Friday, April 30, 2010

Goal #2: Life Updates - April

Goal #2: Blog a personal/life update once-a-month for six months.

I thought our six-months of radical frugality was as good'a'time as any to write a life update once-a-month for six months. So to get us started, here is April:

Life Update 1 of 6: April 2010

April has been an intense month of emotional, spiritual and material purging. When I opened myself up to doing big stuff for God and living simply to give more, if was like Someone opened a floodgate. And I'm a little bit addicted to the change.

"I've learned that it takes faith to be a generous giver, it's not normal or natural. I have also learned that often people actually give before the joy comes. Once people experience the joy of giving, it becomes infectious and they look for new and better ways to give more." - Tom Conway

For starters, our apartment is a bit of a disaster right now because I been in a spring cleaning frenzy motivated by a "live simply" mentality. Our living room is half covered in piles of books, clothes and other hardly-ever-used-so-let's-just-get-rid-of-them items. Less stuff to clean, less stuff to pick-up and less stuff to move (when the time comes). Sounds great to me!

I found that in letting go of all this "stuff," I actually felt less burdened and more eager to give. I think that by removing "stuff" from my life, I realized how little I actually need, thus how much less I could live on and how much more I could be giving. Shoot! This applies not only to money, but to time as well. The less stuff I have to clean, more more time I can give to others, right? :-)

Goodness, there is so much more that I could say about this month, but I think that if you've been following my blog, you pretty much have a good gist of what has been going on in my life/head/heart lately. So for the sake of time, I'll give a bullet-pointed update on the remainder:

  • I'm learning about freezer cooking. It. Is. Awesome!  (Feel free to share links to recipes that freeze well, I'll take whatever I can get.)
  • I hosted "Girl's Night" this month at our apartment. My college girl friends and I all live in different parts of the city but try to get together and catch up every few months. Nothing like bonding time with old friends. We watched movies and played games and ate way too much junk food, all while wearing our PJs. It was fantastic. Much love to my incredible friends Julie, Jamie, Brittany, Megan, Rachel and Sus (who we missed this month).
  • I've had a lot of oppotunities to hang out with our new church family and it has been so wonderful to get to know these amazing people.
  • Oh April 10th, Devin and I celebrated 6-months of being married. I can confidently say that I love him more today that I ever have before. Through all of the soul-searching, growth and openhearted sharing going on this month (on both Devin and my part), I think we've fallen in love with each other all over again. :-)
Q4U- What was the highlight of your April?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Should Christians Be "Cool"?

I was reading a blog the other day and while I'm not sure I agree with some of it, there was an idea embedded in there that got my wheels a-turnin':

"You don’t have to go to a “cool” church with a name like “Revolution” or “The Rock” or “Journey” or “The River.” Your plain ol’ First Presbyterian or First Baptist or First United Methodist will do."

While I acknowledge that a church's name has little to do with what's truly, deeply on the "inside," the comment made me wonder...  Is it okay for Christians to be cool?

I mean, as Christians, we're called to be aliens; to be in, but not of, this world. We're told that people will know us by our love for one another.  I haven't seen a Bible verse that says, "They will know you by your stylish Christian t-shirts, your fancy light shows, your rockin' praise team and entertaining messages."

I think that somehow the American church has been sidetracked with being attractive to the world. Jesus said that people would hate us because we followed Him. So why has "being cool" become so incredibly important?

We call it being "seeker friendly." But it seems to me that using the media budget to take care of the widows and the orphans would do a lot more to attract people to Jesus than awesome sound equipment or a children's ministry that looks like Disneyland.

We say we want a place where our non-believing friends will feel "comfortable." But do you think, just maybe, that we like going to a "cool church" because we won't be embarrassed to take our friends there? Because our church really doesn't look that different than the concert they went to last Saturday night? (And trust me, when I say "we," I am including myself, because I have had this thought.)

Why do we even care about being cool? (Besides the obvious - that we are, in fact, human.)

