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

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Conquering my Emotional Kitchen

A few days ago, someone asked me for the link to this blog, and in sending it to her I had to face the fact that I hadn’t posted in six months. I’ve thought about posting, but I’ve been managing a flare-up of ulcerative colitis since last October and, truth be told, simply couldn’t work up the energy to write. At the moment, though, I’m seeing a glimmer of hope. A glimmer; but hope, nonetheless.

As I linked her to my home page, I read my tagline: Fighting the clutter monster ~ inside and out. One thing I’ve realized in these past months, as I’ve struggled to put one foot in front of the other while feeling decidedly ill, is that the inside clutter monster is definitely the one in control. As I’ve taken time to think about the constant clutter I fight, and how even when I seem to get on top of it for a time — it always devolves back into what it was, I’ve concluded that it’s all just symptoms. The real culprit is my general lack of delight in homemaking, and the sense that I’m somehow missing what I should be doing while being stuck in the unending loop of laundry, dishes, picking up. Stop (briefly). Repeat.

With this in mind, I downloaded an organizing book onto my Kindle, called, Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges. It presumably deals with spiritual roots to organizational issues, but I wouldn’t actually know.

Now, brace yourself, because this next part would be downright hilarious if it weren’t so achingly cliché. I don’t actually know what it says because, since downloading, I’ve lost my Kindle. In the clutter. It’s gotten sucked into the vortex and I’ve been unable (as yet) to find it.

*insert deep sigh here*

I will find it. I’m sure I will, but in the meantime, I’ve been plodding along, which brings me to my topic… my kitchen. My kitchen is the bane of my life. Well, maybe not, but it’s pretty darn close. It’s poorly laid out (which I cannot control), but beyond that, I constantly have dishes on my counters or in my sink. It’s constant. Every so often, I just muscle through and clean it, and the result is always tremendous pain. Because of multiple surgeries, including reconstructive surgery after cancer, I have lots of scar tissue. My reconstruction involved dissecting large sections of muscle in my back, and ever since, that work which is “kitchen work” leaves me with stabbing pain between my shoulder blades, regardless of how I stand, breathe, or move. I have not been able to control it short of drug use (and by drug use, I mean Advil). 

Until now. In the past few months, I’ve looked into something I had heard about, and that is tapping on various acupressure points in order to relieve pain. I’ve read two books, and done some research online, and because of success I’ve had in the past with acupuncture, I thought it was worth trying. I had been doing it on occasion for a while, basically thinking about the pain while tapping eight different points in sequence. 

Fast forward to about a month ago. I cleaned the kitchen. I was in agony. Every breath brought a stabbing pain, like knives. I heated a small cloth bag filled with uncooked rice in the microwave, took three Advil, and went to my room. I put the heat on my back, and tried to relax, and started tapping. I had read, doing my research, that it is sometimes very effective to assign an emotion to the pain, and I figured, why not? I am willing to try anything reasonable. So as I was focusing on the sharp pain, I asked myself… What is the emotion I’m holding between my shoulder blades? What emotion is causing this pain? It took a while, but it came to me — a single word.

Discontentment.

So, I began tapping the circuit, saying a phrase like, “…this discontentment in my back … the discontentment causing this sharp pain…” I tapped several times through the circuit of points, until my pain level came down to about a four. Then I stopped, and didn’t really think of it again.

However…

About two weeks later, as I got out of bed and went downstairs to make my coffee, I looked around my kitchen. It was totally clean, and had been for days and days, which has been (historically speaking, at least since I had cancer) TOTALLY unheard of. I stood there, thinking, taking stock… What was I doing differently? It’s not like it was being cleaned by magic. I was actually doing the cleaning, but it no longer felt like a fight. I thought about the things I normally felt regarding my kitchen …. overwhelmed, dread, hatred (if that’s not too strong a word). Those feelings were absent. And then the realization struck me. It’s been since I tapped on discontentment.

Whoa.

I’ve been praying for a solution for so long. And the solution has hit me in the most unexpected way. Here we are, a full month later, and my kitchen is effortlessly clean. I don’t feel pain. It’s no longer a battle. I’ve conquered the kitchen, by acknowledging and clearing the emotion. Who would have thought?

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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

The Great American Novel. Or not.

I continue with the mantra, “Do hard things!” and realize that I, who see myself as fairly fearless, am really nothing more than a trembling leaf at heart. My last post talked about removing grains from my diet as HARD, but the truth is, there is nothing really hard about it. It is challenging, yes. It is at times mentally difficult, yes, particularly when, after many days, I don’t feel better and have to keep going on pure faith. But I realize that a truly hard thing must, by its very nature, be scary. There is nothing scary about changing my diet, but just yesterday, my daughter suggested something to me that made me shake with fear; well, figuratively speaking, but shake nonetheless. With utter casualness, she presented me with a hard thing.

Let me explain. Every once in a while, I have a friend encourage me to write a book. These little promptings usually happen after I’ve written some rambling thing on facebook, when I’ve been describing some minor catastrophe I’ve had to cope with. Other times they come after I’ve let some long dormant memory awake and express itself in print. I always laugh, and say to myself, “Oh, I’m no writer,” but the truth is, those are words borne of fear. I am a writer. Of course I am. I write. What else is required? I realize that I have a form of expression that is unique to me, that I have, in fact, found my Voice, that elusive je ne sais quoi that writers search for. So why don’t I do it? What is it? Is it lack of confidence? Lack of gumption? Lack of spine? What if people don’t read it; or worse, read it and dislike it; or worse, I start it and don’t finish; or worst of all, I start it and finish it poorly? Truth be told, the prospect of writing something meaningful (e.g. worth reading) is, well …. scary. Paralyzing. Filling me with terror. The outcome is an unknown I can’t control and therefore, most likely worth doing, and by its very essence … hard.

