Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cleaning house, inside and out

It's my first Monday of not having a day job. So I did what I imagine 90% of women who have felt overloaded for a long time, then have a spell of free time, would do: I started by cleaning my brains out.

But I made myself stop at noon. I'm going to try and not run around in all directions at once like a chicken with my head cut off, to try and not go nuts and then burn out within a week. I've divided up the tasks and plan to deal with them one at a time, including space to write and exercise most days, instead of trying to do all the neglected cleaning and organizing--which tends to scream for my attention, because it's on the outside and I look at it daily--at once. Over time I've learned that life is like this: The race goes to the steady plodder in the end. The one who does a little each day but does it every day, instead of the one who goes all out and then crashes. Which has been me, many times in the past, and is the natural tendency of my personality.

I decided to start with my husband's and my bedroom and small attached bath. I don't call it a master bedroom because this house was built in the 60s, and the bedrooms are all small. There was a couple of (actually rather tidy) piles of STUFF, one in the corner of our bedroom and one in the bath, and lately I've been looking at those piles and thinking, I should deal with that. Piles of nice stuff that I didn't know what to do with or where to put, so they have remained in situ for at least a year. Pretty sad I know, but this is what happens when you are overloaded. You don't have time to deal with things or make even very small decisions, like whether to fix or get rid of an old quilt or whether to mend or give away clothes, not to mention odd bits of yarn from former knitting projects and pictures that need framed and etc.

I thought these rooms would take me two hours max, but then I got into sorting clothes. Sorting clothing for give-away is something I do often--there is a fixed amount of space in the small closet I share with my husband, so if I got new things it meant other stuff had to go. I get rid of clothes in an on-going way, but not usually in a take every single item out and think about it way. And I never touch my husband's clothes, because there are just not very many of them. But as I looked through his shirts, some of them never did fit well or were really out of date and needed replaced. Others badly needed a wash around the collar. In the end I got rid of way more stuff than I expected, and my Monday laundry pile doubled. I even found a few mates for the ever-growing pile of orphan socks on top of the washer.

All of this took longer than I expected. And as I went along, it seemed so appropriate to be doing the master bedroom and clothes first: The place and the things in the house closest to my person, and the most identified with me. Symbolic of the inner work I want to be doing concurrently, because I don't want to spiff up the outside without attending to the inside. Activities like spiritual reading, journaling and a bit of drawing need to be part of my new everyday schedule too. Otherwise life will just get crazy again.

Friends have been asking me, "Are you excited to be going back home again?" But all I could think for the past few months since notifying my boss was no--I just feel scared. Scared about money, scared that there won't be enough, scared of stress--of trading time-pressure for financial pressure, and being no better off in the end. But for the first time this morning, I felt faith. Something on the inside, something in my spirit, is affirming me that yes, this is the right thing to do. What I felt the Spirit telling me was that although I've known the "right answers" about how God provides (in particular, that he provides for those called to ministry, like my husband), I have been living as if they were not true. Living as if God didn't care about my needs and even my wants. Living as if it really was all up to me in the end. This was not a call to dire repentance: It was more like a gentle reminder. Something that I have known is true, but just let go of for a while. Perhaps when I was employed, it was easier to slide into the thinking that the income was "mine," and forget the reality that the provision of all good things is a grace, is a gift from God. 

In the past my husband and I have lived by faith financially, even radical faith. But since returning to America, buying a house, and having older children, life has become way more complicated. Way less simple. My heart is for it to be simple, but it just isn't. It isn't realistic for our family right now to live in a small two bedroom apartment or share a car as we did in past days, and in our college town we would pay more for renting a family-sized home than our monthly mortgage payment. Teenagers aren't content wearing old clothes from goodwill, they would stick out at school like a sore thumb. And, teenagers eat a LOT. It may be that someday we can return to a simpler lifestyle. In fact, I wouldn't mind one bit. I miss having way less cleaning and free Saturdays, with no home and yard projects (or basketball tournaments!), because I lived that life for a long time. It's just not what we are called to now.