Now, I am definitely for Christians representing Christ in a positive, Biblical way. I like using media and the arts to teach people about God and I think we should do it with excellence. What I see as a problem is that our churches today seem to be focused so heavily on the cool-factor.

What would Jesus think of our modern architecture and cutting-edge videos? Would He nod at our creative genius and brilliant marketing strategies before turning to look at the world's 132 million orphans with tears in His eyes?

Even as I type this, I keep thinking, Oh man, if I post this it's going to really offend some people and then they won't like me and won't think I'm cool anymore.

Oh.  Now hold on just a-hypocritical-minute!

If I want to be counter-cultural and make even a dent in hopelessness of this world, I've got to be different. And a whole lot of the time, being different makes you very not cool.

Now, I'm not saying we need to go out of our way to be completely and utterly lame. After-all, our love for God and others should exude a certain kind of vibrance. I'm not saying that we shouldn't use our talents or creativity for God. And I'm certainly not trying to generalize here. But just imagine the difference we could make if we weren't so concerned with being popular... or rather, if we were concerned with being popular for all the right reasons. Maybe being cool in the world's eyes isn't having the best facilities, clever t-shirts, etc. Maybe being Jesus to the world is cool. Jesus was hated by hypocrites and we will be too. But to those with eyes to see, He was a different sort of way.

I'll leave you with these verses:

"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." - John 15:19

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27

"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." - 1 John 3:17-18

So here is the big Q4U- Do you think that Christians/churches should be cool by the world's standard?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Facing the "What Ifs"

Devin and I went to hear author Donald Miller speak this past weekend. I came to the realization that Donald is probably the author that has most influenced my adult life. The "big things" that I've done in the last few years - stories from my life I'm actually proud of - have all been inspired, largely, by his books.

I went on my year-long fast from buying clothes because of a story he told in Blue Like Jazz. I was motivated to do my Project 101 in 1001 while reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And now, after hearing Donald speak, I have again been smacked between the eyes with a foundation-shifting realization:

I'm scared to do stuff for God.

I know it's awful and I know I shouldn't be. But truly and honestly, I am a spiritual scaredy-cat is who is miserably content in the sad little rut I've cut out for my comfortable little life. I avoid even thinking about doing big things for God because I'm afraid I might actually have to do them. Which is ridiculous because I am 98% sure that if I gave it all up for God and really served Him without fear, I would never regret it. I would have awesome stories and experiences and memories that could never compare with a life lived comfortably.

But that 2% uncertainty that reminds me that I would also have trials and struggles and challenges, sure seems to scream louder than the 98%. That 2% reminds me that I like my stuff and my apartment and the security of my job and my savings account. I like living close to family. I like planning out my future, happy little American family. I like not having to think about ruffling up or letting go of some of those "perfect" dreams. Even if the reason for the uprooting them is a Great One.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” - Jesus, Matthew 16:25

Donald spoke about how serving God involves action. That good stories have lots of action verbs. That as Christians we can't just sit around talking about God and thinking about God and reading about God while not actually doing anything for God. He compared it to reading a tractor's manual but never buying a tractor or plowing a field. That would be absurd, and yet I do this same thing with my life all the time.

He also talked about how often we are too scared to dream big with God and then challenged us to start by asking "What if" questions. "What if I moved to Africa?" "What if I started a ministry?" "What if every fatherless child had a mentor?" That sort of thing.

That was the moment when I realized that not only have I been too scared and comfortable to try and do big things for God, I wasn't even willing to think about them. I would often be silent when Devin would talk about doing something huge for God because I was afraid that if I even showed the smallest hint of interest, support or excitement about the idea, I would have to follow through with doing it.

But I'm starting to go in circles here.

To sum it up - I realized that if I really believe God is who He says He is, and will do the things He says He will, that I have no excuse for not serving Him with abandon. I realized that I'm too attached to my comfy life and use it as an excuse for not being open to doing something big for God. And, as I scribbled out some "What ifs" through my tears, I saw a common theme:

  • What if we worked at a Compassion International center in Uganda?
  • What if we worked for House of James orphanage in the Ukraine?
  • What if we became house parents for Sunshine Acres children's home?
  • What if we became foster parents?
  • What if I wasn't scared to do something big for God?
  • What if I was willing to let go of all the "comfortable?"

