The Only Way to Start

I unlocked the door and pushed the familiar curve of the handle into my old kitchen. I was hoping for good news to share with my husband about our former residence-turned-rental. The former renters had moved out, and a wonderful family was moving in in five days. Meanwhile, I didn’t have huge expectations. Just empty space, wiped down cupboards, maybe even a clean refrigerator.

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Creepy-doll selfie courtesy my four year old

Alas.

Giant black garbage bags squatted in corners, half open, half full of leftover belongings that must not have made the cut. My daughter immediately found a creeptastic purple doll and ran to the bathroom. “She should not be in the garbage. She needs a bath, mama.” I mumbled something incoherent and opened the fridge, appraising the damage of what looked like spilled BBQ sauce. Please let it be BBQ sauce.

I closed the fridge and let my eyes stumble over the entire kitchen. Layers of grime. Dirty woodwork. Spiderwebs draped casually along the walls and in the corners. The rest of the main level was mostly vacant and begging for some serious broom, shop-vac, and window washing love.

I could still hear the water running and my daughter chiding the purple doll. Honey, you have to wash your hair. You have tangles! Hold still! 

I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs, which still creaked and groaned the same song as when we lived there for six years. The second level was only slightly better. One garbage bag, one tube TV that time forgot. Bathroom drawers scattered with broken earrings and crushed bits of blush. A cheap, anise-lavender scented bubble bath gift set still tied in a gaudy gold bow. Broken blinds. Carpet littered with a mysterious miscellany of broken toys, leftover markers, half-sucked candy.

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ALL THE FEELINGS indeed.

I wandered back down to the kitchen. Then back to the dining room. Then back into the kitchen. I picked up a few dusty glasses left on the buffet and put them on the counter. I opened the oven. Coughed. Opened the freezer. Gagged. My arms suddenly felt like hundred pound weights. I was stuck. I stopped and stood there, hostage to ALL THE FEELINGS.

And then I did what any child need of rescue does. I called my mom.

She listened patiently to my list of and this was dirty and that was a mess and this needs to be replaced and there are scratches here and… She gave a few suggestions. We talked through whether or not the oven had a self-cleaning function. Bless it. It did.

But then I started escalating again, whining about how even the screen door was disGUSTING. So start there, she said. Sometimes the best place to start is with what you see first. Then work your way in. That way, the next time you come in from that direction, you won’t be so discouraged.

It made good sense. She promised to pray, and I promised to calm down. My daughter had finally finished washing the doll and was setting up a tea party with some old shot glasses she found in a drawer. I opened the bottom cupboard and found a turkey roasting pan, which paired nicely with a dusty bottle of vinegar left under the sink, some warm water, and a half-used roll of paper towels.

IMG_20150827_084630Because sometimes, the only way to start is to start. 

I’ve seen that saying a hundred times in Instagram and Facebook posts. Usually it’s in block font with a picture of a person running up a path that’s eventually going to lead them up a mountain, or something glorious and motivational like that. It’s never with a background of a dirty door smeared with greasy fingerprints and old ketchup stains. And yet.

The only way to start was really as simple as that.

Start.

Start with what I saw first. With what I knew I could manage. It didn’t matter how bad the whole of it was. The whole was frightening.

But the door? The door was doable. I could handle cleaning a door.

I just had to start.

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Why I Disciplined my Daughter for Eating Kiwi

My daughter said something yesterday that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. We were talking after a timeout, one which she’d earned for getting into the fridge without asking.

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Check out the number of implements my three-year-old used to get into this kiwi. Impressive.

The culprit? Kiwi. Sweet, luscious green kiwi. (It’s day 25 of my 40-day fast. Forgive me if I wax poetic about anything food-related.)

Okay. I know. Who punishes their child for snacking on health food? Well, me. Why? Because my daughter doesn’t just stop at the fruit drawer. Yesterday alone I caught her sneaking a juice box, graham crackers, a kiwi, and carrots. All harmless, really, but it’s the principle that I’m worried about. I don’t want her taking things without asking.

At this stage, she has no concept of the need for self-control.

So after her third mistake/timeout session, I sat down on the stairs next to her and said something like, “Don’t you care that mama told you to ASK for something that you want, instead of just taking it?” Her response was so close to human nature that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Well, sometimes I do care, but sometimes I don’t.

Bless my baby. At least she’s honest.

That’s simply the black and white of it. Sometimes we care about doing the right thing, and sometimes, we just don’t.

For children, it seems to be an issue of motivation. In my house, the consequences of getting caught with contraband food usually aren’t that bad. Timeout. Discussion. Besides. What mom wants to punish her daughter for eating a carrot?

For adults, it’s another story. Most of us know right from wrong. Motivation still plays a role, but it’s different sort of reward we’re after now. And self-control?  Not if we can help it.

No one wants to tell themselves no. It’s like a rite of passage for adults. Maybe we went without when we were kids, or teens, in our twenties or as newlyweds, but dang it NOW we should be able to have everything we want.

We earned it. We deserve it. We think we need it, because want and need have become two inextricable things in our mind.

But when did want become as honorable as need?

Twice yesterday, the topic of self-control came up. The first was my best friend telling me that Katy Perry prays for self-control every day. (Katy Perry is the LAST person I’d think would be praying for self-control, so I was shocked, and also a little envious at her brilliance for praying for something that could make all the difference in the course of one’s day.)

There’s also a matter of this verse, which God pulled into the conversation when I was talking with my high school small group girls last night about what faith in real life looks like. It’s from the new testament book of Galatians 5:22 & 23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’m learning a few things as a result of my fast. One of them is this: I REALLY don’t like to tell myself no. And when it comes to food, I don’t know that I EVER really tell myself no. If I want it, I make it, buy it, drive to a restaurant and order it.

Should I be surprised then that my daughter does the same thing on a smaller scale?

I think Katy Perry is onto something.