “lead us not into temptation.”

But if we’re constantly slapping our own wrists as we reach for the forbidden chocolate that’s hiding in plain sight in the pantry, we’ve destroyed our own defenses.  It’s far easier to snap back at our spouses, respond in anger to our bosses, or lose our patience with the kids when our self-control has been worn down by resisting small temptations all day long.

Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires. Plus, self-control is used for other things as well, such as controlling thoughts and emotions, regulating task performance and making decisions. So most people use their willpower many times a day, all day.

The good news?  Like our biceps, there are ways to strengthen our self-control and increase endurance for when life hands us marathons of temptation.  Eliminating the temptations and daily annoyances we can avoid is the first step as it reserves our willpower for the things that really matter. After that, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests,  “practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions. Over time, that practice improves self-control.”

Trying to supercharge your self-control workout by making dramatic lifestyle changes in a short period of time will have the same result as starting weight-lifting by benching 200 pounds. You’ll probably hurt yourself and give up entirely. The key here is consistency, not intensity.  That could be as simple as using your left hand to brush your teeth or saving an extra $5 a week!

As we strive to become more like Christ, eliminating the small temptations throughout our days and working out our self-control muscle can help us grow in the virtues of patience, kindness, and selflessness–character traits that could surely use some toning up in my life.

  1. Study cited: Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). Resisting tempting foods and smoking behavior: Implications from a self-control theory perspective. Health Psychology, 28(3), 300-306.

RSI of the Thumb

I’ve officially diagnosed myself with thumb RSI (thanks, WebMD).  RSI = repetitive strain injury where fine repetitive movements in the thumb cause tiny tears in the muscles and tendons.  The tendons run out of lubrication as there is insufficient time to rest and recover.

I blame Instagram, but I mostly blame myself for making scrolling on my phone my default posture when I’m not doing anything else.  This post will be brief, because I’m down a digit.

After several days in an existential crisis, I realized that my sore thumb was a symptom of a much larger problem.  Not only am I abusing technology by wasting time on my phone, I am actively seeking those dopamine rushes when a new e-mail, text, or notification comes through.  I’ve silenced all phone notifications and quit Facebook, but that doesn’t help much when you’re checking your phone every 5.8 seconds.

My first solution to this general feeling of emptiness is to find more hobbies.  If I’m looking to my phone for entertainment too much, I should probably pick up oil painting. My husband gently reminded me that I’m already an aspiring baker, fairy gardener, recipe organizer, writer, crafter, reader, runner, and QuickBooks novice, so perhaps my problem was not too much time on my hands but a misplaced hope.

We live most of our days with a vague longing that something will come in the mail one day that will change our lives forever.  It’s not just my phone I’ve been looking to for fulfillment.  I keep hoping my life will provide me with an unexpected excitement that I know I’d despise if it came because the anticipation is greater than the realization.

My thumb needs time to rest and recover from my anxious scrolling and so do I.  Instead of finding another distraction, my goal is to more fully participate in the hobbies, relationships and rituals I already enjoy.