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Clearing Out the Clutter

Clearing Out the Clutter

Author Kathi Lipp explains how too much clutter can cause family stress and conflict, and offers practical strategies to get rid of what you don't need so that you can have the space and resources to serve God as He intended.

Original Air Date: January 8, 2016


John Fuller: This is John Fuller and on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly, we’re gonna take a look at what it means to live clutter free and it might be that home organization isn’t a problem for you or perhaps like most of us, it’s the story of your life.


Husband: Where is my tie? I’m in such a hurry. Honey, where is my green tie?

Wife: Oh, honey, I think you left it by your bowling ball.

Husband: Honey, where is my bowling ball?

Wife: You know what, I think it’s on top of the dictionary.

Husband: Honey, where is the dictionary?

Wife: Behind the couch.

Husband: Behind the couch! What would it be doing behind thecouch?

End of Teaser

Jim Daly: (Laughter) All right, I don’t think it’s quite that bad at my house.

John: At least you can find the couch.

Jim: Well, right, that’s the key.

John: Okay.

Jim: I mean, how many times have you stood in front of a refrigerator, John and said, “Dena, where’s the milk?”

John: You mean, like in the past 24 hours. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter) Pretty much—

John: How many times, yeah.

Jim: –yeah, I mean, I’ve done that more than once, you know, the yogurt, whatever it might be.

John: If it doesn’t jump out and bite you, you’re not gonna see it.

Jim: Pretty much, I think there’s a gene that men possess that blinds us to something right in front of us. (Laughter)

John: Quite possibly, yeah.

Jim: But you know what? I try to be kind of organized.

John: No, you’re very organized, Jim.

Jim: Well, I don’t know about that. “Very” might be too generous. But I think if Jean were here, she would say (Chuckling) she’s quite the opposite.

John: She’s a busy mom.

Jim: She’s actually the definition of a perfectionist, because it so overwhelms her that she just finds it hard to get started and she does much better than when we were first married (Laughing), but she’s not here to defend herself, so I’m gonna say, my error is, I’ll throw stuff away. She’ll say, “Where’s that phone number I had on the counter?” And I go, “Ooh, it’s in the bottom of the trash.”

John: ‘Cause you efficiently came through and cleaned everything up.

Jim: I’m a little too fast with that. That’s my problem.

John: You are kinda quick at throwin’ stuff away. (Laughter)

Jim: But today we want to talk about that idea of becoming clutter-free. And this is one of the big issues in marriages and if I’m not scratchin’ where you itch, I think at the end of today’s program, you’re gonna feel, yeah, maybe I do have an issue here.

John: And we have a clutter-free expert with us, Kathi [Lipp].

Jim: Did you say clutter-freak? (Laughter)

John: Well, that could fit, I don’t know. (Laughter) Let’s find out.

Jim: Clutter free.


John: As we talk to Kathi Lipp, let’s just find out. Is she the clutter freak or a clutter-free expert?

Kathi Lipp: So, [there]’s gonna be a diagnosis involved? (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)

Kathi: Awesome.

John: Yeah, well, you’re at Focus on the Family.

Jim: We try.

John: We specialize in that. No, it’s great to have Kathi on. She is such a humorous, energetic, insightful person and she could deliver bad news with a smile and you’d feel good about it for some reason. I don’t know (Laughter); she’s got this gift to make any idea make sense and you just want to try it. So, I’m really lookin’ forward for other people in my life to hear this broadcast. (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, come on. You are in bad shape, John. Kathi, welcome back to “Focus.”

Kathi: Oh, yeah, best intro ever and I (Laughter) love being with you guys. You know that.

Jim: Well, I don’t know about that, but now you did not start, you did not come out of your mother’s womb all buttoned down, organized. You had to learn this the hard way.

Kathi: No.

Jim: So, that makes a lot of people feel better right there, that you’re not perfection.

Kathi: Oh, people get terrified when I’m coming over to their house and like it’s “the clutter-free lady.” I’m like, you know, what? Let’s be honest. Your house may be more clutter-free than mine. I would say my journey has probably been more significant than most people. I actually was born to a hoarder and people use that term kind of lightly and funny, but really, my dad was a hoarder.

Jim: What did that look like? ‘Cause a lot of people don’t experience that.

Kathi: Yeah, you know, people ask me all the time, “Have you seen the show?” And I’m like, no, that’s childhood trauma on TV for me. But my mom had to work really hard to keep him contained. So, I remember growing up, he had the garage and he had what we called “the office.”

Kathi: And things were stacked up, I’m not exaggerating, probably four or five feet and there was a path in the garage to his desk. He had a little desk out there. He was an electrical engineer, so he was soldering stuff and things like that and a path to the mailbox, which was in our garage and up in his office, there was a path to his desk.

Jim: What created the path though? What do you put around you that, you know, that would allow you to walk through the spaces?

Kathi: Oh, well, it was very funny. When I was writing this book, my editor said, you know, “You said that your dad had piles and piles of stamps.” He said, “Do you mean postage stamps?” And I said, “Yes.” He goes, “How could you have 5′ piles of postage stamps?” And so, I sent him a picture because people don’t believe me, but it would be in binders and things like that, but so many postage stamps from all over the world. That was one of the things he collected.

But I would say that a lot of his stuff caused a lot of barriers in our family, physical and emotional, because my dad was so into his stuff. And I’ll never forget, they moved houses. It took all of us and I’m talking my husband, my kids, my brother, his friends, to go through all that stuff and it was a pretty traumatic experience for my dad.

Jim: Was that your mom’s plan to clean up was to move house? (Laughter)

Kathi: Well, I think, you know what? It really was.

John: [It] forces the issue.

Kathi: It forced the issue and we got to a point where the only person my dad would talk to was me, because he felt so attacked. And we weren’t attacking him but we were asking about his stuff.

Jim: Well, let me ask you this, because growing up in that kind of environment, it can make you anti-clutter, but you weren’t that.

Kathi: Right, no, I didn’t really know how to deal with things. And I formed some kind of weird emotional attachments to things which I thought were weird at the time.

Jim: What does that look like?

Kathi: Well, I really think that clutter comes down to a couple of things, well, three—fear, guilt and shame. Fear, if I get rid of that, what if I need it later on?

Jim: Like maybe like four years from now.

Kathi: Right, exactly (Laughter) and exactly and to think about spending the money a second time on something, it’s paralyzing. My mom was raised by, you know, people who went through the Depression and so, this idea was passed down to me that we don’t waste. And so, if I could possibly use it again, then I would do it, so the fear.

The guilt, oh, you know, “Aunt Edna made that for me. Now I would never wear that, but she made it for me.” So, the guilt that is associated with stuff. And then shame, I spent so much money on it, how could I ever give that away? You know, those boots that, well, they pinch me every time I walk and so, I don’t walk in them, but I spent so much money on them, I had to have ’em; I have to keep them. And that really built up a lot of my clutter.

Jim: Kathi, in your book, you refer to a popular motto that existed in World War II. Jean and I talked about it. We fail to remember, ’cause we weren’t here, but our grandparents, for example who knew what it meant to live in a rationed world. I mean clothing and food and butter and milk.

Kathi: Yeah, right.

Jim: You wouldn’t have had six gallons of milk in your refrigerator. What was that motto and how was the attitude of people during that time?

Kathi: Yeah, the motto was, “Use it up; wear it out; make it do or do without.” And what that really said is, we have limited resources, whether it was because of the government. You know, whatever was going on there, there wasn’t enough finances, whatever that was.

So, they really had to either figure out how to do without it or use up what they had. You know, it’s very easy in today’s day and age [that] you get disenchanted with your hairspray, so you go buy a new one. And then you have 16 bottles of hair sprays that are half used sitting in your bathroom. And so, one of the things that Roger and I challenged ourselves to do and it wasn’t as big of a challenge for Roger, let’s just be super clear, was to use up all the cosmetics I already had—the hair products. And if I said, “Oh, I’m never gonna use it again,” either pass it on to one of my girls or get rid of it.

Because what was happening is, I felt like I didn’t have the stuff I wanted, but I had so much stuff and so, I didn’t know what I had anymore because there was so much stuff. So, you know, just using it up, wearing out. I now really try. I buy expensive shoes, ’cause we talked about plantar fasciitis when we were talking earlier before the broadcast. My shoes are very expensive.

