Here…a thought and prayer about our brokenness and need for healing. There…a thought about what color feels right on the future house we want to build. If we do not allow our minds to wander without rigidity while in the spirit of prayer and in the presence of God, how else would we ever be inspired? How would we ever learn to feel what is right if we do not allow ourselves to consider all things in His presence? How can God be condensed, compacted, contained in formal prayer as opposed to meandering, protracted time spent in each other’s presence?
As a designer, I tend to be very particular about the things that I see as beautiful. In my own home, I confess I love things to look contemporary and fresh and just-so. I love rotating new items into my existing decor. I quickly get rid of things that look dated or worn. However, I have recently had the pleasure of reading two wonderful, albeit very different books, that have greatly challenged and broadened my view of aesthetics.
The first book, called “The Wabi-Sabi House,” addresses what the author (Robyn Griggs Lawrence) refers to as “the Japanese art of imperfect beauty.” She states, “The subtle messages that live within wabi-sabi are the things we all seem to long for today: Slow down. Take the time to find beauty in what seems ordinary – and to turn the “ordinary” into something beautiful. Make things yourself instead of buying those spit out by a machine, and smile when your work is flawed. Wash your dishes by hand, and most important: learn to think of others before yourself.” Wabi-sabi finds beauty in things that are old, natural, broken, simple and earthy. I must say, it is a challenge for me to find beauty in old things. I love new trends and styles and experimenting in my home. I am not sentimental or much of a collector. I have five children and often value efficiency over, well…basically everything! However, I am stretching myself by attempting to slow down and find beauty in unexpected places, while incorporating small touches of imperfect and meaningful beauty at the same time.
The second book by Nate Berkus, “The Things That Matter,” thoughtfully covers the idea of filling your home with items that carry personal history and significance. He opens the first page by sharing, “I’ve always believed your home should tell your story…Those cuff links? They belonged to somebody I loved: we picked them out on one of the most perfect days we ever spent together. That tortoise shell on the wall? There was one exactly like it in my mother’s house and I can’t see it without thinking about a thousand inedible family dinners. Each object tells a story and each story connects us to one another and to the world. The truth is, things matter. They have to. They’re what we live with and touch each and every day. They represent what we’ve seen, who we’ve loved, and where we hope to go next. They remind us of the good times and the rough patches, and everything in between that’s made us who we are.” I love this! And while this may come quite naturally to some people, this concept has given me quite a bit to think on. My family has never valued THINGS very much, which is both positive and negative. While we are not tied to our possessions, we also don’t have any family heirlooms that exchange hands or generations. I have purchased every single thing in my home…no gramma’s rocking chair, mother’s cookbooks, dad’s tools, nothing! This honestly makes me a bit sad, but also determined to do things differently for my children. I have started purchasing (or keeping) something special for our home every time we travel: horse hair pottery from South Dakota, my husband’s first emptied out clam shell from Maine, a wooden manatee to remind us of the one that chose to swim with us in Florida. When my gramma passed away, I carefully elected to save a jade letter opener that reminded me of her (I never knew anyone who actually used a letter opener to open letters)!
While I still openly profess my love for all things new, I am also committed to expanding upon what I have traditionally viewed as beautiful, and to looking through an object into its past. I am looking forward to owning THINGS that matter, things that will one day cause my children to re-tell my stories to their children. And I eagerly anticipate the lessons that I know will come…as I learn to find perfection in imperfections.
“Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case.”
~An Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau~
It has been said that words are the most base form of communication. In a time when everyone is concerned with finding their voice in the world, we forget the impact and importance of silence. When we speak constantly, people stop listening. Words that might be valuable, get lost in the sheer projectile volume. Life gets big and chaotic and turbulent and if we rise to challenge it, we immediately begin to get lost in the noise. This does not necessitate a passive, apathetic approach to life. Practically, we must rise to meet to whatever stands before us. But we cannot forget the value of first withdrawing into ourselves to subdue our inner turmoil. When life gets big, we must get small. If we mindlessly rush headfirst into pandemonium, we will only add to the cacophony and delirium. We feel the need to say the right thing, do the right thing, and forget that silence is also a viable course of action. How many problems in life could potentially be solved by just stopping, and waiting in silence? The Tao Te Ching states that, “No one can make muddy water clear, but if one is patient, and it is allowed to remain still, it may gradually become clear of itself.” If we are able to resist the urge to constantly fill time and space with empty and urgent words, silence becomes not only an ideal choice but also a familiar and comforting companion as well.
