Before I Die

I have thinkerly days sometimes. Usually when the wind blows wild and I feel restless.
Today is the perfect culmination of thinkerly conditions.  Fall is like that.
I spent some time thinking about what I want the last week of the 31 days project to hold, now that we’ve looked in my closets and discussed what’s in the pantry.  Where to we go from here?

I think we’ll spend the next week going outside the box of house keeping and talking about what to do with life once we’ve eliminated the things that weigh us down and steal from us.  Clearing our homes is just the first step, there is a life to be lived after that, and maybe its time we examined more closely what sort of life we want that to be.

A few months ago I watched this inspiring talk. It entered my mind again today in all my thinking. It’s the perfect prelude to what’s coming next. I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch it. It’s worth your six minutes.

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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

Time Out

You know how you get to the end of the week sometimes and you feel like there just isn’t anything left?  Words pelt you like small bits of gravel. The things you kept meaning to get around to but just couldn’t quite get your hands on seem to taunt you when you round the corner or just at the moment you start to sit down.  That’s me tonight. It’s been a busy week. Not bad busy…good busy, in many ways very  good busy. But good or bad, being an introvert means even the very best company withdraws from my bank of ability to cope with life and its demands. It’s Thursday night, and I’m scraping the bottom of the account.

This is why I am so happy it’s Thursday.
Thursday is my Friday. And tomorrow…
Well, tomorrow is the very best of days.  We call it Sabbath.

I realize Sabbath isn’t a word that makes everyone comfortable. It’s antiquated and odd. It also smacks of extreme orthodoxy, and yet I’ve spoken before about how it’s one of our greatest untapped gifts. When I started 31 Days, I spoke about my family’s unorthodox schedule.  Where ministry is concerned, there is always a need.   We could fill every hour of every day for the rest of our lives working, working for good, valuable, important things.  Thank God we don’t have to. Thank God that He set it up from the beginning for His people to have a time out.  Not a day to run all over town getting things done, not a day to overhaul the closets, the attic and the garage. Time out.

Time to sleep, to read, to sit, think, enjoy…Sometimes we play games and watch movies. Sometimes we lounge about in jammies until well after noon.  Sometimes we go places together, or Hunky and I go out to lunch.  It’s our time out…out of society, out of culture, out of calendars and schedules and to-do lists. Outside of the all the things the world tells us are so very important. Things it cannot manage without us for even one hour.

A foul lie if ever there was one.

We are not nearly so important. We don’t like to hear that very much, but it is true. For thousands or millions of years, depending on your world view, before we came around and for however long time has left when we’ve moved on, the world has been just fine without us. So we, my family and I, don’t have any problem at all checking out for one day a week and simply resting.

Yes, it takes preparation to manage a day away. It takes saying no to things and skillfully managing the other six days.  Time out doesn’t just happen.  It gets easier with practice, more familiar and anticipated. It’s the very thing I need at the end of every week when I’ve expended every bit of my storehouse.

And now…I think I’ll step out for a day or so.
Goodnight.

Life Outside the Box: 5 things we’ve learned since turning off cable

We’ve been without cable for almost ten years. Even before it was cool to get rid of cable we were  that family, the one who decided it cost way too much for way too little material value.  It all started rather accidentally; we’d had a satellite dish several years, but when we moved into a new place, there was no signal without putting a fifty foot pole in the yard. We weren’t interested in that. The cable monopoly in our town was ridiculously expensive, even the 487 movie channel package they kept insisting it was the best value. So we delayed, and didn’t do anything, and waited and finally, we just decided we didn’t want it. After all, by now we were used to the space, so why bother? For a short time we could still watch one or two local networks with our rabbit ears, but once the switch to digital signal happened, we had nothing. It was like the stone ages, before stations ran programming on the internet, before Netflix, before Hulu.

Since that time we’ve accumulated a nice little stash of movies (which we keep in one of the CD albums for maximum space advantage), and we’ve learned a few things:

1) Commercials really are one the single primary sources of greed. Ten years ago our children would have been 3, 4 and 5.  Yes, we let them watch kids’ channels. Yes, they wanted every single item they saw advertised. But once we stopped showing them all the very exciting things they were missing, they stopped wanting so much. Christmas became more enjoyable, sometimes even a challenging us to generate ideas for gifts to share with the grandparents.  Trips to the store weren’t filled with constant begging for toys. Hunky and I stopped thinking about buying new things simply because they were shiny and exciting.  If we don’t know what we’re missing, we aren’t missing it.

2) We let outside forces of little importance dictate the schedule of our lives.  I realize this problem is more outdated now with DVR and On-demand, but at the time, it was epidemic. Life without a television schedule opened our minds to the question if we had been allowing television to dictate our lives, what else had power over us without our realizing we permitted it? One slight drawback to delayed viewing was the three days we absorbed Season 1 of Lost watching almost nonstop, episode after episode, for the whole twenty-four episodes, but we watched it on our terms! No network told us to do that!  We sometimes lack discipline even today.

3) Media takes away our ability to think for ourselves. When someone appears polished, sounds intelligent and oozes sincerity, we want to believe they have our best interests at heart.  We conclude that the story they are telling is true and accurate.  I realize the fact that every media outlet operates from its own personal bias is no longer revolutionary ideology, but at the time it was amazing to me.   It made me relearn critical thinking and sifting through various sources for threads of truth.  I hope that by limiting television influence we are passing the same abilities on to our children. This world needs more free-thinkers if we’re ever going to change anything.

