What is Enough?
A Year of Paying Attention to Shopping
Susan Woodbridge, the massage therapist at our Integrative Medical Center, told us about her decision to spend a year buying only what she needs. We are very excited about this adventure and wanted to share it with you. So, Susan has agreed to write a monthly note chronicling her experience. What does she notice? What is it like to become free from compulsions to buy? What is the source of happiness and contentment?
What is Enough? - January 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ How do we decide what is a need and what is a want? How much is too much? Why do we acquire the things we do? Just how powerful is the power of suggestion? Some people eat out of boredom. Do some of us shop out of boredom? Do we purchase out of devoid, to avoid or to fill a void? Does having lots of things make you want even more things?
My best friend and I share the love of the fall season for various reasons. We love the crunch under foot and color of fallen leaves, the crispness of the air, and the smell of burning wood looming in the air from stoked fireplaces. Most of all, we love the layering of clothes and dawning of warm sweaters. As our lives have grown busy with families and jobs, we don’t spend as much time together as we would like. However, we have made a tradition to get together each fall to celebrate the coming of our favorite season and basking in our kindred spirits, by going shopping for sweaters. We have denominated this event our annual “sweater-get-together.”
After several years of “sweater-get-togethers”, I have assembled quite a collection of sweaters. In fact, this year’s trip I had a hard time finding anything I wanted. Yet, I felt a need to purchase something because, after all, that’s what we’re here for. We even discussed the fact that either of us needed another article of clothing like we needed a hole in our heads. None the less…money was spent, sweaters were bought and a level of satiety was met.
It occurred to me much later (going through my credit card bill) that all though I had a glorious time, it would have been equally glorious if we would have sat in a park all afternoon and hadn’t purchased a thing. Frankly, I cannot recall one item I bought that day. The idea of excess and superfluous spending or in my case, ritualistic spending has weighed very heavy on my mind ever since. I began questioning my daily spending in general and wondering about the aforementioned questions. I wondered what else we would do on a “sweater-get-together” if not get sweaters. I thought maybe I would suggest to my best friend that next year we do something that would allow us to meet and spend time together without spending money, much less on junk we don’t need. Perhaps we could spend a day on a leisurely hike and wear one of the fifty sweaters collected.
Then I wondered how much money I spend in a years time on impulse items or to buy something because an acquaintance found a treasure they couldn’t live without and have convinced me I can’t either. How many times this year have I just needed to get out of the house for a while and went shopping as a form of entertainment? Am I so used to just spending at will that it is an unconscious habit. What could I be doing instead? Maybe I could be doing something more useful with my time (and money) that would be just as satisfying. I have never spent beyond my means but I have not saved too far beyond my mortgage, monthly bills and retirement. How much would I save in a year not spending frivolously? How would my views and priorities change? I briefly mentioned this to a man I just met the other day. He said that he went a length of time without buying any new clothes (which I am assuming is a source of enjoyment for him as well), and he stated that it was, to some extent, freeing to him as the guilt of buying an item he knew he didn’t need was removed by the decision to purchase nothing new. I meditated on that for quite some time and wondered what my focus would be redirected to in a shopping environment if not shopping; what else would I notice going on around me if not distracted by searching to meet the next temporary distraction.
Could I be disciplined enough to go a whole year without buying something that wasn’t a basic human need? This brings me back to my first question. How do I determine what is a need and what is a want?
I am going to find out. Beginning January 1, 2007, I am going to begin a journey of buyer’s abstinence. Will I be enlightened, will I inspire other shoppers, will I find other wonderful pastimes that do not require a credit card number or will I just be miserable? I’ll let you know what I find and observe along the way.
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What is Enough? - February 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ Well, I have the first two weeks of the New Year behind me and nothing unnecessary has been purchased. It has been an interesting start though, humorous really. About two days prior to January first, it hit me. I thought, “OK, you only have two days left to get out there and purchase anything you might need for the next 365 days…think woman, think!” As nothing was coming to mind my brain and blood pressure began slowing down a little. I realized how ridiculous (and slightly desperate) the thought was. I mean, if there is anything that I truly needed, I could still purchase it at anytime throughout the coming year.
New Year’s Day was my first challenge. I was driving by Target and remembered I was out of cat litter (a definite need). As I walked in the door, my first sacrificial pangs were felt as I immediately inhaled the rich aroma of coffee coming out of Starbucks. This is a typical stopping point for me when I go to Target, as I love coffee. Not until this point did it occur to me that this was a luxury that wasn’t going to happen for a long while. Of course I had to stop and smell the bags of coffee beans and torture myself. The girl behind the counter dutifully asked if she could help me with anything. Not unless I should happen to pass out on your floor from Starbucks withdrawal in which case, yes, please pry open my mouth and pour down a grande almond rocha latte with a double shot of espresso…”No thank you, I’m just browsing”.
