Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Process of Simplification

There's been a lot of critical assessment going on in my house lately.  "Simplify" is not just a trendy word featured in magazine articles and on TV shows, but it is my new reality.  Especially since there is nothing simple about #1) six kids #2)homeschooling and #3) pastoring a church.  So as my steam and energy for life has waned in the past year, I've had to begin to adjust and change the way I operate and exist.  Simplifying is becoming my primary course of action as of late.

Just to share how this is having an effect in my life I'm going to describe some of the ways I've been working to simplify.

I worked to declutter - specifically my kids' toys and rooms.  I got rid of the majority of my children's toys, especially since it felt like they had dozens of things that they never played with, didn't really care about and that were of little benefit to them! I have also, on an ongoing basis, kept a "give-away" bag nearby, so I can get rid of any items that I don't think we need or that don't get used.

I've also worked to declutter our schedule - attempting to assess my children's activities and our activities as a family.  I don't want to waste valuable time doing stuff that doesn't really matter in the long term.  I think we are a generation that wants to give our kids all of the best in experiences, but that in itself doesn't create healthy families and children who grow up with character and purpose.

I've also dabbled in, and recently revisited the idea of my children's workload and how they contribute in the home.  I believe that I as a mother am not meant to be a slave to my kids and do everything for them, but that part of home life is teaching them how to take care of themselves and others (including how to cook and clean).  That being said, they are included in the running of the home, and are expected to contribute.

Even more recently, I've been simplifying our finances and taking a close look at how we spend our money.  Whether you are working with a lot or with a little (money), having an awareness of your financial situation, and taking responsibility for the way you spend your money is a way of taking control and thus being able to tie up any loose ends (or dripping faucets of mismanaged money). For me, doing a budget "cleanse" and sticking to a cash-diet (no debit or credit) for a little while means that we will be in better control (and more aware) of our finances.

Today this "simplifying" brought me to my cupboards and pantry.  In trying to save some money this month, and pay off a small amount of unnecessary debt, we are going to attempt to shop a lot less, and only buy what we truly need.  This means using the food that we already have in the cupboards.  So, I got a little nerdy about it, but I did an inventory of our pantry!  By knowing what we have available, I will have an easier time meal-planning, and I will plan our meals around ingredients that we already have in stock.  Not only will we be saving money, but we will be less likely to waste food and... this simplifies things in that there will be less shopping for me to do!

Anyway, this has been more of a practical "this is what's going on in my life" post, than something introspective and emotional like I normally write.   However, I want to reflect upon the fact that all of this practical, hands-on simplifying leads me to a less cluttered, less emotionally driven lifestyle.  A cluttered life - whatever the area - is usually a not-so-happy life.  Clutter brings stress.  I want to spend my time, money, energy, and essentially my life on the things that really matter.  I don't want to be worn down by excess or by mismanagement of my resources.  I may not be able to control all aspects of my life, and there will always be interruptions - but I will do my best to manage what I have, and in doing so, I'm sure to be more content.

Simple is good.

“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Extremely Ordinary

I did it!  I finally finished the last chocolate in the box... probably my third or fourth chocolate for today, because I told myself: once all the Valentine's chocolates are gone, then I'll get serious about how I am eating!

I've discovered that I have a penchant for extremes and addictive behaviors.  For example, if I replaced my sweet tooth with a desire for alcohol, smoking or some other nasty habit, then both the obsession and mindlessness with which I indulge myself would clearly be seen as unhealthy.  Some mornings I wake up and the shiny box of sugary chocolates immediately begins to attract my attention. Why eat Cocoa Puffs for breakfast when you could jolt your system with a succulent square of candy enrobed in milk chocolate?  Then there is the issue with all of my "secret stashes".  On a bad day, when my top dresser drawer is empty of goodies, I can always start searching the kitchen cupboards for other chocolates that I've stashed away.  If worse comes to worse, there's always the humongous Costco bag of chocolate chips that I normally reserve for making my husband's favorite cookies... except in the case of emergency chocolate cravings.

Over the years, I've attempted to keep my obsession confined to being primarily a holiday treat. We start out in January with the on-sale, leftover Christmas candy.  Then comes February with Valentine's chocolates.  In the spring, there are Easter bunnies and Cadbury Eggs.  After that, there is a bit of a lull, but with various summer festivities, there are at least 2 candy parades (yes, my very community is an enabler to my bad habit!).  Of course October means Halloween candy by the bucket-load, which often last until Christmas.  So you see my problem - no time is a good time to avoid candy - it's practically shoved down my throat the whole year through!

Well, I didn't intend to make this posting entirely about health and dieting, but it certainly illustrates the patterns and extremes of addictive behaviors and the impossibilities of controlling them.