John: Your feet are important to you.

Kathi: My feet are very, very important to me. I kind of grown attached to them, yes. (Laughter) And so, instead of buying new shoes, I have mine resoled, which sounds like such a 1950’s kind of thing.

Jim: Oh, I’ve done that, yeah.

Kathi: Yeah, but so, I’m going to wear it out. I’m gonna make do with what I have. Are there pri … especially with my kids were in school. You know, we would go to Target and buy all these supplies every time they had a project.

Until you realize you have everything you need and so, can we just make do with what we already have? And then can I do without? There is something that happens for me and my friends when you get something new. It’s very fun and exciting for a second. But it’s not so fun and exciting when you’re buying it with a credit card and you see that come through. Or you get home and you realize, I had something almost exactly like it. And so, there is kind of a pride that I have now when I say, “You know what? I’m good. I don’t need to have that. I have everything I need.” And I feel smarter, because I actually am really trying to make things work that I already have. It’s a good way to live. It really is.

Jim: Let’s talk for a minute about the impact on your marriage on your family. Why is this inability to keep clutter free such an impact on a marriage, just as an example?

Kathi: Right, there are two things that come immediately to mind, is that, one, the No. 1 question I get is how do I deal with somebody else’s clutter? And two, I think about all the money that is spent rebuying stuff that you can’t find. You know (Laughter), you know you have it somewhere right?

Jim: Yeah.

John: Which is why we have like four jars of mustard in the refrigerator.

Kathi: Yes, yes, you go to the store and you think, I was out of mustard like six months ago. I bet we need some mustard. And we buy stuff that we’re not going to use or we rebuy things that we already have because we can’t find them. Our houses are so cluttered. Our drawers are so stuffed.

And I think that’s why a lot of women end up buying clothes again and again and again because they feel like they have nothing to wear, but it’s because they have so many clothes, things or stuff. And I’m not just picking on women, because guys ask me all the time, “What do I do about my wife’s clutter?” But then women also ask me, “What do I do about my guy’s clutter?”

Jim: So, that works both ways.

Kathi: Yeah, absolutely.

Jim: Okay, answer the question. (Laughter)

Kathi: Okay, so my first thing is, before you start pointing the clutter finger, look at your own stuff, because our stuff, we know why we have all of that. We know what our treasures are. But then if somebody is really dealing with clutter with a spouse, I always say, “Don’t fight about stuff. Discuss space. And so, what I mean by that is, can we agree that your stuff, and I’m not gonna tell you that your model airplane that hasn’t worked in 24 years is clutter. I’m not gonna go there because our stuff is very personal to us. But can we agree that you get this gorilla rack in the garage and I get this gorilla rack?

So, first clean up your own house and I mean that in your relationship. Clean up your own stuff and then, two, agree on space. And so, even if it’s an extra room maybe your husband has and you say, “As long as I can close the door, that area is yours. And when you start taking the emotion out of it, it becomes much easier to discuss.

Jim: But it is a highly emotional area especially in marriage.

Kathi: It really is, right.

Jim: I mean, in our current home, I remember when we moved in and I got things organized and Jean was doin’ her part, but not long after I thought, you know, we could probably get one of those big, I mean, big flat trash bins that get delivered to your house—

Kathi: Right.

Jim: –for construction sites. And I think I could fill that up with stuff. So I ordered it. I did ask Jean if she thought that would be okay. She said, “Oh, that’d be fine.” And I started throwin’ stuff away and it was so funny because at night I’d come back to the house after work, you know, workin’ on the weekend, I had it for about two weeks.

Kathi: Yeah.

Jim: So, I’m loading stuff in there and there’d be stuff pulled back out of it. (Laughter)

Kathi: Right, right.

Jim: And I thought, wait a minute, this isn’t accomplishing the plan.

Kathi: Yeah.

John: Who were the trash fairies that were goin’ in there?

Jim: The trash fairies were Jean, Trent and Troy. (Laughter) And you know, they’re working against my great plan.

