Shifting Seasons and Giving Myself Permission

photo by Kelly Dean Photography
photo by Kelly Dean Photography

I have felt my heart shifting for a while now.

As a single person and for most of my married life, I have stacked fun experiences and friendships and travel on top of each other so tightly that I left little to no room to rest. After graduating from college having studied the craft I loved and holding a degree in Journalism, I rarely wrote for myself, using up all my words in verbal processing with others and leaving no space for quiet contemplation. In my most recent years, I lived at the break-neck pace of New York City, simultaneously loving and hating the incessant rush and excitement of this urban life. There is always something new to experience and someone new to meet. There are a million ways to fill my time.

Last spring I made a major shift towards living a different kind of life, and I can hardly believe a year has passed. More strongly than ever, I find myself wanting more time alone with my thoughts, pushing through the uncomfortable silence to find what was buried underneath the busyness of my life. I want more weeknights at home for the simple things like tidying up the apartment or reading a novel and even indulging in watching “my” TV shows. I can not tell if I am getting more in touch with my introverted side as I have allowed myself to write more often, or if I am just being more realistic about my energy reserves as an adult approaching thirty.

I am practicing saying “no” more often.

But it does not necessarily seem to be getting any easier. I am still an extrovert fueled by stimulating conversation and activity. I still have the fear of disappointing people I respect or love by making more room in my life to choose myself first. There is an identity box I have constructed for myself that says, “You have always been this way, so don’t bother trying to live another way. It will only make you uncomfortable.”

Even as I breathe more freely, living my days with more emotional and creative space, I catch that sneaky inner voice telling me that I am cheating. The voice tells me I am not supposed to be living this life yet, that I need to also be a mother in order justify pursuing my dreams as a writer. The voice says I need to make more money and I must trudge off to a 9 to 5 in order to truly value my time and talent during this waiting period of my life.

Sometimes I think “What am I really doing?” I feel like a weird artistic outsider in a town of high-earning young urban professionals. On the days when those negative internal voices are shouting at me, I can find myself dreading happy hours where I might meet someone new and have to explain how I spend my days. It does not sound impressive or intriguing when I hear myself explain it. It sounds small and simple, but living my life this way brings me so much joy.

When I think about the way I have lived the last year (and particularly the last few months working part-time) there is no doubt that my soul has been able to breathe more freely. I have been more present and connected in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my conversations with friends. I feel more awake, more alive, and more in tune.

I feel like me.

As I consider what lies ahead and what I will do this summer as my current contract job comes to a close, I am afraid to lose that. I am asking myself what kind of work I want to do and weighing all the pros and cons. I know at my core that I do not want to sacrifice living a life that aligns with my values on the altar of more more more. I do not want the driving force behind my decisions to be out of fear and scarcity. Because the truth is, I have enough.

And I am enough.

What keeps you living your life the way you do? Is it because you love it or because you are living to please and meet expectations of others? What helps you live in line with your values?

On Giving Up Clothes for Lent

This is sadly NOT what my closet looks like. <br> Image from Creative Commons: Rubbermaid
This is sadly NOT what my closet looks like. (img src: Creative Commons, Rubbermaid)

I gave up clothes for Lent.

Of course I’m not wandering around naked until Easter, but I am not buying anything new during this season. Why? Because buying clothes during Lent would only serve to parade my excess.

I just finished reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted*, which is the kind of book I end up highlighting nearly half of because it is JUST SO GOOD. One of the chapters that stood out gave statistics on global wealth disparity that are basically mind-boggling:

- Of the six billion people on planet earth, about 1.2 billion live on twenty-three cents a day.
– The wealthiest one billion people average seventy dollars a day.
– If you make thirty-five thousand dollars annually, you are in the top 4 percent.
– If you make fifty thousand dollars annually, the top 1 percent.

“Brand America is in trouble. I ask you humbly: can you see when Americans say democracy, world hears GREED? What seems like basic freedom to us sounds like vast consumption to everyone else… We appear indulged and entitled and oblivious to global crises and our contribution to the disparity.”

Our family is in the top 1% of wealthy people on the planet. I can barely process that. I know that as an American I am rich, but living in a town rife with Wall Street brokers I can start to believe the lie that I am poor.

I have a monthly clothing budget, because (1) clothes eventually wear out and sometimes I need new ones and as I’ve told you before (2) I love pretty, new things. My budget is reasonable, but it is ultimately still a luxury. I have plenty of wearable, decent clothes in my closet to finish out the winter season and take me into spring. But buying something new gives me that little rush. It makes me excited about what’s in my wardrobe.

On top of that I am a Myers-Briggs ENFP (emphasis on the “F” for “feeling here) personality type and a maximizer, which ultimately means I own too many clothes and hang on to some for far too long because of sentimental value or the promise that “I might need them someday.”

Basically, I could do with a little more sacrifice in this department.

I already give ten percent of my income to my local church, and support a few other organizations locally and globally who are doing great, life-changing work. But since those things are already taken into consideration in my monthly household budget, giving does not always feel like a financial stretch. It is just what we have learned to do.

Last month after considering that Lent is not just a season for putting off the old, but also putting on the new, I started asking: What if during Lent instead of buying new clothes I don’t really need, I used that money to benefit those who are struggling with far greater challenges that I am, or those who have less? What if I gave what I would have spent on myself in order to improve the life of others?

I can feel myself teetering on the edge of doing a full wardrobe inventory to see how much I am really hoarding. I have not counted up the number of clothing items I own because I have not really wanted to know, and then feel guilty. (Sidenote: If you want to avoid the urge to pare down, DO NOT read Hatmaker’s Interrupted follow-up, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess*) For now, giving up new clothes for Lent is a small step towards the simpler, more generous life I really want to be living.

Did you give anything up for Lent? Is there something you’ve been thinking about sacrificing so that others can live with more?

*disclosure: affiliate link

This is My Story

Erika_Lenzi_My_Story

This is the first time I have attempted to tell the whole of my story in one sitting.

While I tell you bits and pieces on a regular basis, I have never attempted to structure it and make it fit into something less than a ten minute telling. I love narrative. I love details, understanding a character’s motivation, and a good story arc. I love the conflict and the triumph. I am also personally far more comfortable with thoughtfully chosen written words than grasping the right ones as they are rolling off my tongue.

Last fall I attended both the Storyline Conference and a church retreat for Dinner Group leaders where we walked through the basics of telling our story. Since then I have sensed an internal nudge that it was time to tell this particular thread of my story to my church community through the medium of video. I recently filmed it for the current series we are in at Hoboken Grace, Chemistry: The Elements of a Lasting Relationship.

It is always intimidating to share the innermost parts of yourself, but I hope that in hearing it, you are encouraged in some way. My story is proof that God can take the most painful heart breaks and use them for His beautiful purposes.

I would love to hear your story!