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.

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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.

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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.

NotIdle

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

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.

Courageous

I haven’t been writing because I’ve been having such a struggle to even stay on my feet lately. I have felt my energy draining away. I’ve been experiencing sudden faintness – like when I climb several stairs, I get so light-headed I have to sit down. There’s nothing quite as frustrating (and exhausting) as knowing something is wrong in your body, and not having any idea what it is. I’ve had seemingly countless needle sticks as the doctor has done test after test. I even joked with my husband that I was developing needle tracks and people were going to suspect that I was using drugs. I had a CT scan and a chest X-ray, but everything was normal. And then finally – my doctor ordered an EKG, and it was abnormal. Now, having an abnormal EKG isn’t really something to celebrate, but at least we had found a clue in this great mystery.

Next came a treadmill stress test, the one and only purpose of which is to detect clogged arteries. Well – my arteries aren’t clogged. In fact, the cardiologist told me I was “fit” which nearly caused me to laugh out loud (see the above comment about having to sit down while climbing stairs). During the test, as he was explaining what to expect, he told me my blood pressure would rise. The diastolic would level out at 90 (which it did) and the systolic would continue to rise throughout the test (which it did, until….). About seven minutes into the test, when I was working really hard – going 3.5 mph at a 14% incline – I nearly fainted. The systolic suddenly dropped 50 points, and the diastolic 30. This was, apparently, unusual. The advice of the cardiologist as I was leaving the hospital was to “get my head down if I felt faint.” Really. That’s what he left me with.

Over the next few days, in talking to my doctor I learned that she had ordered a med study and consulted my oncologist. The suspicion is that my cancer treatment has caused damage to my heart. And so today, I had an echocardiogram (a sonogram of the heart) to look at valves, blood flow, and my heart’s general structure. I have no results, but at least the test is done.

Now, with my cancer, I felt very little fear or worry. As I would approach each new step, I mostly felt … nothing. I don’t know if this was peace, faith or simply ignorant bliss, but that’s how it was. This is different. Yesterday, I was just trying not to think about it, but I felt uneasy. I spent some time trolling facebook and saw a post on my niece’s wall that said, “Josh 1:9 Have not I commanded you? Be strong & of a good courage don’t be afraid don’t be dismayed for the LORD ur God is w/ u wherever u go.” I hate to admit this, but I burst into tears. I mean seriously, I was sobbing. I realized, quite suddenly, how alone I felt in all this. I didn’t feel God with me at all. This was just too much – hadn’t I been through enough already? Where was He? I finally confessed how angry I felt that I couldn’t just be healthy. Why this? Why my heart?

After I’d finished spewing, I ultimately said, “God help me. I need to know you’re with me.”

And then I went about my day. God is God and He speaks in very strange ways at times, and this is what happened. Just after dinner I was putting a load of dress shirts in the laundry. Hanging on a nearby rack was a little craft my youngest daughter had made, a circle of card stock hanging on a string that she could wear like a necklace, and it caught my eye. I have no idea when she made it. I have no idea how long it had been hanging there. I had never looked at it before. But it grabbed my attention in the most bizarre way, so I reached out for it. On one side was her name spelled out in glitter. And on the other it said …

Trust me dear reader, this was God speaking. I felt an immediate, palpable calm settle over me. I knew I was not alone. So, today is not much different than yesterday. I still don’t know what’s going on. I still feel kind of awful. In real terms, nothing has changed, with the exception of one thing.

Today, I am courageous.