Less Stuff, More Abundance

blogpic LessStuffIt’s been a long time since I’ve had to sell a house. I was dreading it, but as with most challenges, it has brought it's own gift. We have cleared out bookshelves and knick-knacks, we’ve thinned the contents of closets, cupboards, and countertops, we’ve moved out old furniture, and we’ve donated multiple bags of clothing and carloads of stuff. We’ve painted and polished, scrubbed and shined, touched up and replaced. We have passed on treasures we hope others can use. Our house now looks and feels spacious—so spacious that someone else can walk through our home and imagine it as theirs, holding their very own stuff. I hope so. I pray every day for God to send a family here who will love living here as much as we have.

I think of this prayer in the morning, when I must take extra time to make sure the sinks are clean, the garbage is empty, the counters are clear, the dishes are washed, the mailed is managed, and all the flotsam and jetsam that can accumulate during the previous day is tucked away. Some days it feels like a hassle, especially if I’m running late for work. Yet other days, I affirm that I am not doing this as a short-term stint, but as a new daily habit. How would my life feel if I always kept such a spare and orderly home, where cleaning up and putting away was done for me and my peace, rather than to “stage” my home for sale?

I have come to relish coming home to a pristine home that remains beautiful and picked up and cleared of extra stuff. The spaciousness around me opens up a spaciousness within me. I have more energy for tasks in the evening, I can focus longer at work, time seems more readily available, my to-do list feels a little less daunting.

It’s become so clear why simplicity, sparseness and releasing attachments to stuff are necessarily part of a deepening spiritual path. A spare environment can lead us to an abundant inner posture as distractions, busy-ness, detail-management, worldly desires, and other agendas fade away—there is no junk around to remind us of all that the world wants us to be and do. I can look inside for what needs to be done. I can ask God what I might do with this offering of time and space. I can connect with those I love. I can more readily ease my way into the peace that allows my body to relax and rest. I can give thanks. I can be.

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Charlottesville and Houston

blogpic CharlottesvilleandHoustonWhile Noah-sized rain and floods ravage southern Texas and Louisiana, I continue to ponder the events in Charlottesville. I expressed my dismay and concern to a friend who is African American. I asked her how she was doing with all this ugly, explicit racism and its tacit approval by the POTUS. She said, “I prefer it this way. I want to know who my enemies are.” I responded, “Yeah, well, at least you know what you’re dealing with”—and I immediately caught myself and corrected what I said to—“but you’ve always known what you’re dealing with.” She said, “yes, but now YOU know what we’re dealing with.”

Indeed. What she said keeps replaying in my head. “Now YOU know what we’re dealing with.” And not only me—but most definitely me—and all light-skinned people, now really know the attitudes and the hatred and the fear that infects our national psyche and affects so many of our citizens. We can no longer deny what people of color have always been and continue dealing with in this country.

Perhaps this truth is what I call a “backdoor blessing”—something positive that God can bring out of something so awful. Denial of deep-seated racism is harder now when the ugly chants and angry violence of white supremacists litter our media. It adds necessary credence to the cry that Black Lives Matter—a movement that is not a passing fad, but a clarion call to rid our structures and hearts from the injustice, harm, and death that results from empowered bigotry.

Disasters like Hurricane Harvey, equalize us all and drive home the truth that we are in this together. We must invest in one another’s well-being and not just our own, or this planet will not survive. Our basic needs are the same—food, water, safety, shelter, family, love, purpose and meaning. Much of this is being washed away for our brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast; in times of crisis, it doesn’t matter the color of the hand that helps us. From Houston, the white supremacists of a couple weeks ago look even more ignorant and ridiculous—about as ridiculous as a white woman telling her African American friend that at least now she knows what she’s dealing with.

Photo: From www.thepoliticus.com and @HCOTexas

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Embracing Darkness & The Solar Eclipse

blogpic Embracing Darkness and the Solar EclipseIt was a thrilling moment to view the total solar eclipse from the stairs off the deck in my own backyard. With my special viewing glasses, I looked up at the sun at 1:18 PM Central Standard Time, and saw total darkness. This moment of mid-day night didn’t last very long, reminding me of John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When Jesus was crucified, the daylight turned to darkness, but like this eclipse, the darkness did not overcome God’s power to save and bring life and light where there was once only death.

Isn’t it amazing how God uses the creation to reinforce and remind us of eternal truths—the darkness is momentary while God’s love and light are constant and eternal; the caterpillar enters the pupa of apparent death and emerges in a bodily transformation and resurrection; the seed falls to the ground and dies and yet it rises again to bear much fruit; our energy—whether in daily life or healing from a trauma—ebbs and flows like the tide, waxes and wanes like the moon, moves forward and inches back before surging forward again, like a flower reaching for the sun.

It’s easy to forget that in the darkness, in the resting, in the letting go, God does her best work! That is when God is working out something new in us—and God must do it in secret, during the “dark night of the soul” because if we knew what God was up to, we would grab control of the process, and manipulate the outcome! 

The eclipse reminds us to linger in the darkness, to savor the silence, to embrace the shadow—for the light is coming, the resurrection is afoot, transformation is unfolding, for God is working in secret and in silence to create us anew. Hold fast to the promise and patterns of God, for the dawn always follows the night.

Photo Credit: Rick Fienberg, exlipse.aas.org

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What The Holy Spirit Can Do in Ten Minutes!

blogpic BreastCancerQuiltI’m starting my second year of classes at Aquinas Institute of Theology for a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. During July, I had a one-week Intensive Practicum during which our class practiced Spiritual Direction with each other in threesomes: one was the Spiritual Director, one was the Directee, and one was a Compassionate Observer. We met for a ten-minute session followed by reflection and sharing.

I was in an emotionally vulnerable place that week. My husband, Dan, had left the morning of my first day of class to move to Texas for a new church job, and I needed to get the house ready sell, help our youngest get ready for college, and begin to wind down at my job for a move I had not wanted to make. I didn’t want to move when our youngest was just starting college, especially since she picked one that would be within a 5-hour drive of home; she would now be 10 hours away. Her older brother is changing colleges, majors, and his life-course, and our oldest was about to move to a new state and city to look for a new job. My children had already been through so much and I did not want to add to it by selling their home while their own lives were in transition, and they were still growing into adulthood. They had endured a mom with rigorous breast cancer treatment and chronic severe migraines, the illness and death of three beloved grandparents, the loss of their church home when it was time for Dan to resign as pastor, and other life traumas along the way. The last thing in the world I wanted to do, was to add to their losses by losing their home and having their parents move 600 miles away.

Tuesday of that week I listened to a podcast of The Moth Radio (“true stories told live”) as I got ready in the morning. One of the stories just uncorked me. Of course, I already had my makeup on, but I just bawled. I figured it was the all the loss and change going on, and that story gave me a chance to get some of it out. I went to class still sad, like my emotions were just under the surface with the flood gates ready to open at any time. This meant I did not want to be the Directee while someone else practiced being the Director! I wanted to hold it together.

I managed to avoid being the Directee the previous day, and that morning, but by the afternoon it was my turn to be the Directee and I couldn’t get out of it. I told my two partners that I started the morning crying, just so they knew. The Director started with a prayer and then we started. With tears streaming down my face, I shared why this move now was so hard, what my children had already been through, and that I did not want to add to it. The Director was the one person in our class who was the least confident in her role and future as a spiritual director, and was developing into an artist in retirement, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

At the end of my tearful monologue, she asked me, “what was the story about on the radio?” In the back of mind, I thought it was the wrong question; why wasn’t she asking me about all these feelings of loss and grief? But I answered her question: the story was about a quilting group that made quilts for all the families in their east coast town who lost loved ones during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The story-teller recounted the meaningful, tear-filled moments when they delivered their quilts to the families. Then the Director asked me, “where do you see yourself in that story?”

Suddenly, I remembered that I had received a handmade quilt from the congregation I served when I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer—that’s what made me cry, even though I did not make the connection on my own! We had been loved, supported, prayed for and helped in every way possible during my treatment, and the quilt—with squares made from each family in the church—was a symbol of all that support.

Her next question was even more startling; “If God were to give you a quilt square for this time in your life, what would it look like?” I responded, “It would probably have a sea of faces on it to remind me that there still is a community of people who will love and support us through this change and loss now, just as before.” Then she said, “If you were to give your children a quilt square, what would you put on it?” The answer was obvious, “It would probably be the same square, to remind them that there is a sea of people—both friends and family—who would help, love and support them in their life even when we’re living in a different state. And then it hit me: perhaps they won’t experience this community of support unless their parents get out of the way! The tears dissipated and a feeling of relief and peace came over me.

Isn’t it amazing what the Spirit can do in ten minutes through someone who doesn’t believe she’s going to be a good Spiritual Director? Her experience as an artist led her to pick up on the image of the quilt, and in that conversation, I received everything I needed. It was truly stunning, especially since I have my breast cancer quilt laying over a chair in my office, and everyone who comes to me for conversation or Spiritual Direction looks right at it!

Even with the quilt staring me in the face every day I walk into my office, I did not make the connection between The Moth story about the 9/11 quilts and my very own quilt. I needed a Spiritual Director to ask me the right questions for me to see and experience God’s presence and love which was always with me. I couldn’t get there on my own. 

Ever wonder how God is working in the daily details of your life that you may not be noticing? If so, may I suggest a Spiritual Director? You will be amazed at what God is doing in and around you!

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linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.