Day 112 ~ The Divine Hours

I’ve decided to start “keeping the hours.” At least I’m going to try. Keeping the hours (or saying the offices) is a Benedictine monastic tradition of fixed-hour prayer. I may last one day, one week, one month – or I may decide this is the best thing I’ve ever done and do it forever.

Now, first of all, I must say – I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’ve only been in a Catholic church three times in my life. The first time, I was a little girl and went with a girl from school whose parents were German immigrants, so there was a language issue and the mom couldn’t really explain to me what was going on. As we sat in the pew, people would come forward and genuflect at the altar. But this is what I thought was going on – I thought people were kneeling to photograph the bizarre statue on the stage, because my church had no statues, and so I thought this must be a novelty. I mean, if I had a camera, I might take a picture too, except no one told me to bring a camera. It was literally years later when I saw someone on T.V. kneeling at an altar and making the sign of the cross that it suddenly occurred to me what I had seen as a child. The other two times I was in a Catholic church were for a wedding and a funeral, so they probably don’t really count. Let’s just say my faith tradition is very “low church.”

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Well, the Benedictines are obviously Catholic, but they are also very disciplined and it’s the discipline I’m reaching for, not the Catholicism. What I’ve discovered in this year of change is that my disorganization is not just an external problem. I’m internally cluttered as well. And my spiritual life totally lacks organization. This is the reason I have started working on Centering Prayer, which is incredibly challenging but I keep trying it a few minutes each day. In spite of this, my quiet time with God continues to be haphazard, at best. I feel myself craving an order to my spiritual life, and so I’m attempting Keeping the Hours to see if it creates the form I’m looking for. I plan to say the words of the offices exactly at first, then move to a place where I keep the form but lose some of the rigidity. I’ll be keeping the Morning Office, Midday Office, and Vespers which basically means praying morning, noon and evening, and I’m using the book The Divine Hours as a guide.

We’ll see what happens. My cluttered environment is simply a manifestation of the clutter within me. But I’m changing that – with clear-cut goals, ordering of my day, getting rid of extraneous junk, and structuring my spiritual life. I feel myself becoming new. I feel the old ways sloughing off. Yet change is something like turning an enormous ship. It’s slow (oh, so slow). It’s difficult. But as I turn, I see a new vista – a new horizon – a new me. And that, dear reader, is well worth it.

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Day 108 ~ A Sticker Chart

I have totally fallen off the wagon. It’s not that I have an addiction and I’m suddenly back at it. It’s that I have a terrible habit, and if I’m not consciously fighting it, I slip back into it and am firmly entrenched before I even recognize it. That habit is flying by the seat of my pants.

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maybe this isn't the wagon they mean...

I have dutifully been carrying my life-changing notebook with me everywhere. Yet, yesterday when I went to make an action item list, I realized the last notation I had made was on March 31. Are you kidding me? I actually went 3+ weeks without writing anything down and it never once occurred to me, “Wow – I should be updating my action item list.” Yesterday was obviously my day to come back to reality, because when I went to do my “daily” hard-surface clean in the bathrooms, the spots on the mirror told the sad story that this little job certainly hasn’t been done in … well, we’ll just say it hasn’t been daily at all. Yesterday was a catch-up day for laundry, too, because I’ve missed that train as well.

What happened, you may ask. Well, that last week of March we went on vacation and I apparently never came back. Now, it hasn’t totally been wasted time. I’ve been focusing on spiritual things, reading “Flunking Sainthood” and “The Only Necessary Thing,” a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen. I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer and meditating on God’s Word. I guess you could say I’ve been cleaning up internal clutter. But good grief. I’ve dropped the ball with my home. (The blessed and beautiful thing here is that I can pick it back up). It’s not like I’ve lost all the progress that has been made – I haven’t, and it will only take a couple of days to get back on track. But I’ve learned something about myself. I’m no different than my children – if I’m not constantly reminded, oh, how quickly I forget. And the only person to remind me is, well – me. Maybe I need a sticker chart.

