Moving Sand – One Grain at a Time

A few days ago, I clicked on a blog post about ants being wise.

Okay. Not exactly that, but this post quoted a proverb which said to look to the ant, and be wise. It went like this:

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.
Learn from their ways and become wise! ~ Proverbs 6:6

I wish I could find the post, but alas! It’s not to be. It has disappeared into the ether. So I’m very sorry to whoever wrote it — you won’t be getting credit from me here. I tried.

The gist of the post was that this man needed to write a Ph.D. dissertation, and he was too busy procrastinating to do it, due to feeling overwhelmed. Have you ever been there? You feel so overwhelmed that it’s paralyzing. A friend bought him an ant farm, and what he noticed was this: although, up close, the ants were only moving one grain of sand at a time, over time they ultimately changed their entire environment. He started viewing everything as a grain of sand. I will write one sentence (and move one grain of sand). I will research one idea (and move one grain of sand). In the end … he had a dissertation.

Moving sand.

It’s become my mantra. As we work through the simplifying and organizing of our home, I try not to look at the big picture. The big picture is overwhelming. I simply take one step at a time. This last weekend, my husband and I sorted and cleaned the walk-in closet in our bedroom. This closet is huge — the size of a small bedroom — and we started by emptying it into the room itself.

At this point I felt like I might cry. It seemed insurmountable.DP208:04:15DP408:04:15

Stuff was piled everywhere, and I told my husband — I’m taking a break, before I’m the one breaking.

He came and found me, and said, “You’re just moving grains of sand. That’s all you’re doing.” God bless my husband, because even though I was saying it … moving sand, moving sand … hearing it helped me tremendously. I hold each grain in my hand, and I decide if it belongs with me, or with someone else. That I can do. Ultimately, we filled 13 bags with things that can move on and bless others… 13 bags of sand. With all of that newly created space, the closet floor and the vacuum were able to get reacquainted. DP308:04:15

Advertisements

Change is in the Heart of the Beholder

Today, I cleaned out a couple of purses, in an ongoing project happening in the master bedroom (purses I hadn’t used in months, so, what I’m saying is — this should have happened a long time ago). I found so many interesting things, such as:

1. about 2 dozen stamps (yes, stamps, to mail those old-fashioned things called letters);

2. about 100 pens and pencils (okay, yes, I’m exaggerating, but the empty pen cup is now full to overflowing);

DP207:31:15

3. about 1,000 receipts (okay, again an exaggeration, but sheesh! I had a problem, which no longer exists — I don’t hold onto receipts anymore and that, my friends, is progress); and

4. this card.
DP07:31:15The card is interesting, in this journey toward simplicity. It is telling, because it shows how I used to approach this huge project of organizing my house and my life. I approached it by not treating it as a project at all, but as a series of little things. If I do this little thing, followed by this little thing, eventually I’ll have what I want. But it didn’t really work that way. I never actually got where I wanted to be. I never gained ground. Instead, I felt like a giant bulldozer moving stuff from here ——-> to here, but the only thing accomplished was that it was moved. It wasn’t any better than before.

The card ultimately served to encourage me today. The first two little things on my short list were accomplished. The shredder is in the kitchen, which certainly helps me keep on top of the mail. And the litter boxes are in the laundry room, which was thoroughly sorted, cleaned, and put back in a functional manner. The most visible evidence of that functionality is that games and puzzles, which used to live in three different closets in the house, now all hang out in the same place. They are happy (if stuff could really be happy) and we are happy. DP307:31:15

It is the third thing, however, which truly opened my eyes to how I’ve changed. “CYLC – re-start.” CYLC stand for “Change Your Life Challenge,” one of many systems I tried (unsuccessfully, I might add) to implement to help me stay organized and tidy. I would start … and stop. Try … and fail. Get up and try again … and fail. Get up and try a third time … and fail.

But that is the past. I’m no longer failing. I’m seeing progress. I’m happier in my home … and the question is Why? The answer is quite simply that I quit trying so hard to change my environment and instead, I changed … me. God gave me this inspiration, a vision (so to speak) in my imagination. I visualized a beaver dam, with an beaver pond created behind it, and only a trickle of water flowing out of it downstream. I understood that this represented my life. I had created a dam (by the way I was living), and all that water was blessing. I was blocking it from flowing. For example (one of many, many examples)…  I had this short-sleeved green shirt that was, quite honestly, ugly on me. Yet because of my attitude (something I had internalized, I’m not quite sure what, but I’ll call it poverty mentality), I wouldn’t get rid of it. It was functional. It fit. So even though I really, truly did not like it, I continued to wear it.

I didn’t want the  beaver pond, though. What I wanted was a rushing stream, where the blessing not only flowed to me, but through me and on to others. I started going through a small ritual when I would sort through things where I would open up my hand and say, “My hand is open to share. My had is open to bless others.” So, that green shirt? It’s been given to a charity, where I hope someone has picked it up who feels amazing in it.

