my year of less

woman sitting on wooden planks

Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

It’s twelve days into the month. They tell me that by this time, most people have already broken their new year’s resolutions.

I’ve tried the resolution thing before. It’s been these etherial statements like, “get in shape”, or “stop being negative”; but like, what on earth does that even mean and how the heck would I even measure that?

Then I stumbled across this whole “One Word” thing, and that was pretty great. I did really feel God lead me to a single word during a single season. The “problem” was that it was never within the confines of a single year. Case and point, I started my One Words in 2014, and I’ve only had 4 words since then. It seems God needed far more time for me to learn tough words like “surrender” or “journey” than one little neatly-packaged year.

In fact, I think I’m still learning all of them–slow, surrender, journey, and grace–and I’m sure I’ll keep circling back to these little words with their powerful lessons on a more-than-annual basis.

But this year I did feel a release from my last word, which was “grace“, and it came right before Thanksgiving.

I’ll spare you the details, mostly because they are pretty private, but I’ll tell you that I finally learned how to forgive someone major in my life, and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Letting go of “grace” isn’t really letting go of “grace”, but I think I’ve learned it well enough to loosen my grip of focus on it for the time being.

God has given me another word to turn round and round like a prism in my hand, examining it and asking “what are you? what do you need to teach me?”

The word is very simple, and almost painfully vague. It’s “less”.

Less? Less of what? you might ask. Good question.

As my former blog title/alias once stated, I’m a “wannabe minimalist” with the tagline, “less stuff; more freedom”. So the “less stuff” part is truly on my heart, for sure. But the truth is there is a lot more in my life that I think I need less of than just tangible “stuff” (though I guess it all is just “stuff” isn’t it?)

I’m a list person, so here is a list of things I want less of in 2020:

less spending

less coveting

less consuming

less stress

less idols

less selfishness

less striving

less preoccupation

less anger

less exhaustion

less bitterness

Part of this pursuit of less has lead me to take a shopping ban a la Cait Flanders’ “A Year of Less”, which, as she points out in her book, is also very much a browsing ban. See, I like to spend my time looking at things on Amazon, price comparing, reading reviews, adding items to my wish list, or my kids’ wish list, or searching the lightning deals for gift ideas. It reaches a fever pitch at Christmastime, which it probably why this year’s word hits right at the New Year this go round. Browsing often leads to purchasing things I don’t need (I did say I was a wannabe minimalist– did you catch that?). I would feel a little giddy rush getting items in the mail. Even if the items were not for me, but for someone else. This made me concerned that “retail therapy” was actually becoming a thing in my life, and that thing is actually, in reality, just a funny way of saying idolatry.

Online shopping was becoming an idol, and that was no good.

Another part of this pursuit of less has lead me to officially delete my Facebook account. This is the reason most anyone who might possibly have read this, probably won’t. But Facebook made it so easy to compare myself to other people and be preoccupied with basically nothing at all, and it was a temptation to check out and not be present to my actual life. So it’s gone, at least for the year, but probably forever. I’m really over social media you guys, and I’ll probably never be an established blogger for this reason. I think I’m okay with that.

And probably the most etherial of the bunch, I want less stress.

I remember in high school–flippin’ high school guys!–I was stage managing this show and the director said to me, “Claire, you always seem stressed. You should like, smoke or something.” (This was a college student director for a summer project, not a teacher telling me to go smoke some weed, which, for the record, I didn’t. Smoking is not one of my vices, though I’ve got plenty others.) And then, this past July, I went to get a massage. The masseuse who worked on me didn’t remember me from the last time I was there until she felt my shoulders, which were completely riddled with knots. “Oh yes, she said, I remember this tension. I don’t want to upset you, but yeah girl, this kind of stress is pretty rare.”

This, this is true about a gal who’s been trained in the Alexander Technique and used to teach Yoga? This, also is true about a very entrenched Enneagram Type One, desperately hoping that there is an actual way to achieve perfection (yes, I am aware there is not, but I am also not one to give up on my dreams so easily, it seems).

So yeah, yeah, I’m trying to be less stressed. Trying to let go of striving for the elusive perfection, trying to be everything to everybody. Trying to make sure that everyone and their mom likes me, like, really likes me. Trying to say “no” more often because too much on my calendar makes me absolutely crazy. Trying to leave early so I’m not stressed about being late. Trying to…. trying to… trying to….

Aye, there’s the rub. All this “trying” stresses me out. And here we come to my word again.

Less.

Less trying. Less striving. Less working at it. Less taking care of it. Less fixing it. Less “I’ll get it together, don’t worry; I’m on it.”

Less doing. 

More being.

Because, in reality, when there’s less of something, it leaves room for more of something else. Something better.

Less spending leads to more saving.

Less coveting leads to more contentment.

Less consuming leads to more creating.

Less stress leads to more joy.

Less idols leads to more freedom.

Less selfishness leads to more sacrifice.

Less striving leads to more stillness.

Less preoccupation leads to more presence.

Less anger leads to more connection.

Less exhaustion leads to more energy.

Less bitterness leads to more forgiveness, yes, more grace.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …

So, although this year of “less” will also be a year of “more”, the “less” is what I feel led to focus on. Less stuff, less time commitments, less stress, less worry, less striving, less to-do’s… When faced with a choice to add an unnecessary “more” to my life, I will consciously choose less

Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

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This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Begin Again

rear view of woman standing in balcony during sunset

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.