The contentment challenge: the wrap-up

Hi friends! Happy Thursday! Today is June 30th which means it's the LAST DAY of the Contentment Challenge! (Not sure what the Contentment Challenge is? Go here!) You guys, I can't even believe it. I can't believe I did it! Three months of minimal shopping. I say "minimal" because I can't truly say I did no shopping for all of April, May and June - but I'll get to that. Three months of digging deep and falling in love with my very own life. My actual, off-Instagram, ordinary, small and mundane life. Mundane but also amazing. Because here's the biggest thing I learned: there is joy and wonder EVERYwhere, if only you'd open your eyes.

There were so many moments during the last three months that I caught myself thinking "my heart could truly burst, I just love this life so much." Simple, ordinary moments, like sitting on the back patio with my husband, or watching my baby boy splash in his baby pool, or taking a morning walk around my sweet town square, sipping hot coffee and watching the storefronts and offices come to life. It is an incredible feeling to be head over heels in life with the life you are actually living, instead of the imaginary one we keep pinning to our fifty million Pinterest boards. 

So where am I going from here? I'm still not 100% sure. I definitely think the minimal shopping is going to continue. Oh, to follow up about that. Although I did WAY less shopping over the past three months than ever before, I can't honestly say I did NO shopping. I bought three books, I bought a Wild + Free tshirt at the local event I attended, I bought a photo editing app for my phone. A few other things here and there. But overall, my wallet didn't see much action these past three months. And it was so good. So good that I want to keep it going. The focus became on experiences, rather than stuff. Matt and I took Xav and Scout hiking. I'd grab the stroller and the leash and head out for an afternoon walk when I was feeling unfocused or overwhelmed, rather than my previous habit of getting Starbucks and wandering around Target. Oh! A note about Target. I think I'm sworn off Target forever. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Target. But Target is a huge stumbling block for me, for whatever reason. I went in one time during the Contentment Challenge. Just one. We were on our way to a bbq and had forgotten wipes for Xav, and Target was the most convenient store to stop at. Y'all, I had to pray the entire time we walked through Target. This was not that long ago - maybe two weeks? - so I'd been doing this contentment thing for over two months, but it all went out the window when I walked through Target. Suddenly I hated everything in my house, hated everything in my closet, and felt like I needed all the cute things. For whatever reason, Target is my super vice. So I think I'll be avoiding it from now on.

Another major takeaway is that I've stopped saying "I need that." Because the reality is, my needs are met. Every single one of them. In reality, the things I'm saying I need are just things I want. I know, I know. "Semantics," you might be thinking. But I think catching yourself when you start to say "I need..." is a super helpful habit to get into. After I went on a mission trip to Haiti in college, I eliminated "I'm starving" from my vocabulary. Every now and then I slip up, but rarely. Because I saw people who were actually starving on that trip. So it didn't seem okay to me anymore to say "I'm starving" when really I just wanted some Cheese-Its, you know? The same is true about stuff. When I say "Oh my gosh, I need that dress," it feels a little like an insult to God, who has met all of my needs. So I'll be chewing on that whole thing for awhile, and working to keep "I need..." out of my vocabulary.

It was also so cool to see how God provided during the Contentment Challenge. The first week of the challenge, my sweet friend Val sent me a copy of her book and the accompanying journal. It was one I really wanted to read, but wasn't going to be able to buy for 3 months. It felt like God was really seeing me and saying, "see? I got you. I'm with you." Also, thanks to an incredible deal over at schoola.com, I ended up with $500 in credit to spend on clothes for me and Xav. Yeah, what!? Originally I planned on waiting until July to start spending the credit, after the Contentment Challenge ended, but then I found it expired so I went ahead and used it. I got an entire new wardrobe practically, and got clothes for Xav in the next 3 sizes, for FREE. An incredible blessing. And I'm not saying that God will reward your obedience in giving up shopping by sending free books or shopping credits your way. But I DO think he loves to show us how lavishly He loves us, whatever that might look like in your particular life, if only we give Him the room to.

I do believe I'm walking away from this experience a changed woman. It took three months for me to see, really see, that stuff cannot and will not ever provide true and lasting joy. Gone are the days of feverishly researching every tiny purchase. I'm all for doing your research when it comes to big buys, that's just common sense, but the stakes get really high when you think whatever item you're about to buy holds the key to your happiness. It just doesn't! All the stuff that fills our houses, it's just stuff. It's going to fade and rip and break and wear through and the shine will dull. Meanwhile, the kingdom of God will remain as sparkly and wonderful and true as ever. 

So that's where I want to fix my eyes. On the kingdom of Jesus, instead of the Target aisles filled with Nate Berkus. I want to appreciate beautiful things not for their beauty in and of themselves, but because they reflect the beauty of our great and endlessly creative God. 