We can make our minds so like still water
That beings gather about us that they may see,
It may be, their own images,
And so live for a moment with a clearer,
Perhaps even with a fiercer life
Because of our quiet.
~The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats~
“Last year I purchased more than 40 evergreen wreaths for the windows of the house…and affixed wonderful shooting stars, made from hundreds of little white lights to the roofs and sides of the buildings…Indoors, I go a bit more crazy – a tree or two or three in every room…one room might be decorated for a woodland scene, another for our furry friends and another just for the birds. I pull down the best table coverings from the attic and place them on tables, then add decorations on every flat surface…no opportunity is spared to embellish and get into the spirit.” (Martha Stewart)
So, funny story…I received an email this week and the sender said something to the effect of, “I can only imagine how beautiful your house looks with Christmas decorations.” She was most likely thinking that since I am in the business of interior decorating, my house would in fact be decorated. Here’s the funny (kind of) part: I don’t have a single Christmas decoration up. No lights on the outside, no garland on the railing, no stockings, not even a tree. It’s quite embarrassing actually. I wish that I, like Martha Stewart had 40 evergreen wreaths for each window of the house, a tree or two or three in different rooms. I wish that the smell of sugar cookies was wafting through my perfectly cleaned house, with Christmas carols reverberating in the background. But this is the thing: it’s my husband’s first Christmas of really being at home in over eight years, after a long stint in the oil field. We are still tired, we are still recovering, and we are enjoying laying around on the the couch by the fire with our kids at night. In the past, this would have been my downfall. I would first start comparing myself to my neighbors, my friends, even Martha Stewart (sigh). I would start berating myself and asking what’s wrong with me and why can’t I keep up with everyone else. But what I have painfully, yet thankfully come to learn and accept is this…I have limitations.
This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn, as I have always believed that if I just worked a little harder, I would be able to do everything. But my body literally revolted and I have since had to learn to not only monitor my actions, but my energy level as well. We all have limitations. For some people it is age or their health. Others may be learning how to survive as a single parent, a new parent, or a caregiver to aging parents or children with special needs. The problem, however, is that we live as though limitations do not exist. We run and push and move through life until we drop from exhaustion, only to get up and start all over again. We refuse to rest until something outside of ourselves forces us to finally stop and take inventory of how we are choosing to live our lives.
There are two faulty ways of dealing with this issue in my opinion. We either ignore our limitations, or we become them. When my son first started having behavioral problems, I tried as hard as I could to ignore the difficulties and function like a normal family, often running myself into the ground. When I finally realized that was not working, I became the grieving mom of an autistic child, floundering in my sorrow and despair. I got lost and it became my identity. It seems rather, that perhaps the best option is to simply and humbly accept our limitations as reality.
What I am not suggesting is that we robotically accept these limitations and mechanically plow through life . Very often in order to accept our limitations, we need to first grieve them. I just watched this beautiful video on Parkinson’s patients who are losing their ability to walk properly. This is their reality that as of yet, cannot be changed. But as an act of self-love and respect, their loss of freedom and independence must be mourned, almost as if to pay homage to a life well lived thus far. If we can grieve and accept our limitations, I believe that we can eventually learn to celebrate them. These Parkinson’s patients are finding joy and hope in a difficult situation. They are not allowing their limitations to define them, nor are they wallowing in self-pity.
Now for anyone that is overly concerned about my non-existent Christmas decorations, rest assured, I have no intention of actually having a tree-less Christmas. It may however be a very simply decorated one. We might take the kids skiing instead of wearing ourselves out shopping. We might enjoy pizza more often than turkey and homemade sugar cookies. But I’m okay with that. We will be well rested and happy and reveling in the delight of having my husband home this year. For me, this will be success.