I honestly don't know yet what to do with all these "What Ifs."  I only know that I've been too afraid to even consider them and now that this wall of denial lays crumbled at my feet, I've got to face the challenge of being willing to do.

Matthew 6:19-34
Matthew 7:13

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goal # 44 - Dates with Devin (2 of 20)

Multi-tasking is a grand thing ain't it? Last night Devin and I had our weekly date night and not only was it frugal (Goal #54) - and by frugal I mean FREE - I was also able to complete date two-of-twenty for Goal #44 "Go on 20 of the dates listed in the books Dates on a Dime and Coffee Dates for Couples."

"Most museums offer free admission on certain days. Visit then and, as a memento, bring home a postcard or trinket from the gift shop." - Dates on a Dime 

Downtown Mesa, AZ is a very interesting place to visit. It has a beautiful center for the arts - which brings in some excellent concerts and plays - and a museum of contemporary art (I'll get to that in a minute). One of the more unique features of Mesa is the permanent sculpture collection - an outdoor display of sculptures that spans a six-block stretch of Main Street. But the sculpture we came to see was this one:

A twenty-five-foot sculpture of the famous painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic. This traveling exhibit, named God Bless America and created by J. Seward Johnson, has been touring cities all over the U.S. and has most recently made a stop in our very own Mesa, AZ.

This thing is incredible. When viewed from across the street, it appears to be a 2-D cut-out from every angle - looking like someone had simply sliced up the original canvas and enlarged it. One has to be right under it to be able to see the three-dimensional, gigantic details. It was a very interesting effect.  

(photo by Devin Hanson)

After staring agape at God Bless America for a good fifteen-minutes, we walked over to the Mesa Arts Center to enjoy the sack dinner I had packed. We admired the modern architecture of the M.A.C. as we munched on our sandwiches. Then, we headed into the Museum of Contemporary Art for "free admission Thursdays." 

(Museum of Contemporary Art - photo by Devin Hanson)

I'm not a huge fan of contemporary art. In fact, I usually use air-quotes around the world "art" when speaking of it. Despite this prejudice, most of the displays (while not artistically up-to-par with the classic masters such as Rembrandt and Michelangelo) were compelling. I especially liked the exhibit Stare by Chris Rush which contained portraits of people with physically deformities and/or mental disabilities. The artist portrays the subjects in a way that shows dignity and beauty, while also confronting the viewer with the reality of the handicaps and the fact that we often "stare" at these people without seeing their true value.

 (Swim 2 by Chris Rush)

However, there was one exhibit that was truly horrifying. Honestly, it was the most terrifyingly graphic, disturbing, evil-looking art I have every seen. It made me physically uncomfortable and I did not relish, or on any level appreciate, the experience. It was beyond bizarre - a devastating reminder of how art reflects culture and how twisted and dark our world has become.

But this is not the thought that I would like to end this post with.

Dates for a Dime mentioned bringing home a "memento" from the museum, but considering how I clearly felt about some of the art there, I figured some of the awesome pictures Devin took at the M.A.C. would be a better reminder, so I will leave you with these:

 (self portrait :-)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Unoffical Date That Wouldn't End

(our first picture together in 2008)

Two years ago today, after a 24-hour period of obvious stalling, Devin asked me to be his girlfriend. It is actually quite an amusing story...

“The Un-Official Date That Wouldn’t End”

Our first date actually started out as a non-date: just two good friends (who both happened to have unspoken feelings for one another) going on a hike up South Mountain. Following the hike, I was going to assist Devin in shooting engagement pictures for his friends, Kenny and Tara.

“He is going to ask you out at the top of the mountain,” my dad predicted when I told him about our plans. “But I bet you he’ll chicken out. That’s just how guys are.”