Most of all, I want to stay awake and aware of the wonder that is my life. My very ordinary life. I'm currently typing this wearing running shorts (that I've worn for the past three days) and a tshirt (that I also slept in last night), my very messy hair in a wild top knot (because the minute I turned on my curling iron, the baby woke up from his nap.) The dog is making a slobbery mess on the floor beneath my feet and my sweet baby boy just dumped out the entire paper recycling bin - his current favorite game. My life is not Pinterest perfection. It's not all curated for Instagram. It's not straight from the pages of a magazine. But it is beautiful. It is grace-filled. It is good.

It is good, and I am content.

contentment challenge: month two

Here we are, at the end of May. Another year older (my birthday was yesterday!) and two-thirds of the way through The Contentment Challenge. And man, do I feel different. This challenge is changing me at my core. This second month brought soooo much growth and I'm so, so grateful for the heart change that it's brought about!

To be honest, I thought I'd quit by now. I really struggled with the idea of doing the challenge over Mother's Day and my birthday. I love having an excuse to treat myself, and by doing the challenge, I was vowing to not do that. I have to admit, I really love to make a big deal out of my birthday. I usually go into my birthday weekend with super high expectations. Not necessarily for gifts, but for what I want to do and the memories I want to make. I want everything to be perfect. I want to indulge in all of the things. I revel in everything being about me, me, me.

But this year was different.

This year, thanks to the Contentment Challenge, I didn't feel that desire. I just wanted a simple, quiet birthday with my very favorite people. My birthday was SO low-key this year, and it was awesome. I gave my husband my free Starbucks birthday treat, because all I wanted was a plain iced coffee when we hit the drive-thru. I got a small DQ blizzard instead of my usual medium or even large (!!) because I knew that's all I needed. I got up early to enjoy the quiet house to myself and journal, read and pray instead of not-so-secretly demanding that Matt get up with Xavier so I could sleep in. All of this is evidence: the contentment challenge has changed me.

It also hit me like a ton of bricks on Sunday. Sunday was the Indy 500, and it was the 100th running this year, so it was a BIG deal. Pretty much everyone I knew was at the track, and I kept seeing snap chats and Instagram posts about it. In years past, I would've been so annoyed all day. The FOMO (fear of missing out) would have been in full force in my heart. I hate to be excluded from everyone else having fun. Even though sitting at the track in 87 degree heat to watch cars go by isn't even something I'm super interested in, I would've been sad simply to not be where everyone else was.

But this year was different.

Instead, I sat in my overgrown backyard, with my feet in the baby pool, watching Xavier splash and play and have SO much fun with the simplest toys. It was Memorial Day weekend, Race Day, and I was nowhere near the track or on the lake or by a pool. But I was SO happy. SO content to just be there, in that moment with Xavier. Not nit-picking my backyard, or wishing for a bigger or better house, or making a mental list of all the things I'd need to do on Monday. I was just there. Content to just be. The Lord has done such a mighty work in my heart.

And finally, I realized just how much I've grown these last two months when I opened a birthday card and included was a check with some birthday money. Normally, I have a running list of eight hundred things I'd like to buy the minute I get some extra cash. In years past, that birthday money wouldn't have lasted more than two days. 

But this year was different.

That check is still sitting in the birthday card on my desk. I'm still not sure what I want to spend it on. Because truly, I can't think of anything I need. I can't even think of anything I want THAT bad to spend it on. I kind of just want to save it for awhile. Or - gasp - spend it on an experience, like concert tickets or something fun with Matt - instead of clothes.

Here's the biggest thing I've realized: stuff is going to let me down. I know that sounds so obvious, but it's a huge realization for me. When you place your hope, your happiness, your contentment in STUFF, there's so much pressure on those decisions. I would agonize over buying the exact right THING, because so much was riding on it. This thing has to make me happy! I can't buy the wrong one. But now? I know more than ever before that my hope is in Jesus. Period. Stuff cannot and will never fill the void in my heart. Only Jesus can. Stuff is always going to break, tear, fade and sag. The sparkle will dull. It's not going to last. Case in point: A couple months ago, I spent some serious dollars on a pair of Madewell jeans. They fit perfectly. I was convinced they'd make me into the cute, has-it-altogether mom I see on Instagram. After all, they're always tagging their Madewell jeans. When I got home from Madewell, I had a Stitchfix order on my porch, with the cutest chambray tee. Twirling around in my living room in my super cute new jeans and super cute new tee, I felt so sparkly. So skinny. So together.

And you know? Those jeans have sagged a little. The shirt wrinkles really easily. I still like them, and they still make me feel cute, but I know the truth - my ultimate happiness doesn't rest in them. Cannot rest in them. They will never fulfill me.

