Friday, March 27, 2009

The Shack

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written about a book that has inspired me. Particularly since this is a blog partially dedicated to my love of reading, I hope to include one book every few posts. Yet, it’s been a long time since one made me think the way “The Shack” by William Young has done. I had heard a great deal of buzz surrounding this novel. Some people found it to be profound and deeply moving. Others found it to be heretical. I knew that, based on my own concepts of faith and experiential metaphor within faith, I had the potential of finding the book to be extraordinary. Still, when we set up our own expectations, for any book, any movie, any event in our lives, it’s generally the rule that nothing can live up to our own preconceived notions. In this area, I was absolutely surprised. “The Shack” did not meet my expectations. It turned them upside down and on their sides. I wasn’t disappointed. I was surprised by how deeply moved I was, and how much another person’s understanding, convictions and expansion of thought could be so much in sync with my own…while still challenging my own ‘independent’ ideas.

I am reluctant to give away much of the plot. While most reviews give a basic synopsis, I believe “The Shack” needs to be experienced with fresh eyes, with an unguarded heart and with an open mind. What I will do is to ask the question, “What do we truly know about the nature of the divine?”. I will go one step further and ask “Is your own image of God limited in any way?”. What “The Shack” helped me to define is the limitations of my own definitions. An expression I’ve often used when people ask about my broad love of God, and my discomfort with religious traditions who feel they have the ‘lock’ on what God is, is that I believe that God is far greater than “a box” of definitions. “The Shack” helped me to refine my own expansive and broad view of an eternal, extraordinary and beloved God in ways I hadn’t even begun to comprehend. Still, “The Shack” tackles the most heart wrenching issue a parent can imagine: the loss of a child brutally. How the author is able to create love in the midst of unspeakable horror is not only genius, but it’s extraordinary. This not an easy journey to read. There were times I had to put down the book, take a break and marinate on the concepts that broke my heart and fed my worst fears. Still, I believe, as the author does, that Divine Love can come out of tragedy.

Another question I will also ask is "What questions would *you* ask of God, should you encounter the Divine?". Regardless of your spiritual tradition, your upbringing, your beliefs now and your station in life, most of us have a level of curiousity about the meaning of life. We wonder about our own shortcomings, and how we fail to meet the challenges of every day life. We feel guilty about mistakes we have made, from minor infractions to grave errors. Even people who do not have a faith system at all, will second guess their own actions, perceptions of a situation that turned out to be completely different than one first believed. Therefore a better question might be, "What are you holding onto that you wish you understood more clearly?".

One of the major themes of "The Shack" is to ask questions of yourself. Too often we slink into corners of comfort, containing dark areas we'd rather not confront. Even if these bleak zones are places of great sadness or regret, we are far more comfortable with the 'known' than the 'unknown' areas of forgiveness, understanding, and moving forward. Releasing these long held dark areas is terribly hard. We've grown to feel safe within our fears, as odd as that sounds. I hope to continue to question myself daily. I am setting the goal of asking myself which areas of my life I need to illuminate, see what is holding me back from releasing these shadows, and then, giving myself permission to move forward. Before we can find answers, we must first learn to ask the right questions. Too often we don't want to know the answers, and so we don't even understand how to formulate the right questions.

As A. A. Milne wrote in Winnie the Pooh, "I find the best to begin is at the beginning." Go back to your beginnings of your questions. Find out what you need to ask of yourself, and of God. Only then can you begin to work on the answers. It isn't always easy. As a matter of fact, it can be terribly difficult. But, illumination can also come from this work. Most of all, forget 'religion' as what you think it is...and let go to find something all the more spectacular.

Change is very difficult. But, learning to ask questions of ourselves can bring freedom, hope and a true understanding of our authentic selves. Most of all, we can allow ourselves the knowledge that we are matter what.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Decluttering after vacation

(NOTE: This post was originally posted on the Clutter Club site, but I thought it might provide a practical, life skill follow up to my previous post on Vacations).

We just returned home from a wonderful vacation to the southwest. We had a fabulous, illuminating and exciting visit. We went to places we'd been to before, and we also explored new sights and sounds. With every adventure came some memorabilia, as well as some purchases we thought would help 'stimulate the economy'. Despite the fact that I tend to be a heavy handed packer to begin with, my suitcase was busting at the seams when we left. So, I'm now confronted with a big mess to bring me out of my Zen like, post holiday reverie.One of the dangers of vacation packing is the initial mess.

Like many women, I tend to over think what I bring. I tend to pack far too many pairs of shoes, and perhaps, not enough tops to cover the number of times I spill on myself. I began the vacation with clutter, I'm afraid, as I sorted through all of my warm weather possibilities for travel. These took over my room for a week before our departure, and never really were put away. Additionally, once I arrived at our first stop, I did the 'half packed suitcase, half unpacked', rather than remained one way, or the other. This not only caused a mess in our guest room, but also made it harder to find what I needed. While we were staying at my mother's beautiful home in Arizona, I ended up borrowing more from her than I used of my own clothing, partly because I couldn't find what I needed, and partly because I packed the wrong things. Finally, I made the cardinal mistake of not leaving room for purchases made while were traveling around the southwest....leaving an overstuffed suitcase beyond the point of control. Now, I have to unpack, and I'm almost afraid to open my bag, certain it will detonate from its long voyage of overstretching.This trip has taught me several things to minimize vacation clutter:

1) Pack more sensibly. Pick multi-use items that don't get dirty easily (white jeans were probably not my best choice) and comfortable shoes that can be worn with dresses, skirts and pants. When traveling to a warm location, pack items like sarongs that can be used for skirts, pool cover-ups, and even scarves in air conditioned restaurants. Don't pack clothing or accessories just because they're your favorites. Make certain that they're right for *this trip*.

2) Stick with one color palate. It's much easier to mix and match, I discovered, if you have gone with black and white, earth tones, or brights. If you get one piece dirty, you can switch it out more easily than you could if you packed pieces that will only go with one other item.

4) Pack one dressy never know if you will go out to a more elegant meal than you'd planned. I am lucky I could wear my mom's adorable little black dress.

4) Leave room for purchases! I can't stress this highly enough. With the extra bag fees, not to mention the overweight suitcase surcharges, it's much better to pack lighter on the way out, since the vast majority of us bring more home than we leave with.

Now that I'm home, I have the chore of unpacking. This can be a daunting task. It's sometimes easier to leave the packed suitcases on the floor than it is to just deal with them immediately. My advice is to leave it if you arrive home late, but tackle the first thing in the morning. Immediately sort into piles of laundry, items to put away immediately, gifts to be placed with other gifts (so they won't get lost in the shuffle) and rubbish. We all tend to bring home some actual rubbish...from shopping bags to empty allergy medicine containers, it's best to just pitch them immediately.

Finally, bring that suitcase to the basement or attic so that you don't stub your toe on it every night for two weeks.

Most of all, as you unpack and reorganize your new things in with your old, jot down memories of your trip before they are lost, and enjoy the afterglow of a lovely holiday.