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.

DP08:30:15

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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Praying Circles

I haven’t been here in, well … forever. At least it feels like it. My summer didn’t shape up quite like I envisioned. Instead of having a super productive summer, I’ve had about four months of almost daily headaches. I’m tired. And it’s hot.

But…

It is a new season. Not literally, you know, but my kiddos are back to school and that is a mile marker in our year. My older daughter decided to go back to her Early College High School for 10th grade, and my younger daughter is homeschooling. And so, although I have many projects I want to do in my home, and in myself, I’m going to spend some time focusing on my health. I feel myself slowing down, like a car running out of gas, so I’m changing some things.

First – I’m seeing a chiropractor a few times a week. This has definitely helped the headaches, but has not yet touched the tiredness.

Second – I’m trying to juice at least once a day. There are many health benefits to fresh juices, but my main goal is to get raw food nutrients every day.

Third – I’ve started, just this week, keeping a food journal. I’m trying (not always succeeding, but trust me, trying) to be very thoughtful about everything I put in my body. I realize that my system is probably toxic – I’ve had cancer with all the ensuing treatments, and still receive medical therapy (in the form of a daily pill). I was reluctant to write down everything I eat because it seemed obsessive, but it has actually been really helpful. I have someone who will be reading it, and that accountability makes me pause and think before I eat anything, always striving for the most nutrition per bite that I can get.

Sometimes I look at really healthy people – physically fit, boundless energy, perfect weight – and being healthy seems like an impossibly hard goal. However, I’m currently reading The Circle Maker, a book about prayer, and I’m daily circling the following promise like the Israelites circled Jericho. Eventually, those heavy walls of fatigue and pain will fall.

“The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

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.

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 108 ~ A Sticker Chart

I have totally fallen off the wagon. It’s not that I have an addiction and I’m suddenly back at it. It’s that I have a terrible habit, and if I’m not consciously fighting it, I slip back into it and am firmly entrenched before I even recognize it. That habit is flying by the seat of my pants.

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maybe this isn't the wagon they mean...

I have dutifully been carrying my life-changing notebook with me everywhere. Yet, yesterday when I went to make an action item list, I realized the last notation I had made was on March 31. Are you kidding me? I actually went 3+ weeks without writing anything down and it never once occurred to me, “Wow – I should be updating my action item list.” Yesterday was obviously my day to come back to reality, because when I went to do my “daily” hard-surface clean in the bathrooms, the spots on the mirror told the sad story that this little job certainly hasn’t been done in … well, we’ll just say it hasn’t been daily at all. Yesterday was a catch-up day for laundry, too, because I’ve missed that train as well.

What happened, you may ask. Well, that last week of March we went on vacation and I apparently never came back. Now, it hasn’t totally been wasted time. I’ve been focusing on spiritual things, reading “Flunking Sainthood” and “The Only Necessary Thing,” a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen. I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer and meditating on God’s Word. I guess you could say I’ve been cleaning up internal clutter. But good grief. I’ve dropped the ball with my home. (The blessed and beautiful thing here is that I can pick it back up). It’s not like I’ve lost all the progress that has been made – I haven’t, and it will only take a couple of days to get back on track. But I’ve learned something about myself. I’m no different than my children – if I’m not constantly reminded, oh, how quickly I forget. And the only person to remind me is, well – me. Maybe I need a sticker chart.

Day 87 ~ Keeping on Keeping On

simplicityHow do you change? How do you truly, honestly make changes in your life? It can be extremely difficult, but one thing is necessary – a plan. I have a plan, but my life is spinning like a whirlwind and I’m having trouble executing the plan. I simply run out of time and energy by the time I get all my “have-tos” done. I have friends that seem to get it all done and done well, and to me they seem superhuman. I truly wonder how they do it all – they homeschool, they grow and preserve their own food, they craft, their houses are neat and beautiful, and their children are always polite. They have clever organizing ideas and are always doing projects. And at this late date, they’re not trying to schedule a time to get Easter outfits for the kiddos. Maybe they don’t sleep.

In my own life, take today, for instance. I have been very successful changing my daily routine, and my house is more ordered because of it. But, this morning … This morning, the lovely woman who scrubs my house every four weeks came to do her thing. In my rush to get my elder daughter to school, and my younger daughter and myself to our homeschool commonwealth, I found myself pushing a huge box of paper (throw – shred – file) under a table with my foot. Guess what? I did the same thing four weeks ago. I mean I pushed the Exact. Same. Box. Then in the bedroom, I moved a box of clothes folded and packed to give to charity. I moved it so vacuuming could be done, and I had déjà vu. I moved the same box four weeks ago. I mean the same box with the Exact. Same. Clothes.

So, I’ve decided some things.
1. I am not superhuman. I must sleep. And I will be happier if I choose to focus on my own gifts and talents and simply admit I will never be “those people.”
2. I must do more than the daily routine. My goal for the next two weeks is to complete the throw – shred – file pile, and get some charitable giving done. I cannot bear the imagined humiliation of having those boxes taking up space any longer.
3. My goal for this blog will be posting three times a week. When I first started, I posted every day but Sunday, but since then – well, reality has set in. I’ve missed lots of days, and I realize I must maintain some consistency or I will lose sight of my goals.

So, thank you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride. Thank you for the comments here and on facebook that encourage me. I’ll see you again on these pages in a couple of days.