Thursday, April 30, 2009

Our Year of De-Tox

So we're considering looking for a house.

A year ago right now I was sorting out, giving away, selling, and generally getting rid of any and every non-essential item in our home. The classic criteria: is it useful, meaningful, or beautiful, were the parameters through which I scrutinized every single thing we owned.   

We probably still have too much, but aside from a few stacks of boxes and bulky toys in the basement we have lived clutter-free for one year. Back then, I blogged about some of my fears of downsizing from a large home to a small apartment. We were leaving a very spacious church parsonage and moving into a small but new two-bedroom, one bath duplex. As in any leap of faith, it felt right but didn't make sense. I wondered where I would possibly put everything that goes along with kids-- the baby equipment, the toys . . . not to mention the parents' affection for books. Having people around I find really necessary- would we feel too cramped for company? And it seemed like such a tiny kitchen . . . where ever would I put everything and still find room to cook?

And, as in any process of letting go, rather than limitations we found so much freedom in our small home this year! In fact, out of three homes we have lived in this has been our favorite.

Along with a smaller home we have had to cut-back and be creative with our finances. Once again, surprising freedom.

I have been thinking of this as our year of de-tox. Putting restrictions on ourselves, limiting our intake, curbing our cravings (Ok, we were miraculously supplied with about ten pounds of free Starbucks coffee, so I don't know if I can say that we've had to truly sacrifice!) . . . finding ourselves healthier, happier, more satisfied.

I have found such satisfaction here that now, my fears are reversed:

I am totally freaked-out at the thought of owning a home that I have to decorate. Currently, it's not even a consideration and I find I save so much time and money by not even thinking about fixing up my house . . . plus I'm just not that good at it, and it makes me nervous.

I hate the thought of having more space to put junk. I found that I actually need about one-third of what I had, and I kept it only because I had closets and basements in which to store crap, never to be thought of again.

I'm afraid of the dissatisfaction factor . . . I'll wish we had money to fix this up or change that, I'll have more rooms that need furniture and accessories and just . . . more stuff.

Doesn't it seem that when you get a little bit more,  you wish for a little more than that? You finally get this but then there's this other thing that you still can't afford and wish you had . . . and it just goes on. On the other side, finding creative ways to make do with less can be more satisfying and just as addictive.  

I am definitely not a financial guru, and I am far from doing everything right with our money. But after our year of simplifying, and considering what our next step may be, I am thinking a lot about the power of less, and how to maintain that wherever we live.   

(This may turn into a series, but I am learning not to promise anything.  If not, just read these links.  They say what I've been thinking but better).

Anne Jackson at Flower Dust(this is so good)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May Flowers

Busy busy . . . this post is scattered as is my brain . . .doing many things but nothing blog-worthy.  Living so much on the surface of life lately . . . Sunday nights spent working-out long and ambitious lists that I check check check off with relish throughout the week, falling into bed tired but anxious to wake up again and take-on the Almighty List once more.  

I know this isn't a healthy way to live long-term.  My brain is scattered (the other night I gave the baby her bath, put her pajamas on her and put her to bed with NO diaper!!  She woke up crying because she and her bed was soaked!  Seriously.  Am I really fit to be parenting!?)  I haven't been doing much fun stuff with the girls.  I am barely reading anything, which leaves me feeling unchallenged and quickly affects my ability to write complete sentences.  I am getting a lot done, but leaving little room for the essentials- prayer. quality time with my family. . . . blogging.  

It is happy busy, but I am paying attention to the tension, the fact that I cannot live thin and not deep . . . am I choosing the right things?  Am I giving enough to the things that are most important?  Am I forsaking long-term dreams for temporary ones?  There is just too much I want to do, and I've never been good at making choices.  I feel like I must decide, am I gearing up for a life of homeschooling and homemaking?  Or is now the time to begin preparing for a career after the kids are in school?  The truth is, I want them both.  I want too many things.  

