My Road to Minimalism

The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1

 

I know that not every person who calls himself a minimalist also identifies himself as Christian. I don’t believe that in order to be a Christian a person must also be a minimalist.  I want to be very clear about those two things before we go further today.  Throughout the month I have shared mostly how-to’s and observations about minimalism that could be applied to most people in most life situations.  Today, I am sharing the more personal story of how my faith and minimalism are bound together.

As I mentioned earlier this month, we came to Georgia from Florida unexpectedly.  This move is what finally spurred us down the road to minimalism.  But even before that, we made two decisions that would forever change the way we handled money and possessions.  In the spring of 1998, I became pregnant with my second child. My oldest child was two months old.  We joke now that we prayed for God to make it possible for me to stay home one day,  but we didn’t enunciate and God thought we said MONday. At the time I was a high school teacher. We crunched the numbers a thousand ways, but there was no way to arrange them that made returning to work after the birth of our second child a wise financial option. Honestly, I never wanted to return to work after our first child was born, so I was ecstatic that the math only proved what I already knew: it was time to come home.  Our family of four soon grew to a family of five living on one income.  We lived more simply than many we knew, but we still hung on to the American ideal, and lived well beyond our means.  Leaving the workforce was a step, but a tiny one, and we still had far to go.

About three years after the birth of our youngest daughter, my Hunky made the decision to leave his position as head athletic trainer at the same high school I left three years earlier.  That year we entered ministry for better and for worse.  We were part of a very mission minded congregation, which slowly began to change our thinking.  Over our six years there, we began to look at the world and our place in it quite differently.  However we still tried to reconcile what we knew of a world in need with what we wanted from the American Dream.  We overextended in buying our first home while attempting to live generously in other ways.  I certainly don’t think it is wrong to own a home, but I know for us, it was not one of our wisest choices.  Yet, I believe it was all part of God’s plan to teach us what lifestyle He intended for us.  I do not regret the time we spent in that house, in fact I have many wonderful memories of our time there and even today would love to live in a smaller space as that house was.

When it was time for us to leave Florida, the decision was sudden and shocking. We had not prepared for a drastic life change nor had we expected to leave the state. Our little house which we bought at the very top of the real estate bubble was next to impossible to sell from the market basement, add some catastrophic flooding to the area three months prior, and we were stuck.  The house foreclosed and the financial consequences were beyond our ability to absorb.  From a cultural standpoint, we were ruined. From God’s viewpoint, we were finally ready to get started.  When you’re standing in the rubble of a life, about the only thing you can do is reevaluate everything.  You know there is going to be rebuilding, but it’s time to decide if the same blueprint is what you want any more.  For us, it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.  As we packed…and packed….and packed….and packed our possessions in preparation to move, I began to question the contents of every box.  As we considered places to live from the viewpoint of everything being temporary, we found our needs had drastically changed.  The family that came to Georgia four years ago, bears little resemblance to the family that resides here today.  Every thing we thought we wanted, every marker of success, every physical possession we have retained has been through a refining fire.  We have new eyes and new hearts to go with our new lives.

We lost everything, but it wasn’t until we willingly let it go that we were truly free.
We have gone from financial devastation to being more fiscally stable than we have ever been.
We no longer view possessions with permanence but place our priorities in eternal pursuits.
We’re living more prosperously with less than when we let culture define prosperity for us.
The road to get here is one I would never have embarked on voluntarily, but I am grateful to have been set on it all the same.

Numbering

I lost another friend today, a sister (sistah to be specific).  We probably would never have met had we lived normal lives in the normal course of time. Instead we got cancer.  Sheryl died leaving behind a husband, a nine year old daughter and a nineteen year old son. Because we shared so much for so many years, I can’t help but put myself in her place and wonder what I will think of my life when I reach the end of my days.

When I was twenty-two, I became mortal. Oh sure, we’re all mortal but there aren’t many twenty year olds who stare it in the face. I lost my hair and my eyelashes and my health and my dignity and for time we thought I’d even lost my fertility.

When I was twenty-four I became immortal again at the birth of my daughter, the first of three in the next three years.  I bargained with God for days and months. To see them be born, to see them walk, to live long enough for them to remember my smile.  I counted them off as though they were prayer beads, “Thank you Jesus, full of Grace for one more day.”

