Category Archives: Mindset

Marie Kondo and Loving Our Lives

white surfboard beside white wall white wooden cube bookshelf inside the room Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

“I just got KonMari-ed!” sings the husband from the Holderness Family’s hilarious parody “Tidying Up: The Musical.” In this video, he jokingly complains about all the changes his wife has made based on an organizational strategy spearheaded by Marie Kondo.

This strategy was launched into the limelight when Netflix released a series called Tidying Up featuring Japanese consultant, Marie Kondo. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which has been out for a few years has been a bestselling hit. Her teaching, much of which is satirized in various memes, focuses on keeping items that “spark joy.” She also explains that organizing should be done by category instead of by room, with sentimental items being organized last.

She has other techniques such as using small boxes to organize drawers and folding clothes in a unique way so that you can see what item of clothing it is. Storage bins, she suggests, should be clear to enable you to see the contents as well.  These strategies are all very helpful in having a clearer and accessible vision of the contents of your house.

She also teaches a sense of appreciation for the house. In her show, she makes a point of kneeling on the floor and greeting the house. In one episode, the couple was brought to tears from this moment, explaining that they hadn’t really considered how grateful they were for their home and the memories it held. In addition, before getting rid of an item, Marie Kondo requests that you thank the item.

A Popular Trend

While many have mocked her approach, it has taken the country by storm. A quick look at Google Trends documents the rising popularity, particularly after the Netflix release. Social media, especially Instagram, shows images of organized closets and drawers of people who have “kondo-ed” their houses.

I myself have been inspired by the simple approach she takes to organization.  I love that the goal is not to remove everything but instead to enjoy the space you live in. While some of her antics seem hokey, her emphasis on appreciating and enjoying what you have is appealing to me. Many of us live in our homes with a sense of shame–too tired or overwhelmed to make it work.  We see our cluttered closets, bursting garages, and jumbled drawers and just feel like failures. We live in our homes, but we are also quietly exasperated with them also.

The physical houses we live in aren’t the only ones we have such mixed feelings about. Many of us have the same sense of shame and discontent with the bodies we live in. We see the many areas that need improvement and are locked in shame–without enjoyment of our bodies and without motivation to improve it.

What can we learn from the Marie Kondo method that can apply to our lives as well?

First, we need to appreciate our home, the body.

Before we come to it with any idea of change, we must come with an idea of acceptance, and yes, gratitude. Just as our homes serves its purpose of providing protection from the elements, our bodies serve its purpose of movement and interaction. We should be grateful for limbs that move and organs that work. We are alive because our bodies are working, however inefficiently we think that might be. Just stop and remember all the millions of processes going on in your body right at that moment just so you can be alive. This makes me immensely grateful for this life and all that has to work together so I might be here.

Second, the goal isn’t to look the same.

What I loved about watching the Netflix series was that people, for the most part, did not change the way their homes looked.  They didn’t update their style or decorating ideas or even replace furniture. They maintained their own sense of self–what had changed was their ability to move within the space more easily. Their home became more accessible, not more trendy. They were able to be more in sync with the home they had already created.

We don’t need to achieve some ideal body image in order to love our bodies.  We did not get to choose our bodies like we got to choose our houses, but we can learn to appreciate what it has to offer. What is special about your body? What does it do well?

Perhaps we can learn to look at ourselves and others, not in comparison to some impossible ideal, but in appreciation of its unique contribution. Our goals for self-improvement could be for ease in movement, instead of to conform to a shape that might be popular for the moment. Being healthy and feeling good should trump being a specific size or feeling attractive.

Finally, be empowered to improve your life even when you cannot change it.

I think it’s important to have a healthy idea of what we can accomplish in our lives. We love the messages of nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, but we all know this really isn’t true. We can always, always improve, but we cannot always change. I cannot change the fact that math is difficult for me. I can improve my math skills though.

What makes Marie Kondo’s method so effective is the sense that we can all do these small things to improve our lives. Even those of us who are organization-challenged can look at her goals and find them doable. No one is perfect, and she even admits that she herself has areas in her house that get cluttered.  

We must offer ourselves some grace with who we are. This is the body that God has chosen for you. The body’s purpose is not to bring us everlasting joy or security or a sense of value. The fact that there are limitations on our bodies is a reminder that we are ultimately not in control.

