Honey, I Shrunk the House!

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Freedom, it seems, sometimes comes to us disguised as pain. Perhaps, that’s why it takes us so long to fully embrace it? It has now been several years since I became a fan of the minimalist movement – you know, the idea that you actually need a whole less shit to make you happy? Outrageous! I have also been continuously challenged by how I live, recognising that I need to learn to tread a lot more softly on Mother Earth.

With the pursuit of a simpler life came a change of work circumstances for my partner. He felt it was time to make a shift. In his words, “At age 54, I am at a time in life when I’d like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one.” So we stand at an intersection in our lives that demands us to be honest about what has been brewing in our hearts for a long time: it is time to lose in order to gain.

One of our first steps has been to downsize our house and get rid of a mortgage. Sounds great? Not when this is the spot that has become my ‘thin place‘. Over the last few years, this home as been my place of refuge. I love the garden which has been a massive labour of love. I work from my office and watch the birds busily going about life just outside my window. It is the place where our family and friends have met. So many lives and stories have been shared in the kitchen or sitting on the porch. This home holds untold memories. To say goodbye is not easy. A simpler path comes at a price.

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Everything in life comes with a price tag. To embrace convictions and live authentically sounds wonderful, but, trust me, there are many times you will have to be very brave in order to do so. For us personally, to pursue this simpler life we are learning to fly against so much of what ‘mega’ Christianity has embedded, encouraged and enshrined: the desire to influence, to become bigger, to be famous, to accumulate, to safeguard … the list goes on. However, for my partner and I, this no longer holds any attraction. In fact, for us (and we realise this is not everyone’s story or path), the pursuit of more is full of emptiness. We have been challenged to live a different life … and, in order to do so, we need to let go.

So it’s time to shrink the house! Shrink our footprints. Embrace a different tomorrow. I have always prided myself with the idea that I do not ‘horde’ or ‘accumulate’ stuff. Well, this blog is a confessional. I have spent hours sorting through stuff that I haven’t used or looked at for several years. I am now doubly motivated, as we will be moving into a house half the size of the one we currently live in. Everything I own is being scrutinised before being packed. It is exhausting … and freeing. I can’t really explain it, but there’s something very liberating about deciding to take just one pot of a certain size, not three, or just one set of crockery, not the whole caboodle I kept for entertaining the many large groups we would have through the house every year. 

And before I make myself sound like a minimalist saint … I have failed the packing ideal with my books. O my glob! I am attached to those books. It was fairly320px-Carl_Spitzweg_021 easy to part ways with books that flogged a certain modern religious pop culture or ones that upheld an ideology of colonial, white, privilege under the guise of orthodoxy. In fact, they made great fire starters. But other books … well, they are all coming. Remember, I am a recovering ‘accumulatist’.

I am discovering that shrinking brings joy, that less is definitely more – not just a fancy cliche. Life is found in the word ‘few’ and contentment is a most wonderful travelling companion. Of course, I grieve over what was, I feel the deep loss of what I have here. There is pain in minimising . Don’t underestimate it! However, I also feel the excitement of freedom from debt and stuff … there is no price I can put on that. 

Friend, we all make decisions every day to either simplify our lives or make them more complicated. May you choose wisely. May you choose life.

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Changes, Changes, Changes!

To every thing there is a season … Ecclesiastes 3
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Changes, changes, changes … many years ago a sage whispered those words in my ears. Life is all about changes. My life has been witness to so many changes. There are times I wish it wasn’t so. Sure, change can be exciting and full of adventure but change can also be traumatic. Change can be so very painful.

I am packing up house again. When we bought this block of land nearly nine years ago, I wanted this to be the last move. I have moved over thirty-five times in my life. I wanted this home to be the place where I turn 90, sit in my rocker, watch the sunset, smoke a pipe and demand more wine! It was not to be. Changes, changes, changes.

There are so many changes that we face in our lives: a new relationship, or the end of one; a new job, or an employment termination; the arrival of a new family member, or the loss of a loved one that leaves us gutted and empty for years; a new home, or, like me, packing up the boxes to leave; a new tribe, or saying goodbye to a group that you poured so many years of identity and belonging into. All change requires us to adjust. All change causes stress, one way or the other.

