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

 

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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.

Seeking God

 

 


seek God

 

Lately, I’ve been seeking God. I’m not having a crisis of faith, but I am having a crisis of presence.  My head knows God is near, but my heart has felt closed and distant.  After being wounded and scared, it has curled up into a tiny, prickly ball afraid to relax or feel too deeply, afraid even of God Himself who never works merely for my pleasure or comfort.  Glory doesn’t just shine, sometimes it burns…

I’m blogging at Middle Places today. You can read the rest of Seeking God by clicking RIGHT HERE.

 

Some days are like that, even for a Minimalist

This morning I experienced my first minimalist fail in two years: I threw away our extra coffee pot. I don’t know when I did it, though I know it was sometime during the moving process. I don’t know why I did it, possibly some form of moving delusion or purging euphoria. What I do know is that I wanted coffee and thirty seconds prior to discovering my purging error, the bottom cracked out of what I now know to be the only coffee pot in the house. . Fortunately I had not disposed of the camping coffee cups my brother purchased for us the year four hurricanes marched through Florida and we went weeks without power. Eventually, a lovely friend came to the rescue with a spare coffee pot, the result of a very recent marriage and the joining of two households.

Then my power when out.
Then my internet went out once the power came back on.

I looked outside to see if the sun had turned red or a black hole was forming but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Oh, and right now, I’m blogging from my phone.

Normally I would simply grab my things and head to Starbucks for a few minutes of wi-fi and maybe a bagel. Instead I’ll be taking my daughter to chemistry lab in a few moments. After which my mom is arriving from Tennessee.  This is why going to Starbucks is out.

It also means that once again, I am delaying the “kids stuff” post. But I do have a few observations in the midst of my first world crisis. Often times we, yes even me, hold on to things “just in case.” It’s why I kept a spare coffee pot for two years.  But there comes a tipping point in our lives where we have to decide if we are to continue to rely on the accumulation of stuff and money as wards against just in case, to keep life constantly convenient, or are we going to stop grasping so tightly to everything but the one thing that will keep us from drowning?  Let it go. We cannot be prepared for every blip, bump and eventuality. We sure can’t guard against real catastrophe with stuff and money.  When chaos strikes, and it will, it won’t be our stuff that saves us. It is entirely possible we won’t be saved at all but will have to walk right through the fire from beginning to end. When that happens, it will be what we’ve gained  in the letting go that carries us: the relationships, the family, the friends that have taken root and flourished in the open spaces of our lives.  We weren’t meant to get through life on our own, but we keep building these imaginary castles of self sufficiency on foundations of a greedy American dream at the expense of the people who are simply waiting for us to need…something.

I’m not at all saying that today was a catastrophe. It has been particularly frustrating.  Take it from me, home school becomes exponentially challenging when there is no power on a heavy technology day.  Frustration, catastrophe, these things happen no matter how many coffee pots we store in the closets.   But had I only needed to reach for a spare, I would have missed out on the pleasure of allowing someone to touch my life in the simplest of ways.   I’m glad I threw my old junk away after all.

***Edited to add: after I typed this with my thumbs on my phone, I couldn’t get it to post no matter what I did.  It took the Hunky man coming home and unsnarling all the technology to finally be able to say anything at all.

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

In the Middle of Breaking

Breakable

 

 

“It’s been a tenuous week.  Breakable things seem to be everywhere: a  friend finds out her mother has blood clots in the brain, cancer finally overcomes loved ones who have been waging war for over a decade, a relationship tears apart .  Trust shatters, hearts crack, tears fall. Breakable…”

You can read the rest at the Middle Places blog:  Just Click Here

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.