Joy in the Midst

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month … my memories from the day I lost my hair due to chemo.

I woke up that morning, and my scalp hurt. It was a strange, exquisite kind of tenderness, a bit like the feeling when you let down a high ponytail you’ve been wearing all day. As the hair falls, after being tightly pulled in the up direction, you can feel it throb into the follicles.

I reached my hands up and gently pulled on the hair, trying to relieve that bizarre ache, and it came away in my hands. I sat up, and looking at the clump in my hand I felt no emotion at all – – only wonderment at the knowledge that I alone held in that moment: today was the day I would lose my hair.

I didn’t want this to freak out my children. I wanted it to be funny for them, a joke. I wanted them to laugh. So, we went outside. It was a breezy, beautiful spring day. Scan 49I said, “Look what Mommy can do,” as I pulled handfuls of hair out and let the blond strands go on the wind, floating out of the yard, over the fence, down the street. I said, “We can check birds’ nests this summer, and see how many have Mommy’s hair in them.” My two-year-old ran around, giggling. My eight-year-old, quiet and absorbed, was harder to read, but even she couldn’t help but catch some of the hilarity of it. I, too, laughed.

As the day progressed, the pain became intense. When my husband came home that night, I told him I couldn’t bear it and asked him to shave my head. He buzz cut the longer hair off, then used a razor to shave to the skin. The relief was immediate, as the hair was no longer there to irritate the scalp. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and thought, “This is me.”

This is me.

Open Hand

My family recently returned from our annual August trip to Vail, CO. Although known for its ski slopes, it’s an absolutely gorgeous (albeit, expensive) little town at 8,200 feet, where we spend a week hiking, swimming, and playing, along with reading and resting. It’s a true Sabbath for us.

Betty Ford Alpine Garden - Vail

Betty Ford Alpine Garden – Vail, CO

Then we return, and the school year begins. As a homeschool mom, my year becomes very scheduled starting in September, and my challenge this year is to incorporate the daily purging and simplifying into that schedule.

I must keep reminding myself what it is I seek … a home that is peaceful, open, and soothing. I seek a refuge.

Even though the actual work is repetitive drudgery, I still have these ah-ha moments, tiny epiphanies that leave me wondering why, for the love of Pete, it took me so long to figure it out. One came to me as I was working through the master bedroom (still in progress) and I came across this book: The Change Your Life Challenge. The fact that this book is happily packed up and on its way to bless someone else represents Massive Progress for me. I was able to release it from my home, thankful that it showed me it wasn’t the way for me.

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Did you catch what I said there? It wasn’t the way … for me. I tried this system three different times. I kept reading the testimonials, I kept telling myself, “This works! This works!” I kept reimplementing it, and … this is the kicker …. I kept finding fault with myself because it wasn’t working. And then, a while back, I was talking to a homeschooling friend about forms  — those systems we create in our homes to help things run smoothly — and she said, “The greatest form in the world, the one everyone says is The Answer, it may not be the right form for you. You really have to find your own way.” This little nugget of wisdom buried itself in my brain, to sit and germinate for a bit.

Fast forward to the moment I came across this book in my daily work. I held it in my hand, and the Spirit reached back into my memories and grabbed this nugget, bringing it to the forefront. The Spirit, which knew the truth all along, spoke to my soul and I realized … the fault is not with myself. There is no fault, really. This is just a system, a form, which does not work for me. The epiphany was sudden, and strong, like the light of the sun shining into a dark, dusty corner. This awesome system, this amazing system… is not my system. And so, with thanksgiving that it came into my life to show me it wasn’t the way, thereby leading onto the path I now walk…

I released it.

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);

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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.

Self-Improvement Makes Me Cry

My life, at the moment, is one huge self-improvement project. I seek to sweep out the clutter, not just in my physical environment, but in my internal one as well. I’m currently in an adult project with my homeschool commonwealth, and I’ve decided to share a paper I recently wrote for that project. We read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and our assignment was to write about what we would need in our life to bring about change, in the same manner that the three spirits brought about change for Ebenezer Scrooge. Well … here it is.

Flower_Buds

If one were to ask me what is the most important change I need to make in my life, I would respond that I need to be more fit. I need to improve my level of fitness because I have chronic aches and pains, I lose energy midday, and I still carry around the baby weight from my last pregnancy – TEN years ago.

There is a disconnect, however, between knowing what needs to happen and having it happen. I have tried many programs of exercise, but none have had staying power. Something inevitably happens to derail me – either my back starts to hurt me, or my sinuses clog up, or my schedule gets crazy and I miss too many days. So, what would need to happen for me to make a change that is lasting?