Sure enough, one long hike, much flirting and plenty of perfect opportunities later, Devin and I were still “just friends.” Devin had indeed, “chickened out” (he’ll even tell you so!). To buy himself a little more time, Devin treated me to gelato at Dulce Luna, but still did not broach the subject of dating. In fact, we spent the entire time taking about the weather and how nice hammocks were for weather like this. Missed opportunity number two.

Opportunity number three: I showed up early for the photo shoot I was assisting him with. Tara and Kenny had rescheduled for a little later in the afternoon, but Devin, still trying to get up the gumption to ask me out, had failed to mention this change of plans to me.

However, when I arrived at his parents’ house and found we still had over 45 minutes before our shoot, I decided to take a nap to recover from our hike earlier that day. So, I slept on the couch and Devin missed yet another opportunity.

I assisted Devin in shooting Kenny and Tara’s engagement pictures. They were probably entirely confused, as they knew Devin had planned to ask me out at the top of South Mountain, yet neither of us had spoken of it.

After the shoot, we went to Devin’s brother and sister-in-law’s house for a game night. On the way there, Devin bought me dinner at Panda Express.

We opened our fortune cookies and mine said something about being talented and his something about creativity. I laughed and remarked on the accuracy of our predicted qualities. To this he responded, “Yeah, those two things go great together…”

Silence. Pause.

Missed opportunity number four.

We arrived at Derek and Kristin’s house and I practically dragged Kristin into the next room. “Is he going to ask me out or not?!” I demanded.

Kristin had been the initial matchmaker in trying to get us together, so I figured she’d know. She claimed she didn’t.

“He took me on a hike, he bought me ice cream, we shot engagement pictures together, he bought me dinner and nothing! It’s like the un-official date that won’t end!!”

She said something about being patient… but I think in my frustration I had stopped listening. After all, if we were going to be friends- fine. If we were going to date- fine. I just wanted him to pick one already!

Game night was over, it was past midnight and Devin was driving me back to my car.

“You know,” he started, “I have really enjoyed our friendship over the past few months.”

Here it comes!

“You have been so encouraging to me and I…” He swallowed, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”


“I’ve enjoyed it too,” I replied (or something equally lame).

Silence. Pause. Silence. Missed opportunity number… I’ve lost count.

Now we were a few yards away from where my car was parked and I was resolved to the fact that it was just not going to happen that night.

“Soooo…” he says.

I held my breath.

“I think that we should talk,” he paused, “about us.”

I broke out into a huge grin, which apparently encouraged him to proceed.

“But not tonight, because it’s too late. Can I take you to breakfast before church tomorrow?”

I agreed, he dropped me off at my car, and I drove home with a huge smile on my face.

I received a text message on my phone shortly after we parted, “Before you go to bed or at some point in the morning, I want you to pray about tomorrow’s breakfast. I want this to be a ‘sacred moment’ in our lives. Sleep well, do not be anxious and thank you for an AMAZING day :-) I know God is a strong part of this, whatever ‘this’ is.”

I replied that wasn’t anxious at all, because I knew God was in this too, but that I would read Philippians 4:3-7 just as a good reminder. In reading that section of scripture, I came across Philippians 4:8, which we later used as the “theme verse” for our relationship.

Sunday morning arrived and Devin took me to Pleasant Croissant, a wonderful little Croissant shop in Tempe.

After ordering our breakfast and finding a quiet seat outside, Devin finally announced his intentions.

“In case you didn’t know… I kinda like you,” he said.


I laughed (okay, it was probably more like a giggle), “I kinda like you too, in case you didn’t know.”

“So I guess that makes it official,” he observed.

And thus began our dating relationship… nearly 24 hours after our first “unofficial date” started.

(It wasn’t until 4 months later that a friend of Devin’s, upon hearing the above story, pointed out that he hadn’t ACTUALLY asked me out yet. Devin amended that faux pas immediately.)

Q4U- Tell me about your first date with your spouse.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Beginning of Goal #54

Last Saturday, Devin and I celebrated being married six-months. It has been a wonderful six-months full of joys, but also sprinkled with plenty of trials. Trails that, by God's example of love and grace, have only served to draw us closer.