I didn’t take a cart because I was there for one thing, cat litter. I got the litter and on my way up to the check-out, started thinking about all the awesome Christmas clearance that must be in the back. I walked half way back there before I told myself that I can’t buy anything anyway, no matter how great a deal it was so why bother. At least at the coffee stand if I couldn’t buy anything I could still enjoy the smell.
By now the 38 pound bucket of cat litter feels like 138 pounds and I’m bolting to the check-out like a horse with blinders on. I figured that I needed to get out of there without even make eye-contact with any sale item, end-cap or product in general before I blew my resolution the first 24 hours out of the gate.
I am also noticing that I have very little desire to go through the ads and catalogues I am flooded with in the mail everyday. So, because I am not looking through them and just throwing them, it takes very little time to sort through mail.
It feels a little discouraging to have not spent needlessly but still pay off last month’s spending when my credit card bill came. I think next month will feel much more encouraging.
I have found a great deal of humor in people’s reactions when they ask me what’s new, and I tell them what I’m doing. Everything from; “Really? well, good luck that, or, I could never do that”, to, “what’s that website this is posted on? I want my wife to read that.”
WOW…has it only been two weeks?
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Entry Two ~ One month down, eleven to go. Feeling good, feeling strong. I think I should have a theme song. Something Rocky Balboa would hear when reaching the top flight of stairs while training or before getting ready to enter the ring. This would be the empowering rhythm reverberating in my head when successfully recognizing and refraining from an impulse or unnecessary purchase. AAAnyway…
Two weeks ago I found myself jumping at the opportunity to look for an article of clothing for my mom. Not that she asked me to but rather commented that she had bought something and thought she was getting something else. Before she hardly finished the sentence I had an entire inner dialog completed, justifying how I should run into the mall and see if I could find the right item, being as I live closer. Upon volunteering my services she assured me she could live with her purchase and we both had a little laugh at my expense. I don’t even go there often but now that it may be a house of temptation for me…
I should mention that on my way home from my parents the transmission went out on my vehicle…of course it did. The mechanic delivered a terminal diagnosis and thought it would be best to “start weighing my options” (i.e. put her out to pasture). So there you have it. Perhaps it was fortuitous that for a year I decided not to spend frivolously due to the fact that a vehicle purchase was to be in my immediate future.
Although a vehicle is a necessity for me, I was a great deal more conscious about what I need in a vehicle while choosing. I am not a high tech gadget individual and don’t have to have all the bells and whistles on a vehicle but perhaps that was in large because I have not had the means to be too particular. So now that I have the ability to have the extras did I want them, or rather, were they important enough to justify the exponential increase in price? What could and couldn’t I live without? I will admit that when I found the kind of vehicle I wanted and started test driving them many of the frills and extras I was being shown started looking really appealing. I had to remove myself from the emotional appeal of impressive options and weigh the necessity and practicality. The guy showing me all the bells and whistles had an amazing ability to make them all sound necessary and give you great examples of when you will need them. Later, I started to ask myself why I was entertaining the thought of getting some of these extras. I had never had them before and never missed them. So, was I looking at them because I would actually benefit by having them or because they were impressive? Who was I thinking I was going to impress? My dog and my family are essentially the only other people in my vehicle and all they care about is that they aren’t walking (especially my basset hound who, it is no secret, is not a fine-tuned athlete).
Finally I ascertained that as cool as it would be to have the hill descent control to automatically adjust my speed and break pressure when off-roading in the Andes Mountains, I really just needed plain old four wheel drive to make it down my snow-drifted driveway in January, to get on and off the lake to go ice-fishing and get to my cross country ski trails.
I saved around five thousand dollars on the vehicle I wanted just by being a little selective and very realistic. With the internet at your fingertips you are able to compare brands, models and negotiate prices with practically every dealership in the country if you want.
Even our means of transportation becomes an avenue to express who we are, our social status, and measure of success. How ridiculous. I talked with an individual not long ago who is forever complaining about lack of money and living from paycheck to paycheck. However, he bought an expensive new car with every extra available, some he doesn’t even know how to utilize. It is one thing if you can afford them, but it is all together another to be a slave to your purchase.
When it comes right down to it, when the thrill and excitement of bringing home your shiny new object has worn off, you still have to wash it, pull the McDonald’s bags out from the back seat every so often, and make your payments month after month. Whether it has a single or a six CD changer it will only ever get you from point A to point B, and whether you have a Lexus or a Toyota I don’t care how far out in the parking lot you park someone’s abandoned run-away cart is eventually going to ding your door. If you have to get your dog a paper route for extra cash to fix the ding, you can’t afford the extras or the trip to Andes Mountains to use your extras.
