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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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

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.

Day 116 ~ All Things (well – Something anyway) Made New

I’ve made some measurable progress this week. For one, I finally – with my husband’s help – got several bags ready for charity. We’re keeping the cat.

simplicity

I’ve also been practicing Redeeming the Time – you know, grabbing ten free minutes here and there to do little tasks. By using this approach I’ve reclaimed a small counter in my kitchen. Now, I must explain, there is a deep-seated problem that resides within my very soul that leads to a counter that looks like this. It’s hard to see, but under the clean food containers and the bread items, in the back, is the epicenter of this mess. It’s a wire basket full of junk. Well, not junk really, but stuff. I toss things in there, like coupons, business cards, things I want to look at later. (You can see how accessible it is. And please understand, my whole kitchen does not look like this). But the problem (the one in my soul) is this – pretty soon the basket is overflowing, I never pull anything out to look at it again because it’s disorganized, and soon it becomes a permanent fixture in my decorating scheme. I walk by it 18 times a day, and never, ever look at it. The result? I’ve lost the counter.

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So I finally did something about it. I got a three-ring-binder, I put tabs in it, and I now have a place for – – > current coupons, reference information, take-out menus, and contact information. And it fits next to my cookbooks on the bookcase. Now the basket has oranges in it and is sitting on my dining room table. I don’t know why it took me – you know – YEARS to take care of this. But now it’s done. My counter is new. And I am happy.

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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.”

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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 72 ~ Stollen

Today, my older daughter had to bring a food to school representing her ethnicity. With all the blue eyes and fair skin in this family, that landed us in the north – either the British Isles, Scandinavia, or possibly Germany (on her papa’s side). Since my Scandinavian mother taught me to cook, I told my kiddo to pick something from Norway or Sweden.

She immediately jumped to lutefisk. If you don’t know lutefisk, count yourself lucky. (To all our Scandinavian friends who eat this stuff by choice, please forgive me). Lutefisk is a white fish, preserved in lye, with the consistency of the jelly that oozes out when you open a canned ham. Seriously.  If you think I’m kidding, this is the definition in my dictionary: a Scandinavian dish prepared by soaking dried cod in lye to tenderize it, then skinning, boning, and boiling the fish to a gelatinous consistency. Yum. I’ve eaten lutefisk many times out of duty, but wasn’t about to cook it. So I made some suggestions, and she chose Stollen, a bread eaten by both Scandinavians and Germans and which I’ve made before with my mother for Christmas.

Normally, since this was her school project, she’d help me. But yesterday was the Colorado Poetry Out Loud state finals, and my daughter, having won her school competition, got to attend. At thirteen, she was the youngest participant and we are enormously proud of her performances. (The mama in me had to give a shout out, because she did great). But … this meant I had to make the bread alone, and because I hadn’t thought through the timing, I almost didn’t start in time to get it done before the competition. So today, I’m writing about the Stollen, because that’s all I did yesterday (besides hours of poetry).

Stollen is a mildly sweet, glazed yeast bread. It is filled with currants, dried or candied fruits, almonds, orange peel and lemon peel; and it’s seasoned with cardamom, a spice frequently used in Scandinavian dishes. I considered cleaning up before I took the picture, but this is more authentic. I was in such a rush putting it together that my kitchen looked like something exploded by the time I was finished. My house smelled deliciously of oranges though, which is so much better than the smell of lutefisk…

simplicity

Stollen

4+ cups of bread flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup currants
1/4 diced dried cherries
1/4 chopped blanched almonds
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Glaze:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon butter

In a saucepan heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt till warm (120˚ – 130˚). Butter will be almost melted. Add to yeast in a large mixing bowl and stir. Add cardamom and 4 cups flour, and stir until combined. Add additional flour until dough comes together without being too sticky. Stir in currants, dried fruit, almonds, and orange and lemon zest.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double – about 2 hours.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll one portion into a 10×6-inch oval. Without stretching, fold the long side over to within 1 inch of the opposite edge – press lightly to seal. Place on greased baking sheet. Repeat with remainder of dough. Cover; let rise until double – another hour.

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Remove to racks and cool for thirty minutes. Mix glaze and brush over the warm bread.