HTCI Interview Part 3

Here's another entry from my recent interview with blogger Kristina Seleshanko, who has been implementing the HTCI system in her home and blogging about it online at Proverbs 31 Woman.


What words of encouragement and advice would you give to moms (like me!) who look around the house and are completely overwhelmed by the idea of getting it in order?

Mindy: (A caveat: I’m going to answer this and the following questions with the assumption that most of Kristina's readers are married, with kids, and are the primary caretaker of the children. My apologies in advance to two-career couples, single moms, house-husbands, etc. No offense is intended, it’s just easier to write with this assumption rather than trying to cover all of the bases.)

Okay, in answer to this question, allow me to rant for a moment…

First of all, take a deep breath, throw your guilt out of the window, and give yourself a big hug. No one knows how hard it is to be home with kids except those who have been there. The world puts so many expectations on young mothers these days, it’s just absurd: Mother your children AND get those kids into numerous activities so they will be well-rounded AND try to develop a side income/part time job to help with the family finances AND be an attractive, loving partner/sex goddess for your husband AND be sure to keep yourself up on current events AND make sure you eat healthfully and do regular workouts AND do your part volunteering at the church and school AND keep your home clean at all times AND make sure it’s decorated like in a magazine AND on and on.) The problem is that we always leave out one of the “ands”: AND do this all by yourself with no outside help whatsoever because your extended family lives far away and your neighbors all have full time jobs outside of the home and your spouse hasn’t got a clue how much time all of this stuff takes. In other words, are you kidding me? Somehow, we’ve kept all of the expectations that we used to have for young mothers back when there were support systems to help make that possible, and to all of those we’ve added tons more new expectations. The justification? Well, nowadays we have things like microwave ovens and automatic washers and dryers, so all of this household stuff should be faster and easier, right?

Wrong. For every new invention or development that was meant to help streamline our lives, I contend that man has done something to “compensate” so that the streamlining gets completely negated. For example:

- Microwaves allow us to cook faster, yes, but now there is an expectation that we should be able to whip up healthy meals night after night in record time without much effort or planning or hard work. Good grief. Microwave or not, feeding our families well is a huge, time-consuming undertaking that should never be underestimated.

- Washing and drying a load of laundry takes far less time for us than it ever did for our grandmothers. But guess what? We own about 10 or even 20 times more clothes than they did, because of our busy lives and various activities, we change those clothes far more often, and there are zillions of different fabrics and fabric-cleaning products for us to deal with. No wonder laundry still sucks up as much time as it ever did! We may do it faster, but we also have to do it far more often and with a greater variety of products/temperatures/handling.

- Caring for the lawn with a riding mower and a weed eater is far faster and easier than the way grandpa had to do it with his antiquated lawn tools. But guess what? Keeping our lawns tidy is no longer enough, especially now that we live in the suburbs. These days, we also have to weed, chip, shred, mulch, landscape, and more. Better garden as well, and make sure it’s organic. How about compost, are you doing your part to save the earth? For every advance in machinery, we heap on another load of expectations!

- In my mother’s day, many housewives didn’t have a car. Nowadays, of course, car-less-ness would be a rarity, which should make our lives easier and more convenient, saving us lots of time. But guess what? With readily-available transportation, we are now expected to ferry our kids and ourselves hither and yon, taking lessons, joining teams, volunteering, handling obligations, etc., all of which eats away at our time in humongous ways. Having our own cars hasn’t saved anything at all but has, instead, robbed us of much.

I could keep going, but you get my drift. The more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same—or even gotten worse—and yet somehow our mindsets have completely bought into all of these new myths.

So my primary word of encouragement is this: Recognize the myths that pervade in your household—in your own mind and in your husband’s—and claim them for the lies they are. Toss those myths, then toss the guilt as well. Your job is incredibly hard, especially in this day and age.

Next, embrace this truth: If your house has fallen apart, then you probably aren’t gifted at housekeeping. Some people can’t sing, some can’t dance, it just so happens that you can’t keep a house clean. You may know how to clean, you may be able to whip that place into shape like nobody’s business when you have to, but if it isn’t consistently clean then this is simply a talent that you lack. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s simply a fact, one that you need to acknowledge and accept if you’re going to move on and find other ways around the problem of a messy house. If your house has gotten the better of you, it’s not going to be fixed by wanting it more or trying harder. You’ve already done both for a long, long time. Instead, you need to do something completely different. You need a revolutionary approach.

Once you accept that fact, then what? I contend that you begin to get things under control by committing to these two statements:

- My single most important job is to love and respect my husband and be his helpmate, support system, encourager, and best friend.

- My second most important job is to be Christ to my children, keeping them safe and healthy and loved, and teaching and living in such a way that they see Him in me.

If you agree with the above, then every single decision you make about how and where you spend your time and effort on your home should be based on these two statements. Do you see “scrub toilets daily” anywhere in there? I don’t! If I look at these two truths and consider how they might relate to housekeeping in my home, here’s what I see:

1. I should talk to my husband about the various messes around here, find out which parts bother him the most, and focus on keeping those under control, simply as a demonstration of my love for him. I should also learn which little acts of cleaning please him the most/relieve stress for him the most, and try to do those whenever I can. In turn, to preserve my peace and sanity, I need to help him understand how very hard my job is, where my priorities as a wife and mother lie, and how he can better pitch in to help me keep things under control.

