Half-way to beginning

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So here’s this thing that I can’t seem to make sense of.  Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that I’m not particularly great at achieving goals I set for myself, whether due to crises that arise or getting bored or just giving up on persevering with them.  I have read just about every known goal-setting and achieving philosophy known to man and set my intentions accordingly, generally pretty realistic goals and hopes, nothing too huge or out there, identified the steps required and followed the SMART format and so on and so on and so on – and yet.  Nothing has ‘stuck’.  I’m yet to find that ‘way’ that works for me, but the reality is I probably never will, because ultimately fulfilling intentions and achieving goals comes down to self-control and discipline, two areas of my life that could do with a great deal of improvement.

The point I’m getting to is that as of today, I’m half-way to my goal of reading 100 books this year.  Yesterday I listed my 50th book on Goodreads, and I am fully confident of hitting 100 by December 31st.  Last year I only got to 57, and I honestly can’t tell you what has made the difference this time around.  The fact I love reading is a no-brainer, but that’s no different to this time last year, nor is the fact that I’m dealing with an upheaval in life amongst all the normal duties of parenting and living.  My intentions are no different, my ability is no different and my access to resources is just the same.  So why am I succeeding now when I didn’t then?  I don’t know.  I can’t even put it down to an eternal obligation like tracking on  Goodreads – being an absolute obliger means that to fulfil any commitment, to myself or anyone else, I need something outside of myself holding me accountable.  The only thing I can think of is that I am absolutely determined to get to 100.  That’s it.

My question is – how do I apply that determination and commitment to everything else I want to achieve or complete?  How to I change my diet to what nourishes me, write regularly, create something every day, move every day, finish and start all those household projects that excite me, learn more about things that excites me – not huge tasks or transformations, but small, everyday good things that align with my beliefs in living well and fully into my life’s purpose?  I have an accountability partner who does, well, hold me accountable to what I say I’ll do, but there’s no sting if I don’t fulfil my commitment or intent, and apparently even knowing it’s usually to my own detriment isn’t enough to stop me from eating what actually harms me or spending more hours online or on my phone than in Scripture or reading another book or creating.  The sting of physical pain and emotional dissatisfaction and discontent I live with as a result of my choices doesn’t seem to be enough alone to provoke change.  Why?  Who in their right mind would keep doing what hurts, especially when they have the ability to make changes that heal?  That would be me, and yes, I’m very aware of the propensity of humans to resist getting out of their comfort zones in a bid to avoid any form of discomfort, even if those zones are made up of unhealthy coping strategies and ways of living, even knowing that changes would lead to a life lived fully alive and thriving.  Again, that would be me.

I don’t have the answers I’m looking for right now, but as I count down this last week to turning 40, I’m unplugging from the noise of the world to listen for whispers, to make way for the Spirit of Life to dwell where He is usually drowned out and made quiet by my distraction and looking at all the shiny things that grab my attention.  As I reviewed the first half of 2016 earlier tonight, and saw all the intentions and hopes laying idle and forgotten, I took heart in knowing that tomorrow is another gift from the One who loves me unfailingly, another new beginning and chance to live as fully as He intends for me, and I will embrace that with everything I have.

40 is the beginning of the rest of my life and I can’t wait to see the story unfold.

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In the midnight

Lamp-in-the-Dark

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It’s 3:50 AM and I give up.  Apparently my body’s switched over to night-shift mode even though I’m nowhere near work, yet the last 5.5 hours of trying to get to sleep have been completely and utterly pointless, so I’m giving in and getting several hours worth of words out of my head.  The irony of this right now?  I’m managing a relapse of fatigue symptoms and can’t do much more that the basic daily necessities, resting and sleeping during the day as I need to, and yet tonight I can’t shut down to get the deep, restorative rest I so desperately need.

It’s funny, this time in the cycle of the day, a time I’m usually unaware of as my brain and body go into rest mode between the what was of yesterday and what will be of tomorrow.  A time when the doing of life pauses and the simply being takes over, no awareness or processing of my surroundings required, nothing expected of me except to just be still and let go.

