Last year at this time, I was meeting with my colleagues and preparing for my spring qualification exams. I was pressured-cooked, jam packed, and truthfully, I thought I was in the middle of the most difficult experience of my life. Not so, not so! Spring prep and exams took the cake big time, and then when I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my stress overload, I started to prepare for my proposal defense. Yes, I felt like I was trudging up and down hills throughout the entire year. The good news is that I survived the defense, and now, here I am ready to scale the mightiest of mountains, the biggest task of my life, dissertation research and final defense, and well, I have simply given up thinking that "this semester is the most difficult!" Ack! In truth, they have all been difficult. They have all been so amazingly wonderful and so dog-gone difficult!
In fact, I would say that this entire process -- from beginning days of graduate school to the almost end of my PhD -- has stretched me like no other thing. I am strong. I am resilient. I am feisty, and I don't give up (easily). I have come to learn that I can really and truly DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME. I stand amazed at the goodness of my God, and at His faithfulness toward me. I mean, who am I that the God of the Universe takes delight in my petty and insignificant life? I am nothing, nothing at all, and my work is feeble, frail, and fraught with failure. Yet, He delights in me, and He works through me, and in some amazing and wonderful way, good things, very good things, happen. He is so good to me. I give Him praise, honor, and great testimony today because He is my King, my Good Shepherd, and without His constant companionship, care, and consistent communion, I would be lost -- utterly and hopelessly -- lost. He is my everything, and today especially, I give Him praise. I lift up a sacrifice of praise to the One who has done all of this, who has seen me through the good and the bad, and who has never once left my side. He is faithful. He is good. He is my Savior, my King, my Jehovah-Jireh -- my God and my ROCK.
I made an appointment on my calendar for today, November 1, in order to spend time creating a timeline of sorts to walk me through the various tasks associated with my dissertation research. If I want to graduate in May, and I do, then I have to stay focused, and I have to keep myself on track. I cannot slack off now, and in order to produce good results, I am going to have to "level load" and manage my time well. I can do this, I can manage my time -- with God's help -- I mean. I am ready to move, prepared to move, and this means that I am ready to begin the next stage of my development, of my growth, and of my eventual establishment within the Lord's will for my life. I am ready, Lord, let's go!
It is a good day for me, then, to think about my next steps, to start to plan and prepare for my move, and to take into consideration everything I believe the Lord is asking me to do with my life (long-term). I need to be focused, fixed, and absolutely set on His plan so that I don't become distracted and end up off course or off kilter. As I think about the Lord's desires for my life, and as I consider my own desires, I want to make sure that my desires are His desires and vice versa. I don't want to be longing for desires that are not part of His will for me or to feel that I missed some special opportunity because I was unwilling to consider something the Lord placed on my heart or within my hand. This, simply put, means that today and in the coming weeks, I am going to begin evaluating everything in my life, keeping some things but letting others go. I am going pare down my things, my wants, my desires so that what remains is the essential, absolute necessary, and most importantly, only the things that I must have to carry on. In some ways, I am trying to go "minimalist" in both my philosophy and my approach. I am giving things up, tossing them away, and I am choosing instead to remain free, light handed, and ready at a moments notice to "get up and go!" In many ways, I am taking a biblical approach to whereby I go with just one cloak. I take my cue from the disciples who were told by Jesus to simply go and to anticipate the Father's provision when they arrived at their destination. I want to be free to go, free to move, free to accept God's gifts as they come and that means that I cannot hold onto anything too tightly. I have to have open hands so that I can receive His blessing and provision. I cannot be miserly, but I am to put on cheerfulness, acceptance, and willingness to let the Holy Spirit lead me to the place of His choosing, and then to show me how to live in this place.
