Where Logic Meets Love

My Financial Bucket List: 5 Expensive Life Goals

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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My Financial Bucket List: 5 Expensive Life Goals | Faith Permeating Life

It's been a while since I blogged about finances, so when I ran across this giveaway that involved blogging about financial goals, I figured it was a good opportunity to revisit the topic.

As required: This post is an entry in the $500 Give Me Back My Five Bucks competition, sponsored by Life Insurance Finder, the life insurance experts. (...if you need life insurance in Australia.)

I'm supposed to share with you what's on my "financial bucket list." For those unfamiliar with the term "bucket list," it's essentially a list of things you want to do before you die (i.e., kick the bucket). So I assume, since it's not explained, that a financial bucket list is a list of life goals having to do with finances. Thus, most of these aren't financial goals per se (e.g., paying off debt) as much as they're life goals that our current money-saving efforts are focused toward.

1. Pay off Mike's student loans.
Thankfully, I have no student loans, as I got a full scholarship for undergrad and a teaching assistantship for grad school. Also thankfully, Mike's parents are each paying off a third of his loans, leaving us with only one (big) loan to pay. I keep upping the amount we're paying every month because I want it paid off as soon as possible (interest is evil!) but want to leave our emergency fund intact at the same time. I think I'm going to increase it again, though, so we can have it paid off in the next two years.

2. Adopt children.
Adoption is expensive! I mean, having a kid is expensive, period, but the adoption itself is thousands and thousands of dollars, and there are all sorts of variables that make the actual cost vary greatly. My goal is to have $25,000 saved on top of our six-month emergency fund before we start the adoption process for our first, but then try to save (and continue to make) as much money as possible during the process so we don't have to wait too long before adopting our next child.

3. Buy land.
Mike keep changing his mind about how much he wants to own. It'll probably end up being 15-20 acres, which will cost a good chunk of change. Ideally it would be somewhere not too far and not too close to the city, or wherever I'm working. We want to end up in Washington State eventually, so when we buy land it will be there. Then we can have our little homestead, growing food for our family and having chickens and probably some other animals.

4. Have a house custom built.
As expensive as the land will be, I don't want to take a loan out for it if we can help it, as we'll also be building on it and will almost certainly need to borrow money for that. I guess it's all relative -- we could take a loan for the land and save our money for building the house -- but either way, I want to keep socking away money so when we're ready to get our land and house, we can pay for as much of it ourselves as possible. Our goal is to design a house big enough for a large family but not any bigger than it needs to be, and as energy-efficient as possible.

5. Retire comfortably.
Currently 10% of my income is going toward our retirement fund, as I've been beaten over the head enough times about the power of compound interest to know that I need to be in the habit of putting away as much as I can as early as possible. I know I will probably work past 65 if I can, just because I like working, but once I'm done working I don't want to have to worry about money. I'm sure I probably will anyway, because that's just how I am -- but at least at the moment I can work on making sure that worrying is less justified!

Clearly these each have different timelines and stretch across the next 40ish years, and who knows how things will change, or if we'll even live that long, right? But right now, these are the things I've got my eye on when deciding how to allocate our money. And yes, I say "I," because I pretty much handle all of our finances. Mike just dreams the big dreams about where it should go :)

So: What's on your financial bucket list? Or what was on it that you've achieved?

Clinging to My Blessings

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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Clinging to My Blessings | Faith Permeating Life

I apologize for my silence on Thursday.

I had planned a traditional Thanksgiving post about what I was thankful for, but it was hard to find gratitude when our Thanksgiving morning started with one of my husband's family members waking up on our couch, hurling insults and anger at my husband, then getting in their car and driving back to Ohio.

And then we put on happy faces and went to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my family.

It was a rough day. A rough weekend. Not helped by the fact that 1) Mike was working most of the weekend, so we barely had time to talk through what had happened, and 2) the rest of his family offered little support, and many hurtful words, about the situation.

It shook me to the core to see him hurting so badly and to have absolutely no way of making things better.

If he were being harassed by some random bully on the street, I could call his bully names and talk about all the terrible things I wanted to do to him until I could make Mike laugh again. But when it's his family, I have to keep my mouth shut. It's only because he loves them so immensely that they can wound him so deeply. It's like watching someone in an abusive relationship, except there's no walking away, no breaking up. They're in this for life.

Which means I am, too.

"I do" doesn't just mean I marry you as you are, with all your quirks and fears and flaws, with all of the baggage of your past. It means I will be here for your future pain; I will stand by helplessly while you hurt. It means that I hurt in a reflection of your pain that is a reflection of your family's pain.

My note from the Universe on Thursday said, "There are absolutely no worldly circumstances, Jessica, under which you can't or shouldn't be making the very best of things."

So I've been trying to do that.

Mainly I've been praying constantly, an alternating stream of petitions and thanksgiving.

My little sister was a huge blessing this weekend. When we forgot to bring bedding for the rats, she gave me some of her old T-shirts to use. She and I whispered and giggled when my great-uncle, who works or used to work at a wine shop, talked about wine all through Thanksgiving dinner and on and on after we were finished eating, until she and I finally volunteered to clear plates, pack up the leftovers, and wash dishes in the kitchen, where we could laugh and laugh together. I forgot my swimsuit and she let me borrow one of hers to go in my parents' hot tub. All weekend she was cracking jokes and making me laugh.

