What I’m Learning in the Dark

This last weekend, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I don’t know how to give sacrificially.

I have never given food to a food drive until I went hungry, or deprived myself of my favorite treats.

I have never given money to an organization until I was forced to stop spending on something for myself.

I realized that I want to know what it might feel like to give until it hurts, so I spent some time thinking about what we could give up as a family that would “cost” us something on a daily basis. It seemed to me that electricity would be a fun one to try.

Luckily, my family was up for the challenge, so we have spent this last week in darkness.

candles photo   © 2013   ElTico68 , Flickr

We’re still using heat, as it would be quite chilly without it, but in all areas, we’re just trying to cut back on how much power we use. At the end of the month, we’ll give the amount of money we saved to a charitable organization.

So basically, when it gets dark at night, we light candles.

When we’re feeling a comfortable temperature, we turn the thermostat down a bit, and get sweaters or blankets out.

When I do the laundry, I hang everything to dry.

When we’re done using an appliance, we unplug it.

When we’re not using the computer, we turn it off.

Pretty much, all those things we all know we should be doing to save energy, but don’t? That’s what we’re doing.

We’re not expecting it to save a ton of money. A 60 watt light bulb uses up $0.01 of energy per hour. Not a whole lot of savings there, but we keep reminding ourselves that it’s not just about the money – it’s about the learning experience.

Here’s what I’m learning so far:

1) I waste energy.

Apparently, I turn lights on all the time, even when I really don’t need them. This surprises me, because I’ve always been the kind of person who’s very diligent about turning lights off when leaving a room, and all that. But it turns out we need light even less than I thought we did.

I never used to think about unplugging appliances when they weren’t in use, but about three days into this experiment, I came into the kitchen, and actually thought, “Oh no! I left the kettle plugged in – what a waste!!” What??! Money-wise, that’s not a huge deal, but it’s very interesting to feel myself not wanting to use something I don’t truly need.

2) I like ease and convenience.

Sometimes, I get grumpy because it takes longer to do things in the dark. And I walked into an open closet door last night because I couldn’t see it. Sometimes, I want to just turn on the lights to get me out of my misery. I don’t want things to be hard, or take effort.

But sometimes, things are worth the effort. Good things come out of hard challenges. I’m a bit disappointed by how quickly I was ready to give up the whole thing. Thank goodness for Ben, who encourages me to keep going when I think the whole idea is silly. Maybe it is silly. But isn’t it good to go without ease and convenience sometimes? Not to punish ourselves, but to experience growth.

3) I like the darkness.

This is a big one for me. I have struggled with Seasonal Mood Disorder for years, and have always dreaded the longer hours of darkness in fall. I would have thought that less lights in the evening would bother me, but I’m finding the opposite to be true. After a week, I am completely loving our evenings of candlelight. We’ll see what happens after Time Change, but for now, I feel as though I’m welcoming the darkness, rather than trying to artificially shut it out.

It makes me feel different about daylight, too. I have this desire to get a ton of stuff done during the daylight hours, because I know I can’t in the evening. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel as though I’m more connected with the natural rhythm of our days.

4) When we save in one area, it’s contagious.

This may be my favorite lesson. When we’re using candles every evening to save on electricity, it makes me want to stop spending in other areas, too.

Suddenly I’m super motivated to budget more, and find ways to save money on groceries, or clothing, or gas…whatever! If we’re putting in a ton of effort to leave the lights off, it seems like such a waste to go blow our money on other stuff.

5) We are so blessed, we have no idea.

There are so many things we take for granted. How many people accept darkness as a part of life, and never flick on a light switch? How often do I think of them? How often am I thankful for electricity?

How many other things do I see as my “right”, rather than a blessing? Clean water, flush toilets, food, clothes, a warm house, a car to drive…the list goes on and on and on. Going without some of these things occasionally may be the only way I can gain back the sensitivity and appreciation I’ve lost…or never had, because I’ve grown up with these blessings at my fingertips.

I have no idea how much this blog post can affect someone – maybe this blessing is just for me, as I wander around the house with my candle. But I would love to encourage you today, as you enjoy the warmth of your house, or flick the lights on this evening: Be grateful. And send up a prayer for those who live with so much less.

I wish you much warmth and light in all you do today!


This Awesome, Special Life, Full of Rainbows and Unicorns…

I came across an amazing blog post recently. It was called “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”, and if I were the boss of this world, I would make it mandatory reading for everyone. Or at least everyone born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s.

This article seems so brilliant to me, because it’s something Ben and I have talked about a lot since moving away from camp, so I kinda wish I’d written it myself, because it gives words to many thoughts and questions I’ve had, plus it’s got awesome graphs and illustrations. You should most definitely check it out.

For those of you who won’t read it, I’ll give a basic summary: The idea is that because our parents, the Baby Boomers, have lived such awesome lives, they’ve been really  happy – life has exceeded their expectations. So we’ve been taught that life will be even better for us. Plus, we’ve been taught that we’re really, really special. Well, just me. I am special.

