Greater Than

greater than

 

Yesterday, I got be a part of something so big, I never dreamed it would happen.
I hoped it would happen.
I even prayed for it to happen.
But I hadn’t placed my expectations in it happening…

Please join me over at Middle Places to read the rest of my adventure on Sunday. CLICK HERE

 

31 days button

Advertisements

The Art of New Things

I’m not always good at new things. I love the idea of new things, but many times I can’t quite get behind them enough to follow through. This is why I was a bit nervous when I signed up for the the 31 day blog project again. The concept  of writing something every day is exciting, and even more exciting is the idea that people would come and read my words, but the space between the warm fuzzy of your comments and encouragement and the time it has taken this month to write all these thoughts is wide and there are days when I haven’t wanted to keep working my way across.  But here we are with only a few more days at the end of the month, and I have a plan to keep writing, and a plan to move just a wee little bit from here to my own website, another new thing to learn.

I sometimes think the idea of newness is a bit addictive. New is shiny and flashy and exciting until the time comes to put the work into it deserves.  Then it’s… well, it’s work.  Work isn’t always flashy or exciting so we abandon the old, new thing and move on the the latest, greatest new thing – on and on we go until we have piles of new things all around us but nothing has really changed at all, except for the amount of space our new things require.  And we just keep searching for that next “new thing” fix.

The reality of newness is that it isn’t an concept, a one and done approach to life, but an art.  Each and every new thing is an art and we are one of two people. We’re the people who just keep buying more art, or we are the artist.  The artist sees something beautiful and works to bring it to life.  The medium doesn’t matter, what matters is the true genesis not in acquiring but in creating. Ask any artist and he will tell you that beauty doesn’t just happen.  It’s work. It’s work and sweat and sometimes tears. It’s falling and failing and trying again, sometimes starting over completely from scratch. It’s not walking away when the shine wears off because you know that somewhere, buried deep, is a thing of such immense beauty that the world is less without it.

This is true newness.
We are the artists and the medium is our lives.
We can keep dressing life up, and masking it in all the trappings the world has to offer, or we can get to the real work of peeling away the dross and the excess, bringing to light a beautiful new thing that’s never been seen before, nor will be again.

But we have to decide to stop looking everywhere else and focus on the work at hand: our own unique life.
What we make of it will be our life’s work or our life’s waste.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Rev. 21:5

 

31 days button

Living Spaces: 5 ways to regain control

Several rooms qualify as living space, rather than get into semantics I’ll define my meaning here: living space is space that is not kitchen or dining room and  not used for sleeping or showering. So whether you call it the living room, the office, the den, or the great room, it qualifies as living space. These are the rooms where we spend the most time during our day, generally. Personally, I am a fan of simple, uncrowded, multi-use space. Our home now has several rooms that are “living spaces” The good news is that we also have what I call disposable furniture so when we downsize, we won’t be crowded. Let’s get to it.

1. A flat surface does not mean you have to put something on it.  Walls, tops of furniture, tables, these were not made to be filled with stuff. In fact, the less we have on them the cleaner our home looks all the time. Do not fall into the greenery, knick-knacky, quaintly cluttery trap. A clear surface is a thing of beauty.

2. If you love a coffee table, you may need to take a deep breath. I’m about to get all up your space business.  I feel about coffee tables like I feel about closets. They are crap collectors and space wasters. Most of our rooms are not big enough to accommodate them comfortably. We use them as, “we’ll take care of this later” storage spots, allowing the piles grow and spawn.  The most use they get is to hold food while we sit at them to eat and watch television. I challenge you to say good bye to the coffee table. Just put in the garage for a few weeks and see how it goes.

3. Books are a touchy subject. No one is really middle of the line when it comes to them. Either this whole paragraph doesn’t affect you at all or your jaw is set and you are already kicking and screaming, ready to throw your protests out to the world.  Take some deep breaths and go read this post about books (click here). I’m won’t repeat what has already been well written. We are down to one and a half bookcases from six full bookcases and stacks of books everywhere.  Both pieces of furniture with books are ones Hunky and I have agreed are not disposable; one of them houses school books which are, of course, not optional.  I am a lover of books. I love everything about them, the entire book experience. They were one of the last things I was able to begin letting go. But since we continue to live a gypsy lifestyle, my desire to be unburdened won out over my love for books.  Honestly, I was never going to read or reread them all anyway. I have no one to impress with my collection.

