Finding church, pt. 3

7 Jan

More and more I find my personal issues to be one of the biggest hindrances for me finding a church home.

I’ve served in leadership positions in a number of churches, dating way back to when I was a teenager. I’ve seen behind the curtain, and it (typically) ain’t very pretty.

To be clear, with one notable exception*, I haven’t served in churches where the pastor had anything but noble intentions. I really believe that. But I’ve also been part of smaller churches that grew and grew until they maybe got a little too big for their britches and started building projects or added layers of leadership or lots of EXCITING! programming.

When these churches reached that point, effective and efficient ministry tended to become more important than the people actually doing that ministry, and that’s a top-down thing. I really feel for pastors, because they have a very hard job, and I think many don’t get the care they need, or they have to find it on their own, outside of their own church body.

The other part of having been in leadership positions, particularly in worship, is that I tend to be hyper-critical. This is a HUGE problem, and I am working on it. The music and presentation of it needs to sound good, but not too good. Ambiance is good, rock concert is not. Misspelled words, distracting musicians, too loud, too soft, I am really good at finding a problem with music in churches.

Ultimately, this leads to me judging peoples’ hearts, and that is just so wrong. I know it’s wrong. It’s a hurdle I need to face, and I’m not certain how to do that except to just keep trying. And having these types of thoughts about the music easily transitions to unkind thoughts about pretty much every other aspect of a church.

I want to find a balance of being a critical thinker about what I need from a church and recognizing what it’s not while appreciating that many people who are part of churches that are wholly not for me also love God and are benefiting from that environment.

It’s a process I feel blind in. Thank God he’s in the business of restoring sight.

*The notable exception was a pastor in my childhood/teenage years who eventually left that church after years of promises about the Lord’s blessings upon those who give generously. He took thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars with him when he left.

Finding church, pt. 2

6 Jan

We opted to visit one of the “known quantity” churches I mentioned in my last post this past Sunday.

I nearly had a panic attack.

I’m an introvert to the core, and large-scale group settings increasingly give me a measure of anxiety, particularly when I am forced to interact and put on a happy face. It’s fine if I’m afforded some measure of anonymity, but dropping our kids off in childcare ensures I will have to interact with a number of well-meaning people who want to make small talk.

An introvert’s worst nightmare is basically being forced to have the same small talk conversations with multiple people we don’t know, one right after the other.

So right off the bat, this church was overwhelming for me. It was polished. The stage had lots of lights and attractive musicians singing in perfect pitch. Their dozen-or-so “campuses” were on the first Sunday of a special new-year initiative, and the preacher, who was on video (presumably so all the attendees would hear the same message, regardless of where they were) taught on this initiative.

There was a cafe. Literally a cafe, selling “Starbucks coffee,” one of the volunteers in the kids area told me.

Bobby and I put on our brave faces and walked into the packed auditorium after dropping off our kids, and we could not find a seat. The only empty seats were reserved.

So we went and ordered two coffees and sat in the cafe and talked.

It was disappointing in some ways, because we are absolutely interested in finding a church home. But this church, which is obviously so great for so many people, is not the one. Everyone we met was kind and welcoming, but it was so big that it was truly overwhelming for me.

I have some more thoughts on my personal issues with finding a church that I’ll try to share more about tomorrow, but they were definitely at the forefront this past Sunday.

Finding church, pt. 1

5 Jan

We have been out of the institutional church, as a family, since before our oldest child was even born.

Our kids have literally never gone to church regularly, or at least not to a church building. We were part of an “organic” home church for a period of about 4 years, but sadly that came to a screeching halt about this time last year.

It’s a long story where nobody is at fault and everybody is at fault. Basically humans were human, and I learned that they continue to be human regardless of whether you are in a big, fancy building or sitting on couches and drinking coffee in someone’s living room.

I loved the idea of home church, and even the idea of organic church in its purest form. But it is extremely difficult. There is a level of dedication to God and to each other that is demanding, and I think if both aren’t done with pure motives, then the church fellowship will have a hard time thriving. It’s very personal, which also makes it more painful to let go of it.

We fell on the side of being very dedicated to the group. I wouldn’t even say we weren’t seeking God, but maybe that we were feeding off the group in a way that was unhealthy, on the spiritual level. We brought a high level of dedication and caring for our brothers and sisters, but it was often at the expense of contributing anything spiritual.

Our family has since moved about an hour away from where our organic church was. The group had stopped meeting before the move, and it certainly made it easier to uproot ourselves and settle in a new city.

But now we are back at square one. Bobby and I both want our family to be part of a church, but it is daunting. There are a handful of local megachurches (the known quantities) and literally hundreds of smaller churches, and we pretty much have no clue where to start.