Please hear me: I'm not saying that having a job and working for money is wrong. It all depends on what you are called to do and be, and if you are married, what your spouse is called to do and be. People can definitely be called to be a carpenter or a nurse or a teacher or a lawyer or a banker or any number of paid professions. I worked at a bank for a year and a half because we needed the money for a while, and I was willing to get a job if need be. There was a need for a time, and I had the willingness to do what I could, but it was not a career that fit me well or that I was called to do long term. Different things are the right arrangement at different times. Many doors are opening for my husband in ministry--more than we've ever seen before. He needs to be freed up to be able to pursue them, and now that I'm home, there are things I can take over for him. Our family (and his crazy, never-a-normal-day schedule) also functions better when we are both pulling in the same direction, rather than going separate directions for much of the day. So I'm looking forward to working together more.

And for me--what am I "called" to do and be? I don't feel a clear answer to that. But that some commitment to writing is a part, I am sure. I have ideas for a new novel, and I hope to be able to write much more consistently now that I'm home. My plan is to set aside three 2-3 hour blocks a week--for now, this seems like a realistic, achievable goal. I also want to lose some weight and gain more strength, and attend better to the counseling/healing process for PTSD. I feel like I have been in a holding pattern for a few months, not gaining any ground, simply because I did not have the time to give any focus to it. I don't think a ton of time is required, and I certainly don't want to plunge into self-absorbtion in any sense. But put plainly, pursuing physical and emotional healing takes some time, there is just no way around it. Sometimes it's a fight to believe that healing and freedom in certain areas of my life are possible, that they are worth pursuing, and real change will result in the end. But those experienced in these things tell me it is so.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Among the Pea-sticks

I can't remember which Victorian novel I was listening to--it may have been Trollope's "The Small House at Allington," which I eventually gave up on because, despite the occasional witty observations of the narrator, I lost interest in the characters and their extremely sedate lives.  These types of novels, read in a soothing male British voice, are what I've been listening to when I can't fall asleep at night. Then I drift in and out of sleep to the modulated sound of a narrator, which is better than no sleep at all. And I can sort-of say I've read the classic book. If I'm interested enough, I'll go back several chapters to where I remember something in the morning and listen, this time for real, in the car. In any case, at some point while listening to one of these novels I distinctly heard these words describing the widowed mother of a family, that she "had been so reduced as to be found 'among the pea-sticks.'"

So, when I needed to put in some kind of support along the side of my newly dug garden bed for the peas, beans and cucumbers to climb, I remembered that phrase, "pea-sticks".

I'd looked at the bundles of stakes and bamboo poles at Walmart. But there is something in me that balks at paying for a stick. A stick just seems to me to be something one should be able to find for free on the ground. And what did people do before they could go to Walmart or the local hardware store, after all? I've seen various constructions on pinterest of metal poles and nylon mesh or fencing. While they may be functional and long-wearing, I just can't get over the thought that they are so ugly looking for a place as green and natural as a garden. I have also seen lovely cedar raised beds with a built-in wall of support that likely cost a few hundred dollars each to build: Out of the question.

So here's my attempt at pea-sticks. The overgrown shrubs from the neglected rental house adjoining our backyard yielded plenty of sticks for my need. Maybe I will run a few lines of twine back and forth through them for additional oomph. We'll see how it works out.



Saturday, April 11, 2015

Vacations are Good! And a bit about Prayer: The entryway into self-knowledge

I haven't posted for some time because we traveled for Spring Break, and the two weeks preceding vacation were filled with family-emergency stress.  Thus my half-written pre-Spring Break post stayed half-written. Sometimes life is like that. It was delightful to leave the crisis for a while and be captured by the amazing, surreal scenery of Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon--surreal in that even though I have now seen these places with my own eyes, it is hard to believe they are for real because they are so incredible. Here are a few pics:

 Driving into Zion National Park

 My daughter and husband at the "weeping wall"

 The trees were so beautiful

 My husband and teenage son: They took a few more adventurous hikes without the rest of us.

