The Most Powerful Force

When our kids were young and Saturdays rolled around we had Family Night. We encouraged our children to invite friends; it was a fun way to introduce some of them to our Christian faith.

On one occasion my husband, Tom, asked everyone, “What’s the most powerful force in the world?” The kids shouted out names of all sorts of weapons, military powers and super heroes. No one came close to the right answer. My husband has never been one to cut corners when illustrating a point. He took each child separately, blindfolded, from the room to touch something that would give a clue to the correct answer. Each one had a turn but no one got it. He then brought the object into the room for everyone to see– it was a cow tongue! They threw their hands over their mouths and almost gagged!

The most powerful force, Tom taught, is the tongue. Our tongues to be precise. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21).

Today I was reminded of that long ago lesson after I chatted with a young woman working at the dry cleaners. I had the nudge that I often get to say something affirming. It’s so uncomfortable to say something personal to a stranger, but I’ve realized it gets easier as I do it. I told her I really liked her smile. That her smile was pretty.

As I walked to the car I recalled a time many years ago when an older lady that I admired told me I had pretty eyes. I don’t think anyone had ever told me that before.

On another occasion, at a friend’s wedding, the pastor who had officiated came up to me and said, “God has not forgotten you.” He knew that I’d become a single parent due to a divorce I didn’t want. Those years were hard. His words were just what I needed at that moment. And he was right—God had not forgotten! Clearly, positive words have stuck with me all these years and I’ve rehearsed them in my mind many times.

This week Katherine and I were pulling together an outfit for Grandmom to wear to the wedding. As she tried on her dress she instinctively put her hands over her neck and commented on how bony it was. She wanted it covered. After hearing her say that for over thirty years, I realized how pretty she looked with her neck area showing. I told her as much. I realized I’d grown deaf to that comment. A comment that had most likely been said to her many years ago and had stuck. It was not true but she’d believed it.

Sadly I also remember some very hurtful things said to me forty or fifty years ago. The power of life and death? I hope my words never have such a long-lasting negative effect!

I think it’s somewhat intuitive for me to hesitate before I say something unkind. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1). But, to say something intentionally positive takes a little more thought. It requires that I dismiss, for a moment, the thoughts swirling in my head and focus on the person in front of me. Probably easier for an extravert!

What comments can we make to someone today that will bring them life? What positive words will we speak to ourselves?

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

–Proverbs 12:18

To Love a Child

To Love a Child

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s  3:00-ish in the afternoon. A chilly sunny February day. I’m kneeling on our deck, working on a current project— applying dark stain to 2×4 plywood boards.

Yesterday eighteen years ago at this very time I sat on this deck with a little six year old girl named Katherine, and served her tea. I’d cobble together whatever snack items I could find and fancily fill a tray. We called it a tea party. Specially cut mini round pb&j sandwiches, tea in the teapot (or lemonade), raisins, cut-up fruit, cookies. She’d talk about her day and I’d grin and marvel at the sweetest most joyful little one. My nickname for her was Joy.

After our tea party she’d invariably trounce upstairs to her room and begin another school day—this time she was the teacher.  She’d stand near her white board, writing lessons and enunciating to her slow of hearing students, correcting them soundly if they weren’t attentive. Sometimes her stern threatening voice sounded remarkably similar to the stern teacher she had that year.

She’d finish her pretend school day and then it would be time for entertainment. To the dress up clothes she’d go. She would don her favorite costume, jumping on chairs, off chairs, and spontaneously dancing and singing to whatever music was playing. So often she’d be bumped and bruised, but she kept going. We always said her two big brothers made her tough.

I’m glad I was there. I was privileged to be a stay at home mom for many years. I thank my husband for that. Today he thanks me for investing myself so fully in our four precious children.

There were the  daily events like tea parties and playing school and then there were the special occasions. The birthday parties, always at home, every year. One night our talented friends dressed formally and hosted a game show, microphone in hand, in our living room. All the guests dressed in fancy attire for the formal event. We decorated with hanging gold stars and played a boisterous Family Feud. To the girls, it was an authentic game show.

Movie night was another birthday theme. We borrowed a monstrosity of a first-generation big screen TV. Just moving it from car to home was an enormous task. I hung movie posters on the walls, there was a ticket booth and a handsome attendant (Daddy) wearing a tux to seat all the young ladies. We set up eight chairs right in front of that monster of a television and watched Parent Trap together. The girls were given tickets as they first entered which they used to purchase goodies at the concession stand. It was a rousing success.  It was also a lot of work and time and I would do it over 100 times if I could.

So many other memories swarm my mind as I remember this special girl. She was always singing. A small crack has opened in my memory and all the big feelings could just gush out and fill pages and pages, if I allowed them.

How can one capture what it means to have loved a child? Any parent would agree that there are no words to adequately capture the breadth and depth of the experience.

I always knew I loved my four children in an indescribable way. But, somehow as they’ve gotten older, and invariably I’ve gotten older, the feeling of love is so much deeper. Our second son was married almost three years ago. Two days after the amazing celebration, I found myself alone for the first time in quite a while. That Tuesday morning my husband left for a business trip, my best friends left to travel home, Katherine left to study in Spain, and our son and his bride departed for their honeymoon. I wish I could describe my feelings from that morning. I felt bereft and empty. I felt as though my heart was breaking into pieces, carried away with the ones leaving. I felt so full of love and pain at the same time.

The boards I’m staining are for a wedding next month. Our daughter Katherine’s wedding. Our last child to leave home. The one who makes us true empty nesters. It’s so cliche to say that the time has flown by. That you should cherish the moments because they pass so quickly. It’s all true. Time cannot be contained. It can’t be slowed. It can only be held and felt one moment at a time.

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
― Maya Angelo

A Fairy Tale Comes True

A Fairy Tale Comes True

Scoot a little closer my friends and listen to one of my favorite love stories.

Twelve years ago I had a phone call from a young woman named Barbara, inquiring about the small group we hosted in our home. The pastor of our church referred her to us since our emphasis was on marriage. She spoke through tears, sharing grave concerns over her marriage–her pain was obvious.

Barbara and her husband soon joined our group—together for a time. Sadly, Barbara eventually came alone. She fought desperately for her marriage, but they divorced in 2005. Barbara and I spent a lot of time together and began a treasured friendship. We shared meals, Bible studies, and lots of tears. We realized even though we were twenty years apart to the month, we had a lot in common. I also knew the heartbreaking devastation of divorce and the longing for a good marriage.

Barbara kept occupied with her job in the medical field and volunteering at church. As the years passed, I felt frustrated for her because I knew how badly she wanted a family. I wondered if she’d thought of online dating sites or even going to church groups for single adults. She told me that if God could create the world He could find her a husband. She said it so convincingly and confidently.

In 2012 June, a lady from Barbara’s church, attended a conference in St. Louis. While she browsed books, she noticed the guy who was manning the table. His eyes appeared unusually bright. June began a conversation with him over several days of conference and honestly shared how he’d caught her notice.

The young man, David, began to share about his life and that he was praying for a wife. She learned that he’d been divorced six years and had one child. Because his priority was his daughter, he’d decided not to date, but to trust God to bring his mate at the right time. June didn’t understand why she was drawn to him, but told David she’d ask God for an answer and let him know!

A few months after the conference, during a church service, June leaned over to Barbara and said, “You’re the one!” Suddenly she realized that David had been highlighted for Barbara! David and Barbara soon became acquainted with each other through email messages, and eventually through phone calls and photos.

Barbara had been promoted to a job that required traveling to various parts of the country each week. She typically flew to certain places on a regular basis. One day, out of the blue, her company assigned her a job in the very city where David lived. She’d never gone there. This was their chance! They met in person, formally and briefly. Soon after she was sent to the same city again, which was somewhat unusual. They enjoyed each other tremendously. A perfect match!  She got to know and love his daughter and he proposed.

They were married near the Cape Fear River. The grassy knoll was a lush bright green, having just been refreshed by a cooling summer shower. The expansive lawn was filled with so many celebrating friends and family, and not a few happy tears!

Barbara eventually quit traveling for work and she and David made their home in Florida. After several months of marriage she had started to gain a little weight. She took one pregnancy test after another, all reading negative. Disappointed and concerned, she made an appointment with a doctor. The doctor gave her news that she never thought her ears and heart would hear. She was expecting a baby! Conceiving a child had always been a desire of her heart. Another dream was fulfilled— a happy healthy Elijah was born into their world.