Wellness Wednesday #3

15 Oct

I’ve reached the point now where I’m basically just tired of my own bullshit. I have so little self-control, and it frustrates me to no end. Slow and steady is a great idea, and I think it is what will work for me, but it also involves actually moving toward a goal.

Basically, I’m having a hard time, but I’m going to keep going. I’m going to challenge myself harder with my goals this week.

1. What am I proud of this week?

You might think nothing, after my opening paragraphs. But I have been doing a decent job of keeping up with what I’m eating, and it’s making me more conscious of it. I’ve had salad for lunch the past two days and have one packed for today. I’ve also been working on cutting back on dairy, because I think drinking large amounts of it makes me feel gross.

2. What can I do better next week?

I’m going to make a concerted effort not just to track what I’m eating but to actually stay in the calorie range suggested by MyFitnessPal. And I’m going to make more of an effort to get to the gym, even though it’s a massive challenge for me in the evenings after I get home from work. Basically, I’m going to try harder.

3. How did I engage in spiritual/emotional self-care this week?

I was off work Monday, and it was definitely something I needed. I had a day to myself. I went to the gym, took coffee to Bobby (and had coffee myself!), ran errands, bought myself some new shoes, had a picnic lunch with Bobby, took a nap and then picked B up from work to play ping pong before we picked up the kids together. We had this practice of playing ping-pong in the afternoons before I started my new job, so it was really fun to be able to do it again. And it was good for my heart to be able to drop off/pick up the kids.

We also took the boys to a local pumpkin patch on Sunday. Stuff like that — family activities where we all just have a good time together — is really good for me emotionally, too.

4. How did I do on my goals for last week?

Track my calories honestly every day: Eeeehhhhhh … mostly. I had a couple of episodes of emotional eating that I just didn’t even bother with.

Work out at least three times for 30 minutes each: I worked out twice, and I spent a couple of hours being active with my family on Sunday afternoon, so I did pretty well on this one. Didn’t technically work out three times, but it’s an improvement.

Finish Daring Greatly: I haven’t been in a reading mood, so hopefully I will pick this back up this week.

5. What are three goals for the coming week?

Track my daily calories and stay under the amount MFP suggests. It’s not a crazy-low amount, and especially if I exercise, I should not have a problem with this as long as I eat reasonably healthy.

Work out at least three times for 30 minutes each. This one again. Still working on this one. I’m going to continue focusing on making it to the gym and getting that 30 minutes in. If I push myself? Added bonus.

Have a night out of the house for myself. Honest confession: I already did this last night. Since this post is a day late, it totally counts for this week.

Wellness Wednesday #2

7 Oct

This week I’m having to remind myself that slow and steady wins the race. I have established some really heinous wellness habits in the recent months, and it is going to take time to undo those. Rather than rapidly dropping a bunch of weight, I want to focus on creating new habits that I can keep up long term.

At the same time, I don’t want to use that as an excuse not to challenge myself.

1. What am I proud of this week?

This wasn’t an easy week. I was sick, and I had a weekend-long work trip. But I made a sincere effort to put more thought into what I was doing and eating. I’m paying more attention, and I think it will pay off in the long run.

2. What can I do better next week?

Part of “paying more attention” is realizing just how bad my eating habits have become. I love dessert and high-calorie coffee drinks. Loving them isn’t the problem — it’s having large servings of them multiple times per day. I am realizing that I crave sugar, and it’s because I’ve been letting myself eat it without any effort to be reasonable in my consumption.

3. How did I engage in spiritual/emotional self-care this week?

Physical and spiritual/emotional well-being go hand in hand, and this week was full of paying attention to a pretty specific physical need. Near the end of last week, I was exhausted, and I sensed that I was probably coming down with some seasonal crud. I wanted to go to the gym, clean the house, etc., but I chose to rest instead. I did end up coming down with the crud, but (*fingers crossed*) I’m feeling mostly better this week.

4. How did I do on my goals for last week?

Track my calories honestly every day: I did pretty well with this one. Because I traveled over the weekend, I had a little bit of a hard time keeping up with some of the things I ate, and I actually gave up on dealing with it Saturday when I had an all-day work event. But for the most part I entered things into MyFitnessPal. I wasn’t crazed over it, and I went over my “limit” several days, but I have a better idea of what I’m consuming, and even just tracking it made me think more about my choices.

Work out at least three times for 30 minutes each: Nope. I worked out once. I took a few nights off because I wasn’t feeling well, and while I had good intentions of working out at the hotel in Houston (I brought workout clothes), it just didn’t happen because I was worn slap out. I’m having a hard time finding motivation to go to the gym in the evenings after the kids are in bed, but I’m just going to have to suck it up and do it.

