Choosing the Slow Life

Several weeks ago, my youngest daughter spent almost the entire day sitting in a lawn chair, perched high atop a small mountain of rocks and clay. Bundled up in warm clothes and her winter gear, she sipped soda while watching a new house take shape around the corner from us. Constructions workers were buzzing around like bees while a crane set wall panels into place with precision and grace. It was one of the happiest days of her life. She was fully alive in the moment, engaged in the experience and enjoying it to the fullest.

Fast forward to that weekend. Each day was an empty square – no commitments, no plans – a rare occurrence and pure bliss. Apart from a little Saturday cleaning and Sunday morning church, we spent the weekend resting, reading, and pursuing interests both individually and together.

This is what I want for our family.

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A life rich in experiences that resonate with who we are as individuals and as a family. A life that is intentionally slow but full of opportunities to explore, learn and grow. A life where not only do my kids have freedom in their days to be creative and imaginative, but where my husband and I also have space to pursue our dreams and desires.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The truth is, though, that developing a life like that is challenging in today’s culture. In a world that worships busyness, it is dangerously easy to be swept up in a current of people running here, there and everywhere. There are so many wonderful opportunities available and so much pressure to be involved. Is it even possible?

I think it is.

We are approaching April and May, which rank right up there with November and December as being the busiest months of the year at our house. Easter celebrations, end-of-the-school-year activities, birthday parties…all good events that are worthy of our time and attention. It’s also spring time – our Midwest winter is finally melting and giving way to all shades of green. After months of shivering in parkas, our bodies are longing to stretch and absorb warmth and vitamin D in the beauty of God’s creation.

How do we strike a healthy balance of school, celebrations, family time, and still find time to rest and rejuvenate our bodies and souls? Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring how to choose a slow life amidst a whirlwind culture. We will be evaluating different areas of our life that can lead to a slower rhythm overall, regardless of whether we work full time, part time, or are at home.

I want to enjoy the upcoming months. I want to sit on that mountain of dirt with my daughter and share in the wonder. I want to celebrate loved ones and be fully engaged in each moment and activity. I think it’s possible. Do you?

 

 

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Why I Encourage My Husband to Watch March Madness

Guys, there’s this whole March Madness thing going on right now, and I don’t have much of a clue what it’s all about. I know there are brackets involved, which require very serious contemplation and weigh heavy upon many sports-minded souls. There are upsets that can wreak irreversible damage upon said brackets. I know there are phrases thrown around like “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight,” and “Final Four.” And, as with any sporting event, there should be a bevy of beverages and snacks.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge, and honestly, that’s about all I care to know.

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What I do know is that I want my husband to watch March Madness. Now, before you unfollow my blog, hear me out. I haven’t always felt this way; in fact, I used to resent the time he spent watching sports. I didn’t grow up in a sports-minded family, and the idea of someone choosing to spend a sunny afternoon glued to the TV was foreign and disconcerting to me. I admit that during the early years of our marriage, I was often resentful and even angry about the few hours he would spend watching college football or NASCAR.

Over the years, though, God has worked on my heart and allowed me to see these truths about my husband:

  1. He works hard to provide for our family. We have been a single-income household for the past decade. He has worked long hours in challenging environments in order to ensure financial stability for our family. On top of that, he has put in many weekends remodeling our house for years, so that we could save money by doing the work ourselves.
  2. He finds it enjoyable and relaxing. I don’t find sports enjoyable or relaxing – I relax by diving into a good book or sometimes watching a TV show. He would rather spend an afternoon scraping his fingernails along chalkboard than watch an episode of “Call the Midwife.” However, we both understand the importance of giving our bodies and minds the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate, and we are respectful of the fact that we relax in different ways.
  3. He has his priorities straight. He has a clear set of priorities and lives them out on a daily basis: God first, family second, and sports third. I know that he chose to take a long walk with me this weekend over watching basketball, and that he turned on “House Hunters International” not because he was itching to watch it, but because he knows it is a show we enjoy as a family and it sparks interesting discussions. I know he will always choose family over sports, and so it is an easy decision to bless him with the opportunity to catch some extra sports time.
  4. I get to read more books. To be truthful, I’m not entirely unselfish about this whole March Madness thing! If he is indulging in some extra sports viewing, I have zero guilt about indulging in some extra reading time. I read an entire book while he was watching basketball this weekend, and it was delicious.

