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.

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Feeling A Little Restless?

Isn’t it amazing to watch somebody take a blind, flying leap into a brand new life? To watch them decide the fear of not leaping is greater than the fear of what’s below?

Does it make you a little jealous?

IMG_5184Meet Ashley, one of the founders of Love Dinner, a woman I met two years ago on a trip to Zambia. Yesterday, after two years of planning, she landed back in Lusaka.

We all returned from Zambia different, but Ashley came back destroyed. She was restless and pacey like a dog on a chain. All she talked about was going back and how she felt sort of foreign and aimless in her American life.

Don’t you know that feeling? It nags like heartburn and makes you ask everybody “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in this job? Why did I marry you? Who are these obnoxious kids? Blah Blah Blah.”

What happens next is a matter of choice.

You can handle that pacey dog feeling in spazzy, damaging ways like I did for years: Taking up with bad men or throwing my things in the back of my truck at midnight and heading west. I’m super good at that.

Or you can sit with it like a grown up, surrendering to the possibility that it’s holy discontent, put there like a treasure map to guide you toward something that’s actually kind of precious.

That’s what Ashley’s doing. She’s not running away, she’s running toward something she believes God buried for her on the windy plains of southern Africa.

So what is it for you? What is making you pacey? Chances are your life’s work is hidden in it somewhere. Don’t go leave your wife or buy an expensive car just to assuage it. Sit with it. Surrender it to the God who’s likely using it to get your attention. It’s not up to you to figure out HOW to do the work amid your other demands, leave that up to Him.

GreenOliver

Want some evidence of God working out the how?

A month ago, I stood on the aft deck of a big, white, ship in the Indian Ocean and giggled about the course of my life for the last five years.

Let’s see…Sam and I moved to Texas and bought a cattle ranch, which five-minutes later dried up in a 100-year drought, so we sold our cows at a loss, moved to France and went broke. Then I followed Sam to a swamp in East Texas and joined a maritime NGO I’d barely heard of, which sent me to Congo, to Haiti and Madagascar where I, among other things, ate alligator, planted corn and swam with orphans.

Really, how foolish would I be to take credit for writing a plot line like that? Certainly, I participated but I didn’t plan any of it. It happened, I think, because I quit running from one amusement to the next and stared down the restlessness.

And I picked up the Bible and learned who actually God is – not who people say he is.

After a couple of months of reading I quit asking, “What am I doing here?” “What am I doing with my life?” Not because I had a bunch of clever new plans, but rather, a big, shaky hope that someone else did – somebody big, powerful and faithful.

That hope is amazing, but IT IS NOT FREE.

Ongoing humility, surrender and commitment are unpopular practices these days, but they signal that you are probably, finally, running toward something that matters.

The reward for all of it is the person you get to become. It feels like surfacing from a deep green lake, looking up as you swim toward the air, not seeing too clearly through the water but knowing exactly where the light is.

Have a Real New Year

Anybody looking forward to throwing out the candy canes, eating spinach and going back to work? Me too, and at the risk of sounding like Scrooge again, here’s the last thing I’m going to say about getting real at the holidays.

If I find myself depressed at the New Year it’s usually for the following reasons:

1. I’m overfed.
2. I’m bored.
3. I’m self-absorbed.

Photo Credit: skeeze

Photo Credit: skeeze

On Overfeeding: The impulse to share and bless is a holy one for sure, and science has proven giving feels good. But sometimes our networks are small and the people within them are already obese with blessing. So our lovingly crafted pies are buried under a feast large enough for three times the crowd. It’s so lavish, it’s convicting. Plus, we don’t have the Tupperware, everybody’s pants are tight and we’re all overwrought, but New Years is the finish line, so we choke down pie we don’t want, because it’s unthinkable to trash a homemade pie. I wonder, is the solution less pie or larger network?

On Boredom: God help you if you’re around me when I’m bored. According to the Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an ENFJ. What are you? That means I’m a big extravert who likes to take care of people and boss them around. When I’m not doing that I am easily convinced my life is a waste of time. That thought occurs to me nearly every morning and when my hands are idle. It used to bother me, but then I read the Bible and found a good explanation for it:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

I know I’m up against things I can’t see and when I’m moping around, navel gazing, they gain ground in my head. Friends, the answer is not to be busier, but to choose which thoughts can stay and which ones must report immediately to Jesus. That way if I’m sitting in my bathrobe at noon, like right now, I can rest and not feel like a loser. It does take a little practice though.

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

Photo Credit: Mark Weaver

On Self-Absorption. Is there a holiday that encourages self-absorption more than New Years Eve? Certainly, self awareness and reflection are good things but there is no joy in selfishness. I know. I’m an expert. So if joy is what we want, we have to aim higher than just losing 10lbs, because, besides ourselves, who does that help? And where in the scriptures does Jesus advocate self-improvement? He doesn’t. He advocates dying to ourselves. The good news is, he said what you give will be given back in big, amazing measure, but you go first. Just like he did.

And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:2

So here’s an idea:

What if over the next 11 months, we set out to make some new friends – needy ones – whatever that means, money, time, mentoring, food. That way next Christmas we can not be bored, and satisfy our impulse to give money, candles, infinity scarves and pie to people who actually need it. Who knows, maybe those friendships will morph into other opportunities at Memorial Day, Easter and Halloween too.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s my prayer, feel free to borrow it.

Lord, because I love you, I want to give. What does that look like, today, in my exact context? Please make it obvious, so even I can’t miss it. Inconvenience me. Show me who needs to see you today. Thank you. Amen.

Real New Year everybody!