Thoughts on a Quiet House

Thoughts on a Quiet House

The sink shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least one stray cereal bowl filled with water…waiting to be washed.

The desk in the entry way is naked—where are the keys with the antique bent silver spoon?

The window by the kitchen table is still smudged by sticky baby girl hands—it won’t be cleaned today. It’s a sweet reminder of the laughing little one looking for birdies and squirrels. (My big feelings have clearly taken me to desperate places!)

There aren’t enough dishes to fill the dishwasher.

The blankets and pillows on the sofas stay obediently in their spots.

Piles of laundry that bugged me for so long are gone. Even the laundry room is on a brief vacay.

One week ago our home was bustling with hurriedness and so much chatter and laughter. “Pull up another chair to the table…crowd in…there’s room at the table for you!” No extra chairs needed today.

I’ve been known to grab a neighbor, and drag her to my house for potluck….to clean out the fridge or scrounge the freezer and eat up what we have. Sharing life gives me life.

Spontaneously invite a friend! You can be sure that your fare is as good or better than what she’d eat alone. No need to make a production! And it’s always better together.

Two in a home are better than one. And ten are better than two. We are not meant to be alone. What a treasure loved ones are and what a comfort to connect to other souls; other spirits.

A house shouldn’t be so quiet. No sounds of hurried footsteps dashing out the door and no goodbyes and I love you’s quickly called out.

The porch light is on, but why? No one is coming. New habits new ways new normals—they are all harkening me on to the new chapter.

When our kids were little and there was zero alone time, my friend Cynthia and I would chat on the phone in the mornings. We’d discuss what we learned from Dr. Dobson on 90.5 about parenting and wifing. More than once we discussed the verse from Proverbs 14;4.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Oxen are messy and eat a lot. They’re expensive and time consuming. The manger would be clean without them; but they provide a great harvest. Their benefit far outweighs their drawback.

My friend and I imagined that theoretically we could have a tidy clean house with everything in order. But what benefit would there be to an empty house? We wanted to learn to embrace or at least accept the poopy diapers, never ending laundry, the continual spills. One day we’d miss those little rug rats.

When you’re there it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be here. And isn’t it funny that so much of the time there is a longing for the other season rather than a full on reveling in the present. We humans are so weird and impossible to please; or maybe it’s just me.

An advantage to having lived through lots of years is that you begin to finally realize that each season prepares you for the next. Every single one is as valuable as the one coming. God is always faithful. So why should I fret and why should I be sorrowful? Right now He’s preparing me for what’s ahead and even in my melancholy and tender emotions my hope is in Him. All the days planned for me are written in His book.

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.

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).

 

 

 

 

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

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“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

 

 

Nesting, Thanksgivng and My Gift for You

fullsizerender“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

Is there anyone besides me who thinks that our traditional Thanksgiving holiday has gone missing?

No one on the planet loves Christmas more than me. The holy majestic miraculous celebration! The food, the gatherings, the music, the people!

What I don’t love is feeling smothered by a heavy blanket of marketing that demands, “more More MORE  and rush Rush RUSH!” In social media, print ads and big box stores (ugh), every imaginable trinket, doodad, tchotchke, article of clothing, kitchen item, decoration, game, plastic toy, seems heaped on burgeoning shelves. (As I often remind my organizing clients, “The goal of manufacturers is to create profit, not to improve your life.”) I don’t mean to be a grouch, but honestly is that what Christmas is really all about?

Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I’m laying out the fall decorations I’ve had for so many years. Not fancy, but important because the simple traditions tie us together and remind us that in ongoing change some things are the same. We are always family. Yesterday I made my easy chocolate clusters just so I could fill the glass pumpkin-shaped jar that probably came from a discount store thirty plus years ago.

Think of me as the self-designated Keeper of the Thanksgiving Light. The flame is waning—it’s brightness dimmed by blinding lights clamoring for compulsive shopping and excess. The lighthouse calls gently and rhythmically to those who’d listen. “Remember to pause, be thankful, breathe. Remember who you are, what’s most important and how to really love your people.”

Let’s call to mind all the real gifts we’ve undeservingly received. Sometimes we are moving too fast to notice. Thanksgiving beckons us to pause, open our eyes to the present moment and to wait a few more days before the foray into frenzy.