But you’ve been taught that you’re very special, too. So all of us are apparently very special, but in reality..we’re all pretty normal. We’re just people.

So anyway, we think life will be AWESOME, and we are soooo special, and we will fulfill all the dreams we have for our future.

But then…life isn’t always awesome and magical, and sometimes we don’t feel very special. Life doesn’t exceed, or sometimes even meet our expectations, so we feel unhappy.

Add to that….social media. Now we have countless ways to see how other people are living the awesome, magical, special life we expected, so we feel even more unhappy. Meanwhile, there is a very good chance that they aren’t living it either, but are putting lots of effort into making it look as though they are living that awesome, perfect life.

It’s all a bit of a mess. And I didn’t use any stick figure diagrams or unicorn graphs to help explain all of this, which is why I really recommend reading the original article.

But in the meantime, I’ll give you the version Ben and I discussed when we left camp:

First of all, I thought we ended up at Red Rock Bible Camp because we were “special” – Ben was hired because God must have some amazing purpose for us there that no one else could possibly fill, and we would do great and wonderful things. (Ben says that makes him sound very cocky and full of himself, but that’s not what I mean. What I’m trying to say is that I had totally bought into the idea that God did have a really amazing plan for us, and obviously we must have been created for just such an opportunity, and of course it would be more than we could ask or imagine, and all that other stuff we’d been fed in the Christian culture.)

But when we felt it was time to leave camp, and I looked back on our time there, nothing stood out as being earth-shatteringly wonderful. We had done our best, we weathered some hard times, we loved the good times, we enjoyed that season of life very much.


God definitely did some great things, and we enjoyed many wonderful relationships full of blessings and growth. But there were no unicorns.

I had always thought that when we left camp, we would move on to bigger and better ministry opportunities, because that’s how it goes, right? Always onward and upward.

But then we felt called to do something other than full-time ministry.

So Ben started working with his dad, which was good…but not magical. He spent a lot of time at a desk, and learned a ton of stuff, but it didn’t make him feel very special, or very miraculously gifted. He wasn’t really changing the world, although he was bringing home a paycheck.

It was a hard transition to go from a job that was easy and natural for him, involving tons of interaction with people, to a job that was completely unfamiliar for him, and didn’t provide the social interaction he had grown so accustomed to at camp. It wasn’t something we’d dreamed about, and it didn’t have anything to do with the full-time ministry opportunities we’d imagined for our future.

During those first months, we talked a lot about how work has changed over the years. It used to be that if your dad was a farmer, you’d grow up to be a farmer. None of this “What was I created for? How can I fulfill my unique, special, awesome purpose?”

It was as though we needed to learn that life is what you make it, and getting a paycheck is actually a huge blessing. And maybe Ben was not fulfilling every rainbow-coloured dream behind a desk, but he was learning, and spending time with his dad, and he was stepping forward in the opportunity that presented itself. Fortunately, building houses is something he was interested in. If it hadn’t been, could he have been content?

It feels as though we’ve been bombarded with this message that success means having a really good paying job which you love so much, you’d do it for free. It means God will bless you wildly, and life will always exceed your expectations, and your influence will know no bounds, and you’d better have huge dreams, because God will fill them all.

And this seems to be a common idea – Ben and I have had many conversations with people who truly believe that if life isn’t wildly awesome, they must be in the wrong place.

But on Sunday, the speaker at church shared about how 150 doctors recently felt called to go Syria to serve. Less than 40 of them have survived, and now another 150 have stepped forward, saying God has called them to go, as well. What future awaits them? It doesn’t seem to look too promising.

How does that fit with this awesome life we’re all supposed to have? If God would call me to go straight into danger, right now, and I would know there was little chance of surviving, would I go? Would I feel as though my life-purpose had been fulfilled at the age of 35?

I’m having trouble figuring out how to fit this all into my brain.

Basically, it comes down to this:

1) I don’t have a clue.

My spoiled, sheltered, comfortable life has gotten me thinking that this is the way it is – that all this wonderful, super privileged life may not even be good enough for me. I need to dream bigger dreams, and expect better things from God.

What??! Tell that to doctors sacrificing their life, because God asks them to. I have much to learn.

2) I’m not special.

I’m a regular person, living life with a lot of other regular people.

But I’m God’s child. Whatever happens to come my way, whether it’s what I hoped for or not, will pass through His hand, and that’s more than enough for me.

3) God is in everything.

We’re not living the flashy, dramatic, awesomely exciting ministry-filled life I dreamed about. Normal life seems to keep happening, and blessings keep coming, but sometimes they’re really small. We have to keep our eyes open, or we might miss them.

Ben’s job is a blessing, his paycheck is a blessing, this normal life is a blessing, and this last year and a half has shown us that we can be joyful anywhere, no matter what we’re doing. Our dreams for the future may come to pass, and they may not. There may not be unicorns or rainbows. And that’s okay. “Normal” is actually quite awesome. “Flashy” can be very overrated.