My whole life is in that state of in-between right now, a time between what was and what will be, I’m waiting in the pause and trying to be still and let go of the doing, to focus on just being in this moment, however long it lasts.  And ohhhh, my goodness, it is hard, so hard, to settle into the waiting and trust God that it will all be ok.  I know that to be completely true in my head, but a lifetime of planning for the what ifs and reacting to things happening out of my control and waiting for the next crisis to have to deal with has left me with deeply entrenched reactions and coping strategies that really aren’t helpful.  I am leaning into God and consciously trusting that His plans for me are only for good, to give me hope and a future, but when it gets hard and hurting I keep trying to take back the control and do things my way, despite knowing how that usually ends (spoiler alert: not well).

So here I am, in the midnight, in the waiting, both literally and figuratively, still trying to make things happen my way, and I give in.  The only way through now is stillness, releasing what was never meant for me to hold on to and embracing the grace and hope and healing I find in my God, who loves me with an everlasting love.

Now it’s time to rest.

And then

8 years ago today was the start of a major turning point in my life, and I had no idea at the time – I hurt my back at work, and it was an incident that changed my life and the course of it forever.  There was no way I could have predicted that a seemingly innocuous incident would be the catalyst for a huge growth period in my life, and despite the fact that much pain has been involved, it is something for which I am grateful.

Fast forward to today, and I’m standing at the fork in the road again, only this time fully aware of my surroundings.  Today is a day that I will be able to mark as one of the points in time, in life, where you feel the change that needs to take place, you see the choices of paths ahead and you know with absolute certainty which one you want to take.

Naturally, well for me anyway, it’s not the one that looks the most cruisy.

I woke up this morning with a headache, achy joints, grumbling tummy and an emotional heaviness that I dragged around, as a result of eating the wrong foods and having made some not-so-great choices recently.  And I nearly cried with despair at the thought of facing another day feeling like this, the regret and remorse of making the same choices over and over out of reaction to my circumstances, despite so many committed vows to change and do better.  I’d had enough.

More than enough.

So I texted my friend, my accountability partner, and told her that the time for change is now, and gave her a list of what I was committing to – starting with moving each day, just doing something for 10 minutes.  Eating real food and not junk. Going to bed by 9:30. Spending only what I need to. Studying more than reading (non-study) books. Working on a house project each week/month. Scheduled quiet time each day.  It’s in these places I continually make the choices that give me instant gratification, as opposed to what I actually need, and it shows.

This is nothing new, I’ve been here before, sooooo many times, I’ve even said how much I know this time I will really change, I will really do better, I know how important it is yada yada yada.  I’m struggling to convince myself that now is any different.  I just know it has to be – I’m on the cusp of turning 40, and I’ve spent most of my 30s saying ‘today is the day’, and yet here I still am. I have a wonderful life that is so richly blessed, and I don’t feel like I do it justice because of the choices that I make – not the big ones, those I do pretty well.  It’s the little every day things that keep me small in my comfort zone, and I’m tired of being there.  It’s not a healthy place to be, and I just want to live well.  Wholeheartedly. Fully alive and present right where I am, not where I think I need to be.

So I will.

 

 

 

Sooooo………..

Birthday 2015

 

Well hello there.  Yes, it’s been a while – I really didn’t mean to be gone for so long, life truly turned the dial up and turned everything inside out and upside down for the last few months, and essentially I’ve been in survival mode.  Which means expending energy on the bare essentials, and not much else.  And in the interest of being completely honest and transparent, I fell into old habits of using food as comfort and not being as focused on and disciplined with budgeting and spending money as I declared I would be back at the beginning of the year.

I took the above picture on my 39th birthday last week, on a day when I was hoping to see the sun rise on the beginning of my 40th year of living this crazy beautiful life of mine, and instead I was enveloped in a world cloaked in thick fog.  This was actually perfect, as it reflected how I’ve felt for the last 6 months or so, and reminded me that despite what I can or can’t see around me, no matter how far ahead I can see the path in front of me or not, God knows where I’m going, the plans He as for me, and all I need to see is far enough ahead for just the next step.

Whilst there have been some days where I’ve longed to just be able to step out of whatever I’ve had to be dealing with and pretend life is all hunky dory, I have been blessed with moments of crystal clear clarity and insight into human nature – mine and others – that have allowed me to grow deeper in my relationship with God and my understanding of my own self, how I’ve come to think and believe and respond to all that life brings, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.  I haven’t been proud of some of the choices I’ve made when it comes to day-to-day coping, old habits are hard to break and I’m learning that change truly does come one choice at a time.

