At the beginning of the year, I was inspired by some friends back in the States to look into the Whole 30. I had heard of it before and had always been intrigued. January seemed a timely season because I had been having some more health issues, and I thought that a change in eating habits might help.
As I usually do when struck by some brilliant new idea, I spent the whole next day submersed in the Whole30 website, taking in all the information, inspiration and mouth-watering photos. When I emerged, I excitedly began telling Mike about the life-changing benefits we could reap from this new way of eating. Mostly because he is a very smart husband, he humored me and began experimenting with some yummy-looking recipes.
After a day or two, I did feel significantly better, and we began discussing the possibility of undertaking the Whole30 for real. While it is a challenge for anyone, it presents a particular difficulty for us here in Thailand. Some of the staple items used in the Whole30 diet are either difficult to get here or are expensive due to import fees. In addition, dramatically changing food habits requires extra planning and commitment. Cooking is already an adjustment for us here as some of the produce and other staples are different here than in the US. We also only have a stove-top as there is no space for an oven, and we have not spent the money on a toaster oven. Eating out would also become almost impossible as almost every Thai dish has added sugar or wheat (soy sauce). Mike requested that we take some more time to think about it before jumping in.
We then began to prepare for a three day tour to Chiang Mai. It seemed reasonable to table the discussion until after the trip. I continued to focus on eating more protein and fat and less grains, and it continued to help my ailments. As many of you know from Mike’s last post, our three day tour stretched into three weeks.
During our first week in Chiang Mai, a good friend also posted that she was listening to Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The Kondo Method of decluttering, as the author calls it, has one simple premise: only keep those items that spark joy. I have encountered descriptions of this method before, and I know that I kept this thought in the back of my mind as we minimized our possessions to come to Thailand. However, I had not actually read the book, and my friend’s post inspired me to look into it again. I found solace from the stressors that continued to pile up during our time in Chiang Mai by submersing myself in Marie Kondo’s website, you tube video and samples of her books on Kindle. (Okay, so I am kind of a cheap-skate and still have not actually purchased or read either of her books in their entirety). I walked away with enough information to know that the first step is to write out a plan/vision for the life you want for yourself and your family.
The first moment that I could find to myself, I set about writing down some ideas. A few came quickly and easily, thoughts that had already been ruminating in the back of my mind about the flow of our life and space. Ironically, some of my thoughts were actually about putting more stuff in our house (matching curtains, a couch, a new bedspread). However, after some time searching the internet for images of spaces that “sparked joy,” I began to ask the real question. What in our life as it currently is sparks joy? After months of culture shock, homesickness, actual sickness, financial uncertainties, strained relationships, and constant transition, the tears finally came when I realized that it’s not much. My kids came to mind first. However, most of the time when I look at them, all I see is how much work they are and how much I am failing them. I think about how impatient I am, how much more time I should be focusing on them, and how much more quickly I should be teaching them X, Y and Z. Mike and I’s marriage? There are moments of joy, but again, I am mostly struck by my inability to be patient, gentle and rational in the face of trying to become one with a person just as selfish and sinful as I am. Ministry opportunities? When doing work for Charis, I mostly feel inadequate, ineffective and in the way.
I realized that this endeavor to once again declutter our space was an addictive behavior to try to cope with the fact that joy is in little supply for me right now. Just as last week, trying to revolutionize our eating habits was an attempt to find a situation that I could control and a place where I could feel successful. This is no new trend for me. Back in the US, my quest for control often came out in arranging and re-arranging our furniture. When friends came over, they often looked around to see what changes I had made this time.
Before getting married and having kids, I thought I knew who I was. Both of those life-changes began to shake the foundation of my identity, but it has really been this move to Thailand that has completely stripped any confidence I had that I know what my strengths are. My weaknesses, however, have become glaringly obvious. I feel like Derek Zoolander, looking at my reflection in the puddle asking, “Who am I?” and my reflection is looking back at me saying, “I don’t know.” (As an aside, who else is stoked on this trailer?) I used to be successful in most endeavors, a straight-A student, decently athletic, an avid reader, a good-Christian girl who got it all right. One girl in high school used to call me Ms. Perfect. Mostly due to my GPA, I was voted as the girl most likely to succeed. And I worked pretty hard to live up to that. College brought me down a notch as I was surrounded by other successful people, but even then I was able to come out graduating magna cum laude, with memberships in academic clubs and experience as a research intern. Now, whenever I receive a survey from the alumni society for that internship program, asking me to describe what amazing academic achievements I have accomplished that they can brag about in their newsletter, I promptly delete it.
I spent so many years attempting to be the best at whatever I encountered. Now when faced with the challenges of daily adult life, I constantly come well-below excellence. In response, I gravitate toward undertakings in which I have more control and in which I can eventually have more success. Now don’t get me wrong. I am still a big fan of the Whole30 and the Kondo method, and I highly recommend that everyone looks into applying their amazing life advice. But for me, in this season, these life-style changes may be feeding into an addiction to perfection and success that is more harmful than helpful. For me, this just doesn’t seem to be the time to strive to be the best health-food eater or the best minimalist house owner. For me, this is the time to look my perfection complex in the face and figure out who I am in light of all my shortcomings. For me, this is the time to find joy in the midst of who I am and what I have here and now. As I do this, the words to this song keep coming to mind:
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own, I’m so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me
Only for me, today they read:
“Put a couple dents in her fender,
Our kids all have holes in their jeans
Tryin’ to keep it all together
But pinterest is my enemy
And on my own, I’m so tired
But in Your face I can see
You love the real me.”