I feel freedom. Truly. I feel freedom from bondage to stuff. I feel freedom from the franticness of having to choose the PERFECT item, because I know that no matter what, my happiness doesn't rest in stuff. I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. Stuff will never satisfy - only Jesus can. Whoosh, breath of fresh air. It feels so good.

I still love beautiful things. I still love clothes and decorating my house and finding treasures at the thrift store. But I know that I know that I know that all my needs are met, and that my hope and happiness rest in Jesus alone. And man, does that ever feel like the best freedom in the world.

CONTENTMENT CHALLENGE: MONTH ONE

I joined sweet Nancy Ray in her second round of The Contentment Challenge last month, and whew. It is rocking my world. If you're unfamiliar with The Contentment Challenge, head right here and download the F-R-E-E guide about it! And if you're considering diving in, I highly recommend Nancy's Contentment Challenge E-book and Devotional as well, it's awesome!

So! Month one. At first, I had nothing new or good to report. The first two weeks felt like a whole lot of nothing. Or, rather, a whole lot of irritation and sadness at all the things I "couldn't" buy. I was adding things to my Amazon wishlist and favoriting items on Etsy like never before. Isn't it funny how that works? The minute we can't have something (in this case, shopping) the minute we want it with our ENTIRE BEING. It's so silly!

So for the first two-ish weeks, I was really annoyed. I wanted to buy things. Things I'd bought before the challenge stopped working, or fitting. I kept looking for loopholes. And in all honesty, I did buy a few things. My mom had Kohl's Cash she wasn't going to spend, so she gave it to me and I bought two shirts - but told myself it was a gift so it didn't count. I bought a vintage American flag for our dining room at an antique fair, something I'd been looking for forever. Then I'd immediately beat myself up about these things, and tell myself I should quit altogether because I obviously was not cut out to be content.

I read the Contentment Challenge E-book, and jotted things down in my gratitude journal, but I wasn't feeling content. Just mad! And then the absolute defeat kicked in. I had barely shopped for over two weeks, which I know sounds pathetic but to me felt monumental, but my desires hadn't changed a whit. I still WANTED all the cute clothes. I still WANTED all the house knick-knacks. So around the start of week three, I wanted to give up altogether. What was the point of the challenge if my desire never really shifted? I kept waiting to wake up and be perfectly content with the things already around me. And that wasn't happening, day after day. I think that's why it's important to do this challenge for three months. Because right around the end of the first month, things began to shift. It happened without me even realizing it, really. I suddenly realized, "hey, I haven't added anything to my Amazon list in a week! I haven't browsed Etsy at all! I've stayed off Pinterest!" And it hit me that, despite my early belief that nothing was going to change, things were changing. ARE changing.

It's a slow fade, the addiction to shopping. Just three nights ago, I added six things to my ThredUp cart then deleted them all and reminded myself that my current wardrobe is perfectly fine as-is and, oh yeah, remember how you're not shopping for two more months? Spending ThredUp credit still counts.

I feel like I'm finally noticing the things around me more, the truly immaterial gifts of this life like Xavier's infectious giggles, and the coo of the morning doves in the morning, and the way Matt rubs my shoulders when he gets home from work (he's the best!) 

I don't think it's coincidental that this challenge happened to cover May, the month of near-constant celebrations. Mother's Day - which includes me this year. My birthday, too! Normally, I'd use both as an excuse to go out and shop for myself. But not this year. I didn't receive anything for Mother's Day (except an awesome giftcard from my in-laws to put towards flowers for the yard!!) and although I thought I'd be more sad about no gift from Matt, I really wasn't! Matt wrote me a super sweet note in a journal he gave me a few years ago, and it meant more to me than any trinket or present. And since he worked all day yesterday, we're doing a belated celebration next weekend and going hiking! When I think about what I want MOST, it's not any item on my Amazon wishlist or Pinterest board. It's time with my people. It's undivided attention spent on each other. Leaving our phones in the glove box and holding hands over the table at dinner. Laying on the floor together with Xave, laughing like wackos. I'm smiling just typing that.

I"m also realizing that it's not inherently bad to like pretty things! We are made in the image of the Ultimate Creator - the God of the universe who is Beauty itself! Of course we have an innate desire for beauty and loveliness. It's letting that desire for beauty control me where it becomes distraction at best and sin at worst.

I want to be able to shop for home furnishings without feeling frantic about it. I want to be able to try on some clothes without feeling like my whole being rests on making the right choice about jeans. I want to be able to walk away from Target empty-handed.