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits of Christmas, and in showing him his life from a new perspective, they are the catalyst of life change in Scrooge. They changed him because they helped him see the truth of his life in a way that was shadowed to him previously. They turned on the light, so to speak.

In my situation, I also need the light turned on. In thinking about it, I’ve drawn a couple of conclusions about what will make that happen. First, I need to really know myself, and understand what will work for me and what will be possible to maintain. Second, and flowing out of the first, I need to recognize, face and clear the underlying emotional and spiritual issues that prevent me from changing.

In order to know myself and predict what will effect lasting change, I look to another area of my life where I have recently experienced success in bringing about change. This area is in my home, in bringing about order and clearing out clutter. This is another situation in my life where I tried many programs, many systems, and never achieved success… until now. What has changed? I’ve finally changed my perspective and started looking at my physical space through spiritual eyes. I recognized that emotional issues have been preventing me from experiencing the change I longed for, and I started to prayerfully deal with those issues head on. Additionally, I started to view organizing as an act of worship, as I bring order from chaos as God did in the beginning. In short, I’ve begun to perceive the value in my home keeping goals as it relates to my walk with Christ, and doing so has given me hope of lasting results.

So how do I relate my level of fitness to my walk with Christ? I think the answer is twofold. The first part isn’t hard, and involves simply acknowledging that when I feel better and have more energy, I’ll be able to accomplish more. Also, when I feel better physically, I naturally feel better emotionally, and I’ll want to accomplish more. This “more” isn’t just consistency in my devotional time, but also a greater capacity to serve, to love, and to do the practical things in living out my faith.

The second is harder because it involves belief. If I truly believe that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not as a metaphor but as a reality, then I will be driven by love and gratitude to care for my body. And therein lies the crux…

Love and gratitude.

Love and gratitude, not just for God Himself and for the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, but for this body He has given me.

Yes, love and gratitude for this body He has given me. This. This. This is my great struggle, and this is the critical thing I must face if the light is going to come on and stay on and shine into this part of my life. You see, I don’t feel love or gratitude. In fact, if I’m completely honest what I feel is ugly to admit and unbelievably challenging to face. What I feel is anger.

I’m angry that my body is covered in scars. I’m angry that I still experience nerve pain, and scar tissue pain so many years post surgery. I’m angry that my breasts aren’t my own. I’m angry that they had to dissect my back muscles to help reconstruct what had been destroyed. I’m angry that my chest wall is numb and I can’t feel my husband’s touch. This anger must be directed somewhere and so it is directed at this body that betrayed me, this body that bears battle scars from a war I never wanted to fight.

I’ve had people tell me that I should be amazed by my body, by its ability to heal and survive and adjust. And although I know this to be a true thing in my head, I cannot force my heart to agree. So how do I release it, how do I clear it, how do I get rid of the exquisite tenderness I still feel when I think of what cancer has left me with? What will be the equivalent of three Christmas spirits in my life that will help me turn a head truth into a heart truth?

The answer to this isn’t an easy one. It is a work, not some magical one-night experience. Every day, I read the quote I have taped up to my kitchen window. It says, “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.” This isn’t a race. This life change I seek will not occur overnight. It will occur as I engage in the work.

This work will consist of different things, all necessary and none sufficient on its own. I know myself, and I know that setting a long-term goal could be very discouraging for me if I don’t see results fast enough. So I won’t set one. I’ll only set a goal for today. I’ve had measurable results using EFT (emotional freedom tapping) in other areas of my life, so I will turn that work toward my relationship with my body, and I will gradually clear the ugliness away. I will pray. I will work my muscles and breathe deeply and drink more water and be more intentional about nutrition. Yes, today I will do those things. I have the strength to commit to today.

Then tomorrow, I will rise and I will ask myself if I have the strength to commit for one day. Past failures are irrelevant. Future successes are like fog on the horizon. All that matters, and all I can control, is what I choose to do today. So today, I will engage in the work. Each day, I will choose, and when my choice is, “do the work,” I will mark it as a small step toward the light.

The Ongoing Quest

I’ve had this to post for the longest time, but the Holidays happened, and my home turned into a rush of decorating, baking, giving, fellowshipping, entertaining, and celebrating. It was lovely, and I hope yours was as well, dear reader.

The laundry room is clean, organized, functional, and I am so thrilled at the accomplishment. I’ve tried so many systems and plans and programs, which haven’t worked, that I do believe the most paralyzing thing I’ve been facing all along is the fear of failure. But it’s absolutely working, and the feeling is really wonderful. All the games live there, instead of in three different closets, as well as puzzles, and winter wear; and the house-cleaning supplies are all together and the laundry supplies are all together, etc., etc.