I flew to Florida a few months back for a wonderful visit with Barbara and her family. When we’re together we pick right back up where we left off, even years later. We celebrated all of her wonderful blessings. She and David are happier than they could ever have imagined. Their little boy is nearly two years old and adorable. To spend time with them was one of the highlights of my year.

Few things are more exciting than watching God orchestrate the lives of two people from different geographical areas and different backgrounds to bring them together in marriage. I still marvel that my North Carolina husband went all the way to Mississippi to find me!

As David says, “God has a way of putting us exactly where we need to be.” I ponder their story and I’m emboldened to let go and really trust God.

When we belong to Him, He really does work out everything for our good and His Glory. I share this not to promise specific results after waiting on God, but to say that God can be trusted in any and every circumstance.

He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

13728817133_08f448f3b1_z“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned”.  Benjamin Franklin

This week I devoted about four (very hot) hours to organizing our attic. As I had plenty of time to think, I recalled some of my clients and the things I’ve learned.

One lady I helped recently made quick decisions as I held up each item from her closet. I was so inspired by her lack of attachment that I spent time going through my closet again and letting go of even more things.

I thought of a project from last year. This client saved everything for a future potential use. We spent quite a few hours together and really connected. We laughed and joked, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. We were Lucy and Ethel. At one point I was literally backed into a closet. I attempted to pull all the discards and donations out, passing them to her as she sat on a wobbly table. While she examined contents of bags and boxes, I started to cry out, “I’m stuck in here, let me out!” It was approaching lunch time and I was, in her words, the benevolent dictator, and insisted that we not stop until everything in the walk-in closet had been evaluated. She was telling me that she had me just where she wanted me and I would not leave until the whole room was in order! I loved her good hearted nature and positive attitude amidst a very difficult season of life. I wanted to have a grateful and cheerful demeanor like hers.

As I worked in my attic, some ideas came to mind:

  • It’s okay to take time making decisions about some things. My dad, who passed away two months ago, was a gifted wood-worker. In the attic I found a large wooden trivet, inlaid with decorative tiles,  that he’d carefully created. I realized, because of its weight and size, I’ll probably never use it. I gave myself permission to defer donating it, for now, as grief is still palpable.
  • An item that’s not loved and used can be tossed. I found the custom made table pad for our antique dining table which we have never used. “I might need it someday” is not a legitimate reason to keep stuff.
  • Let go of things if they were designed for a certain season of life.  They may have already served their purpose.  Bring closure by letting them go. With this in mind, I was able to donate a lot of framed pictures and canvases.
  • Cull things that can easily be replaced should you need them some day. I often say things to my clients like, “That old bed pillow can be replaced for a few bucks.”  “You can donate  your old sheets to the animal shelter. You deserve to sleep on nice sheets!” “Think of the space we’re creating by letting go!”
  • Some special items can be displayed as art. Living on the coast, I’ve helped several clients hang surfboards on their walls. This serves a dual purpose—art and a convenient storage system. Oftentimes people lack garage storage space. Guitars and other instruments can be mounted on the wall. Treasures such as classic record albums, vintage uniforms, flags or baby clothing can be framed and mounted,
  • For memorabilia limit yourself to one container per category. There is one client who has a two-car garage literally filled with boxes of clothing, sports equipment and school papers from her now adult children. They represent her favorite era—raising kids. I have encouraged her to fill one container with favorite items from each child. Removing the plethora of boxes is a big win for her safety and for space!

I’m honored to have assisted many intelligent, creative and capable people. Sorting through, organizing, and evaluating your own personal stuff takes courage and determination. Folks often need an accountability partner, another perspective, a person to keep them motivated, and ask hard questions.

I leave projects feeling tired, but accomplished. Clients feel lighter, inspired and excited about continuing to create order, beauty and warmth in their homes. We enjoy the process!

Homes are our largest financial investment and the one place we can be ourselves and relax with our loved ones. They are worth our investment of time and effort! What’s your next step in creating a place that truly nourishes and supports your family?

“Our life is frittered away by detail . . . simplify, simplify.”  Henry David Thoreau

Marriage is So Much Trouble

“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

 

In October Tom and I decided to make a quick trip to the mountains. While gathering all  the things, and feeling like it was taking forever just to load the car, I had a familiar thought. I wondered why we were going to so much trouble for two nights away. Turns out we spent most of our time in the car. With random delays and unprecedented traffic, we arrived exhausted and grumpy (me) long after midnight. We’d have one full day of vacation. It turns out, the one day ended up being delightful and worth the extreme effort. Every scenario that throws the two of us alone together is a worthwhile investment.

