Just Keep Stirring
My husband is known to come into the kitchen and say, "Keep stirring," but he actually means "you don't need to stir that so much." He calls me a "stirrer," which I guess sounds somewhat better than what he called me on our third date. We were having Chinese food (for the second time) and he suddenly said, "You're an eater." I was taken aback and indignant, but as I got to know him, I realized it was a compliment, because it turned out that we were both foodies...which brings me back to stirring. I developed that habit as a child when I started helping my mom cook dinner. Since there was not a lot to do, she had me stir things, which I enjoyed, so I rarely put down the spoon or spatula - stirring sauces, turning bacon, flipping grilled cheese...multiple times.
My husband's nickname for me fits me in many ways - literally and figuratively. For the first decade or more of our marriage, I frequently rearranged rooms and furniture, which was not always a lot of fun for him (when he was home for me to enlist his help), but he graciously assisted in lifting and sliding and moving furnishings into their new positions...which immediately afterwards (or some months later) would sometimes end up back upstairs or downstairs, in the same place it had been before. It was great when we finally bought furniture sliders to go underneath heavy items. Eventually I settled down and rearranging became less frequent, but it still happens from time to time.
Why all the domestic stirring? Part of it had to do with three growing children with toys, books, and their creations, as well as their need for spaces conducive to learning, creativity, and play, all in relatively close quarters (1600 sq. foot condo) with no garage or yard (just a porch and patio). Being the visionary type, I would get new ideas for how to use things to be more functional or aesthetically pleasing. My perfectionistic tendencies drove me to look for the best placement, and I would determine that from a variety of angles. But theory often didn't match reality, so trial and error led to all the switching around. Changing circumstances were also a factor - deciding to homeschool, my mom moving in with us for a few months, kids not sharing rooms anymore, wanting all screens in one space, and the shifts in all of the above as time went on. Getting rid of and acquiring stuff also sparked stirring.
On a deeper, more personal level, altering our environment made it feel fresh - newness without making major life changes. Yet it was also a form of procrastination. Instead of dealing with the details - piles of papers in file boxes accumulated over many years of not keeping up with the fast moving conveyor belt of family/homeschooling life. I would continually say that I could only do that once my surroundings were in perfect order, which never happened because I procrastinated on the day-to-day as well. I also put off my creativity by thinking that once I got our entire house in order, it would be conducive to all the catching up (sorting, purging, putting everything in its place), then I could finally create (write, do art, weed and print digital photos, make memory books, etc.).
I say all this in the past tense, but truthfully, it continues to this day, though I feel like I'm so close to turning a corner now that I've just graduated our oldest and will be wrapping up our homeschool chapter in four years. Summer is slipping away, as it always does, despite a much clearer calendar due to all the social distancing restrictions in my state, but I've got about six weeks before we start our new school year, so I'm feeling hopeful that all my stirring will be productive rather than procrastination techniques, such as sorting candy into different categories (this happened more when the kids were younger - now they are in charge of their own candy categorization) and testing all the colored markers and organizing them by kind (just last week). Because I hate handling details, it is a stress response to immerse myself in meaningless minutiae to escape tackling more important drudgery.
At the same time, there is a natural part of me that likes analyzing and compartmentalizing. I generally prefer to do that with abstractions - philosophy, psychology, theology - but doing it tangibly can relax my brain and invigorate my senses - at least at first. By the time I finish, I can barely see straight and need a nap. All the stirring is eventually exhausting and unfulfilling. The tedium and the futility go against my genuine self that seeks meaning and transcendence. I end up with a guilty hangover for procrastinating purposeful priorities and passions of the imagination or intellect.
In addition to all that stirring, I'm a pot stirrer. Violations of morality fire me up. I have a habit of entering the fray to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness or to aid another who is in that place and under attack. I've been this way adolescence, growing up in a culture that opposes my worldview and rejects absolute truth. As a Christian in one of the most liberal areas of the USA (Marin County, San Francisco Bay Area), I've always gone against the flow - I even had the t-shirt in high school. "Just keep swimming [upstream]" was a theme of my youth before leaving the rapids of the river to settle in the pond of domesticity fed by the waterfall that is family life. Instead of fighting the current, I have been swimming in circles, thus stirring the waters.
However, I have never completely stayed away from the river - social media has made it far too easy to go back and forth between my actual life and engaging "the world." That has intensified with the extreme polarization of the country in our current crisis state. The last few months on social media have created a near constant state of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire - it's gone beyond pot stirring and into virtual ideological warfare on several fronts. I won't go into the details of all that now, but I'm sensing I need to stir the pot a lot less and go back to stirring what's in my house and my soul.
That brings me to soul stirrings - I honestly did not know where I was going with this when I started writing it. Writing stirs my soul like nothing else. Moving my thoughts from my mind on to the page (I write in a notebook before I transcribe to my blog) stirs up what's below the surface, so I can look at it, and see it all together, rather than fragments floating in the murky depths of my consciousness. My soul is stirred to grow - to leave off stirring that just goes in circles in exchange for stilling the waters to practice reflection. Stir and then stop. Don't just keep moving stuff around to strive for perfection that actually is paralyzing. Don't wait for the waters to stir. Dive into creating and attack the piles instead of stirring the room or the paperclips. More importantly, keep breathing throughout, and break for deep breaths. Tune into my soul stirrings - commune with my Creator and listen to that still, small voice; be attentive to the voices of those around me, and pour into my loved ones from the living waters that is the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
Redeeming the Time
It's been a while since I was here. I miss writing and I've missed many writing opportunities from all the epiphanies that have meandered through my mind over the years. Coming here now is encouraging, but I've still got lots to catch up on (sorting, purging, organizing of paper piles) and I'm continuing to homeschool our three teens. "Sheltering at home" frees up a bit more time, but for a slow, procrastinating perfectionist, it's quickly eaten up (usually online - sigh). I'm praying for more self-discipline to carve out the minutes (hours?) to write things that matter and less frittering away of thoughts on social media. I hope my returning to real writing is one of the redemptive aspects of this terrible, horrible, no good pandemic.