Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dua from the Depths of the Heart

Sitting today with a dear sister, I understood a little more the power of our dua for the people in Gaza and people suffering all over the world.

Our supplications may not stop the conflict, or end the terror—this will not happen except when Allah swt wills it or sends His soldiers and victory. So where are our sincere dua going? The tears, the night prayers, the fasting?

Maybe to places we don't see or realize, but if we only knew we would never stop the fervor by we call upon Allah to help those who are suffering. Maybe to a mother who has lost her child but feels the inner calm and tranquility that can only come from Allah. To a man who is proud as he looks upon the face of his martyred brother. To the family who cannot imagine how they will survive on what they have, but find that it keeps them going. To a people who are systematically tortured, terrorized, and massacred but are still able to smile at one another, hold the hand of someone suffering, share the food they have, and praise Allah the Almighty who chose them to walk earth perfumed by innocent blood, the frontlines of His mercy and forgiveness.

There are dimensions of relief and peace we do not know of that may be descending on the people of Gaza because of your dua. Maybe your dua tonight will make someone stay strong in his or her faith, stay brave, find peace in knowing Allah is by her side amidst all of the darkness.

A small suggestion is to make qunut an-nazilah a special supplication in times of need every day until the crisis has passed. It is performed in the regular obligatory prayers in the last rakah before going down for the prostration. Here is a description from islamonline.net of how it is done.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Song for Gaza

This touching, piercing song for Gaza is going around on Facebook and Youtube. Very fitting.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Cleaning Routine

FlyLady will give you a lot of tips and good ideas (see last post), but it’s basically about building a simple morning and evening routine that will keep your house reasonably clean and then having 15-minutes of decluttering and deep-cleaning a day that will allow your house to progress from terribly messy to organized and comfortably clean over the course of several weeks or months.

Here is what my morning and evening routines have looked like for the last two months, to give you an idea:

Morning Cleaning Routine
1. Wake up and make my bed as soon as my feet touch the floor
2. Wash, dress for the day, put on shoes
3. Swish and wipe the master bathroom in under 60-seconds (Keep a sponge and small spray bottles of vinegar and water—because they’re kid-safe—in every bathroom and a toilet brush next to every toilet. While you are brushing your teeth, spritz the counters, wipe the sinks, and swish the toilet. This will be enough to keep your bathroom disinfected and pretty clean in between monthly or biweekly deep-cleanings. If there is a spot or some fingerprints you miss in those 60 seconds, you’ll get it tomorrow)
4. Get the girls out of bed, change diaper, dress them, and put a load of laundry in the washer
5. Put a Quran cd in the computer and play it throughout the morning
6. Empty the dishwasher while preparing breakfast
7. 5-minute hotspot (every house has a hotspot, an area that if not given daily attention will quickly get out of control and spread throughout the whole house—mine is the kitchen floor)
8. Eat breakfast, drink water and vitamins
9. Figure out what’s for dinner
10. 15-minutes of decluttering

For the decluttering, I basically choose an area of the house that needs organizing work (a closet, my sewing table, the kitchen pantry, a drawer) and only work on that for fifteen minutes. Only take out as much as I can do in 15-minutes, set the timer, and work furiously for those 15 minutes. Once the timer goes off, I’m done for the day and walk away. It may not seem like much, but two months of 15-minute decluttering sessions have completely organized and sorted my master bedroom closet, the bathroom cabinets, the girls’ dresser, the girls’ toy bins, the kitchen pantry, the laundry room, our file cabinet, and the hallway closet.

The whole morning routine, including the 15-minutes of decluttering, takes about a half-hour. If I have an early morning appointment, I occasionally skip the decluttering and just pick up the next day.

During the day, I am free to do whatever I want, my only housework assignments are:

1. Fold and put away the morning laundry
2. Keep the sink empty and shiny, all dirty dishes go straight into the dishwasher that I emptied in the morning
3. 15-minutes of deep-cleaning. I find that often I am feeling so good about the house and myself that I actually want to do a little extra cleaning, organizing, or decorating (really, seriously!) so I indulge. FlyLady has assignments and zones, but that is only after your morning and evening routines are down pat.
4. Exercise! (not cleaning, so it really shouldn't go here, but oh such a chore!)

My evening cleaning routine looks like this. It is very simple and short, takes no more than ten minutes, because by the end of the day I am exhausted.

Before Bed Cleaning Routine
1. Wipe the kitchen table
2. Shine sink
3. Run the dishwasher
4. 5-minutes of tidying before bed—I make the girls do this with me.
5. Swish and wipe girls’ bathroom while brushing their teeth

All in all, I spend about an hour total on my routines and housework a day. I have my routines posted on my refrigerator, but now many of the items have become ingrained habits that I do automatically: very cool.

Now to apply what I learned here to other areas of self-improvement... like memorizing and reviewing Quran, maybe? I hope I can work other aspects of spirituality and self-development into these routines and build those gradually too until they become habits.