 My parents traveled with us, here they are on the trail at Bryce Canyon


 Yes, we hiked down into Bryce Canyon, and back up--and up and up!

 My daughter with Grandma at the Grand Canyon.

That's my guy, in front of "Grandview Point"

But now I'm back. And it's time to deal with those same stressful issues that I'd left on the doorstep. Time to form new routines, as my high schooler will be finishing his semester at home and online, and very soon I will finish my part time banking job and return home again for a season. A few months ago I had a strong feeling that I needed to head back home. I thought I would have more writing and reflective time--I have an idea for a new novel that I've not been able to work on or develop. But the nudge to be home may be more about the kids. I'll miss my co-workers, but I look forward to doing a better job of home, business and ministry management, and not feeling so behind all the time!

Today I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the stressful things. Some situations drag out, even for years, and there are no easy answers, no shortcuts through. Life with teens can be like this. With my first son, a counselor told me I was just waiting for the front cerebral cortex to develop, and pointed me to this fascinating article published in National Geographic.  Now that I have a mostly pleasant and easy to live with 20 year old, I understand what she meant. I also have the perspective I did not have the first time around, that we will get through this. This 15 year old will grow up and mature--probably into a terrific young man. I already see occasional signs and indications of this, in an immature form.

But I what I really want to share is a quote from N. T. Wright that has me thinking. It's from the 2 week (nice, short and do-able!) reading plan I just signed up for using this app.

"Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change--the re-ordering of our loves."

I read this and thought: Is that true? Is prayer the only entryway? For me it has perhaps been the most common entryway, but I have also been helped by professional counselors and by conversations with perceptive mentors and close friends. Yet even these I tend to "process" in my journal, which I write as a letter to God and which is, essentially, prayer.

I do believe that it is God who gives the light in which we are able to see and perceive what is true, about ourselves and about others and our world. I think it probable that most of the time, we have no idea how much this is so. If God withdrew his presence and light entirely from our world, we would experience the darkness and confusion of being utterly left to ourselves, and we would know the difference. But the above quote speaks not about what is generally true, but about specific and personal knowledge, revelation or insight--the kind that effects deep and lasting change--for a specific person.

If God is the one who formed us, it makes sense that we would receive the keenest insight about ourselves from him. This concurs with my experience that a kind of clarity comes through prayer. A kind of "knowing" that is deeper than mere knowledge or facts. Prayer cuts through our muddle and confusion, it interrupts and redirects the circles and ruts that our minds tend to run it. In plain speech, prayer cuts through the crap. It reveals not the general truth we already know, but the new and specific truth we did not yet know, and it also shows us what is important, and what is not. What is compelling for us, what we need to do next, and what we don't. And then there is a kind of peace that comes through prayer and union with God that simply comes no other way. It is sometimes given unsought and unexpectedly, as we are driving or walking down the road or showering or cooking or seeming not to be praying at all. Other times it is actively sought, and can be extremely hard won.

That sums up my own experience of the self-knowledge that comes through prayer. But really I do not even like the word "prayer", it sounds like something formal and separate, something that we "do" and then leave off doing, instead of something that can be a part of every moment of every day. The "prayer" I am talking about is more a living with God continually--talking with God, thinking and feeling and perceiving with God. I think this is what N. T. Wright is describing as well.

The "re-ordering of our loves" is another meaningful, loaded string of words. I'm not even going to try to unpack that one. This quote above from my devotional has given me so much to think about. It reminds me of all the good teaching I received from my good friend and mentor Ron Frost. I look forward to reading more from N. T. Wright, it is refreshing to discover the kind of writer/teacher/pastor who can stretch my understanding in new ways, and yet is not too dense or impractical for this rather impatient and busy mother to read.