Take charge of your environment

I marvel at how connected my mood is to my surroundings and how quickly the slide down hill happens. I exaggerate and everything is terrible and out of order and falling apart, when there are really just a few things piled up on the counters and kitchen table. Put them away.

It takes all of ten minutes.

These past few weeks have been a whirl of not so much physical activity, but the kind of mental activity that renders you useless. Looming deadlines and change and important papers and lists of stuff to buy, all manageable and doable and reasonable, but weighted with everyone's emotions and schedules.

And so, the piles. The dust. The billion little items that need to make it back to their home.

Keeping house is constant. It's not just a weekly clean-up or wiping down the counters. It's continual upkeep and filing and shoving things in cupboards so I don't have to see them anymore, so I can deal with them later, so everything can appear outwardly calm. Sometimes you just have to keep the house above squalor for awhile so you can deal with other things.

Symptomatic. That's what my housekeeping is.

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I drove loved ones to the airport at 2:30 a.m. Friday, stopped for coffee and a mcmuffin on the way home, and crawled back into bed for fitful sleep and a side of indigestion. I do this to myself and then I complain about it, just like I put-off dealing with hard things and ignore the inevitable.

My eating may also be symptomatic.

I finally gave up the dream of sleep. I downed a quart of water. I looked around my disheveled home, grabbed a damp rag, and started polishing things. I put random items away, things I would normally leave for my children to deal with (because it's their stuff, their responsibility, their lesson to learn and if I do it for them, dangit, how will they ever learn?). I dealt with the piles and papers and dirty floors, and you can guess what happened to my mood.

I had already decided that Friday would not be a productive day due to the early airport trip, so anything I did felt like a triumph. That's a mental a game I play, beating my mood to the punch, and Friday it worked.

I often don't write if I'm in a bad mood because I want to say beautiful things that are true, but I don't think that's necessarily the way. I don't think it's wrong to remind you, and myself, that Jesus shows up in our bad mood and keeps saving us again and again. Not through a clean house or easy living; more through acknowledging our own fallenness and noticing that Jesus is here, still, anyway. He doesn't shy away. He's consistent in a way that I am not, as evidenced in my sporadic housekeeping.

Life is meant to be understood by the living of it, the folding and layering of scriptural truth with the hard-luck and bad-attitude surface of life. What helps in our bad moods is a foundational knowledge that our ultimate good is in His hands, and that usually, things aren't all that bad. We just get bogged down with the details and emotions of living.

Cleaning house didn't make the issues go away, but it certainly put me in a better frame of mind to deal with them more wisely. Funny, how tied I am to this physical world.

I am sure that there is no place in the world where your message would not be enhanced by your making the place (whether tiny or large, a hut or a palace) orderly, artistic and beautiful with some form of creativity, some form of 'art'. It goes without saying, too, that 'The Environment' which is you, should be an environment which speaks of the wonder of the Creator who made you. ~ Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

There's not always time to clean house like we want. Bad moods are not always solved with a swipe of the cloth or swish of the broom. But today, if you're stuck because of weather or sickness or attitude or any other minor circumstance, just try tidying up a corner. Turn on some music. Light a candle. Find some outside to bring inside: branches, twigs, flowers, moss, whatever you have available. Make your environment—the one that is your space and the one that is you—into something reflective of Christ.

Home is a salve for the world

News travels fast, even to the ends of the earth where we live. It's not usually accurate or reliable and sometimes it takes a solid 24 hours (a whole day!) for the true truth to be told, but it reaches us out here. When my daughter called me on October 1 of last year to tell me what was happening on campus, it took hours to locate her friends and account for all the kids we knew. Hours. And we were impatient with grief and worry and wonder. This was happening to us, and it was unreal, and the news was about us. We had to learn so much from the internet and television.

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We were at a home group a couple months ago, the one we affectionately dub "The Fogies", and they were telling stories about the first houses in the valley to get electricity and the first family to own a television, which blows my mind and makes me want to listen more. That generation has seen more change in their lifetime than any before it, and what they remind me is that I need to notice the change, pay attention, watch. Everything is changing before our eyes.

Our home was one of the last in the valley to get fiber internet, I'll tell the youngsters some day.

Researchers say that knowledge will soon be doubling every 12 hours. Nothing is out of bounds, they say; reach the heavens and plumb the depths, because human potential is unlimited and my! what wonders we could accomplish around human ingenuity and unity. 

They babble on about potential and completely forget what we've already learned.

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”  Genesis 11:4

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The boys in my yard, the ones tossing a football and spouting NFL stats and predictions for next season, don't know about the doubling of knowledge. They don't labor for facts as they collect their football cards and watch the games, replaying the highlights in our yard. They learn for fun and I accidentally learn the names of the running backs and the draft picks but then, because I don't really care about the NFL much, promptly forget.

I care about those boys though, and I want to know what they care about. I get a vicarious knowledge that might allow me to engage them on the surface but I don't have any real knowledge of football. My ignorance doesn't stop me from the enjoyment of watching them play, whether in my backyard or in their uniforms on a real football field. I learn their numbers and positions and all their football dreams.

The boys congregate here so often that we mowed out extra space in our field. We had marked the boundaries and put in the corner fence posts and then decided, like we do, that the boundaries of our proposed yard were too tight. There are 8 boys at this end-of-the-earth dead end road, and when you add in cousins and extra friends and a few dogs, no tiny yard, easy to mow and manage, will do.

They don't yet care that they can get more knowledge and information by the hour than someone a hundred years ago may have had access to in a lifetime. They just want more room for their games and we have the power to give it to them.

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fishing

I want to serve from a place of resting in His grace and not my performance.

When all the news and every bit of information forcing its way in (through portals we willingly open) is just too much too fast, we can shut it all down and sit out back, watching the boys toss the ball. We can pause the internet and start up the BLM road, running the mountains and watching the fog roll in.

We pull back the borders and make it a small, small world again.

I know the sun rises every day on a world that denies its Creator, that denies what it already clearly can know and pines instead for something new. Always something new.

But out here in these fields and mountains, all defenses are down and we are susceptible to the blissful ignorance, susceptible even to not knowing the news as it happens because life is already happening at record speed around us.

The hay will be cut soon and the bales will need bucked; the dahlias have started their bloom and every day bouquets will be waiting; fish are biting; the camping gear needs tuned up; the lake is calling.

We pull our borders up and live our own heartbroken story, bitter with news from the prayer chain at church or a phone call from family. We make our own small world better with words and actions, true prayers.

We know what's happening around the world. It's happening here, too. We welcome strangers but don't forget our neighbors.

We pray for others to have peace in their own boundaries and the place of their dwelling, but when it's all too much, we turn off the news and live the current of events right here, because home is a salve for the world.

We are difficult people

I used to see teen as a derogatory term because everyone was using it that way, with a warning tone in their voices. I didn't want to set my kids up for failure simply because they were a certain age, and I didn't want to give them a label to live into. So I tried referring to them as young adults. Calling them old children seems more appropriate at times but there again - age stereotyping.

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They are fourteen, fifteen, and seventeen. So be it.

I don't know that there is a legitimate line you cross over, where one side you're a child and the other side an adult. No such line. I've seen small children do very brave and noble things, hard things, and I've seen people well into adulthood do some pretty stupid stuff, so I can only conclude that adulthood is just any age over 17, not a statement of maturity.

My ten year-old is an older elementary child, almost a middle schooler, and not quite at that pre-teen  stage you also hear warnings about.

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It seems we must have a label for everyone.

All I can really say at this point is that people are difficult at every stage and our desire to complain about our restless baby, tantrum-throwing toddler, tormented teen, or even our aging and forgetful parents, is a desire to put ourselves in the middle of whatever it means to be grown-up. Everyone else has a problem, and we have to deal with it because we're in the middle.

I'm almost forty -  hormonal, tired, softening. I'm sitting here with my little bag of magic beans, the kind you put in the microwave so you can drape it across your neck or lower back or abdomen, and I'm sorry for always laughing about that, mom. Back when I was a teen, you know.

If a good life is 80 years then I am in the middle.

This is what I think is possible: all people are difficult in their own stages. Scripture would back me up by telling us we all have sinned, are born with a draw toward sin, continue giving birth to sin with our insatiable desires and lusts and our insistence on placing ourselves in the middle of our own universe.

Why must the people in the middle always look at those behind or those in front and lament their problems? It's always a younger sibling, a parent, a child, an adult child, and a parent again. It's always us, bringing our own perceptions and problems to the table as we confront your issues.

People are difficult and we try to fix them, looking at specks and swinging logs about at every stage of our lives. I suppose I can't really speak for the ages I haven't come to yet. Maybe at 50 I will be done with speck inspection and will have moved past the blurriness of blaming others. Maybe 60, or  70? Perhaps at 80 I just won't care anymore.

Acknowledging that people, in general, are difficult for other people to deal with should help me realize that at this very moment I may be difficult in someone else's life. I may be the gravel in your shoe and the thwarter of all your plans.

It's a sobering thought for someone who just wants everyone to be happy, really. It means that I have to consider that maybe I'm being unreasonable, or maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture, or possibly I'm just wrong.

Another possibility is that I've been placed here for such a time, to be the gravel and thwart the plans and redirect your course. Again I can blame God for this, but in 10 years we may thank Him.

Let's just stick it out together and thank God for the kind of grace that allows us to love enemies and neighbors and all difficult people.