My Thanksgiving gift to you is a recipe for the simplest and best pumpkin bread ever, especially when you spiff it up with my favorite addition!

JULIE’S PUMPKIN BREAD

3 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Oil

4 Eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 Cup water

2 Cups Pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)

3 1/3 Cups Flour

1 Cup Raisins (optional) OR my personal favorite: 1 Cup Chocolate Chips!

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (8 inch or 9 inch). Bake 1 hour @ 350 degrees. Cool briefly before turning out.

YUM!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why even get organized?

Why even get organized?

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I help people become less cluttered and more organized. I do this not just for the sake of “being organized” but so they can live their lives more fully and meaningfully. Being “organized” isn’t an end in itself. It’s a foundation to the life we want to live in our homes and lives.

I recently found myself again, in a familiar setting. I was privileged to be invited into someone’s personal home spaces. This is the where I come alive. I love encouraging, cheering and inspiring them to make a change for good. It’s my job and my mission.

There were piles. Magazines, unopened mail, boxes labeled and sealed. There were beautiful antiques. Too many pieces of furniture. It wasn’t chaos; it was arranged in a somewhat organized fashion. It was clean enough. No offensive odors. For that I was thankful. There were stacks of clothing and linens. It was a little hard to move around. Before my client had time to offer explanations, I had evaluated the situation and quickly found empathy for her. I asked what she envisioned for her home. “What is your dream?” “If you could snap your fingers and instantly alter your situation, what would it look like?” “We’d be able to have friends over for dinner.”  That was the uppermost desire in her mind; in her heart.

Once again I thought of the legend about Michelangelo. When asked how he created the beautiful sculpture of David, Michelangelo replied that he just carved away from the stone everything that wasn’t David. Such an incredible truth that we can apply to our homes and lives. My client and I reflected on this principle. Each time we picked up a piece of paper that was saved for a sentimental reason or for just in case, I would ask her a question. “If you have to choose between saving this, and hosting friends in your dining room, which do you choose?” “Toss it!”, she’d say every time.

For an entire home, a room, a shelf, or a closet, first cast a vision for the space. Ideally, empty the area completely. Then place in the space the essentials; things you need and love; whittling away at everything else. This is where I think the glitch comes for most people: how to cull the excess that doesn’t fit into the vision. (Even when we are willing to let go, it’s important that we have good options for off-loading items. I give my clients numerous ideas for their stuff.)

First of all, we must keep the vision at the forefront of our minds; our imaginations. If “hosting friends” is the vision, go ahead and create your “dream come true” on paper as well as in your mind. Measure and figure and plan for the day when the room is absent of the nonessentials and there is space for the necessary items. Imagine the table settings, and using the lovely antique table that’s been languishing and gathering dust. Imagine your grandmother’s china that has been stored away. Imagine the friends around the table, the laughter, the delicious meal that you’ve wanted to try but haven’t had the space to do it.

Without actually knowing what we want the end result to look like, we lack the courage and fortitude to let go of things that have been so much a part of our lives. Letting go is so hard but it will open up a world of possibilities,  joy and purpose that we can’t even imagine!

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

― William Morris

Juxtapositions

Juxtapositions

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird life is and the unbelievable contrasts that appear almost daily. Social media might be the best example to bear this out. Where all the latest best and worst news appears.

Several days ago, alongside close friends, I enjoyed a delightful breakfast on a pier overlooking the water at Wrightsville Beach. One of those perfect days, sunny and breezy and not too hot. At the same exact time, a well loved lady from our church lay in a hospital bed, in a coma, with little expectation for recovery. She had suddenly, unexpectedly taken ill, while fully enjoying life with her friends. The news sent shock waves through our community. Somehow it seemed wrong that I was enjoying the beautiful day with friends.

I remember many years ago when a beloved family member went missing. I clearly recall, running errands, noticing all the people scurrying around, as if nothing had happened. My heart was so distressed and I couldn’t understand how life seemed to be going on as normal.