Now I’m curious: What are your thoughts on this? Is there too much emphasis on being special, and living a big, exciting life? Are you able to be content with very normal, everyday circumstances, or do you find yourself wishing for more rainbows and unicorns?

Finally Accepting One Thousand Gifts

So there’s this little book on the New York Time’s Bestseller List…. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Actually, it’s huge. It seems to have taken over almost every Christian woman’s blog out there. I bump into it everywhere I go on the internet.

I really wanted to read the book. I was very drawn to the idea of it – recognizing God’s gifts in everyday life and keeping a list. And I love Ann Voskamp’s blog. Plus, the cover looks so pretty. And I love books. I was totally going to read it….someday. I just wasn’t sure when I would get around to it.

But then, a few things happened.

First of all, I read this post by Ann Voskamp.

The two big lessons God has been teaching me in the last year have been choosing to control my attitude and emotions, and getting rid of the habit of worry and fear. When I read that listing your blessings has been scientifically proven to eliminate worry, and increase joy, I decided I needed to start my list of daily gifts from God ASAP, even though I hadn’t read the book.

And then, when I arrived at my parents’ house here in the Florida, there lay One Thousand Gifts on my mom’s desk. I’ve been reading it in snatches here and there, trying to finish it before it’s time to go home. Two chapters left! And my life may never be the same.

So dramatic, hey? But seriously. It’s so good.

Why could this be life-changing?

Well, I love the idea of eliminating the worry and increasing the joy in my life by making a habit of thankfulness. Listing our blessings is a spiritual discipline, and it draws us closer to God. It opens our eyes to all that He is doing, every moment of the day.

Ann Voskamp quotes:

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. (Sarah Ban Breathnach, p. 42)

Reverence sounds good. So do everyday epiphanies. I’ll take some of those, please.

But even more than that, I have connected with the idea that when we practice thankfulness in the small things, and practice joy in the easier moments, we are strengthening our ability to thank God in the hard times, as well.

Start small, and an attitude of thankfulness, trust, and worship will grow, until we can accept anything life sends our way with faith and peace, knowing that God is in everything.

I had never considered that something as simple as making a list would help me trust God more. It seems too easy to grab a pen and paper, and have that become the answer to so many of the problems I’ve struggled with my whole life.

And yet, Ann writes,

Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life – even the hard – is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.(p. 57)

When I go through a time of crisis, I keep looking at the big picture. I fill my mind with thoughts of how I will never be able to make it, and it is much too hard to bear, etc, etc.

Who could possibly learn thankfulness and joy with that kind of mindset? 

But when you break it down into very small, manageable chunks, and surrender each chunk to God, then in that little moment, anything is possible.

So…if you want in on all the wonderful benefits of listing one thousand gifts, you could just start right now, and skip the book, but really, the book is making all the difference for me. Ann Voskamp’s list keeps going long, long after 1,000, and she’s still going strong. She’s like the thankfulness expert. I am loving the glimpse at the way she thinks, and how she searches out joy each day.

I want to search out joy each day. I want to notice the little things, and train my eye to see God in it all.

So inspired, love the book, and excited to see where this is all going to go.

What about you? Have you read it? Do you make a list?

Unexpected Blessings

“Things don’t always end up the way you picture them, but sometimes…

They can end up even better, if you give them a chance.” (Martha Kent)

I find it easy to get my heart set on things sometimes. How many times have I thought that I knew exactly what would be the very best thing for my life, only to find out that God had something very different in mind? To list all of my unexpected blessings would take a long, long time, but here are a few of my favorites…

There were certain girls that I wanted to be friends with who didn’t want to be friends with me. I wasn’t cool enough, and so I tried to hide my true self, tried to become the person I thought I needed to be in order to fit in. But on one day of my lonely life, when I climbed onto the school bus, the only open seat was next to a girl that I’d never really talked with before. In that one short bus ride to school, the warmth of her love began to shine in my life, and has been shining on me ever since.

There was a certain girl that I was too snobby to be friends with, and yet she waited. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, she waited, and when we finally ended up at camp together as counselors for the summer, my eyes were finally opened to the gift of friendship that she had always been offering to me. She told me she had prayed that someday we’d be friends. And now instead of thinking about the fact that I wasted those 13 years of life when she could have been my friend, I am forever thankful that we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives.

There was a certain boy that I was quite convinced I needed to marry. But while I was waiting for him to figure out if he felt the same way or not, God brought someone completely different into my life. And without me even realizing what was happening, a connection started to grow, and grow, until one day I finally woke up to the fact that I’d been blind to what was there right in front of me. And now he is always there, continually amazing me with his love and patience and goodness. Always gentle, always kind, and I am so glad that God knew what I needed better than I did.

Praise God for the unexpected things in my life – they are the best part!