The Risk of Listening

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This blog post is about Nambia. Yes, I’m going there. Not literally, because there is no country of Nambia. In a speech to African leaders at the United Nations last week, the President referred twice to the country of Nambia with regard to an increasingly self-sufficient health care system. To be clear, there are countries in Africa where the names have changed: Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, Gold Coast to Ghana, Belgian Congo to Congo to Zaire to Congo. And countries have split so that one becomes two: in 2011, the government of Sudan gave its blessing for an independent South Sudan. But, there is not, and never has been, a country of Nambia.

I realize it’s easy to jump on this one, point the finger at the President, shake a fist at his questionable diplomatic skills and geographical disregard. After joining in on the jokes, tweets and retweets that ensued, I realized that I shouldn’t be too smug about this. Many of us (include me in this) might do well to take a step back and reflect on exactly how much we know about the places we purport to care deeply about. I say this as someone who regularly stands up in front of groups and dispenses historical facts, relevant information and stories about the people our non-profit works with in Ghana, West Africa. I’ve read stacks of books and articles on the country, its culture, history, and challenges. I’ve traveled back and forth over the past six years and have daily communication with Ghanaians working in the communities where the corresponding NGO is located. And still, I’m more like someone who makes claims about the progress of Nambia than I am someone who has a handle on the complexities of Ghana. Not that long ago, this would have sent me into a paralyzing crisis of confidence, but now I find it to be a necessary confession.

For the first couple of years, despite my attempts to study up and travel frequently so I could understand the culture I was working with, I was constantly offending, confusing, and, yes, angering a few people in Ghana as I stumbled my way forward. It was humbling, and although I’ve learned a little along the way, I’m still amazed that our staff there puts up with me. This recent news-making event by our President (and yes, I realize that we’ve moved on to other shocking current events) has me thinking about our Western culture and the way we land in countries with our brilliant ideas, savior mentality, and words of wisdom. We perceive ourselves as great teachers, but concentrate little effort on becoming better learners, and yet if we truly want to be people with an effective level of global consciousness, we must move from talking to listening.

Swedish novelist Henning Mankell moved to Mozambique, Africa because he wanted to finally experience life outside of a Western egocentricity, and because the plane ticket was the cheapest. He ended up staying for 25 years. Although most of his personal writing about Africa is centered around the differences in storytelling between the Western and African mind, he says this about listening:

In Africa listening is a guiding principle. It’s a principle that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else. It’s as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer.

I want to believe that those of us who work cross-culturally care deeply about the work we are doing and the people with whom we work, and yet it seems we spend so little time learning from them. We talk and talk, and then we board a plane and depart, knowing little more about the depths of the culture we have been in than when we arrived. So I’m going to slowly and carefully ease out on the limb and say it: This is not an issue of how informed you are. It’s an issue of how much you care about how informed you are.

Being informed can be risky. If you listen and learn, then discover that your good works might actually bring harm or are not as effective as you had hoped and promised, then what do you do with that information? Some just continue to stumble down the road with their message and methods because, to be honest, we may not want to discover that our work benefits us far more than it benefits the people we seek to help. And what if, after all that listening, we’re at a loss for an answer?

Here’s my proposal: For a while, let’s lay aside our brilliant ideas; tuck away our prepared spiel and glad tidings; tear up our agendas and rethink our missions. And then, let’s be quiet and really listen, learn, and posture ourselves in humility and radical solidarity with all people in real places.

 

The Purge (Part One): The Clothes Closet

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When I was five, we took our annual Colorado vacation in the hot month of July, and my mother left my packed suitcase with all my vacation clothes on her bed. She realized this about ten minutes on this side of Amarillo, six hours into the trip, and started sobbing as we pulled into the J.C. Penney parking lot. She and I hurried through the children’s section of the store where she chose three mix and match outfits from the clearance rack for our two weeks in Estes Park. Dad says she continued to sob in between naps all the way to Colorado.

I remember none of this, but the story is lore, and the photos of me during our vacation do look repetitive: sailor suit, white t-shirt/green shorts, blue romper. We had a very good vacation, and my rotation of three outfits for two weeks was actually not a big deal.  When we returned home my mother added the three new outfits to my closet full of clothes.

