One hundred forty.  That is the number of items that stand between me and my completion of the Minimalist Challenge.  I have already removed 325 (more or less) items from our little house by the river! I am thankful that my daughters were home for the holidays and helped me scrape together some of those piles and bags of stuff, but I think the last 140 are on me.  Deep breath.

I think I can, I think I can.

So what have I given away?  Lots of books (although we sold and gave away dozens of books before our move to Michigan), clothing (so many T-shirts!), Christmas items (do I really need poinsettia placemats?), shoes (those taupe pumps made me look even more middle-aged than I am), a yoga mat, a fold-up laundry hamper (college-dorm style), an old crock pot, an enormous electric roaster that I have used twice, cloth bags by the dozen, several pillows and blankets, and many, many other obscure items.

Is my house empty? Not even close.  As a matter of fact, the area that started this whole business — my desk– hasn’t changed too noticeably. (I did dust it once, by the way.) It’s shelves are still full of my husband’s theological and counseling texts and several framed photos of our kids. The desktop itself is still cluttered with my ‘to-do’ items — Bible study materials, bills, mailing supplies, and the like.  One of those organizational specialists would probably come in here with some coordinating accessories and make it look like there was nothing here at all, but, you know, I’m ok with its current state.   I do use most of this stuff at least weekly.

And that is how most of the house is — trimmed down to the things I use at least weekly.  So where am I going to get one hundred forty more items? I have a few ideas, almost all of them are going to involve standing on chairs or getting on hands and knees.  I’m going to go into the hard-to-reach cupboard over the fridge and the tall cabinets in the laundry room.  I’m  going to look in the back of that awkward cupboard in the kitchen.  Then, I am going to assess the utensil drawers — there’s gotta be some stuff in there that is just gathering dust.  Oh, and the ‘Tupperware’ drawer — gotta throw away extraneous lids again.  If all else fails, I can go back to my sock drawer, and that reminds me — the basket of mismatched socks!  I probably have at least 20 singletons that can be finally released from their wandering misery!

And what will all this trimming do for me?  Well, I am entering 2015 feeling quite organized, that’s one thing.  But probably more importantly is the shift that has occurred in my mind.  I have always been willing to give stuff away — that’s been rather useful in two inter-state moves.  Yet shift has still happened, probably on a deeper level.  I was in a thrift store yesterday (after dropping off 115 items!).  I was looking specifically for knitting needles and yarn.  The particular store I was in organizes craft items so well that there is actually a drawer labelled ‘yarn’ and a drawer labelled ‘knitting needles’.  No kidding.  I have been in the store enough times that I walked straight to those two drawers and found what I was looking for.  And here comes the shift….in my usual fashion I took a walk around the rest of the store just to see if there was anything else interesting.  And there was!  Books, and puzzles, and unopened rolls of Christmas wrapping paper for less than a dollar!  Everything with a white tag was 50% off!  But I didn’t pick up one thing. My mind kept saying, “I don’t need that.”

And I don’t.  I don’t need anything.  I have clothing, shoes, a family, a beautiful doggy, and a very small (and organized) house by the river. I have (apparently) 140 things in this house that I don’t need and I am going to find them in the next five days.  The next part of the challenge, which my thrift shop experience tells me won’t really be much of a challenge, is not to replace the over 400 items that have been liberated from my household.  The next part of the challenge is to embrace living simply.

Sounds simple.

Matthew 6:19-20

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,

where moths and vermin destroy and thieves break in and steal.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,

where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Seeing The Gift

My Bible reading this morning was about Abraham and Isaac.  You know the one, they are walking together — father and son — with sticks and flame and knife toward Mount Moriah to make a sacrifice.  Isaac, though young, is pretty sharp.  “Hey, Dad, I noticed we don’t have an animal with us for the sacrifice.”  Abraham assures him that God will provide what is needed, knowing full-well that God has told him to sacrifice Isaac.

Can you imagine?  I don’t think we can.  Here we sit in the United States of America — the land of the free, the home of the brave, the place where parents give their children everything. Everything. I am not exempt from this.  I remember my mother telling me when I was younger, “If I had the money, I would buy you everything.”  And I knew she would.  Still one of her greatest joys is giving to her children and her grandchildren. Like mother, like daughter.  I love to give my children what they need and what they want.  I sometimes go overboard.  I sometimes lose track of what they need and what they want, and buy them things that I think they need or want, and even things that no one needs or wants.

So, can I imagine depriving them of something? Or, gasp, agreeing to sacrifice them? No.  Not at all.

But Abraham had heard from God, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and…offer him there as a burnt offering…”

Abraham “rose up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.”

Say what? 

Abraham had waited for this kid.  He and Sarah had Isaac in their old age.  They had longed for him.  Prayed for him.  And, finally, they had welcomed him.  And now Abraham was supposed to lay him on an altar, put a knife into him, and then burn him? 

Hebrews 11 says ” By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he … was in the act of offering up his only son…” when God said “Do not lay your hand on the boy…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22).

He didn’t make him go through with it! He Himself provided a ram for Abraham,… and a Lamb for us.