So, if you happen to stop by our house this coming weekend, don’t expect him to answer the door – my hope is that he will be too engrossed in basketball to hear the doorbell. For that matter, I might not answer the door, either – I have a sweet stack of library books calling my name. The most you can probably hope for is that our dog will greet you at the door, but don’t hold your breath. She likes March Madness because it means she can sleep next to me while I read. 🙂

Clinging to the Immovable

Once upon a time, not too many years ago, I served on the worship team of a small country church. They had a need for both vocalists and accompanists – I happened to have experience in both. It seemed like a heaven-ordained opportunity to serve, except for one small thing: I was in the midst of dealing with severe anxiety.

My anxiety would manifest itself in the form of shortness of breath and, more often, spells of vertigo. The vertigo would come upon me unexpectedly and at inopportune times, but was more likely to happen while under stress. Just being in front of a group of people was stressful, much less singing or playing piano. It was a prime situation for vertigo to strike.

I was determined that my anxiety would not prevent me from serving, and so I developed a coping mechanism: the piano. Heavy, solid, and virtually immovable, that piano wasn’t going anywhere. I, on the other hand, was not nearly as stable. So, I would position myself in a spot where I could cling to the piano the entire time I was on stage, knowing that no matter how I felt, I had a firm object that would help me stand strong.

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And you know what? It worked. I spent many a Sunday morning desperately clinging to that piano with sweaty palms, trusting that the strength and solidness of the piano would help me remain upright.

Do you ever feel like that? Like daily life is a precarious thing, and at any given moment a situation might set you reeling? I know I sure do. Life is unpredictable, and there isn’t always a piano available for me to hang on to!

Here’s the thing, though: we have something even better than a piano. Always with us, never forsaking us, is our solid, unchanging Father in heaven. Matthew 28:20 tells us that He is “with us always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). In Joshua 1:9, He promises that that “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (NLT). And in Malachi 3:6, He flat out states, “I am the Lord, and I do not change” (NLT).

What promises! What hope those words bring to an unstable, ever changing world!

These days, I only find myself on stage occasionally. When I can feel the anxiety starting to build within me, rather than leaning on a piano for strength and assurance, I choose to lean into the words of the worship songs. Rather than fearing an episode of vertigo, I choose to trust in the promises of God, that He is present in the moment and that He will carry me through.

The Quiet Work of Healing

Things have been pretty quiet on the site this week, not because I haven’t been working on posts, but because the one I’ve been working on has been so. very. hard.

This week (February 26-March 4, 2018) is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. I don’t talk about it very often, but some of you know that I was diagnosed and struggled with anorexia nervosa during my college years. Therefore, this week is particularly near and dear to me.

I fully planned to share my story this week. In fact, I have the draft for part one saved in my files. I came very close to publishing it, except for the still, small voice that kept saying, “Not yet.” It wasn’t the voice of fear; while it has been very challenging to revisit that time of my life, I have no fear in sharing my experience. Rather, it is a sense that I should hold off, as if the story isn’t quite finished yet. I don’t know exactly how it will all play out, but I DO know that when I sense that still, small voice, I believe it belongs to the King of Kings and you bet I listen!

In the meantime, this week has been good for me. I’ve visited hard places and revisited memories that I’ve kept locked away for 20 years. It’s been exhausting and painful and awful and healing. I’m so very thankful for where God has me today.

Incidentally, my family and I have plans this spring to visit the area I lived when I developed my eating disorder. (That’s not the purpose of the trip, thank goodness!) It’s a lovely, quaint area and we are all looking forward to it. I know it is going to bring up more memories, and I’m ready to sit with them and work through them. I am looking forward to seeing places that are part of a painful past, rejoicing in where God has me today, and making new memories with my sweet family.

