as a mother

Comedian Ali Wong has a short bit about hoarding and helping her mom clean her house.  Tensions ran high when her mom wouldn't let go of a calculator manual.

"You never know when you might need this!"

"Buuuutttt, I do know that I'm gonna have to clean all this $#&@ up when you diiiieee."

It was funny until I thought about my own basement.

I pictured my kids, many years from now, standing trapped in the middle of my crap, still in shock from learning about our financial situation, feeling totally duped.  And then pitying me because I must have been shamefully hiding problems and bad habits and baggage all these years.  Eventually it would all rot into annoyance because cleaning everything out was taking forever.

The last thing I want for my children is to not know the real me.  Ben and I have worked too hard to make our family and our home the safest places for them to be and dream.  

I want them to have a broader, more accurate world view.  I want them to know that owning and renting are both respectable housing options.  I want them to be thoughtful about their choices.  I want them to be unafraid of vulnerability and course-correction.  I want them to make the time to know and love themselves as their Creator does.  And hopefully these things will all converge to create the authentic lives I desire for each of them.

Encouraging them to be brave or be responsible or to confidently be themselves in a resistant culture will have no traction if I'm not doing the same thing.  So here I am, owning my crap, taking big steps to fix things, and staying true to my values regardless of how upstream they are.  All in quite plain view.

 

me, now

Turning 40 made me extra-reflective about everything.  This past year was so full of thoughts and plans and declarations, it makes me a bit tired thinking back to everything I squeezed into it.

In the middle of it all, I faced some some hard truths last year and had to make the time to decide what was really, really important to me.

How's my marriage?  What did I want for my children at this stage of their lives?  Am I taking care of my body?  Am I making myself available for God's calling?  Am I even listening for it?  What do I love, and what am I doing about it?

Addressing these is helping me re-order my priorities, rip off some band-aids and start this transition.

Here's what I know for sure, now (in no particular order):

  • I am an introvert who can no longer pretend to be an extrovert.  Large groups and busy gatherings exhaust me and I need regular periods of quiet alone time to thrive.
  • My marriage is both strong and tender.  It does not have an auto-pilot feature and must be a vessel through which our children and other couples can learn about grace, humility and the joy that results from them.
  • My children are getting older and may all leave home, quite plausibly, within the next ten years.  I cannot dillydally with the lessons I want to teach and exemplify.
  • I want to meet the world.  Travel outside of North America is a new priority.
  • I want contribution and generosity to be natural responses, with less calculation or hesitation.
  • I value hospitality.  I want to explore different ways to practice it.
  • I am not good at housekeeping, inside and out (you should see my backyard right now).  I am no longer a lover of baking.  I don't enjoy planning parties like I used to.  And that's all okay.
  • I love reading (memoirs, mostly) and I love writing (run-on sentences, mostly).
  • I want to figure out what foods, exercise regimes and general practices are best for my own health.
  • God is my Number One.  Jesus is my Example.  The Holy Spirit is my Guide.

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

about debt

I haven't been debt-free since I was 18.

I got my first credit card in university so that I could get a cell phone.  It was the mid-nineties so it wasn't quite Zack Morris but it was bigger than the cordless land line phones I have in 2017.  You couldn't open an account without one, apparently.  So I got one, with still-fresh memories of the credit card companies wooing us all at frosh week.  I guessed it was something you just do as a newly-minted adult.  I got the phone, but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with the dazzling (read: false) freedom this little blue plastic card (not to be confused with my Blockbuster Video membership) afforded me.

Fast forward 22 years and here I am with a mortage, which I'd been taught was "good debt" and multiple consumer lending products, let's call them.

A few years ago, the finances we had been managing in a two-steps-forward-three-steps-back fashion begged my attention, as my relationship with Jesus deepened.  I began hungering to make a greater contribution to our new church community, but knew there was little wiggle room in our budget without Ben having to actually show me the numbers.  After months of discussion and crunching, we decided to go down from two cars to one.  My commute, now via public transit, ballooned to two hours each way, and coordinating activities, errands and our social life was a challenge we were unfamiliar with.  But we figured it out and we breathed easier because of it.

And like a shallow, temporary fix would, I assumed that sacrificing our SUV (okay how silly does that sound) appeased the God who had nudged me to address my debt, and went on my merry way, never actually wanting to eliminate the whole thing.

Too much.

Too hard.

Until last Christmas.

Next: finding minimalism

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

writing again

Well hello!

Wow, it's been almost a year since my last entry.  To be honest, I fell in love with microblogging on my Instagram account.  It's easy and less tempting for me to triple my time with editing.  But I've started to miss writing on here.  And a lot has happened since August 2016.  I turned 40, for goodness' sake.  And so, so much more.

I'm just gonna start typing, sharing, avoid over-editing and see where it goes.

And eventually I'll remember how to operate this site.

what i am learning at my new job, or, i see dead people - part 2

So I saw the image of the Syrian boy in the ambulance last week, as many around the world did, and like them I went to work the next day.  Where I met a young boy who didn’t attend his grandpa’s funeral because he is still working through losing his friend in the spring, where I learned new medical terminology, where widows’ colleagues called ahead because they want to do the proper thing when they arrive, where high emotions caused people to behave strangely, maybe badly.

This series is so depressing.  Is she going to at least put a printable or something at the end? Ugh.

Yup, it gets sad sometimes, and I will admit that that week was particularly heavy.  But I share this because think there are lessons to be learned about how much we filter and maybe even sterilize our human experience.  Especially here in suburban North America where we enjoy predictability and peace.

Suffering is so yucky and not neat, isn’t it?

Little Omran Daqneesh is suffering and will continue to be in a crappy situation (#UOTM - Understatement Of The Month) the day after his image stops going viral.  And some of us may try to educate ourselves by reading the articles and listening to reports tied to this photo/video, and then throw our hands up in the air, sigh and think oh well, what can we do?  

Well…

We need to remember that there are hard things happening to people both far away and within our arms’ reach.  And hopefully the people who feel a holy discontent** over what is happening in Syria will be brave and follow the calling.  For me, though, I feel drawn to serve the grieving of my local community.  To help ease these first steps into their new normal, maybe.  And maybe increase awareness of realities that I can no longer ignore just because I seemingly don’t have a personal connection to them.

Death is real and it’s inevitable.  A lot of people in their 80s and 90s come through our (back) doors.  A long life, that’s awesome.  It really is.  But I knew at a very young age that it’s not the only scenario.  My mom died a week shy of her 45th birthday.  So cancer, car accidents, suicide, heart disease, stillbirths…these are the kinds of things that cross my desk every day.  And it’s difficult sometimes to wrap my head and heart around them.  At times I need to go days in a row just getting things done, but on my stronger days (which are more frequent now, thankfully) I can take a big exhale and feel God’s goodness even still.  A lot of gratitude and empathy and learning to live well (and thus die well, whenever that happens) are developing in me because of this job.

And what is living well to me?  Working on it.  But I know it includes the pursuit of a healthy balance in our use of the provisions we have been blessed with, determining how much of our time, talents and wealth are intended for ourselves and how much are actually equipment for the service of others.

So can I ask you something?  
Who needs you?  
What is tugging your heart away from complacency?
If you could stretch yourself ever-so-slightly for somebody, somebodies, something, what would it be?

Okay, that was three questions.  But I thought I’d drag you in with me as I navigate through these early stages of answering this calling.  I hope you don’t mind.  

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** “…what wrecks the heart of someone who loves God is often the very thing God wants to use to fire them up to do something that, under normal circumstances, they would never attempt to do.” - Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent