Living Our Faith

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

A loosely woven ‘homesteading’ movement has emerged and is now gaining wider popularity. The gold standard model of the movement is a middle class family who sells everything they own to move off-grid somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Idaho Panhandle. However, there are endless variations to this lifestyle and my family is a living example.

At the core, ‘homesteading’ is about:

* Living increasingly self-sufficient

* Deep respect for the natural world and the skills of production

* Living free according to ones moral code

For us, homesteading is also the ‘turning away’ (repenting) from consumerism.

The wickedness of consumerism:

*  Consumerism has shortened our attention spans and transformed us into reactive beings

*  Consumerism has eroded our faith communities

*  Consumerism has empowered both corporate parties, to use the coercive hammer of legislation to force Americans to act in corporation’s benefit

Worse of all, consumerism has brought many elements of our natural world to extinction and badly damaged the rest in service of a ‘prosperous civilization’. Although consumerism isn’t the only sin, an honest relationship with Biblical scripture can leave no doubt it is a sin.

Living increasingly self-sufficient

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

Our initial steps toward living more self-sufficiently spotlighted how 100% dependent we were on the systems of society. We didn’t have food and water stores in case of the unforeseen. We had zero backup plans or resources to lean upon if the power, sewer, water, hospitals, or emergency services became unavailable.

Realizing how unprepared we truly were created anxiety and fear. It’s a common response, and one that stops many in their efforts to strive for self-sufficiecy.

Another common pitfall is getting entrapped in envy, if an off-grid homestead is currently beyond your reach. Pray that God helps you grow through these feelings and take steps toward your goal:

*  Establish a larder or food stores in your house

*  Establish a backup water stores

*  Start a garden (indoor/outdoor, big or small- just get started)

*  Consider adding a beehive or egg laying hen to your home (this can even be done in an apartment with balcony)

*  Store candles and back up lighting sources

*  Develop backup plans for most likely to occur incidence (i.e. weather event, sewer or electrical outages)

Deep respect for the natural world and the skills of production

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:11)

Perhaps we will never know how it was to be in the Garden of Eden with our Lord…but it is not lost to homesteaders that God originally instructed humanity through the natural world.

How did we veer so far from truth as to believe that the natural world isn’t a divine gift and something to be treasured? One of my most deeply spiritual practices is the communion with God I experience through gardening and tending to our animals.

In this overly politicized world that is designed to distract us from truth, protecting the natural world is one of a few temporal issues that I engage.

As you add to your homesteading skill-set, and refine your skills of production, I encourage you to consider the origin of all the resources and materials you work with. How did the fiber that your yarn is made from get made or harvested? If the tools you are working with broke, how would you rebuild or replace them? If you are raising animals, what moral code guides you?

Likely you won’t be able to influence much of these factors in the beginning, but I believe asking the questions will lead you to the bigger revelations God has in store as you provide more for yourself and depend less on society.

Living free according to ones moral code

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

I find myself sometimes romanticizing the Amish lifestyle. The Amish are exempt from the norms of modern day society. They are surrounded by a community that shares their journey and they don’t spend their time defending their ‘alternative’ lifestyle to the world.

Similar to the early Mormons, Quakers, Mennonites, monastic Catholic communities, and First Nations; when their faith became temporally inconvenient, they still live their faith. In many ways they are set apart from the modern day world.

Theologically we don’t belong to any of these groups, but I respect how they live their faiths. I yearn for that same ‘set apartness’, and in some way homesteading has provided my family with a distinction from the consumer driven society. We look forward to the possibility of building our community with others that have voluntarily turned away as well.

(originally appeared on Shawna’s former blog, Lion’s Thunder, 2/19/17)

The Dollar is Collapsing: Plan Accordingly (Part 2)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.  (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

In a previous post I wrote about the death of the US dollar.  The next global financial collapse seems to be the winter that everyone fears but too few are preparing for.  Money has come easy to some this last decade for many and our collective memories are short.  The same people who tout personal successes today, will be pointing fingers in the near future about how they were the victims of an unfair system.  The time is now to get your finances in order.

I was never worse off financially than I was on my 40th birthday.  I had been recently laid off, going through a drawn out divorced, and financially devastated.  After I was laid off I indulged for a few months in how unfair life had become for me.  After all I followed all the financial rules.  I had saved for my retirement since I was 25 years old.  I purchased a home that I could safely afford and paid off my mortgage fast.  I shared my money with others.  On my birthday though I woke up to the fact that lamenting on how unfair it all was doing nothing to change my fate.