Day 103 ~ Lost Identity

simple livingYesterday I spent the morning with a mentor, and she taught me the finer points of truffle making. I learned why and how we temper chocolate, and how to make wonderfully flavored ganache. We had two white chocolate ganaches – one with jalapeño jelly and one with orange and ginger. Then we “enrobed” the ganache in the tempered chocolate. Afterward, because I was without my kids, I took a sandwich and a book to Standley Lake (a local reservoir) and sat on a bench on a high hill overlooking the water. I ate, and read, and enjoyed myself. Then, since my little one was with her daddy, I picked up my older child (she’ll be fourteen in a couple of weeks) and we sat outdoors at Starbucks drinking coffee and chatting like old friends. I’m very blessed in the fact that my teen-aged daughter likes to spend time with me.

Why do I tell you all this, you may ask? I almost always live my life for someone else. I rarely do exactly what I want to do, and it was such a refreshing experience to do just that. I usually put someone else’s needs before my own, and I assume this is true for others as well. I know it’s true for moms in general – we always eat the burnt piece of toast, let our kiddo pick the movie, go to McDonald’s when what we really want is a sit down restaurant with real food where someone actually waits on us. For homeschooling moms it’s an even bigger issue because we’re almost never alone. Throw my personality into the mix, with a love language of Acts of Service (if you don’t know about the 5 Love Languages – check here), and I end up showing love to my family by completely ignoring my own wants and needs. I’ve done this for so long that I don’t even know what I really want anymore. And this is how I’ve lost myself in being a mother.

I have friends who always wanted to be a wife and mother. That was their dream – their passion. And so when they became a wife and mother, they felt immensely satisfied. This was not true for me. In fact, as a young adult, I thought I’d possibly never get married, and certainly not before I was 30. But then I met my dear husband, and it was so obvious that we were meant to walk through life together that I said “I Will” and never looked back. I have two beautiful daughters whom I love with everything in me, and I wouldn’t trade my life with anybody for any reason. However… there’s still this identity I seem to have lost, and in my 40’s I’m still searching for who I really am. I know there are other mothers out there who relate, because I see them. You know who I’m talking about. You see that mom walking through the parking lot with a couple of gorgeous children. Your eye is drawn to them because they’re such cute kiddos. Then you look at mom. She’s got two inches of roots grown out from her last hair color or perm. Her shirt has a big stain on it. There are shadows under her eyes. And you just know that she’s set her own life aside to care for her family.

As I search for true missional living, I know it involves finding those things I’m passionate about and doing them … well… passionately. I feel this way about being my husband’s wife. I feel this way about my daughters. I absolutely do NOT feel this way about being a housewife, or home manager, or domestic diva – it really doesn’t matter what you call it. I could name it Queen of All Things, and still I wouldn’t love it. But I know I can find pockets of true satisfaction within the life I’ve chosen, I simply need to act, not just talk about it. I need to spend more time in the kitchen, where I’m really, truly happy. I need to be more creative. I used to sew, for heaven’s sake – one of my first blog posts was about how I. Used. To. Sew. And I think I need more Mommy-Girl time with my children. I need to just carve it out every couple of weeks, because it was incredibly satisfying to connect with my child with absolutely nothing else demanding my attention.

And so I search. I pray. I listen. And I continue striving to live an authentic life where I don’t always present a perfect picture and I honestly try to share my journey. A couple of my readers have commented that sharing my life could be part of my mission. Maybe so. This is why I continue the work of removing internal clutter. I love my family, I give to my friends, I analyze myself and I write this journal. As I do, I am confident I will find more and more things I’m truly passionate about, a bit like panning for gold. I have to shake out all the detritus and remove all the pebbles, but every once in a while during the work I discover a little nugget. And so I look for those pockets of joy and I wait for those nuggets of gold, and in the process I find my way.

Day 100 ~ Invariable

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wild roses

“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.”  ~ George Orwell

It’s interesting what’s happened in the first months of my “project.” I started writing this little online journal as a record of all the organizational changes I was making in my home. Although there are lots of projects I can still do and am doing, and although there has been progress – the progress has been painfully slow and I find that it’s hard to stay motivated and excited about it. Not impossible – just hard. Really hard. But as I’ve gone through the process, I’ve unearthed something else that is really at the core of it all. I’ve unearthed my own discontent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have many things to be happy about in this life, and I don’t take them for granted. I practice gratitude daily. But I realize that I’m a coveter. Coveting is just wanting something you don’t have, and I want all sorts of things I don’t have. The problem with wanting things and having goals to get them, is those goals can become little gods, the absolute be all and end all of each day. Lately, as I’ve become more aware of this general state of being, I catch myself thinking things that are really not productive. I find myself thinking that when my house is in order and running the way I want it to, I’ll be happier. Now, this may be true, but the result is that I feel LESS happy right now. It goes on all the time. “If my yard were better, then…” Or, “The city’s making me crazy. If I just lived in a smaller town…” Or, “I need something that’s just mine (I can insert anything here, but career is frequently the word). Then I’d be satisfied.” Then just yesterday, I was on facebook looking at pictures of a phenomenal reunion between a friend of mine and the twins she gave up for adoption eighteen years ago, and instead of being overwhelmed with happiness for her, I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow. Look at her kitchen. If I had a kitchen like that…” Okay, I was actually very, very happy for her, but the kitchen thought did creep in.

I’ve come to realize that I need to work on my contentment level. Paul in the Bible says that he has learned contentment in every situation, but I am so NOT there yet. I don’t quite know how to get there, but this I do know. It’s an internal issue. I can organize my whole house. I can throw out all the unnecessary junk. I can find my mission. I can lose thirty pounds. I can buy new clothes, remodel my kitchen, plant the garden I want – and still I will be dissatisfied if I cannot learn to be content where I am right now. I think that kind of contentment is somewhat supernatural. I know that it’s intangible. It’s this invisible thing I can’t quite put my finger on. But it’s essential.

And so… I continue to do “the work.” I do the work of better fitness, better organizational systems, better planning. I also do the internal work that leads me toward greater simplicity and true contentment. In pursuit of these things, I’ve changed some aspects of my day. I’ve started the discipline of centering prayer, the purpose of which is to practice being in the presence of God. Of course, I’m centered on the Lord for about two minutes before I catch myself mentally making a grocery list, but the key word is “practice.” I keep bringing myself back to the stillness in which I can know God, and it will get easier as I do it more. I’ve also been repeating the Jesus Prayer several times a day – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I focus on the meaning of each of the four parts. I recognize the lordship of Jesus, I express my faith that He is who He said He is, I acknowledge my own position in relation to Him, and I receive the grace He freely offers me. When I do this consistently, well – my goodness, if all else doesn’t dim in comparison.

And then, I continue to practice gratitude. Thank you that I am alive. Thank you for the richness of my relationships. Thank you for the freedom to express myself. And thank you for the power to change, which resides in me.

Day 96 ~ Dispassionate Homemaking

I truly love spring. I love the newness of life. And I love lilacs, which I’ve brought into the house, along with their delicious fragrance. As an aside, some people don’t realize that because of their woody nature, you have to pound the cut end of the lilac branch with a hammer, splitting the wood and creating more surface area for the branch to draw water. Otherwise, these beauties will wilt within a few hours.

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Lilacs from the garden

Today has been a “day in the life.” Nothing spectacular has happened. We put grass seed on bare patches in our front yard (and by we I mean my husband). Normal household chores are being done. And I am facing projects that involve sorting – sorting and organizing, my least favorite things to do. I wish I could be passionate about homemaking. It would make my whole life happier, because that’s what I find myself spending the most time on. My problem is that I don’t feel passionate about these things I do. I feel that my whole existence requires me to operate in my area of greatest weakness and so I’m constantly falling short. (If this sounds like a familiar theme – it is. I continue to struggle with this same issue).

There is a blog written by a young woman called -of all things – Passionate Homemaking. She has hundreds, maybe thousands of readers, so she clearly resonates with people. But when I read her stuff, I find myself feeling like we are living in two absolutely different spheres. I can’t even try to run my home like she does. I wish I could – she says she’s loving simple, natural, intentional living. Who wouldn’t want that? I am a dispassionate homemaker (I guess). Of course, I have to run my home, I just don’t have it in me to be Martha Stewart. I suppose it’s not my mission. The question I have about missional living is this: how do you find your mission when you feel like you’ve been sidetracked and you’re not even sure exactly what you’re looking for?

Fleshing out this question this week, I’ve been reading “Flunking Sainthood” by Jana Riess. This is more my speed (compared to the aforementioned blog) because this woman is far from perfect. Each month she attempts a different spiritual practice, and in falling far short of her goals, learns some valuable life lessons. During one month in a chapter she calls, “Meeting Jesus in the Kitchen … or Not,” she studies Brother Lawrence (some monk from days gone by who did all of his monkly work in the kitchen) and works on mindfulness – being fully present in what she’s doing and thereby finding her creator in those daily tasks. Brother Lawrence was never made a saint by the Catholic church, and the author at one point says, “It suddenly strikes me why I’m so sensitive about Brother Lawrence’s lack of official saintly creds: He’s an underappreciated housewife, the one everyone takes for granted. He’s … a bit like me, and like a whole lot of people I know.” This is a work in process for me – finding my creator in tasks I despise. I simply have to say to myself – I work so hard, and I’m making change, and it’s possible the only one who sees it at all is God. And that must be enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m doing it for me, too. I’m doing for my family. And I’m hoping along the way that I trip over my mission in all the clutter.

Day 93 ~ Candy for Breakfast

Monday, I chaperoned a field trip my daughter took downtown. We visited the Capitol, did a tour (including the attic – lots and lots of stairs). I must give a little shout out here because my kiddo and a classmate led the Pledge of Allegiance in the House of Representatives. Then we walked to the U.S. Mint and did that tour, then we walked to the museum where we went through the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab. Then we walked back to the Capitol, where the cars were parked.

Now, I like to think I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’ve been consistently doing morning exercise and consciously eating better. But after all day walking and standing, I seriously felt like I might die. After the field trip, we raced home so I could get my little one to gymnastics, then we had to get dinner on the table and after eating, I thought my head might fall into my soup, so to speak. I got into my pj’s  and crawled into bed to read at 8:30, and the next thing I know, my husband is pulling the book out of my hands and turning off the light because I’d fallen asleep. I was barely aware of him and totally zonked out for the rest of the night at that point. Someone, please tell me this is not my future. I want more energy. I need more stamina. How, oh how, do I get it back?

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So, yesterday was a recovery day. I’m amazed that I needed it, but I did. I’m still kind of dragging. In fact, this morning at the grocery store, chocolate peanut butter cups started calling to me while I was in line. And I didn’t resist. I bought them (organic dark chocolate and protein in the peanut butter, so not completely, entirely bad for me – right?). I went home, poured a cup of coffee, and had candy for breakfast. And I must admit that after that, the whole day looked brighter. So, I’m leaving a little note to my perfectionist self:

No one is perfect, dear self. Life is all about choices and each opportunity to choose brings with it the opportunity to change. But change doesn’t happen all at once, so don’t give up. Don’t quit. Keep going.

You, too – dear reader.

Day 87 ~ Keeping on Keeping On

simplicityHow do you change? How do you truly, honestly make changes in your life? It can be extremely difficult, but one thing is necessary – a plan. I have a plan, but my life is spinning like a whirlwind and I’m having trouble executing the plan. I simply run out of time and energy by the time I get all my “have-tos” done. I have friends that seem to get it all done and done well, and to me they seem superhuman. I truly wonder how they do it all – they homeschool, they grow and preserve their own food, they craft, their houses are neat and beautiful, and their children are always polite. They have clever organizing ideas and are always doing projects. And at this late date, they’re not trying to schedule a time to get Easter outfits for the kiddos. Maybe they don’t sleep.

In my own life, take today, for instance. I have been very successful changing my daily routine, and my house is more ordered because of it. But, this morning … This morning, the lovely woman who scrubs my house every four weeks came to do her thing. In my rush to get my elder daughter to school, and my younger daughter and myself to our homeschool commonwealth, I found myself pushing a huge box of paper (throw – shred – file) under a table with my foot. Guess what? I did the same thing four weeks ago. I mean I pushed the Exact. Same. Box. Then in the bedroom, I moved a box of clothes folded and packed to give to charity. I moved it so vacuuming could be done, and I had déjà vu. I moved the same box four weeks ago. I mean the same box with the Exact. Same. Clothes.

So, I’ve decided some things.
1. I am not superhuman. I must sleep. And I will be happier if I choose to focus on my own gifts and talents and simply admit I will never be “those people.”
2. I must do more than the daily routine. My goal for the next two weeks is to complete the throw – shred – file pile, and get some charitable giving done. I cannot bear the imagined humiliation of having those boxes taking up space any longer.
3. My goal for this blog will be posting three times a week. When I first started, I posted every day but Sunday, but since then – well, reality has set in. I’ve missed lots of days, and I realize I must maintain some consistency or I will lose sight of my goals.

So, thank you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride. Thank you for the comments here and on facebook that encourage me. I’ll see you again on these pages in a couple of days.