My brother was also great this weekend. I was never very close to him growing up; he basically entertained himself by tormenting me, until our little sister was born and he could taunt her instead, then he spent his teenage years being silent and sullen. But he's grown into a respectful, intelligent, and fun adult. He went with Mike to play Wallyball with friends on Wednesday and ended up being a sounding board for Mike in dealing with his family stressors. My brother also made us laugh by borrowing my mom's laptop (logged into Facebook) and posting that he was her favorite child, which she didn't find out until about four hours later, at which point seven people had "liked" it. I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard when we finally let her in on the joke.

I'm clinging to my blessings. And it's helping.

This morning I went to church and laid it all out for God. And He helped me see what to do, what conversations Mike and I need to have, and how I can help him.

I also called my best friend, who helped me talk through finding a balance between taking care of myself and giving of myself in love, as I'm called to do as a Christian.

The hardest part is being in a situation where there is so much pain and yet no clear source, nowhere you can point and say, "There, that's the thing we need to eliminate." Or even "There's the thing we need to do to make it better." Everyone is hurting and so is making everyone else hurt more as a result. I am desperately trying to keep Mike and me on the same page, to prevent the pervasive pain from turning us on each other.

This weekend, I'm grateful that God is good. That when I am willing to listen, He is willing to give me a new perspective.

I'm grateful for my family and for the time I had with them this weekend.

I'm grateful for my friends, including all of you, who are there for me when I'm hurting.

I'm grateful for my husband, God's greatest gift to me, and I am praying that he will find a way to have peace in this storm.

Your prayers are welcomed.

Celebrating 200 Posts!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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Celebrating 200 Posts! | Faith Permeating Life

It's my 200th post! I'm pretty excited about this. I've been in kind of a melancholy/cranky mood the past few days, not helped by the dreary skies and spitting rain today, so rather than dump that on you I decided to have a celebration of this blog and how far it's come. I'm using a combination of Erin's 300th post celebration at Analyfe and Jackie's 7 links post at Blueberries For Me to look back on this blog.

First Post: My first post was called The Launching Pad. It explains my original reason for starting a blog -- I was trying to find a job, plan a wedding, and clear up some health issues, and I wanted a place to track my progress. I think the blog was originally called something stupid like "Summer Projects." Once it was fall and I was married and had a job, I rechristened the blog Faith Permeating Life and started taking it in a new direction.

I've considered deleting those older posts (I'm always embarrassed when I see someone start at the beginning of my blog because they're sure to quit before getting to the new stuff) but I think it's good to remember how things have changed -- how my life focus has changed.

Most Popular Post: By pageviews, it's How My DivaCup Has Made Me Happier, which got over 500 views from being featured on the DivaCup Facebook fan page. Unfortunately that wasn't the kind of thing I normally write about, so I'm not sure if I gained a single follower from that experience. Ah, well.

Most Commented On Post: A Married Woman By Any Other Name... has received the most comments -- everyone wanted to share their own name stories and thoughts, which is awesome! That post was in response to a discussion that had started in the comments of the second-most-commented-on post, Why Get Married?, my thoughts on the purpose of marriage that followed a rant about how marriage isn't for procreation.

Most Controversial Post: My most recent post, When You Say "Get a Job"..., probably stirred up the most disagreement, even if it was only from a few people. Prior to that, my most controversial post was probably Can We Please Stop Trying to Make Things Illegal and Actually Fix the Damn Problem?, about why efforts to make abortion illegal are not actually the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions.

Most Helpful Post: The posts most intended to be helpful are usually the ones out of character for this blog, like my tips for applying to jobs and networking. But in terms of the regular topics I usually cover, I think my most helpful post is probably Mike and Jessica's Guide to Healthy Arguments. This is an area I think a lot of couples struggle with, and we've actually developed a pretty good approach.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Life After College: Where's My Friend Group? seemed to resonate strongly with a lot of people. I had a friend e-mail me to meet for lunch specifically in reaction to that post. I wrote it mostly in self-defense of why I don't have lots of friends I see on a regular basis; the funny thing is that since then, I've made a few friends in the area, and Mike and I actually hosted a very well-attended board game party recently, which we're going to try to do every few months now. So everything in its time, I guess!

Post I Didn't Feel Got the Attention It Deserved: The ideas that led to my Belief, Centered on Love were huge for me -- they gave me a framework for understanding myself as a Christian and a simple question for judging whether my own actions were Christ-like. Only one person commented on it, though, so I guess either I didn't do a good job of explaining my ideas or nobody else saw them as new, important ideas.

My Favorite Post: Really?? I have to pick a favorite? That's like choosing a favorite child! Sigh... I guess if there was one post I'd want visitors to my blog to read, it would be What Kind of Christian Am I? Life Lessons from a Stranger's Funeral. That post really encapsulates much of what I try to get across about my religious beliefs and how I try to live my life in general.

Top Search Terms: "faith permeating life" "waiting until marriage is stupid" "soap bubble"

Top Commenters: Just Me @ Getting out of my boat, Rabbit @ The Adventures of Rabbit and Turtle, 'Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook, and Macha @ Life as a Reader. There are many more of you who comment occasionally, and I'm exceptionally grateful to all of you!

In 2011, I started posting three times a week on a schedule that has worked on pretty well. I started documenting my happiness project once a month, and in October I started the monthly Three Books on Thursday linkup. Who knows what 2012 holds in store for this little corner of the Internet!