Another trip took place about 22 years ago. Our married life had become distant and stressed. Tom worked nearly an hour away. He was a chemical engineer at a paper mill and on call 24/7. We were truly like strangers much of the time. When we finally had time to talk I sometimes felt frozen and didn’t even know where to begin.

One Sunday he announced that after church he and I would leave the four kids with grandparents and go away together overnight to Baldhead Island. You might be thinking I was jumping up and down and high-fiving at that point. But, instead, my response was one of ambivalence. I could take it or leave it. I just felt numb and didn’t even know what to say. My tendency is to stay home so he actually had to talk me into it.

Here’s what I remember about those two trips:

It took a few hours to relax and start to really talk. Without life’s clutter and chatter I began to see really see my husband for the quality human he is and I fell in love all over again. We directly looked at each other and honestly shared our stresses and feelings. We really listened. I recall watching the sunset at Baldhead and actually thinking, “How could life be any better?” What??? I didn’t want to be here six hours earlier!  The eye-opening truth is this: We need dedicated time with our spouses! It’s always so much trouble and even costly financially. but IT IS WORTH IT! On that occasion we were back home in twenty-four hours or less and we both felt like different people.

May I humbly suggest that if you’re married DON’T QUIT. If you’re fantasizing about living separately, find someone who can help you. Don’t threaten to leave or use the D word. If you feel like you’ve fallen out of love with your spouse it may be that you fell in love without understanding the meaning of the word. You had unrealistic expectations. Love is a verb not a feeling. Of course there are wonderful feelings associated with love! But when the feelings escape you that’s when you remember your promise. You put the other person first. The kids are second! Save money for a babysitter. Celebrate and play with your spouse like you do with your friends. Make your home and bedroom presentable as you would for guests!  Stop demanding that the other one meet your emotional needs. Magic will happen when YOU start meeting the needs of your spouse. That’s where fulfillment is. We need each other. Marriage is a gift that keeps on giving.

And the best news of all: It gets better and better. I wouldn’t trade what we have at thirty-one years for the newlywed stage FOR ANYTHING!

“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

Martin Luther

How I Got the Life I Really Wanted

God knows all things past, present, and future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens. (Romans 11:33).

My granddaughter and I were taking a stroll. I found myself looking for sale signs among a group of small houses. Subconsciously I was searching for a place to call home in Wilmington, assuming we’d relocate to South Carolina and return here to visit. I smiled as I thought, “Isn’t it cute to make plans and set long term goals?” To assume you’d live near your children forever, that you’d always have access to close friends, your church and all the familiar things. Then a thought came that has repeated in my head many times, “I’m so glad I’m not in control”. I’m grateful to God who whispers through His Spirit, showing me the way He has planned. He’s highlighted for me specific roles He has in mind for me and which one comes first. These are not the plans or priorities I would have if left to myself. I certainly don’t see the whole picture or understand why. I only take steps in the direction He’s leading.

I really do believe in setting goals. With hands wide open. What I mean is this: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9).

I remember a conversation I had in my twenties that was a defining moment for me. The person, who was very close to me said, “I just have to decide what I want to do with my life.” I humbly and spontaneously answered, “I’m trying to find out what God wants me to do with my life.”

Giving my life to Him and trusting Him in every uncertainty has been  good for me. I don’t mean it’s always easy. Following Him requires a death to myself. But He’s never failed me. The nights have been long at times but in the darkest of nights He gave me quiet strength when I couldn’t imagine how anything could work out for good. He eventually brought me into a spacious and lovely place that I couldn’t have concocted for myself.

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t been called out of my own darkness into His light. I would, no doubt, be grasping for my own way, my own rights, my own success, my own pleasure. I might be marching amongst a throng of women, feeling unfairly treated and denied “privileges” due me. I admire strong capable women who know how to get things done. God knew, when He created woman, that she would need unique strengths for many situations, especially in bearing  and nurturing children, that were very different from the strengths of man.