2. I should keep housekeeping in its proper perspective with regards to my children, remembering that kids need to live in a neat and orderly home that functions well, but that there are many other housekeeping chores that don’t fall under that umbrella that should probably be put aside for now. There will be time for alphabetizing the spices when they are grown and gone; right now, it is far more important that I aim most days for a minimum standard. That means my kids need to know that:

a. they can trust me to have a system that keeps me from losing important papers they bring home from school or groups

b. they will always have a neat, well-lit, comfortable place to do homework

c. there is a logical place to put the items they bring in and out of the house on a regular basis, such as backpacks, sporting equipment, etc.

d. when friends come over the house is clean ENOUGH that they don’t feel embarrassed by it.

Anything else beyond this standard is probably more than is needed at this stage of life.

3. I should allow myself to do the chores that please me and give me a sense of peace and control, but I need to think seriously about this and define exactly what those chores are and how much time I should be spending on them. Again, life comes in phases, and when there are small kids at home that’s by its very nature going to be a messier phase. Thus, I will define the chores that are most important to me, weed out all but a few, and not in any way feel guilty about the ones that get put aside for another phase when time isn’t at such a premium.

How does the above look when put into practice? It’s really a matter of choices. For example…

With regards to my husband:

- If his pet peeve is to see a sink filled with dirty dishes, then I’ll choose loading the dishwasher (his preference) over sweeping the front walk (a chore I might do instead just because the broom was handy and I had a minute). If he wants a spot near the door where he can dump his things when he comes in and they won’t be disturbed, I’ll suggest that we rearrange the furniture so that he has a cabinet where he wants it, and I’ll make it a hard and fast rule with the kids that they don’t touch Daddy’s cabinet, ever. If he just wants to know that there will always be a clean t-shirt in his drawer when he gets dressed each morning, I’ll make the laundry choices that help that to happen—and if it’s too much trouble to do laundry that often I’ll go out and buy him more t-shirts so that I only have to worry about it once every few weeks!

With regards to my kids:

- I will make decisions about how I spend my housekeeping time based on the goal of having a home that is primarily neat and functional for their lives and mine, rather than one that looks impressive to the neighbors or could pass my mother-in-law’s white glove test. That means making sure that the homework area is kept clean and organized and inviting, even if I’d rather spend that time dusting the knick knacks and organizing the gift wrap. It means that I need to tackle the household paper issue once and for all so that I never lose an important note from the school again—even if that means I have to skip my big spring cleaning this year. It means that when it comes time for a new couch, I’ll choose the one with the pattern that best hides dirt and stains, even if I’d prefer one that’s light and monochromatic but would show every spot.

With regards to myself:

For my own mental health, I’ll continue to do those household chores that I need done to keep me sane, even if my hubby or kids could care less. (Personally, how my family isn’t bothered by globs of food and puddles of water on the kitchen countertops is beyond me; if I didn’t wipe the counters clean at least once a day I’d go nuts.) But I won’t just jump in on autopilot and think I need to do all of those tasks that I’ve been told I “ought” to do. Says who? The only ought in my life when I have kids at home is that I ought to make sure our home is functional for my husband, my children, and myself, and that it is clean enough that it feels like a peaceful, pleasant place to be. Everything else is beside the point.

Okay, so this all sounds good in theory, but what should you do if you’ve already let things go too far? If your family is languishing amid disastrous mess and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get a handle on it, then it’s time to take drastic action. More than anyone, you need a House That Cleans Itself! Finding time to make that happen isn’t easy, but it’s worth it in the long run. Consider going into a sort of “hibernation” for a while, dropping outside responsibilities and extracurricular activities so that you can focus on getting your home back on track. OR maybe it’s time to put out a call for help. Give the book to a non-judgmental friend and ask if they would read it and then help guide you through the system, give you some accountability, and lovingly aid you as you problem-solve your way out of the disaster.

Perhaps it’s time to make some other changes as well, such as asking your spouse to carry more of the load, requiring more from your children, speaking to your doctor about any medical issues you may suspect that you have (depression, anemia, ADD, and many other conditions can contribute significantly to household mess), hiring someone to provide occasional cleaning help or child care, trading off with a friend, having a dumpster put in the front yard, or whatever else it takes to get your home under control.

Remember: Structure. Function. Peace. As a mom, these need to be your priorities and goals, not shiny granite or a sparkling oven or well-trimmed shrubbery. Those can wait until the kids are older. For now, your efforts should be all about creating structure, preserving function, and providing a sense of peace. As the kids grow, the specifics of how that’s done may change, but the goals should remain the same. For example, a toddler could care less about that giant pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded, but a preteen would rather die than have her friends see a pile of her father’s tighty whities on the living room couch.

You know, being a good parent means that in many ways we must become selfless, and housekeeping is no exception. There are only so many hours in a day, so as a parent your job is to give highest priority to the chores that have the greatest impact on your family’s functionality and mental health. Everything else should be put at the bottom of the list—perhaps even delegated, postponed, or eliminated entirely.

Trust me, speaking as an empty-nester, the day will come much sooner than you think when there’s no one around to make those terrible messes except you and your spouse. So for now, while they’re still with you, throw out the “perfect” home that lives only in your imagination, focus on creating function and peace around you instead, and tell yourself that once the youngest heads off to college THEN you can be the housekeeper of your dreams. Hopefully, by then you’ll have learned that you’re never going to change but that it doesn’t matter because your house is now cleaning itself.



Well, I hope you enjoyed my loooong essay about New Year's Resolutions! Sorry it had to show up in so many pieces, but hopefully that made it easier to read overall.

Starting next week, I'll be returning to the two threads I was posting about before the holidays, alternating each week between
- posts showing the rest of a recent online interview I did
- posts about traveling the HTCI way.

I hope you find both subjects interesting.

For today, I thought you might enjoy this cool picture I took last week, up in the Poconos. I was looking out of the window at a small frozen lake and spotted a family doing something very unusual with their boat.

What does this have to do with a House That Cleans Itself? It may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I'm posting it here as incentive. One of the biggest reasons you need to finish turning your house into a House That Cleans Itself--if you haven't already--is so that you are more free to go out and do fun things with your spouse and kids! Has your household mess every prevented you from joining in with their play? If so, take a lesson from this group here:

Not sure I'd be out there with them, given the choice, but you have to admire the spirit of fun in which they're doing it.

See you next week!


The Resolution Revolution, Part 14


No! Of course not! The power of the Almighty God is so much bigger and stronger than anything you and I could ever possibly conceive. He deserves one hundred percent of ourselves, surrendered fully to Him.

Yes, do continue to seek change, but do it the right way this time, through accountability, wise counsel, support groups, and other proven methods of change. Yes, try to find and implement work-arounds for all of the issues that steal your energies, your time, and your sanity. But throughout the process, keep your focus exactly where it belongs, not on yourself and the mess you have made of your life but on God and how much He loves you and wants to use you for His purposes and His glory.

We all have shortcomings, but the good news is that He loves us anyway. He loves us so much that He sent His son to the cross to die for us! Decide now to put Him on the throne of your life, not the sidelines. Decide now that even if you never change another thing about yourself, at least you will change any of the ways you have allowed your heart to harden toward Him. Surrender to God! Open yourself to His leading! Allow Him to be the very Lord of your life! In the end, these are the only actions that will ever really matter.

As the Apostle Paul puts it in the book of Romans, set your focus where it belongs—not on yourself and your flaws but on Christ Jesus Himself and His Spirit which lives within you. Then the peace of the Spirit will fill your heart and guide your life, bringing you into a deeper, far more fulfilling relationship with God.

Along the way, my prayer for you, as it continues to be for myself, is that He would grant you…

the serenity to accept the things about yourself that you’ll never be able to change,

the courage and the tools to change the things you can,

and the wisdom to understand the difference.

Let this be the year you decide to toss the resolutions entirely and instead focus on Him and His plan for you. Remember: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?"

May God bless you as you ask Him that very question and then see exactly what He has in store for you!


The Resolution Revolution, Part 13


So there you have it, Mindy’s list of Six Reasons Why I Think New Years Resolutions Are a Bad Idea:

1. In my opinion, many resolutions are actually counter-productive when it comes to affecting true and lasting change.

2. By stubbornly insisting that change can be wrought through sheer force of will, we may miss other ways that our problems can or should be solved.

3. Unrealistic New Years Resolutions set us up for failure, which in turn can be so demoralizing that we actually end up even worse off than we were before.

4. New Years Resolutions can feed perfectionist and all-or-nothing tendencies, two common traits that actually cause more problems than they solve.

5. Making New Years Resolutions leads us to believe that substantial changes can be maintained in a vacuum, without any other added supports or structures to keep those changes in place.

6. New Years Resolutions can be an excuse to wear rose colored glasses.

I hope that this series of posts has resonated for you, or that at the very least it has become a springboard for your own thoughts on the subject. More importantly, I hope that you have found yourself encouraged rather than discouraged by what you’ve read here.

The topic of change is a difficult one to write about because it can feel so overwhelming and frustrating. Be that as it may, the truth is that changing our basic natures can be difficult and, in many ways, impossible. We are who we are, despite our best desires or intentions or resolutions.

So where is the hope? Are we doomed to spend the rest of our years failing at misguided resolutions, suffering from a lack of self discipline, drowning in clutter, neglecting our health, and more? Will our spiritual growth forever hinge on some little to-do lists where we check off our biblical obligations alongside our other tasks and errands?



The Resolution Revolution, Part 12


6. New Years Resolutions can be an excuse to wear rose colored glasses.

Think about it: The moment you “resolve” to change something, you already feel better, right? You already breathe a little deeper knowing you’ve taken the first step down the road toward your goal.

Never mind that you may never actually implement it. Never mind that even if you do give it a shot you’re going to peter out after a few weeks or even a few days. By making a resolution, you took that first step, right? You made a resolution about it, therefore you’re well on your way. You practically carved your goal in stone, thus it’s a given that you’re going to reach it. You verbalized an intention, which is tantamount to success itself.

Sounds wacky, but our minds really can work this way. Unfortunately, sometimes the most we ever get from a resolution is the feeling of accomplishment that surges inside of us as we are first making it. We allow ourselves to be carried along by that feeling until eventually it’s faded and forgotten, our situation completely unchanged.