In the course of developing this blog, I began putting more effort into using my Twitter account and eventually created a Facebook page for it as well. In either place you might just find follow-ups to my posts (like how this woman nearly ran me down speeding through in the parking lot a few days after I'd decided not to talk to her about tailgating me), links to news articles (like Michigan's "anti-bullying" law that grants exceptions if you're bullying for religious reasons -- ugh), and questions nobody answers, like what I should host a guest post series on :)

To all of you who read this blog, whether since the beginning or for the first time today, and especially those of you who take the time to leave your thoughts -- thank you! You're the reason I've made it to 200 posts. Here's to 200 more and then some!

When You Say "Get a Job"...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

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When You Say

Dear conservative CEOs, business owners, managers, and those who support them and vote with them*,

Let me ask you a question.

A person comes to interview at your place of business.

He is not dressed in proper business attire, because he doesn't know what that is. No one ever taught him.

He is learning disabled but never received any help overcoming it. He has vision problems but could never afford glasses. As a result, he is barely literate.

He had to drop out of school in 8th grade to help care for his single mother when she became ill and they had no insurance to cover her medical costs. They went bankrupt paying her medical bills. The bank foreclosed on their house.

So he has no permanent address right now. He hasn't showered in a few days.

Would you hire him?

If you had to fill a position and it was between him and a well-educated, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-prepared candidate, would you hire him?

.
.
.

No?

Then let me ask you another question.

When you see this man on the street, asking for money, why do you tell him, "Get a job"?

When you see him protesting the broken systems of this country, why do you tell him, "Get a job"?

If you won't hire him, why should someone else?

.
.
.

Let's try something else.

Let's go back 15 years and give a little bit of the money going toward educating wealthier children to his school instead.

Let's give his school the means to hire more teachers so he's in a smaller class, where someone notices that he's struggling. His learning disability and vision problems are diagnosed.

Let's put some government money toward getting him a free pair of glasses.

Let's help his family get health insurance so when his mother gets ill, he's able to stay in school. He goes on to the high school, where he's encouraged to go to a free program that will help him learn how to apply for jobs, how to dress for interviews, how to act in the workplace.

Let's prevent the bank from foreclosing on the house while his mother is unable to work. When she gets well again, she goes back to work and finishes paying the mortgage.

But, you say, that's socialism! That's handouts! How will he ever learn the meaning of hard work if you're giving him everything! The people in those wealthy areas pay high taxes to have their children go to good schools -- how could you take any of that money away for this other school? And telling the banks how to do their jobs? Get big government out of business!

Fine. Let's do nothing.

Except now we're back to that interview. And this time, you're choosing between two candidates, and they're both uneducated, they both have health problems, they're both homeless, and neither one was taught how to hold a job.

Do you want to bank on there always being great employees out there for you to hire?

Or would you rather help make this a nation where we create as many great employees as we possibly can?

It's your choice.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me....Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:34-36,40)

America is broken right now. We need to stop fearing the Other. To stop making short-sighted decisions out of a desire to cover our own butts. To stop clinging to the status quo and hoping everything will wash out in the end.

Because in the end, it's only us and God. And we don't want to suddenly find ourselves the Other, the unwanted, in God's sight, because we failed to care about those who weren't as privileged as ourselves.

*Obviously not everyone in this category fits this description. But to the many it does, and those not named, this needs to be said. And I realize most of readers of this blog already understand much of this, but I invite you to share it if you agree.

Happy Birthday to Me: New Blog Design!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

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Happy Birthday to Me: New Blog Design! | Faith Permeating Life

I am so excited to share my new blog design with you! If you're using a feed reader, click through and check it out!

This is my birthday present to myself today. I felt like I'd hit a plateau and couldn't take my blog to the "next level," and I think the fact that I was still using a Blogger template was a big part of it. I will admit that I see a blogger as more of a newbie if they're still using a standard template, so I wanted to hold myself to a higher standard!

I owe a huge thank you to Amie at Completely Unfinished, who did the design. I basically just sent her a bunch of ramblings of my thoughts and she somehow translated them into the exact kind of design I had in my head. She was also super-patient with my requests to make changes until the pictures at the top were just right. She is still working on building up her portfolio, so her prices were incredibly reasonable. Check her out now before she gets super-famous and has to charge thousands of dollars! :)

I know what you're thinking: "Jessica, that's great that you got yourself a birthday present, but how can I make your birthday awesome?" Well, if you insist...

I would love if you would tell a friend about Faith Permeating Life! I get so many e-mails from people who felt alone in their views -- too liberal for their religious friends, or too Christian for their liberal friends, or both -- until they found this blog and the community of readers. I've also talked to a lot of people who grew up Catholic and left because of the doctrine, but miss it. I bet you can think of at least one person who you think would get something out of this blog. I'd love it if you'd send them the link!

Thanks to all of you whose wonderful thoughts, insights, advice, and stories make it worth writing on here three times a week. I hope you're having a fabulous week!

"Be Gentle with Yourself": How God Speaks to Me

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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'Be Gentle with Yourself': How God Speaks to Me | Faith Permeating Life

Emmy asked, "How do you personally know when God is talking to you? What ways does he speak to you?"

I don't know if anyone can say with 100% certainty when God is speaking to them. As Jen points out, people have done atrocious things when supposedly following God's call. And few people claim to hear God speak to them audibly (probably because that's considered a mental problem in our culture).

So just as with prayers and miracles, I don't rest my faith solely on my belief that God communicates with me, because I acknowledge that I could be totally wrong. On the other hand, I don't see a reason to entirely disregard these calls just because I don't have concrete proof that they're "real."