However, a downside to demanding and grappling for happiness is that we are, by nature, near-sighted and can’t see the entire picture. I’m grateful to be safely in the spot God has identified for me. After  following Jesus for nearly fifty years, I’m convinced it’s the rather upside down way to really get the life I always wanted. A life of real purpose, with deep meaning and tangible transformation. A happy life, I’ve found, is not equivalent to a life without pain. A fulfilled life is one with a mixture of joy and sorrow because the difficulties make us more complete; more like Jesus. Thrown in are the most meaningful and treasured human relationships that I’d ever hope to have.

One of my favorite verses is  For in Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17).

 

 

 

 

Drowning in Stuff

Raise your hand if you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff! I awoke this morning; my mind inundated with thoughts of extreme clutter. Recent projects for clients have me realizing how overwhelmed one can feel and how paralyzed and crazy one can become when surrounded by too much.

Interestingly, the stuff can be extremely high end. There is no price valuation in clutter. Expensive statuary, many oil paintings, fine china pieces, too many tchotches, all set in fancy displays. Chaos limits your ability to focus. You cannot find things so you buy duplicates. In such a plethora, one thing can’t be seen. Send me off looking for something in that environment and I literally can’t find it. My eyes are so full and my mind so confused with the mass of treasures. There’s always the fear that you will brush up against one of those expensive pieces and believe me I’ve been warned. You must gently tread around the maze.

Please people, if you are consumed with clutter, whether it’s last week’s newspaper or thousand dollar art; please remove some of it. Give yourself room to think, breathe and live. Don’t let your life be taken hostage by things.

This morning my mind diverted to some calming spaces.

  • Art galleries—they feature one piece of art in plenty of space so a patron can focus on the beauty of  one item. You could argue that galleries have a lot of wasted space. I often tell clients that their eyes and brains need space in their homes to rest. You need to have a table or counter top that is clear of all stuff. Just so you can breathe.
  • Model homes—clearly these are make believe, but you have to admit they usually feel peaceful. I don’t know how many folks I’ve heard say, “I wish I could just walk away from it all and move to a new house.”
  • Nice hotel rooms— decorated in calming colors; they have only the essentials. There’s a reason writers often travel from home when focused on a project.

Here are four things you can do today that will inspire you to live with less clutter:

  1. Wash and put away everything in the sink. Clean the sink well. For stainless steel, I like to use Bar Keepers Friend or a similar cleanser. Rinse  well. For a nice shine, spray Windex on the sink; dry with a cloth.
  2. Clear your entire kitchen counter. Clean per instructions for the specific surface. Finally, place everything back on the counter that you need on a daily basis. Find homes for the other stuff. Take a breath and enjoy the sight.
  3. Make your bed–if you have a million decorative pillows edit them, leaving only a few.
  4. Clear everything from your dining table—keeping only something pretty in the center.

Editing your home can be addictive. If you find you can’t stop, sort things by category. Keep only a reasonable number, e.g., mugs, water bottles, etc. You’ll be amazed at how much space you actually have!

“When every possession is special, none of them are.”
― Kathi Lipp

“Don’t just declutter, de-own.”
― Joshua Becker

Some Thoughts on Goal Setting

img_7852“The flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today…”

I first heard about setting goals when I was twenty-something. I loved the idea. I’m a dreamer. For several years I would, excitedly, as the new year dawned, write down all the things I wanted to accomplish and the self improvements I would make. My goals would always include losing weight and eating healthier. I may have stuck to my plan for a short while, but I don’t remember experiencing any lasting changes. What was so exhilarating on January first felt like failure on December thirty-first.

One year an awareness came to me. I realized I’d been randomly making lists without consulting God about what His ideas for me were. I began to pray and fast and ask God what He wanted me to accomplish. This changed everything. I realized His plans were much more manageable and doable. “His yoke is easy and His burden is light”, I thought.

I realized something else about goal setting. My “goals” were just fun ideas: lose weight, eat healthy, read my Bible, etc. There were no steps to reach goals, no completion dates and far too lofty expectations. A goal is the end toward which effort is directed. It’s something you’re trying to achieve. What brings success is a step by step process that results in the specific accomplishment we desire.