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Not all change is easily defined into the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ box. Our personal make-up, and how we perceive change, has a lot to do with how change will ultimately affect us. In some way, just like our canine companions, we are creatures of habit. We like things to stay the same. But Life refuses to pamper that notion. So is there something we can do to create greater change agility?

Perhaps the most important thing is to recognise that certitude is not really part of life’s dance. We prefer a slow and predictable waltz, yet life often demands we commit to a daring tango that will require all our focus and energy. Maybe that is why we are so drawn to absolutes, comfort and security? Deep inside we know that change is as sure as the rhythmns of the seasons, but we have become infatuated with the idea of an everlasting summer … and is that any wonder when so many modern mantras and cliches feed our false paradigms of safety and certainty.

As a person of faith, I find hope in the thought that Divine Providence holds our fragile world. Like a skilled weaver, the Author of Time is creating a magnificent, colourful tapestry that holds the tears and joy, as well as the shadow and light of history. Considering this, is it any wonder that change has been woven into the fabric of our existence? We all play a part in a compelling narrative that propels us out of comfort zones and makes us confront our embedded resistance to change.

So, dear friend, if you, like me, are facing seasons of change, I truly empathise. Each person’s story is different and there are really no trite answers to anyone’s situation. I simply believe we arrive at some intersections in our lives that often only present themselves once in a lifetime – and when they do, it is time to be brave. To be brave does not mean the absence of fear. Rather, that we refuse to allow fear to dominate that moment. So here is to you, here is to us. Let’s be brave together.

Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. – Hugh Prather

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Navigating the Great Unkown

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s
family, and go to the land that I will show you …” – 
Genesis 12:1
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I dream vividly every night. Some of my dreams are rather significant. Two years ago (yes, I keep a dream journal with dates), I dreamt that I was standing on the shores of a stormy sea. The skies were grey and menacing, the water green and dark, with white foam churning on top, creating the appearance of a bubbling cauldron. The wind was howling. I was holding a windsurfing sail, just the sail, no board. For whatever
peculiar reason, I waded into the water and began to windsurf over the top of the waves with bare feet – a near impossible feat. Flying over the water at the mercy of the wind, I began to noticbreakwater-379242_1920e dark shadows under my feet – the whole ocean, it seemed, was alive with monsters of the deep. I was terrified. Finally, I made it back to shore and stood there panting, with exhilarating horror … and then I went back into the water … to do it all again …
Fortunately, I woke up!

The dream was compelling. My subconscious was trying to desperately process what was happening in my life. It was a season of great risk, new defining moments, pivotal paradigm shifts, deep inner work, and I was staring down the path of an adventure that would take me into uncharted territory. A very similar place to where my partner and I are standing right now, as we face momentous changes in our lives. These times come to all of us; some through our own choice, some far beyond our control, and they all lead us to the mist-covered space of the Great Unknown.

Maybe you have been there? Maybe you are there right now – this murky, foreign place, where you wake up one morning and realise you are “not in Kansas anymore”. This new neighbourhood, perhaps filled with grief, most often with great fear and, at times, a sense of loss.
Perhaps you lost a loved one? Or you have been diagnosed with an
illness? Maybe it is a drastic shift in an area of tightly-held ideology or worldview? Or a literal geographical move? Everything within you wants to again feel the safety of the familiar harbour. Frantically, you search for that mysterious rabbit hole you accidentally fell down that took you to this faraway corner. When you find it you discover, to your horror, that it is locked and bolted. You cannot go back, you are not the same anymore. So, you have to gather your courage, grab your walking stick (or windsurfing sail), and take the first tentative step into the unknown.

Here are some reflections from a fellow pilgrim that may be of help:

1. You will feel lost and there’s nothing you can do to change or hurry that process. When Providence guides you to the Great Unknown, you will feel lost and disorientated. Familiar habits and belief systems are now under threat, or may even be discarded. You have been beckoned to a radical adventure in which you are asked to leave behind so much of what once brought you security and comfort. Lostness, after all, is a
hidden gift, for in the midst of it you begin to really wake up and pay
attention.