Which brings me to the current closet in the house we now live in. It’s a walk-in, not oversized, but adequate. My portion of it has built-in drawers and two rods the length of the wall where my clothes hang, color-coordinated and divided into occasions and seasons. In eight weeks, we will be moving to the Rosedale house, which doesn’t have a walk-in closet. The owner, who did some of the initial remodel, took an existing wall and added some built-ins where a few clothes can hang, and a few narrow drawers for things that don’t hang. The first (and only) time we looked at the house, I opened the reach-in closet door and saw the two short clothing rods and said, I can do this. But now, my recollection is that I walked through the entire house chanting that same sentence like a mantra, with glazed eyes and a dreamy smile.

Because we will now have to adjust our wardrobes to the reach-in closet, two weeks ago I designated a Closet Purge Day. About two-thirds of my clothes, shoes, and drawer items were destined to go, which is an exercise I’ve been wanting to do for about a year. Back when we had more money and I had more time, I purchased clothes and shoes from places where they sold them cheap. This seems like a paradox, but if you have more money, you might be more likely to treat clothing as disposable without thinking about how long it will last or whether you really need it. That’s me. The lure of shopping at a place where I could pick up mouthwash, a birthday card, raspberries and a marked down sweater was irresistible. It didn’t matter whether I needed the sweater. It was cheap and oh, so convenient. Hence, the walk-in closet with far too many clothes that I rarely wore.

The first pass at purging the closet was easy, because I had enough clothes that I knew were on the “outta here” list. The next purge, a few days later forced me to be honest with myself. Do you really love it and do you use it, or do you just want to keep it because you might need it someday? This is the question that determines the criteria for everything that is is being evaluated during The Purge, not just clothes. And it’s a question that forces me into other questions about why I can’t let go of stuff. Questions about why I keep buying things I don’t need, and why doing it makes me feel happier for a few minutes. It’s an uncomfortable place to go, but on Closet Purge Day, as I kept evaluating my clothes, shoes, and accessories, I realized that the purging got easier as the closet got emptier. I felt lighter and less burdened. It was a surprising feeling, so I planned another closet purge day for the next week.

I also started to look seriously at the Capsule method of building a wardrobe, which is whittling your wardrobe down to 33 items per season – shoes, accessories and jewelry included (workout clothes and sleepwear not included). Our closet wall at the new house is about right for this amount, so I’m giving it a go. This means no more cheap clothes, because fewer items of clothing means they have to withstand more wear. So when my clothes have to be replaced, I’m looking for better alternatives even if they are pricier. In the long run, it’s more cost effective. The other night Kyle noticed a hole in the seam of my shirt, which is an item of clothing that survived two purges. I bought it last summer at Target and have worn it only a handful of times (because I have so many other clothes to choose from).

Today is the third time I will have purged my closet, and the goal is to get my fall wardrobe to the requisite 33 items (which, by the way will not include jewelry. Please ask me about this). I’m far from a legalist and don’t like to participate in gimmicky goals, but I love a worthy and necessary challenge. And the closet in the Rosedale house is just the kick in the seat I need to do the necessary thing.

Some days this purging thing feels like my mother sitting in the front seat at the start of the journey, crying over what will be left behind and worrying that I’ve let go of something I might need someday. What if I let it all go and realize I’m unhappy without it? Of course, I know this isn’t the way it will work. My five-year-old self made it through those two weeks in Colorado with three outfits and my mother stopped crying about the clothes the minute we hit the Rocky Mountains. I didn’t need the clothes we left behind to enjoy the journey, and I don’t need them now. Most of them are already gone from my closet, and I don’t even miss them. So if my wardrobe starts to look repetitive, congratulate me. Or at least remember the size of our reach-in Rosedale closet.

 

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What Happened Last Friday

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We bought a house last Friday. Literally. We signed our names on eight pages of paperwork, confirmed the money wire, hugged the realtor, and then I went back to work.

It’s a great house, or at least everyone tells me that it is. Built in 1928, it’s a foursquare craftsman with a wraparound porch on a corner lot. Kyle and I had been attending an open house in an adjoining neighborhood and met a realtor who told us about the house on the corner. It was “coming soon” and she encouraged us to set up a private showing so we could be ready when it hit the market. She gave us the details as people were milling all around us. As an aside, I had no idea that it’s now a thing to hold an open house where food, wine and beer are included. Because these two neighborhoods are near downtown and filled with old homes that aren’t yet price-inflated, houses go fast and even pending homes are held open. We thought we had crashed a party, but we joined in the festivities and were social with people we didn’t know, including the realtor.

“You should just drive by,” she said after telling us all the enticing details about the property, and being honest to also inform us that it needed work. So we left the open house/party, drove by, and exactly one week later, less than 24 hours after it listed, the sellers accepted our offer over several others to purchase the house. We were giddy and celebrated that night, congratulating ourselves and talking about all the amazing transformations that would be made to the craftsman on the corner. Unfortunately, the next day I woke up with a panicky morning-after syndrome and actually said aloud, “What have we done?” And I said it again, multiple times, all day. The house is half the size of our current home, it was built in 1928 and needs serious cosmetic work, and it’s on the opposite side of town from where we have lived for 20 years. But it was a great deal and should be an even better investment, which at times, tempers my panic.

There is a backstory here that’s important. Until about five years ago, Kyle and I were people on a trajectory of climbing income, bigger house, more stuff. Then we both decided to dive into non-profit work, which has the unfortunate reputation of being the kind of work which shouldn’t pay too decent of a salary. And it doesn’t – if any. Yet we remained in the same house, despite the fact that it is too big, too expensive, and doesn’t match our financial reality anymore. It was around Christmas of last year that we began to wonder what it might look like if we actually changed our lifestyle and scaled things back. We started to throw around quite a few “what if” questions that seemed ridiculous and scary. And then, somewhere along the way, they started to make a little bit of sense. And then, finally, they became the only thing that made sense.

From the first night we drove by the house to the closing last Friday, a short three weeks passed. I’m starting to realize that some things are best done with ferocity of speed, lest your cold feet hold you back. It still makes sense, but if it hadn’t happened so quickly it’s possible I would have made a list of reasons why we shouldn’t – couldn’t – leave our beautiful home and the thousand memories it holds. So it’s a done deal. We have a fixer-upper house (I do not watch Netflix shows with similar names, by the way) and we will move before Christmas. The thought of this is huge for me. I’m both a static and restless person. I like the comfort of the familiar, but fear boredom. I don’t spend a lot of time wondering if this is a personality flaw, but instead have embraced the fact that my life is filled with a cycle of new beginnings that scare the crap out of me. This has the effect of making not-so-dramatic new beginnings feel like the highest level of drama. Which is why God gave me Kyle, who always settles the drama.

Writing also settles it. My blog has been lonely anyway, so I think it’s a good time to reunite with it and share the journey. I know almost nothing about remodeling and living in an old home, simplifying my life by purging possessions, living with less, and all other things related to the road we are about to travel. But I’m excited for the adventure, admittedly with a touch of fear and trepidation, and ready to chronicle this one good story as it unfolds.

Make Something Beautiful

But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Back in the 1970s, there was a crafting craze called “foiling.” It caught on mostly with women like my mother who stayed at home to clean, cook, take care of children, and volunteer at church and in the community. But still, these women had time on their hands and some of them began to foil. My mother had a talent for sewing, but she was quickly caught up in the art of foiling. Things around our house were suddenly covered in foil: book covers, picture frames, and finally, a lamp base. This was not pretty art. In order to protect the foil from tearing, a sealant was applied, which turned the creases in the foil to a rusty brown color. No one would look at my mother’s magnum opus of foil art – her lamp base – and sigh with pleasure at its beauty. The lamp remained with us for decades, centered on the nightstand in the guest bedroom as if on display. I watched the brown creases deepen in color until the shade became something more like trash to be thrown out. I don’t know why my mother chose foil art as an additional way to express her creativity. It was basically a craft of covering things: cover the item with foil and then cover the foil with goop. Was this art? Craft? The answer is probably subjective, but I’m not interested in what to call the piece. I’m more interested in the creator, and what took place within her during the time she was creating.

For most of my life, I’ve been a writer. And for most of my life I would have cringed to type those words The little voice inside me would have whispered back, You know that’s not true. You’re not a real writer. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a freelance editor, a magazine editor, started and maintained a blog, written a few articles that were published and ghostwritten two books. But still, it would have felt like I was skirting the truth a bit to proclaim myself “a writer.” I needed credentials, a mountain of published works, a platform, a big following, possibly an agent. Those were the real writers. They were the artists.