I’m not the pot calling the kettle black here, not by any means. I’ve done this myself time and again, not just with resolutions but also with trips to the bookstore and the library. “I bought a great book about dieting,” I tell myself, “so that means I’ll be skinny real soon!” Or, “I found a wonderful guide to housecleaning! Once I finish reading it, the hard part will be over and all I’ll have to do is implement it.”

If only it were that easy!

Do you use New Years Resolutions this way, for the temporary high of verbalizing your best intentions? If so, I urge you to rethink this strategy and consider how destructive it can be in the long run. Look back over my full list of reasons why I think New Years Resolutions are a bad idea—and see how many of them are made even worse with this rose-colored-glasses syndrome. Then stop making promises you have no intention of keeping, even if that means forgoing the temporary thrill of stating your goal and raising a glass while others cry, “I’ll drink to that!”



The Resolution Revolution, Part 11


5. Making New Years Resolutions leads us to believe that substantial changes can be maintained in a vacuum, without any other added supports or structures to keep those changes in place.

I see this problem in action at my local gym, year after year after year. Most of the time—especially in November and December—my gym is a quiet, pleasant place to be. There’s always room to work out, grab a shower, swim in the pool, etc. But then, come January, everything changes: The place suddenly gets so packed with people that I can barely lift a 5-pound weight without banging someone in the head. It’s hardly worth going, especially when I find myself waiting in line for everything from the pool to the treadmills to the showers. Even the big parking lot is often at capacity! What’s going on here?

Why, that’s just a bunch of New Years Resolutions in Action, of course, a veritable army of the well-intentioned come to work off excess pounds, firm abs, strengthen cardiovascular systems, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course; we all have to start somewhere. The problem is that fully half of these people who show up in January will have stopped coming by February; the rest will make it to somewhere around early March and then drop out as well.

You see, sheer force of will can only carry you so far, especially if you’re trying to create healthy new habits.

So what’s an exerciser to do if he or she really does want to stick with those workouts year round? Give yourself some great big safeguards, such as a workout buddy, a personal trainer, and an accountability partner. (Again, I refer you to Henry Cloud’s fabulous lecture on “Changing What Never Seems to Change,” which deals with the subject in depth.)

Most of all, don’t tie in your new fitness program with some lofty set of New Year’s Resolutions! Everybody knows that resolutions fade and intentions wither. We all get busy. Life takes over. No biggie, right?

Wrong! If you want to make a big change and stick with it, don’t count on the momentum of the New Year to make it happen. Instead, follow the proven steps of lasting change, something most resolutions tend to ignore.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 10


4. New Years Resolutions can feed perfectionist and all-or-nothing tendencies, two common traits of the housekeeping-impaired.

Part of my own problems with housekeeping, which I talk about in the book at length, stem from my lifelong tendencies toward both. Here’s how the perfectionist/all-or-nothing mindset works, whether we realize it consciously or not. We think:
If I can’t keep the house spotless, I won’t bother to clean it at all.
If I can’t keep the dishes in the china cabinet from getting dusty, I won’t even bother to pick up the socks off the bedroom floor.
If I can’t afford to fix the stained grout around the sink, I won’t even take the time to swish cleanser around in the toilet.
If I don’t have time to get this place in order from top to bottom, I’m not even going to start.

Sounds crazy, yes, but those are the mind tricks we perfectionists and all-or-nothingers play on ourselves. With a little perspective, we can see how silly we are, yet we persist. And a handful of well-intentioned resolutions can only make things worse by feeding into these tendencies.

Think about your own resolutions. Have they been too big? Too unrealistic? Too ambitious given your past record? For example, in each pair of resolutions below, which would you be more likely to say:

1. a. “I resolve to get this house clean and keep it that way!” OR b. “I resolve to try and pick up dirty socks more often when I notice them.”

2. a. “I resolve to feed my family only healthy food from now on, including all meals and snacks!” OR b. “I resolve to try and spend more time in Produce than in Processed Foods when I go food shopping.”

3. a. “I resolve to lose 50 pounds!” OR b. “I resolve to take the stairs instead of the escalator whenever there’s a choice of both.”

If you’re a perfectionist or an all-or-nothinger, you probably chose all “a’s”. And yet the more realistic, do-able, practical, likely-to-succeed choices are the “b’s.”

If you are a perfectionist, keep this in mind: You’ll make great strides toward keeping your home a cleaner, neater place once you surrender your goal of “cleaned to perfection” and strive instead for “clean enough.” I promise, it’s true!

And if you are an all-or-nothinger, remember this: True success comes not from some giant, fabulous kaboom, but instead from a long, steady series of smaller, less noticeable actions. Don’t let any lofty, exciting, ambitious resolutions lead you into believing otherwise.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 9


3. Unrealistic New Years Resolutions set us up for failure, which in turn can be so demoralizing that we actually end up even worse off than we were before.

How many times can a person try and fail at something before finally giving up all together? If every unrealistic resolution sets us up for yet another failure, then by going through the same motions every year we’re only piling up the failures that will lead to our inevitable surrender. And we all know what something looks like once we’ve surrendered.

Haven’t given up yet? Don’t be so sure. If your house is a mess despite annual resolutions to the contrary coupled with year after year of good intentions, the truth is that some part of you may have given up a long time ago, whether you realized it or not. Call it “resolution rebound.” Demoralized by previous failures, you continue to pay lip service to the idea of a clean home, but in reality you no longer even bother to try.