I tend towards extremes in my life.  The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other whether it involves exercise, food or my schedule.  For a while, I'm intensely committed to eating more healthfully, then I drop the ball, and I don't just let things slide, but I usually plunge myself into the sorrowful mindset of "I just couldn't do it, so now I might as well give up and eat every disgusting sugary, chocolaty thing in sight."  And there are times when I load up my schedule with every hour accounted for, my life so tightly wound that one little mishap will leave me completely frazzled and hopelessly, wretchedly late and unable to catch up.

The problem is, as a society, we tend to be addicted to extremes.  We have television shows featuring all manner of extremes:  people losing extreme amounts of weight, "xtreme" fighting,  people documenting survival in extreme environments (Survivorman, Man vs. Wild), the eating of extreme foods, and then there are all the shows with extreme in their name: Extreme Makeover, The Most Extreme, and don't forget Extreme Couponing!!!

I wonder if our instant-gratification, over-stimulated and comfort-driven lifestyles have numbed us to the satisfaction and joys that can come from simple, honest living?  If my "normal" life has become dull and mundane because my senses are accustomed to getting whatever I want, whenever I want it, and I am always trying to make my life better, then how can I find delight in the ordinary?  Too often, I'm seeking the next high - and in doing so, I battle the extremes in my lifestyle that come from an underlying dissatisfaction with my present circumstances.

We are 51 days into a 366 day year. (That's about 14% of the year.)  Today also marks the first day of Lent for many people, as we approach the Easter season.  There seems to be a lot of personal-assessment going on around me, and I imagine it has a lot to do with our proximity to the near year.  By now, you're either cruising along, satisfied with the success of your New Year's resolutions, or you're beating yourself up over your sucky-ness at screwing up yet another perfectly good year.  As tempted as I am to check-mark the boxes of where I'm doing well, and berate myself over the areas where I feel I'm floundering, I know I shouldn't because I'd only be fueling my tendency to implement extreme measures.  (Yes... I've eaten WAY too much chocolate this week, this month... this year.  That doesn't mean I need an extreme diet to counter it.)

What I am proposing is a pull-back from the hunger and desire for something bigger, better, faster, thinner, sweeter, or richer... ultimately that craving that simply says: I NEED MORE.  Instead, I will seek to find contentment and satisfaction in my daily routine.  I will choose to be more grateful in the midst of my circumstances.  I  will stop and smell the flowers - or maybe just the sticky sweet syrup in my toddler's hair.  I will find joy in the simple satisfaction of a neatly folded pile of clean laundry.  I'll thank God for the busyness of a household of healthy, active children, and the fact that I am blessed enough to spend my days at home with all of them.
Instead of hiding my boredom, stress or sadness with unnecessary indulgence, and instead of setting myself up for failure with all manner of goals and resolutions as I seek to change myself and my life in a really big (a.k.a. "extreme") way... I'm going to aim lower...much, much lower.  I'm going to attempt to be happy right where I am, just the way I am.  I'm going to work at being happy with my life and my family and not fuss about trying to make everything better all the time.

Dream big...?  Nah, not me.

Shoot for the stars? No way.

Instead of setting my sights on extraordinary things, I'm going to get my head out of the clouds, calm down, and be glad that today is just another ordinary day.  
"This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24) 
"In everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:18)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Journey

Life is not a competition.

If it were however, I could measure myself by my weight, pace per mile when running, number of kids that I have, choice of education for my children, our household income, the size of our home, and how many tropical vacations we've been on in the past 5 years.  I could judge my success by how well behaved my children are when we're out in public, by how "healthy" or "gourmet" I can cook, and by whether I have the latest style handbag hanging on my shoulder.

On a more serious note, if life were a competition, I'd pay close attention to how many times I've cried this month, how many times I've yelled at my kids and whether I'd volunteered enough of my time for selfless endeavors.  I'd wonder if I had put enough effort into my relationships with my children, my husband and with God.

The problem is, when you're in a competition (and I'm not... at least that's what I'm telling myself daily), you have to COMPARE yourself to other.. well, competitors.  Then all this nasty sort of self-talk wells up inside; things like: "She's definitely fatter than me, look at those chunky thighs..." or "That woman must have had a tummy-tuck.. there's no way she's had a couple of kids and been able to bounce back to that shape!" or "I would never homeschool my kids with that curriculum!" or "Man, their house is way newer and nicer than ours..."

Then, on an even deeper level, you might begin to compare your successes in your personal and emotional life; particularly your ability or inability to maintain sanity in the midst of work, kids, marriage, etc.

And when we compare ourselves among ourselves... we either deceive ourselves and can fall in to pride, or we simply fall short.
For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:12
Oh how true it is... The only measuring stick I ought to use is that of my conscience; as I stand before the Father God.  Yet even in that instance, I must be grounded in the truth and light and in the hope of His grace. 

A thought came to me the other day: Don't compare the journey if you're riding a different train...