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What is Enough? - March 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ "You have sown much, but harvested little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied…you put on clothing but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)
You know how it is when you first enter into a new relationship? When you first start dating someone or when you first accepted Christ, for example. It is new and exciting, your adrenaline in going, you want to know everything about them and spend all your time with them. Sooner or later though, the warm fuzzies change into (hopefully) something deeper and more meaningful. There is contentment in finding those lifelong relationships. There is also the reality of ordinary everyday life that resumes when your head descends from the clouds. Finding excitement and fulfillment in the context of the every day is a challenge. It is pruning, grooming and nurturing the things you already have, that grows them into something increasingly more valuable. But brother, that takes work! This is what I have felt compelled to write about. Being content with, grooming and being grateful for those things I already have. I have noticed my expenditure of time has changed a good deal since the commencement of my journey. I have spent more time on lunch dates with my husband, met for a cup of coffee and visited with friends, been more attentive to retuning e-mails. These are things, ashamedly, I have not seemed to be able to find the time for often enough. I am always too busy running here or there.
I could go into town and shop for a few things on a Saturday morning at 10:00am and wearily return home between 3:00 and 5:00pm. I guess I really never bought that much but I spent a great deal of time looking and making sure there wasn’t something out there we couldn’t live without. I have a friend who lives in Grand Forks and we are continually saying, “We really need to find the time some weekend to get together and visit” but we never actually do. This weekend I have to bring my taxes into my accountant and my friend and I have planned on having that visit after my appointment. Before I actually called her to see if she wanted to get together for a cup of coffee and a little yak and chatter session, this is how it went down in my brain. There is nothing that we are out of or that we need so I guess I’ll head straight home from the accountant’s office …HEY, Maybe this would be a good weekend to see if Julie would be available to get together as long as I am in town. Look at that, POOF, I found the time to participate in and grow a relationship. I know it must sound ridiculous, but until this no spending journey I really felt that I didn’t have the time. How much more important or valuable of an investment could you possible sow than that of your time into a personal relationship? Be that with your friends, family, kids, or God. I think of investment and I think of the future. No “thing” I invest in has an eternal return but relationships. Everything else wears out, rots, breaks, runs out, depreciates or goes out of style. This is a reminder to me as to where I should be storing my treasures. What, or more appropriately, WHO am I investing in? You can’t grow it if you don’t sow it and only living things are capable of growth. So, let’s fertilize those things. Admittedly, this takes our time.
I am ashamed where I found the time. Or maybe, that I just hadn’t found it sooner. Thank God for grace.
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Entry Two ~ (March 17, 2007) “A Christian, who doesn’t merely see but looks at another, communicates to that person that he is being recognized as a human being in an impersonal world of objects.” --Brennan Manning
I watched a program the other day that was talking about various individuals’ “worth.” For example, one individual was worth $2.7 billion. They showed several million dollar properties he owns, a number of very expensive cars, how much his suits cost, where his wife shops, where his ex-wives shop, and the latest events he has been spotted at. Basically, it was about what and how much these people have and the respect and power they command because of their wealth. It impressed upon me how people scurried around after and doted on them. We are fascinated by every aspect of their lives; even their tragedies and we don’t even know them. We have no personal relationship with any of these people but judge and define who they are by the wealth and power they wield.
The recent death of a celebrity impressed on me in a similar manner. Her life was defined by wealth and fame. They say that she really didn’t do anything, people liked taking her picture and were entertained by her, all be it self-destructive, gala lifestyle. In fact, the media has made her epitaph as that of someone who will forever be remembered as being “famous for being famous”. What is that?
This started me thinking about how others judge or see me by the things that I do or have done, have or do not have. What is my value/worth and what would I want to be remembered for. What defines my life? What does this have to do with not spending money needlessly? Just this, I do not want to be someone who is impressed by the things you have but rather by your character and contribution to the world. I do not want to begrudge you something because I don’t have it too. Likewise, I do not want my worth to be in the things I have or do not have but how I have added in some way to the lives of others.
I think that many of our purchases are not because we really desire to have them, but are motivated by the pressure to keep up with the preverbal Joneses. I think many of us have a misconceived notion of what it means to be a successful, integral part of our world. It makes me think of this particular toy you or your children might have had. It was a ball shaped object that had different shapes cut into it. Then, you had to take the various shaped plastic pieces and find the corresponding shaped holes and fill the ball. Fill the ball and you have successfully completed the game. Circle=big house, square=nice car, triangle= gainful employment, etc…then there is the God shaped hole that we are having trouble filling; so, we keep buying circles and squares and trying to cram them into the God shaped hole. Nothing else is going to fit into the God shaped hole, but we keep buying and trying.
First of all, I don’t want to think of worth in terms of dollar signs. I believe the way to know your worth is to know who you are in Christ. If you are confident in who He made you to be that is impressive and valuable. This is not something that is purchased but developed and discerned. This process takes time and must be nurtured. Many times this growth is uncomfortable if not down right painful, slow and humbling. In my profession I am telling people all the time, healing is not an event, it is a process. In the same way, I am discovering that finding my worth and who I am in Christ is also a process, not an event. No purchasable object or person will make you happy if you have not first found your God shaped piece and imbedded it. Without that vital piece you will forever be, (as my husband would say) one fry short of a happy meal...unfulfilled.
A person who is aware of their worth through Christ is happy for others when they are blessed, not jealous. We should not feel less successful if we do not have all the same things our neighbors have but content with what we have. Believe God when he tells us He will give us the desires of our hearts, but also accept His will if it does not match ours at that time. Everyone says that “things” don’t matter, but if that was truly how everyone felt there would not be the credit card debt epidemic or the perpetual search for fulfillment, acceptance and validation that only comes from the Father through Christ. Be patient. Be faithful and refocus your attention on finding the God shaped piece.
“Money will buy luxuries, but it will not buy spiritual power. Money will buy advancement and preferment, but it will not buy the recognition of God. Money will buy…favor and accolades, but it will not buy soul respect.” --W. A. Criswell
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What is Enough? - April 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (April 5, 2007) What is the cost of healthcare? I bet that when you read this question the first thing that popped into your mind was insurance, medical procedures, hospital bills and prescription costs.
If you went in to see your doctor tomorrow and they told you that the reason you have not been feeling at all well is because you have major blockage in your heart and need surgery right away or you’ll be pushing up daisies, you would not be sitting back in the doctor’s office armchair with your finger pressed to your chin contemplating; “hmmm, now would this be a NEED or a WANT?” Obviously, if you want to live to complain about your lawn and garden this summer, you need to have the life saving procedure. It is going to be a financial necessity.
But what would you say to the idea of investing a little time and comparatively, very little money in preventative healthcare. What do I mean? Maybe if we would be more proactive in choosing a healthcare plan that would help us prevent many serious medical concerns in our future, it could actually save money. Choices including proper diet, sleep and exercise would be the FIRST part of our healthcare plan. Sounds like plain crazy talk to those of us who may believe (medically speaking anyway), “if it aint broke, don’t fix it."
Now, what if we were talking about your car? Many people take more tender loving care of their cars than their own bodies so, I’ll present the question this way; what is more cost effective, to have an oil change every 3000 miles and a tune-up every so often or replacing the engine because you neglected the proper care of your car? I’m not saying I know from experience this supreme financial splurge of stupidity, (actually, I know from experience this supreme financial splurge of stupidity) but I’m sure it is a lot!
The end of March brought this topic up in my life and challenged me on my journey of WANT vs. NEED.
I exercise daily not only because it is good for me but also to keep up with the physical demands of my job. Doing Yoga to stay flexible has done wonders to keep me feeling healthy and has helped me immensely with a muscle injury in my back I sustained skiing several years ago. I have a piece of equipment for a cardio workout. I live several miles out of town so I exercise at home, as opposed to a gym because of convenience and the early morning hour that I exercise. The last several months I have noticed that the equipment I am using for cardio is causing the old injury in my back to be irritated, so I had to stop using it. I live in Northwest Minnesota and if you do too, I really have little need to explain our unpredictable, windy, frigid 8 months out of 12 climate conditions. Therefore the practicality of just hopping on my bike at 5:00am every morning and depending on the weather to allow a 60 minute workout is not a Minnesota reality. Therefore, I decided to buy a different piece of equipment that would allow me to maintain my current level of health and not aggravate or further damage my back.
All that said, it was a decision I deliberated and struggled with a long time. What it really came down to was, how is not having what I need accessible going to affect my healthcare plan? Is not having what I need to take care of my body going to cause me to spend a great deal of money anyway, just on treatment instead of prevention. How do I want to utilize my purchasing power? Keep up with the oil changes or possibly replacing and engine? (hoping I only need to learn that lesson once…so is my husband). We are blessed with an awesome miracle that is the human body. We are only allotted one so I deem it an absolute NECESSITY to take the very best care of it that we can.
Here’s to planting daisies and watching them grow and prolonging “pushing them up” for as long as God lets us.
“God created our bodies to function in health and wellness to achieve the fullness of life.” Sister Rosalind GefreI
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What is Enough? - May 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (May 2, 2007)
Although I am growing increasingly more comfortable in my decision to stem the flow of needless spending, I have my moments.
With the fresh smells and budding colors of spring also comes the shedding of winter garb and the anticipation of donning summer clothes. When warmer days bring me out of hibernation, even yard work sounds appealing. Running errands is at a different pace. As I park my vehicle I look for a shady spot and don’t mind if I have to walk a little further because I don’t have to burry my face down into my jacket and run at break-neck speed to get inside before my nose and ears freeze, crack and fall off. This only sound dramatic if you have not experiences January in Northern Minnesota/ North Dakota.