Kathi: Right. Well, one of the things that I say to people is, when you’re trying to discuss as a family what you’re going to keep and what you’re not going to keep, is Sherry Gregory, who’s a good friend of mine, who has helped me on this book, she went through her garage and she finally came up with this motto which I think is absolutely brilliant. “I’m going to keep what I care about and I’m gonna care about what I keep.”

Jim: Huh.

Kathi: And so, instead of keeping all of our treasures locked away in a closet ’cause we’re gonna do something with them someday, what she did, this is brilliant, her father-in-law served in the military and they had the flag from his memorial. And it’d been in a box for years and years. Well, you know what happens to things when they’re in a box, you know. The rodents come, all this kind of stuff. So, what she did is, she got that and she had it mounted. She had it mounted in a display case and surprised her husband with it. And he said, “That’s the best gift that she had ever given him, because she cared about what they were keeping. So, all those things that aren’t working, that you’re gonna get to later, if you’re gonna keep it, care about it.

Jim: Hm.

Kathi: And if you don’t care about it, somebody will. Somebody would love to have that shirt that doesn’t quite fit or that pair of boots that hurt you. It won’t hurt them. They’ve got younger feet than you do. We want to be good stewards with our stuff. And when we’re hoarding and hoarding can be just your closets are stuffed. It doesn’t mean that, you know, you have rooms that are unusable. It means that you have, you know, closets that are unusable.

I know that that’s a very intense word for a lot of people but I really do believe that oftentimes we are hoarding stuff, because it’s a sense of safety. If I give it away, there’s a lot of fear attached to that. And what I’ve come to understand when we work with especially women in helping them getclutter free, the freedom comes when they give the stuff away. They were strapped down by it and our little motto around our office when we’re talking about clutter free is, we want to help people get clutter free so they’re free to go change their world. God has a mission and a plan for each of us and so many women are weighed down by their clutter that they’re not doing what they feel they’re called to do and we want them to be able to go do that.

John: Now that is an inspirational twist on getting rid of stuff in your home, because there’s a God-desired and designed plan for your life and maybe the stuff is getting in the way.

Kathi: Amen.

John: Kathi Lipp is our guest on “Focus on the Family” today with Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller. Quick And Easy Steps to Simplify Your Space, that’s the subtitle of Kathi’s book, Clutter Free. And we’ve got a download of this conversation and that book at I recommend the download, because it’s a digital thing, you can’t really have it cluttering (Laughter) your life.

Kathi: Exactly. We love ebooks when we’re going clutter free.

John: Yeah, or call us and our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. .And Jim, I’m a little bit of a hoarder because I’m a prepared guy. And so—

Jim: That’s great justification.

John: –well, you know, I want to be prepared for “what ifs?” You’re challenging me, because a lot of “what if’s” are just never gonna happen.

Kathi: Well, and a lot of “what if’s” and I’m not saying this about you, John, but let me just say, a lot of “what if’s” are a form of not trusting God. If I’m gonna keep everything around me, ’cause I’m gonna be prepared for every situation and sometimes we are called to give, I’m thinking about our space, time, energy and money. And some of us are hoarding some of our stuff and we’re spending so much of our money to maintain it. You know, the amount of storage lockers that Americans use in order to care for their stuff that they’re really never going to use is amazing, but we can justify it a million different ways.

But when we think about the space, time, energy and money that we’re spending really on all of this stuff that we may never use again, it can sometimes be a way of saying, “I don’t need anybody else. I can take care of myself.” And as Christians, we really have to examine those motives.

Jim: And that’s really good insight. You know, I’m thinking of the command that Jesus gave to the disciples to go and not to worry about what they take with them, that He’d provide for them.

Kathi: Right.

Jim: That’s kind of the application there spiritually, isn’t it?

Kathi: Absolutely.

Jim: Go light because you don’t want to be burdened by a lot of stuff.

Kathi: It’s so true. Everything that we own costs us. You know, whether it’s insurance or how we’re going to maintain it, everything costs us in some real way. And I want to be in a place where, if God says, “You need to move to Oregon because we’ve got ministry there for you,” I don’t want my stuff to be a factor in that decision. “I want you to go give to this family.” I don’t want my stuff to be a factor in that decision.

Jim: Let’s move to the strategies on how we cope with all of this.

Kathi: Yes.