4. Anything with doors and drawers needs to be severely assessed. I’m not opposed to cupboards and drawers. I am opposed to the fact that we employ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality regarding them. Just because you shut the drawer, doesn’t mean the stuff goes away.  If your furniture has drawers, doors or shelves, I suggest having a specific purpose for each one (for instance we have a cabinet with the school pens, pencils, calculators and protractors in one drawer and bound playing cards in the other. Nothing else goes in the drawer but those items that belong there).  DO NOT HAVE A JUNK DRAWER. I’m planning to talk about this when we hit the kitchen, but just don’t. It never ends well.  When you go through your drawers and cabinets get rid of duplicates, pens that don’t work, any pen if you have over twenty – don’t be that guy, trash, scraps of anything, anything  that you can’t immediately identify, old keys,  stray coins, marbles, bouncy balls…just toss it. No one misses these things. I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy organizers for your drawers because if you are diligent, you won’t even need them.

5. All the other odds and ends really fast:

  • Paper Clutter. Unclutterer has two great posts: HERE and HERE
  • Old magazines. If it’s been sitting untouched for six months, you don’t need it. Recycle or donate. Most magazines now offer digital service with superior search engines, and it’s friendlier to the environment. At least consider it.
  • There should be nothing under any furniture. Period. (Those of you with littles get a small pass because those toys are tricky. We’ll be talking about that tomorrow)
  • If  you have too much furniture for an area, stop stubbornly hanging on to it. Why not give it to someone who needs it and can use it.
  • Exercise equipment.  This is not a clean clothes shelf or a mail box. Clear it off and use it. Putting stuff on it is just another excuse.
  • Anything that doesn’t have a home needs to be removed from the room. Remember when I talked about having some boxes to keep things in while you transition? Determine quickly if it’s keep, donate or trash and put it in the right box. Random stuff sitting around is discouraging. Put it where you have a plan to deal with it. DO NOT JUST STICK IT IN A CLOSET OR DRAWER. That would be counter productive, now wouldn’t it?

Do you have any questions about your living space? I’d love to help out or point you in the direction of someone who can. Speak up in the comments!

10 Reasons you can’t be a Minimalist Pt. 2

This is the second in a three part series intended to debunk excuses regarding minimalism.  Yesterday, we tackled four over-arching excuses, today we are going to examine some of the social excuses. You can read Part 1 HERE.

5) I don’t want people to think I am weird 
It’s easy to label this excuse as self-absorbed and not address it, but we do live in a culture where it seems our lifestyles are under constant scrutiny – though it’s also true that fewer people are watching us than we imagine.  Social media has opened us to response and criticism from every corner. The more we share, whether it be on facebook, around the water cooler at work, in our social groups or with family, the more opinions we hear. Some people  will  think we have completely flipped off the deep end.  They’ll make jokes about sleeping on mats in a yurt. Some will  try to convince us it’s a big mistake; we may need our  things in the future, another excuse we’ll address in this series. For the most part, I have experienced more curiosity and openness to discussion than either of the first two responses. Once we start removing excess, the mental and emotional space we experience, the money we save, the beauty we find in our homes  far outweighs Bob from accounting’s opinion about giving away half our clothes. We can’t live our lives based on what other people will think.

6) If I get rid of my extra things I can’t have people over.
It’s true that if we don’t have four sets of plates it is difficult to host dinner for twenty-five, but then again, I’ve never hosted dinner for twenty-five.  In fact, most people entertain less while owning more.  The constant busyness required by the consumer culture isn’t very conducive to entertaining.  As a pastor’s wife who lives a considerable distance from either side of our family, it is quite common for us to have anywhere from a handful to a house full of guests.  I’ve never been embarrassed by lack, and I’ve never found myself wishing I had more of anything.  We aren’t formal so when the occasion requires we request potluck complete with BYO serving utensils.   We sometimes use disposable plates and forks, but I have also found that our one set of dishes with service for eight, is quite adequate for almost all our needs even with guests.  We are prepared with sheets and towels for a few. On the rare occasions when more are expected, we borrow from friends or ask our guests come prepared.  Many of us hang on to things because we might need them sometime in the future, say, if the Queen of England spends the night, rather than because we actually use them now. In doing so, we’re living for a slightly possible tomorrow rather than enjoying today. What’s more, with less stuff, my house stays cleaner, which makes me far more likely to entertain.  A minimized budget enables us financially to treat and entertain.  We are better able to respond generously to guests in our home with less, than we ever were with more.

7) My family is generous. I can’t get rid of the things I have been given.
This is one of the hardest situations a minimalist will face. Our parents adore our children and want to buy them all the things for every holiday both major and minor. Or we have surfaces covered with tchotchkes handed down from great-aunt Ellen from the homeland. Or we have an attic full of stuff from when our parents passed away.  These are hard things because emotions get twisted in with our stuff. We’ll tackle them one at a time.