With this picture in mind, it isn’t difficult to understand how stirring it is to walk into a store and see all the bright colors of spring and summer clothing, lawn and garden projects, new toys to bring to the lake or the latest and greatest barbecuing equipment that will make your buddy next door secretly hate you.
My husband wanted to go into Scheels in Fargo to look for a particular kind of shoe for work. To those of us who love the outdoors and dressing for fun outdoors, this is the Grand-daddy of all sporting good stores. I personally heard a choir of angels break out into song as we opened the doors. This was sure to be my biggest temptation yet.
As he was looking for his shoes, I decided to take a stroll through the woman’s department. I very pitifully paraded through the racks and displays of tank tops and sun- dresses, sandals and swimsuits. There it was. The most beautiful melon colored sun-dress with the perfect waist, perfect length, soft material, in just my size, for crying out loud. I could actually picture sitting on the dock with a cold iced tea and watching the loons swimming while in that gorgeous, flowing sun-dress. Of course, the little strappy sandals that matched this dress perfectly were cleverly positioned right next to the dress. This, I thought, would ring in the new season beautifully. I even carried it around for awhile thinking that I could buy myself one thing for spring. Insisting to stay true to my cause I refrained.
I put the dress back on the rack. I walked by it again a couple times, struggling not to pick it up. Then I saw another woman pick it up and watched her carry it back to the dressing room with an arm load of other items. I ashamedly hoped that it shrunk in her wash and moped out of the department. I know what you are thinking. That is not a very Christian attitude, Susan. Hey, just remember whose pity party this is.
The upside is that later, when I returned home, I brought out my container of summer clothes and brought out things that I didn’t even remember I had gotten last year. I have several nice sun-dresses, I can wear any one of those to sit on the dock and the iced tea will taste just as good and the loons will look just as bold and magnificent. That dress was completely unnecessary and would not have made a morning on the dock any more or less momentous. I was not only glad that I didn’t buy the dress but decided that I could spare several of the clothing items I already have. As a matter of fact, I noticed an abundance of dresses and other clothing items in my huge plastic tote that I no longer cared for and never wear. That day I bagged what I no longer wear or wanted to donate.
I do agree that generally, when you think you look good, you feel good. However I am trying to be conscious that who you are on the inside will reflect magnanimously on the outside. My shopping (but not buying) experience made me watch the shopping habits of people around me too. I began to realize what a quick fix it is to “change or freshen up” what’s on the outside compared to change how you feel on the outside. If you are unhappy with who you are or where you are in your life, dressing up the outside may make you feel better for a while but it isn’t long before that doesn’t fix you either and you are looking for the next feel good thing.
It is fun to get new and better things or change things up a bit. But I also want to be sure that I am constantly getting better and changing on the inside. You know, make sure the inside and outside match. Just as God has been doing a great work this spring to make the trees start budding from the inside out to finally reveal their decorative leaves, I am praying for him to continue changing me from the inside out…a little “spring cleaning” if you will.
“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turbin.” (Job 29:14)
“Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace…taking up the shield of faith…take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.” (Ephesians 6:14-18)
If this isn’t a true “power suit” I sure I don’t know what is.
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What is Enough? - June 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (June 3, 2007) We have all at one time or another used the expression, “Like a kid in a candy store”. Well, I had the delightful opportunity to witness this phenomenon of a kid in a candy store just last weekend.
My family and I visited my hometown over the Memorial Day weekend. It occurred to me that I had never brought the kids to our old fashioned candy store. A trip into the candy store when I was a kid was an aromatic, multihued, panorama of sweet deliciousness. There were over 100 jars and baskets of mouth watering choices. When they walked in the door and began scanning the room with their mouths dropped open, you could almost hear the choir of angels singing in stereo…Haaaa-lleluiah. I could remember what it felt like to not know where to begin.
We told them they could make a few selections each. As I watched them go through the selection process, carefully discerning which of the confections were tantalizing enough to make the cut, it occurred to me that as we get older, this phenomenon still occurs but the candy changes.
If a kid is given a five dollar budget to pay for his/her candy choices there is no temptation to spend more than he/she should. When the five bucks is spent, it's spent. Now, give them a virtually limitless plastic card and say, “it's up to you what and how much you want, just show the clerk your card and you don’t have to pay for it until later,” choices will likely be altered exponentially.
I was thinking that in theory, they would not have HAD to have a five dollar limit. Equipped with a credit card, I could have told the kids they had no limit and try one of everything. But the reality is that not only would we need some special kind of NASA engineered tool to scrape them off the ceiling later, that kind of excess is unnecessary. Yet, all of us wielding a credit card have that ability. Just then a sentence popped into my head; just because I can doesn’t mean I should.
One Christmas when my stepson was much younger, we were trying to eliminate the leftover treats and sweats. Zac asked if he could have the fudge. I said for him to have at it and jokingly said that the more he ate, the less I would eat. I had no idea he would take that so literally. Half a pound or so of fudge later, he moaned on the sofa in agony until…well, lets just say he only enjoyed it the first time. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Similarly this example can be likened to impulse/overspending and later opening your bank or credit card statement, perhaps with similar results.
I think that if I had gone in that candy store and bought them everything they laid eyes on, my actions would not only have given them the example of gluttony, but it would have diminished some of the intrigue and enchantment of ever going again. Giving them everything they may have wanted all at once would have lessened the appreciation of that experience nor would they have had any incentive to come up with their collective notion later that if they taste-tested what each other picked, they would double their palatable experience by sharing. My exercising purchasing discretion left no feeling of deprivation for any of us.
This experience made me remember someone telling me once that God would never give us more than we can handle. This usually reminds me of trials but lately it has been very apparent to me that it also applies to blessings. He is not going to give you more blessings than you can prove responsible with or the result would be adverse. The problem is that often we don't want to wait on Gods timing, we want it yesterday, don’t we? Then we are a slave to the payment(s) for feeding our need for instant gratification or what we think we’re deserving of right now. Once we have the “thing(s)” for a while the rush and novelty wears off.
I saved up for a pair of earring years ago. They were so beautiful and more expensive than any other pair I had ever bought. I don’t like trying to remember to change earrings to match what I wear so I thought I would invest in a nice pair that went with everything. I remember the person behind the counter saying that if I wanted, in a year or so down the road I could bring them back and upgrade to a larger sized gemstone if I wanted. I thought, Oh no, these were just perfect and all I could ever want. I was cleaning them about a year ago and for a fleeting vain moment I thought, these seemed larger to me when I bought them. I still have no desire to trade them for other ones but the excitement of them has worn off and most of the time I have to remind myself to take them out of my ears and clean them because I forget they're there. I could upgrade them but am certain that in a few years I would be looking at them while cleaning them and saying, these seemed larger when I upgraded them. I enjoy my earrings but can’t say that they have contributed to meaningfulness of my life.
This introspective memory has made me, on a very small scale, able to imagine the life of someone with extreme wealth and celebrity. We look at some of their broken, unhappy lives and think, they have everything and no worries about money how can they still be unhappy and messed up?
What happens when we are upgrading the wrong things? Earthly treasures have a cap on upgrades. The time I have spent the last several years to “upgrade” my relationship with God…Priceless. He gets bigger and shinier every single day. Today that is what makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.
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What is Enough? - August 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (August 14, 2007) Well, some time has passed since I last checked in. July was a very busy month with friends visiting from far away and family home so I haven’t had much time to journal. The other problem was that I felt I didn’t have much to say in the way of spending or rather not spending. In fact, the idea of disciplining myself not to spend impulsively or needlessly has become somewhat incidental. By this I mean that the drive to buy things I don’t need when I am out and about has pretty well left. I seldom go into a retail environment unless I am there specifically because I have a need to be there. I am not resisting going, I just don’t really think about it anymore. When I do have occasion to purchase something, I grab what I’m there for and am out the door (after paying of course). I no longer have the inspirational pep-talks with myself in the vehicle before entering Target; “OK soldier, you are here for bananas and toilet paper, nothing else! Is that clear? Now GO, GO, GO!”
Removing this aspect of my daily life has made me so much more aware of the things around me money can’t buy; time, relationships, God and His creation. These new observations have had almost nothing to do with spending money therefore I thought I was loosing focus of my mission. Then it was suggested to me by a friend that perhaps the journey has progressed to a new level and THAT is what my next journal entry should be about. It sounded obvious when he said it. I guess it wouldn’t be a very fruitful journey if I never evolved out of the withdrawal, deprivation and pains of discipline stage. I don’t think I ever really thought it would ever stop being a struggle. If I am not lamenting on how hard it is and what a sacrifice this is, what the heck am I going to talk about?! I hate it when someone has to point out the obvious to me. It’s so embarrassing.
My very good friend and favorite Oregonian, Michelle visited several weeks back. In five days I don’t think we ate out once. We never entered a Mall. Besides a trip to the lake for a couple of days, I don’t think we hardly left the house. We immersed ourselves in conversation and sharing our lives since we saw each other last. Much has changed in both our lives and I truly think this was the most valuable time we have spent together. Phones are great but you can communicate so much more face to face, sometimes without saying a word. Our one necessary indulgence was to go to my favorite sweet-shop for some chocolate and a great cup of coffee as this is a love we both share. She is the kind of friend when you are having a crisis isn’t afraid to bring over a chocolate cake, two forks and the foresight to wear a comfortable pair of elastic waist lounge pants.
