How to be Strong

How to be Strong

I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,

When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.

I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.

I never set out to be the strong one.

When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.

My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.

Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.

Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.

Another clue that I was holding it all inside.

I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such  difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.

When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.

Evidence of storing the pain away.

Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.

I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!

I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.

Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16

 

 

 

 

Ruts

rut1
rət
noun
plural noun: ruts
1. a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
2. a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.

I like ruts. Sameness, ritual, routine. I don’t tire of the same coffee, the same neighbors, same food. I like living in the same house where our babies learned to walk. The house Tom built.

My father used to tell me the horrifying story of driving his daddy’s car in the rural Ozark hills when he was eight years old. He told us about picking up his “girlfriend” for his eighth birthday party. He could drive somewhat safely because of the ruts in the road. They kept him on course. There wasn’t fear of veering to the right or left; the ruts kept him engaged in the familiar way.

I relate to the rut concept so much these days. For me it’s not unproductive or dull that I’m feeling. It’s safety and comfort. I’ve lived in the same home for about thirty years and I’ve learned how I fit here. I’m content with my roles as neighbor, mom, Mimi, and friend. I’m pretty sure that I’d stay right here in this house until my last breath if God and Tom hadn’t intervened. Stay happily, I might add.

The only thing I like more than sameness is a looming sense of what I call God’s Purpose. Since I was spiritually awakened and enlightened as a teenager many years ago, my daily prayer is for guidance into the plans and calling that God has assigned me. A pursuit of this Purpose has carried me through joy, heartache, divorce, longing, poverty, marriage, grief and celebration; always with a deepening sense of His reality and nearness in my life. At this point, with my history, I’d be foolish to disregard His leading even if it’s opposed to my comfort and desires.

Ruts can be good for specific reasons. Say, for instance, there is a project that requires your full attention or a discipline that needs to become a habit in your life.

I read a book about habits— The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. One of the most impressive examples given was the story of Michael Phelps’ training practices. For many years he’d gone through precisely the same daily and hourly habits that eventually brought him to record-breaking victories in the Olympics.

At some point, however, a person may need to take the steep climb out of the rut that’s unknowingly been created. Could there be a new unexplored road ahead?

Living in what we call Christianity—following Christ—calls for attention to His ventures. On the one hand, the not knowing can be rather exciting. On the other hand, for some of us, the not knowing what’s around the next corner can be quite terrifying.

This is where I find myself today. Change brought on by Tom’s job in another state. I’m pursuing another life and home because I know my place is with him.

Countless times I’ve been grateful to God for leading me. When life is most difficult, I’m most desperate to hear Him speak. Through the Holy Spirit, if I take time to be quiet, He never disappoints.

I know with all my heart I couldn’t have survived this life without the friendship and closeness of Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. The Bible is alive and fresh each day and gives us everything we need for living life fully. I can never thank Him enough.

Screwtape, speaking of God says, “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” Screwtape calls God’s propaganda an “appalling truth”. “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself–creatures whose life on its miniature scale will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.” The Screwtape Letters  by C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

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).

 

 

 

 

When Home Staging gets Personal

When Home Staging gets Personal

What if you suddenly walked out of your home, never to return? What would your loved ones find? 50312342_l I speak often these days to baby boomer clients about all their stuff, and what in the world to do with it?  We were endowed with rare treasures from our parents and grandparents. Chosen to be  caretakers of priceless antiques. “Keep these pieces in our family,” they said. I’m constantly saying to my clients and to myself,  “Stuff is only (monetarily) worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”

I’m not speaking of the items that have special meaning to us—things we can’t live without. Like my grandmother’s rings. But how much do we have that doesn’t fit that category? We live in a different world from our ancestors. They bought a few good things and kept them forever. The generations coming after us buy lots of bargain stuff and use it up. We boomers are in the middle; having been endowed with all the valuables and having nowhere to relocate them.

This all came back to me again when I was asked to look at a home recently vacated. I stepped inside and took a look around. It seemed as if the homeowner had just left to run an errand. Clean dishes in the dishwasher, cups by the coffee maker ready to fill with a fresh brew. Drawers brimming with silverware for table setting, family photos all around, green plants that needed water, books half read– this place was full of life. A life interrupted. I learned that, sadly, there was a rather sudden diagnosis and an abrupt departure to family in another city.

You can tell a lot about a person when you’re in their home. This one was full of love. So many treasured antiques. Updated colors and decor here and there. Lots of chairs on the sun porch for lots of people. She had staged her life for living and comfort; not for selling. Did she even know what was happening in her home? I felt like I was invading her privacy; but kept reminding myself that I was there to help.

I’d been asked to come in and identify certain items that could be kept in the house for staging purposes. My single motive was to hasten the sale of her home.

This experience was poignant for me and I knew that it wasn’t just a job. It was another opportunity for me to grow in my understanding of how stuff affects our lives; my clients’ and my own.

Looking ahead to a probable move from my home, I’m challenged to think judiciously about everything. Do I really use it? Need it? Love it?  No more saying, “I might need it some day.” Would I buy the item today? Many times the answer is “No!” But there is that endowment effect. The feeling that the thing is a part of my life and I’m responsible to care for it and see that it has a good home. This process starts the moment we acquire an item. It’s hard to let go after it’s in our possession. Especially for us baby boomers. Funny how our minds work.

Hopefully we’ll all live happily into our nineties! But, life is uncertain. What can you do today, as far as your stuff goes, to prepare for the future? Would your life be lighter and more enjoyable with fewer things weighing you down? Let’s edit out even the good in order to be left with the best. If everything is important nothing is important. Preaching to myself!