To close for today, dear reader, I want to share the titles of three books I’ve read this past year that have helped me change my perspective, my relationship with my stuff, and my sense of walking in blessing instead of lack.

Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges by Stephanie Baker, Beth Beutler, & Karina Whisnant — If you use this book, make sure to do the work (the meditations and reflections). The journaling I did with this book changed me.

the life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondo — Marie is (the tiniest bit) obsessive, but I loved this book nonetheless. She got me asking the question, “Does this spark joy?”

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp — This book is lyrical, and encouraging. It helped me focus on releasing my discontent and frustration, and instead facing each moment looking for blessing and expressing gratitude.

Until next time… May the blessing of God overtake you.

Not Idle

Well, dear reader, I’ve taken a major hiatus from writing, but I haven’t been idle. If you remember from a recent post (and why should you, because by recent I mean several months ago), I downloaded a book onto my kindle about the spiritual roots of disorganization. I then proceeded to lose my kindle. I searched everywhere I could think of, but no…. it was surely and truly lost in the shuffle. I believe this can be classified as ironic.

It was lost for about four months. (Yes – four months! Egad!) Then one day, my husband says to me, “What have you done with my electric razor charger?” (Asking me what I’ve done with something is a running joke in our house. I, of course, have not touched his charger. He loses things too…) He told me he was charging his razor overnight, and he didn’t want the light that flashes while charging to keep me awake, so he didn’t do it in our bathroom, but instead (he was certain) he charged it in the schoolroom. So, I proceeded to turn the schoolroom upside-down, in an attempt to locate it. And lo and behold, peeking out from between the modem and the edge of the computer desk, covered by a small cloth, was…

I don’t even have to finish that sentence, do I? No, of course not, because in this most perfect of hiding places, as if I had hidden it on purpose, is my KINDLE!!! For the love of Pete, why, oh why, oh why would I put it there? That, my friends is the question.

The charger, since you’re all dying to know, was ultimately located in the medicine cabinet of the downstairs bathroom, the most logical place for it to be. Alas.

On with the story…

The book on my kindle is Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges. It’s a workbook of sorts, and I’ve committed to working through it. The first question I had to ask is,”What is disorganization costing me?” I prayerfully considered it, and I finally wrote in my journal, “I feel shame.” Admitting that was an incredibly powerful moment for me. I also wrote in my journal that the last time I felt organized in my home was when I felt consistently good physically (which was really pre-cancer) and when money was not a stressor (also pre-cancer). Cancer, for me, was like tripping during a foot race, landing hard on my hands and knees, and never managing to get back up on sure footing. We call 2007 our Cancer Year, because I was sick for nine months of it. I was hospitalized multiple times, and on two of those occasions there was a real risk that I wouldn’t leave the hospital. Having the management, the control of my life wrested from me so completely, knocked me flat in a profoundly internal way. What happened in 2007 is that my ability to believe that God wants good things for me, in fact the best things, was violently shaken. There’s a major lesson in Trust within this, one I’m still grappling to get hold of.

And so, after SEVEN years of dealing with things on the surface, but never digging deep (for instance, cleaning my house on a schedule but never cleaning out a closet, either physically or emotionally), I’m FINALLY ready and willing to deal with the root spiritual issues. I have this vision of my home being peaceful, open and soothing, a place where we can love God and love one another, and with this in sight, I’m taking a stand. I’m committing to cleaning out the ashes and rubble so that new things can grow.

In pursuit of this, a few days ago I stood in my laundry room (the place I have chosen to start) and I engaged in this spiritual work. I thanked God for this room — it really is quite awesome — and for all the things stored there: games, puzzles, winter wear, and cleaning supplies. I thanked Him for the new high-efficiency furnace and water heater we’ve recently installed. I then tapped through every negative feeling that I’ve had regarding organizing. (You can look at  Conquering my Emotional Kitchen for an explanation of tapping). I also, while tapping through the circuit, thanked God that I am created in His image and, as He brought order from chaos, I, too, can bring order out of chaos as an act of worship. (I’d like to say here, there’s nothing magical about tapping. Tapping while praying just helps me, on a deep emotional level, to internalize the promises of God).

Then I simply started. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and I’ve already had this beautiful, symbolic moment. I came across a bag, filled with thin books and papers, and I sat down with it to sort through it. I thought it was music, but it wasn’t. It was a bunch of cancer support materials. With a sense of lightness I walked out to the trash, and dropped it in. It was freeing.

Bit by bit, moment by moment, I clear out the old and dead and make room for a new thing.