My younger brother and his family were home from California in July. My two nephews and niece are almost unspeakably cute. I took a little time off work to spend a long weekend with them while they were here. I took my four year old nephew raspberry picking, gave him a little swimming lesson in the lake and showed them how when you dangle your feet off the dock the sunfish will nibble at your toes. When I had to say goodbye my little nephew went upstairs and cried on his bed. This of course immediately tore my heart right out of my chest and I continued to sob all the way down the driveway and for the next 20 miles. Although heart wrenching to see him cry this really impressed upon me the importance of time invested into others lives. He would never shed a tear over his workaholic aunt who was too narcissistically earning another dollar to spend time to get to know him, so instead tossed him an etch-a-sketch. However he did cry over his aunt who made the time to take him swimming, go berry picking in Grandma and Grandpa’s woods and helped him discover what it feels like to dangle your feet off the dock and let the sunfish nibble his toes. Most kids don’t need more “stuff”, they are inundated with “stuff”, they need your time. I didn’t bring in much income closing up business that day, but my investment was priceless. Invest your time; make a memory.
I have felt a great deal more thoughtful. Not only as far as my thought life but more mindful of others. As my drive to accumulate things lessens so does my interest in the materialistic acquisitions of others. Noticing how little need I have has made me conscious of how blessed I am. It has made me desire to look for ways I can be a blessing to others that may have a need. It is a hard thing to realize and even harder to admit out loud that most of your life has been oblivious to needs you could be meeting because it wouldn’t occur to you until you have run out of things you want for yourself.
I found that a really great way to distract me from all the crap I think I want is to notice all the needs others have in our families, communities, churches, country, the world that aren’t being met. This has made my want for small unnecessary superficialities, particularly the last two months, embarrassing and humbling to me. Proverbs 22:9 says: “He who is generous will be blessed”. He is a God that doesn’t lie yet we knock ourselves out everyday, all week long, month after month, year after year trying to bless ourselves.
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What is Enough? - October 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (October 2, 2007) It occurred to me the other day that most of us try on many different hats in a lifetime. Most people do not retire from the first job they were ever given, we try our hand at different things until we find something we are good at, enjoy, or can at least tolerate. Sometimes we choose career paths for who they can make us; Dr., Attorney, CEO, or who we look up to. We choose hair styles based on how everyone else is cutting theirs. We choose our wardrobes based on what is in style this season. We buy into the latest diet and exercise craze in the hopes that this will be the thing that will make us look just like the athlete on the infomercial.
Have I been buying things and buying into things because of who I am or because of who I’m hoping “it” will make me?
I think we all tend to follow the patterns of others but who have I been patterning myself after?
The last five years I have been committed to regular exercise to better my health and function effectively at my job. However, if you were to search the dark recesses of my storage closet you would find the skeletal remains of past health initiatives that failed. That’s right, I had an exercise bike that sat in my spare bedroom for almost ten years and I never lost a pound! I dusted around it, hung clothes to be ironed on it but would have rather sewn my head to the carpet than get on it and peddle. Of course, when I first got it I was sure that I would use it everyday and would be enthusiastic about every workout.
As it turns out, no matter how you choose to exercise it is a conscious decision each day to keep showing up on that machine and putting in the time to elicit the desired results. Also, the result has to be realistic what I am capable of for how God made me. I have bought exercise clothes in the past because I was sure that that would motivate me to want to exercise. Lo and behold, it was just as easy to sit on the couch with my cup of coffee watching Little House on the Prairie reruns in the morning before work in my new work-out clothes as it was in my bathrobe. They were of no motivation at all. Basically, I think I would buy one thing or another and hope that “thing” would get me healthy or at least make it easy, and if it could also not take up too much of my time…that would be even better. I have found a routine that works for me and love my elliptical machine but make no mistake, it is a decision I make every day to fight what I feel like doing and get on the thing. Not being able to purchase other things has forced me to follow through and be dedicated to that one thing.
I believe we do this with many avenues of our lives. I know people who run out and buy all the latest self help books and either never take the time to read them or never apply what they read, but they keep buying the books. Incidentally, not being able to purchase new ,I am very aware of how many books were on my shelves that I have bought over time and had never read. I am delighted to say that I have read most of them now. I will admit that there are a couple of books coming out this month that are the next in their series and it is going to be very challenging not to go out and buy them, at least until I have finished reading the ones I already have. Change is hard work.
I had been to a work related seminar a few years ago and was so excited about what we were being taught and invested in several of the appropriate tools to implement them in my practice, convinced that this was going to revolutionize my practice. Monday came and I had great new tools for my toolbox. However, if I never used any of the new knowledge or tools I had invested in and continued doing what I did in the past, there is no change or advancement and I am exactly the same therapist as I was before. Educating myself and trusting God that He will guide me in the abilities He has given me to do His work is what makes me an increasingly better therapist. I guess this is on my mind because I talked with an individual who had attended a seminar I attended some time ago. I recall her excitement at the time and her purchasing just about every item they were offering at the seminar. I asked her how it had changed her work and what kind of results she was getting since then. She said that she used it for a while but never really took the time to get into it much. The money invested but not the time. Result…disappointment.