But time passed, and I began to count less frequently. Children walked and talked and ran. Days passed into years, even into decades.  I count infrequently now. Birthdays and anniversaries inspire me to look behind me at the string of beautiful shining days filled with so much more than I dared hope for so long ago when a gentle doctor spoke deadly words with tears in his eyes.

So many days.

These days are why I am passionate about living with less. It isn’t really less at all but a way to honor all the answered prayers for days I didn’t earn or deserve by living them with joy and love, not wasting them with grasping and fear.  I’m holding loosely to things because one day I will be like Sheryl, on my death’s bed looking back over my life. It won’t be the fashionable clothes or the investments or the cars or the rooms filled with things that I will want near, but the people I have made space to love deeply, the memories we have created and all the experiences I wasn’t to busy to do and enjoy.

This is why I am a minimalist.
Because life and time are finite, but they don’t have to be filled with finite things.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom. ~Ps. 90:12

31 days

Uncrisis

Some one asked me the other day if I am having a crisis of faith.

I had to really think about the answer but honestly?  Honestly, the answer is no.  I am not having a crisis of faith. My faith is there, as it has been for a long time now, and it’s solid, as solid as faith in an omniscient, omnipotent, unfathomable God can be. I am not having a crisis of faith.

I think I’ve simply become unacquainted with it for a time. I can see it, waiting patiently over in the corner, slightly glowing and humming with power, but I don’t want to approach it. For awhile, I was angry, I felt faith had let me down or perhaps God was even seeking to cause me pain, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I simply feel…adrift.  My faith is over there, and I am over here. We are tethered together by a strong line of grace, but we are not emotional or expressive or intimate as we once were.

There is a word for this separated state, the mystics call it acedia, more often now it’s referred to as “the desert place.”

While I’ve certainly been in times of crisis before, as well as  times of great spiritual intimacy, this place is altogether new to me. Once I stopped fighting against it, trying to be something different, trying to be someone better, to be the good Christian girl I’m supposed to be, I found there is a peacefulness to it.  It isn’t marked by striving or urgency. There is a simple pattern of obedience, without question, without reason, without expectation or anticipation. It’s ritualistic and very still.

I still pray. I believe intellectually that God, in His omnipotence, hears. I trust in His character that He cares. But I don’t feel close to ear of Abba.   I am here and He is there, and in between us is a lonely desert. Dry, barren and beautiful.  I’m waiting as my spiritual fathers waited, as Jesus Himself waited in the desert, for what I don’t know. I simply know that the desert is the place of great encounters once the waiting is done. I can be at peace knowing deserts do not last forever. Eventually the sands end, the wandering ceases and there before us is the promised land, with its battles, challenges and rewards.  But I am not ready for that yet; I’m not hurrying to arrive.

I’m not having a crisis. I’m simply having a wait.

There are worse ways to spend a season.

Curses

I made a promise to myself while I was at the beach.

I promised that I wasn’t going to call myself “the girl who got kicked out of church” anymore.  I wasn’t going to keep talking about it. I didn’t want to be that person any longer.

So, of course, here I am writing about it.

 I realize now, finally,  that “the girl who got kicked out of church” ceased to exist the moment that curse was spoken.  Every day and every week and every year since then has been a process of discovering who I was created to be, not what the curse spoke of me.  My life is a precious vase shattered in a gravel pit; it takes awhile to sort the real pieces of me from the stones, and longer still to fit them back together.

A few weeks ago, John Trent held a conference at the church community we are part of now where he spoke of blessings and curses. He referenced this verse:

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. Duet. 30:19

He also provided the following definitions:
Life/ Blessing – A movement towards someone, to add ( like coins on a scale)
Death/ Curse – to send away; to isolate. To subtract.  To dam up (like a stream)

That was when pieces began sliding into place for me. The first curses mentioned in scripture are in Genesis and they both are enacted by eviction. Adam and Eve are forced to leave the garden.  Cain is forced from his home into the world.  Until this month, it never occurred to me relate that to my own experiences. I never truly understood the power of a curse or that I was under one even though I’ve spent a great deal of time beating my own self up for continuing to carry that curse around.

But then I looked a little deeper at the power of curses and I saw that many of them lasted not days or months or years but  generations.  I don’t want to be that girl either, but at least I can have a little self-grace about the healing process after only a few years.

What’s really important, though,  is what comes  next.

