Moving Sand – One Grain at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

Moving sand.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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.

 

 

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 Plague

simplicityI’ve been avoiding this blog like the title. But I shouldn’t have been. Since school let out for the summer, we’ve had a lot of unstructured, relaxing, recovering from the stress kind of time. And so I haven’t written because I haven’t “done” anything interesting. I’ve been sorting, sifting, throwing – how boring is that?

Foregoing the writing, however, is a mistake. I think back to the reasons I started writing this blog. The main reason wasn’t so I could “wow” any of my readers. It was so I could have a place to journal my thoughts and feelings as I strive to achieve a life that is more simple and satisfying. So today I’m simply recording some self-analysis.

  • Every day I’m faced with dozens of choices about how to spend my time. If I don’t accomplish what I want to, it’s because of the choices I make.
  • My action item list changes the way I spend my day. Even if it feels silly to write “laundry” on the list each day, writing it actually helps it get done.
  • I’ve perfected the art of avoidance. I can avoid a project I don’t want to do for days – by doing other “good” things that “need to get done.”

Which brings me back to the first thing – every day I’m faced with dozens of choices. Even when I’m faced with challenges (like headache pain which I’ve been struggling with for about 12 weeks) – still I can choose to do something every day which brings me closer to my goals. And so I choose to:

  • keep up my action item list
  • keep eating for my health and getting daily physical exercise
  • start putting my hands on an unwanted, despised project every day – even if it’s only for ten minutes.

And so, dear reader, I start in the right direction yet again. As long as I don’t quit, I won’t fail.

To Sort or Not To Sort

I always say that I’m unstructured. But over the last week I’ve realized this isn’t an entirely true statement. I don’t do well creating structure, but I like to have routine. Last Thursday, my older daughter finished school for the summer and with the lack of an imposed schedule I’ve been drifting.

So, today I got up at 6:15 like I do during the school year. I accomplished so much by 8:00 that I was amazed. I need to become more disciplined about structuring my day because it makes a huge difference. I guess I should say that I’m not internally structured but I thrive with structure around me.

Today’s post is super short. But I’m encouraged that I’m writing anything at all. I’m also encouraged by the things I seem to have mastered – my table stays cleared off, my dishes stay done, and I’m getting exercise several times a week. I also got my garden planted – something that’s been on my wish list for well over a year. My tomatoes and red peppers are blooming, everything else has new growth, and my herbs are thriving outside. It’s a small garden, but it’s a start and it’s given me a true sense of accomplishment to scratch “plant a garden” off my list. Unfortunately, I’m also discouraged by the huge projects still looming before me which will require lots of sorting (my least favorite thing) ~ this is mostly closets and toys. I don’t feel up to the task which is a mental hurdle I need to get over. So I’ll keep writing and rewriting my action items. Maybe the 800th time I write “sort through toys,” I’ll actually do it. The key with this, as with everything in life, is to keep going. Quitting can’t be an option.