In my experience, God speaks to me in three main ways: through my thoughts, through my feelings, and through my words. (I say "my," but the reason I consider them God speaking is because they're usually out of the blue and not something in my conscious control.)

The first two are related: Sometimes when I'm in church, my mind will be wandering on nothing in particular when I will suddenly have an epiphany about something, either a new way of thinking about a situation or a thought of something specific I should do, and I will be filled with an equally sudden feeling of peace or conviction. It might be something I've been stressing over for a while, and suddenly I will think, "Do this," and I immediately realize it's the right solution.

I've also found that sometimes when I'm blogging, or more often when I'm commenting on someone else's blog, about matters of faith, God, and love, I'll find the words just coming as I type. It doesn't happen often, but when it does I just let go and kind of trust that God is speaking through me.

But the most interesting thing I've found is that sometimes when I'm praying, I will find myself praying for things that don't even make any sense to me. Kind of like this woman who felt called to pray for an unknown person named Helen. I always pray before I eat, so my prayers over breakfast usually consist of thanking God for providing me with food and asking that I might be a good wife, employee, friend, etc. during the day.

But a few months ago I found myself adding in "Help me to be gentle with myself" or "Help me to be patient with myself."

I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but it's something I've been trying to do more lately. I would imagine it's related to taking care of myself, physically and mentally, but I think it's more than that. It's about having compassion for myself. It's about not over-committing myself, and not stressing out when I don't measure up to imaginary standards I've set for myself. It's having the permission to forgive myself when I make a mistake or embarrass myself. It's allowing myself to fail, and moving on.

I think about what a caring mentor looks like, or a loving parent, for that matter. Someone who cheers you on and cheers you up, who holds you to a high standard but tells you it's OK when you fall short. I may not have God's voice in my ear all the time giving me encouragement and forgiving my shortcomings, but I think He's trying to help me become that for myself. Maybe He's preparing me to be that for my future children.

How does God speak to you? Are there any messages you've been hearing over and over?

Whom Do You Trust with Your Life?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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Whom Do You Trust with Your Life? | Faith Permeating Life

I've recently gotten a few kicks in the butt to get my affairs in order well before I need them to be in order.

One was learning that marriage doesn't automatically grant power of attorney to your spouse, and the horribly stressful situation that can create when one spouse becomes seriously ill. The second was Erin Doland's series of posts on Unclutterer about the importance of having an "In case of..." file.

So on a particularly slow day at work, I tracked down Illinois's power of attorney documents and figured out what I needed to do to get Mike and I made each other's power of attorney for both health and financial situations. (Interestingly, the financial document has to be notarized, but it's optional for the health one.)

The documents are very specific. They list every area of responsibility that you're giving this person power over, and tell you that it's your responsibility to cross out the areas you don't want this person to take over in the event of your death or incapicitation. I plan to leave everything intact and sign the whole of it over to Mike, but having it all spelled out was a somewhat surreal experience for me.

I knew going over this kind of stuff would force me to confront my mortality, which doesn't bother me. What I didn't think about was the realizations it would cause me to have about my relationship with Mike -- and with other people in my life, for that matter.

If you asked me whom I trusted more than anyone in the world, I would say Mike. But this puts it in black and white: I am literally signing my life over to him, should anything happen to me. If I am in a coma, he will have full decision-making authority over whether and when to take me off life support, and what to do with my body. I can spell out my wishes, but I am trusting him to follow through with those. And while all of our finances are shared anyway, I am giving him the ability to do anything he wants with our money and our possessions, without needing my permission, so that should I ever not be in a position to give my permission, he could do what needed to be done.

That's a lot of responsibility. That's a lot of trust.

And then there's the question of what should happen if Mike and I are both incapacitated or killed. Whom do I trust next most with my life and my money?

I haven't figured that one out yet. Should it be a family member? Or my best friend? Or my other best friend? Or one of Mike's family members or friends? Should it be based on who's most organized and responsible, or who would be most likely to understand and honor our wishes?

As part of my "In case of..." file, I'm also compiling a list of names and phone numbers of people who should be invited to my funeral. This was after reading a comment from someone whose father died and who had to call every single person in his Rolodex because she didn't know who were friends and who were just business contacts. The same could be said for my cell phone contact list or those on my computer -- everyone's in there: friends, family, clients, co-workers, and more.

I ended up finding it too overwhelming to think of it as a funeral invitation list ("Would this person care if I died?") and instead started asking myself, If someone were to throw me a giant surprise party for a milestone birthday, who would I want them to invite? That made it a lot easier.

One of my happiness commandments is "Do it before it's too late." This is pretty much the ultimate example of that. It's not exactly a fun activity, but it's one that will give me peace of mind just like putting together emergency kits has. And it's a loving thing to do for my husband. If something were to happen to me, the last thing he'd want to be doing is fighting legal battles or trying to put a list together of all the people who need to know.

What kind of preparations have you made "in case of..."? Does it bother you to think about this kind of thing, or does it give you peace of mind to know things are in order should anything happen?

Welcome to Life

Friday, November 11, 2011

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I will warn you up front that this post is mainly a mind dump of things I need to get off my chest today, and I apologize if I reference some things you aren't familiar with. Google "Nerdfighters" or "John Green" and that should help clear some things up.

Today was a Murphy's Law kind of day.

(In case you don't know, Murphy's Law is that anything that can go wrong, will.)

I actually thought it was going to be a great day, being Friday and 11/11/11 and all that, and because I planned to attend The Beckoning of Lovely at the Bean today. I hadn't attended the gatherings on 8/8/08, 9/9/09, or 10/10/10 but had seen some of the videos online and knew there would be a lot of Nerdfighters there, which is always fun.

So I got there about 5 minutes before it started, which meant I was standing at the edge of a huge crowd of people, most of whom were sitting, thankfully, so I could see Amy when she arrived. Unfortunately the system they had for sound (some kind of weird megaphone that a little kid had to hold and wave back and forth) wasn't great, so I had to strain to hear her.

The gathering was made up of little pieces, mostly collaborative projects we could become a part of at or after the gathering. There was a song, and a marriage proposal. Then someone nudged me and I saw that my boss' boss had shown up.

I shouldn't have been surprised that someone I knew also knew about the event, but it was like my worlds had suddenly collided -- my blogging, happiness project-ing, Nerdfighting self and my normal, responsible, working self. When they announced that John Green was there, I still screamed like a fangirl and yelled "DFTBA" along with the rest of the crowd, but I felt self-conscious about it. Then I saw two other people I knew from work were also there, though standing farther back. They're the kind of people who were probably mocking how silly the whole thing was. Later, when we were supposed to do the Hokey Pokey, I didn't. I felt awkward and out of place.

Then Amy said that she'd asked people to bring white pillowcases (apparently I missed that memo) and that after the gathering she wanted people to go around and sign each other's. Apparently the girls in front of me didn't hear the "after the gathering" part because they immediately stood up and starting asking each other to sign their pillowcases, meaning it became near impossible to hear anything Amy was saying. I thought about leaving right then, but I felt like I couldn't with my coworkers watching. After it wrapped up, I walked around for a while trying to find the "community scarf" so I could add a few stitches, but I never found the girl who had it and ended up just walking back to the office, cold and stiff from standing in the freezing cold for an hour.

I ate lunch at my desk (I couldn't well take another lunch break when my boss' boss had seen where I was for the past hour) and then commenced trying to import the files for our student course evaluation process, something I'd set aside several hours for but which usually takes me about 20 minutes tops.

It took 2 1/2 hours to import a single file. I contacted tech support in the middle of trying it and didn't hear back until after I'd finally succeeded in uploading it, with a message that basically said, "I see that you got it to upload. What's the problem?" I tried for an hour with the second file and finally had to pack it up and go home because the workday was over. I'll have to finish it tomorrow because there are e-mails that have to go out tomorrow using the information uploaded to the system.

In the midst of doing this I got an e-mail from a faculty member. The backstory is that our evaluation system lets instructors choose questions to add to their evaluation, and if the question they want isn't in the bank, they submit a request to have it added. Last week, she had requested a question be added to the bank, so I added it and let her know she could go in now and add it to the evaluation for any of her courses. She wrote back and asked if I'd done it for her or if she had to do it, and I told her she had to do it because she'd already picked the maximum number of questions for her evaluation and I didn't want to guess which one she wanted to replace. She said that made sense.

Then, today, she submitted a request to have the same question added to the bank, and I wrote back and told her it was already in the bank, and she needed to add it herself to her evaluations. She then e-mailed me this afternoon and said, "Oh, but I didn't see it on my evaluations."

I seriously put my head down and almost cried right there at my desk.

So then I went back out in the cold and walked to the train station, where a single person can slow down everyone's commute by standing on the left side of the escalator, and into a "quiet car" where two people were talking loudly on their cell phones.

Dealing with other people can suck sometimes.

(Also, my trusty water bottle broke today, but that's my fault for dropping it.)

Sigh.

I titled this post "Welcome to Life" because... this is what life is. It sucks sometimes. Things don't always go right. Sometimes other people can be really annoying or stupid or unhelpful or ignorant. But they can also be awesome and smart and caring and attentive.

So I'm going to package up my day and write it off as part of living, and go spend my evening with my awesome, smart, caring, attentive husband.

Congratulations if you made it all the way through this post, and thanks for sticking with me in good times and in bad :) I feel better now, and hope you have an awesome weekend.

Moments of Grace

Thursday, November 10, 2011

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Moments of Grace | Faith Permeating Life

This morning, I was driving to the train station when I saw that someone was tailgaiting me. In fact, she nearly prevented me from getting in the left turn lane, as she started veering left behind me before we'd even reached the turn lane, forcing me to immediately move left as well.

After we turned, I got over as quickly as possible to let her pass, and she immediately zoomed up to ride the butt of the next person. I was going the speed limit, but there were enough cars on the road that she never got too far ahead of me, despite rapidly changing lanes. She turned into the train station parking lot right ahead of me and sped around the corner into a spot, while I parked like I normally do. I walked down to the corner crosswalk while she decided to run across four lanes of traffic and cut across a parking lot.

We got to the train station at the same time.

I thought very seriously about saying something to her. Something like, "Excuse me, there was no need to tailgate me, since as you can see, we both got here with plenty of time to spare." I thought about whether it was likely to do any good, to change her mind or her behavior.

In the end, I just said a prayer of gratitude. That I am able to be at peace and know that I can take the time to drive courteously and follow the rules of the road and still make it where I'm going on time. And that even if I'm late and miss my train, it will be fine. It won't be the end of the world, and I won't have made myself stressed out and anxious in the process by worrying too much.