A few suggestions:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to bring His purposes to your mind. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10.) It helps me to think in terms of the various roles He has already assigned to me: wife, mom, business owner, mentor; and ask what is next in these areas.
  • Jot down the ideas that come to mind in stream of consciousness style, knowing you can hone in on the main elements later.
  • Try to end up with one or two goals in each area that you’re considering. If you make a long glorious list like I used to make, you’ll be frustrated.
  • Choose reasonable reachable goals. Drinking sixteen ounces of water each day when you usually drink none will be a win! Walking around the block or a set distance four times a week may be more doable than vaguely stating you’ll join a gym and work out six times a week. Joining a gym is great, just don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Make goals that will challenge you but are attainable.
  • Create specifically written dated goals so you’ll know when they’ve been achieved. Keep track of daily and weekly progress. Set the frequency for your action steps and keep track of your progress.
  • Commit to the process more than the goal. Focus daily on your processes and habits that you’re developing.  Your goal may be obtaining a master’s degree. Track the number of pages you need to read each day or the hours you study in order to cover all material by a certain date. If we focus only on the long-term goal it can seem obscure and impossible. It’s easier to track our daily processes.
  • Post your goals and review your daily plan often. It helps me to write action steps on my calendar.
  • Pause and consider why you’re setting goals. For instance, I’m eating healthy and exercising because I want to enjoy my granddaughter and future grandkids :). I read inspiring and challenging books daily (C. S. Lewis, the Bible, etc. ) because I want to grow in my faith and reflect Christ to those around me. I read books and listen to podcasts about minimalism, organizing and staging so I’ll benefit my clients.

I hope my ideas help! Here’s to a happy and productive 2017!

‘”Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”                                                   The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

 

I Need a Hug

I Need a Hug

13728817133_08f448f3b1_z

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin” – Mother Teresa

 

A new year is beginning!  What have I been lugging around in 2016 that I don’t need in 2017? That’s what I’m asking myself.

I’m sorting through my stuff. It’s hard. I need a hug. Since I often suggest to others that they begin with a non-emotional category; linens, for instance, I take my own advice. I quickly find that the linen universe is against me. Two shelves in the small linen closet are filled with hand-crocheted pillow cases, sheets, doilies, and more doilies. Why couldn’t I just find old worn out sheets?

A couple of hard-honed truths come to mind.

  1. Sorting through other peoples stuff is a LOT easier than sorting through my own stuff.
  2. My life experiences–all of them— are my teachers. They are specifically designed to give me empathy for other people.

After I cull some things in the linen closet, I move on to the room I’ve been avoiding most. Taking a step in that direction is a victory. “Don’t give up! The beginning is always the hardest!”, I preach to myself.

This was the boys’ bedroom. A favorite memory is the time John “personalized” the comforters.

He was about three or four-years-old when I’d placed two new matching comforters on the twin beds. So as to be clear about where he and Ben would sleep, he’d written, in Sharpie, with bold letters, their names on each comforter. He was so proud of his contribution!

In recent years, the room has served as a craft room of sorts. Katherine and I covered the floor with a drop cloth and spent many hours painting signs, canvases and furniture. The items I’d hoped to use some day for making art those were hard to toss.

After my parents passed away, the room became a repository of antique picture frames, boxes of more antique linens, ancient photographs, etc. There was a painful time of letting go when we cleaned out my parents’ home, but there were still things I couldn’t quite part with.

Thankfully there is something magical about getting started and creating momentum.  As I wade through the plethora of stuff I begin to place less and less value on things I thought were important. I’m growing weary of ALL the stuff!

Some thoughts that you may find helpful:

  • We procrastinate going through our things  and the task becomes a behemoth in our minds. As I say to my clients, “This is not insurmountable!” Preaching to myself!
  • Toss items that can be replaced (if needed) for only a few bucks.
  • For “some day-maybe projects” tell yourself you can afford to buy the necessary components if and when you decide to tackle the project some day.
  • Donate old linens to the animal shelter.
  • Donate old blankets to the local homeless shelter.
  • Fabric remnants, sewing and art supplies, scrapbook paper, can be offered on Craigs list under the Free heading.
  • Give away items on Facebook.
  • When confronted with sentimental items, I keep reminding myself that the treasures weren’t meant to be passed through generations. My grandmother, while spending many hours on her beautiful needlework, was not imagining her future adult granddaughter saving her creations for years in the back of a closet. She was creating beauty for her present life and that of her family. She, no doubt, gained much pleasure from her work.
  • Folks often keep stuff because of the original cost. That money is gone, and it paid for the item to be enjoyed for a finite amount of time. Its usefulness may have expired. What would someone pay for the item today?
  • If something has a story you want to remember, take a picture, write about it, and then pass the item on.