Jim: I mean, we’ve got a bit of time to talk about that. You specifically encourage people to ask three questions.

Kathi: Right.

Jim: So, what are they?

Kathi: Okay, the three questions are: Do I use it? Do I love it? and Would I buy it again?

Jim: Okay, well, what’s the time frame for do you use it? I might use it every three or four years.

Kathi: Well, yeah, if you know, if you have an intention in mind of when you’re going to use it, now one of the things, like one friend, her husband justified keeping a car that he’s had for seven years that doesn’t run. (Laughter)

Jim: And why?

Kathi: Because he used it because he works on it and he loved it. Now that is a marital issue that needs to be discussed, but we can really eliminate a lot of clutter if we ask ourselves those three questions, because now I do want to say this. It’s great to give things away without any attachments, because sometimes our parents try to give us stuff that says, well, I don’t like this anymore, but you should have it because it has a family thing, you know, attached to it. Your great Aunt Edna, no, no, no, no. If you’re not willing to keep it, you’re not allowed to force it on family members. (Laughter) That is verboten. Yeah and so, if it’s not sentimental enough to keep to you, then you can ask your kids if they want it, but you can’t make them feel guilty if they don’t want it.

Jim: And Kathi, you have the “Do I use it?” “Do I love it?” “Would I buy it again?” That’s a good one for a lot of guys.

Kathi: Yeah, exactly. You know, my husband likes a very particular kind of sweatpant[s]. He’s a runner and he likes very certain things. And so, I said, “Why don’t we get rid of all the sweats that you’re not using? And he said, “Well, you know, I might use ’em again someday if I ever stop running.” And I said, “Would you buy those again right now?” “No.” “And can we close your drawer currently with the sweatpants you have?” “No.”

And so, I didn’t want to shame him into anything, but these are very good clarifying questions. He said, “You’re right. We can give those away.” And I know as a woman who’s been a single mom, when I went into a thrift store and somebody had cleared their clutter and I found a pair of Nike tennis shoes that my son wanted and they were his size, with our clutter and I’m using air quotes when I say, “clutter,” that is somebody else’s treasure.

Jim: Ah.

Kathi: And I will never forget being able to buy those shoes. I think they were probably $8, but it meant that my son could go to school and have something that he was proud of and that’s because somebody cleaned their closet. We can be a gift to somebody we don’t even know, because we’re tak … we’re being good stewards with our own stuff.

Jim: You talk about the challenge.

Kathi: Yeah.

Jim: You do this every year.

Kathi: Yes.

Jim: Tell us what that is and then let me respond to that. (Chuckling)

Kathi: Okay, this has been life-changing for so many families, because we do this every year. And the 2,000 things we ask you to [get rid of], it’s anything that you throw away, give away or recycle that is not food. You know, we’re not asking you to count throwing away your groceries.

John: Yeah, extra milk doesn’t count.

Kathi: Yeah.

Jim: Okay. (Laughter)

Kathi: And if you have 1,000-piece puzzle, that doesn’t count for half.

Jim: That’s one.

Kathi: Yeah, it’s every decision you make. And it is a way of getting extreme for a little bit and getting really focused and clearing out really the top layer of clutter for most people.

Jim: Well, you know what’s so amazing with that, I think Jean and I, if I go home tonight, I mention this to Jean, she’s gonna think, I believe, we don’t have 2,000 things, but we probably have multiples of 2,000 things.

Kathi: We have people who do the 2,000 things challenge and start over again.

Jim: And they don’t see a dent.

Kathi: And they don’t see a dent and it’s not just the stuff that’s laying around, it’s the stuff in the drawers. That’s the thing.

Jim: Closets!

Kathi: Closet, yeah, exactly. It’s the stuff in the garage. It’s the stuff in the storage unit. And so, when you can do that 2000 things and for some reason this is so unifying for families. We’ve seen this happen over and over and over again. They get excited because they have a common goal and a common challenge and kids are givin’ stuff away and everybody’s motivated, because they have a goal to hit and it’s very exciting to see families get clutter free.

Jim: How do you stay accountable to that? ‘Cause I could go home excited about this and we’ll jump in and then maybe we don’t get as far as we’d like to go.

Kathi: Right, so I say, you have a clutter buddy, you know and whether that’s your husband or your wife or maybe a friend and you hold each other accountable. We have a little download so you can check things off so you know how many things you’ve given away.

Jim: Oh, great.

Kathi: And you stay focused and you put it up on the frig for the kids and let’s say you get rid of the 2,000 things, think about how much easier and lighter your life is going to be. Could you take some of the money that you [might make], maybe have a garage sale and do that and could you do the things that you, as a family, have been wanting to do? One of the things that Roger and I did, we had been talking about sponsoring a Compassion child for years and we said we just don’t have the margin to do this.

And when we started to get clutter free, we realized how much stuff we were buying unnecessarily. And now we sponsor two kids in Nicaragua. We don’t even notice the money going out, because we’ve pulled back our lives in such a purposeful way, that we’re putting our space, time, energy and money behind things that really, really matter.

Jim: and it’s a great example of what happens. What are some other stories that you hear through the people that have done this?

Kathi: Oh, wow. it’s overwhelming. I had one women who said, I’ve been wanting to change jobs, but I didn’t want to move because we had so much stuff. And as soon as I started living clutter free and getting rid of stuff, this job offer came and I could move in an instant.” She said, “I could’ve never even considered it five years ago. It was too overwhelming.”

Jim: Ah, those are good things.

Kathi: It’s amazing when we steward our stuff, I really believe our stuff can be a reflection of our heart and where are we putting our trust? Where are we putting our money? Where are we putting our energy? And when we can say, “I trust You, God with all of this,” it’s amazing what God can do with somebody who’s willing to trust Him.

Jim: That’s well-said. Kathi Lipp, author of the book, Clutter Free. You’ve given us some great insights to start the year right and to get clutter free. Thanks for being with us.

Kathi: Oh, thanks for havin’ me.


John: Well, this is “Focus on the Family: with Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: Hey, John, I hope lots of people have been encouraged and motivated by this conversation with Kathi. I know I was and as a matter of fact, what we just shared was part of our Best of 2016 collection of programs. We heard from so many families last year who were excited about Kathi’s 2,000 things challenge. And if you’re planning to do that this year, I hope you’ll let us know how it’s going. Did you agree to that challenge?

John: Yeah, I started the process. I don’t know if I ever finished on it. We probably finished at least 1,000 or so.

Jim: I’m proud of you.

John: Well, I really appreciated how Kathi connected the idea of home organization to our relationships, our relationship in the home as husbands and wives, as parents and even our relationship with God. And most of us, I think, keep those kind of separated, but when a home becomes over-cluttered, it really can affect relationships in a lot of negative ways.

Jim: Well, it absolutely can and that’s the primary reason why we have shared this program with our listeners again today.

Focus on the family is here to strengthen those vital relationships in your family and we want to help your marriage thrive. But we also want to empower you to raise happy and healthy kids, not just academically and materially, but spiritually. That’s most important. We want to encourage you and your household in your faith.

We might do that through a program on clutter or some parenting tips on one of our websites or helpful advice from our counseling team for your marriage. And if we’ve impacted your family in positive ways in the past, can I invite you to help us help others–other families who need this same biblically based advice and encouragement? We need your financial gifts to keep this ministry going, especially now at the beginning of a new calendar year. We expect to hear from literally hundreds of thousands of families and single adults in 2017. And I hope we can count on your ongoing support in the days ahead.

John: We’d love to hear from you. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you can donate at And let us say thank you for your generosity by sending a complimentary copy of Kathi Lipp’s book, Clutter Free.

At our website we’ll also have some information about how you can get a CD or download of today’s program and details about Kathi’s 2,000 things challenge. It’s a great idea. Take advantage of it. Find out more at the website. Once again, that’s ww

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Accepting Your Imperfect Life

Amy Carroll explains how listeners can find freedom from self-imposed and unrealistic standards of perfection in a discussion based on her book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You.

Sara Hagerty, author of Every Bitter Thing is Sweet

Being Seen by God

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, gives an update on the coronavirus pandemic.
Then, offering encouragement found in her book Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed, Sara Hagerty describes how we can experience God in ordinary, everday moments, and how we can find our identity in Him apart from what we do.