I am very pleased to be able to report that things are looking much brighter on the financial front, in the months since my previous post I’ve managed to pay down a significant amount of my debt – as well as accrue some more chunky bills along the way (not to self and everyone else, make sure you have ambulance cover!!  And don’t speed on the way to the hospital, especially when there’s a police car on the side of the road…..)!!!  Fortunately I have had plenty of work to cover it all and more, and I’ve started a new job at my local hospital, back to working a 7-day roster and loving every minute of it.  I’ve been able to start my Baby Emergency Fund, and should have this finished soon, then I can really start throwing everything I can at my Debt Snowball.  Does it sound strange to say that I’m really excited about this, that having had a taste of paying off some of my smaller debts already has left me wanting to more, to pay off everything else as quickly as I possibly can?  The debt mountain doesn’t seem as scary as it used to, it’s still huge and looming large in my vision, but I no longer feel any fear about how to tackle it.  One bill, one debt at a time, one day a time, that’s all I can do, and I’m content with that.

The start of this second half of the year feels like a fresh start again, a chance to make different choices and learn to live fully into all that God as prepared for me.  Life continues to unfold before me in ways I can’t imagine at times, and all I can do is stop, breathe, and trust God to see far enough ahead for just the next step.

Look up

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This.

This was the reminder I needed today.

I’m dealing with some hard heart stuff at the moment, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and suffocated by the weight of hurting and sorrow and not knowing, and to wonder if there will ever be life without dealing with something.

Today, the weight sat heavy, and I had to breathe deep and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

Then I looked up.

I work at my church a few hours a week in a casual/relief admin role and as I sat outside eating my lunch in the glorious sunshine, I looked up, and saw the cross on the roof that I had never really paid much attention to before.

The cross.

The cross that means I don’t have to bear the weight and hurting, because the Jesus that died on that cross tells me that I can come to him, and rest. I can give up the heaviness of it all to Him, and there I will learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It is there, with Him, that I will learn to live freely and lightly.

Breathe.

Rest.

Trust.

Look up.

One step a time

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I worked through the next step in this evolving process today, and for all the work I’ve done one budgeting and trying to change my spending habits in the past, this one was relatively new.  It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over time, but haven’t ever actually articulated on paper.

In the process of working out my budget, I really looked at my spending to identify exactly what things in life I need to spend money on, and what are the non-essentials of life.  Like I said, this is something I’ve thought about a lot, but actually putting it on paper was enlightening.

I created three categories to allocate all my spending to – Essential, Helpful and Luxury.  I then went through my bank statements and wrote down everything that I regularly spend money on, and allocated each item to one of these categories.  I also noted the frequency of these payments (fortnightly, monthly, quarterly).  The bulk of my income goes towards direct debit payments from my bank account, which I’ve set up to make paying it easier to bay bills on time (and keep track of them), so that was a straightforward process for me.  I recorded any out-of the-ordinary payments (such as PayPal payments for items I’ve bought), and thought about the things I paid cash or use EFTPOS for (like petrol, food shopping, coffees, going out for lunch, prescriptions etc).  Everything fit into one of the three categories and for me, the vast majority of my spending came under the ‘Essential’ category.

So here’s a bit of a rundown of each category –

 ‘Essentials’ covers everything I absolutely need to live, and everything I have to pay (e.g. loan repayments) – home loan; food; car running costs; school fees; utilities (electricity, water, council rates, phone); insurances; medical expenses; clothing (basic);home maintenance; loan repayments and minimum balances on credit cards.  I also include giving/tithing in this category.

‘Helpful’ is for anything that makes life a bit easier, or even just pleasant, but isn’t essential to our living and if I’m completely honest with myself, I could go without.  Things (for me) like health insurance, my mobile phone plan, adding essential oils to my collection and Spotify Premium (I actually didn’t have much to put into this category).  Other things could include gardening services, cleaning services, newspaper delivery, gym memberships.

‘Luxury’ covers everything else – all the things we truly don’t need but simply like to have, and can absolutely live without.  Eating out, pay-TV (cable), shopping (for anything – clothes, toys, craft supplies, at the hardware store, anything that isn’t essential to life), online courses/subscriptions, iTunes, going out for coffee or drinks, hair and beauty appointments, take-away meals, holidays, going to the movies or the theatre, gourmet food, home decorating – I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

This part of the process is where you start to see a clearer picture of your spending, especially where all those little things add up to A Big Thing.  It’s also where, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, things start to get confronting and uncomfortable.  If we are really, really honest, we would put a lot of our spending in the ‘Luxury’ category, because we know that we can live without them, we just don’t want to – and recognising that can be either enlightening or disappointing, depending on your perspective.  I’m the first to admit that I don’t like giving up the things I want, however I’m choosing to embrace this part of the process, but more on that later.

