Celebrating an Ordinary Life

“And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find fulfillment in being ordinary. For the joys that last have little relationship to achievement, to standing one step higher on the victory platform. What is the adventure in being ordinary? It is daring to love just for the pleasure of giving it away. It is
venturing to give new life and to nurture it to maturity. It is
working hard for the pure joy of being tired at the end of the day. It is caring and sharing and giving and loving …”

~ Marilyn Thomsen

My first half of life was lived in a hurry and in the limelight. With a demanding role as a minister in a large faith community and traveling the globe, whilst also raising a family, there was no time for ‘ordinary’. I spent a lot of time on platforms, speaking to people. Add an embedded ideal of ’save our broken world’ and a slight Messiah-complex, easily adopted through the importance modern, charismatic Christianity puts on speakers and leaders, and I was a zealot convinced that ‘ordinary’ is simply missing the mark. You would be forgiven for thinking that ‘ordinary’ is really an unpardonable sin when listening to the many sermons preached from pulpits on Sundays.

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Other than religious ideas, we also live in a world that is enthralled with extraordinary. Don’t believe me? Pay attention to the relentless, consumer marketing machine or just have a look through the titles in the self-help section of a bookstore. Do you notice the obsession with perfection and excellence? It seems, at least in many developed countries, that being extraordinary equates to the right to exist. Now add the hyper-reality of social media, with photos of the ‘perfect’ family, holiday, house, car, designer-dog, and you have a virtual social world frantically trying to convince one another that they are anything but ordinary. The anxiety and stress this farcical comparison has created even has a name: FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – and it has reached epidemic levels.

So in direct protest, I am calling out this infatuation of our modern world with the idea of being extraordinary. In fact, not only am I calling it out, I am convinced that the worship of extraordinary has created a long list of human emotional maladies: comparison, frustration, depression, anxiety, discontentment, despair, exaggeration, lying, etc. No, I am not suggesting that someone suffering from a mental health issue has a problem with FOMO. I am suggesting that our continual obsession with excellence has created a toxic oxygen inhaled by modern society in every dimension of life (work, leisure, relationships, etc) and plays a contributing factor in mental health.

So I choose to celebrate Ordinary!

I am celebrating my tattered garden pants and gumboots.
I am celebrating the wrinkles and grey hair that points to living life.

I am celebrating the ordinary people behind the scenes, working
ordinary jobs.

I am celebrating the ones who society sees as a ‘burden’, their beauty and kindness so often overlooked in a world of botox and plastic surgery.

I am celebrating all the students who have the privilege of education no matter what their ‘score’, in a world gone mad on comparing the
intellect of the young.

I am celebrating the young ones who will never receive an education, stuck in some factory to serve the greed and vanity of others.

I am celebrating those millions and millions of ordinary people living in parts of the world where their life is hard and their death goes
unnoticed.

I am celebrating the places and people who live in parts of the world where the ‘prosperity’ gospel is exposed as a sham, but the good news of Immanuel flourishes.

I am celebrating the people in the pews, who hang their head in shame when they don’t feel they measure up to the challenges of ‘change’. You are beautiful.

I am celebrating our planet and its creatures, used and abused by
practices that are fed by the search for greater thrills, wealth and
importance.

I am celebrating the poor, those who are mourning, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful.

Today, I celebrate my very ordinary life – so far removed from the adrenaline rush that was the first half of my life. I celebrate the shattered triumphal ideologies that lie at my feet, grateful for the many failures that destroyed them. Day by day I live my ordinary life, I take a breath and reflect on the fact that I am a living being. Life does not need inflated ideas of self-importance to matter. Life is a miracle all by itself.

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So dear friend, pay attention to the voices that speak to you on never-ending sound waves. Are they suggesting that you are simply not enough? That you are ‘wasting’ your life with your ordinary routine? That you should be this or that – anything but you? Then perhaps it is time to ruthlessly declutter the voices that make you miserable. Life is Ordinary. Life is Beautiful. Grace is sufficient. You are enough.

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.” 
– William Martin

 

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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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My 2016 Challenge to You: De-Clutter Your Life

I can imagine that this heading may create a fair amount of angst and protest amongst readers: “Are you kidding? Have you seen my cupboards? Have you seen my garage??” or “I will keep my clutter and I will keep lying by the pool!” I hear you. I am not suggesting that you spend all your precious free time turning your house upside down. Perhaps just try some simple steps into de-cluttering. Start with those cupboards that you cannot open because you could cause yourself injury as junk hits you on the head – the cupboard that you like to keep tightly shut. You may be surprised at what such a simple exercise as cleaning out a cupboard at a time can do to for the soul.

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We have come a long way from our nomadic ancestors, who spent most of their time on the move, carrying everything they owned. Nowadays, it is fashionable to purchase the largest possible house in order to store stuff. Stuff we seldom or never use. But we keep it … just in case! Hoarding stuff affects many humans, especially those in capitalist societies, relentlessly bombarded by clever marketing slogans, convincing us that we need even more than we already have. For some, the collecting of stuff has become a chronic problem and it can be totally debilitating. Stuff is not only cluttering our homes, it’s cluttering our soul.

These holidays, I started de-cluttering my cupboards – a habit passed on to me by both my mother and grandmother. Moving houses many times, including moving to different nations and continents, has made me more aware of humanity’s hamster tendencies. Yet I still fill boxes and suitcases with stuff: Clothes, kitchen utensils that I have never used, pots, old linen. It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff I manage to accumulate in a year! As I get older, I become more intolerant of stuff. I have noticed how little I actually need. I still fall for slick marketing ploys, but not nearly as often.

Something happens when you clean out cupboards. You have time to think. You make a conscious decision that you are not defined by your ‘haves’ or ‘have nots’. Rather, you realise that you are a pilgrim on this earth. You have one short, magnificent life to live. How sad when we allow stuff to burden us from being truly alive. When you clean out cupboards, you make a silent protest against a stealthy campaign that tries to convince you that you need all this clutter … and more. You don’t, dear friend, you really don’t. You are so much bigger than stuff and anyone who judges you by the quality of your stuff really is not worth your company. Perhaps that’s why Jesus always felt so sorry for rich people?

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Clearing clutter is an elixir for the soul. The enormous social move towards minimalism is an indication of how many people have discovered that de-cluttering your space has a mysterious effect on your emotional world. A de-cluttered space speaks of freedom. A de-cluttered space de-clutters the soul. When you de-clutter your environment, you begin to seriously question what else makes your life complicated. What habits, ideas and relationships keep you bound to the hamster wheel of the toxic familiar?

In 2016, don’t let stuff own you. Don’t permit yourself to be burdened by imagined social norms that continually demand of you to buy the latest, greatest, fastest or sleekest temporary piece of junk. Don’t allow yourself to continue in webs of toxicity. Discover the power of a de-cluttered life. Discover the joy of living simply, with little or no debt, and without the fear of getting your stuff stolen. Discover the joy of sleep and wonder that comes when we de-clutter our lives. For you, my friend, I pray the blessing of a simple life.
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