NotIdle

When Life is Unraveling … Tie a Knot

I’ve been sick for about two months, and I’m surrounded by little manifestations of the unraveling of my daily life. Today, taking my kiddo to school, the fuel light in the truck came on for the second time in about three weeks. In my real life, I never let the tank get that low. Our mortgage automatically debited out of our account on Saturday, and that morning I awoke about 6:20 with the horrible, panicky realization that I’d forgotten to make a necessary deposit. I’ve been late on so many bills I’ve lost count. In fact, the dairy left a note in our box saying delivery would stop until I caught up our account, which (shockingly) I hadn’t paid in two months!?! The truth is, life has become such a fight that I’ve quit paying attention to the details.

However, God’s grace has shown through, too. With the truck, I never ran out of gas and the one emergency stop I made to put in about one gallon (yes, I did that – slightly humiliating) happened on the one morning all year that we left the house with enough time to spare. Then the bank – the lovely bank – held my debit as “pending” until I could make the deposit; no fees for non-sufficient funds, no interruption of our automatic withdrawals … nothing. The other bills all got paid in time that no services were interrupted. In fact, there have been no adverse effects from my disorganization at all.

I tend to make light of things, to always accentuate the good. But I want the journaling I do here to be authentic. This is a safe place because, although it’s public, from my perspective I’m just sending my words out into the ether, into this great void. They are caught on the wind, swept away, swallowed, and releasing them in this way is cathartic for me. Yet in spite of this, I know some of my readers and I don’t want people to worry about me. So instead of speaking the truth, I’ve been mostly silent. The truth right now is painful. The truth goes something like this:

Life is hard. I struggle each day to find my joy. I want to be happy, but all I feel is sorrow. I don’t want to get up in the morning. Every day, I hit a point where I feel I can’t keep going, where I feel the tears prick behind my eyes and I fight to hold it together so my family doesn’t see me broken.

Added on to these things is the idea that as a Christian, I shouldn’t be feeling any of this. As a Christian, I should find my joy in Christ regardless of what’s happening in my life. As a Christian, I should claim victory in Jesus. I should be bold and strong because the Lord my God is with me. I should be fearless, at peace. I should be experiencing abundant life. Well …. I’m not — at least not right now.

I’ve experienced two things walking through these weeks of illness. First, my eyes have been opened to the daily battle of those who feel this way every day. My love and compassion for them has grown. My prayers are far more specific. The second is this: sometimes when you are in the midst of hardship, be it grief, despair, depression or something else –  God will give you a gift, a sparkling gem that lights up the darkness. This may be His peace, which passes all understanding. Or it may be the sweet, perfect words of encouragement coming from a friend. Or it may be some snippet of Scripture – words of truth – that pierce your spirit and renew your hope. But sometimes, God allows us to be in darkness. I think of fall bulbs that need both darkness and cold in order to bloom in breathtaking beauty in the spring. I know, with my whole heart, that God will bring me out of these shadows into a place of light. I know, with my whole heart, that God’s promises are true. I have the strength to wait in the darkness.

You see, in darkness, for those who ask, there is always an extremely precious gift available. It is the gift of God’s grace. We have this promise: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16  So that is what I do — I draw near to God through meditation, prayer, and worship; and my prayer becomes, “God, pour out your grace in my life. Wash over me with Your free, unmerited favor. You offer it, and I, through faith in Your Son – receive it.” I am an image-bearer of God. When people look on me, my hope and prayer is that they see the grace of God flowing through my life. In spite of my sadness and struggle, that is what I want others to see. In my life, my strongest desire is that they catch a glimpse of the face of God – love, grace, mercy … redemption.

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 130 ~ A Raised Bed Garden

Well, I’ve been gone a long time (almost two weeks). To be honest, I haven’t been feeling well, which hits me periodically since I had cancer. I’ve never come back to 100%, which I don’t quite understand. I wish I could find the solution. Ah, well…

Part of the journey I’m taking involves working out what it means to live missionally. We all should be the author of our own story, creating as we go. We are, after all, created in the image of God who created all things. I think the bug to be creative exists in most of us, but sometimes it gets squashed. For me, especially when I’m not feeling superb, the simple struggle of everyday existence can leave me with no energy left to create. But existing is depressing. Living is what we are meant to do. So today, I’m putting everything aside and trying something new.

Today, I’m spending time in my garden. My husband and father-in-law built me a raised bed garden for Mother’s Day. I’m slightly terrified because I’ve never grown anything but flowers, and I’ve managed to kill a fair number of them. And some, like these roses, bloom in spite of my best efforts.

But I love other people’s gardens. And I love food. So I’m trying something new and praying it all survives till the harvest. I’m planting a few seeds that a friend brought back for me from Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (and hoping I’m not too late). Then I’m also planting tomatoes, basil and oregano, because I have this vision of myself making my own pasta sauce. I’m starting small – this is my trial run. We’ll see where it takes me.

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.