secret

It’s hard to grow when everybody’s watching - Christy Nockels, “For Your Splendor”

I’ve been off social media since the summer, so it’s been six, seven months without Facebook and Instagram.  No vacation chronicles, no first day of school photos, no Halloween costumes, no Christmas decorations or festivities.  No birthdays or anniversaries, no new babies, no fantastically-plated food. I just heard that Taya Smith is engaged. Heard.

It wasn’t really planned, not really new.  I have done this before, like for Lent.  But it feels really different this time.  Very necessary.

The decision was, I think, one of several self-care measures I’ve taken since we moved.  Another facet of the whole simplifying business.  I had already been posting pretty infrequently, but it was the input that I could no longer handle.  I was overwhelmed with all the change, and all that extra stimulation was adding to it.

So I just stopped.

It feels so good.  There’s space in my brain again.

And last night a dear friend helped me realize that if I didn’t do it, all that hard work we did last year would have been for naught.  

If I didn’t restrict myself from seeing how everyone I knew and every influencer I followed was upsizing their homes or fixer-upping or furnishing or sharing home decor trends, I would lost confidence in the sacrifice we made.  I needed time in a vacuum to marinate in our new lifestyle, to let these newly-adopted values really sink in deep.  I still need more time.  Actually, the break is indefinite at this point.  As a wise person told me about the same decision, you’ll know when it’s time to get back on.  And I don’t know, so I’ll stay off.

 

So this is all I can do right now.  Kick it old school and just blog.  And if you read what I write and you like it, cool; you don’t even have to click anything.

minimalism and such

So about the minimalist lifestyle.  It's a big thing these days, so it's easy to find a proponent, or seven, who shares their experiences, advice and hacks on the interwebs and in the bookstores.  What they'll all tell you is that minimalism is not just one prescribed list of actions or capped inventory of possessions.

"...finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness." - Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

"...is designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions." - Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

"Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom." - Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, The Minimalists

"Being a minimalist doesn’t mean owning nothing, it means owning exactly the right things. It’s not about being anti-consumption, it’s about being anti-compulsory consumption." - Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle

"...living small and simply isn’t about the size of my house or whether I can tow it down the highway. It’s about making mindful choices that give me freedom, flexibility, and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones." - Tammy Strobel, Rowdy Kittens

I don't know if I could ever, in good faith, label myself a minimalist now or in the future.  My attitudes about my stuff still ebb and flow, especially since we haven't finished the process of purging and moving.  But there are some solid principals that have guided me, Ben and the kids towards an existence that is uncluttered and focussed on the important few.

I highly recommend you watch the documentary (via Netflix or iTunes) if you haven't already.  It presents a broad spectrum of approaches to the idea.

A repeating theme, even scattered among the quotes above, is mindfulness.  Well there's another buzz word these days.  My understanding of the idea needs only to focus on the word's root.  

Mind.  Hmm.

What if we just, duh, thought about every thing we bring home?  Everything we purchase?  Everything we commit ourselves and our families to?  I have heard on several occasions the suggestion that we should think about any purchase over $100 for 30 days before buying it.  In hindsight, wow, my house and my life would have looked very, very different if I did that.  The candy and tabloid kiosks leading up to the cash registers?  They are placed there for the exact reason that we don't do that.  "Impulse buys", we call them.

My takeaway from the minimalist movement ties into that quote from Tsh Oxenreider about everything in my life aligning with my purpose.  Reduce my physical environment to its purest form - just my needs and the wants that I love - without frills, without clutter, to allow space for genuine mindfulness and intention about my life, my actions and my pursuits.

I read a book that was recommended several times in my podcast listenings over the last couple of years: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.  Being a visual learner, his diagrams are what really helped me digest the value of doing and having less.  Look at this:

This illustrates exactly how my life has felt...the one on the left.  Spending my energy on a lot of things, in a lot of different directions, and getting nowhere.  Maybe you could even warp the circle because everything is tugging away at everything else.  The right side demonstrates essentialism, where the focus is on fewer things resulting in greater progress.

I look at this diagram and it makes me hungry for order in my life.  I see the little stumpy arrows on the left as shallow breaths, almost panicked.  Um, ya, I think they're panicked.  A lot of reactionary decisions over the last 20 years have sent my finances in one direction, my methods of home-keeping another, my parenting style yet another, my faith practice, my work ethic, my social life, etc.  They're not bad, but I can confidently say that many of these facets of my life were not carefully and intentionally established with the whole in mind.

Look at that right drawing. It's wonderfully simple. One, long, unlaboured, life-giving breath.

 

finding minimalism

I think it was the weekend before Christmas and Ben and I were driving home from a shopping trip.  Without warning I heard, "I think 5% of me would be okay if we sold our house now instead of in ten years."

Out of my own mouth.

The reality of our finances caused a dull, inescapable hum, as it tends to do around the holidays.  The recently-woven dream of downsizing and paying off our debt with the proceeds in ten years did not bring me the comfort I thought it would.  Even though it was plausible, with the kids easily being in their twenties and likely living their own lives by then.

In quick succession I heard the statement again.

Out of his mouth.

And by the time our six-minute drive home was done, 5% became 99% and we had the outline of a plan.

The conversation continued up in our bedroom - it's a strange feeling, having a hard conversation and being excited about it - as we brainstormed what this plan would entail.

Later that night, I flipped through Netflix's new releases on the 43" smart TV Ben had just won at his Christmas party and discreetly set up in our bedroom.

"Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things"

Hmm.  What's that?

Melissa had been tossing the term minimalism around the house over the past year and I wasn't sure if it referred to the style of art or the tendency of some to furnish an all-white room with a single white chair.

So I watched it while folding laundry and possibly with my mouth gaped open for the full 78 minutes.

You know that scene in The Matrix when Trinity sucks the bug out of Neo's belly button?  He freaks out when the bloody parasite comes into his view, just before she tosses it out the car window and it dies its little electronical death.

It felt like that, an ugly truth about self and the world held at eye-level in all its nauseating, convicting glory, but with hints of actionable hope.   Like a great sermon.

And so began the slide down the rabbit hole.  I think I watched it again the next day.  I looked up The Minimalists and every contributor shown in the film.  I asked people if they'd seen it and if not, recommended it.  I extracted key points and swallowed them whole as I went about my day, looking at my clothes, my kitchen, my stress, my life.  

I had finally discovered one of the tools I had been longing for to address the disorder that was suffocating seemingly every area of my life.

 

Next: minimalism and such

we're moving

Did you see my Instagram post?

We just did what I said I'd never do.  We sold our house and I will no longer die in ripe old age under its roof as originally planned.  In two weeks we plan to be fully moved into our new home and will turn the keys to the house over to its new owners a month later.  A slow, daily move and lots of time to finish cleaning up = sanity.

Here's the deal in a beautifully-bulleted nutshell: 

  • Sell house
  • Pay off mortgage and all consumer debt
  • Move family of 5 into a 900ish sq ft, rental home (hence the tag #fivetonine)
  • Eliminate 80-90% of our material possessions

The plan is a messy labour of love.  Our priorities have demanded re-sorting.  We have had to confront a lot of unglamourous habits and past decisions.  We have made reluctant acquaintance with impracticality and unpredictability.

And God has proven Himself faithful and gracious.

I have tapped into the wisdom of various movements: minimalism, tiny homes, essentialism, simple living, KonMari, etc.  For example, this has been a strong guide for me:

Simple living means living holistically with your life’s purpose. - Tsh Oxenreider, The Art of Simple

This stuff is all very en vogue these days.  Below all the adopted philosophy, though, are roots secured to Scripture.  Like this passage:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 NASB)

This is about six months in the making, but the road leading up to this is definitely years-long.  I have no idea how the posts to follow will flow, but hopefully, at the very least, something I share will ignite or affirm something in you that works toward living a life that, from every angle, faces its purpose.  Because that's what I'm trying to do too.

Next: about debt

an open letter to my white hair

Dear White Hair,

Yes, I'm talking to all six of you.  The three musketeers lining my part, Suzie Stick-Out at my left temple, and Misters Long-and-Slow-and-Steady-Wins-the-Race there in the back.

I'm not sure how I feel about you.  I mean, I'm pretty excited about hitting my forties and my friend told me the fifties are even better. My body is loosening up a bit (Today's Special is: "Euphemism") but still fairly in check, I guess. But then there's these - yous - that are testing my aversion to prints. I'm all about solids. The contrast against my black hair is a bit concerning. In my mid-thirties I dreamed about you guys emerging in a cool Bonnie Raitt, Rogue conversation-piece kind of way.  It's not likely.  And that's okay.  I've even embraced your rebel friend that plays whack-a-mole on my cheek. A quick tweeze takes care of that.  But I know you guys aren't going anywhere, so it's time for me to decide how I'm going to handle you.

I feel like a hypocrite if I don't at least try to embrace you for a bit, feel out the idea of the salt and pepper I love so much on handsome actors. (As if.) You've seen my house. You know I won't be able to nurse my roots if I start dyeing. So I'll give you some time. Maybe a year. And then we can revisit.

But in that year, let's make a deal. I will leave you alone, but I need you to grow in quietly and gently. So as to not draw me to vanity and away from more important concerns. Be a collective nudge towards progress and away from complacency. A whisper of urgency to listen, to strive, to obey, to comfort, to relax, to obey, to forgive. I'm a visual learner, so I'm thinking if I see some of you everyday, lovingly aligning yourselves with your dark brown counterparts (I'm talking to you, short, stiff crimpies in the front), I'll get the daily reminder I need to face and walk in the direction our Lord has intended for me, in a less Chicken-Little-The-Sky-Is-Falling kind of way.

 

Deal?

 

I look forward to receiving your response.

Many thanks,

Leah

another look at the deep end

It took me three weeks to publish yesterday's post.

The lesson I thought I had learned on that last day of class evolved into something so different in the days and weeks that followed.

The idea of turning 40 this year has got me on this mission not unlike many of my friends to define and deepen the meaning of my choices, career, etc.  Taking that big plunge into the deep end of the pool that night seemed like a super-awesome metaphor for just doing it, trying new things, chasing crazy dreams, run fearlessly.  And maybe it still is and will be soon.  But I realize that, for me, for this slice of my life, the jump is about something less fantastic and less postable and has much less fanfare tied to it.

It's about admitting that I have been running on fumes for months.
It's about letting go of and delaying some commitments.
It's about nurturing a beautiful marriage that boasts a long tenure but is still so much a delicate, work-in-progress.
It's about pausing during sporadic, desperate prayers for my children and listening for how God wants me to be His answer.

And all this because it was time to get still, bringing leaning on God back to the top of my priority list instead of assigning the concept a hashtag, time for entering into hard, necessary conversations, making difficult decisions and understanding the truth of my past and current choices.

I stopped my Lenten fast two weeks ago.  What worked beautifully in the last two years was not this time.  With the season starting much earlier that usual, in the middle of a challenging job transition, my expectations were unrealistic and my motives were facing the wrong direction. (Since when do I post recipes?!)  It was doomed from the start.  And even the plan to stop had poor motives...I'll break it with a home-baked loaf of bread that I saw on Pinterest.

Come on.  Seriously.  I've never even baked bread before.  What was I thinking?

Sure enough, God called me on it.  I walked into church that Sunday, discovered it was Communion week, and was quickly corrected.  This was the bread He wanted me to have, and This - He - was enough.

 I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I'm still walking through a valley and I don't really have anything poetic to round that off. The last two weeks have been more intentional and rich and rough and still a bit exhausting, all at the same time.  And maybe this is perfect timing. In absence of the unrealistic meal-planning, the five books I was reading at once (not kidding), unreasonable expectations of myself and the ones I love, and pursuit of my own glory over God's, I am assuming a more proper, humbler posture towards the amazingness that this coming week commemorates.

graduation day

I passed Adult 1 swim class recently.

I was exhausted and my muscles ached all over, but I can now do the back crawl for about 12m and the front crawl for 10m (with the world's worst form).  But all the bullets have check marks and I have the beginnings of a life skill I have pined over for almost thirty years.  Now I have to practice over the spring and summer, before I forget to point my toes, relax my knees, keep my hips close to the surface, fully extend my arms, keep my ear pinned to my shoulder when I turn to breathe, breathe and not drink, all at the same time.  It's so automatic and instinctual for all the young kids on the other (deep) end of the pool, but we adults have so much fear laced in this whole process that tying all that together is so difficult.

At one point while trying to perfect my back crawl, my rising right arm splashed water onto my face, breaking my momentum and opening the door to flailing panic.  Staring hard at the ceiling, my mind switched to the scene of Jesus asking Peter to step onto the water.  In the second half of that instant, I realized something. Get a grip Leah, you're learning to swim on your back in four and a half feet of water at a community pool in the 'burbs, with two qualified lifeguards nearby.  Save your nerves for the heavy stuff, for, well, Peter's sake.

So, when our instructor suggested we go into the deep end for the final five minutes, I yawped YES.  And then when he said the life jackets aren't out and do you want to try jumping in without them, I swooshed my foot down in the water and declared yes once again.

And in I went.

There's something about my time in the deep end that is making me want to go back.  A kind of freedom, albeit for only about five seconds at a time.  There's no floor immediately below andit feels mysterious-therefore-scary but exciting and warm and enveloping all at the same time.  Plus I had my two child leader-lifesavers standing by, telling me as I'm launching off the big foam island thing to go for it.  If young J and A had my trust for my survival at 7:58 on Sunday night, then surely I could try harder to place it in God's irrefutably more capable hands for the bigger and bolder. 

 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”” ‭‭(Mark‬ ‭9:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

 

 My report card!

My report card!

january book eats

I read just over a dozen books last year, and hope to average sat least two per month in 2016.  I almost missed it, but yesterday, as #2 was on a date with Daddy, I brought my second book to the mall and sat in the food court beside the youngest, equipped him with a scoop of death by chocolate and Minecraft (okay not my brightest move as a mother) and flew through the final pages while the oldest danced around the clothing stores as teens are programmed to do.  With a new, shrunken commute, I hope I'll still be able to keep this up.

 

For The Love by Jen Hatmaker

For reasons I can't explain, after following her blog, pvr-ing her Today Show appearances, wishing I had the American HGTV, scouring the podcast world for her talks and interviews for several years (which explains why I say y'all now), this is the first book of hers I have read.  I am officially one of The 4500, the sea of people who applied to be part of her launch team to promote the book, but didn't score a spot.  In applying, though, I got a couple of free chapters to enjoy before it released.  I knew from then that I had to get my hands on this book.  She is a lover of Jesus, her family, cooking and community, is utterly honest and Hi. Lari. Ous.  This book was like a date with your best collection of girlfriends, with generous doses of zoomed in and panned out looks at ourselves, our people, the big-C Church, and the world, wrapped tightly in a blanket of out-loud laughter.

 

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

Once I return it to the library (after exhausting my renewal allowance), I will have to buy my own copy. I loved it so much.  Part memoir, part recipe book, Jessica Fechtor, author of the food blog Sweet Amandine, begins with the morning an aneurysm burst in her brain, and moves through the messy, scary long road that followed.  Multiple surgeries, loss of sight, loss of smell.  Sprinkled across the pages are glimpses into her youth, college years and life in young adulthood, where you meet and quickly grow to love her tribe of friends and family.  Then, as the best bonus ever, almost every one of the 33 chapters ends with the recipe mentioned in the narrative, giving the reader the exact gift they are hoping for by the time they catch on a few chapters in.  And save for the Five-Fold Challah, because I'm a bit lazy for a four-pager, I want to try each of the recipes.  Not in a Julie and Julia mission kind of way, but because they are all amazing and proven unforgettable, obviously.  A word about Jessica's writing, though.  It is beautiful and brilliant.  Okay, that was two words.  The way she paints the scene for her audience, so vividly you start feeling like you're reading fiction, ugh.  See?  I am reduced to grunting just thinking about it, I'm so speechless.