Several months ago I was meeting with some ladies from a large local retirement community. They had asked me to consult with them as to how to utilize spaces and floor plans in some new apartments they were designing. There would be an open house in which I’d present- and more exciting were the potential contacts and business I would make.

As I was driving away from the meeting, my phone rang and it was my husband. It was raining and storming heavily and I asked if I could return his call. His tone was serious; “No, we need to talk.” As I pulled over to park, he told me that he was packing up his office after deciding to resign from the position he’d held for 13 years. It was so surreal; I couldn’t believe it was really happening. One day earlier he was a full time employee and now he was in job search mode.

Two days later one of our sons found himself out of work and it was likewise a shock. He’d help build the company and it seemed to be thriving.

Ten days after that, our younger son and wife were on their way to celebrate family birthdays when a young driver crossed 2 lanes of traffic to hit them and render their car unfit to drive.

That night after the accident we celebrated my birthday and Ben’s. I opened a gift only to find a Grandma book! It didn’t even register with me at first that this was our announcement- we were about to be grandparents for the first time! Juxtapositions.

I checked my phone after an organizing job, awhile back. There it was; a sandwich of contrasts; a sweet encouraging message from a friend, devastating news from another friend telling me that the baby they’d longed for and prayed for was not to be theirs, and then an audio of our first grandchild’s heartbeat!

I think about this a lot. How life is just crammed full of happy surprises and heartaches. The bright happy colors and dark morose ones you’d find in a hand woven tapestry. How do we clearly  see the design of the bright colors? They show up as they contrast with the dark. When do we  truly revel in a sunny, clear, sky blue day? After many rainy dark days. On the rare occasions that I’m sick, I’ve always noticed that after I recover from whatever cold or virus I happen to have had, all of a sudden I am so very grateful for good health!

JUXTAPOSITIONS. When I think about my life, I truly don’t think I would have known joy and gratitude without the pain. Heartaches, devastating life situations that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In retrospect I know that the cumulative years of difficulty were changing my heart and my perspective. Without the ugly stuff I wouldn’t have recognized the beautiful. God is the Designer of my todays and tomorrows. The juxtapositions give me heightened awareness and keep me humble.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”  Og Mandino

 

Message from a park bench

Message from a park bench

thumb_IMG_7489_1024I find myself in that familiar place again. Propping my leg up on the small wooden park bench, I stretch those hamstring muscles that are so much tighter than they once were. 🙂 I walk for exercise and inspiration most days of the week. Often I end up in a nearby park where this bench sits. It is a poignant sight. Attached to the back of the bench is a plaque in honor of a woman, loved by her husband, parents and children, who passed away too soon.

I remember her well. Our little boys were in a pre-school class together. She was one of those moms who always went the extra mile. She always helped with parties. She had the coolest kid stuff at her home for play dates, although we didn’t use the term “play dates” back then. Once, when our kids had advanced into elementary school, she called me inquiring about videos of the pre-school programs. There were some class events that she couldn’t come up with while cataloging videos of  her children’s school activities. I was not helpful. We didn’t even own a camera at the time. I remember feeling like I was a few rungs below this super mom. Of course she would never have intended that I feel that way. She was just a loving and involved mom for whom documenting her family’s life was crucial.

I was sad when I learned that she’d passed away a few years ago. Today as I’m walking the short loop around the park I can’t get her off my mind. I’m wondering, if she could chat with me today, what she’d say. I have a feeling that she’d tell me to quit worrying about wrinkles. She didn’t have time to develop any. To quit fretting over how I come across to others. Why not just be myself? Maybe even to embrace the signs of “maturity” because it means I’m still alive. Spending time worrying about our home, our jobs, even our family….what a waste. Living in the present moment is what I’m guessing she’d encourage me to do. Not wasting a precious minute on things I can’t control or that don’t really matter. My thoughts of her spur me on to be grateful.

I recall another friend who died young. Shortly before passing, he commented that walking across the street, the sun bearing down on him, was like a miracle. It was as if he’d come alive; he had a new awareness of the gift of just feeling and breathing and walking. So today I’m more aware of all the gifts; and I commit myself anew to live more freely and fully in the moments I have.

To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His Love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense grace from Him. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by heresay but by experiences. And that is what makes all the difference.”

Thomas Merton