It’s made such a difference to approach it spiritually. Praying about my purpose in my home, journaling about it, and dealing with all the leftover issues from being sick has granted me success in this area for the FIRST TIME!

CartBefore FridgeTopBefore

The second thing I’ve implemented is keeping my 3-point zone clean every day. I realized how hard this was because of visual clutter. Even when I’ve tidied, there are things that just live in a cluttered state, like the top of my refrigerator. Since my kitchen is part of the 3-point zone, I set about trying to make more empty space. This cart lives in the closet under the stairs, and you can well see that it’s been a gigantic mess. I cleaned off the cart, and made it a home for all small electronic appliances, which had all been stored on the fridge and in various cupboards, and even on counters throughout the kitchen. The result was pleasing, and is working well.

CartAfter FridgeTobAfter

I’m amazed at how much better I feel, in general, when the front room and kitchen are picked up and put away.

3PointZone1

Front room at Xmas. Not perfect, but not bad.

My prayer for my home: Father, I ask You to energize me with the desire and wisdom to re-organize and clean my home. Thank You for answering with workable solutions and stamina to stick with the goal.

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.

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Unafraid

Last night at the witching hour, I lay in bed sleeping. Something woke me, and I opened my eyes just in time to see a leprechaun-like man racing toward me from my walk-in closet. I sat up, threw my hand up in front of me, and said, “Stop in Jesus Christ!” (A pentecostal girl knows the Power in the Name, even when she’s dead asleep). He immediately evaporated into smoke, and I lay back down with my heart pounding in my throat. I stared up at the ceiling for a full two minutes before I was able to recognize that what had just happened probably had not *really* happened.

I have nighttime hallucinations, and have as long as I can remember. While they are happening, I am completely unable to discern reality from unreality. Until my mid-twenties, these experiences were always, 100% of the time, wrought with complete terror. I called them “wakemares”  because I was wide awake – the next morning I could remember everything I said, and everything that happened with absolute clarity – yet they were crazy, fright-filled, unreal, chaotic. I would wake, screaming bloody murder, giving family members near heart failure; and when they would try to reason with me, I would yell at them in frenzied panic, trying desperately to get them to understand what was happening. In those moments, I felt I was the only sane person in the room, and everyone else was obtuse, totally blind. The worst part of it was the palpable fear that would grip me, its fingers tightening until I couldn’t breathe, until my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t hear for the roar of my pulse in my head. When they were over, I would lie on the bed, the horror thick and pushing down on me, unable to sleep and afraid to shut my eyes. Eventually, exhaustion would overtake me and I would sleep. The next morning, as I awoke, the memories of the night would rush into my head, and I would think, “Oh, my…” I would then proceed to apologize to everyone involved, for scaring the life out of them, and for being irrational.

I used to pray that God would take these hallucinations away, but He never did. He did something better.

One day, in 1996, I was reading in Proverbs and I came across this and I had an epiphany:

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:24-26

My eyes were opened, and I knew that God might never take away theses nighttime episodes; but what he was ready, and willing, and wanting to take away was the fear. I had a promise. “I will not be afraid. My sleep will be sweet.” I wrote the verses into my prayer journal, along with the words, “I receive this promise,” I signed my name, and I dated it. And then the terror that stalks by night returned.

I was lying asleep next to my husband, when something woke me and I saw a giant dark shape looming up at the foot of my bed. The terror gripped me. I frantically grabbed my journal, held it up in front of me like a shield, and barely able to form the words I whispered, “I have a promise.” And it was gone. Instantly. The hallucination ended, but more than that, the spirit of fear left me, in an instantaneous, sudden rush. It was like snow melting away and me seeing, with absolute clarity, the hard, solid granite underneath. Although the hallucinations continue, I have never again felt the fear, not once. It was gone, and forever, and not just at night, but in every nook and cranny of my life. When I had cancer and literally fought for my life through treatment and two horrible infections, people would say, “LaRae, you’re so strong.” And I would think, “I’m not strong. I’m not. I am unafraid.”

This is why I love Christmas; not the man-made tradition (although I enjoy that, too) but Christmas itself — the coming of the Christ Child. Everything I do during this season, from preparing gifts, to decorating, to baking and cooking for my family, all of it brings home with exquisite tenderness the amazing love of God in giving Jesus. It is because that baby was born, and eventually shed His blood, that I have access to the Father. Because of Jesus, I can run boldly into the throne room of grace and say, “Help me, help me, O God, help me.” The miracle of all miracles is that He does. He helps me, and I am overcome.

So to you, dear reader, I wish a very merry Christmas. My God pour blessing on your head.DCP_4145