Finish Daring Greatly: I didn’t finish it, but I read a huge portion of it!

5. What are three goals for the coming week?

I’m going to stick with my three goals from last week and see how I do.

On wellness

30 Sep
Image from nwacc.edu.

Image from nwacc.edu.

So apparently this is a season of trying to make positive changes for me. I’ve written about some financial stuff, but I’m also trying to make some improvements in the health and wellness arena.

I’ve always been overweight, and I don’t really care so much about fitting into a mold of BMI and pants-size. But I do care about feeling well and avoiding specific health problems that run in my family and that tend to become more of a problem when you are a) gaining weight and b) getting into your mid-30s. I also care about actually eating healthy foods that will fuel my body rather than weigh it down, and I care about becoming more active.

All that sounds good, but it’s been a struggle for me my entire adult life. I’m going to start posting a “Wellness Wednesday” post each week to keep myself accountable for how I’m doing and to celebrate when things are going well. I’m keeping it simple by using the five-question format below, so hopefully it’s something I’ll stick with — and hopefully it’s something that will help keep me on track.

I’m hoping to move beyond past failures and find something that will really work with my life NOW.

1. What am I proud of this week?

I’m proud that I went to the gym multiple times, especially over the weekend while Bobby was out of town and I had the boys by myself. In the past week, I’ve completed four 30-minute workouts, which is four more than I had completed in MONTHS.

2. What can I do better next week?

I’ve been tracking my calories in MyFitnessPal, and I decided that Sunday would be a cheat day. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I had a really hard time getting back on track. This week, I’m going to skip the cheat day and incorporate a treat or two into my regular daily calories if I feel like I need it.

3. How did I engage in spiritual/emotional self-care this week?

I have been reading a lot! I finished The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner, and it really spoke to me as far as not feeling guilty about taking care of myself. Many times I feel bad for going and working out or getting out of the house for me time when I could be home cleaning or spending time with the fam. But it’s all about balance. Next up on my reading list is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown; I actually started it on Monday.

4. How did I do on my goals for last week?

I didn’t write down any goals for last week since I just started this whole adventure, but I’d say the goals I had in mind were to get to the gym and to eat a little healthier, and I did OK on those.

5. What are three goals for the coming week? 

Track my calories honestly every day
Work out at least three times for 30 minutes each day
Finish Daring Greatly

On finances

27 Sep
Image from selecthomeswichita.com

Image from selecthomeswichita.com

I’ll just start this off with the big one: I have about $43,000 in student loan debt.

Ouch.

It doesn’t do a whole lot of good to moan and groan now about how I wish I hadn’t taken out student loans. They were necessary for my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, I think about half of that total was for a graduate degree I never finished. #stupidtax

Even so, if that was all we owed, I wouldn’t feel too bad. But we have an additional amount of credit card debt (I’m embarrassed to say the amount, but I will just say it’s significantly less than the student loan debt), plus a car loan and some other random debt.

Much of our debt was a combination of bad decisions, bad habits and bad luck. When we first got married, the economy wasn’t doing so hot, which meant Bobby had a tough time finding full-time employment in a new town. We opted to push forward with buying a house, thinking he would surely find something soon, but it took longer than we thought, and Murphy’s Law was in full force.

I can’t blame it all on Murphy, though, because we have made our share of poor decisions in the past six-and-a-half years since we got married.

Our finances have been an ongoing struggle, but we both recently accepted new jobs (I posted about mine, and he has since been offered and accepted a telecommute position with a company out of Denver). For the first time, we are in a position where we can actually make an impact on our debt rather than just plodding along with minimum payments.

We’ve also set a big financial goal: Save up a 20% down payment for a new house (in the town where my new job is) in the next three years.

I’m the budget nerd in our family, and I’ve given a lot of thought to how we proceed. I listen to the Dave Ramsey podcast on my commute to work, and I really think his debt snowball method works. I also read a Forbes article (I think it was Forbes…) recently about the fact that the psychology behind it is solid.

On the other hand, in order to meet our house goal, we will have to be saving (which Dave says to put off until all debt is paid and a 3- to 6-month emergency fund is saved), and we really need to pay off credit card debt in order to help our credit scores and get a good interest rate. This also ensures we are paying off high-interest debt first, meaning we will pay less in the long run if we stick to it.

In the midst of this, we will also be moving into a rental and (hopefully) selling our current home.

There are a lot of moving parts, but I think the biggest thing for us will be having a plan that we can both live with and stick to. I’m planning to keep a running tally of what we’ve paid off and will likely share it here monthly. I may also start doing a weekly finances post. I don’t know, I guess it will just depend what I feel like doing, but I think even that amount of accountability to myself would be helpful.

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