Categorising your spending helps you to see where you can start making changes, what you can possibly cut out or limit to help you create your ideal financial life.  It also shows you how often when we think ‘oh, it doesn’t cost that much’, $2 here, $5 there – it all adds up and could actually be taking a significant chunk out of your budget (as has been my experience).

This is where we work out where to spend what you earn, by prioritising every spending requirement (or desire) in life.  For me, I will allocate my income first to the ‘Essential’ category, then ‘Helpful’ and finally ‘Luxury’, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is a sensible way to manage money.  Whilst I have always done this for the most part (making sure the main essentials are paid), I have manipulated things to get what I want, at the expense of what I need to pay for, and this is where creating these categories and writing it all down in black and white will give me clear direction and keep me accountable.

This is an emotional process.  Looking deeply into and analysing your spending opens your eyes to the ‘why’ of your spending – especially when you already know there’s a problem.  Why did you buy another pair of jeans last week, when you already have 6 pairs in your wardrobe?  Why are you buying a latte every day at a cost of $30 a week, when you know you really can’t afford it?  Why are you spending money on things you know you truly don’t need before you pay the bills?  Why is there ‘just never enough’, even when you’ve cut back everywhere you can (or at least you think you have)?

All these questions – and the ones you know you need to ask (and probably know the answers to) – bring to light the emotional side of managing money.  I know what my answers are and until now, I’ve kept them in the dark, thinking I could keep the truth hidden even from myself, but now I’m bringing them into the light –

I feel entitled to have what I want, when I want it.

I don’t want to wait.

Getting what I want makes me feel good (for a short time, anyway).

Hooo boy, there it is.

(Insert uncomfortable shifting and red cheeks and a strong desire to hit delete right about now)

You know what?  Looking at these answers, these words, I can see them for what they really are – total, utter self-indulgence, resulting in stress and worry and self-loathing after the fact.

My history has been to give up what I really want in the future for what I want now.

I give up being debt free because I really want a Fitbit now, which I justify by telling myself how it will help my wellness journey, and I can get it cheap second-hand from Gumtree.

I give up having any savings so I can ‘treat’ myself to breakfasts and lunches at my favourite cafe, telling myself I deserve the treat for all the work I do.

I sacrifice much-needed maintenance on my house so I can buy another online course that I’m convinced will be the catalyst for change in (xyz area) of my life this time.

Constant compromise of my future to satisfy my self-indulgence now.

Not. Very. Pretty.

But the truth often isn’t pretty.  So often it is ugly, brutal, offensive and very, very confronting, and right now I am so, so grateful for that.  And I am so grateful that I am not my behaviour.  I am defined by my choices and I have the freedom to make different ones that will change not only my future, but my present, the reality I’m living right now.  I get the chance to write a different story.

God is giving me the tools I need to make things different, to learn to be a good steward of what He entrusts to me.  He gives me insight, wisdom and direction to choose the path to freedom – He gives this to all of us (and has been for a very long time) through His word, when He tells us that we can’t serve both God and money, we have to choose which one we will worship.  Money is a tool, a provision given by God to use to live well, to live full, to live the life He intends for His glory.  We are to use money to serve God, it is not a god we are to serve.

So this week, make your lists.  If you don’t have a clear record of where all your money goes, I encourage you to keep a spending diary, for at least 2 weeks, recording every cent that gets spent.  Then gather up all the information you’ve recorded from your bank statements, receipts, spending diary, whatever you have, and find some time to settle with what’s before you.  Really look at your spending with honest, open eyes, and honestly evaluate what needs to go in which category.  We’ll come back next week to start putting together a budget, in the meantime take the time you need to walk through this process, lean into the hard parts, and know that I’m here praying for you as we travel this journey together.

Here and now

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It occurred to me after posting last week that I haven’t really updated the going on in my life for a while, and there are some new readers I haven’t yet introduced myself to.  You can brief yourself on the short version of me here, but for the updated version, here you go!!

I’m Alison (just in case you hadn’t guessed!!), I live in the south of South Australia, in what is a large-ish town in Australia (approx 27,000), and I love living in a rural area that’s not too far from the beach.  I’m a sort-of wife (it’s a long story….), mum to 3 kids aged 17, 13 and nearly 12, and a Registered Nurse, and currently working as a return to work consultant, helping people get back to work after an injury.  I love my church and our family there, and get to serve as a worship leader and the missions and evangelism co-ordinator (how I got there is another whole story in itself!!).

Right now?  I’m working part time from home, along with a few hours a week at church as a relief secretary, working on fixing up my house to sell (so we can all live under one roof as a family again), and recovering after a hard and heavy year in 2014 (which didn’t not turn out to be as awesome as I’d anticipated), which left me feeling more than just a little battered and worn.  The year started with having to deal with some health issues, and then in February I lost my job, a job that was supposed to last for as long as I wanted to work there.  A couple of months later I had a hysterectomy and some other surgery, and spent the next couple of months resting and recovering, as well as trying to work out what on earth I was going to do now.  Fun times!!!!

I started my current job at the beginning of July, and continued to deal with ongoing health issues, along with all the ups and downs of life in general, especially life with kids.  And people.  And pets.  And you know how it goes…..

And here I am now.  Working part-time, being who I need to be for my family full-time, and just trying to figure out this whole life shebang.  Still.

I could really do with a crystal ball and a magic wand right about now.

Not really.  Fortunately for me, I’m ok with change, and I’m very much used to dealing with the unexpected in life.  That doesn’t translate to being prepared, but I’m used to suddenly having to change gears and work things out and just keep going.  And as I get older, and learn to trust God more with the big and little details of my life, I am more and more comfortable and less anxious with not knowing what the future holds.  Because if there’s one thing that has become absolutely crystal clear in the last year, it’s that the ability to control my life is a complete illusion, and life is a lot less stressful when I just focus on one day at a time.  I’m still working on that, trust me.

One thing that has become even more apparent to me in the events of 2014 – something I knew but hadn’t really given much thought to – is that I’ve always tended to live my life reactively, as opposed to proactively, which explains a lot about why I’m in the middle of the state of affairs I am right now.  I don’t want to live like that anymore.  I know I can’t be prepared for any and every eventuality, but I can learn to be organised and prepared where I need to be, and to not be constantly chasing my tail. Or putting out fires (figuratively).  Or yelling at a child.  I’ve been doing Whole30 since January 1, and this time around has shown me just how much better things go when I plan and prepare – when I have food cut up and cooked and frozen, I’m ready for every meal and am not left thinking ‘it’s too hard, I’ll just grab (xyz), even though I know that ultimately, I’ll feel terrible’.

Whole30 takes planning and discipline and limits, and I want to take these principles I’m learning and apply them to the rest of my life.  I’ve already put on my big girl pants and faced the reality of my financial situation, and it’s not the only area of life where I need a decent reality bite. But one thing at a time for now, because I know from past history just how likely I am to crash and burn at implementing any positive changes in my life when I try to do it all at once – and of course it doesn’t turn out perfect, and of course I give up, and of course feel like I’ve failed (again).  And rinse and repeat.

So my snapshot of life today?  I am loved by God, I’m a sort-of wife to the love of my life and mum to three infuriatingly wonderful kids, trying to get through life one day at a time, and learning how to look at life with new eyes, eyes that see the joy and beauty in every day, and not the pain and weariness and hardship.  God has shown me some of what is in store for me in the months to come, some very exciting changes and new paths to walk down, but the rest?  The rest will reveal itself in each new day, and it will be beauty-full.

I’ve been asking myself as I’m writing this, ‘Why?  Why am I writing all this all-about-me stuff, which really isn’t interesting to anyone (not really even me to be perfectly honest), but I know I need to, here and now, and I really want to lean into that, to lean into the vulnerability, and it’s kind of awkward, and embarrassing, and, and……..’ And the answer is really very simple.  Because I know I’m not alone.  I know I’m not the only one feeling like this, living this version of life, dealing with these issues.  And as I’ve said before, to anyone reading these words, you’re not alone.  So if you find even an ounce of encouragement and support in my ramblings and word vomit, and I leave you thinking ‘It’s not just me’, then it’s all worth the risk.

How about you?  What does your life look like right now?  Is it where you thought you’d be?  Or is life taking you on a completely different adventure?