A Pruning of Personality

by - September 21, 2018


My house is gross, and it's really only my fault. I chose to adopt two cats. I chose to buy my son two parakeets. I chose to have two kids. The vision of the piles of clutter often feels like a hot, thick vapor in my lungs, and it's the reason I'm driven out into the yard where I can feel the breeze and watch things grow. However, at the end of the summer season, the veggie garden and perennial beds start to resemble the "cat room" of my house and provides little solace from the tasks I'm avoiding inside. The weeds and the rotten tomato vines pile up and begin decomposing on the brick patio where fire ants and rollypollies happily birth their tiny fire ant and rollypolly babies that will slowly carry off the okra pods and fallen pole bean leaves that have been neglected in the last wave of summer heat and mosquitoes.

Yes, I call our office, the most elegantly designed room of the house, the "cat room" because that is where the litter box is kept. That daggone litter box has driven me out of the most beautiful space of our home because of litter dust falling on the flat surfaces and the wafts of cat turds sabotaging any thoughts of beauty. It also happens to be where the air-intake for the downstairs air conditioning unit is. WHAT ON EARTH. For several years I've considered installing a cat door to either the garage or the broom closet and training the cats out of that room, but that requires taking down a door, sawing a hole, moving a litter box 6 inches a day until there is success. It requires a plan and action and far too much initiative for something that feels so inglorious.  

As for the mess in the yard, I have a compost pile and a large compost tumbler, but those require routine, a plan, and action to make successful. So there are paths I can't walk, blooms I fail to see, and veggies that never get harvested because I can't pick up after myself. I get half-way through and get distracted by something else that should probably be on a to-do list or in a weekly rotation. I've added so many plants to scratch the itch of wanting something to freshen it up that I have trouble envisioning what it could become at this point. The canvas has been covered. The puzzle pieces are scattered across the table and the box top lost. 

From sun-up to sun-down, I fly by the seat of my own whims and cling to the belief that the most crushing thing to my soul ever would be a daily schedule. I rarely make a grocery list. I never do a meal plan. If I so much as have something on my calendar, I feel smothered. I love getting a text from a friend for a last-minute coffee date but practically bristle at an Evite in the inbox. However, yesterday as I was digging holes in the yard to move plants that I'd bought on a whim, I was listening to a podcast (Typology Podcast: Name It..then Tame It, feat. Mark Scandrette, part 2 of 2) that challenged types like myself to create a daily schedule and stick to it as a way to bring life. 

Are you freaking kidding me? The one thing that feels like death to me is somehow supposed to bring me life? How could it possibly be that death to myself could bring life and beauty? 

No. 

Will not.

Cannot compute.

But friends, my own choices stink. Literally stink. Why do my cats get this room? Why do my whims get to derail every project I start? Why do my emotions get to prevent me from starting things to begin with?

I have a Ph.D. in engineering, so I know that I can begin and complete a project and shouldn't be afraid of not being able to finish something. I am not incapable. What I am is undisciplined. I have given my emotions and preferences free-reign to rule my daily actions rather than deciding based on logic, capability, necessity, sanity, what should be done. I have bought into the lie that I am what I feel I am. And there is no lack of self-loathing in this realization. Yet, it seems I'm more comfortable in my self-loathing than I am in actually changing things up. Self-loathing gives me something to laugh about, it gives me my self-deprecating humor. It gives me that nice, fuzzy blanket of mediocrity I can snuggle up on the couch with. It gives me an excuse to not be excellent.

But what is it that I actually want? I want beauty. I want excellence. I want it in the house and out of the house, and it requires work. When I've neglected routine maintenance, the path to beauty itself feels so long that I settle for a perennial plant on the clearance table rather than planning a cohesive garden bed. I settle for moving the piles of papers from the coffee table to another corner of the house, most likely on top of the growing pile of old Christmas cards and school awards in the cat room. I settle for a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch rather than baking some glorious scones my sister-in-law sent me the recipe for. I settle for lesser-than-beauty because planning for beauty, preparing for beauty, clearing the way for beauty doesn't feel beautiful at all. It feels mundane. It feels like pain. It feels like waiting.  

I need to shift gears here though, because I could just spiral into being completely overwhelmed with how I need to change. I don't need another podcast or another self-help book to show me how I'm broken and tell me how to fix it. I'm filled to the brim with this information, and it's brought conviction. What I need now is Jesus. I need to confess that I typically allow conviction to become an emotion or a self-proclamation of my worth rather than letting it become an impetus for change, or a proclamation of what Jesus has already freed me from. I need to be shown that He is leading me towards beauty and that there is already beauty now. It is Him, and it's Him in me and in you and in us. 

Yesterday I pruned a pear tree quite brutally in the wrong season, in the wrong way, and now it looks like something cast off the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. That poor tree may not make it, and if it does, more power to it. It will be so strong, produce so many pears and will thrive. I don't know what happened. I think I was just reacting to the surrounding chaos. Truth is, I need a pruning myself. I need to embrace that the mundane aspects of the day are what support and free up the canvas for dreaming and creating. I don't think I need a major pruning. Goodness, I don't want to end up like that poor pear tree. But what I need is small acts of rebellion against my personality. Small acts to build up muscles of resistance. I need to keep my own rules, follow through on my intentions... not just carry the stack of towels to the top of the stairs but actually put them into the closet. I need finish just one task at a time. And the next day I need to do that same task again but without bragging about how I did that one task today. It needs to be like breathing or like muscle memory so that my energy isn't spent fighting the emotion of not wanting to do the task. That's discipline. 

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