I can and should try to enjoy my body, my home, and my life, but I also know that this is not all there is.  My hope is not in my ability to pull it all together since there are many things that are impossible for me. My hope, instead,  is in the fact that nothing is impossible for God. While I have limited control over my life, there is nothing He cannot do. God, and God alone, is the worker of true transformation of both body and soul.

I will continue improving my small part of the world while expressing gratitude for the many resources that are available to me. However, I know that my goal is not to make this life perfect. Instead, I put my faith in the One who is perfect and learn to walk in this life that has been gifted to me. In this way, we can all live lives that “spark joy” for us and others.

Faith in A Plan

One of my favorite type of books is the one where the main character has a plan and the audience is left out of it.  We observe, like the other characters, the preparation, and execution of a plan that looks ridiculous. Some even look doomed to failure. Then, at the last moment, a final piece falls together and everything is resolved. The great plan is revealed and the audience is stunned.  There are many examples of this in films like Now You See Me and The Illusionist.  My favorite literary example though is Sherlock Holmes.

Over several stories, we come to trust in Sherlock’s amazing analytical skills. Instead of watching things unravel with fear or concern, we are excited to see how he will pull all the details together, knowing that it is basically impossible for him to fail.

I wonder if this is how it was for the disciples as they watched Jesus do his work. I’m sure his actions seemed bizarre at times. He seemed to wander around with an agenda no one else could recognize. He didn’t even heal people the same way every time–sometimes a word, sometimes they would have to do something, sometimes he made mud and covered their eyes, and so on. Any time they felt they had him pegged, he would do something surprising.

The worst surprise of all was his arrest and crucifixion.  Though Jesus warned them, this did not seem to make sense at all. They were broken and lost–Jesus (or their idea of him) had completely failed them.

Perhaps you feel the same way. Maybe you thought you understood how God worked, but then he did something surprising or allowed something painful to happen or continue. Suddenly, when you thought you were in the know, you realize you don’t actually know what is going on. You feel betrayed by the One you were following so diligently.

I know I have. Surprisingly I thought that if I played my part well, then God would play His. I prided myself on being one of those who “understood” God–who knew how to please him. I did not see that, in reality, my obedience was my way of trying to control God. And God will not be controlled.

When my father died without making a choice for God, my world was shattered. I had prayed, I had shared the gospel, I had done my part and it seemed God did not do his. My father had a heart attack–his final reaction was fear and swearing. He died in the ambulance next to strangers. I don’t have words to explain how much this tears my heart apart. Since the moment I became a Christian as a teenager, I had envisioned what it would be like when my Dad became a believer. But it did not go as planned. I spent months wrestling with God about the possible culmination of one of my worst fears.

At the end of it, I decided to trust that no matter what God is good. I decided to believe that even though it seems God did not care, that He loves my father more than I do. I am choosing to believe that there are things going on that I can’t see.

This speaks to me in the various random things that occur that seem nonsensical. Philosophers argue that chance rules the universe–there is no meaning in the chaos. This is where we can speak our anthem of faith. We trust that somehow all these random events (like the unraveling of even negative events in the movies and books we love) somehow will work together in the end for an ending we couldn’t imagine.

This means we must release our normal, God-given need for resolution for every situation. There will be times when we cannot make sense of things. As Christians, a  large part of our message is about how God can turn things around. Our Christian movies like Facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead have decidedly happy endings for Christians.  However, we know this is not always how things work.  Movies and books like Shusaku Endo’s Silence accurately depict the challenges believers face when there seems to be no point to the suffering, and God seems silent.

Scripture beautifully shows us both–the rejoicing in seeing things amazingly resolved and the lament when we do not. Hebrews 11 reminds us that faith is celebrated when people choose to believe, no matter what the results are.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection.

[Notice the switch here]

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (vs 32-40)

This second grouping of stories tells of people who “did not receive what is promised.” They did not give up faith though and the author of Hebrews lets us know that God has a plan. Our job is to trust His plan.  We are allowed to lament (the psalms demonstrate this without a doubt), but, we must continue to believe. One day, we will get to see the end of the story and what a surprise ending it will be! I have a feeling, it will be one that we will be glad we did not miss!