The FlyLady Method

I think my post about two months ago on FlyLady was adequate introduction on how much I love this method. It is a home cleaning and management method (online and free at flylady.net) that really goes deep in attacking the paralyzing mindset of the perfectionist slob.

You might not know whether you are a perfectionist slob, but you’ll pretty much have the same behavior patterns I did:
  • Only clean if you have a good two to four hours ahead of you
  • Let the dishes pile up and don’t bother wiping the countertops because tomorrow you’re going to deep-clean the whole kitchen (right)
  • Do all of your laundry in one day. You planned to do all of the folding and putting away too, but you were distracted and so the big, daunting pile of dirty laundry in your laundry room becomes a big, daunting pile of clean laundry in your bedroom
  • Spend one day (a week or a month) cleaning, scrubbing, and mopping for hours at a time, and then collapse on the couch at the end of the day, freaking out when your child empties a bin of blocks in the middle of your living room
  • After mega-cleaning day, the house stays clean for about four or five days, and then the kitchen floor crumbs appear, the blob of snot in the bathroom sink, and the never-ending trail of toys and instead of doing the little habits that will keep the house clean, you feel so demoralized because you think you have to go through another grueling, exhausting six hours of cleaning sometime soon
  • Dream that one day, you will get your house so clean and organized, that cleaning will be much less of a chore
For a lot of people who had cleaning habits ingrained in them while growing up or just are naturally organized, a lot of this is going to seem like totally common sense. Since I was pregnant with my second child, I struggled desperately with managing the housework. I had tried FlyLady on and off a couple of times, but always skipped ahead and went straight to scrubbing the kitchen floor—who needs baby steps? I wanted my house clean and my problems fixed now! What I didn’t realize is that the approach is not about getting your house clean, but about building small habits into your everyday routine that will make cleaning light and effortless, and—oh yes,—even enjoyable.

Today, my house is definitely not spotless (this is about beating perfectionism, not reinforcing it, remember?). There are areas that will always need work, but I feel in control, I know what to do everyday in order to keep my home well-managed, and the whole family is more comfortable and happy in a pleasantly clean and organized home.

I won’t summarize FlyLady, since you can go on her expansive website and read for hours, but I will break down what I benefited the most from her:
  1. In the beginning, your house will not get clean overnight. Take small baby steps, stop when you are done, and pat yourself on the back each step of the way.
  2. Housework worth doing is worth doing haphazardly or incompletely. What you don’t get today, you will get tomorrow.
  3. Small, 2-minute habits are extremely powerful
  4. Housework is a form of loving your family
  5. A simple morning and evening routine can change your life
If you’re interested in doing the FlyLady method, I’d recommend reading the Welcome Letter (it’s about ten pages long) and then starting off very devoutly with the baby steps, one a day, no jumping ahead. If you mess up or miss a few days, don’t play catch up, just jump back into your morning and evening routines which you will build gradually over the course of four weeks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shattered Thoughts on Gaza

You have to hold your kids closer, smell their scent for a few seconds longer, let your fingers linger in their hair. Thinking of a place where life is cheap and frail souls are extinguished every minute. Thinking of what it must be like for everyone there, but especially the mothers.

To see your child suffer while you watch hands at your sides, powerless to relieve their pain or hunger, is something most of us have never experienced. I go about my comfortable life knowing out there in the expanse of human consciousness are people, mothers, children crying out in terrified agony on amidst the bombing, trembling earth, and stray bullets. These soul-shaking cries call out everyday, and in many places of the world, but I am more aware of it today. The silence of my living room echoes with their voices.

I try to patch the ripped consciousness of my lazy day, to look away, to forget. The humiliation of having nothing to give them is too much. Shame. Weakness. I cannot bear to watch the dehumanization of a people but I also must not look away.

I can think of only feeble gestures to help—donating to relief organizations that give aid indirectly for fear of being branded terrorists, standing at demonstrations that no one sees or hears, appealing to representatives who do not care, writing to a media that propagates a language that does not recognize innocent casualties, talking to people with a collective memory so short that they are like babies spoon-fed poisoned information. It feels better to do nothing than to do something, satan whispers in my heart. He soothes the disgrace with indifference and gives me a counterfeit license to feel good again.

Although we grapple with the indifference, the shame, the powerlessness, we cannot allow every last battle to be lost, even the ones in our hearts. Edmund Burke said, “Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.” And we know that even if our efforts counted for nothing in the scope of world events, Allah is the witness and allows no deed to go uncounted.

If anything, I must continue to work and fight for Gaza to save my own soul, to forbid myself from being comfortable with apathy and to keep my heart tender before Allah. I’ll stand in the rain at those sparse, Houston demonstrations in front of an empty consulate. I will write a letter that I know will never be read. In every prayer, raise my hands for a few seconds before the last sujood in supplication to ease the pain and end the suffering of Gaza. Maybe if every Muslim takes those sad, small, useless steps, Allah will raise our ranks, cleanse our sins, and open for us the door to more.

After all, whoever said victory would come at our hands? Our job is to get to work in the best way we can muster. Relief will come only from the skies.