Surviving College

Love Listens: a live blog from church

“Sunday is the most segregated day of the week,” entrepreneur Scott Williams’ voice rings out in Bush Chapel, “what MLK spoke decades ago still stands true today.”

I look around and see many, many students crammed together under one roof for this morning’s chapel service. I take note of our differences but celebrate the fact that we are all here to hear the same word–accepting the same truth in our lives.

If you don’t like diversity, you’re not going to like heaven,” Williams laughs, as the hundreds of us laugh along while nodding in agreement with him.

Breaking Barriers

Today, on a Tuesday morning at 9am, I attended the first Athletic Chapel at my university. I go to a Christian university where we are dedicated to making space for all types of people doing all kinds of things on and for our school, and today was the first chapel of the year for athletes and students to join together to learn something from every team on campus.

I’m not an athlete; I don’t understand sports talk. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there was much I could learn from a service dedicated to athletes. But I do understand the few things we have in common and try to relate to those things.

Like the fact that just being a student in college is difficult at times. The tests, the homework, the projects, and presentations; trying to balance social life with a decent GPA. It gets tiring. Sometimes I wonder if I will survive. But it wasn’t until our campus pastor got up on stage and laid out what student athletes endure every semester until I realized I know nothing about their struggle.

“The 6am practices, the ice baths, lifting weights and physical therapy,” the campus pastor says to the crowd of students gathered together, “on top of studying for exams, taking quizzes, writing papers, attending class. Blood, sweat and tears shed and–most of the time only God is watching you.”

It struck me. I am sitting in a room full of hundreds of athletes who attend class and write papers just like I do, yet who also face a whole different struggle that I will never know.

Sometimes in our struggle, we are only seen by God.

“The things you do in secret are the most effective for the kingdom,” says one bright student athlete while sharing her devotions for offering this morning. She encouraged the athletes and non-athletes alike to seek God and do what we know is good and noble–even when no one is looking.

Even when no one is looking.

Sometimes it’s me who’s not looking while my neighbor struggles.

My responsibility and calling as a follower of Christ is to follow the great commandment, to love God with all my heart and the great commission, to love my neighbor as myself and make disciples from every nation.

“It is the great commission, not the great omission where we go out and make disciples and omit the part where it says ‘from all nations.'” Scott Williams

“How are you adding to the solution?” says Williams, “how are you going out of your way to listen to your neighbor?”

Despite what we are going through personally, love should seek first to listen before it is ever heard.

We should all be working towards the common good–even if it’s not the same cause. As Christians and fellow brothers and sisters, we are all working together to move the ball down the field for the better of our neighbor, our country, and the world.

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Living Simply

The Contentment Challenge

Back in January of this year, I ran across this blog post by one of my favorite bloggers. And it changed my life. Here’s how:

Prior to running across said blog post that changed my life, I was becoming really interested in minimalism and ready to take whatever kind of leap that catapulted me into the minimalist community.

I was reading Do Less by Rachel Jonat and pumping myself up about simplifying my life in every area.

But I kept hitting a wall. I wanted the “look” of a minimalist, but that required me to go after this idea of a perfect wardrobe, sleek electronics, and decorative clean lines. I was unsatisfied with what I had, but I wanted less, but I also didn’t want to give anything up.

When I read Hannah Brencher’s post, something clicked.

For 3 months, I took on the challenge of being completely content with what I own and not buying a single thing (outside of personal necessities) for 3 months. No leisurely strolls around Target, no going out to eat (instead, eating the food provided in my meal plan at my university), and no Internet browsing for needless things.

I bought my necessities that week (make-up, hygiene products, etc.) that would last me a few months, and I faced the challenge head-on. For the few weeks following my original decision to stop buying unnecessary things, I had to explain my reasoning to so many people I felt like I was doing something weird. The main question most people asked was, “how in the world are you going to last 3 months?”

But I lasted 3 months. In fact, I lasted a lot longer. It became a mindset. I learned that to be content in such an unsatisfied world is a brave and sometimes lonely thing to do. Sure, I didn’t order a drink when I went out to coffee shops with friends, but it really didn’t matter to me. My mind had gone from being so needy of new things, nicer clothes, a newer phone, to realizing what I had to the fullest extent.

I became more thoughtful with my spending.

I was less stressed about what to wear.

I noticed I had a lot more free time to put towards experiences.

