In search of simplicity

So it's my birthday today.

(I'll go ahead and pause for a moment so you can all mutter the obligatory well wishes.)

So it's my birthday and I have an idea that I've been saving for this occasion. I'm going to spend this year trying to simplify my life. This will include everything, how I do things, how I spend my time, and what I own.

You see, I feel bogged down by the stuff. Remember this post when I talked about how odd it feels to have so much stuff when there are so many people who have so little?

Well, you know what else happens when you have too much stuff? You end up serving it, instead of it serving you.

Think about it. How many loads of laundry do you have to do a week just to keep the laundry hampers from overflowing all over the floor?

How many dishes do you wash in a day?

How much clutter do you pick up: off the floor, counters, in your yard?

What if you didn't have all that stuff? What if I didn't have all that stuff? How much simpler would life be if we only had as many clothes as we needed? What if everything we owned actually fit in the cupboards and drawers?

What if we only had on our daily agenda what we could actually accomplish in that much time? Is that even possible? Would we get anything done?

So every week I'm going to tackle 1 simplicity project and blog about it. I think I'll even make
it into a meme and you can all join me, if you like, and share one thing, anything, that you did to make your life simpler.

Perhaps I'll even get you to help me with a wardrobe purge and let you vote on what I keep and what I discard.

This doesn't mean I won't be buying anything. If there is something out there that makes things simpler, I'll totally get it. If there is one item that replaces 5 then it may be worth the investment.

My goal this year is to be free of all the unnecessary stuff that overwhelms me and I'm inviting you along for the ride, and into some of the more cluttered corners of my existence.

The theme for this first month is time management.

I need some.

Week 1 - Go to bed at a reasonable hour. For me this means midnight.

What could happen in one short week if I were to do this, at least every week night?

I'll report back in a week.


Never Alone

Sometimes I lose perspective. Ok, a lot of times I lose perspective. I get over whelmed by straws, many tiny little straws that pile up until I feel like I can't move.

Monday was that kind of day. At some point in the morning I called Aaron, who is out of town on business, AGAIN after being home just 6 short days, and surprised myself by weeping into the phone as I told him we were going to have to carry a balance on the credit card this month, for the first time in 2 years or more, because I just couldn't make it work out, this income we have, plus the expenses we have.

I haven't really bought groceries all month, living on pantry staples from times of surplus when I stocked up. We have a 50 pound bag of rice in the pantry after all. We may get bored, but we won't starve. But it's draining, and wearying, this constant need to make do. I lost a filling 3 months ago. I probably need a root canal by now, but still can't afford a dentist.

Add to that a hormone cocktail and the grind of trying to do something new in a 3rd world country where corruption is commonplace and sifting through lies that we had to do this past month and I just spent a lot of time weeping.

By the time Sara came over at our regular scheduled time to do more year end accounting for Charis I was really struggling: struggling to keep my voice calm with the children who just would. not. finish. their chores, struggling to focus on work that needed doing, struggling to not just sigh endlessly while wiping away tears.

So she called her mom, who is a massage therapist and asked if she could fit me in that day. When I came out of the bathroom she met me with my keys and purse in hand and told me to go and not come back until late. She literally shooed me out the door.

When I came home several hours later, after a wonderful massage, and time spent doing another thing I had wanted to do for a while, my kids were bathed and in bed, my house was so clean it sparkled, and I was no longer in default despair mode.

Sometimes we struggle through things and the struggle makes us stronger. Other times God sends us absolutely fantastic friends who turn everything around for us with the gift of kindness.

Yesterday an old, old friend, whom we haven't seen for many years, sent us a substantial gift through paypal. Just to help out and encourage us. Their timing couldn't have been more perfect.

I feel so unworthy of such generous friends. All I can do is tell this story of how the people in my life have blessed me. I need to do it so I remember that I'm never really alone, no matter how much it feels like I am sometimes.

Have you ever felt a nudge to do something kind for someone, just because. I hope you acted on it. I have a feeling those nudges are orchestrated by one who knows our need, and knows just how much it is a blessing to be able to fill those needs for each other. These faithful friends made all the difference for me this week and now I'm overwhelmed in a different way, by my inability to figure out how to say thank-you in proportion to what their kindness means to me. I hope it's enough to just feel it so deeply, and hold it close, wrapped tight in the warmth.


Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

It is receipt season here.  Accounting and spread sheets and lots of research for setting up how we're going to do things in 2012. I'm so glad Sara is helping this year.

But I took a short break from it all to "capture some contentment" in the middle of all the chaos.


Those freckles!

$10 decal from home goods on my kitchen wall still makes me happy.
I'm a little obsessed with collecting interesting old tins at thrift stores. I recently hit upon the brilliant idea of hiding things in them in the laundry room. It's a perfect place for all those rolls of different tape I have.

When your 10 year old comes up with the lunch menu from your depleted pantry. Tostadas and beans, with fresh from the tree lemons.
The young chef.
Happy diners
I let them eat on the front step.

a gift for Bam Bam
Some friends of ours from our old neighborhood visited this week. We haven't seen them in a few years. For some reason Mamata thought that Bam Bam was a girl and brought him this very cute little dress as a gift. I was going to put it on him and take a photo, 'cause that would have been funnier, but he was asleep when I got the camera out.


All over my floor
My laundry room. On the ironing board is all "folded" by the girl. You bet I'm putting it away exactly as it is.


For When the Going Gets Tough

One of the things I inherited somehow from my Christian upbringing was this idea that if God is behind something, it should be easy, simple, smooth, etc.

I don't know how many times I've heard someone use that as criteria for choosing a direction in their life, or whether or not to do x or y or z. "Well, we didn't get the visa on the first try so I guess that means God is shutting the door and that's not where we're supposed to go."

Don't think it's just Christians who do it though. Cloaked in different words, the universe is opposing you, the stars aren't aligned, it wasn't meant to be, fate had something else in mind, it's still the same pervasive mindset that if things don't come easily then there's a wrongness in continuing to strive for them.

I can't answer for anyone but the Christians here, but let's for a second contrast that attitude with some stories from the Bible shall we?

For instance, this morning in the junior high Sunday school class that I teach we read through the first 3 chapters of Deuteronomy, which is the beginning of Moses's recap of what happened between Egypt and Israel entering into the land promised them. Here's the thing. For years it says they wandered in the wilderness, their clothing and shoes didn't wear out, and God fed them manna from heaven. That sounds pretty easy right?

Well, then they got to Kadesh Barnea, sent in spies to check out the land, freaked out that they were going to have to go up against a bunch of really big guys protecting fortified cities and they got scared and ran away. "Why did you bring us all the way here? So that these guys could kill us?" is essentially what they asked.

So God tells them that they don't get to enter the land he's promised them after all, 'cause they're afraid of a little fight to get it. He'll wait until they are dead and their children are grown and then he'll take their kids back to the land he promised them and they'll be the ones to take it.

Notice something. He promised it to them, but he's not just handing it to them on a silver platter. Strange, no?

So for 38 years they wander around, the grown ups drop like flies at every opportunity, and when they need to go somewhere they ask for safe passage from the neighboring countries as they wander and they are given it. Until the last 2 years. Suddenly they aren't being allowed to pass through countries anymore. In fact, the kings oppose them and come out against them with their armies.

Now, by the prevalent modern Christianese logic they definitely ought to seriously wonder if God is still with them, or if they ought to go a different way, since they are now facing opposition.

Only they don't run away this time, they fight back, and they win every battle, and by the time they reach the Jordan they are a battle hardened, strong backed nation and everyone who hears they are coming is terrified.

There are all sorts of other things in that story that make you go "hmmm". But today that was the bit that got to me.

I like to just throw in the towel and quit when the going gets hard you see. That's what I want to do. This little bit way of thinking has clung to me since my youth and the harder I have to work for something the more I tend to wonder if I ought to. Maybe I'm just trying to force something to happen that isn't supposed to happen. Maybe I'm having such a hard time pushing this rock up this mountain because it's not meant to be on top of this mountain. Maybe I should quit because the going is hard.

Or maybe that line of thinking is just a load of crap.

Maybe something is hard because it's worth doing. Maybe the battle is coming to me because I'm actually getting closer to the end, to seeing the promise fulfilled. Maybe the things worth having, the promises that we see fulfilled are only obtained by picking up our figurative swords and going out against the really big guys entrenched in their fortified cities, like poverty, corruption, greed, and evil of every kind, and taking back what was ours in the first place.* Maybe that we are able to fight at all is a sign that we're not fighting this battle on our own. Not really.

So what's the point of a promise that you have to work your butt off, and fight like mad to realize? I guess that's up to you to work out. But I'm pretty sure that the fact that it's hard and you have to work for it is a point in it's favor, not against it.

Christians have a tendency to equate trust in God in a situation with waiting for him to do something about it. I tend to think that trust in God and his promises is what gets you started in the first place, that's the reason we pick up that sword and go to work.

What do you think?

*I need to find a catchy way to say this so I can tattoo it on my forehead for all the times I get discouraged and want to throw in the towel. I trust in God, now get to work? Um, don't quit, you've still got lot to do? Someone has to get this rock up this hill, why not you? The bigger the opposition the harder you need to fight? Help me out, none of these are particularly catchy. :)


If only...

I lost a paycheck, the one dated for January 1st that he handed me, along with a bunch of receipts as I drove him to the train station a week and a half ago. Sometimes it's the little/big things that make you feel like a failure. The person who needs to sign a replacement won't be back in the country in time for me to pay the rent on time. So I'm in a bit of a tight spot.

(It will work out in the end I think.)

I think maybe the reason we fixate on such things, beat ourselves silly over the mistakes, is that we're trying to regain control of things.

If only I had put it in my purse. If only I had double checked that everything was back in it properly after Bam Bam tore it apart that day. If only I had examined every piece of paper I swept up or vacuumed out of the van in the past 12 days. If only he had given it to me before we left the house so I could put it away properly. If only I had paid better attention I might remember where I really did put it.

I look for the moment when I could have changed something, trying to find the moment I lost control and wrestle it back into submission.

Only, life doesn't really work that way. All I'm doing is trying to avoid the fear that would seep in and bring despair along on it's heels by maintaining the illusion that I can control the outcome if I just try hard enough.

It's easier than admitting to myself just how fragile and vulnerable all the things that make up a life really are, how quickly all that we work for can disappear.

But holding iron fisted onto an illusion is no life at all, and sometimes we need to open the hand with which we are pummeling ourselves and show a little kindness instead. Perhaps fear, and despair, our old bedfellows, will turn tail and slink away if we stop dragging them along behind us everywhere with a leash fashioned of "if only".

Don't you think it's time to let go?
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