I love all of the things I am doing. I feel really healthy. The girls are at a (momentarily) easy phase, they're sleeping great, I can take them anywhere and trust that they'll do fine, they're both generally pleasant most of the time. The house is running smoothly, everyone is happy, I am content.
So, for now, I am living in that springtime energy of branching out, planting seeds, making plans, dreaming dreams.  Rejoicing in sunshine and hope.  Everything seems more alive, more possible.  The wind is scattering blossoms everywhere.  The earth is scattered too.  Just for right now, maybe too much is okay.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Preach the Gospel to Yourself-spring

This was sent to me in an email from a friend, and I think it describes grace beautifully.
The weather has finally broken here. I know that seems mundane, but it's revelatory every year for me. Once I can actually step outside and feel good, feel the sun, I think, "Geez. How in the world did I survive another winter?" I actually like winter, but it's not until it's over that I realize how long and how trying it's been. Spring is like a gift I almost forget I'm going to get, having resigned myself to short, gray days and howling wind. I imagine this is something like the experience some call grace and others call miracle: something happens completely outside my control that alters everything about my life, so that I have more energy, am more favorably disposed to others, take better care of myself, think more clearly, feel happier.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Preach the Gospel to Yourself: chicken broth

I experienced the Gospel again in a powerful way about two years ago . . . I was in the first trimester of my second pregnancy, and though I had been sick with my first; sick enough to spend a few weeks in bed, a few months feeling just miserable, I optimistically had expected that this pregnancy would be easier. It was far, far worse.

For weeks, it felt like the world was spinning uncontrollably around me. Lifting my head off the pillow sent my body retching. Food repulsed me, and my empty stomach only made the nausea worse. Never before have I felt my body rage against me. There was no reprieve, nothing that could calm my aching body, super-heightened senses, overwhelming fatigue, or constant vomiting. I couldn't read, couldn't watch t.v. or even try to have a conversation because it took too much concentration, would send me spinning and paying for it later. The days seemed endless. All I could think were apocalyptic comparisons and my poor sisters in other countries who are sick like this but must yet somehow keep going to survive.

I could not keep going. As much as I willed myself, I couldn't even stand, would spend days working up the courage just to take a shower. I could only lay in bed and think about Sami, my husband and house, my church responsibilities, and all of the things that I wasn't able to do. I was tormented perhaps as much by guilt as by sick. I saw the laundry piling up, our empty cupboards, the new layers of dust, all of the extra burden my absence was putting on Jim and our parents, and I couldn't stand it, hated myself for not being stronger.

I didn't understand why I wasn't able to better deal with the symptoms. In my mind I could hear what people were probably saying, could read the annoyance in their faces and imagined that no one believed I was really that sick. I willed myself to be stronger, tried thinking positive thoughts, telling myself that it really wasn't that bad . . . but my body rebelled against me, literally flattening me no matter how hard I tried to stand up.

Prayer was impossible. I don't know how to explain it, but I have never felt further from God. I literally couldn't pray, couldn't formulate the sentences, couldn't find the strength for faith. All I could think about was my pain, my flesh, and I felt myself becoming increasingly selfish. I thought about elderly people, and how difficult they can become and I understood why; a failing body consumes every other care. I was depressed, overcome with melancholia, and I remember thinking that if I didn't know that I had a life in me, didn't have the hope that this would one day end, I'd have wanted to die. I kept thinking about people with terminal illnesses and how desperate they must feel.

I had called the doctor's office early on to ask them about my morning sickness, and they told me the usual things; eat crackers, drink coke, rest . . . and so it wasn't until I had been unable to get out of bed for weeks, had lost fifteen pounds and felt like I really was going to die, that I called the doctor again and she wanted me to come in. She sent me right away to the hospital.

I cannot begin to explain what relief I found in that hospital! The fluids filled up my drained body and my strength began to return. They gave me medicine that finally calmed my raging insides. I was away from my home and the constant reminders of all the ways I was failing. And finally, somebody was assuring me that it wasn't just my imagination, that I really was that sick.