I gave up discontentment and spent my time seeking out new places to put my energy into. I learned that a lot of fulfilling things are free, like just being outside and taking into account how beautiful creation is. It competes for nothing. Contentment looks real simple, actually. I was given control over how things were going to affect me instead of the other way around. It was a reboot to what I learned about possessions slowly and over time. It was necessary and life-changing.

I would encourage everyone to try this challenge at least once in their life. Let yourself experience 3 months without the pressures of consumerism. It sounds dramatic, but until you experience it for yourself, you won’t realize how much freedom you’re missing out on. It is incredibly freeing, and you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself and how amazing your life actually is.

Once you need less, you will have more.

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Living Simply

The *Not-So-Great Depression

Previously, I blogged on Minimalism vs Consumerism and your mental health. I wrote about how our culture today defines us by our things, along with different ways to combat materialism to improve mental health. But today, I thought I would delve into the root to my own discontentment and explain the history of consumerism, as well as the problems that have emerged throughout the decades since the Great Depression.

Before I begin, here are some key terms you should become familiar with: Fast fashion. Throw-away society. Consumerism.

Here’s the Run Down

Consumerism is at an all-time high today and, frankly, you have something to do with it. Consumerism is not inherently bad. It’s what keeps our economy alive. Without it, our life as we know it would flatline. It is the excessive amounts of goods that our culture consumes that is causing a negative impact on your life, your health, and your environment–possibly without you even realizing it.

Consumerism is not capitalism nor is it consumption. It is, by definition, “a modern movement.” The word literally did not exist until the 1940s.

Here’s a short history lesson for ya: The Industrial Revolution overtook manpower and began clogging up the assembly line and overproduced more goods than people were buying. The economy crashed in 1929, aka The Great Depression. World War II began and gave rise to supply and demand beyond its capacity (but in a good way) and America began to recover from the economic downturn in 1940. Production lines were back at it and overproducing goods and undermining quality. Reason being: the lesser the quality and the cheaper the price, the more buyers will come back for more. Throw in some good advertising and a need for survival and there you have it. Enter: American consumerism.

And by the 1950s, it was thoroughly interwoven in the fabric of American society. (Read more here!)

Consumerism is basically the lifecycle of continual and unnecessary purchasing and tossing of over-produced goods. Think: the $5 shirts at Forever 21 that can be worn twice, fall apart, thrown out and re-purchased because they are so cheap. Think: the new iPhone that comes out every 2 years causing your previously purchased phone to become “outdated” and eventually unable to keep up with iOS updates.

What happens to that $5 Forever 21 shirt and iPhone when they get tossed?

They add to the second most polluting industry on earth. The retail manufacturing industry. To give you an idea of the impact, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.

Fast Fashion

Buying into fashion is buying into big business. The global fashion industry is at $1.2 trillion with more than $250 billion spent in the U.S. alone. The fashion industry is not as glamorous as you think. More trends mean more purchases and, in turn, means more waste build up.

We buy things we think will improve our quality of life, and often even be better for the environment,” but really, we’re doing nothing to improve the quality of our lives and absolutely nothing to improve the environment. We’re buying into a rat race. An endless cycle of spending and tossing and searching to fill a void of sorts.

What Comes Next

I’m not here to picket outside your workplace or send hate mail to retailers. As Millenials, it’s our responsibility to know why we do what we do; it’s our responsibility to make effective and positive growth and change in the world.

Ask questions. Research where your clothes are made. Utilize second-hand shops. Repurpose things. Practice contentment.

As long as consumption is focused on satisfying basic human needs — safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education — it is not consumerism. But when, on attempts to satisfy these higher needs through the simple acquisition of goods and services, consumption turns into consumerism — and consumerism becomes a social disease.

-Amitai Etzioni (The Huffington Post – The Crisis of American Consumerism)

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Living Simply

When Happiness Happens

Setting the Scene

When I was 21 years old I got on a plane with 11 other people and flew thousands of miles across the world and 24 hours later, landed in Kolkata, India with the mission of simply loving on people.

It was scary. It was unknown territory. It was my first time leaving the comforts of the United States.

I can remember gathering my bags from baggage claim and clinging to them, stepping outside and struggling to catch my breath in the thick, warm Kolkata air.

I slept all of 45 minutes in the past 24 hours, but I was wide awake. Amazed at what I saw. Our driver was fearless while navigating the city filled with chaos: bamboo scaffolding covering the sides of concrete buildings, the stray dogs dodging cars, the men and women walking barefoot on the pavement, the lack of stop lights or road laws whatsoever. The city seemed unfinished. Not glamorous at all.