I'm getting there. I see the shift happening. It's gradual and it's hard to come to terms with the ugliness in my heart but it's good. It's refining. It's drawing me closer to Jesus and for that, I am so, so grateful.

THE CONTENTMENT CHALLENGE

Hey friends! Happy Monday! It is quite the Monday around here as I start my second round of whole30, finish out a month of doing Pilates everyday (or mostly every day), and gear up to join Nancy Ray in her Contentment Challenge starting on Friday!

I'll be honest: not shopping or splurging on extras for three months straight scares me. What if that (insert thing everyone seems to have) isn't available anymore once the challenge ends? What if it goes on sale and I miss a good deal? What if I really, really want it? What if I miss out?

But to be more honest, the struggle with contentment is one that runs DEEP for me. I've been wrestling it for months and months, or even years, it feels like. And I've thought about doing this no-shopping-for-three-months challenge before, but I always talk myself out of it, only to have God nudge me in that direction again. I really feel like He is asking me to do this - to be faithful and obedient, and to seek my true contentment in HIM alone.

So, I'm doing it! For the months of April, May and June I'm giving up shopping. Giving up Starbucks. Giving up running to Qdoba because I'm lazy and don't feel like cooking the dinner I planned. Giving up browsing on Etsy "just to look." It's going to be hard, I have no doubt about that. But dangit, I'm ready to break free of these materialism chains. I want my soul to rest in Christ alone, and not my closet.

There's a few things I'm doing to prepare for The Contentment Challenge, so I wanted to share them with you here! I'm definitely learning that preparation is the key for success in anything, so here's how I'm preparing to be successful and steadfast with this no-shopping thing:

  • Unsubscribe from store emails. As soon as I get an email from a store, I hit "unsubscribe." You can also use unroll.me. I definitely don't need to be tempted with LOFT's annual sale while I'm trying to keep my eyes on Jesus.
  • Recycle store mailers as soon as they come. How do these people even get my addres?! The catalogs from West Elm and Anthropologie and Boden are going straight to the recycle bin before I can turn their pages filled with beautiful goods.
  • Unfollow Instagram accounts. Y'all, this is a hard one for me, especially the small, handmade shops I love. But to have their beautiful goods constantly in front of my eyeballs, filling me with discontent, spells trouble for success with this challenge. I went through and unfollowed a bunch of accounts yesterday. I want Instagram to be a place to be uplifted and encouraged, not a place where I scroll endlessly wishing I could buy x, y and z.
  • Plan for a hobby or something to fill your time. Matt and I are picking up a jogging stroller we scored off Craigslist tonight, and I'm taking up running again! I'm really excited about it. I also plan to read a bunch and play more board games with Matt in the evenings, rather than stare at Pinterest for things I can't buy.
  • Swear off "window shopping" and Pinterest. This goes with recycling those store mailers and unfollowing Instagram accounts I suppose, but I'm swearing off online window shopping for the next three months. So often, I find myself searching Amazon or browsing Etsy "just to see." I always wind up with things in my online cart that I think I need, then have to delete them all from my cart because they aren't in the budget, then feel sad that we "can't afford them" even though I was equal partner is establishing the budget in the first place. It's ridiculous!
  • Keep a list. I plan to keep a list of things I think I want or need during these three months. If, at the end of the three months, I still feel it's a need or something I REALLY want (that is in the budget), I'll consider buying it then. The reality is that I am fortunate to have all my ACTUAL needs met. Food, water, clothing, shelter, transportation. Anything else is just extra, and I can sit on those decisions for a few months and survive the wait. It's good for me.
  • Read a convicting book. I'm re-reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess again and plan to read 1-2 other books on the same topic. This particular book ROCKED me when I read it a couple years ago, and I'm excited to read it again within the context of this challenge.
  • Practice gratitude. I used to be really diligent in keeping a gratitude journal, but that habit has fallen by the wayside. I'm going to refocus on counting my blessings - by literally numbering them in a journal - as a means of fostering contentment. When I have eyes of gratitude to see everything I ALREADY have, I don't desire new/more/better stuff as much.
  • Keep it Christ-centered. This should be number one, but the biggest thing I'm doing is focusing on the REASON for this shopping break: to fix my eyes on Jesus. I'm purchasing Nancy's Contentment e-book and devotional and will be praying HARD for Jesus to bring revival and growth in this area of my life. As with anything, it's the WHY that matters. Why do I want to give up shopping for three months? Because I want to break the chains that bind me to my material goods, I want freedom from the fear of missing out and I don't want to continue to be filled with envy over what other people have.

So that's that! I'm excited, scared and mostly hopeful to break my shopping addiction and find my contentment in Jesus. Are any of you joining Nancy (and me, I guess!) in the challenge? Let me know, I'd love to help stay accountable with you! xoxo!