Grumpy Old Men and Hallmark Christmas Movies: Exhausted by Change

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When I was a kid, I used to be perplexed by what I considered the stodginess of elderly people. They seemed desperate to maintain their routines, angry even. This type of character is captured comically in Disney’s Up and beautifully in Frederick Bachman’s A Man Called Ove. In both stories, the main character, a man, follows a strict routine every day. Bachman describes Ove :

Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.

After this routine would come his daily inspection of his neighborhood and the general maintenance of his home. He was diligent and hard-working, but he was also bitter. What is introduced initially as a grumpy old man, the likes of which we’ve all encountered, is then slowly revealed to us to be a man who has suffered greatly and who uses the routine to bring comfort into his life. Backman reveals the man he used to be  and why he changed, and we are left loving him instead of hating him. To be sure, like Disney’s Carl, both men have an encounter with love that helps them place their hope in something else, but learning their backstory immediately gives us sympathy for these characters.

Hallmark Christmas Movies Value Tradition

Hallmark Christmas movies also play with the same theme–tradition brings comfort. A base storyline for many Hallmark Christmas movies is a woman or man leaving the city to return to their hometown for Christmas. They are drawn in by the familiar traditions of small-town Christmas and see that this is the answer to the longing they feel within. It is in the familiar routines of home that they find themselves and find peace. I can think of three or four movies already with this theme.

I’ve asked myself why these movies appeal to me–I’m an English teacher after all. I used to make fun of people who watched these movies. Despite this, about two or three years ago, I felt an urge to start watching them, and now I’m hooked. The truth is I was going through a difficult time, and I felt comfort in watching these predictable storylines.

I reveled in beautiful Christmas scenes, a quickly resolved romantic crisis, and the sense of belonging somewhere that the characters experienced. As I age, I see this need articulated more clearly. I look back over my life and see a blur of experience, and I feel bewildered. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than five years, and this rootlessness haunts me. I long, like Ove, who lives in one house for forty years, to know a place. Though Backman is talking metaphorically about a relationship, his comparison haunts me:

Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there,and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.

As I feel my mortality, I need there to be places that I know intimately and where my imprint has been worn into it. My pushback from the realization that I am here so temporarily is to connect. Tradition and routine seem to be an easy way to do this.

Tradition Is An Invitation

Tradition invites me into a history that reaches further back than me and will extend beyond me. Participating in tradition invites me into an inner circle, giving me a connection to those around me. It is also a protection from the excessive change around me.

When I ponder the characters of Ove and Carl, and even many in my Hallmark Christmas movies, they all seek peace in the midst of change. We sympathize with them because we too are victims of the capriciousness of time. I keep waiting to finally “arrive” in my life the way it’s supposed to be, but I am cruelly tricked by the continued change. My body changes, my children change, my job changes–all the while I want to yell for it to stop for a minute, so I can catch my breath.

My response is to dig in and hold on, find a place to nail me down, so I won’t be swept away with the tide. However, we all know this won’t work. My heart cries out for comfort though and promises bitterness if I don’t deliver.

I don’t think this longing for routine is wrong–I think in many ways it is the necessity of life. There are many routines I cannot avoid–I must eat every day, breathe every moment, drink and sleep. The danger comes when I decide what these routines must be in order for me to feel safe.

Only God Provides What We Need

Like Ove and Carl, we all need to release the tight-fisted hold we have on the routines of life in order to allow God to step in and do His redeeming work. Love alone is powerful enough to unclench my fist. I cannot stop the tide that flows ever onward pushing me towards my end; however, I can choose to trust the One who controls the tide. When I realize that there are things and people that are more important than my comfort, I can allow traditions and routine to take their proper place in my life, as a stabilizer but not my foundation.

There is no proper defense against the rush of life, except to lose ourselves in the eternal God. He is the one who goes before us, providing a home that cannot be taken from us (John 14:3). Then, we will be able to fully enjoy the peace Christ offers when He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Our decaying world gives and takes back–with God it is not so. We are growing into his peace and into our new homes that await us. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What Kind of Rescue Is This?

The first Star Wars movie came out the year I was born. Though I never saw these movies in their original releases in the movie theaters, these movies helped define my childhood. I owned the action figures and played with them constantly. When I ventured away to more traditional toys, Star Wars came with me—my Barbie was named Leia and Ken was named Luke. There are too many iconic moments in these films to count, but I always remember Princess Leia’s rescue scene with mirth.

When I imagined a princess, I was not expecting the feisty, gun-toting, smart-mouthed warrior who resists torture to protect her people. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize her would-be rescuers either. When Luke and Hans Solo appear to have no real plan for escape, she mutters, “This is some rescue!” and continues to berate them for their lack of foresight.  Despite her misgivings, they are able to get away though it is a difficult process.

An Unusual Plan

Her words remind me of another rescue plan that seemed absurd.  In this scene, we go back in time to an ancient culture and a people also enslaved by a ruthless master. In our story, however, there is no resistance movement apart from one complicated man with a vision from God. Moses isn’t feisty and armed with wit and weapons like Princess Leia–instead, he is a man who states his own inability to even speak. Nevertheless, he is chosen for the mission of a lifetime–God is rescuing His people,

When Moses comes back to Egypt, he had been gone forty years and the Israelite people had been in bondage over 400 years. Moses had two difficult audiences to win over–a prideful Pharaoh and a beleaguered people with no hope. Initially, with the help of his brother Aaron and God’s miraculous works, the people believed “that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31 ESV). But when Moses and Aaron finally approach Pharoah and make their demands (this time only for three days of worship), Pharoah is angry. He increases the burden of their work by making them gather their own straw while still maintaining the same quota of bricks.

A Costly Plan

When the people of Israel realize this, they are angry at Moses. They say, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21 ESV).  Though they had been initially confident in the rescue, they now saw a death sentence. They probably wondered what kind of rescue resulted in greater hardship. God wasn’t done yet though.

We know from Scripture that it takes ten destructive plagues culminating in the death of the firstborns before Pharaoh is willing to let them go. Within these texts are the ominous lines that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, making the increasingly intense plagues necessary. It is only when Pharaoh himself experiences the decree that was enforced upon the Israelites (the death of their male child) that he is broken enough.

Finally, the Israelites get to experience a moment of triumph–they march out of their prison, taking with them the spoils of the Egyptians who freely offer them. However, this triumph is short-lived as the Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues them. Once again, the Israelites find their rescue plan taking a turn they did not anticipate. Once again, they turn to Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’?” (Exodus 14: 11-12 ESV). Though God miraculously intervenes and they are free to move towards the Promised Land, this will not be the last time they question Moses.

Their rescue did not go the way they wanted.

A Continuing Plan

We can relate, can’t we? It’s easy this side of history to judge the Israelites and to think they were ungrateful, but, in living my own rescue story, I find myself relating to their angry and fearful sides. We want rescues to be dramatic, but we want them to be smooth and pain-free with as little participation in the hard work as possible.

We know from history that rescues are actually horrifically difficult and ugly.  When Allied forces liberated countries under the Nazi regime, the battles were bloody and costly. Even after the war was done, the rebuilding of an entire continent was overwhelming. No, the Israelites story is not unique in its difficulty, but it is unique in the direct supervision of God.

For those of us in the midst of our own incarceration–whether that is addiction, difficult relationships, depression or something else–we might be tempted to ask God what kind of rescue is this.  We know of the work done on the Cross–the war has been won! Yet why is the process of being made whole so difficult? Or why doesn’t God resolve our problems in a different way, one that hurts less? We, like the Israelites, might want to run back to the place of our slavery just to stop the pain.

The Israelites initial imaginations of freedom most likely included a ceasing from the back-breaking labor they were forced to do every day. They probably had no vision for a land all of their own. They couldn’t have foreseen the glory of David and Solomon’s reigns. They had no clue at all about the larger redemptive purpose God had of the seed of the Messiah being birthed from their people. God’s plan was too big for them to comprehend, too beautiful to imagine.

It is the same today. Wherever you are and whatever battle you face, it is a part of a great rescue plan that is still being enacted for the glory of God. It will be hard and confusing and chaotic, but the end result, which we cannot see in full, will be worth much more than our present sufferings could ever equal.  In the meantime, we do not pretend like it doesn’t hurt, but we learn to live within the pain and choose to trust the plan.

C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain notes “when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”  I pray we have all three!

Unwilling Adventurer

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Fear drove me to God. It wasn’t fear of Hell or death since they didn’t seem real to me. I was afraid of life. Success scared me because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, and failure scared me as the true revelation of my lack of abilities. Though I was only 16 years old, fear completely crippled me.

You wouldn’t guess it from looking at me at that time. I was a straight-A student, clean cut and not making too many horrible decisions. Nevertheless, underneath the surface, I lived in agony of messing up.

I see this same fear in this generation.  As a high school English teacher, I have seen a shift in students who can’t wait to get out on their own to students who are scared to take steps of maturity. A large part of this has to do with our online world where everyone sees our mistakes. The solution to this though is to revive the love of adventure.

Bilbo’s Wretched Adventure

There is no better place to begin than with the quintessential tale of an unwilling adventurer —Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo is quite content in his happy little hobbit hole. He has his food and his routine. Then Gandalf, who sees something in Bilbo that Bilbo would never have imagined, chooses Bilbo for an adventure.  This comes in the way of a motley group of dwarves intent on rescuing their treasure from a dragon. To accomplish this, they need a thief. Bilbo is both mesmerized by their tale and appalled. It isn’t until he overhears them speaking disparagingly about him that his pride is offended.  He tries to prove he would actually be a good burglar when Gandalf steps in saying:

“Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.”

The next day, when Bilbo Baggins sets out on his own “wretched adventure”, he is initially immobilized by his lack of creature comforts.


“I’m awfully sorry, “said Bilbo, “but I have come without my hat, and I have left my pocket-handkerchief behind, and I haven’t got any money. I didn’t get your note until after 10:45 to be precise.”

“Don’t be precise,” said Dwalin, “and don’t worry! You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end…”

The Journey that Transforms

The first few days are quite miserable for Bilbo, but it isn’t long into the journey that Bilbo has an opportunity to prove himself. This is just the beginning though.  Bilbo follows what Joseph Campbell has titled the hero’s journey. This archetype is repeated throughout all the best heroic journeys like Star Wars and Harry Potter. It starts with a call into a new world or journey. As the hero progresses, they find a mentor to help guide them and they face challenges that increase in intensity until they face the greatest challenge of all. A unique part of this journey is the stage titled the abyss. Here the hero must face his or her greatest fear. It represents a testing unto death. It is here though that the true work of transformation occurs resulting in a rebirth. The final stage is the return home transformed.

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Bilbo’s greatest challenge (abyss) is surprisingly a moral battle instead of a physical battle–he has to choose what is right even though he knows he will be misunderstood. He goes home a changed hobbit–one no longer afraid of adventures and one more confident in himself.

The Believer’s Journey

We undergo a similar journey as believers. When we choose to follow God, we make a choice to leave our ordinary lives behind. We might, like Bilbo, be unwilling adventurers, afraid of giving up our creature comforts for the rigors of the road, but we too have been marked by one who knows us better than we know ourselves. We can trust that his choices are correct. We will struggle, but we shouldn’t be afraid. Joseph Campbell notes  “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Our points of greatest challenge are the places of greatest change and growth.

Our journey’s purpose isn’t to rescue a literal treasure from a dragon, but we metaphorically rescue the truth of who we are from the guardianship of the original serpent. Like Bilbo, we must find ourselves in the testing. Bilbo could not have been transformed unless he stepped up to each challenge. We too are invited to a similar battle though ours look quite different. We won’t fight giant arachnids, outwit elves and dragons, or rescue our friends from doom. Instead, we confront our own challenges, handpicked to slough off the extraneous and reveal the treasure within.

Choosing to Journey

If Bilbo had refused to go on the journey, the story would have been completely different. He himself would have remained unchanged, but the lives of those whom he saved would have suffered as a result of his absence. He had a part to play that no one else could play and one that ultimately led to the downfall of Sauron himself. All this depended on his being willing.

Those of us willing to let the journey do its work will have the adventure we were destined for. We must ignore the fear and choose to trust God who has planned it all.  If we do, we also will arrive in our true home, transformed and ready for eternity.