We drove past all kinds of people working, socializing, napping and walking through the city and into the slums, seemingly enjoying a typical evening despite the dirt, humidity, annoying traffic noises and the unpleasant smell that seemed to follow us everywhere.

We worked tirelessly for the next 20 days in this beautiful, stressful, loud, insane, incredible “City of Joy.”

The Takeaway

I didn’t have to travel across the world to love people and have a change of heart, but this experience stretched my viewpoint of the way I held so tightly to my things; mere possessions. I became grateful. More grateful than I had ever been in my life. Not because I realized how fortunate I was, but because they showed me that my life possessed so much more.

We spent a week at a school in the slums with the happiest little children you’d ever meet in your life. The building had no air conditioning, few windows, a concrete floor and about the size of a typical classroom but filled with tons of kids. We danced, sang, learned our ABC’s and played games together. It was like seeing extended family for the holidays (only a lot more sweaty and a huge language barrier.)

These kids really came from nothing. The roofs of their houses were made out of tarps or scrap metal. They bathed in buckets with water pumped from the street. Their clothes were torn and some didn’t own shoes. But man, what a valuable lesson we could learn from these children in the slums of India.

In no way could I even feel pity–they were so happy. It was infectious.

I had a change of clothes but they had more.

They had contentment. They had fun together. They had community.

America is a very individualized nation. We focus on our wants, needs, desires. We post on our social media platforms about ourselves and do what we can to make our lives seem desirable. We are naturally focused on ourselves most of the time. Shouldn’t we be experiencing this type of happiness?

Get This

Over the summer I watched this documentary called “Happy” and it is about a man named Roko and his journey around the world asking one simple question: “What makes people happy?”

He traveled to the slums of India and what he found was inspiring.

A dirt poor rickshaw puller in a slum in India once told me that he was the luckiest person alive. His hut was made out of bamboo sticks and plastic tarps, with raw sewage trickling out front, but still, Manoj Singh said he was happy, very happy, in fact. Though sometimes he only had only a few bowls of rice to feed his family, he said “I feel that I am not poor, but I am the richest person in the world.”

He learned that a person’s values are among the best predictors of their happiness.

By focusing on gratitude, compassion, and relationships with loved ones, people can instantly improve their happiness levels.

“The greatest lesson I learned while making this film is that my pursuit of happiness is not about me. It’s about our relationships and how we help each other. It’s about us.”

Get out of your bubble. Focus on people. Love them. Give of your time and, if it calls for it, give of your money or even the things you hold a high value. Get uncomfortable to make others a priority. That is when happiness happens.

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Living Simply

Minimalism vs. Consumerism and your mental health

You hit up the online stores and fill your tabs with new items you’re absolutely in *love* with. You stand in line at the mall for hours to buy the newest Apple release. You are surrounded by all these pretty new objects yet somehow you’re back online and in line next week for the next thing that’s gonna “woo” you. Maybe it has never been brought to your attention before, but this is no way to live. This is, in essence, discontentment.

Possibly one of my favorite topics to discuss with anyone is minimalism. In our day and age, we want fast, cheap and trendy. Minimalism goes against the grain and says “I have enough.” An idea that doesn’t reflect what the world of materialism shouts at us daily.

According to Forbes.com, America’s poor lives better than everyone else in the rest of the world. “The bottom 10% in the US have, by this measure at least, better lives than the top 10% in Russia. And the top 10% in Portugal and Mexico.”

The top 10% of the population have less than the bottom 10% in the US.

What does that say about our culture?

Our consumerism culture is saying “you need more.” The constant push for more toll on us to the point where we are just full of the idea that more means better– when the rest of the world is well off with 90% less than us.

Countless studies show that those who have more feel less fulfilled in life. In fact, those who spend their earnings on experiential purchases are shown to be significantly more fulfilled than those who fill their closets with more clothing items and gadgets.

How you can experience fulfillment NOW.

You may be asking yourself, “how does this pertain to me being a twenty-something navigating through the second decade of my life?” I’m glad you asked. Well,

Sadly, a vast majority of mental illnesses can/will emerge in your early twenties, BUT minimalism has been shown to diminish anxiety dramatically.

This week on the blog, I will be discussing a few tried and true ways to practice minimalism in your life. The wonderful thing about minimalism is that it is personal and customizable and you can start right now. Today. Minimalism is a mindset that manifests into your daily life and actions until it becomes a habit.

Say goodbye to anxiety, discontentment, and unhappiness and say hello to a new way to think. Stay tuned.

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