Sure, maybe you tell yourself it’s all just temporary, that you’ve given yourself a free pass but only until your youngest starts to school or you move into a bigger house or whatever other convenient excuse happens. (We housekeeping-impaired will do anything to keep from having to face the full evidences of our own failures!)

Trust me, I speak from experience. I’ve been there myself. Until I discovered how to have a House That Cleans Itself, my life was a sad series of resolve, attempt, failure, disappointment, defeat, and excuse, year after year after year. Some years, just making the resolutions themselves was so exhausting that I’d never even get around to actual implementation.

If your resolutions inevitably fail, it’s time to stop making them in the first place, less you make things even worse in the long run!



The Resolution Revolution, Part 8


2. By stubbornly insisting that change can be wrought through sheer force of will, we may miss other ways that our problems can or should be solved.

As you probably know, one of the first steps in my book, The House That Cleans Itself , is for you to admit that if you struggle in this area, you are probably never going to change your behaviors and thus must change your house instead. Implementing the HTCI plan really does eliminate mess and clutter and allow you to keep the place continually clean with so much less effort that sometimes it almost feels as if the house is cleaning itself. (Hence the title.) So which would you rather have: even more years of good intentions, failed resolutions, and continued mess, or a house that stays pretty clean much of the time? My vote is for the latter, of course.

Here’s another example to support this reason for why I'm against New Years Resolutions. “Catherine” was a smart girl who was a B and C student for most of her life despite hard work and very good intentions. Known to her friends as a major airhead, Catherine was forever bringing in her homework late, finishing huge assignments then forgetting to turn them in at all, showing up for class and learning to her surprise that she had a test that day, and so on. Because she wasn’t hyperactive and presented no behavior problems, Catherine had never been evaluated for learning disabilities or neurological disorders.

Her parents began to suspect that something more than mere forgetfulness was going on, however, so they pursued testing for their daughter. In the end, Catherine was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder/Inattentive Type. (The same kind I have.) They decided to try medication, and though it took some time to find the right drug and dosage, to say that her diagnosis and subsequent treatment changed her life is a gross understatement. These days, Catherine’s parents cannot believe that their competent, organized, efficient daughter is the same absentminded, foggy, airheaded girl from before. They love to share this shocking fact: She started taking the correct medication at the beginning of the 11th grade, and her grades grew so consistently high that she has made the Honor Roll (in high school) and the Dean’s List (in college) every single semester since. Now a junior in college, she continues to make almost all A’s every semester while holding down a full class schedule and a part time job as well. If her parents hadn’t looked beyond the need for mere self-discipline and willpower to solve her problems, Catherine’s story would no doubt have unfolded quite differently.

Had Catherine or her parents looked only to “doing better” and “trying harder”, they would have missed the bigger issue here, not to mention its solution.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 7


So, why am I against New Years Resolutions? I’ll give you six reasons.

1. In my opinion, many resolutions are actually counter-productive when it comes to affecting true and lasting change.

Resolutions can lead us to believe that all we really need in order to make substantial changes in our lives are willpower and determination. In many cases, this simply isn’t true, nor is it even possible.

When we have problems that stem from a general lack of self discipline and willpower, the prevailing belief is that we just need to try harder or dig deeper and eventually we’ll succeed. Year after year, we make resolutions about this very thing, certain that through sheer force of will things might finally be different, that this year somehow we will find it within ourselves to do the very thing we’ve never been able to do before.

Unfortunately, this belief that “if we dig deep enough we’ll find it” is inherently flawed; such a search is almost always futile. The real truth is that if you lack self-discipline, you are never going to be able to dredge it up from within, no matter how badly you want it to be there. You may desire desperately to change, you may try valiantly to change, but if you have no self discipline inside of you in the first place, you can’t make it happen through sheer force of will.

That doesn’t mean you need to give up hope. A certain amount of discipline and willpower can be learned. The process happens not by dredging it up from within but rather by bringing it into ourselves from the outside—through accountability, structure, and more. Slowly, as we subject ourselves to this process of growth and change, we learn to integrate externally-imposed limits until we are able to implement internally-imposed limits as well.

This sounds confusing, but renowned author and psychologist Henry Cloud explains it fully in his book Changes That Heal , which I highly recommend. Even better is a related talk he gives called “Changing What Never Seems to Change.” Click here to see how you can hear it. This one talk is worth its weight in gold, but you can get it for just $10 on CD. (I don’t make anything from this, I just really love this talk and highly recommend it!)

If your resolutions, like mine, haven’t been much more than echoes of previous years, you need to hear what Dr. Cloud has to say on the topic of change!



The Resolution Revolution, Part 6


After meditating on these passages, I began to gain a whole new perspective about my past failures. First, I understood that my natural inclinations were likely never going to go away, that my behaviors (or sin nature) would always be in conflict with my intentions (my Spirit-led nature). No matter how many New Years Resolutions I made, no matter how hard I tried, these tendencies were more than likely not going to disappear—barring some superempirical occurance, of course, which could happen but wasn’t likely to.

Next, I understood that if I focused on the Holy Spirit and allowed Him to lead me regardless, I was going to be filled with peace. Letting the Spirit lead would bring me out from under a dark cloud and able to embrace a life “spacious and free”—no matter what my immediate surroundings looked like or whether or not I had managed to conquer all of my faults and challenges.

Then, I had to quit thinking I could handle these things by myself, to stop obsessing on them year after failed year. Instead, I was to turn my eyes heavenward, toward God and wherever He wanted me to go. As I did that, the Spirit would provide me with encouragement and strength, Christ’s love would flow into me (and through me to others), and He would even bring good from my flaws and sufferings.

Finally, I understood what had been tripping me up all along. By thinking that with the help of a few good resolutions I could change my very nature, I had actually been denying God’s truth, ignoring the Spirit within me, and allowing myself and my family to flounder in that dead-ended place of what Paul called self-focused obsession.

Deeply humbled, I made a renewed commitment to God, inviting His Spirit to fill me, lead me, intercede for me, comfort me, change me, and more. Barring some superempirical transformation, I knew that my various shortcomings would continue to be a challenge for me. But because I could finally see those shortcomings for exactly what they were—evidence of the sin nature that Christ Himself conquered on the cross—I was able to adjust my priorities and my focus, allowing the Spirit to move to the forefront of my life. If He really did have things for me to do and places for me to go, I wanted to be ready, whether my closets were a mess or not!

Given the choice, of course, I would’ve loved to have been delivered immediately from my whole list of shortcomings. This didn’t happen, but at least I was no longer so arrogant as to think such a deliverance could be achieved outside the realm of God’s power, that it was something that I could accomplish purely through my own efforts and determination. True, I still might someday be granted complete deliverance. But until then, I knew that the sooner I admitted to myself that this was who I was and likely always would be at my very core, the sooner I would get on with God’s work rather than my own.

That didn’t mean, however, that from there on out I could simply ignore these persistent issues of a messy home, mismanaged time, or poor health, etc. Those issues were having such an impact on my day-to-day existence that they still needed to be faced somehow. But now that I knew I wasn’t going to “fix” them simply by trying harder, I realized that an entirely new problem-solving mindset was required. Thus, I asked myself these two key questions:

• Are there any work-arounds to these issues that would allow me to change the situations even if I can’t change myself?

• Is there a way—through fervent prayer, the expertise of others, counseling, etc.—to bring about at least some change within myself in these areas after all?

To my very core, I felt like the answer to both questions was yes. Thus, finally, I started down an entirely new path, one of seeking out “work-arounds” for my various issues while also enlisting some real expertise to see what of my own nature could be changed. Through it all, I kept at the forefront of my mind the big picture truths I had learned about all of this: God loved me regardless! Jesus died for me regardless! The Spirit was ready to use me now—regardless! Everything else was beside the point. As a Christian, I had no right to postpone His work until I had my life in perfect order, which was something that was never going to happen anyway.

And so, with the Spirit fully front and center of my life for the first time in a long time, I embarked on a dual journey of practical problem-solving and personal transformation. For the problem-solving part of my journey, I first stripped out all emotion—frustration, embarrassment, dejection, etc.—from the issues and tried to look at them dispassionately instead. I did a lot of thinking, sketching, planning, almost like a builder faced with a very difficult plot of land who figures out how to build there anyway. Soon, I realized that I was also kind of like a detective, studying clues and examining evidence in my search for the truth.

The personal transformation side of things was much more difficult but also incredibly eye-opening. I began by seeking out wise counsel, including that of my pastor, my doctor, my friends, my family, and especially my husband, who is one of the wisest and most compassionate men I have ever known. I attended a life-changing conference (Lose it for Life, which you can learn about here), worked with a therapist to overcome a lifetime of misconceptions and bad thought patterns, joined Celebrate Recovery for help in dealing with my food addiction, joined a gym, read and implemented some excellent books such as Changes That Heal and Seven Keys to Spiritual Renewal, secured a medical diagnosis and subsequent treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder, and so on.

On this journey, I learned a whole lot about individual natures, good and bad habits, self discipline, spiritual maturity, weight loss, metabolism, housekeeping, personal impairments, transformation, sanctification, and much more. I did change in some substantial ways, yes, both inside and out, including taking off a good bit of weight and incorporating some very healthy habits that I have maintained to this day. I also figured out some great work-arounds for some of my biggest problems, especially my messy house. By accepting that my behaviors were never going to change in that area, I realized that I would need to change my house instead—thus the House That Cleans Itself system was born.

Time and again throughout this process, I realized that I was a living, breathing example of the Serenity Prayer: accepting the things that I couldn’t change about myself, changing the things I could, and learning to recognize the difference.

In the end, I came to understand that had I not gone through this process and found various ways to fix the issues that dominated my life, I would have spent the rest of my years drowning in my own good intentions, my lack of self discipline, and my mountains of clutter, lost opportunities, and neglected health. Worst of all, the Spirit would have remained pushed off to one side, called on for occasional help but otherwise relegated to yet another undone to-do list of good intentions.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 5


When God lives and breathes in you…you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

Oh, how I want to be delivered!

So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

How much time I have wasted because of the mess, the clutter, the disorganization, the ill health, and more! Even if those things can’t be completely eliminated from my life, as long as I make the decision to be led by the Spirit, I will be able to give those bad tendencies “a decent burial,” so to speak, and get on with what’s really important, following as God’s Spirit beckons.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?"

Yes! What is next for me, Lord?

God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.

And who I really am has nothing to do with trying to have a house—or a body or a schedule, for that matter—that looks like something that came from the pages of a magazine. All that stuff is so very much beside the point!

The moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

My prayers don’t need to be perfect, I don’t have to articulate every single need just so. When I grow weary, God instead can hear my sighs and my groans—lifting me up and helping me along whether I’ve asked Him “correctly” or not!

He knows us far better than we know ourselves…and keeps us present before God.

He knows how awful I am at housekeeping, at time management, at self discipline, yet He intercedes with God on my behalf anyway. Wow!

That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Something good? Can these lifelong struggles of mine actually be turned to something good? How amazing that would be!

With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?

Not only is God willing to help me, He will do so gladly and freely!

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.

To that I would add …not mess, not disorganization, not poor food choices, not lack of exercise, not bad time management, and so on, as these things also seem to drive a wedge between God and me. But while they may make things cloudy on my end, they will never stop Him from pouring out His love on me! Whether I ever fully master my specific shortcomings in this lifetime or not, those shortcomings cannot prevent me from being the recipient of Christ’s abounding love. Talk about putting things in perspective!

I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Wow. He is stronger than my mess. He loves me even in the midst of my failed intentions. He wants my eyes on Him, my heart open to Him, and my life to be ready for His purposes. Nothing else really matters, because nothing can keep Him from loving me and filling me with His Spirit. Incredible. Praise God.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 4


Paul continues in Romans 7, verse 25:

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

What does this verse mean, exactly? That we will continue to struggle this way for the rest of our lives? I think it does—in a sense. The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains it this way:

“While awaiting freedom from the presence of sin, believers still face conflicts between their regenerated minds (or new natures or capacities) and their sin natures or capacities."

That feels like bad news, but as Paul continues to address these issues in full in Chapter 8, we are given tremendous hope as well. Though I won’t post the entire chapter here word for word, I strongly encourage you to read it for yourself, right now! (Click here for a link to Romans 8 at It’ll bring you to the Message translation, but you can also easily view other translations there with the simple click of a button.)

Here are some of the verses in Romans 8 that spoke the most deeply to me, each one followed by the thoughts I had at the time. (Bible verses are in italics):

[Believers] no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation.

That would be so great, to get out from under the black cloud that is my messy house, my messy life!

The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Just the image of Christ “clearing the air” helps me to breathe easier.

In his Son, Jesus, [God] personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.

And if He took on the disordered mess of humanity, might He be able to help with the disordered mess of my home and my time as well?

And now what…we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

So it’s not about trying harder? The solution isn’t to be found in redoubling my efforts? Apparently not. Instead, this says that I am simply to focus on God and what His Spirit is doing in me.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!

Obviously, I have proven time and again that I cannot do this on my own. But can I really “trust God’s action” in me instead? More importantly, if I do that, will I really be filled with the Spirit of the living and breathing God?

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.

A spacious, free life. I want that so badly that just reading the words brings tears to my eyes.

Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.

And what have I done every time in the past except focus on self—on my own determination, my own willpower, my own best intentions? No wonder I have continued to fail, year after year.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 3


At that moment, I had to admit the obvious truth, that if I hadn’t been able to change thus far, it wasn’t likely that I ever would in the future either. For now and forever, unless I was handed some sort of miracle, I was and always would be the same overweight, perpetually late, disorganized, messy, unhealthy, spiritually immature person I always had been.

No wonder I was depressed!

As you can imagine, this was one of the lowest points of my life, not to mention one of the most confusing. I kept asking myself what other choice I had but to keep picking myself up and dusting myself off and trying yet again to do what I wanted to do but seemed incapable of doing.

If this sounds foreign to you, then perhaps you’ve never had these kind of struggles, ones that force you to wage battle against your own true nature, behaviors, and mindsets. But if you are a person who is housekeeping impaired, then more than likely you know exactly what I’m talking about—and not just in the area of home care but in other areas as well.

In my struggle, my mind went to the Apostle Paul, who said: “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” and also “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

That was me in a nutshell! I wanted desperately to do better but couldn’t seem to change. Reaching for my Bible, I decided to explore further what Paul had to say on the subject, hoping to find a new perspective on my issues.

The verses I had been thinking of were in the book of Romans. (Note: Though I usually prefer the ESV or NIV versions of the Bible, I’m posting The Message version here, for clarity.) To put them in context, Romans 7:15-25 says:

What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

Great stuff, huh? Sadly, I could see myself in all of it, especially:

I decide one way, but then I act another...

I need something more!

I obviously need help!

I can will it, but I can't do it.

Something…gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it's predictable.

I've tried everything and nothing helps.

I'm at the end of my rope.

Despite my hopelessness, as I read these words, I felt like I was on the verge of finding some answers.