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Hans Hofmann

Tips for Staging your Home

Tips for Staging your Home

fullsizerenderOne of the most gratifying things I’ve done in the last thirteen years is to stage homes for the real estate market. A staged home has been proven to sell faster and at a higher price than one not staged. http://realestateagentu.com/11-incredible-home-staging-statistics/ During a consultation I point out details, good and bad, that the sellers have become accustomed to. We all need fresh perspective as we are blind to our own stuff.

The minute you decide to sell your home it becomes a house–a product to market to the public. In an effort to cut the emotional ties, I often ask clients to think of their house as a can of soup on a shelf. How can we make it stand out from all the others? Your goal is to make your house irresistible to buyers; to cause them to fall in love when they first lay eyes on it.

AREAS OF FOCUS:

EXTERIOR

  • Curb appeal is crucial!  A buyer will drive right past your house if deterred by the first impression.
  • Power wash surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways and the house, depending on the structural  material.
  • Lawn and shrubs should be trimmed and in good condition. Enhance the existing landscape material, adding fresh mulch if needed.
  • Remove empty pots and excessive lawn ornaments.  No artificial plants please!
  • Make sure a wooden deck is in good repair and use sealer or stain as needed.  Add a simple seating area using new or like new furnishings.
  • Porch  and entry areas should be clean and simply decorated. Add a new neutral doormat and one large clay pot of healthy greenery or seasonal flowers.
  • Remember to clean light fixtures and porch ceiling!
  • Doors should be immaculate with fresh paint and nice looking hardware.

INTERIOR

  • Remember; the first fifteen seconds are the most critical in drawing a buyer into your house.
  • Paint walls neutral warm colors. Paint over your purple and red walls.
  • Clean like you’ve never cleaned before! Take whatever measures needed to eliminate pet odors.
  • Take special care in bathrooms. Don’t over decorate. White towels and clean surfaces are your best options.
  • Don’t  try to impress buyers with your handiwork and DIY skills, but create a warm, simple and  inviting space that they can imagine living in.
  • Remove personal photos and items.
  • Pack away or discard tired items and pillows and replace with a few updated decorative items.
  • Furniture should be arranged for conversation. Don’t line the walls.
  • Don’t fill each nook and cranny. Buyers want to see enough space for their stuff.
  • Clean out closets, drawers and cabinets. Discard or store (off site) a LOT of your stuff. Arrange storage spaces attractively and show off the potential storage areas.
  • You may need to lease a storage unit temporarily. The garage is not a good area to use for excessive storage. It is a good place to park a car and store appropriate things like bikes and tools. Remember to freshen garage walls with paint.
  • Open the shades and turn on lights when showing your house.
  • Stage any ambiguous spaces or rooms for specific purposes, such as a home office or craft area.
  • Be sure that everything is in excellent repair. If things are broken or in need of replacement the buyer may turn away and believe that the property is not cared for properly.
  • Call Tranquiliving for a detailed staging consultation for only $150!

“Complete all necessary home improvement projects before you show your house. Most buyers are not DIYers and will move on to the next property that is move-in ready.”  Myra Freshwater, Tranquiliving

Moving

Moving

Optimized-IMG_6952Some people like to move. I don’t understand these people. I once got to know the mom of my daughter’s friend in high school. She actually expressed her frustration in living in the same town longer than usual. Apparently two years was the length of their typical stint.

I felt like I was speaking with an alien. Or maybe I was the alien. We spoke different languages. I have to admit I have such admiration and fascination with the “movers”. Clearly I have something to learn from them. As for me, I had trouble changing the front door color the first time because someone thought it should always be blue. What a big step for me to take a risk and paint it red.

Warning…. BIG FEELINGS AHEAD!

Why would anyone want to leave their HOME? It’s my home—my porch, my windows that look out to the azaleas, the forsythia, the dogwood. Why would I want to leave? I can tell who’s walking up the stairs by the sound of footsteps and a certain creak of the floor. I love my porch swing— I love watching birds at the feeder. I LOVE my kitchen, especially since we finally replaced the pink laminate, and built the amazing green cabinet that I designed.

I love to hear family and friends come through the front door—especially the ones who just walk in. I love that every room groans with memories.

I can still visualize the tea party Katherine had when she was five. The little girls were so cute in their frilly dresses and hats.

The wonderful times around the big dining room table when when talked and laughed for hours. Our birthday dinners, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, Sunday dinners–gathering around the table is the very best! The many showers and parties we’ve hosted to celebrate new marriages and new babies.The Bible studies and small groups that lasted for years!

I recall the soccer games in our huge backyard– the time we hired our neighbors to be officials for John’s birthday party. They were pre-teens, but looked liked real referees to eight year old boys.

The Christmas stockings were hidden every year with miles of string attached. Some years they were discovered in the pear tree,  an air vent or in the fireplace. Tom’s skills knew no bounds.

We broke ground on our house the very day we brought John home from the hospital. That was in 1988. For months and months I would drive over to the property with our three kids and watch the progress with great excitement. A few years later we brought our baby daughter Katherine to the only place she’s called home.

Today I’m struggling. I wish I weren’t such a mush when it comes to things like houses and memories. But the truth is I am. I absolutely hate the idea of moving away from this house and living in another city. But sometimes, as we journey through life, things happen unexpectedly and we are led on a course that is different from what we anticipated.

Right now it seems that my husband’s job change may require a geographical relocation in the not so distant future. So I’m processing, grieving and trying to focus on today.

I’ve repeatedly taken comfort in the words of Oswald Chambers (My Utmost; March 19).”Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the  One Who is leading.”

That One leading is the One who has always been faithful to me. So now I wait in expectation, and trust as much as I am able, knowing that all we be well.

“Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:20