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2. You may discover some very awkward travelling companions: Silence and Darkness. How our modern world fears these friends. Look around, everything is geared for you to ignore them. But when you step into the Great Unknown, they are there, forever at your side. At first you freak out, then you ignore them, and then … then you become their friend. For Silence and Darkness are the womb of the Great Unknown. These are the friends sent to you at this time to confront the greatest of all fears – yourself.

3. You will leave some friends behind. Nothing tests friendship like the Great Unknown. Ask anyone who has travelled here: the ones suddenly unable to partake in ‘normal’ activities because of illness or an accident, the ones who have ‘lost’ job or finance and can no longer ‘benefit’ their friends, the ones who shift in ideas and thought that threaten others, the list goes on. The reality is, for whatever reason, the Great Unknown will show you that the notion that you will take everyone with you, is simply not true. We can get angry and bitter, or we accept this as part of what this space is all about. There are a few friends who stay at your side for a lifetime. There are others that cannot take the journey with you. There are also others who are sent to you at this time – a whole different group of travelling companions, bidding you welcome.

4. You are, and will continue to, change. There is no other place that quite exposes the raw nerve of false cliches and ego than the Great Unknown. The place where we stop pretending, where we realise that
paradox is part of being human, where amongst our friends of Darkness and Silence, we recognise the Grace that has brought us here. It is in this place, fearful and exposed, we discover that we are greatly loved, and we look at the world in a whole new way. “I took the path less travelled,” wrote Robert Frost, “… and it made all the difference.” The Great
Unknown transforms our lives.

If you, like me at this time, feel like you are surfing over deep, dark
waters with no surf board, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. You, dear friend, are simply being called to an adventure of a different kind. May you find the courage to answer.

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an
adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf:  You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo:  You can promise that I’ll come back?

Gandalf:  No. And if you do, you will not be the same  

[The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien]

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The Colours of Autumn

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Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.
– Faith Baldwin

I love Autumn. I love watching the light change to thick, plush gold as our planet tilts on its axis while we orbit the sun. In our Southern Hemisphere, the temperature begins to drop in March. Well, that is in most years! This year of 2016, Melbourne is achieving record high temperatures. It seems the Summer Diva is throwing a tantrum as she has to exit center stage to make room for Sister Autumn.

With Autumn comes the changing colour of the leaves. The stuff of poets and artists. “Autumn … the year’s last loveliest smile,” writes William Cullen Bryant. John Donne chimes in, “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” French author,
Albert Camus, saw autumn as the second spring, where every leaf is a flower. George Eliot was totally smitten, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” Emily Bronte discovered that every fluttering
autumn leaf spoke of bliss to her. The colours of autumn are indeed one of those spectacular reminders of a rapid fading season of warmth and light.

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Stanley Horowitz wrote, “Winter is an
etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all
.” Autumn, to me, is the great crescendo of the seasons. As we observe this dramatic display, we can also take time to ponder the colours and seasons of our lives. Autumn can teach us many things, perhaps one of the greatest lessons is the certainty of change.

In a constructed social culture that generally measures success through growth, influence and numbers, you would be forgiven to think that a ‘Summer Witch’ has taken over ‘Narnia’. Summer speaks of vibrancy, happiness, and growth: the mantras of today’s modern world. Yet, as charming as it is, an unending summer would destroy us. Autumn stops us in our tracks. It reminds us that Winter is Coming. In its flaming glory it tells us to rejoice and stop wasting our energy in the pursuit of a fantastical, everlasting summer.  

forest-411491_1920So take some time out of your busy
schedule. Walk through a magnificent deciduous forest and take in nature’s masterclass on change. Notice the grace and ease with which trees let go of what once was. Discover the easy rhythm with which they embrace transition. There is no frantic panic, for in these magnificent woodlands, change is celebrated.

Autumn colours also have a sobering reminder of death, something our western culture is so ill prepared for. Autumn advises us to live with humility, for nothing is permanent. We need to consider our days carefully, for they are indeed fleeting. Autumn beckons us to surrender ourselves to this divine dance of change. It whispers to us with hope. For there are a few things that remain – Faith, Hope and Love … and the greatest of all is Love. Perhaps this is an indication of how we should colour the leaves of our lives? 

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
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