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

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

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

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love

801a0656” A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Thirty-one years ago this month something wonderful happened. Tom Freshwater promised to love me exclusively for a lifetime! Sometimes it still seems too good to be true. He said no to other women and yes to me. Actually he said yes to my two children and me! Instantly a family of four was born. He jokes that he married me for my money and I did so for his body. I had about $178.00 in the bank and he weighed all of 134 pounds right after a big meal.

Most of our anniversaries were low-key celebrations. Last year, however, we decided to celebrate in a bigger way. It didn’t seem like the most sensible time. We were in a rather precarious phase financially since Tom was in between jobs. I became emboldened — it was even more important to acknowledge our gratitude in these circumstances. Rather than a formal catered dinner we’d host a covered dish supper at our house, and invite our friends for a 30th Anniversary-and-Vow Renewal celebration!

A friend commented to Tom and me how lucky we were to have such a relationship. I’ve thought about that a lot and it leads me to writing this post. I guess the word luck could be used loosely to say that we found each other at the right time and we were “lucky” to have a lasting marriage. But I honestly think luck had very little to do with it.

When I scan the years in my mind, I remember things like this: there were many sleepless nights. My daughter, who was five at the time, has severe cognitive deficiencies. We spent many nights taking turns staying up with her when she wouldn’t fall asleep. Because she wasn’t able to communicate appropriately she’d cry and screech for unknown reasons. She’d  flail her arms, stomp her feet, and make all sorts of gestures in frustration. It makes me sad to even think about it. Sad for her and for what our family endured.

Another memory is of the painfully long hours Tom invested in his first job. It was quite a distance from our home, and if he wasn’t at work he was on call 24/7. His schedule was not conducive to a happy family life. We were exhausted and barely crossed paths. I often felt that we needed to get reacquainted all over again. It was hard to know what roles we played in the family at times. I often felt numb.

There was the serious accident in his first place of employment. I received a call from the company, “Your husband has been run over by a fork lift; he’s alive, but he’ll probably lose his legs.” I am not kidding. The co-worker who called meant no harm, and tried to be helpful by informing me. It may sound odd or even stalwart on my part, but I distinctly remember that I was filled with gratitude, thinking, “If he’s alive we’ll make it!”.  After securing help for the kids, I quickly jumped in the car and raced to the hospital. The ambulance arrived at the same time, blaring its siren. I’ll fast-forward and skip a lot of emotions. He did not lose his legs and recovered after enduring great pain and rehabilitation.

Through thirty-one years there were the family deaths, the surgeries, the daughter’s seizures, the miscarriages and the temptations. There were aggressive staph infections, the unexpected bills, the home floodings and leaks requiring very long months of repairs. There were the financial and emotional burdens of traveling to assist beloved family members in need, unexpected job loss, and other extremely hard stuff of life. Golly, I’m feeling depressed thinking about it.

But the joys were woven in, intermingled as treasures! Two more children—a family of six! The kid’s unique home birthday celebrations, all the Christmas traditions, memorable trips, the laughter and rejoicing in answered prayers. Through it all there has been deliberateness. 1) The moving toward one another, in physical proximity and touch, even when you don’t feel like it. 2) The unspoken determination to never mention the D word or entertain the idea of being separated.  3)  Putting each other first, even when everything in me wants only MY way. And, 4) “I love you” spoken many times a day. “Thank you for marrying me!” is also standard fare in our conversations.

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Then and now

As I write this today, we’re in a place of stretching and trusting. Even in the difficult times we’re closer and more in love than thirty-one years ago. There’s no one I respect more than my husband. Oneness has grown continually— there is a palpable feeling of hurting and rejoicing for the other as for ourselves.

We revelled in our vow renewal, not because we were lucky and life was perfect– we celebrated because we endured and we chose and we loved. The difficulties spurred us on and grew us up and highlighted all the happy times. It’s always by God’s grace and choosing each other every day, not luck, that gets us where we need to be.

Marriage is worth it ya’ll.

How to Have a Grateful Heart

img_5977“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 graces 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 hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

-Thomas Merton

 

It’s fall ya’ll! Is there a more beautiful season? In the south we’re grateful for the slightest “chill” in the air. We don’t have the array of the mountains’ colors but we get excited about the maples and other hardwood trees that put on a show for us.