I have learned how to de-clutter, and I have learned how to live with very little. But, there have been many times when I lived in gluttony, when I amassed too many things, and I lived so weighed down, so heavily burdened simply because of all the "junk" in my life. No more. I don't want to live in a junk filled house, let alone live in a junk filled life. I am ready to spring clean, so to speak, and that means to dump things that are no longer necessary to me. I am holding onto the very best, of course, but with a minimal mindset that simply places form with function. In this way, I look at my life and say "what purpose does this thing serve" or "what function does this thing fulfill?" If the purpose or function is valuable, it remains. If it is simply clutter, it goes. Simple. Straightforward. Easy.
I think the reason I desire to live minimally is simply this: I am living presently in "overwhelm" mode. I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Yet, I know that with my dissertation at hand, I cannot pare this work down. So I must remove the clutter, the confusion, and the commotion from my life so that nothing distracts me from my work. Furthermore, as I think about my eventual disposition, where the Lord wants me to live and such, I realize that the last thing I want to do is become a hoarder of sorts. I like living freely, and I like the freedom that comes from living in a minimalist lifestyle. I guess you could say that I have come to realize that I don't need 12 pairs of shoes, 10 purses or even 8 pairs of slacks. Nope. I wear the same slacks to work each week, the same shoes, and I carry the same bag. Why then do I allow these "extra" items to sit in my closet and collect dust? I hold onto them for "posterity" sake or "in case I need them." This is a hoarder mentality and it says "I may need these things later on so I will just hold onto them for future use." In many ways, the reason we hoard things is because we do not trust that we will have what we need in the future. We react like our ancient forebears with a "feast or famine" mindset. The problem is of course that we live in a time when rarely do we face either outcome. We may have lean times, but generally speaking, we will probably survive on less just as well as we could on more.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, how I have always just accepted the way my parents decorated as my style. I did this when I was married too. I never had my own style, so I just took what my in-laws and parents handed down to me. I was thankful for their "gifts" but I never really developed my own sense of well-being as a result. I never came into my own, so to speak, and now that I am thinking about my own style, I realize that I am really the exact opposite of my parents and my in-laws. For many years, I was quasi-traditional with a mix of country tossed in. My family, most of them, were antique collectors so naturally I wanted to collect antiques too. I never had the money to collect anything of that sort, and in the end, I just had lots of miss-matched things, and no real style to boot.
Now that I am about to graduate with my PhD, and become a full-fledge professor (with salary!), I have decided that I need a style. I don't want to just live mish-mash anymore. No, I really would like a style that is reflective of my personality, my habits, and my preferred environment. Let me explain...
My Style is Contemporary
I cannot believe I am actually saying this but it is true. For years, I would have said that my style was country, yet in truth, it never really was "country" at all. I love the country, don't get me wrong, and I love antiques, but I value the history and the style (design, form, and function) more than the overall cuteness of the old-fashioned design. No, as weird as it may seem, I tend to always go toward mid-century modern, a style reminiscent of my childhood. I like the clean design lines, the architectural elements, and mostly, the minimalist frame of form and function.
Mid Century Modern (1950-60)
More so, as I've thought about the type of house I like, I realize that while there is a part of me that really loves and appreciates vintage homes, I simply don't want to live in a vintage or antique home. I love the quaintness of vintage homes, for certain; but the tiny rooms with poorly designed layouts simply make it difficult to do modern work. Plus, there is the issue of accessibility (tiny stairs and such) along with other more serious concerns such as safety that make me less inclined to live in an old home versus a new home. No, I've decided that to accommodate my life style and the life the Lord seems to desire for me, I am leaning toward contemporary/modern, but not "new" in the sense of the word.
I am also not favorable to modern homes like the ones you see in new developments. I do not want a cookie-cutter house that is lined up row upon row like in most neighborhoods. Yes, perhaps if I had children (little ones) then I might change my mind. In my view, my time for neighborhood gatherings around the swing set is over. I am ready for a grown-up house and that means one that has lovely things in it (art, sculpture, furniture) whereby I can enjoy the beauty of my home. It is form and function now, rather than family interaction. Don't get me wrong, I love family interaction, but I am just saying that I have decided that at 54 years of age it is time for me to grow up and to enjoy some of the blessings of living as an adult.
