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.

Balancing Act

Failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SquirrelinHopacrab

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

Instead…

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

Balance.

 

 

Amazing Grace

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

Building Trust

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

Enkidu

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

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

Day 112 ~ The Divine Hours

I’ve decided to start “keeping the hours.” At least I’m going to try. Keeping the hours (or saying the offices) is a Benedictine monastic tradition of fixed-hour prayer. I may last one day, one week, one month – or I may decide this is the best thing I’ve ever done and do it forever.

Now, first of all, I must say – I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’ve only been in a Catholic church three times in my life. The first time, I was a little girl and went with a girl from school whose parents were German immigrants, so there was a language issue and the mom couldn’t really explain to me what was going on. As we sat in the pew, people would come forward and genuflect at the altar. But this is what I thought was going on – I thought people were kneeling to photograph the bizarre statue on the stage, because my church had no statues, and so I thought this must be a novelty. I mean, if I had a camera, I might take a picture too, except no one told me to bring a camera. It was literally years later when I saw someone on T.V. kneeling at an altar and making the sign of the cross that it suddenly occurred to me what I had seen as a child. The other two times I was in a Catholic church were for a wedding and a funeral, so they probably don’t really count. Let’s just say my faith tradition is very “low church.”

simplicity
Well, the Benedictines are obviously Catholic, but they are also very disciplined and it’s the discipline I’m reaching for, not the Catholicism. What I’ve discovered in this year of change is that my disorganization is not just an external problem. I’m internally cluttered as well. And my spiritual life totally lacks organization. This is the reason I have started working on Centering Prayer, which is incredibly challenging but I keep trying it a few minutes each day. In spite of this, my quiet time with God continues to be haphazard, at best. I feel myself craving an order to my spiritual life, and so I’m attempting Keeping the Hours to see if it creates the form I’m looking for. I plan to say the words of the offices exactly at first, then move to a place where I keep the form but lose some of the rigidity. I’ll be keeping the Morning Office, Midday Office, and Vespers which basically means praying morning, noon and evening, and I’m using the book The Divine Hours as a guide.

We’ll see what happens. My cluttered environment is simply a manifestation of the clutter within me. But I’m changing that – with clear-cut goals, ordering of my day, getting rid of extraneous junk, and structuring my spiritual life. I feel myself becoming new. I feel the old ways sloughing off. Yet change is something like turning an enormous ship. It’s slow (oh, so slow). It’s difficult. But as I turn, I see a new vista – a new horizon – a new me. And that, dear reader, is well worth it.

Day 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.

Day 100 ~ Invariable

simplicity

wild roses

“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.”  ~ George Orwell

It’s interesting what’s happened in the first months of my “project.” I started writing this little online journal as a record of all the organizational changes I was making in my home. Although there are lots of projects I can still do and am doing, and although there has been progress – the progress has been painfully slow and I find that it’s hard to stay motivated and excited about it. Not impossible – just hard. Really hard. But as I’ve gone through the process, I’ve unearthed something else that is really at the core of it all. I’ve unearthed my own discontent.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have many things to be happy about in this life, and I don’t take them for granted. I practice gratitude daily. But I realize that I’m a coveter. Coveting is just wanting something you don’t have, and I want all sorts of things I don’t have. The problem with wanting things and having goals to get them, is those goals can become little gods, the absolute be all and end all of each day. Lately, as I’ve become more aware of this general state of being, I catch myself thinking things that are really not productive. I find myself thinking that when my house is in order and running the way I want it to, I’ll be happier. Now, this may be true, but the result is that I feel LESS happy right now. It goes on all the time. “If my yard were better, then…” Or, “The city’s making me crazy. If I just lived in a smaller town…” Or, “I need something that’s just mine (I can insert anything here, but career is frequently the word). Then I’d be satisfied.” Then just yesterday, I was on facebook looking at pictures of a phenomenal reunion between a friend of mine and the twins she gave up for adoption eighteen years ago, and instead of being overwhelmed with happiness for her, I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow. Look at her kitchen. If I had a kitchen like that…” Okay, I was actually very, very happy for her, but the kitchen thought did creep in.

I’ve come to realize that I need to work on my contentment level. Paul in the Bible says that he has learned contentment in every situation, but I am so NOT there yet. I don’t quite know how to get there, but this I do know. It’s an internal issue. I can organize my whole house. I can throw out all the unnecessary junk. I can find my mission. I can lose thirty pounds. I can buy new clothes, remodel my kitchen, plant the garden I want – and still I will be dissatisfied if I cannot learn to be content where I am right now. I think that kind of contentment is somewhat supernatural. I know that it’s intangible. It’s this invisible thing I can’t quite put my finger on. But it’s essential.

And so… I continue to do “the work.” I do the work of better fitness, better organizational systems, better planning. I also do the internal work that leads me toward greater simplicity and true contentment. In pursuit of these things, I’ve changed some aspects of my day. I’ve started the discipline of centering prayer, the purpose of which is to practice being in the presence of God. Of course, I’m centered on the Lord for about two minutes before I catch myself mentally making a grocery list, but the key word is “practice.” I keep bringing myself back to the stillness in which I can know God, and it will get easier as I do it more. I’ve also been repeating the Jesus Prayer several times a day – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I focus on the meaning of each of the four parts. I recognize the lordship of Jesus, I express my faith that He is who He said He is, I acknowledge my own position in relation to Him, and I receive the grace He freely offers me. When I do this consistently, well – my goodness, if all else doesn’t dim in comparison.

And then, I continue to practice gratitude. Thank you that I am alive. Thank you for the richness of my relationships. Thank you for the freedom to express myself. And thank you for the power to change, which resides in me.

Day 93 ~ Candy for Breakfast

Monday, I chaperoned a field trip my daughter took downtown. We visited the Capitol, did a tour (including the attic – lots and lots of stairs). I must give a little shout out here because my kiddo and a classmate led the Pledge of Allegiance in the House of Representatives. Then we walked to the U.S. Mint and did that tour, then we walked to the museum where we went through the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab. Then we walked back to the Capitol, where the cars were parked.

Now, I like to think I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’ve been consistently doing morning exercise and consciously eating better. But after all day walking and standing, I seriously felt like I might die. After the field trip, we raced home so I could get my little one to gymnastics, then we had to get dinner on the table and after eating, I thought my head might fall into my soup, so to speak. I got into my pj’s  and crawled into bed to read at 8:30, and the next thing I know, my husband is pulling the book out of my hands and turning off the light because I’d fallen asleep. I was barely aware of him and totally zonked out for the rest of the night at that point. Someone, please tell me this is not my future. I want more energy. I need more stamina. How, oh how, do I get it back?

organization

So, yesterday was a recovery day. I’m amazed that I needed it, but I did. I’m still kind of dragging. In fact, this morning at the grocery store, chocolate peanut butter cups started calling to me while I was in line. And I didn’t resist. I bought them (organic dark chocolate and protein in the peanut butter, so not completely, entirely bad for me – right?). I went home, poured a cup of coffee, and had candy for breakfast. And I must admit that after that, the whole day looked brighter. So, I’m leaving a little note to my perfectionist self:

No one is perfect, dear self. Life is all about choices and each opportunity to choose brings with it the opportunity to change. But change doesn’t happen all at once, so don’t give up. Don’t quit. Keep going.

You, too – dear reader.