4.) Television isn’t reality. Even if it’s “reality television”.  Have you noticed the level of dissatisfaction in developed nations is higher than it’s ever been? We have more than we know what to do with and still we can’t seem to find happiness. Maybe it’s because we expect problems to be solved affably in twenty-four minutes or less, or that we haven’t slept with eleven hotties in the last two weeks nor have we been in even one high speed chase.   No, sometimes life is boring and we do the same thing day after day. Sometimes problems don’t wrap themselves up in a neat little package no matter how long we wait. Sometimes there is mess that just keeps going.  We’ve forgotten the things that make up actual reality while watching people fight for immunity in someone else’s imaginary world.

5.) We’ve lost the art of being quiet and still.  I remember a time when I would run the television for noise in the background. Seriously, as though there wasn’t enough noise in my life. We like to feel important, needed, on-top-of-things, so we tune into an endless stream of information, sound bytes, news reels and entertainment.  If we let our minds simply be still and quiet for a few moments, who knows what madness might break out in our heads!  Over time one of my favorite things has become stillness. Rather than my mind whirling and churning on the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, it has learned, over time, to simply rest, to let thoughts gently sift and settle. This isn’t something that’s popular, but in an increasingly hectic world ,it is something that it desperately lacking. Our ability to tune OUT and be still in necessary to our creativity and mental and physical health. Unplugging ( the internet too ) allows our brains to move in slower patterns that the world of media has all but eliminated, and we are suffering because of it.

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.

I’m Expecting

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about expectations lately.
I have many.  Whether that is a good or bad thing doesn’t matter because anticipating the future is part of my personality, a part which has led to some of my most enjoyable seasons and also some of my hardest.  The problem begins when  expectational me hangs out with perfectionist me.  Perfectionism is a trait I am retraining slowly.  I apparently overlooked it in this area of my life as I find it running rampant.  Expectational me hopes things will be a certain way, then perfectionist me sweeps in yelling, “Wrong! wrong! wrong! None of this is how it should be. IT IS ALL A CATASTROPHIC FAILURE!”   When I allow perfectionist to be the only voice I hear, I allow myself to be robbed of anything that is good about the situation, and even worse, feeling as though I was cheated out of something that was owed.

Robbed and cheated: I’ve heard about someone who works in exactly those ways- seeking to kill, steal and destroy.

It’s a difficult realization.  I’ve been using the enemy’s own weapons against myself, and doing it so perfectly that he doesn’t even have to come near.  But as in all things, something difficult has a positive side. Despite the fact that I may have been my own worst enemy, I also have the most deeply vested interest in changing this pattern of behavior. I can control the way I respond and react, not quickly or all at once, but slowly, changing small behaviors one at a time which eventually leads to big change.

I believe expectations are good, but I also believe that I need to stop expecting events to unfold just-so.  Life happens. Usually it happens without input, advice or direction from me, but my response doesn’t have to just happen. I don’t have to let the perfectionist run around screaming and pointing out all the flaws. I could, in fact, let the wide-eyed wondering me take over. She likes to point out the beautiful things, the things that are seldom noticed by a frantically screaming perfectionist. She has mastered the art of being still and observing small miracles, but she is inherently quiet, so she seldom receives my full attention. It’s time to change that too.

The words “slow, small and still” continue to speak wholeness  over my life in the most beautiful ways.  Their very unassuming nature waits on my reflection and acceptance of what is and who I am and guides me gently in finding the answers to the differences I seek. What I am learning is not to let go of my expectations, but to temper them, and to allow reality the grace to be different then I imagined but to be beautiful anyway.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

112

I love my husband.
I do.
But lately, he hasn’t made life very easy.
Because lately, I’ve been wallowing. The details don’t matter, I simply haven’t been my best this summer. But I do want to be very clear that my Hunky has put up with my funk, my pout and my apathy with gentleness and understanding. More than I deserve, truly.
He’s just not letting me stay here.

Given my way, I’d probably spend twelve to fifteen hours a day in my bed with fluffy fiction and fancy chocolate. Steaming sweet coffee and the occasional glass of deep red wine would be delivered by the magical people who work for free to keep my house clean and my laundry folded. What? If I’m going to have a funk, I’m not doing it in filth.

Hunky allowed me to entertain the possibility of this for awhile. In fact, most of the summer I lived life on my terms which translates into hiding like a hermit, wearing mostly pajama pants, but I did have to do my own laundry and sweep the floors.

He let me be quiet.
He let me be sad.
He let me send colorful text messages throughout the worst of the days.

Then two days ago he wrote a blog with a number.

And that was that. Without a word to me, without even a hint that it had anything to do with me, because it didn’t, I knew that it was time to stop the ridiculous pout and carry on with things.
But not just carry on with them, to change them, to direct them, to improve them. To stop letting life just happen and actually engage it again.
With all the possibility of failure, and disappointment and difficulty
Because without engaging you also miss the victories, and the relationships and the beauty.

Cocoons made of bed covers are nice, but they won’t actually produce any butterflies.

I don’t know that I’ve wasted that last three months entirely, but I didn’t explore them either. They rolled over me whether or not I wanted them while I watched suspiciously from my island.

I’m not ready to take on the world, but I am ready to take on today. Just today.

Today is enough.