(photo from:
The fact is, life is a journey, not a competition.  And we are all traveling on different paths, using different methods of transportation.  You might be in a sports car, an SUV, on an airplane or in a helicopter.  For now, I'm stuck in a fully occupied, 8-seater minivan with crumb filled car seats, candy wrappers on the floor, and a stroller in the back.  I have to slow down quite a bit for my passengers... pit-stops, potty breaks and sometimes to stretch our legs and get our wiggles out.  It would be ridiculous for me to compare myself to anyone else, especially when we likely have entirely different destinations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grocery Store Grief

I felt at least half a dozen pairs of eyes on me as I struggled to make it through the self-checkout today at the store.  Two little boys proved to be just too much on this mid-afternoon, should be nap-time and there's-no-more-cookies-to-bribe-with shopping trip.  With exasperation, I roughly and sternly shoved my two-year-old back into his seat in the cart for the fourth time since I started to check out my groceries.  One more can scanned, then I whipped myself around and grabbed my toddler's sweater to keep him from tumbling out of the cart.

Caught in the moment; just trying to purchase some food, I barely noticed the smiling clerk as she took a moment to talk with my busy three year old and answer his question: "Excuse me... are clocks expensive?"

"Ummm.  Yes." she replied seriously, and then listened patiently as he explained all the things he wanted to do and to receive on his upcoming birthday.  That was nice of her.

But I was trapped in my own little cycle - raging war against the most determined, stubborn, grumpy, acrobatic two-year-old that I've ever given birth to... my challenging last-born child who keeps me on my toes as I protect him from himself. (Like all the times he finds knives on the countertop and plays with them... or found a wineglass, broke it, and then cut himself trying to fill it with water... all by climbing up on the counter.)

I felt like racing out of the store, strapping both kids in the van and just screaming for a moment or two - and then maybe I would pick up a self-medicating Caramel Latte at Starbucks, but I needed these groceries! Not only that, but I couldn't slow down - there were people behind me and it was taking so long; this tango - back and forth of scanning an item, then turning and dealing with my toddler - and I was going to be late to pick up my older kids!

Eventually... finally, I swiped my credit card on the pay pass scanner, pushed my toddler back onto his bottom in the proper seat, called to my wandering three-year-old and we raced out of the store to load the groceries and hopefully not be more than a few minutes late to pick up the other children.

Sigh... it seems that in this season of life, so many of my days are like this.  I read the magazines and books and listen to other mothers speak on encouraging programs such as Focus On The Family, and they tell me: "Simplify! Slow down! Take time for yourself!" but all the advice in the world can't seem to give me the steam I need to accomplish the necessary and I am caught in this hurried whirlwind of life, watching the pages of the calendar flip before my eyes in fast-forward.

In the end, after the groceries were mostly unpacked and the perishables were put away and the banana peels littered the dining room table and the little kids were put into their beds so Mommy could have a quiet-time, I realized that I forgot something.  Maybe I could have asked for help?  No... I don't mean I should have turned around to the customer behind me and asked them to watch my kids for a minute while I scanned my groceries, although it may have worked, considering there were a lot of seniors shopping that afternoon and they always seem intent on chatting with my kids (even when I'm in a hurry).  But that's not what I'm talking about... something - or maybe Someone - was trying to remind me that a simple heartfelt prayer, such as "HELP!" and turning my focus heavenward to a God who cares about even the little things, could make a difference in my day. 

It's easy to feel alone in your struggles when you are the one with the unending list that won't change until your kids grow up and leave home.  Even after that milestone, I imagine, there are hurries, worries and stresses that can plague you and leave you emotionally harried.  I guess what we (what I) need to remember is that you don't have to do it all on your own.  God's love is like a reassuring hand on the shoulder, a gentle reminder that His faithfulness will not fail and that his mercy is freshly available like each new day when the sun slips up and over the horizon.  Life may not change significantly when a prayer is offered up in desperation - it doesn't mean that the laundry will be magically folded, dinner will be on the table and an angelic being will come down and scrub your toilets for you.  However, I believe that with the asking, and with the acknowledgement of a need for God's presence, there will be a provision of strength for the day.  Like manna from heaven, God's provision is usually just enough, just on-time and leaves you still needing Him when you wake up the next morning.

Naptime is about to be over.  Dinner is yet to be made.  The house is a mess.  Okay, I can easily acknowledge that I'm not on top of my game.  So... here goes...
God...please help me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Miniature Successes

Sometimes you have to be content with the miniature, everyday successes in life.

I did a load of laundry.
I gave my youngest two kids a bath and they had a fun time playing together, in the tub.
I whipped up a batch of dough for Naan bread.
I didn't stay in my p.j.s all day, despite feeling tired, cranky and under the weather.
I didn't eat too much chocolate.  Wait... hold on, is there such a thing as too much chocolate?
As much as I'd like to conquer the world, write a book, be a genius teacher to my kids as I homeschool, and exhibit myself as a domestic goddess day after day... it just doesn't happen.
At least, in the end, I can be content in one thing:
I am accepted in the Beloved.

"to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved." Ephesians 1:6