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So last night my daughter, who is fifteen and has a blog of her own here, says to me, “Why don’t you do NaNoWriMo?” NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and happens each November. One logs on, creates an account, and starts writing. My daughter has participated the last two years, and she writes words, and words, and words. It’s really been quite amazing for me to watch, and even more amazing for me to read. But when she asked the question of me, I felt mild panic. I replied with, “What would I write?” She just looked at me, the look of an old soul pitying a mere youth, a look that said “That’s for you to answer, missy.”

So I’ve been thinking about it. I have three weeks before it starts, three weeks to think of my first word. (Yes, I am that paralyzed. I cannot even think of a beginning). It is certainly a hard thing, and therefore qualifies for my hard things project. Yet, I am horrified at the thought of saying it aloud. I’m thunder-struck that I’m even considering putting it in print. These words never die. Putting it here cements it somehow, and I know when I press “Publish” I will feel quite ill. But here it goes anyway…

This year I will participate in NaNoWriMo.

Melancholy & Choler

I am not broken, but sometimes I sense this lingering sadness, like some stain that won’t be cleaned away. Even when my heart is overwhelmed with joy (which is frequent) it exists in the shadows. I wonder if this is okay, even good; if it is simply part of the delicate balance of living and serves as a reminder that I am more than flesh and bone. I am spirit, made up of all the colors of my experience, like a great painting, with each color bleeding into the next until it becomes indistinguishable from its neighbor, ’til there is no longer a single color, a single pain, a single joy, but rather a collective whole that is my very being. I am a created soul, living the gift of humanness, and that soul must be nourished.

 

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The truth is, I haven’t been nourishing my soul. I haven’t posted here in months, mainly due to illness. I struggle with an autoimmune disease with many symptoms, the worst of which is intense joint and bone pain. Sometimes, I hurt so much I can barely draw breath. The result is that I hunker down, go into survival mode, and quit *doing things* — I lose my sense of purpose, because I don’t have the strength and energy to feed my soul and participate in those things that make me who I am.

Well, I’ve started a book study with a group of people, and two things have already happened for me. The first is that I’m supposed to take an inventory of what I have to offer the world, which, the way I’m feeling, is nothing. How can I give to others when I myself am running on empty? (I haven’t actually done this assignment yet, and I know I will ultimately come up with a list. But trust me, it won’t be easy).

The second thing is that we’ll be reading the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. It’s a book for teens, written by teens, and I haven’t read it yet. Even so, just thinking about the title, it’s wormed its way into my brain and I keep asking myself, “When is the last time I did a hard thing?” Truth be told, I can’t remember.

So, dear reader, this is what I’ve done: I started by writing out a list I entitled My Envisioned Life. It included these categories: home, body, marriage & ministry, children, and creative expression. It gave me heart palpitations to write it, and I’m not kidding you. It is this indelible, irretrievable statement about who I want to be and what I want to do in the world, and making it was one of the biggest actions of faith I have ever committed. I know you’re curious what I wrote, but I’m too much of a coward to share it, at the moment.

Then I waited to see what God would drop into my mind to do. And the things He put there were hard. Hard, hard, hard. So I am going to do hard things, knowing I may fail, knowing that doing them may not help me achieve the things I want. The only guarantee I have is that things will never change if I do nothing. This is the beginning…

 

  1. I have made a correlation, through observation, between food and pain. When I eat wheat or corn, within about a half-an-hour, my pain level ramps up. So, I’m going grain-free. I did this once before, for fourteen months, and it is hard. It is the definition of hard. So every time I’m tempted to eat a bowl of cereal, I say to myself, “Do hard things, missy.”
  2. I must write. I simply must. It helps me. I have an assignment for my book study to journal, so this will be where I do it. I am committed to consistency, not frequency, so I will post once a week.
  3. I need a creative outlet. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, or even the first step, but I will pray and explore until I find something that brings me satisfaction.

So, dear reader, I sign off. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of each other.

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.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Before cancer, I never went to the doctor. In the past four months, I’ve been there 10 times plus 3 tests at the hospital because of a coronary issue that has developed, presumably from my cancer treatment. I deserve a frequent-user punch card. But my body, which is betraying me, decided that wasn’t enough. An auto-immune disease I struggle with flared 3 weeks ago. I’ve been in denial, refusing to call my doctor because I’m thoroughly sick of being poked, prodded and medicated. However, this weekend the pain level hit an extreme point and my husband and father “encouraged” me to be wise and let my doctor know.

So today, I called. It felt like such an admission of defeat. I’m trying to keep my chin up, but all I can manage to do is cry. The voice inside my head says, “Quit being such a baby!” but I’m just amazingly beaten down. I’m not in a good place. So, here with you, Dear Reader, I’m going to make a massive effort to find my joy, buck up, and walk the path set before me with grace and dignity.

These things I can be thankful for:

1. I have an amazing husband, family and friends who support me, encourage me, pray for me, love me, help me and gently pat my back in sympathy when all I can do is blubber.

2. Physical suffering has bred within me a fierce compassion for those whose struggle is a daily one and who need my love and prayers. Because of God’s love for me and involvement in my life, my heart has become more tender instead of becoming hardened with bitterness.

3. My children see the effort I’m making to keep up with all my “Mommy Duties” and express genuine caring and concern for me. I’ve been blessed with two tender-hearted, creative, loving daughters.

4. God speaks to me in quiet, simple ways, and because of that I can fully believe that He has a good and loving purpose in this. I am assured that I will get to the other side of this struggle and when I do, it will be amazing. I will have a testimony that will reach down to those who are broken and lift them up.

5. Amidst it all, I can still smile.