So with that in mind, why not add a self-imposed "trial" to the mix and grow even closer? Crazy right? Maybe not. (Hopefully not.) Here's our plan: We have agreed that our six-month-iversary will mark the start of Goal #54: Live six-months radically frugal. (Technically, this was Devin's brain-child, but I put it on my list to show that I was on-board.) It's perfect timing too, because apparently April has been dubbed by our President, Financial Literacy Month (but I'm not even going to touch that political inconsistency with a ten-foot pole).

Now,  Devin and I are a pretty frugal couple to begin with - we have an older apartment, we drive used cars, we don't have cable, we don't eat out all that often. But for the next six-months, we will be taking our frugality to the next level. I'm not entirely sure what "the next level" looks like, but I'm sure it will be intense at times. Here are some guidelines we have:

  • Borrow instead of buy (example: my best friend just happens to wear the same size as me and I have already started raiding her closet for the occasional borrow)
  • Make instead of buying (example: make dinner instead of going out, even on date night!)
  • Buy used instead of new
  • Use coupons and gift cards
  • Eliminate excess and make use of what we already have (example: eating what is already in the pantry before we stock up on food again)
  • Question the necessity of every purchase - give all "needs" a second thought and avoid "wants"

We'll be ending this little venture of ours on October 10th - our first wedding anniversary. Why, you may wonder, would we do this to ourselves during our first year of marriage? A time that is supposed to be filled with joy and boundless happiness? I'm so glad you asked.

We want to be able to live simply in order to save more and give more. We want to learn to live opposite of our consumer-driven culture. We want to be excellent stewards of what God has given us - to not hoard it for our own pleasure, but to use it to bless others more. We want to "test the financial waters" in preparation for me staying home in the future (which will cut our income considerably). We want to create good spending habits for the future, so that even when these next six-months are over, some of the lessons we've learned will stick.

A few years back, before I even knew Devin, I realized that I was spending a large amount of my merger student income on clothes. Sure, the clothes were on sale (a justification I clung to), but they were also clothes that I did not need. So, I made a commitment to not buy any clothes (used, on-sale, or otherwise) for one year. I succeeded too.

That year taught me a valuable lesson about what I really need and don't. A lesson that still affects my spending habits, some three years later. Even after my "clothing fast" was over, I had developed the habit of pausing before I bought clothing and debated with myself as to whether or not I really needed this item. Of course, 98% of the time I did not need that new article of clothing and about 80% of the time (hey, I'm not perfect!), I would put it back on the rack and move on with my life (and what's more, survive without it just fine).

I'm thankful for that year-long clothing fast of mine, because I think it will help to give me stamia over the next six-months as we pause and question every purchase we make. Here goes!

 (image borrowed from this living frugally blog)

Q4U- Any tips for living extremely frugal that you'd care to pass along?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Goal #42: Go Sailing with the In-Laws

On Saturday, Devin and I went sailing with my in-laws Bob and Lynn. I had never been sailing before and faced half-teasing threats of an "initiation" the entire drive to Lake Pleasant. I figured they were joking, but considering I had dared to wear my UofA hat on a boat in the middle of a lake with a bunch of ASU fans (UofA's home-state rival)... I was genuinely concerned. Not to mention that Devin was unable to keep a straight face as he "assured" me that they were only joking. Once we were on the boat, the conversation of initiation pick up every time "Captain Bob" (my FIL) asked how deep the water was. "208 feet? Yeah, this should be a good spot."

Much to my relief (though not to the interest of this story), the "initiation" was nothing more than steering the boat every now and again. Seriously - how I became so gullible I will never know (I blame my wonderful, but ever-teasing father). Apparently I am very easy to tease and no matter how many times I get teased, a little part of me always seems to take the bait. Which, of course, makes it all the more fun to continue teasing me the next time. Oy.

Once I realized that the threat of being tossed over-board was a ploy, I quite enjoyed myself sailing. The water was a gorgeous dark blue and weather was absolutely perfect- warm and sunny, but enjoyable. The desert surrounding the lake was green and in bloom with purple, yellow, orange and red wild flowers.

It was also fun for me to see my FIL in his element. Bob loves to sail and even races a small sail boat with my BIL, Derek. Knowing pretty much less-than-nothing about sailing, it was interesting to me to see Devin and Bob run the boat. (Actually, Lynn helped run the boat too. So basically, every person on board proved to be a useful crew member but me.)

Though Bob is the Captain (which Devin informed was the only thing I needed to know when on the boat), my MIL assured me that she was the Admiral. (If any of you are as ignorant of the Navy as I was when this statement was made, an Admiral commands a Captain.) Truly though, my MIL, Lynn is so sweet. She is wonderful at observing others and picking up on their likes. Then often presents them with a little gift that matches those likes. She is also very good at remembering people's ambitions and dreams and encouraging them to pursue them.

So to recap- I was on a boat, in the middle of a deep lake, with my in-laws, wearing the colors and logo of a rival school and not only did I survive - I had an absolutely wonderful, relaxing time and am already looking forward to the next trip.

Thus completed Goal #42 on my list on 101 Goals. The only grievance I have is a minor sunburn and the fact that as I sit and type this, I am still rocking back and forth on a phantom boat and feeling more than a bit sea sick.

Here are some shots Devin took while we were on the boat:

Q4U- Tell me about a memorable experience you've had with your in-laws.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Goal # 44 - Dates with Devin (1 of 20)

Last night for our weekly date night, Devin and I completed date one-of-twenty for Goal #44 "Go on 20 of the dates listed in the books Dates on a Dime and Coffee Dates for Couples."

This date idea came from Dates on a Dime:  

"Go on a digital scavenger hunt - and your the booty! As you visit fun places in your town or city, ask passers-by to snap photo of you and your honey in these place."

We headed to historic downtown Chandler to go on our digital scavenger hunt. Even though we live right around the corner, we had never actually explored this area of our hometown. I highly recommend doing something like this in your area.

Being lead by the "self-guided tour" plaques we learned about what all of the historical buildings used to house back in 1914. Here we are in front of what used to be "Sink's Pool Hall" and is now a flower shop:

Here is Devin in front of Murphy's Law Irish Pub (because "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong"). This building was best know for being the location of Saba's Department Store in the 1940s.

During our walk, we ran across many pieces of.... interesting art.

We also happened upon an outdoor farmer's market that is held here every Thursday night. We got to sample some incredible relish dips from Relish This and some mouth-watering cheddar/jalapeno bread from Great Harvest Bread Company. Yummy!

Quickly becoming aware of how little we new about Chandler, we visited the Chandler Museum to brush up on our local history. (Did you know (or care) that Chandler was the first in the nation to have a federally-funded water project? Fascinating stuff right there...)

They had historic re-creations of the general store, school, tent houses and hotel.

And what classy, historic museum would be complete without it's very own (previously used) genuine outhouse....

Before heading to dinner, Devin wanted to grab a few shots of the old fire house for his Project Thre3 6ix 5ive blog.

(my version of the shot - taken on my point-and-shoot camera)

Up until this point, we had experienced an incredibly fun and incredibly free date. Buuuut.... we just happened to have a buy-one-get-one-free-entree coupon for Urban Tea Loft. Which, much to our (sticker) shock, was considerably more expensive than anticipated. However, the atmosphere was unique and the food delicious, so it was almost justified.

They had this awesome tea dispenser. All you have to do is place the bottom of the pot onto the top of the cup and it pours automatically. Then, lift up the pot and it instantly stops pouring. Genius.

Enjoying our over-priced tea for all it's worth.

I thought my meal was great... until I tried Devin's dish. Which was utterly to-die-for.  I won't lie to you...I spent the rest of dinner coveting.

 (Brazed Pork Shanks- Fall off the bone tender shanks nestled in a tangy orange & ginger tea glaze)

So while our pocket books probably can't splurge for another night at Urban Tea Loft, we had an over-all fantastic time on our first of twenty dates from my list of goals.

Q4U- What is the best thing about your hometown?