My plan deviated from some commonly held beliefs.  Over 4 years into my rebuilding I can report my plan worked for me.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!  (Psalm 90:17)

Secure Reliable Income-  Sounds like an obvious statement right?  It is a sign of our affluent times that some will hold out for jobs that are at the similar level as the job they just lost.  For year they pause their life only to delay rebuilding their lives.  Or they convince themselves that they are at their core true entrepreneurs, that a job is simply incompatible with how they are ‘hardwired’.  Sadly there are a lot of gurus online that will play to this belief.

In the initial months of unemployment I too made up excuses.  I had convinced myself that taking a lesser role in an organization would take me out of the running for future executive posts and it reality that was true.  However, my saving had ran out and I believe that when you have no money you have to work.  My first job after the lay off paid less than my first hospital job 15 years prior.  That was was soul breaking hit to my pride.  I can attest firsthand that nothing motivates the acceleration of solid Plan B better than a miserable Plan A!

A job is not the only way to ‘secure income’.  Starting a business or an ‘investment deal’ are also viable options if you can pull them off.  If you have no previous experience, I would suggest getting a job to provide secure income during the period you develop your business or investment deal.

One last counter-point to the emerging belief among US entrepreneurial circles that jobs are what the weak or the uninspired do, jobs can serve as helpful bridge to independent ventures.  Often jobs also include:

*  Access to executives and community leaders
*  Stability of predictable income
*  Benefits such as medical, dental, eye health, life insurance, and disability insurance
*  A free education to how businesses are ran

Debt Elimination

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.  (Proverbs 22:7)

After I settled into my new permanent job, I put myself on an aggressive spending diet.  I committed to being 100% debt free by the time I was 45 years old.  My goal was set with the mindset, ‘If the time horizon doesn’t freak me out a bit, then it probably isn’t aggressive enough.’  After 9 months of unemployment I knew that the fewer obligatory payments I had a month, the more choices I would have.

For the years to follow I didn’t spend much beyond the basics.  Around the time I started my new frugal lifestyle, I started to fall in love with homesteading and I had an ache in my heart to buy land out in the country.  On a few occasions Scott and I went with agents to go look at acreage.  When we tried to figure out how to pay for some piece of land that we had fallen in love with, our conclusion was always the we would just have to wait until we were debt free.

Being Called

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.  Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.  They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42-47)

In the last 2 year I have befriended an apostolic Dominican sister.  The deep respect I have for the life she lives is impossible to overstate.

Sister grew up in a time that complete dedication to living God’s call was not an extreme rarity.  When the sisters were called to build a hospital and serve the community’s need, without guarantees they trekked off committed to build.

The sisters kept a ledger of all transactions as they spent 15 sacrificing years paying the new hospital off.  The ledger had entries like, ’25 cents found on the sidewalk.” One Christmas each sister was allocated $5.00 for stamps to correspond with their families in the upcoming year, each sister donated their stamp allowance towards the hospital debt.  This doesn’t take into account the decades of free professional labor that each sister contributed.  When the hospital was valued for sale it was worth over $65 million dollars, yet the sister’s sold their hospital to the Sisters of Providence for $1.

In a world that idolizes successful entrepreneurs and executives, I admire Sister for her commitment to our Lord’s kingdom.  And in a time where social justice has been reduced to a political identity, the Dominican sisters saw it nothing short of a life’s calling.

Reflective Conversations

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  (Ephesians 4:29)

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6)

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of transforming public discourse from one-way angry broadcasts, to reflective conversations about the underlying policies that impact our lives as citizens.

A decade ago I wrote a book.  At the time I felt the world was crying out in need of good old fashioned conversation.  Studies were emerging stating society was entering a ‘post literate’ state.  Social media use was on the increase and main stream media ran reports that as individuals we were living in increased isolation, favoring virtual communication over deeper relationships.  Today’s communication concerns are different some ways, but in many ways have the same underlying issues persist.  Macro talking points masked as ‘conversations’ are corrupting our micro human-to-human connections.

One of the ideas that left fingerprints on me from that period of my life was the theme of Reflective Conversation in my writing.  Reflective conversations are a way to explore in a way that both deepen understanding and increase self awareness.

*  Ask questions-  When I ask questions or encounter questions from others, I consider if the question is open and probing.  I ask if the question really invites conversation or if it intended to achieve a rhetorical goal.  Do the question make assumptions?  If the questions do presume judgement, I don’t feel that it is breaking the rules of conversation, it is just more noteworthy information which to proceed on.

*  Examine underlying beliefs-  I try to monitor myself for strong reactions during conversation.  Taking note of strong reactions, both internal and demonstrative, help us understand our underlying beliefs.

Self-awarness is something I value so I write, pray, and reflect on what my true stance on important issues are.  This includes trying to understand how my life events have led to narratives that I am playing out in my life.

*  Share stories and experiential truths-  When I answer questions during conversations I try to go for clarity.  Be brave and move beyond unobjectionable responses.  I frequently ask myself, “What exactly do I mean by that?”

I try to provide context to my experiential truths.  I allow myself time to reflect on my story and narratives.  When I hear other’s story I try to listen past their words and attempt to hear the narratives they must be telling themselves.  Remember actions are more telling than what is spoken.  Identify the differences about values and real choices the person has made.

*  Reflect and explore on how the conversation is making you feel and ideas that surprise you-  At some point the conversation ends, but we can let the value of the conversation endure.  Reflect on the self-discovery the conversation provided and the new ideas.  Allow conversations enrich your daily activities and your daily activities your conversations.

As I became more self-aware and the dynamics I was experiencing during my conversations, the more experience I became being able to reflect on the elements of conversation.

*  Start more conversations-  Be one of the people who refuse to let our country be divided.  Start more conversations.  Elevate civil discourse.  Recognize there is supreme value in conversation for the sake of forging and deepening connections.  Conversations to get to know someone better and learn new ways of seeing things are some of my favorite types of conversations.

Be a hero…be a conversation starter!

A New Creation

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.  (Galatians 6:4-5)

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I don’t know how my sister and I ended up so competitive. When we were growing up she was always a winner at everything. In school she was academically “gifted”, athletic, and beautiful it never occurred to me that I would ever be able to compete with her. I was a high school drop out after all, until I went back to school at age 19 years old.

Imagine my surprise when five years ago I thought I was winning!

Despite taking a few years off to be with my son, I was the one being head-hunted for CEO jobs.  I was the one with national publications to my name.  I had just turned 39 years old and every indicator was that I would be leading my own organization before I was 40 years old.  Then the unimaginable happened, I was reorganized out of my position.

Tragedy doesn’t change us, it exposes who we really are.  Loosing my job, and the months and years that followed, made up the my most refining period of my life.  I had suffered the biggest lose of my life and it took a while for me to realize that it was going to take years to rebuild.

Counting my Blessings

Five months after I was let go, I started to feel like I had lost everything.  When I interacted with my high achieving community, I could see the horror behind their eyes.  I was living out their worst fears.  I was the living example that it can all be lost.  They would try to figure out how I screwed it up, because if I was the one that recklessly lost it all than it couldn’t happen to them.

I invested in an executive coach who helped me start the rebuilding.  That was so critical!  My coach helped me take systematic appreciation of my blessings.  In the shadow of all my lose, many blessings remained.  All those blessings became the foundation on which I rebuilt.

Forgiving Others

The world owes us nothing.  My mistake was believing that life was fair.  I didn’t deal with the reality of situation.

During the first year after I was laid off, I had to let go of all the anger and hate I held towards the executives not impacted by the reorganization.  I had to let go of the betrayal I felt from being lied to, and being manipulated by, someone I considered my only friend in a hostile environment.  I had to let go of the injustice I felt because meritocracy did not prevail.

Forgiving Myself

A year into the rebuilding I realized I had built a career on intellect and strategy, building relationships that would be of no perceived benefit to me was not a priority.  Yet the communities we build and our core relationships are all that will sustain us when we loose everything else.  I had over developed some keys skills in my professional pallet, but I woefully underdeveloped my community and emotional maturity.  I had to learn to forgive myself for that shortcoming.

Part of forgiving myself was to deal with my underlying narratives about where my worth comes from.  In order to forgive myself I had to develop the strength to realize I made a mistake, it was not an indication of my inherent character.  I accepted God’s grace and allowed myself to become a new creation.

Sibling Rivalry

Back to the rivalry going on between my sister and myself, there is no contest left.  She is a nationally known Vice President of a publicly traded company.  Bloomberg and Reuters have featured her work.  I am not even playing the same game she is anymore.  Occasionally that hurts.  However, I am a new creation.

Ironically it was a professional relationship that was so key in my rebuilding.  An executive I worked with more than a decade ago took a chance on me and let me into her organization.  She has since become a treasured mentor.  For as long as she is leading the organization, I will be there in whatever role she puts me in.  I feel that 4 years ago she extended me a second chance when I was beyond the point of worrying about titles and rivalry with my sister.  I feared I would never again be able to use skills that I have developed over my adult life…in any capacity.  Sometimes I do feel underutilized, but that has allowed me to look for opportunities elsewhere to exercise talents within my community in ways I have never explored before because I was so career minded.

The best outcome of course, is out of the ash of disappointment my family and church have resumed their rightful place as my center.  That my friends has been the best part of being a new creation.

Have Churches Failed Us?

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.  (Proverbs 13:10)

When I talk with friends who are believers, but don’t attend church, often I hear about how broken the organizational structure of the modern day churches are.  I identify!  As relatively small organizations, many churches have multiple levels of hierarchy.

Some of my friends who have fallen away from their church, cite leadership as the reason why they left.  I will admit I am easily disillusioned with leaders.  Too often I see them take the passive approach and refuse to engage healthy conflict.  This leaves unprocessed feelings and resentment in the wake.  Those same leaders scratch their heads when congregates just disappear without given reasons for why they no longer feel engaged.

For the past 3 months I have been struggling through a conflict that has spotlighted to me all the human imperfections of my church.  Honestly, I have found myself withdrawing.

Today during the gospel message, I was reminded powerfully that I am called to love every member of my church as I love myself.

Much like the bond of marriage, my family has made a commitment to this community and them to us.  In that moment I recommitted in my heart to my church home and finding a path through this conflict with the whole intact.  I confessed my anger and pride, and realized that the brokenness of my church is a gift.

Why is Storytelling Important?

This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand”

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
    For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.”

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.  (Matthew 13:13-17)

The Fullness of God

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  (Romans 1:20)

Each of us reflect a facet of the perfect nature of God.  The thinker’s nature is a reflection that our God is all knowing, no detail is too small.  Athletes and physical laborers remind us that God is all powerful.  Managers and engineers share with us God’s ordered nature.  And the caretakers kiss the world with God’s perfect love.  Of course this is an oversimplification, because our callings aren’t the total of who we are, we are multidimensional.  So is our Creator!

God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  (Romans 12:4)

Our Creator is a perfect and multifaceted wonder!  Only through community with each other can we reveal the fullness of God.

Policy vs. Politics

We have been very fortunate for the last 50-60 years in the United States.  For over half a century even when crisis hits, the real life consequences were only experienced by a relative few.

In the US we have yet to experience a post-WWII event that leaves the majority of our population to rely on only the resources and communities we have established.  An event like that is the winter we all seem to fear, but far too few are actually preparing for.

Resurrecting Civil Discourse

True consensus is impossible if people are never encouraged to consider facts that violate what they want to believe.  Yet consensus is prerequisite if we want to be a strong nation, woven together by a social contract.  It has been a popular sentient of recent years to equate ‘social contract’ with welfare for the poor.  Don’t be fooled.  Current day products of a social contract are:

*  Disaster relief

*  The promise to keep up on infrastructure and not just roads, dams, and bridges, they also include nuclear facilities

*  Management of water and waste management

*  All entitlement programs, including ones you may believe you have already ‘earned’ liked Medicare and Social Security

*  The military and police

Even if we are willing to abandon the social contract altogether, conversations in our country need to shift back to ones about actual policies, not hyper-partisan politics.  At the very least so we can withdraw from current agreements in a safe manner.

We the people should refuse to accept anything less.

Simple Peace

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  (Jeremiah 29:5)

When I was coming of age I wanted to move to the woods and ‘live off the fat of the land’.  One of my most treasured birthday gifts for my 18th birthday was, Old Fashion Recipe Book: An Encyclopedia of Country Living.

At 18 years old I didn’t have enough money for land, so instead I went to school and the next thing I knew I was 40 years old.

Praise God that my 40’s ushered in a new phase of my life.  My new life is a simple one.  I’ll admit that sometimes I envy others who make different choices, but mostly I am just so thankful.  Thankful for my relationships with God, my husband, my son, and my community.  I thank God that for the last 4 years, through God, I have lived in simple peace.

Making America Great Again…

Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
-John F. Kennedy

Many ‘conversations’ surrounding multiculturalism today are the most non-productive conversations we can be having as a nation. Claims that our nation’s story is one of a pure western civilization origin are objectively false.

We have always been a multicultural nation!

This is a truth that goes WAY deeper than the fact the earliest settlers landed on a continent that was already populated by countless nations of people.  This truth goes way beyond the fact that african bloodlines are as interwoven into this nation’s story and saturate her soil as significantly as european bloodlines.  This truth is merely punctuated by the fact that in the era this nation became great on the world stage it was hand-in-hand with an open doors immigration policy that is symbolized by Ellis Island.

I am not rehashing a history that none of us experienced firsthand.  I am not making commentary on current day immigration policy.  I am saying as a point of fact, any assertion that America has not always been a multicultural nation robs us of our history that make us unique, even exceptional by some counts.

Our diversity is not the enemy within, our current day weakness and victimhood are the enemy within.  Those are the ‘conversations’ we need to have as a country in an effort to be great again.

To my ear narratives from people afraid of being replaced and loosing ‘their share’, sounds like an excuse for not wanting work hard to build the lives they desire.  Just as much as people who let century old events stand in their way of building the life they want.

Life is not easy for anyone!  Yet today it is easier than the vast majority of periods in history.

Americans, of every variety, were once known for having the grit and personal ownership it took to overcome the struggles of life.  Only when we start to embrace that fact, and JFK’s words of universal wisdom, will we be great again!