My Style is Artistic and Well Designed
As an artist, I have a natural eye for detail. I like lines, symmetry, and form that demonstrate quality, thought, and intention. I realize that while I like the look of mid century modern homes, I simply may never have the opportunity to purchase one in my lifetime. Thus, I am thinking about interiors more so than exteriors. In this way, I realize that I can style my home in the way I like without having to live in a certain type of home.
Mid century modern interiors are very clean-lined. They use a nice mixture of wood, natural stone, and environmental colors (think 1960s). They typically were designed for form and function, thus you rarely found a mid century home focused on technology. This means that in the 1950s and 60s, even though radio had been around and TV was really booming, the focal point of the home was usually a gathering space with fireplace or exit to the patio door. The main rooms flowed to allow for groups to sit and enjoy conversation. I was thinking about this point yesterday, how we never really talk anymore. We are always on our phones, watching TV or engage with technology. We don't sit and talk about life. We do not do life anymore. We are passive observers and not active engagers -- we do not "do" life, we simply watch "life" happen. Sigh.
In my home of the future, I want to create conversation space that is not focused on a big screen TV. I want a TV, don't get me wrong, but I want my living spaces to be about people and not passive observation. Moreover, I want my design style to be artistic in order to show off my great love of beautiful artifacts. I love art, all forms of art, and for years, I simply had to downplay my desire for art because my in-laws felt that art was not a god honoring profession. It was humanistic and it served to elevate the created art over that of the creator. It was very difficult for me to let go of my love of art. I mean, I studied art. I studied classics. I studied humanities, and I have a deep and sincere appreciation for art history. I love all genres, but I am especially drawn to sculpture and to abstract paintings. I love abstract, contemporary and modern art. Go figure.
My Style is Comfortable
Last, my style is really comfortable. While I love mid century and contemporary furniture, I also like comfort. I want to sit in a chair that is easy to sit in, if you get my drift. I want to sink down in a sofa and rest among the cushions. I don't want to sit in a chair that is hard to enjoy. No, form plus function. I want a chair, a sofa, etc. that says "come sit in me, read a book, watch a program, work on your computer" all the while still looking good, clean, contemporary.
I've thought about the type of furniture I really like and leather always comes to mind. I love leather. I love wood, and I love metal. The combination is very popular today, so my style, while leaning modern, is probably more transitional with a touch of industrial mixed in. I guess I want to be eclectic and simply have things around me that are purposeful. I am pragmatic after all, and in this way, I hate waste. I hate to see empty space as much as I hate to see cluttered space. This is one of the reasons why I don't like the modern home with its "sky high" ceilings. Empty space. However, in an Eichler home or a Frank Lloyd Wright home, those high spaces were functional and artistically designed. They often brought the outdoors indoors, and for this reason, they were purposed. I like this idea. I just don't want a home with high ceilings, niches where plants are supposed to be "placed," and cutouts that serve no real function.
In all, as I think about my life, about what I hope to have some day, I realize that the longer I think about these things, the more refined my tastes become and the more I am able to zero in on what I like and do not like in my home interiors. It is funny, really, how I have changed, almost 180 degrees from when I first started to think about my life. I wanted a farm back then, a country home with old things. I still love that look, don't get me wrong, but the more I realize that I will be working from home (more than likely), I started to think about what mattered most to me, and what type of things I wanted around me all day long.
Now, I am settled really. My mind may change again, and thanks be to God, I have time to figure this all out. It is fun to think about these things, but I realize that until the Lord provides, I will simply have to think about them. I must go lightly, and in that way, I must remember to hold all of this, dreams and wants in particular, with open hands. The Lord knows what is best for me, so I let this go as well. I let it all go. He is good to me, so very, very good to me! Selah!
As I think more about my life, my day today, and where I need to be down the road, I rest in His sufficiency and provision. I can do all things, of course, but I desire to do everything to bring Him praise, to honor His holy name, and to glorify and worship Him. Thus, I let all this go now, and I return to my task at hand -- my work. May the Lord be praised this good, good day for He is so very good to us. He is so very good to us!