The Resolution Revolution, Part 2


About five years ago while cleaning out a closet, I ran across an old box of papers, one that had somehow gotten shoved aside in our previous move. Included among its receipts and letters and mementoes was a stack of old calendars. Like my mother, I had often recorded my resolutions on their final pages. Delighting in my find, I sat down to take a look at what I had written in years past. Starting with the calendar from my first full year of marriage, 1989, I read the list of resolutions I had made:

1. Keep house clean.
2. Lose weight.
3. Do Bible study daily.
4. Stop being late to appointments, etc.
5. Get organized.
6. Clean out all closets.
7. Exercise daily.
8. Manage time better.

and so on, up to about 20 total, almost all of which were along the same lines of getting the house clean and organized, making healthy choices, managing my time better, and deepening my spiritual walk. I put that calendar away and picked up another one, from several years and two kids later. The resolutions read:

1. Lose 20 pounds.
2. Clean the kitchen every night before going to bed.
3. Get some kind of exercise every day.
4. Clean out drawers & closets.
5. Organize house & schedule.
6. Read my Bible more.

and so on. The lists were very similar, as almost every resolution on both was about getting the house clean and organized, making healthy choices, managing my time better, and deepening my spiritual walk. With an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach, I peeked at a few other calendars, only to find that almost all of the resolutions on all of the lists were exactly the same. Finally, I put down the box, went to my office and dug from the filing cabinet a calendar from a more recent year. I won't bother to list here what I found on its last page, but I'm sure you can imagine: Each resolution had to do with getting the house clean and organized, making healthy choices, managing my time better, and deepening my spiritual walk.

Hoping this had something to do with the demands of being a wife and mother, I returned to the box of old calendars and pulled out a few from those years before I had gotten married. Heart sinking, I could see that though the specifics had changed somewhat, the overriding intentions had always been exactly the same: clean my apartment, lose weight, get in shape, manage my time, get organized, and be a better Christian. Whether age 17 or 22 or 29 or 35 or 42, I always seemed to need to get healthy, get my house clean, learn to manage my time, organize my life, and focus more fully on God.

It's hard to explain the depression that descended upon me in that moment. Faced with the evidence of a lifetime of resolutions that I’d kept making year after year, I could draw only one conclusion: Despite fierce determination and the best of intentions, I had never been able to successfully alter even one of my poorer habits nor had I managed to resolve a single one of the basic issues behind them. Even then, I realized, I was still for the most part ignoring my health and my spiritual growth, my house was a mess, and I was disorganized, unstructured, and undisciplined.

Certainly, I had made great strides in other areas of my life, things that had taken plenty of hard work and dedication to achieve. Despite my personal failures, I had succeeded in maintaining a healthy marriage and raising two great kids, and I had recently embarked on an exciting new career. But with these other basic issues of health and home weighing me down year after year, my life was harder than it needed to be, requiring way more effort on my part than it should have. I mean, it’s hard enough to have a demanding career, but harder still when your office is such a mess it takes hours to locate a single, important file. It’s hard enough to raise good kids, harder still when you can’t even keep up with the laundry or the dishes or the papers they bring home from school. It’s hard enough to have a happy marriage, harder still when your husband has to live with clutter, disorganization, frequent tardiness, and an overweight and exhausted wife. In short, though I had achieved much, I had also failed much. Each and every year, as I documented my resolutions, I had essentially been documenting my greatest failures.

What was wrong with this picture? What was wrong with me?



The Resolution Revolution, Part 1

Do you make resolutions every New Year? We always did when I was growing up. My mother had a wonderful way of turning New Years Eve into something very special. She would drape a fancy tablecloth over the coffee table in the living room and top it with champagne glasses, sparkling cider in an ice bucket, and some favorite munchies such as marshmallow treats. In the evening, we would all gather there together. Sitting on the floor around the table and sipping our "champagne", we'd look back at the year that had just passed and make plans for the one that lay ahead. Eventually, we would be ready to make our resolutions, which was the main focus of the celebration. One by one, we would take turns, going around in a circle until each person had had a chance to verbalize every single one of their New Years resolutions.

As we did this, we had just one rule: No one was allowed to make fun of anyone else, for example, by saying, "Well it's about time!" or "Yeah, right, I'll believe that when I see it!" Instead, after each person spelled out some way that they wanted to "do better" this year, in response the others were simply to raise a glass and say, "I'll drink to that!" Each resolution was diligently recorded by my mother on the last page of her new calendar for that upcoming year, preserving a permanent, hand-written record of our best intentions.

When the clock neared midnight, we would flip on the TV to count down and watch the ball drop, then we'd sing together a verse or two of Auld Lang Syne. (What I wouldn't give for a recording of one of those nights! We were a very musical family, and our amazing harmonies were often the highlight of the evening.) I have such fond memories of those celebrations, and I'm grateful to my mother that she took the time to make them happen.

Fast forward all these many decades later and you'll find that I still bring in the New Year in almost exactly the same way with my husband and kids--with one important exception. Nowadays, though our New Years Eve celebrations usually incorporate all of the same elements that my mother's did, from the tablecloth to Auld Lang Syne, I intentionally omit the part of the evening where we make resolutions.

That's because I gave up all New Year's Resolution-making a while back. This year, I encourage you to take a good, hard look at whether you should do the same. If you do, you may just find that by eliminating the "resolution mentality" from your celebration and your life, you'll discover a startling fact, that you'll actually accomplish more, not fewer, of the changes that you want to make.




Having some technical difficulties with this blog. Please bear with me. If you are subscribed here, you probably noticed that yesterday's post was incomplete. Sorry about that! Looks like I will need to break it into manageable chunks and re-post.

Please check back, I hope to straighten this out soon.

Thanks for your patience.


Happy New Year

(Photo taken by my husband in nearby Valley Forge Park.)

Blessings to you in 2011!