I encourage you to visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website and familiarize yourself with the risk factors that may contribute to an eating disorder. And if you suspect that a loved one or yourself may have an eating disorder, please have the courage to seek help for yourself or learn how you can be a support to your loved one.

And someday, I will share my story. When He says it’s time.

 

Freedom From Stuff: Part 2 – Capsule Wardrobe

Okay, let’s just start with this very important disclaimer: I have never been a fashion expert. I was befuddled by the art of tight-rolling jeans in grade school, never owned a pair of Z Cavaricci jeans, and eschewed skirts and dresses for at least a decade during my school years. Oh, and let’s not forget my obsession with black clothing in sixth grade. Oy.

Fast forward to my 30’s, and life was much more complicated – not only did I have to decide what I was going to eat, wear, and do each day, but I also had to make those same decisions for two other little people. Every. Single. Day. Throw in homeschooling, parenting, working, and running a household, and I was overwhelmed by the daily plethora of decisions that had to be made.

Enter the capsule wardrobe. The concept is simple: rather than looking at my wardrobe in terms of “outfits” (this shirt goes with these pants), the goal is to develop a carefully curated, scaled-back wardrobe of interchangeable items that I love.

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This was not an overnight change, but rather a change in mindset moving forward with my wardrobe. I had always shopped with the mindset of “I need one shirt/pants to match with the item I am buying.” My new approach is, “Do I have at least two shirts/pants/cardigans to match with the item I am buying?” If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance that I won’t buy it, as it won’t prove to be versatile enough for my wardrobe.

Right now, my daily uniform consists of a pair of leggings, a shirt, and a cardigan. This is a general overview of my closet:

  • Five pair of leggings: one black, one gray, two denim jeggings, and one pair of burgundy (because I’m wild like that)
  • Six tunic-length cardigans: one gray, one tan, one cream, one black and white, one navy, gray and cream, and one gray and white striped
  • Five tunic-length shirts: one burgundy, one gray, one navy, one aqua, and one floral
  • One black dress (because hello, winter)
  • A half dozen cowls and a few statement necklaces
  • Three pair of boots: one black, one brown, and one floral
  • Two sets of comfy clothes that are banned from view of the general public 😉

That might seem sparse to some, or excessive to others. Some say there is a magic number of items to have in a capsule wardrobe; I think it really depends on each person’s comfort level. What I do know is that I love being able to walk to my closet and easily choose my outfit for the day in less than a minute.

So, how does one develop a capsule wardrobe or daily uniform? Rather than trying to muddle through explaining it, I recommend checking out these links for clear, detailed information and inspiration. I have been following Audrey at Putting Me Together for years – she has a classic, comfortable, modest and budget-friendly take on fashion. Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy is also a wonderful resource…both for a daily uniform AND reading material. Check out these links as a starting point:

Above all, enjoy the process of getting rid of what doesn’t work and developing a simplified system that works well for YOU!

A Tale of Two Cats

Something wasn’t right. We got home from our weekly AWANA night at church after dark, which wasn’t unusual. However, we were usually greeted by our pair of outdoor cats within 30 seconds of pulling in the driveway.

No cats tonight.

We assured my youngest daughter that they had probably just taken off on an adventure, as cats do. As my husband and my eyes met, though, we both knew that neither one of us believed the reassuring words we were telling our daughter. This had never happened before, and it was very unlike our cats to be far enough away that they couldn’t hear us when we called for them.

After getting our distraught girl settled into bed, my husband went out to search our property for any clues. He came in with the grim news that there were coyotes yipping up a storm on the other side of the creek near our yard.

Things were not looking good.

We spent a restless night in bed, wondering what could have possibly happened to the cats, and how in the world we would break the news to our girl if there were no cats at the door in the morning. My husband got up at 2 a.m., unable to sleep, and by the time I got up at 5 a.m., had already covered most of our small town on foot, searching for those two little kitties who meant the world to our daughter.

As we stood in the kitchen, exhausted and defeated, my husband said, “Let’s pray about it.” I have to admit, in that moment, my thought was, “Really? Pray about something as trivial as two cats?” I tend to feel that God is more of a “big stuff” kind of God. Got cancer? He’s your guy. Broken relationships? Give Him a call. Natural disasters? He’s on it. But cats? Umm…please hold while we transfer you to the next available guardian angel to take your call.

6:30 a.m. rolls around, and the moment we were dreading had arrived. Our tousle-haired redhead came sleepily down the stairs and cuddled into my chair with me. As she inquired about the cats, my husband and my eyes met again. Stay positive, we silently communicated. There’s still a chance, slim as it may be. 

I opened my mouth to gently break the news to her, and as I did, two cats came hurtling across the neighbor’s yard and into ours! Disbelief and relief rushed through us as our cats came tearing into the house, devoured their breakfast and promptly plunked themselves in front of the fire, exhausted from the night’s escapade.

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Philippians 4:6 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (NLT) God doesn’t put stipulations on what is too big or too small for Him to handle – I am obviously the one doing that. When I do so, I am displaying my own lack of faith in His power and His love for me. He clearly desires us to come to Him with anything and everything. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

As I was reflecting on the incident the next morning, I was reminded of the words to a hymn from my childhood:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer!

Lord, help me to remember Your greatness and power, and not to put human restrictions on an almighty and everlasting Father. Help me to carry everything and anything to You, knowing that nothing is beyond Your power and care.

 

Freedom from Stuff: Part 1 – Decluttering

Today we begin the next segment in the Freedom series…a three-part look at “Freedom from Stuff.” Hope you enjoy!

One year into our marriage, my husband and I moved from a tiny, second-floor apartment in the city to my grandparents’ spacious farmhouse in the country, trading in our one bedroom, two closet living space for four bedrooms, multiple closets, tiers of kitchen cabinets, and a walk-in attic. And did I mention that the garage was even bigger than the house? We had SPACE, my friends.

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Fast forward four years, and we found ourselves packing up our dreams to move to God’s plan for us – an affordable (aka run-down) fixer-upper in the small town I grew up in, downsizing from our spacious country home to a two bedroom, two closet house. TWO CLOSETS. Thankfully we still had a small attic, but we now had no garage. Space was once again at a premium.

It wasn’t until we made that second, unplanned move that I realized how much stuff two people could accumulate over the course of four years. Suddenly all the stuff that was squirreled away in a back bedroom closet in our old house was now staring me in the face every day, as we had no place to go with it. As our family grew to three, and then four people, we had to take a serious look at how to keep all of our “stuff” from overtaking our house.

Thus began a system of purging that we have been refining over the past dozen years. Now, when purging a room or cleaning the attic, I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Have I used it in the past year? If I go through a whole year without thinking about or using an item, I most likely will not need it in the future. Time to donate it so someone else can use it!
  2. Do I like it? This is a really important question to ask! Do I even like this item? Am I keeping it out of obligation or guilt? Just because it was given to me, doesn’t mean I have to keep it! It took me years, but I have learned to give myself permission to let go of those items and, instead, treasure the kindness and thoughtfulness of the gift giver.
  3. Does it have sentimental value? When we first moved into our current home, I had a huge Rubbermaid container of high school memories. Within that container were shoe boxes filled with paper football-shaped notes from friends, programs from various school events, senior pictures, dried flowers, and other random items from that era of my life. Each time I have gone through that container over the years, I have been emotionally ready to let go of more of those items. Today, that huge container has been reduced to one small shoe box of the most important memories from those years.

A fourth question that I ask, but this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, is whether or not the item is dual purpose. Living in a house with such limited storage, it has become important to me that the items I keep are not only decorative, but also useful. For instance, I love collecting vintage Pyrex, which I display on open shelves in my kitchen. These bowls also serve as my everyday mixing and serving bowls. Another example is mason jars. We inherited a plethora of mason jars with this house, both the clear and the blue glass ones. The blue glass ones line my window sills as decor, but can also be used as an impromptu vase or candle holder. The clear ones have become our drinking glasses as well as containers that can store a myriad of grains, pastas, and sauces as needed.

The beauty of decluttering is that owning less stuff means managing less stuff, which frees me up to pursue things in life that are more important to me…like drinking coffee and watching Gilmore Girls reruns. 😉