CHOOSE life

There’s a way out from under the curse, and I can choose  it.
I can choose not to be afraid of my words. Choose not to expect to be judged harshly and cast out. Choose not to pass fear and guilt and suspicion on to my children. I can choose to live openly without my guard up all the time. I can choose freedom from imaginary expectations. I can choose to trust what comes from within me and share it with others, and even if it does come back and hurt me again, I can choose to believe that I will survive that too. I can choose to not just say, but really trust that all things work together for good.

But choosing means I have to stop waiting and start BEING. Healing isn’t just going to fall on me and continue to fall on me, I have to actively choose it, and then, I have to live it.

Living it means doing some things that, quite frankly, scare the absolute pants right off of me.
I can’t keep avoiding those things. It’s locked me in a cage that’s shrinking and I can’t keep battering myself to death against the bars.

So
Here goes something.
Again.

And NOW I am done talking about it.

Regret and Redemption

I’ve hit a wall lately with writing. It isn’t the crippling fear or the putrid bitterness that holds me anymore, instead it’s the one billion mistakes and hurtful choices I made over the last four years that create the wall I can’t seem to scale.  I actually have a vision, a hope, but all I can see is crowds of people lined up, throwing stones and shouting “Hypocrite! Liar!”

Most times I feel like Paul. I am the chief of sinners. I recognize this, if not fully, at least with great weight. I am the chief of sinners and the span of relationship screw-ups I’ve generated, the number of people I have shut down, cut off  and verbally obliterated would fill the Grand Canyon.  It’s these people who whisper foul smelling arguments in my ear – and yes, they are demons of my own design because I have no reason to believe or think that any of them think often, or even ever of me, but their echoes still ring regret in my mind.

Four years is a long time. It’s enough time to begin to shed the skin of a young, idealistic, opinionated thirty something seeing the world in black and white, and to grow a new softer skin of a woman who has both hurt and been hurt, deeply, who doesn’t care so much that she be known for what she stands for as for how well she loves and who has found grace to be the great leveler, taking black and white and swirling it all together into the softest depthless grey. It’s time enough to find remorse, begin to slay your ego and even to make some amends, to realize life isn’t a battle to be won, but a quilt to be pieced together slowly with great creativity and care.

I am the chief of sinners, and when the first stone is thrown and the first accusation levied I will acknowledge the truth of it. Liar? Yes. Hypocrite? Oh indeed…this, this and so much more.

But not just that, not merely  that.

Because the quilt of my life, is woven together with this golden thread of redemption. It will not take the pieces and parts and return them to their original state because to do so is to disassemble the work. That’s regression, not redemption. Redemption is the discarding of the old order of things and accepting the new, creation that is evolving gently, as a caterpillar spins its cocoon, into something far more beautiful.

Time

This morning my eldest commented that she can’t believe January is almost over.
I’ve been thinking about time lately and its oxymoronic quality of being so unchangeable and so fluid all at the same time.
It’s been six months since my surgery. Six months since I sat in a recliner for weeks on end and felt the walls closing in around me while the world marched on and I struggled to walk the 1/4 mile stretch down my street. Only six months and also only six months?

Four months ago, five ladies, some of whom I’d never met, set out to start a little ministry blog. In one of those instances where it’s very good that God only gives you as much information as you need to make one step (if that), we had no idea. No idea what we were doing, where we were going what in the world could happen next.  One of us had a vision and the rest of us latched on.  We’ve been tobogganing down Everest ever since, sharing screamy laughter and leaping over and swerving around deadly obstacles and somehow enjoying some kind of wild unpredictable ride.  Only four months, and somehow, it seems like I have been part of this magic with these people for a lifetime.

Three and a half years ago when everything fell apart, I would beat myself up for not “getting over it” faster. I detested the process of healing and forgiving, but there was no way around it, only through, or being stuck in the mire of bitterness forever. Sometimes I crawled and sometimes I soared, and thirty-one days ago I symbolically cut the umbilical cord that tethered me to that other life, and truly, like the rising of the sun, we are done with that darkness. God has answered all He will, and while wicked scars sometimes stretch and ache, they no longer break open and bleed. Just like that…only yesterday, three years ago.

And so it is that God is bringing me to the first big hurdle that we will tackle in my year of running. We’re going to handle time. How He gives it; how I use it, or waste it. As free as I feel running, I expect to feel equally as restricted by keeping time rather than squandering it. I somehow knew that the physical running would be the easiest part of this theme.