Friday, November 23, 2012

Psalm 84:6-7

It feels like I'm finally on the other side of the valley and I have no idea what took me so long to arrive.

Long ago - or really, not so long ago - I remember saying to myself that I just wanted to feel content. I didn't need to feel exhilaration or bliss or even "happiness," at least not the shiny version of it. Just content. I'm pretty sure I had no idea what that looked like or felt like but it seemed like a reasonable and very adult goal.

It also seemed to be a million miles away.

Well, it wasn't - but it certainly felt that way. I don't know if I'm alone in this (that seems unlikely) but I tend to mark the time in my life by the circumstances of each period. "When I was a kid" or "when I was at Butler." Grad school. Before Rob and I married. When Mom was sick. After Dad died.

And here we are at Now. Now has been a long time coming, it seems to me. The time from when Mom was sick to after Dad died was a slog, an exhausting, numb slog that I sometimes believed would never really end. Despite marrying and giving birth to our beautiful, loving daughter, creating a home and growing together as a family, it always looked to me as if there was a shadow cast on everything good in life. I guess you could call it sadness, or mourning, but whatever it was was slow and deep and stifling. I got to know that terrain well and it would be easy to find my way back there again. But I'm in no hurry to return.

Now is where I think I have found out what contentment means. It's not perfect; there are still frustrations and arguments, and the cats still really hate the dog. My laundry still piles up. The dust, though it hardly seems possible, appears to accumulate even faster than before. My daughter, my sweet, smart, loving, gorgeous daughter continues to leave a trail of destruction in her wake. Money is tighter than ever. I'm still overweight and mourning's long, slow slog wasn't kind to my youthful glow. But I am content, and able to rest - truly rest! - in the knowledge that life actually is good after all. We are healthy. We are happy. We are together. The long slog is over and I know that the bumpy, turning road ahead is passable. And promising.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Stuff of Life

I've officially dived head-first into a long-held dream.  It's awesome and terrifying and exciting and satisfying.  But like most dreams that finally come true, now that I'm here I find myself looking around and thinking "Holy cow.  Now what?"

For most people moving from a full time to a part time job might not be such a big deal, or it might be a move in the wrong direction.  For me, and for my family, it's a dream-come-true.  This isn't a story about why we've made this change; I'm really tired of that story and I'm ready to start a new one.  Thing is, I'm not sure what the next one is about just yet.  I know it's about my family, and the time I want to spend with them and the ways I want to care for them.  And I know it's about me, too -- but that's the stumbler.

What I'm feeling, deep in my bones, is that before I can move forward I've got to get a lot of stuff out of the way.  And I mean that literally:  I am drowning in stuff.  Right about now someone on Facebook would call this a First World Problem and they'd be right.  I hate to complain about being blessed with too much, but here I am.  I'm surrounded by things that require my time and energy to handle.  To figure out where it all goes, keep it all clean and in good repair, remember that it's there when I need it.  Honestly, I don't want the next chapter to be about stuff-maintenance.

The idea of purging, really purging the ish in my life is so appealing.  A calm environment that has what we truly need, and little more, seems like a blank canvas to me.  More time to do what we want to do, less time corralling The Stuff.  More space to live and play, less of The Stuff to argue about.  More resources to spend on what matters, less time worrying about how to pay for all The Stuff.  Freedom, really -- it feels a lot like freedom.

And that brings me right back to this dream which, at the end of the day, was all about freedom for me. My work was anything but freeing, but it would be foolish of me to replace a good-paying (but stifling) job for an unpaying (and stifling) life.  I've got to be free of the stuff that's in my way if I'm really going to be free.  But here are my obstacles:

  • I struggle with the guilt of poor decisions.  It's hard to give away a perfectly good (fill in the blank) that I've hardly, if ever, used without kicking myself for wasting the money in the first place.
  • I struggle with placing monetary values on things.  I wonder if what I'm about to donate is actually worth something, and with our new budget...  well, we could certainly use whatever money we might get for it.
  • I struggle with the people who live with me.  I love them, and I don't expect them to feel the same way I do about ridding ourselves of stuff.  At the same time, it's hard to swim upstream.  
  • I struggle with emotional attachments.  This is becoming less of a problem for me actually, but it's still an issue with everyone in the house -- especially the six year old, who somehow finds deep and binding ties to anything and everything she has ever touched.
  • I struggle with what-if syndrome.  As I'm trying to think more frugally, I always wonder "what if we will need this next week/spring/year?"  I worry that I'm going to part with something I might need, someday...  even though I clearly haven't needed it up to this point.  (And boy do I come by this honestly, as I was raised by parents who felt the effects of the Depression and were very slow to part with anything, even an empty cardboard box, because they might need it...  someday.)
I'm convinced that pruning away the excess is something that needs to happen.  I'm even looking forward to it, despite the pain of the process, because I just have this feeling that the rest of the story lies somewhere on the other side.  The purging is the preface.  Can't wait for Chapter 1.