When Stuff Steals Your Freedom

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Ever wander the grocery store aisles in a spacey fugue state, grabbing the same things you always buy because you don’t actually know what you need?

Ever stand over the trash holding an aluminum can, knowing you’re going to toss it, but hoping the guilty pause exonerates you from being a Mother Earth trashing jerk?

Do you hate emptying the dishwasher because the utensil drawer is so full, just getting a ladle and a whisk in there, requires jamming the drawer in a way that ensures it won’t open again?

Or is it just me?

Let’s agree, right out of the gate, these are first world problems, but I did all of those things last week and realized no matter how many housekeepers I hire, they will only ever dust around this problem.

I have to deal with it.

My house, which I love, has become like a stagnant pond. Too much stuff comes in and not enough goes out. Plastic grocery bags, clothes I never wear, mismatched coffee mugs – for the love of Pete, where do those come from? All of it has so clogged my sweet little swimming hole, I don’t want to swim anymore. So I sit down on the bank and sigh.

But I serve a God of order who created the universe out of chaos. I know order takes discipline but rather than do something, like apply some elbow grease to get this joint unstuck, I mope.

Know the feeling?

I don’t know, maybe it is my recent return to drinking raw milk or all the essential oils I’ve been huffing, but lately I’m concerned about how mindless I’ve become. It’s like I’ve been run over on the path of least resistance and I’m just lying there, which is weird because I’m incredibly intentional and disciplined in other areas of my life. What happened to the organic gardening, yoga teaching, recycling, bicycling, bread baking hippie?

See now there’s a perfect example:

I love to make bread and give it away. It makes people happy, but my baking drawers are so full of old flour, spilled flaxeeds and tiny spider colonies that I haven’t wanted to deal with it, so I haven’t made bread.

How dumb is it to stop doing things that bless me and other people because my baking drawer is a hidey hole for spiders?

Organize Your Closet

On Saturday morning, after I cleaned the bathrooms, I thought, Hmmm, wouldn’t it be nice, if my clothes were hung by color again (it’s efficient – try it). While doing that, I began tossing a few old things on the floor. When I was done, I had FOUR kitchen garbage bags full of clothes, shoes, purses and years-old crap from the shelves in my closet. (Hint – it’s all at the Mineola Goodwill finding new homes and creating jobs – Sweet!)

Now, if you’ve got a bunch of ankle biters who can’t go five minutes without hitting each other and yelling “Maaahhhmmm!” I feel your pain, but I’m telling you, make it happen because superpowers lurk in garbage bags full of ill-fitting, not-your-favorite clothes, loaded in the backseat of your car.

Power I say!

And since momentum is awesome too, I washed the liners on my shower curtains. I have literally never done that. Don’t judge. I also hate the smell of Kaboom and Fabuloso and I don’t want to breathe it in my steamy shower, so I put them away, and googled a homemade non-toxic cleaner. I made it in five minutes and cleaned everything, except the mirrors with it. Want the recipe?

1 part rubbing alcohol.
1 part white vinegar
1 part water.
A drop or two of dish soap.
A few drops of essential oil. (optional, but it smells good.)
Put it in a spray bottle and shake it up.

By then, it was 4pm and I stared at my kitchen like David did Goliath.

I took everything off the counters and scrubbed them. Same thing in the fridge – ruthless! I made every item earn its way back into the fridge, and many items lost their cushy countertop real estate because who says the way I configured it three years ago was the apex of countertop design? Change is good.

Clean Fridge

Sure this project ate my whole weekend, but already I feel more like a calm, accomplished grown up and less like a drunk on a treadmill.

So what if this Saturday, you made a deal to tackle that one closet and clean it top to bottom. Just one, then have a freezie pop as a reward. See how that feels, then maybe liberate another closet, then the pantry, and so on. See what that frees up in you.

Oh and if you want a little more strategy, check out Joshua Becker’s blog Becoming Minimalist. Then let me know how it goes.

How to Quit Comparing

What's that to you

I read an article the other day about a spike in suicide rates among students at top US universities.

“Effortless perfection,” the article states, has become the unspoken goal of many young, high-achieving co-eds. Anything short of it in academic, curricular and social endeavors is a shameful and unmanageable failure. At Stanford it even has a name –  the Duck Syndrome – because as the duck glides calmly across the water,  it paddles frantically below.

While posting the perfect selfie of course.

The story is sad on so many levels, but this post isn’t about why people take their lives, it’s about the  fantasy of “effortless perfection.”

Even though that is the dumbest oxymoron in history, it tricks me all the time. I space out and scroll while Sam feeds the cows, letting the propaganda wash over me like green slime.

“Maybe I should decorate the living room like that, or do more side planks like Gillian, or drink coconut water and cleanse.” Then of course, I do none of those things and my subconscious whips me like a rented mule.