After about twelve hours of fluids and rest, a nurse brought me a simple cup of chicken broth, and it was the most delicious meal I've ever had. I was holding a magic cup, and as I drank it my body was restored. Just a warm bit of nourishment, and so much more. I sipped and my hope returned, even joy. I was able to smile, to thank God for the fact that my body was preparing life! My eyes were opened. I saw everything new, through the eyes of hope, with a body at peace. How much joy enveloped me in that hospital bed, alone, drinking from that cup!

In my greatest anguish, I'd found a reprieve. Those weeks made me painfully aware of the state of utter hopelessness, loneliness, pain and death that my flesh dwells in. I was given just a small understanding life apart from God, and then came salvation.

We don't often have to accept infirmities in our society. There are medical cures, pain relievers, therapies for nearly everything. But experiencing debilitating physical illness helped me understand why Jesus went purposefully to those who were physically in need, those most aware of their desperation and longing for salvation. Longing is disguised in our culture, and we have innumerable distractions to keep us from giving voice to that secret ache for new life. But we all ache for it.

It came as a surprise, it came as joy. When at the end of hope, the end of myself, love came to me in a warm cup, and there was life.

This is the Gospel. At the end of hope, Good News! At the end of myself, Good News! In desperation and death, Good News!

And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. Luke7:21,22

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Preach the Gospel to Yourself

Of course this question caught my attention, it is the one I ask myself all day long:
"How does the mom with young kids make the best use of her time when she doesn't feel she has any time?"
The answer wasn't what I had expected.  Or, to be honest, what I thought I was looking for: (part 1) preach the gospel to yourself.

The gospel?  
Yes.  Preach the gospel to yourself.
hmmmm . . .

I consider how consumed I am, mind racing, all day long, thinking and thinking and thinking of many things but not often- I confess- the gospel.  

How upside-down this is!  Meaningless! are the things that occupy my every waking moment, it all lacks sense or purpose without this still point: the gospel.  The only thing that gives purpose to anything.

Preach it to myself . . .
Me, who needs preaching to the most.
Me, greatest in need of the Gospel.
Preach it for repentance. 
Preach it for hope.

What else is there?  
But the Gospel.  

And I open my eyes and the gospel is everywhere!

in the mess
the morning
my coffee cup
green from mud
budding bark
fingerprinted window panes
bathtub rings
night lights
the glass the wine
this chair I'm on
music released from black and white page
freshly painted wall
love-worn ugly doll
slave's garment blanketing child

Seeing, hearing, touching, believing again the Glorious Gospel and preaching it to myself.  Join me in discovering the Gospel all around this week.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Quick Takes Friday

1.  I read this brilliant quote this week by Annie Dillard . . . 
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
This is what I do.  I have an idea, and I hoard it for the perfect time, just the right occasion, until I can think more clearly . . . this is what has happened with my fun series . . . it was brimming, fizzing, and now it's flat and going nowhere.  

I have recognized this pattern in other areas of my life . . . I save and wait and  tuck away what is meant to be lived out in the present.

2.  I got a bad haircut.  Really bad.  Every time I look in the mirror I check to see if it's grown any yet.  I'm typically not so insecure about things like this.  Really, I'm not.  That's how you know how bad it is.

3.  I love this post I found from Ruth's blog, Everyone loves a pregnant woman (but kids we can do without).   And before you give that arched-eyebrow uh-huh like I did, keep reading because I had to face my own contradictions too.

4.  God calls us to certain things- not all things . . . (The Livesays in Haiti)  

5.  We are considering homeschooling.  It seems like a big decision but I am excited about the possibility.

6.  I love, love the little church we are going to.  After all our changes last summer, God led us to the perfect place.  I love how I am stretching and growing; love the simple, humble faith that we are called to; love the kind, humble people; love the profound little ways that Mennonites have always worked to change the world.  So much about our church feels like coming home.

7  I love what someone said to my friend Lori, an MCCer working in New York City, about the Mennonites, "they have always been about service and social justice.  They just don't have to be cool about it."  I love that.  

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted at Conversion Diary.