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.

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

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.

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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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.