If we picture ourselves placing our own children on an altar and raising the knife, we can see our eyes squeezed shut, the sweat beads forming on our brow, the sheer anguish, praying that God will provide.  What relief Abraham must have felt!  God had provided.  His only son didn’t have to become a sacrifice.

But His Only Son did.

And how do we celebrate this?  How do we mark the relief, the thankfulness that we feel when we realize that we have been rescued?

It’s hard to do this with integrity in a culture that hauls out Santa in October, pipes holiday muzak from every speaker, and pressures us to have the perfect gift for everyone on our list.  We are so bombarded by a consumer culture that we can’t even fathom giving up having a Christmas tree, let alone giving up a child.

That is, after all,  what Christmas celebrates.  The Child.  The Sacrifice.  The Gift.

I forget about that.  I am so consumed with finding the perfect gift for my kids, my spouse, my parents, that I forget about The Perfect Gift.  I online shop and run from store to store in order to find that special item, and I overlook The Special Item. Sure, I squeeze in Advent worship and Christmas Eve worship.  I sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Joy to the World” but if I am going to be honest (and you know I am) I put my focus on the gifts instead of The Gift. 

But things are shifting over here in the little house by the river.  As I continue on the Minimalist Challenge, and trim out the unnecessary, I am finding it easier to see the things that really matter.  I am unwilling to forfeit my Bible, my journals, my laptop, or my family photos.  I am willing instead to get rid of old puzzles, dusty books, unworn clothing, an extra crockpot, an electric roaster, and a yoga mat that I never use anyway.  I am hoping that as I send more clutter out the door, I will be less distracted and more able to see all the blessings that The Gift has provided for me — not the things that I can pick up on clearance at Target, but the priceless gifts of family, health, love, faith, friendship…

I am learning a lot in this next chapter, guys.  I’ll add learning to my list of priceless gifts.

Titus 2:11-12

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

 It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions,

and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.

Forgive Me, for I have slipped

Forgive me readers, for I have slipped; it has been five days since my last blog post.  And, you know, it feels a lot more like five weeks!  The reason I haven’t been blogging is because I have been busy!

Up until yesterday, I had kept up with the minimalist challenge — giving away one more thing each day since December 12.  It really has become a challenge!  Yesterday I was supposed to get rid of twenty-one things, today twenty-two, and tomorrow twenty-three.  But since I am behind, my goal is to dig up sixty-six things tomorrow, throw them in the trunk of my car, and take another trip to Salvation Army.  Actually, I got started today by mailing six items to people who had purchased them from me on Ebay.   So, tomorrow I will find just sixty more.  You can probably imagine that this undertaking has taken some time!

We also had two daughters and one boyfriend here for part of the last week and my husband has been taking vacation.  Having these extra people in the house has been extra fun — more cooking, more laughing, more Uno playing, more eating.  And, more living equals less time for blogging about living.

During this time, one of our daughters embarked on a fitness regimen which included her middle-aged mother!  For several days in a row we did forty-five minutes on an elliptical machine followed by fifteen minutes on the treadmill and several weight-lifting reps.  It really didn’t take more time than my usual workout, but it was different time.

My routine for the past several weeks has definitely shifted.  Where I had been waking, making tea, and blogging, always in that order, I have adopted the theme of ‘fluidity’ for the holidays.  I have tried not to demand structure, but instead to go with the flow.  And ‘the flow’ has not always included my usual activities. Actually, ‘the flow’ has been a lot of fun!  It has allowed for new recipes, lots of movies, some impromptu shopping, and lots of chatting.

In the midst of all this ‘flow’, to our great joy, our first grandchild — my newest love-child — was born eleven days early!  Her arrival inspired a road-trip to Cincinnati complete with lots of adoring and picture-taking, but not much time for blogging.

Today, as I lay in my bed, recovering from holiday exhaustion, I started to think about all the things I will write about in the next several days and I started feeling a little overwhelmed. Then I remembered last year. When I lived apart from husband, we sometimes didn’t see each other for a month at a time.  I would often greet him saying, “I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start, but I am sure it will all leak out over time.”   I am feeling that way right now.  How can I in one post describe my joy at meeting our granddaughter, my experience of laying aside my agenda to ‘go with the flow’, my thoughts about simplifying through the minimalist challenge, my new information about my health, my time with my daughters, and my thoughts about working as January 5th arrives.  I can’t.

I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start, but I am sure it will all leak out over time.

I hope you will join me on my continued journey in this next chapter.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Updates, anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I spent seven days on the Ultra Simple Diet, ( http://drhyman.com/downloads/UltraSimpleCompanion.pdf).  Then last week I decided to embark on the Minimalist Challenge (http://www.theminimalists.com/game/).  After four months on a pretty predictable routine, these activities have been worthwhile digressions.

The Ultra Simple Diet was an experiment suggested by a new doctor I am seeing — she practices Integrative Medicine which means that she is open to traditional Western medicine, but also finds value in using supplements — vitamins, minerals, and herbs,  believes that nutrition can impact health, and generally just thinks that there are a variety of ways to approach physical issues. The first time I saw her, she listened to me talk for an hour and then suggested we start with the Ultra Simple Diet to eliminate all foods that have been known to cause inflammation. After two years of seeing doctors who believe that medication is the only route to deal with my symptoms of fatigue, pain, stiffness, etc., I was willing to give it a try.

