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.

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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);

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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.

 

 

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

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

One Foot in Front of the Other

Before cancer, I never went to the doctor. In the past four months, I’ve been there 10 times plus 3 tests at the hospital because of a coronary issue that has developed, presumably from my cancer treatment. I deserve a frequent-user punch card. But my body, which is betraying me, decided that wasn’t enough. An auto-immune disease I struggle with flared 3 weeks ago. I’ve been in denial, refusing to call my doctor because I’m thoroughly sick of being poked, prodded and medicated. However, this weekend the pain level hit an extreme point and my husband and father “encouraged” me to be wise and let my doctor know.

So today, I called. It felt like such an admission of defeat. I’m trying to keep my chin up, but all I can manage to do is cry. The voice inside my head says, “Quit being such a baby!” but I’m just amazingly beaten down. I’m not in a good place. So, here with you, Dear Reader, I’m going to make a massive effort to find my joy, buck up, and walk the path set before me with grace and dignity.

These things I can be thankful for:

1. I have an amazing husband, family and friends who support me, encourage me, pray for me, love me, help me and gently pat my back in sympathy when all I can do is blubber.

2. Physical suffering has bred within me a fierce compassion for those whose struggle is a daily one and who need my love and prayers. Because of God’s love for me and involvement in my life, my heart has become more tender instead of becoming hardened with bitterness.

3. My children see the effort I’m making to keep up with all my “Mommy Duties” and express genuine caring and concern for me. I’ve been blessed with two tender-hearted, creative, loving daughters.

4. God speaks to me in quiet, simple ways, and because of that I can fully believe that He has a good and loving purpose in this. I am assured that I will get to the other side of this struggle and when I do, it will be amazing. I will have a testimony that will reach down to those who are broken and lift them up.

5. Amidst it all, I can still smile.

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.”