First with generous parents or family, it is actually healthy to say no, thank you and to set boundaries around gift giving at holidays and birthdays. It may be difficult and even uncomfortable, though most families make the adjustment just fine even if they don’t fully understand.  Communicate that the space in our homes is finite. We can’t continue to accumulate things the way we have in the past. If family members are insistent, which can happen when grandchildren are involved, then ask that the items be kept in their home and not yours.

Keeping sentimental items is a much more emotional matter.  Keep in mind, again, there is no time limit, and this isn’t an everything-must-go blitz. I still have sentimental items which I intend to keep. Because I am not buried under stuff, I actually enjoy and use them instead of sitting in a closet or the attic.  When we are sorting this type of item it’s important to remember our feelings for the person have nothing to do with the item. They won’t disappear when it is gone, nor will our memories. It’s also completely understandable to simply remove the item for awhile without actually disposing it. I kept a “maybe box” which was a place where things went to live while I thought about getting rid of them.  Occasionally items came out of the box and stayed, but usually I found I didn’t miss the item and the guilt  I was feeling was entirely misplaced.  I have also heard it advised to take pictures, keeping photos rather than the item itself in order to enjoy the memories without taking up time and space.

A third scenario is parents whose children have left boxes, bags and entire rooms behind upon permanently leaving home. This can also be a very emotional situation, and one that I have not dealt with personally. However, I hope the way we live now will prevent this from being an issue in the future.  It’s reasonable to tell your children that at a set date, you will handle the items yourself and not for storage purposes, Children who claim to be adults should act like it by being responsible for their own belongings. Parents are not rent free storage units. I realize there are extenuating circumstances within individual families, but overall, we can all stop leaving our baggage behind in the care of others and be better for it.

31 days

10 Reasons You can’t be a Minimalist Pt. 1

I haven’t been a minimalist for very long, but I have heard a lot of reasons why people can’t be minimalists themselves. The funny thing is I’m not asking anyone to change how they live.  Yet it seems the knee jerk reaction to a going-against-the-grain life style is a defensive position.  I don’t think non-minimalists are evil hoarders intent on undoing the world. I do think that at the very least, we could all benefit from examining why we live the style of life we live. This goes for everyone. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Minimalism is my way of examining my life, continually.  You don’t have to be a minimalist to do so, but I do want to help dispel some of the lies telling us, “you can’t.”  We’re going to tackle this in three parts so it isn’t overwhelming.

1) I don’t have time to be a minimalist.
This is one that I actually agree with at the outset. Time is our most valuable commodity and it’s being used by the minute and the hour, day after day.  All of us struggle to find time for the many things demanded of us.  I’ve been actively pursuing this lifestyle for two years now, and I am still making loaded trips to the thrift store with our stuff.  If you want to start minimizing, all you need is 5 minutes and a place to start: a drawer, a room, a closet, a junk box. No one is timing you; it isn’t a contest. Set aside five minutes a day and work on that space for all of the five minutes. Today…tomorrow…the next day, until it’s done. Then pick the next space and do it again.  If you can do more than five minutes, awesome! If you miss a day or three, who cares? Start where you were and keep moving forward. The key is to not let things re-gather in the space after you have finished.  So what if it takes you a month to do two kitchen drawers?  You still managed two kitchen drawers! The further you go, the more time you have because you won’t be constantly spinning trying to find where you left something or figuring out where this thing goes, or tripping over things in the corners.  Pick a spot. Set a timer. Go for five. We all have five minutes.

2) I don’t know where to start
This excuse pairs well with number one so I won’t reiterate everything. There is no template here, no right place to start. Find an area that is manageable and preferably one that yields fast results. The faster you finish the first task, the more likely you are to start a second. Get started.  I have a few cautions. Do only one area at a time. When we start more than one project, we generally create more chaos and are less inclined to finish. One area, any area, as much as you can each day for as long as it takes. You’re practically an expert already! Be sure you have a place for trash and a box for things you plan to give away or sell. This way you aren’t making more piles as you go.

3) My husband/ wife/ significant other/ parents/ dog/ goldfish is a pack rat
This is not an excuse because being a minimalist is only about you. Yours is the life you are examining, not anyone else. No one around you has to change, only you. You go through your things, your clothes, your desk, your toiletries.  We all have areas that are exclusively our own, more even than we realize. Begin with your things.  It’s very likely that after some time, whoever you share your space with is going to start changing as well.  My own husband recently did a major overhaul on his wardrobe before we moved last summer. I didn’t have to nag or make barbed comments.  Change is a gradual process, and people have to want it for themselves before they will join you.  If you want change, then begin changing you. Don’t let what others won’t do be the roadblock in your journey.