Last week I reported that I had not been miraculously healed. After further evaluation, I believe that I am feeling better than I have in a while.  Specifically, I have more energy.  Yesterday I got up, did my devotion, wrote my blog, listed a dozen or more books for sale on Amazon, tidied the house, ran to Target, then to the library, and stopped to get a haircut.  After that I went to the Post Office, then the drug store, then to two thrift stores to donate items and look for a couple of things. I then came home, took the dog on a short walk, made dinner — baked fish, kale chips, fried potatoes, and fresh veggies — and took a break to eat dinner with my family.  Finally, I listed several items on eBay, did a little more tidying and then read for a while before I was ready to go to sleep.  Did you notice anything? No rest.  No nap.  No junk TV. Guys, I wasn’t tired. I was energized.

I have resumed some of my regular diet, but I am doing it cautiously.  For one thing, I am still drinking one cup of green tea every day.  It’s not horrible.  I have done a little bit of research on its benefits and I think they are enough to warrant drinking one cup a day. I have also more than quadrupled my intake of magnesium and added a pretty significant dose of Vitamin D.  Finally, I am still starting each morning with the UltraInflam shake — the doctor recommended that we keep some things the same while I experiment with adding foods back.  And, just for your information, I have NOT run right back to coffee.  So far, I have only had 1-2 cups of black tea each afternoon. And that’s all I want.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And guys, as far as the Minimalist Challenge goes,  it hasn’t been difficult to let go of one, or two, or three, or four, or five, or six things each day.  I haven’t even had to look outside my office yet.  (And, I still haven’t dusted!) It’s actually quite freeing to let things go.  I am actually looking forward to tomorrow and getting rid of seven things. As the clutter has cleared from my desk, I more clearly see what remains — pictures of my family, my Bible study materials, a candle, writing supplies.

Re-evaluating my diet and paring down my possessions–not typical December activities for me.  Historically, December has been about indulging and acquiring.  But, you know, neither has left me feeling content.  And, maybe, if I am being honest, it has typically made me feel a little overwhelmed.  And feeling overwhelmed, has typically just caused me to dig deeper into my soldiering.

This Next Chapter continues to be a journey of discovering what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been doing wrong, and what I could be doing to live a healthier life. I know I can’t live on rice and vegetables alone, and I will never give away both of my copies of Five Smooth Stones, but I can and will continue to make adjustments that take me further away from soldiering, and draw me closer to a life of being still.

Romans 12:2

Do not conform to the patterns of this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —

His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Minimalist Challenge

Matthew 6:19

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,

where moths, and vermin, [and dust] destroy…

Guys, I gotta dust!  It’s bad!  I am here all day every day, I have no excuse.  As I sit at my desk to blog every day, I look straight ahead at the shelves over my desk and I see a thin white layer of dust.  And, it’s on a book shelf that is strewn with photos and knick-knacks, so it’s going to take some time to clear it off.  If I start at the top shelf and work my way down, I will eventually get to my desk, which will then be covered with LOTS of dust. That means, I will actually have to sort through everything on my desk in order to clear off all the dust.

Let’s examine this desk for a moment: It’s got all kinds of unfinished business on it!  Bills, Bible study stuff, reminders to call this person and write that recommendation letter, books to list on Amazon, my Christmas shopping list — to be honest, it’s got a bunch of stuff on it that doesn’t need to be here.

My daughter recently challenged me to do the Minimalist Challenge (http://www.theminimalists.com/game/).  In this challenge you decide to pare down over the period of one month.  On the first day you get rid of one thing, on the second day you get rid of two things, and the third day you get rid of three things, etc.  So, my daughter mentioned this and I said, “Do you realize how much we got rid of before we moved?”  She replied, “You still have a lot of stuff, way more stuff than you need.”  Sigh.  Seriously?

So, I’m sitting here at my dusty desk.  Looking at all the things I probably don’t need.  Do I really want to do this work? In December?  When we have four birthdays, Christmas, and kids coming and going for the holidays?

Maybe we could do it together.  How about this:  how about if we agree for the next thirty days to do the Minimalist Challenge and along with it an Affirmation Challenge.  On day one we give away one thing — and let’s try to give away something that someone else can still use.  You can give it to someone you know, or you can give it to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.  And, as we give it, we speak words of affirmation to someone we see in our day.  (I may regret this…day 30 could be a real challenge.)

It might look like this: Today I will take the slightly used vinyl covered notebook from the corner of my desk and put it in my Goodwill bag, then when my husband comes home for lunch I will say, “It’s so nice that you come home for lunch every day. I’m glad I get to see you.”

That wasn’t too painful, was it?

Here’s what I will do.  If 40 of you agree to join me, I will do the Minimalist/Affirmation challenge.  Ok, how about just 20.  Alright, if 10 of you will join me, I will do this.  Are you game?

Ephesians 4:29

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth,

but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,

that it may benefit those who listen.