Balancing Act

Failure.

It’s an ugly word really, with ugly emotions attached to it.

I’m not through organizing the laundry room, but it’s definitely in progress. It’s not stalled. The project isn’t a failure. It’s creating an enormous mess in my den, which is frustrating, and it’s taking longer than I imagined it would (typical, by the way), which is frustrating, and I hate going in there to actually do laundry because of the half-doneness, which is frustrating… Need I go on?

But it’s still going. We worked on it some just this morning. We’ve given wooden puzzles away so they can be played with again, we have a stack of coats and things to bless someone with, we’ve thrown away 100-year-old silver polish and carpet cleaner and broken umbrellas. It’s going to be wonderful and functional once it’s finished.

Part of the reason it’s taking so long is because, you know, life keeps happening. I have to keep homeschooling, and cooking, and food shopping, and washing sheets, and, well … grooming. If I could put it all aside, the project would take no time. Added to that, I’m trying something else new, and here’s where the anxiety comes storming in.

I’ve decided to implement a new form for keeping my house tidy, so I’m not afraid to open the door and let in an unexpected guest. It’s the Three-Point System from Organizing From the Heart, whereby I choose the three most important zones in my house, and I keep them tidy, always. I’ve chosen my kitchen, the downstairs bathroom, and my front room.

I know. For you organization gurus this sounds like child’s play. Try to empathize with me, because this plays to my absolute greatest weakness…

It’s not hard, not objectively. It’s just that I’ve tried many other systems before, and … here’s the hideous word … failed.

I won’t go through everything that I’ve tried that’s flopped. It isn’t necessary. But I am determined that this time will be different, because for the first time, I’m dealing with it on a spiritual level. First, I’ve spent some time truly thanking God for those rooms, and the blessings they bring. Then, with thanksgiving, I’ve asked God to fill my mind with little creative miracles that I can implement to bring order and peace. Finally, I’ve chosen to treat this as an act of worship. I will bring order from chaos, as God did in the beginning, as an act of worship to Him.

Doing this has forced me to change my perspective. All my attempts and failures were not really failures. They were opportunities for me to discover what systems don’t work for me. This time, I will not stop until I find a system that works smoothly. Did you hear that? I will not stop. I figure, even if I only average ten minutes a day toward a smoothly and peacefully running home, by this time next year, I will have 52 hours under my belt toward that goal. By that time, even if my house is not exactly like I want it, I will surely have areas in my home where I have made room for new blessing by clearing out the disorder. As my younger daughter says, frequently… Slow and steady wins the race. The following is a quote I’ve come across in my reading this week, and it resonated to such an extent with me, I’m hanging it on my kitchen window where I can read it every day:

On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur. ~ Evelyn Underhill

SquirrelinHopacrab

I reject feelings of hurry and impatience. I will not stop until I am finished, no matter how long it takes. I refuse to continue living life like an amateur, and am determined, as much as it is in my power, to live it expertly. Eventually, I will be like this little squirrel I see every morning in my hopa crab tree, feasting on drying crabapples. He sits on a branch that is far too small to hold his weight (one would think, anyway), and as the breeze sways him, he nonchalantly balances there picking fruit. Instead of standing back over thinking it, convincing myself I’ll fall because I’ve fallen before, wondering if it is even possible…

Instead…

I will faithfully walk out, knowing it can be done, believing I have been gifted to do it, and I will achieve that previously elusive thing.

Balance.

 

 

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Amazing Grace

A few weeks ago, my husband noticed a skinny little feline coming around. We actually have lots of cats in the neighborhood and I know several by name (Diego, Cleo, Purry, …), but the look of this guy said stray. He was skin and bones and he would sit at our french doors and gaze through the glass with longing. (Well, that’s how I interpreted it anyway). We have two cats ourselves. We are cat people. So, it came as little surprise when my husband said we should feed him.

Building Trust

What he really meant, of course, was, “Let’s adopt him,” because I knew that feeding a hungry stray meant committing to the possibility of a long-term relationship. Then my husband named him – Enkidu (a character from ancient mythology), and I knew it was already a done deal. So, we fed him. Soon it was twice a day. At first, he ran off the deck when I opened the door to come out, crouching on the ground, watching me guardedly. He would only come up to the dish after I went back inside, and then he’d devour it. He was so hungry, poor thing. Now, he rubs my ankles when I come out, mewing and letting me pet him, but he still just eats and runs.

Enkidu

I asked my husband if he was sure he was good with the fact that we were spending money to feed this cat, and we were basically getting nothing from the arrangement. He said, “Absolutely.” For him, Enkidu is a daily picture of Grace. This is how we come to God – somewhat bedraggled, needy, unwilling to trust. Frequently, we only come because we want something. Yet God is there, offering what we need and so much more, patiently waiting for us to realize that we can have a relationship with Him. Yet He lets us take it at our own pace. He never forces anything. And then one day we recognize that He’s absolutely trustworthy. We crawl into His lap. We cease scrabbling through life, distrusting everyone and struggling to survive. Instead, we connect with the One who loves us.

This is the illustration God has given us in Enkidu. So now, when his little face shows up at the french door, I take his food out like always. But I’ve added the whispered prayer, “Thank you God, for Your amazing grace.”

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.

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 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.

Day 85 ~ Snow in April

Well, Spring Break is over and it’s time for real life again. (Predictably) I have no pictures to share. Why, you may ask? Well, I made a list before the trip. I put “camera” on the list. Then I never looked at the list again, and we forgot the camera. So, I took a bunch of pictures on my phone, but I don’t have the appropriate cable to transfer them to the computer. And, I don’t do the smart phone route, so I can’t email them. And this, in a nutshell, is what I’m trying to fix about my life. I’m trying to remember to read the list!

Being a vacationer is extremely enjoyable. We had cash in our pocket, a hotel room someone else was cleaning, and wonderful meals prepared by restaurant staff. We didn’t have to do anything we didn’t actually want to do. I love vacation. But then, vacation ends, and we have to go back to the routine of regular life. It can actually be a little depressing.

So, when I feel the drudgery of life closing in, I go looking for my joy. Frequently, I find it in gratitude, and I have much to be thankful for. On an extremely simple level, the fruit trees are blooming in Denver, and they’re beautiful. They signify hope, renewal, growth, and all good things.

Colorado Beauty

On a deeper level, this past week just west of Denver a vicious wildfire has been burning. Nearly 30 homes have been destroyed, and 3 people have died. The parents of a friend from church had fifteen minutes to evacuate, and escaped just moments before their house caught fire and burned to the ground. They lost every single thing they owned. They lost their cat and all the birds they own as breeders. I honestly don’t know how one deals with that kind of devastation. When something horrible happens, I always take a moment to take stock, because – really – none of us knows how many moments we have on this earth. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chores, the responsibilities, the things that must be done, that sometimes we forget to simply live and let those we love know that we do. So today I am practicing being thankful.

Lower North Fork Wildfire

I am thankful for my husband and beautiful girls. I am thankful for my extended family, and my many friends. I am thankful for my slightly dilapidated house because it’s not just a roof over our heads, it’s the holder of daily joy, warmth, love and security. I am thankful God loves me. And today, I’m thankful  that in Colorado warm weather, extremely dry conditions and violent winds can be followed the next day by 30 degree temps and snow. The snow is covering my favorite blossoms, but it’s a gift to the firefighters and so I end by saying, “Thank you, God, for snow in April.”

Day 76 ~ Migraines and Clutter Bombs

My life has gone crazy. Well, not more than anyone else’s life goes nuts, but it hasn’t been normal. First, my little one got sick with a strange infection. Then my daughter was in the state poetry recitation finals. Then I got a migraine – my first “real” one all year, and it incapacitated me for about three days. I still have the hint of it playing around the periphery, so I’m being very careful not to move my head too quickly. All this has caused me to be amazed.

I’m amazed at how many dishes are in my sink. I’m still not caught up, though the dishwasher is now full of clean dishes, so I’m almost there. I’m amazed at how three days without the 10-minute tidy results in my house looking like the Clutter Monster exploded a clutter bomb. When Mama goes down for the count, all sorts of things quit getting done. And I’m amazed at how discouraged I feel that a few days out of whack seems to take me back to the starting point.

However…

One reason I’m writing this online journal is because I really, truly do NOT want to quit. I want to reach my goals. Writing does

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Hopacrab (which I'm probably not spelling right).

several things. For one, it keeps me accountable. I know someone is reading, someone is wondering how my progress is going, and so I don’t want to let that someone down. But writing does something else. It acts as a catalyst. All those thoughts and emotions that get swept aside in the frenzy to get things done, well … they get brought out and analyzed in order to write a post. And that analysis helps me feel better, which I can’t really explain, but it’s the truth.

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Tulips in my garden.

So today, I’ll get caught up in the kitchen. Then tomorrow, maybe I’ll accomplish some of those things I’ve been writing and re-writing on my action items list for days. Then, because my children are on spring break, I’ll be absent for a few days as we’re heading out to soak in some therapeutic mineral springs and enjoy springtime in the Rockies. I’ll post pictures when we’re back.

Springtime has landed here, too, with tulips and fruit trees in bloom. There’s beauty all around, and it has inspired me. After a few days off, I will come out swinging. Beware, Clutter Monster…