I know the behavior is absurd and so do you.

But when your face breaks out and your double chin shows, do you put that on Facebook? There’s no Instagram filter that can hide your muffin tops in a cute group photo, so you delete it.  And when you’re at the county jail visiting your kid for the 22nd time, do you check in?  Who does that?

Nobody.

That everybody crafts an online image is hardly news, but to blame Facebook for being a big, fat liar is like blaming Budweiser for your hangover – it contributed certainly, but it isn’t the problem.

The problem is we’re insecure, jealous, a little bit lost and looking for someone to lead us out of the woods.

Jesus’ friends had the same problem.

One morning while making breakfast on the beach, Jesus was talking to Peter about how hard Peter’s life was about to become. Just then, John appeared. John, as you may recall, referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Doesn’t that sound just like your friend who gags you with her “perfect child” posts, especially when yours is being a jerk?

What about that guy, Peter asked Jesus. How’s it going to go for him?

How about you mind your own biscuits Peter, Jesus answered, kind of.  Not really, here’s the real scripture.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

If you’re wandering around lost in the woods, it’s natural to get bent out of shape with people who don’t seem lost at all.  But since you have no idea what my real life looks like, lamenting your condition, even subconsciously, in the light of what I show you on Facebook, is foolishness. It’s a distraction from the one who can actually lead you out of the woods.

And why not follow someone who describes himself as all-knowing?

If you’re not a Jesus-guy, I get that, but who do you follow when you’re lost? Yourself? Your friends? Hipsters on Instagram? Your cousin’s pastor on Facebook? How do you know they aren’t just as lost as you, frantically paddling like the young women at Stanford and Penn State?

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What John got right about Jesus is this: He was as deep in the woods as Peter. He didn’t know how it was going to end, but he laid back, right against Jesus’ chest and rested in the midst of it. Never a bad idea.

I think a lot of people would like Jesus better if they quit following his followers and just followed him instead. Jesus explains how to do that in the gospels a lot better than your friends do on Facebook.

Don’t go to bed mad, shut your mouth, forgive people when they don’t deserve it, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff, learn what mercy is, follow me. Trust me. I’ll show you.

It’s such an amazing offer, really.  So next time you catch yourself sinking in the face of some effortlessly perfect status update, take a cue from Jesus.

“What is that to you? You follow me!”

On Loving People In Line

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

On Friday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up stuff for a BBQ. I had several things in my basket, when a guy with a case of beer got in line behind me. I offered to let him go first because I like it when people do that for me. He did and said thanks.

When the clerk rang up his Miller Lite he said, “Oh I thought it was on sale.”

“Well it is,” she replied. “But you need a Brookshires card.”

“Oh dang.”

I had my Brookshires card in my hand so I reached over and gave it to the clerk. She scanned it and the guy got four bucks off his beer. I like it when people do that for me too.

Then he said something to me that may be the point of this story.

“It’s kind of lame they make you have a card for something they’ve already put on sale anyway.”

“But it’s cool they give you points towards your gas though,” I said. “I saved like 50 cents a gallon last week.”

“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” he said, thanking me and grabbing his beer.

I’m not telling this story to impress you with my goodness in grocery store lines, because I am often hurried and cranky and I don’t let people go ahead of me. But after he left I realized, I used to be that guy and I’m not anymore.

Countless times I have ignored the obvious goodness in front of me to talk about something dumb – like The Man, who could easily have put the beer on sale for everybody, but what a silly thing to talk about. Especially since, the Bible says the power of life and death are in the tongue and what we speak, we’ll eat. Yikes, I don’t want to eat that. This, I think, is a small but good example of the broad destructive path Jesus talked about. Unfortunately, it’s a factory default for many of us.

The narrow path Jesus commends, is patient and generous and speaks life even, and perhaps especially, in the grocery store line when nobody sees it coming.

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

We forget our lives are like rocks tossed into a pond, and there are ripples all around us. More on that later, but consider for a second what sort of ripples your life is making. In your grocery store, your office, your community.

This is what I think it looks like to operate in the Kingdom of God. It is, in part, to be kind and generous with strangers and reframe meaningless small talk into something that sends good ripples through the water.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Can you imagine yourself in Walmart being patient, kind and self-controlled without white-knuckling it or being smug about it later? That’s high level. I’m not there yet, I’m still practicing at Brookshires. And I certainly hope you don’t hear smug in this post, but rather excitement and the joy of possibility.

See, I am different now in the grocery store because Jesus has reset my defaults. I operated in the fruit of the spirit Friday without really trying and only noticed it in hindsight. Because of Jesus, I found myself walking the narrow path as though I’ve been there all along.

How cool is that?

Happy Sunday.