It took me a while to learn that lesson. I hope she is able to learn it someday.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Suck It Up and Deal

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Suck It Up and Deal | Faith Permeating Life

I really try to be the kind of person who practices what I preach. I don't want to be sharing a bunch of stuff about being happier and having a great marriage and finding God if I'm not doing it myself. Sometimes, though, it can be tough.

I've written before about quitting activities that aren't providing you with what you need. And I've written about taking care of yourself above all else. But sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds, and in the spirit of matching my life to my advice, I have to add one more piece of advice: Sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal.

Here's the situation: I take programming classes. One a semester since last spring. I can take them for free through the college where I work. Knowing the basics of programming is helpful, though not essential, for my job, and will allow me to look at a wider range of jobs when I'm looking for another job in the future. My first teacher sucked, but the guy I had in the summer was awesome. So I signed up for his course on Database Design, since a lot of what I do deals with databases.

The conceptual knowledge has been fantastic, and I've actually been able to solve two major problems at my job because of what I've learned in this semester's class. The problem is that the homework takes about 4-6 hours a week, which is basically the entirety of my free time on Sunday in between church choir and dinner with my parents. (Saturdays and weeknights are not an option for various reasons.) My class is on Monday nights, which means that I have this anxiety in the back of my mind that grows as the week goes on, reminding me that on Sunday I will have to sit at Mike's computer for 6 hours and program.

But I have no desire to be a database designer, so doing the homework is only helpful to the extent that it reinforces the concepts in my head. If you know me, you know it doesn't take 6 hours for a concept to get solidified in my head.

Here are the conversations I have with myself:

Just drop the class.
I can't. It's past the deadline. It would show up on my transcript regardless, as an F.

OK, but you're not getting a degree. You're just taking class to learn, and you are learning. Stay in the class, but who says you have to do the homework?
But almost no one else in the class does the homework, and my instructor is getting increasingly annoyed about it. I'm like his star student right now. If I stopped doing the homework, he'd be pissed.

So what? You're done taking classes after this semester, right? So what does it really matter if he doesn't like you anymore?
What if I do end up wanting a job that requires programming skills? He's my only reference.

OK, so you've got him as a reference, but you still don't have to ace all the homework assignments. Your grade in this class doesn't matter anyway. At this point you could stop doing the homework and probably still pull a C.
[At this point my brain shuts down because I've always gotten straight A's and am basically used to having my self-worth determined by my grades.]

I could go on with why I'm staying in this class and making myself do hours of homework every week, but the point is, I am. So now my focus has shifted from arguing with myself to just getting through the last third of the semester.

So here are the things I'm doing to power on through a less-than-ideal situation:
  • Reminding myself that it's a choice. No one is forcing me to take this class. I am choosing to stay in it because I value learning and my future career. This helps me to feel like my life is still under my control.
  • Clearing my schedule as much as possible. What makes me most anxious about waiting until Sunday is that if other to-do items build up during the week, I can't do my homework and all of those things and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. So I devote the rest of my week's free time to making sure I have nothing hanging over me on Sunday.
  • Drawing on my happiness arsenal. I make sure I eat before I start programming, and that I'm comfortable and warm. I make myself a cup of tea. If I find my mind wandering, I take a short break, get up, check my e-mail. I try to take care of myself as much as I can within the situation I have.
  • Looking to the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that this class will last a finite amount of time keeps me going. I know that by Christmas break I will be done with the class, hopefully done with the big family project I've been working on, and ready to dive into some other projects I've been sitting on. I remind myself that I'm not a bad person for not pursuing some of these other big ideas I have, because I've got this thing I have to get through first. And that's OK.
This kind of situation came up a lot more often in college. My first semester, I hated my art class so much that I decided to change my major so I could drop it. But at the end of my junior year, I had to take a required class with a terrible teacher who everyone hated, and at that point it made more sense just to suck it up and get through the class as best I could. Something tells me I'll have these "just get through it" moments when I'm a mother as well.

I'm not looking for advice specific to my class, but I do want to know: How do you handle a less-than-ideal situation that you're stuck in for some reason? What helps you get through it?

An Introvert's Guide to Networking

Sunday, November 6, 2011

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An Introvert's Guide to Networking | Faith Permeating Life

I am not very comfortable talking to people I don't know. It's something I've been working on this year, but I will never be the kind of person who easily strikes up a conversation with the person next to me on an airplane or behind me in line. For this reason, the whole notion of "networking" has always caused me anxiety.

I've encountered many articles and podcasts trying to reassure people about networking by saying that it's just another word for meeting people. This doesn't help, because meeting people = scary for me still, unless I'm being introduced by someone I know. Just walking up to a stranger and introducing myself? Not an easy thing for me.

I attended a few conferences in college and in the first two years at the college where I work, and every time I stuck close to and talked with the other people I knew from my college.

Then came the 20SB conference and everything changed.

For one thing, I wasn't going with anyone I knew, so I didn't have anyone to hide behind. For another, I knew this was an opportunity to attract more blog readers, so I had an immediate and direct reason for meeting people, unlike the usual type of networking where you're just "making contacts" for your professional career. And finally, since I knew everyone there was going to be just like me (a blogger in their 20s), it made it seem less daunting than attending a conference full of "adults" who have years of experience in their fields.

If you're comfortable striking up a conversation with strangers, this post is probably not for you. But if you're like me and could use a step-by-step guide for meeting people at conferences and networking events, read on to see what I learned at the 20SB Summit and applied at a work conference I attended last week.