4) I have kids
This may be the most common and most disturbing argument.  When we moved from one state to another four years ago, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff my children had accumulated in eleven years of existence.  There were enough clothes for a village, enough toys for a nursery school and enough trash to cause me concern for the future of our environment. Most kids today are absolutely glutted with stuff.  We throw them birthday parties with forty friends and every single child brings a gift. We want each Christmas to be bigger and more wonderful than the last. They are bombarded constantly through the media with the message that they must have the latest, greatest, biggest, best, newest of everything.  It’s no wonder they can’t even keep their room clean, they don’t know where to start either! Your children don’t know it, and they will fight against it, but what they need more than anything in this world is for us to help unburden them from this load piled upon them, help teach them appreciation for what they have, and how to focus on what really matters.  Later in the month I will devote an entire post sharing how we’ve managed minimalism with our own three teen-age girls.  I truly believe that we continue to do our children an enormous disservice if we allow them to be the reason we won’t minimize.

Part 2: HERE
Part 3: HERE

31 days

Creating Space

My family keeps unconventional time.  We always have. First it was because my husband as the head athletic trainer at a very large high school worked insane hours. Then, he entered ministry. Now he doesn’t work as many hours, though still quite a few– I don’t know a dedicated pastor who doesn’t put in well over the conventional forty hours– but what he doesn’t work is conventional days. Our weekend starts Thursday evening. We hold Friday as a sacred day, a sabbath, and Saturday usually involves some form of work or ministry, at least for the morning.  Then, of course, we are back in the work week which always begins on Sunday for us.  Our strange hours and days have also led us to unconventional school years, learning in July and August, vacationing the week after Labor day when everyone else is really getting back into the work groove. We have learned that time is ours to shape how we can to suit us.  Thankfully we’ve been given the freedom to make these choices since we home school, and I stay home to do that.

I say all of this because what I’m about to talk about is a bit unconventional itself. I read this post, A Year Living Without over at Zen Habits in July.  I’ve been thinking about it since. When I decided to participate in the 31 Day Challenge, I knew I was facing some priority changes to make everything fit.  I am not a fast writer, though the more I consistently practice writing the easier it comes. My days are filled with  educating my three teens.  I could say right along with everyone else in the world, I’m so busy. I am. But some percentage of busyness comes from how I choose to spend my time, not that there is not enough of it.

Enter the concept of living without.  It isn’t merely stuff that needs minimalizing in my life, wasted time needs to be investigated too.  I haven’t determined all of the things I will live without for the next year, but I do know what I am trimming for the next month in order to make the 31-Day Challenge attainable. To begin with I need to resculpt my mornings. I am most productive in the morning hours and three days a week early morning is when I run. Running is a non-negotiable. It makes me a better person entirely. Lately, since attaining a smart phone, I waste time before getting out of bed checking email, looking at the weather, twiddling about on facebook. That ended this morning.  No more online time before 9am for me.

I’m  prone to wasting time at night after the dishes are done and there is nothing pressing on my that needs to be finished. I will fritter away time online again, even playing a few silly games.  That also will be ending today. I am resculpting my evenings to be more productive. My definition of productive for these hours will include reading, writing and any other relaxing activities that do include my family and don’t include internet.

My boundaries include a few exceptions:
1) My responsibilities at Middle Places will alter my time boundaries on Mondays only.
2) Night time hours will not completely exclude all use of internet. Home school, personal development or meal planning may happen during these hours but will limited to small segments of time. No social media

Now for the more important element of living without, filling the space.  It’s no good to simply free up time, I need a direction for my time. Mornings will include a morning routine of eating, prayer  time, making a priority list for the day, running and writing. Once the kids are awake at 8am, life moves ahead like a freight train right through the afternoon and into dinner. I am not trying to create more time space after 8am as that time is for school. School unfolding each day successfully is my priority, not a list of projects with school stuffed in the spaces between those things. Evening will also include developing a routine that will include a final sweep of the house, finishing any chores left unfinished.  I haven’t been reading as much as I would like so a lot of evening time will be devoted to that, as well as family time, and working on some personal projects I have going on. I don’t like writing at night as well, but I can use this time to finish up any writing that didn’t get done that morning as well.

I am finding that life, like my home, can be filled until every corner is crammed, every second is labeled, if I choose.  But I can also choose to intentionally create spaces that are beautiful just in being there, not because they serve a particular purpose at all.

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.