Reflecting on some of these things while looking at my own home, job, relationships, wardrobe etc. has made me realize that every so often in the past I have spent time and money trying on different hats. Really, I think trying to re-invent myself.
Buying clothes to dress a certain way, buying and reading certain kinds of books, buying and listening to certain music. I remember when we were kids, my little brother tying a blanket around his neck, putting his hands on his hips and humming the Superman tune. At that moment, he was Superman. Sometimes I feel like that.
Not spending on things to re-invent myself (over and over) has prompted me to search God for who he has made me to be. I don’t just want to discover who I am but who I am in Christ. I am working on trading in all the “hats” for some sandals. I figure if I am going to Imitate anyone it should be the One we were told to emulate.
I don’t just want to discover who I am but who I am in Christ.
“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” John 13:15
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What is Enough? - December 2007
by Susan Woodbridge
Entry One ~ (December 13, 2007) Two weeks before Christmas and it is just about the height of hustle and bustle. We start becoming a little more panicked and desperate to find that last gift for that impossible person to buy for, snacking our way through all the holiday parties we have been invited to, decorating and planning our family gathering, putting together a menu(s)…exhausting !
Everyone has been asking me how Christmas shopping has been for me this year in light of my “no needless spending” project. Honestly, that has been the very least of my problems. I sat down and created a list of who I needed to buy for and thought about what I was getting them before I ever left the house. I looked into where I needed to go to get my items, planned out a route, executed the purchase(s) from each stop and left the store without wandering. Before, I would have started from one end of the building and very methodically, in a serpentine fashion, scoured my way to the checkout. Inevitably, I would arrive home with almost as much for me as the people I was shopping for. Even with my drastically modified, refined and successful shopping method, I have been really stressed out. On top of already running out of hours in my day and days in my week, I volunteered to help a friend with the food for a social gathering. She has had a great deal of stress and responsibility added to her life of late and I thought I could help out. I love to cook and bake, this would be fun! As I was on my way home from dropping off the food, I could barely keep my eyes open. And then it occurred to me.
This whole journey has taught me even more about how I spend my time then how I spend my money; perhaps in the pursuit of money. I have been spending more time with hobbies, developing relationships, and really sewing into MEANINGFUL things, but never really cut back on the over-working/ over-committing stuff. So really I have just been adding to my chaos. I wanted to ease the load of my friend but have a hard time letting others do that for me. For example, last weekend my husband and kids were trying to help me by decorating the tree while I ran around (if you need help with the visual, it was much like that of a chicken with its head cut off) trying to do all the other things on my weekend list. It was hard for me to let them because I wasn’t sure they would do it how I would do it which then would make more work for me as I would have to re-do it. Sure enough, as soon as they all went to bed I added another half hour onto my day because I had to rearrange some of the tree trimmings. Honestly, does anyone care that there were two red ornaments too close together?! What was meaningful was that they were helping and sharing the burden.
I get a great deal of joy from getting together with my family at the holidays and doing special things for them. I love to bake and enjoy a special meal together. I think I have to be mindful though that if I work myself to exhaustion while creating the perfect holiday gathering, I can hardly enjoy them appreciating my hard work or heaven forbid, taking time to enjoy any of it (or them) myself. Not that I don’t think I deserve to but rather, once you have spent all day(s) in the kitchen killing yourself to prepare the kind of “glorious spread” Martha Stewart herself would be proud to display, you would really rather sew your head to carpet than look at it one more minute much less eat any of it. By the way, has anyone else ever made so much for a meal or party that you run out of space to store that last dish you knew you didn’t need to make anyway so you have to put it in some obscure place in the house, forgot about it until some days later and then were furious that you forgot to serve it? I hate that!
So…this Christmas my cooking, baking, entertaining list is going to look just like my gift buying list. I think God has been trying to show me this for some time now. Mostly I think he has been using the bags under my tired eyes to show me. Besides, who do we thing we are kidding? It is no more likely that a northern Minnesota shin-dig is going to run out of food than your teenager is going to run out of appetite...ever. We don’t consider it a successful party unless you are loosening your pants and eating an antacid in the car on the way home.
Your friends and family will never miss that last dish of whatever you forgot to put out but they will miss the laughter you might have shared as their Pictionary partner.
This Divine revelation on my car ride home last night poured a sense of calm over me that hardly seems real in light of my last week. As a result of quieting my mind a little (and my frazzled nerves) “vwaaa-laa” I had a journaling topic AND the time to write it.
I am really looking forward to blessing my family this Christmas and allowing them to be a blessing to me. I pray that whatever we do it would be meaningful and that the memories made will be abundant and life long. I would also pray for perspective on the season in our midst, the new year and those to come. Merry Christmas!
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