When you’re stuck ask these questions:

1) Would I buy this item today?

2) If a natural disaster occurred, what belongings would I try to retrieve? What things would I be relieved to find gone?

3) Which clothing items would I be devastated to lose through a bleach spill?

4) Does this thing add value to my life?  Would the space it requires be more valuable to me than the object itself?

5) Would it be helpful to invite a friend over (or an organizer!) to help evaluate stuff?

 

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  William Morris

 

 

The Best Christmas Gifts

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When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
― Bob Hope

 

In 1979 I celebrated my first Christmas as a single mom. This was not a status I sought or ever dreamt I’d experience. But I had to make the best of it. In my care was a precious toddler son and a baby in my belly. I’d say that I had more time than money. But time wasn’t really that plentiful—to make ends meet I daily cared for five additional children in my tiny home. Time available still out-weighed the money, I guess. I took stock of materials I had and created gifts without spending a dime. I think I was most proud of placemats I made for my mom. I’d been given red calico fabric which I quilted and covered the edges with red bias tape. My mom loved them!  It’s hard to imagine taking the time to do that today! I had embroidery thread and cloth to stitch so I made my dad a cross-stitched framed picture of a deer. Probably not the top of his wish list, but I’m sure he appreciated my effort! I remember making lots of ornaments from fabric remnants and baking treats, probably chocolate chip cookies. Those were difficult but memorable days. It’s funny when you think about what things are most important and the gifts that are most special.

Christmas season 2015 had me harkening back to the old days. Again, I decided to make all of our presents. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I had a wonderful time creating with materials I had on hand.  I think I had more fun than the recipients. Maybe not a stellar year for them, but fulfilling for me!

These days I almost don’t recognize myself. In years past, on December eighteenth, I would have been scurrying around, frantically shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. This year I’m embracing imperfection in all of its glory. I’m not getting everything done that I’d like to do. Grace  is what I’m giving myself. I’m savoring the moments and saying yes to things I would have avoided in earlier years, because they interrupted my progress. This year I’m counting my gifts–experiences that I wouldn’t have seen as gifts before.  Here are some personal favorites:

  • The annual Christmas Talent Show hosted by our daughter’s Group Home is my all time favorite gift. Dawn has autism and severe cognitive disabilities. Each year she wears a red shirt and refuses to wear a festive hat. Every year she holds bells in her hand because ringing them is her part in the show. Every year she carefully, systematically holds them still, so as not to ring them. We watch with raucous laughter and cheers. The Beethoven of the group plays four or five notes on the keys with one finger and spends more time taking his bow. The quartet “sings” with the biggest smiles you can imagine. Then, Santa appears!  The folks jump up from their seats to give him the biggest hug ever. As you watch their interactions,  you know Santa is real!
  • Senior project presentations by the Occupational Prep class at a local high school. I’m amazed at the knack my daughter has with these kids. I was moved to tears by their stories and the hope I have for their future! And I almost said no to her request to come! It was cold and dark, it was on Market Street, I felt out of place and I wanted to stay home. I’m so grateful that she persisted!
  • Spending time with our first grandchild. Pondering the significance and blessing of bearing children and knowing and enjoying our children’s children. What a gift.
  • Going through all of our coats and blankets and donating extras to the homeless shelter.
  • Making financial donations to people and ministries who are doing the work. They are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.
  • Enjoying the new clients I’ve met in my Tranquiliving business during the holiday season. One lady is ready for her children to join her for Christmas because of my help. Another will be hosting a party for her friends since we conquered the paper piles together! Everyone has a story and they’re all important!
  • Christmas music!
  • Gratitude for our grown sons and the way they love their wives.
  • Our daughter’s upcoming marriage to a great guy that God chose for her!
  • All the notes and cards from my husband while he’s working in another city. And for our thirty-one years.
  • Too many more “gifts” to count. Writing these stirs up my gratitude!

If you find yourself out of ideas and time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Send a note with an offer to treat a friend to lunch or coffee after the holidays.
  • Post your Christmas card on social media.
  • Mail a card or send a text affirming your appreciation and love for a friend.
  • Offer to babysit so a young couple can have a date.
  • Pick up a gift of coffee, tea, a plant or candy at Trader Joe’s.
  • Offer to help a friend wrap gifts.
  • Help a friend with post Christmas clean up.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge