Life in a Box

I used to think everything in life (at least my life) should be flawless. I’m not sure where I learned that, most likely it was my own interpretation from a combination of things learned at church, home, and school.

In everything I did, I expected perfectionism, from perfectly folded hand towels, to clothing sorted by style and color. Even my spices were neatly aligned in my drawer, alphabetized, of course. My life was, at least in my eyes, held together in a tidy little box.

But somewhere along the way, life got messy, long after I reached adulthood, and many, many years beyond my first days as a perfectionist.

Take a trip with me, back in time to a little girl’s room:

A young girl sits in the middle of her bedroom, long dark hair cascading down her stiff, straight back. Her legs are spread on the floor in front of her hair, hands clasped tight, a book between her thighs, a notebook and pencil to her right.

The girl is reading. You see her pick up her bookmark, place it between two pages, and close the book. As she reaches for her pencil and jots something on her tablet, you stand on your tiptoes and peer over her shoulder.

She has written a list of numbers, one for each line, filling the sheet of paper. On the first line, next to number one, she writes something. You peek at her tablet.

“Get up.” ‘That’s odd. What does that mean?’ you wonder.

She begins to write on the second line, then scribbles her pencil quickly across the paper. “Shoot!” you hear her say. Before you can read her note, she has ripped it out of the tablet, crumbled it, and is across the room throwing it in the metal garbage can.

Folding her legs back beneath her, she begins her list again, the numbers written with more care and precision than the first time. At number two, she writes, ‘Brush teeth.’ The routine continues until each line is filled. And each time she doesn’t see the list as perfect, she rips the page out, throws it away, and begins again.

The girl doesn’t appear to be agitated. In fact, she hums and smiles, and occasionally turns to the book to read a few pages. She looks happy, twisting her hair between her fingers, and tapping her foot quickly against the floor. But how happy is she, really?

The girl was me. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind my story, but this isn’t about that, and for now, I’d really rather that portion of my story remain a mystery.

What this story is about is this: Life is messy. No matter what we do, we have to scribble pieces of our lives away and start over. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cabinet whose contents have been scattered across a floor by an adventurous two-year-old. Sometimes it’s an event that doesn’t go as planned – a failed cake, or balloons that blow away in the wind before the recipient has a chance to see them. And sometimes, it’s an accident that nearly takes our breath away.

But here’s the thing, I think life is supposed to be messy. It’s in those messy moments, when our world gets flipped upside down, that we can see clearly. Life is a balance of perfect and imperfect harmony, and we are in the middle.

We strive to do our best, perfecting hair and nails, cleansing our home inside and out. Yet life arrives and takes apart the very piece we admired the most. For me, that was everything.

Like I said, I wanted my whole world perfect, and my accident took it all away. But I think when I learned to embrace the messiness that life can throw, the untidiness and unruliness of it all, that’s when I began to heal.
I will always be a bit of neat freak. It’s in my blood. But I’m really trying to step outside of my neat little box, and be a part of this glorious, messy thing we call life.

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It Began With a Cup of Tea

I love Saturday mornings. They make me happy. This last Saturday, my husband and I stayed at our son’s house. I was the first to rise, see the sun peek quietly in the sky, and listen to the birds greet the new day. The morning was peaceful and serene. As I sipped on my cup of Earl Gray, I started thinking about other Saturday mornings I had loved. One such morning, just this last fall, entered my mind.

****
My husband and I began that morning with a cup of tea. A quiet breakfast. And small talk.

We drove to the local soccer field, walked across the dewy grass, smelled the autumn leaves that filled the crisp air. We watched our grandson play a soccer game and score two goals (I have to get my bragging rights in there somewhere).

Before we drove out of the parking lot, our son and daughter-in-law asked us to stop by. As we were about to leave, their car died. We brought our vehicles as close together as we could, stretching the battery cable across the truck that sat in front of our son’s car. Try as we might, we couldn’t get the cable to reach. Sometimes, I don’t think things are meant to work out the first time. And this is why, the owner of the truck came over and pulled out a really, really long cable. We were so thankful, and he was so proud. Maybe it was what he needed that day – to know he was needed.

None of this seems like a big deal, going to a soccer game, a dead car battery, or stopping at a family member’s home. But my husband and I had a lot planned for the day. It was a typical Saturday filled with chores and errands, and an empty refrigerator that needed to be filled. Add to that the fact that we were anxious to pick up landscaping rocks for our backyard, and our day was planned, and busy.

But we went to our son’s house, we chatted, watched the grandchildren rake yellow and orange leaves across the wet lawn, and drank fresh homemade eggnog. And not once did I think of anything but what I was doing.

I think that may have been a first for me.

We managed to do our errands, pick up groceries, go to the landscaping site, and even slip home in the middle of it for lunch and a nap. Not all the chores were completed, but the important things were done, and that’s all that mattered.

I wonder what would have happened that day if our attitudes had not been so accepting – if we had said no to stopping by a son’s house, to eggnog, or a soccer game. I wonder what our day would have been if we had rushed and panicked, or gulped down juice and coffee for breakfast. I wonder if we would have missed out on the blessings of seeing a man help our son’s car get started, of seeing our grandson score two goals, or tasting homemade eggnog. I’m glad I will never know.

To think it all began with a cup of tea.

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Let’s Talk About Diets

I love the smell of freshly baked bread, cinnamon cookies, and chicken roasting in the oven. I love the sight of bright red apples sitting in the center of my counter. I love the feel of chocolate melting slowly on my tongue. I love everything about food, the aromas, the texture, the appearance. Except lutefisk, I don’t love that.

Food is a necessary ingredient of life. It’s sustains us, gives us energy, keeps our minds alert. Without it we wither and die. Obviously, God gave us food for a reason.

As I ate my lunch today (salmon cakes with homemade pickles, and a blended drink of carrots, oranges, mango, and ginger), I began to think about the different foods in the world, how blessed we were to have them, and how some people have eliminated many of these foods from their lives.

That got my mind wandering further (as it often does) to the types of diets that have existed over the years. I got a little curious and began to do some searching.

There have been a lot of diets over the past decades: Paleo, grapefruit, vegan, vegetarian, detox, kosher, fruitarian, lacto-ovo, flexitarian, pescetarian, plant-based, gluten-free, SCD, plus a host of others, including those that are based on our blood-type, the area our ancestors lived, and diets of the rich and famous. (Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.)

Some diets are necessary, like one that keeps a celiac from gluten, or a diabetic away from sugar. Some diets are understandable, like foods prohibited in one’s religion, or those based on other personal beliefs. But some diets, they are just plain silly, like the junk food diet. Did you know there was such a thing? Don’t even get me started on that one.

The problem I see is this, we are often sucked in (by the grand media) to believe that a certain diet will make our lives better. We will: Feel Better, Look Better, Be More Appealing, Lose Weight (sometimes with no exercise!), and most importantly, Be Popular. Who doesn’t want that?

But I wonder, was eating meant to be that complicated? Were we meant to be on constant diets, always monitoring our calories and food intake? I don’t think so.

I’ve tried other diets. I’ve been vegan, and vegetarian. I am gluten-free (out of necessity), and eliminate other foods from my diet as well (gotta love allergies!) But as for any food my body willingly takes (without my throat closing-up, or my stomach going into a frenzy), I will gladly eat it.

Diets are difficult. It’s not hard when you eat at home, preparing your own meals (as long as it is from whole, unprocessed foods), but try going to a restaurant when you are a vegan, and I can guarantee you most restaurants don’t get it completely right. Mixed inside those ‘vegan’ meals are often things like casein (protein from milk), red dyes made from crushed-up beetles, and beef gelatin. Even miso soup (a vegan staple) may contain fish flakes.

I just don’t believe eating was supposed to be this hard. We were given whole foods, fresh, growing on trees and in the ground. We were given animals to treat responsibly and eat in moderation. God set our bodies up for that. Why do we insist on changing it? Oh yeah, it will us make us popular.

But I don’t care about popularity. I just like my life simple. So I will pull an apple off the tree, a tomato from the vine, and blueberries from a bush. I will eat a simple meal of fish and organic vegetables.

Diet really is simple. We just make it difficult.

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Addicted to Busy

The Busy Addict

I am addicted to busy. I say it like it’s a badge of honor bestowed upon me by society, a gift placed in my hand, a trophy upon my mantel. Our society tells us we should be busy, because if we aren’t, we are nobody. It’s as if to be in a constant rush determines the value of our lives upon this earth. How sad is that?

Is our existence really dependent on the amount of activities we are engaged in? Is our worth determined by the number of clubs we, and our children, belong to? I don’t think so.

Life is, at times, hectic, there’s no denying that. We work, prepare meals, launder clothing, and maintain homes. We drive children to every activity from soccer and dance, to plays and concerts. We are involved in church groups, community events, and volunteer functions. To top it off, we add every social media button to our computers, and involve ourselves in any Facebook group that slightly resembles something we are interested in. In other words, busy is often of our own accord.

I try to stay away from busy, because, quite honestly, I get tired. But as much as I try, my days are often filled with endless activities, projects and classes I have added to my calendar, until my days bleed with only a sheer reminder of what life was meant to be.

I don’t think we are supposed to be in constant motion, any more than I believe we were intended to sit dipping our toes in a cool stream all day (though there is nothing I would love more). There must be a balance. There must be a way to rid ourselves of this obsession we have to race against the hands of time.

 

The Power of NO

I think there is something we can do. It requires nothing more than breathing one simple word.

NO.

One word that will set you free.

I often have to be reminded of this.

When my children were young, I was asked to volunteer for umpteen activities, including church picnics and school fairs I didn’t even want to attend. I know I was asked because I could be counted on, because I was a woman who couldn’t say ‘no.’

It wasn’t only volunteering that got me in trouble with my time, it was my own family. I did everything for them, baking cookies late into the night, staying up late to help with projects, and signing my children up for so many sports one summer, I didn’t even have a chance to watch them play.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against these things. Volunteering is fantastic. In fact, it’s a necessity. I believe we were placed on this earth to help one another. I believe we should give our time, when we can.

I also believe children should be involved in activities outside school. It’s what helps them grow and discover who they are.

As for our families, it’s hard to say no when you are asked to bake something special or help with a school project.

But the problem is, at some point, we break. No matter what color your cape, or how much coffee you drink, you can never do it all.

And that’s okay. You weren’t meant to.

A wise friend once told me, when you say yes to everything, you may very well be taking away someone else’s blessing, someone who has a heart for the school play, a passion for the church concert.

Your family will live without fresh cookies this week. The school and church will find another volunteer. Your children don’t need to be involved in two, or three, sports at one time. It’s okay to say no.

As for me, I am resolved to let one project go, and focus only on the necessity. My classes are down to one, not two. And my husband will survive without a freshly baked confection to have with his morning tea.

This week, once again, I learn the power of ‘no.’ Will you join me?

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