January 24, 2013

A Downsized Life

I started a different post with a different tone but realized I was trying too hard to be eloquent, which kind of defeats the purpose of these thoughts. Stay with me...

I came back from India in the summer of 2011 promising myself that I would simplify my life. I saw and experienced some powerful things in India and I didn't want to forsake those experiences by returning to status quo. I remember talking to a sweet friend, half-way around the world at the time, using the amazing technology of the internet. She asked how I was doing, how was I dealing with life in India. I vividly recall the honesty of my yearning, "I can't wait to go home but I'm so afraid to be home."

If you've traveled much out of the U.S. - particularly to developing or third world countries - you might relate with the sentiment. I was so eager to get home to my bed; to the arms of my friends, family, and church family; to my quick grocery store trips for fresh fruits and vegetables; to eat some dang meat without worrying about food poisoning!

Fear crept in, though, after I realized that I lived so selfishly and so comfortably at home without a care at all about the world just a flight (or three) away. The comfortable life, or the American dream, or whatever name you give it, is a very common yet rarely questioned concept in the West. I couldn't see it for myself until I stepped away to live a different life; as short as that time was, it marked me. Whatever it was I worked so hard to achieve back home was not panning out too well. I didn't know how to fix it but I knew something had to give.

Disclaimer: I'm not knocking tradition, or the reward of hard work, or the desire to continue a growing legacy just like your parents or my parents did before us. Depending on what mood I'm in when you ask, I'm either the revolutionary that declares, "Always question status quo!" or the wanna-be-homemaker that reminds, "Hold tight to traditions and the family life!" I lean much more revolutionary in thought, homemaker in action, and I'm still evolving. (end of disclaimer)

India - and my sweet Father God working amidst it - showed me that I had created a way of life that was not for me. I was afraid to go home to complacency, comfort, gluttony, and selfish ambitions. I didn't want to face the bills, the closet full of clothes, the full refrigerator and endless product options. I didn't want to forgot how ashamed I was to stay in a four-star hotel while looking out my patio door at a family huddled in a shamble of a brick hut.

Where exactly did this all come from? Not my family. Not my friends. Not my church or a documentary or a TV commercial with Sarah McLachlen music. I have spent hours talking to my dear ones about these desires that seem so alien and yet so real. I haven't copied or created my own version of someone else's life (at least, not to my knowledge). Yet my good God is teaching me that this life is not my own.

18 months later, one more trip to my country away from home, and many failed attempts to simplify: I find myself weighed down by this life again. Very little has changed externally while my heart and mind have transformed dramatically. My home, my comings-and-goings, my checkbook...they don't portray the internal change. The resulting tension (some may call it hypocrisy) hasn't made for a joyous season and it's time to reconcile the two for real, for real.

Grief has been a constant companion for the last four or five months; when she settled in, she decided to stay as long as she wanted and I learned to not boss her. Instead, tears and anxiety and anger have taken me to the arms of my Comforter over and over again. As Grief packs her bags, I hear the old challenge to lay down my life so that I might find it again. It's not a one-and-done kind of thing, but a daily repositioning of the heart that is prone to wander far from the grace of God.

A sister in Christ wrote a wonderful post that challenged me last fall and a post from Donald Miller today got my wheels turning again. Don so eloquently phrased the life I want to live but had never taken the time to write down for myself. The means look different but the end is the same:

Connecting with people I love each day
• Having a healthy routine
• Getting sleep and taking a sabbath
• Working on a meaningful project
• Giving generously to the people around me
• Being wise with my finances
• Having some sort of artistic creative expression in my life

• Having a long-term vision for my life
(emphasis mine)

I thought this would be a quick post where I could point you to Don's post, and Lore's post, say a few things and sign off. I guess when the heart pours out, it pours and you don't plug it up.

Will you do me a favor? Keep me accountable to these things. In my post-gone-bad, I waned on about how when I decide to do something new, I jump in full force. It's not a terrible trait - it's served me well professionally - but for a life overhaul, I'm pretty sure one change at a time is easier to swallow. Some of the changes that need to happen will hurt, and I'll question if I really need to follow through, or I'll think I'm further along than I really am. Ask me about my progress when you see me. If there is anything I really know it's that lasting change relies solely on the work of the Holy Spirit, so pray with me and for me that I would die to selfish motives and live for Christ.

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
(Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

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