I muddled along with that belief, still blogging and finally finishing a manuscript after several years, but I put it in a folder on my desktop and left it alone. Suddenly, my writing changed course. I started a non-profit on a shoestring, which meant that for several years I couldn’t afford to hire a marketing director or any staff that might help me communicate to the masses. Immediately I began doing the work of convincing potential donors that ours was an organization worth investing in and that their money would be used to do good for vulnerable, under-resourced people. I learned a different way to write, but still, I wrote. And still, I refused to think of myself as a writer.

And then, on one of our trips to visit the people we work with in Ghana, something happened that began an evolution in the the way I think about creativity and the act of creating. Our organization works with twelve students who have been orphaned and live with relatives. These are the most vulnerable people in the villages where we work. They are children, which immediately puts them in the margins, and they have been thrust into the homes of relatives who didn’t ask for the responsibility of raising them, but took them in because of cultural obligation. They are the lowest in the familial hierarchy – often kept from attending school and given the last and least of everything in the family. Our staff in Ghana provides an after-school program where the students do crafts, receive one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, and encouragement. Our team hosted the students at the guest house where we were staying and provided an art session for them so they could experience finger-painting for the first time. Each student created a piece of art and signed their name to it, and we carried the pieces to the veranda to dry. Blank, white paper had transformed into splashes of vibrant color that was both abstract with a few recognizable elements: a flag in one corner, a heart in the middle, and always a thickly scrawled name at the bottom. I stood looking at the the pieces scattered across the table and cement floor. I envisioned framing the pieces, or mounting them on canvas and how they might look adorning the walls of the Ghana office or the homes of the students. I could hear the children inside the house, clamoring for another piece of paper and more paint on the table. And for another hour, they continued to create. They proudly held up each finished piece, staring at their own creation. They were artists. It didn’t matter that these pieces would never hang in a gallery or be purchased by art collectors. The children had made something from nothing and they proclaimed their creations to be very good.
Since that afternoon in Ghana, I’ve been thinking about art and the act of creating. If you believe that God is the creator of the universe, then he must be an artist. Oceans, cosmos, seasons, and the creatures who inhabit the earth testify to a creative being. Creation is an act that put everything into motion and generated the forward movement of millions more years when nothings were made into somethings, or somethings were transformed into new things. The initial act of creation has been replicated by the created ones. The writers of the book of Genesis told a creation story that enlightens us about one of God’s attributes: He delights in creating. It is who God is. Creator. In the midst of this story, an an idea is spoken before creating the most precious work of art: humans. “Let us make them in our own image.” Whether you believe in the literal version of this story, or see it an a poetical analogy that points to a bigger story about God, don’t miss the climax: the artist created his finest work of art as an image of himself.

As I think back to the works of art created by the children in the village that day, I am certain this matters. We’ve spent enough time with these twelve children in their schools, homes, and walking the dusty streets of their villages to recognize when they are experiencing something that makes them come alive. It doesn’t happen very often, but it did that day and we got to see it happen. We were witnessing a natural act of creativity by children who were hardwired, but not necessarily encouraged, to create.

Here is a thought: maybe we are all artists, and because we were created by an artist who has placed creativity DNA is us, we are unfulfilled if we do not continue the act of creation and then offer it out into the world. This sounds easy to dismiss, but maybe we should suspend the pragmatic and practical and broaden our definition of art. A simple definition: the act of making something. Whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to create from nothing. Foil art. Finger paint art. Poetry. A new business venture. A recipe. If it’s in you, give yourself permission. So let’s all take a deep breath and proclaim ourselves artists (even if we don’t believe it yet), because there is a world out there that needs us to create something beautiful today.

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Empty House. Deep Breath. Move On.

For months, I was adamant that we would not sell Dad’s house. I couldn’t imagine letting it go. It held all my parents’ stuff, and hanging on to stuff after Dad’s death in December was part of the gut-wrenching grieving process. Everything became sacred, even the tacky bird lamp which I plucked from their entryway, along with the table where it was displayed – a table that is so not my style. I took the only wall space available in my living room and slid the table into it and crowned it with the bird lamp. And there it still sits, along with clutter in almost every room of my house consisting of the stuff I needed in order to calm my grief. His house is empty, but ours is crammed full.

I refused an on-site estate sale, so little by little we have parceled out furniture to our kids, relatives, friends, and the estate sale company that picked up the remainder. A haul-away company took the junk no one wanted, then we took some things to Salvation Army and filled more than a few trash cans. I use the word “we”, but I mostly stayed away because I couldn’t watch what was happening. Each time I walked through the house, it was a little emptier than the last time and my parents seemed further away. I didn’t like it that the stuff had such a direct correlation to my grief, but that’s the mystery of grieving. Things that shouldn’t matter became the lifeline that keeps one nostril above water.

So now the house is completely empty and the “sale pending” sign has been in the yard for over a month. This is Friday – closing day, and last night I pre-signed since I need to be in the shop all day. The new owners are a sweet older couple who are so excited that they have been known to go over and walk (sneak?) around the back yard or find the door unlocked to the garage and meander in. It’s their dream house and today they will begin to fill it with their own stuff.

Maybe I’m in the last stage of grief – the one where you finally and solidly know that you must rise up and out, and that the loss you thought would drown you will instead produce something that you never imagined. At the office where the closing took place, I sat in a conference room and signed eleven documents, including the deed to the house. My penmanship was terrible because I left my glasses in the car, but I knew my signing was another in an eight-month long series of goodbyes. Despite the enormity of what I was letting go of,  I didn’t have the heart flutter, sweating palms or a feeling that the walls were closing in on me (remember I told you how much I hate goodbyes in this post.) I’ve already said goodbye. And then said it again. I’ve grieved. And then grieved more. And now, it’s time to move on. I’m celebrating tonight, and rising up tomorrow to do just that.

Good Boy, Pierre

Absolutely hate goodbyes. Dogs are dogs, I know. They aren’t people and so there isn’t really a need to write a long, sad, introspective blog post on the many ways this furry guy brought joy to our lives. He died three days before his 15th birthday. We helped the process along because it was the right thing to do, but making an appointment to say a forever goodbye is about the sorriest way to spend a Saturday. So this blog post is for you Pierre. I’m writing it as you lay at my feet, waiting for your 2:30 appointment. I’ve said my goodbye and thanked you for hanging in there with this family for so long. Some days were better than others, and lately you’ve had mostly bad days. But from now on, we only remember the good: the squirrel yelp, barking at toys in the pool, your determination to jump high enough to bite the possum on the fence, your place in the big chair, and your sweet disposition that inspired at least three other families to bring Westies into their family. So, goodbye buddy. And one last time: Good boy, Pierre.

If You’re Reading This at 5 a.m…

I have a Black Friday shopping story for you.

Many years ago Kyle and I got up at 5 a.m. to hunt Furbies, got sick of the whole circus by 7 a.m., and proceeded to slide over to Village Inn for breakfast, empty-handed.

No one got a Furby that year, and lest you think that’s a fail, we had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year without them.

I haven’t been out on Black Friday since, but no judgment on those that love the deals and don’t mind  the crowds. I have a friend who cherishes this tradition because it is the only time that she and her mother shop together. And another friend swears this is the only way she can afford to buy decent gifts for her kids, and I believe her. I’m just no good at shopping. I’m easily confused, overwhelmed, and I transform into someone incapable of making a decision. I’m the one at the checkout handing back items, “I don’t think I want these,” I tell the cashier, despite the fact that it took me half a day to choose them.

About now, you are expecting me to denounce the materialistic ultra-hype that seems to be encroaching on the very holiday that has not been transformed into a reason to buy crap. I’ve loved Thanksgiving for this very reason, and cheered the holiday on. I don’t buy Thanksgiving decorations.

But this year, after the pure and beautiful holiday of giving thanks has ended, I’m joining the Black Friday bandwagon. I’m lending my voice to the chorus of “Buy! Buy! Buy!” because there are some things you can purchase that will leave you feeling better in the long run, not worse.

So if you’re reading this at 5 a.m. before you hit the stores for the really great deals, I won’t stop you. But I will ask that you consider purchasing something from the Rising Village GiveGood Catalog. I’ve linked it for you. You’re welcome. This website is open 24 hours a day, and is not limited to those who are up at 5 a.m. to do Black Friday. You can shop anytime, even on your phone. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you have a friend or family member who doesn’t need the trite, ho-hum gift you are going to purchase early in the morning on Black Friday. Maybe you would like to stop turning in circles trying to figure out what to give people who have quite enough stuff. So, on our website, you can purchase: wax fabric for an apprentice, a solar lantern, or give toward a senior high scholarship, food provision for an orphan, bedding for a family, or a business or apprenticeship grant. We’ll take care of making sure families, students, and women receive these resources, and you can give a card to your friend or family member to let them know that the gift has made a difference for someone in Ghana. It’s not a new idea, but it seems that in between holidays, it’s easy to forget that there are alternatives.

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We have seen the difference a purchase of one of these items can make for someone like Joyce. She received an Apprenticeship Grant and is now on her way to becoming a professional hairstylist. With the income she will earn in this profession, Joyce will be able to provide for her son, Kwadwo. So this holiday season, even if you shop the stores to get the deals, take some time to shop on our website also, and see how it feels to GiveGood.

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We Met Dumakyi Today

Written last night, posted today:

We’ve been waiting for this day all week. We visited the village of Dumakyi, which, for us, is a whole new level of Ghana that we haven’t seen – no electricity and no clean drinking water. The villagers have migrated from the Northern Region and are tenant farmers who build their houses from mud and thatch. We supplied solar lanterns to each family in this village several months ago, and every house we stopped at had their lanterns charging. We also went into homes to see at the bedding that was supplied by both Fellowship Lutheran Church and Liberty Church in Tulsa.

This is our last night in Ghana and I’m in the midst of trying to pack all the stitched items and other things we are bringing back. I’m putting wood carvings between all my dirty clothes (like you needed to know that), and have packed an entire suitcase of the stitched items the apprentices, Esther, and Saraphine.

So, I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

Last time…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

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Let’s Clear Some Clutter

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“You have been treated generously, so live generously.” – Matthew 10:8 (The Message)

It’s April, which means it is time for me to clear out some of the junk. Last year during this season of Lent, I looked through my closets, drawers, cabinets and under the beds to find things that needed to go. It was all excess, unnecessarily cluttering my life even though it much of it was out of sight. It felt good to get rid of it and not because I was on an organizing kick, but because I want to learn more of what it means to let it go and give it up.

During Lent, I’m told that I should give up something up to focus more clearly on the sacrifice of Jesus. I didn’t give anything up, but instead I have spent this time re-committing myself to continuing what I determined to give up this time last year:

Clutter.

While last year I mostly wrote about clearing out the exterior clutter, throughout the year I have also tried to focus on clearing out the interior clutter. I’ve also learned more about what that means, and doesn’t mean.

Everyone has interior clutter. We have been created to desire freedom, peace, and extravagant love. We have all of this offered to us, yet we muck up the inside of ourselves with the kind of crap I found under my beds and at the back of my closet. Much of the time, the interior clutter is unseen and unacknowledged, but it’s there, clogging up the empty spaces that could be filled with something more useful. Or perhaps those spaces could be left empty. We all know that we could use more free space in our lives, especially on the inside. What was under my beds and in my closets was mine, just as my interior clutter is mine. I can’t say what yours is, but what follows is a sampling of Lisa’s junk.

Control

Restlessness

Judgmental attitude

Cynicism

Me-ism (that’s my word for self-centered, self-absorbed, selfishness)

Busyness

It gets messy in there. As much as I would like to someday proclaim that I have “conquered” any of the clutter listed above, it won’t happen in this lifetime. I will always struggle with each of these to varying degrees. So during this season of Lent, I didn’t pick something on the list and vow to give it up. I’m not that naive. The best I can do is realize, once again, that it is all there, and on certain days it still makes a big mess on the inside of me. So instead of giving something up, I’ve been focusing on how I can live generously, because I’ll share a little secret that’s worked for me: living generously does wonders to naturally clear out the interior clutter. 

It also helps usher in that peace and freedom I desire. And even though I know this, it often takes extra effort for me to live generously. The other day, a friend and I made a very quick list of simple acts of generosity we could do in a given day to make a difference for someone else. We did this not because we were setting out with a plan, but because we were confused at why we so rarely actually do these things. If they are so simple, why do I come to the end of the day having touched no one around me with a simple act of generosity? Why do I allow my busy days to crowd out the very acts that would clear out some of my restlessness, cynicism, me-ism?

You won’t find a foolproof plan at the wrap-up of this blog post. I’m still working through it. But I am struck by the words of Jesus to his disciples: “You have been treated generously, so live generously.” I can think of no better example of being treated generously than what we celebrate on Easter morning. And yet, what will my response be? To dress fine, sing resurrection choruses, proclaim He is Risen, and then return to my busy life on Monday morning, forgetting that I am to mirror that kind of generosity. Will I remember that I have been created to pour myself out, not collect more interior clutter; that I am to give freely without judgement; that I am to love everyone without putting them in camps where I can decide who is worthy and who is not. Am I ready for that kind of generosity?

So begins a week of busyness. I can’t stop that train, but I will fill in some of the free moments with a trek through my closets, drawers, cabinets, and under my beds to once again ferret out more exterior clutter. It’s there, some of it hidden and some of it in plain sight, but all of it clogging my desire to live simply so that others may simply live. I’m throwing out a challenge for you to do the same. Then, together, let’s do something with our junk that might make a huge difference for those who are struggling to simply live. And on the way to Easter morning, let’s find those simple acts of generosity that we can give to those around us.

Let’s clear the clutter together.

Are you in?

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Shelf Challenge

I try not to start things that I don’t intend to finish. This used to be a pattern with me – uncompleted projects were scattered throughout our house, including files of the first several chapters of different novels I tried to write and drawers filled with unfinished photo scrapbooks. After decades of beating myself up over this tendency, I decided to ditch it. I began to raise the red flag for myself whenever I uttered the words, “That would be a cool thing to do.”

So now, I  carefully consider if a new idea is actually going to be a cool thing to do – whether it’s learning to sew, making a collage of my mother’s handwritten recipe cards, or painting quotes on canvas. I try to stay off Pinterest because although others may not have this weakness, I get sucked into the idea that mine is going to look like the one in the photograph. It won’t. As for writing, it took me a long time to realize that I don’t prefer to read fiction, so I probably shouldn’t try to write it. The chapters are still in my files though, because I never give up on writing.

This decision to heavily evaluate new projects also keeps me from making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t bear to get hyped on January 1, only to fail a mere 28 days later. This has happened far too many times. But, I made an exception for 2014. Hence, the Empty Shelf Challenge. Jon Acuff put this on his website and I took it on because for me, this is a no-fail project. The hardest part of was clearing off the shelf, which I did. And then I took a lousy picture so that no one on my Pinterest board would mistake it for a cutesy idea.

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Actually, this little 2014 project fits me perfectly. I love to read, although I don’t make enough time for it so the empty shelf in my office will stare at me constantly with a friendly reminder to pick up that book and put down the phone and tablet. These devices push me to social media sites that are overloaded with trite phrases, campy quotes, and out-of-context Bible verses. So before my brain turns to mush, I took on the challenge to actually read things that stretch my mind.

After I took my lousy picture, I had to find a place for the books that were removed. I learned how to double shelf which looks messy as heck, but I’m not at a place in life where I can give away books. With the shelf emptied, the next task was to choose some books for the year. It was not an exhaustive list, nor will I be legalistic about it. If I choose to mark a book off the list before I read it, I have my permission to do that. The list was just a way to envision what the shelf might be filled with by the end of the year. In keeping with the spirit of my 2014 Word for the Year, I’m reading some things that I hope will widen my view of the world, God, work, culture. At least I hope so. Here my starter list of books for 2014:

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

Ghana Must Go

The Long Loneliness

Hannah Coulter

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?

Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters

The next task was to finish the book I had begun before Christmas. Yes, this goes on the shelf because the challenge started before January 1. I agree with Acuff who says that “waiting until January 1st to do something awesome is stupid and fake.” So there you go.  ‘

The first book on my shelf is Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. My rating: five stars out of five. So, on the shelf it went, and then I took another lousy photo.

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It is now January 12, and I’m on my second book. The shelf still looks too empty for me to stomach, so I’m trying to read a little each evening. You should know that in my house, I’m doing this alone. Kyle is taking on a different challenge of writing 500 words a day. Good for him. Maybe my last read of 2014 will be his memoirs. So if you want to join me in the challenge I’d welcome the company. Just empty a shelf and start reading! And post a comment or send an email and let me know you’re with me: lisatresch@mac.com.

Happy shelf-filling!