1. Get there early. If you arrive too late to the cocktail hour or breakfast, all the seats will have filled up and you can't do Step 2. You'll just end up standing around feeling awkward because you can't easily break into an existing group's conversation.

2. Look for an empty seat, preferably by a person sitting alone. I do best one-on-one, and it also eliminates the aforementioned awkwardness of interrupting a conversation in progress. I usually look for a woman by herself because I feel more awkward approaching a man.

3. Ask, "Do you mind if I sit here?" Or "Is this seat taken?" This requires the person to look at you and respond; there, you've started a conversation!

4. Introduce yourself. Do it now, immediately after sitting down, as it will become more awkward to work into conversation later. Most normal people will introduce themselves in return.

5. Lead in with small talk. You don't want to start interrogating them immediately, so keep the conversation going after introductions with something basic, like a comment about the food ("They've got a pretty nice spread here"), the weather ("I just made it in before the rain started"), the location ("What a beautiful building this is"), etc. Keep it positive; you may be talking to someone who helped plan the event!

6. Ask a question. I try to think of some basic ones ahead of time. At the 20SB Summit, it was "Tell me about your blog" or "So, what kinds of things do you blog about?" At professional conferences, it may be a question about the person's job or (in my case) about their campus. I find that once they've shared something about themselves, that can open up the opportunity to ask something like, "So then, what are you hoping to get out of this conference?" or "What made you decide to come to this event?"

Later on in the conference you can skip the small talk and lead in with questions like, "Are you enjoying the conference so far?" or "Which sessions have you attended? Have you gotten any good takeaways?" All of these are good ways to lead into finding something in common to discuss.

7. Share your card as appropriate. I don't give my business card to everyone I talk to; sometimes I have nothing in common with the person I'm chatting with and see no good opportunity to foist my business card on them. However, if they mention an interest in some work I've done, I might say, "Here, let me give you my card -- shoot me an e-mail and I'll send you the paper I'm talking about." Or if I've asked them to share something they're working on, I'll give them my card so they have my e-mail address. Usually they'll give me theirs in return, and while it's rude to write on someone's card in front of them, when we've parted ways I'll make a note on the back of what we discussed and whether I promised to send them anything.

There you go -- you've made a connection! You've successfully networked!

I've found that having this kind of prepared script makes it less daunting to approach people I don't know. The advantage to meeting people at things like conference and networking events is that everyone there is expecting to meet new people and isn't likely to be put off by someone sitting down and introducing themselves.

One other tip that has been valuable to me at conferences: Take a break when you need it. An introvert, by definition, is someone who gets tired from being around lots of people and recharged from being alone. Although I try to get to as many conference sessions as I can, if there's a time around early or mid-afternoon where I'm not really gung-ho about any of the sessions, I'll take a break to go back to my hotel room or find a quiet corner to breathe and maybe catch up on e-mails. It helps me reflect on and digest everything I've heard thus far, and it also prevents me from getting completely exhausted from being around crowds of people all day long. Then I'm ready to go back and meet more people at the last sessions and/or at dinner.

Finally, follow up. When you're back home, go through the business cards you gathered and send a short e-mail to each person. This is where your notes come in handy; even if they didn't ask for anything specific, this can be a good opportunity to say, for example, "I enjoyed speaking with you about the new field of data visualization. I've attached an example of how we've been using this on our campus to aid in the distribution of data." The idea is to frame it in a way that adds value to their work -- an example or research that they can use.

You may never hear back from them... but maybe two years down the road they'll say, "Hey, I met someone once who has experience doing this," find your e-mail, and contact you about serving as a consultant or filling a open position. That's the idea, anyway.

The ideal outcome of a networking connection is a mutually beneficial relationship in which you can learn from each other to make work easier for both of you. And it starts just by sitting down next to someone!

Have your own tips for networking if you're shy or introverted? Please share in comments!

3BoT Vol. 2: Three Books Every Christian Should Read

Thursday, November 3, 2011

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3BoT Vol. 2: Three Books Every Christian Should Read | Faith Permeating Life

The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more information about Three Books on Thursday.

This month I'm sharing three books I would recommend to anyone who identifies as Christian.

#1: Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
I love this book because the author talks about Christianity as it's lived in the "real world"; i.e., if you don’t spend 100% of your time with other Christians. It's essentially a book of stories, of small moments weaved together as he tries to make sense of God and life. He tries to understand what dating is supposed to look like as a Christian. He tells the story of a friend who rarely goes to church but is absolutely adamant about giving 10% of his money back to God. There's a chapter called "Church: How I Go Without Getting Angry." It's all raw and beautifully written, and while you may not agree with everything he says, I bet at least some of it will resonate deeply with you.




#2: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
I wrote about this book at length in another post, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. Essentially the author spent a year trying to follow every single thing in the Bible. And found it's impossible. Even the various groups who claim to follow the Bible literally do things completely differently and put emphasis on some verses over others. This book raises questions I think every Christian should wrestle with, such as, Am I trying to follow everything in the Bible? Do I believe that's even possible? If not, what should I focus on? Do I want to decide that for myself or let someone else tell me what to focus on? Can I really judge another Christian for making that decision differently?




#3: Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical by Fr. John R. Waiss and James G. McCarthy
You know how there are some conversations that people have been having for hundreds of years and will continue to have well into the future? This is one of them. These two men are friends and very respectful of each other's beliefs, but also both extremely well-versed in their own religious tradition's beliefs and reasons for those beliefs, and they hash them out for everyone to read. What struck me when I was reading this book is how the seemingly vast differences between these two traditions can be reduced to just a few very small disagreements, yet about beliefs so fundamental that they spawn every other teaching in these faiths. If you want to understand how two denominations that both call themselves Christian can look so different, but don't want to wade through insults and judgment to get there, this is the book for you.



What other books do you wish every Christian would read? Share them in comments!

Click here for other 3BoT posts!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you click on a book cover and make any purchase at Amazon (including but not limited to the books suggested here), your purchase will be supporting Faith Permeating Life. Thanks!

November Sponsor!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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I am super-excited to have my first-ever blog sponsor this month!

Emmy at Love Woke Me Up This Morning is a favorite blogger of mine; her posts are thought-provoking and sweet, and they often make me smile. I recommend checking her out!

Hi Faith Permeating Life friends! I am a city girl, who after graduating college found myself working as a youth minister in a small town. Other than adjusting from the culture shock, you'll most likely find me reading a good novel (probably Harry Potter), writing on my blog or one of my fictional stories, hanging out with my dog, or helping with the local community theatre. Life out in the "real world" is crazier than I thought it would be, but with a little bit of love and a little bit of coffee, I make it through one day at a time, as I try to figure out what God has in store for me. I would love for you to join me!

Twitter: LoveWokeMeUp
Facebook: Love Woke Me Up This Morning on FB

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Eventually I will be offering paid sponsorships, but for now I'm just doing sponsor swaps: You sponsor me and I'll sponsor you, no cost. If you're interested in sponsoring Faith Permeating Life in December, leave a comment or send me an e-mail at jessica -at- faithpermeatinglife dot com.

Don't forget to check out Love Woke Me Up This Morning! If you like my blog, I bet you'll like hers as well.

The Happiness Project: November is Home Month

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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The Happiness Project: November Is Home Month | Faith Permeating Life

Holy crap! It's November!

Time for a happiness project check-in!

I did slightly better this month with my previous months' goals, though I'm still working on it. The main thing I've been letting slide is sending e-mails to friends. But I've been doing more social events: we had new friends over for dinner a week ago, we're planning a party for this month, and I even attended a fundraising event at work where I joined my coworkers in humiliating myself by singing a song from Sesame Street. Yup, I'm awesome.

How about October's goals? I did make myself some lists of what I love about fall and winter, and I've been doing my best to act on them. I've been drinking hot apple cider and eating roasted pumpkin seeds. Now that I'm doing our meal planning, we're having soup for dinner once a week. I try to notice the colors of the leaves every time I drive through our neighborhood.

I made it in under the wire with buying layers; I went out last night (Oct. 31) and got a blazer I can wear over my sweater and a short-sleeve shirt with a scoop neck for under my button-down. I figured it was best to find a way to add layers to the style I already have. I'd like to get some more shirts to go under, but I'm mostly glad I've gotten started in the right direction.

So, what will November's focus be? I wanted it to be a good one, as it's the last new one of the year. (December is supposed to be a "boot camp," where you try to do all of your resolutions every day that you want to carry forward into the new year.) But I also didn't want to overwhelm myself now that I've gotten involved in so many things.

I finally settled on Home. I remembered that Gretchen's new book is going to be called Happier at Home. I've made a lot of resolutions that play out at home, like repairing things right away and trying to follow the one-minute rule for putting things away, but I haven't put a purposeful focus on making our apartment a happy place to be. After I read this post on Modern Mrs. Darcy about the importance of physical environment, I realized I should put a greater priority on this.

So here are the things I came up with:
  • Make a list of steps to finish our art project. Mike and I have an art project we're making that is about 90% done, and I remembered Katy Wolk-Stanley's suggestion to finish up these kinds of projects so they're not nagging at you every time you look at them. Notice I didn't say my resolution is to finish it; I'm separating planning from doing to overcome the hurdle of inaction and because we may not have time to actually finish it this month. But I know having a clear plan of small steps, and possibly a timeline as well, will be a push toward finishing it.
  • Do a 5-minute clean-up before bed. This is one of those things Mike and I say every few months that we want to go back to doing, and then it lasts for maybe a day. But I've learned that all I need to do to build a new habit is add it to my resolutions chart, and it starts happening. So my goal is to spend 5 minutes before bed just going around the apartment and clearing clutter and putting things where they belong.
  • Design a more attractive way to meal plan. I am so out of my element with any sort of cute home decorating thingy like you see all over Pinterest, and I'll admit this resolution is as much about function as it is about decoration. Right now I have a Word template I created for meal planning that I like a lot, but basically I just fill it out for the week and stick it on the fridge. Then I print out any recipes we need for the week. (Sidenote: I'm torn about this because it's not very earth-friendly even though I'm printing on the back of used paper, but it's so much easier to find recipes on Internet using exactly what's in the house than finding them in our cookbooks. At the end of every week I've been copying our favorites onto cards in my recipe binder, so my hope is to eventually have a big enough collection of favorite recipes that I can just pull out the cards for the week and put them somewhere attractively.) I write the appropriate day of the week on each recipe and stick them all on a shelf above the kitchen counter. I would love a cleaner, more attractive method for displaying our meal plans and recipes for the week without adding too much time to my weekly planning. Suggestions?

That's the plan for Home. Tell me, how do you make your home a happier place?
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