What makes November such a special month? Thanksgiving, of course! And my personal favorite, our wedding anniversary. We’ve such happy memories of being married on Thanksgiving weekend thirty-one years ago. Coming together with the extraordinary people in our lives for Friends-giving. That a single mom of two in Mississippi and an unmarried guy in North Carolina could find each other without the internet is something to celebrate. To be more specific, I was a mom of an eight-year-old boy and a five- year-old daughter with autism and severe cognitive delays. I worked two jobs for a time. I would teach pre-school in one town and then drive to a church in another town where I was Director of Daycare and Kindergarten. It was important to have food on the table every day. My life is so much happier now in comparison that I almost forget how difficult that season of life was. The miracle of finding a man who truly loved me and my children was a dream come true.

Through the years we’ve attempted to set apart November in its entirety; to give thanks for our personal blessings as well as for the great country we were born into. When the children were young we’d always read stories and  remember the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

So far we’ve img_5577waited until after Thanksgiving to commence the Christmas decorating. It’s becoming more difficult! With all the commercialism around the holidays, it saddens me that the celebration of Thanksgiving has been nearly obliterated. I always think of Thanksgiving as a gift of rest and contemplation before the madness begins.

Giving thanks on a particular day is one thing; being thankful each day of the year is another. Gratitude is an intentional choice for me. I’m a thinker, feeler and analyzer, often spending too much time in my head. For me to actually be grateful it was necessary to establish a habit of writing specific items down. I’d planned to do that for years, and what finally got me on track was the book by Ann Voscamp, “One Thousand Gifts”. I began numbering each line of a  journal my friend Harriet gave me. For instance: 687. My neighbors, 688. Summer storms, 689. A perfect wife for John! 690. Fellowship and supper with girlfriends at Whole Foods, etc.  After a few years of this practice I’m up to nearly 2,000 “gifts”. There are tiny things and huge things. Whatever comes to mind. And, you cannot imagine how inspiring it is to look back and see all the wonderful things that have come about by God’s grace. I didn’t realize that my gratitude journal would become a diary of my life. I’m so glad I did it and I hope I can encourage you to also start making a list!

“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. O Lord what great works you do!” Psalm 92: 4-5

 

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

Hurricanes and Other Storms

Hurricanes and Other Storms

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I started writing a blog post last week, but somehow I couldn’t get excited about describing emotional trauma caused by mountains of clutter in a home I’d visited. While I was writing, something happened–Hurricane Matthew. I kept imagining mothers in Haiti hovering over their babies while the winds were sweeping away their flimsy homes. My mind was scrolling through images I’d either seen or imagined.

I experienced my own angst as I heard the familiar scary howling sounds in the pitch darkness just outside my walls. I’ve lived near the coast my entire life and gone through many storms. Night is most difficult because you can’t see what’s happening right around you. I recommend Benadryl for these occasions. I was caring for an adult daughter with severe cognitive challenges and a very sweet mother-in-law who has her share of memory issues. When the lights went out I consciously spoke in soft sweet tones trying to keep my charges “happy”. I kept reminding myself how fortunate I was to live in a sturdy brick house.

Nearly a week after the storm, the images keep coming through social media, I’ve had to fight feeling overwhelmed. I hurt so for the victims. How can I complain about hurricane inconveniences when others have suffered much more in comparison? As I was praying for the ones hurting and also for my own heart, God reminded me that I’ve weathered my storms, and others have weathered their own. We can’t determine what storms we’ll encounter. Only our Creator  knows what we’ll face. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) God is sovereign —”He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)  What I can control is the way I respond to what comes my way. I’m not helping the Haitian people by worrying, but I can help in a small way by supporting the efforts of people who are serving. (http://samaritanspurse.org) And I can pray.

As I sorted through all of this in my mind, I recalled other storms in my life. Hurricane Frederick is the one I associate with becoming a single mom. My little boy was nearly two and I was pregnant with my daughter. I never planned to “single parent”, but sometimes those storms come along as well. I remember the winds whipping up as I dragged all the garbage cans, chairs and flower pots to safe storage.

I remember that my little boy, Ben, and I moved in with our friends, the Beavers. We ended up losing power for many days and the short distance between our houses was blocked; huge trees littered the streets. Neighbors brought thawed food from freezers and cooked on grills. We disinfected the water we’d saved in the bathtub by adding Clorox. We lived with our friends for at least a week or so. The closeness to loved ones balances the memories of painful realities in my life at the time.

A baby shower for Kathy had been planned during the time of “Frederick”, which of course, had to be postponed. When Renee hosted the party a few weeks later, it took on a festive hurricane theme!  Cynthia, the cake decorating genius, created a disaster themed cake; broken Twix candy bars became strewn trees.  We rearranged the art on the walls in a lopsided fashion and turned decorative pieces over as if a wind had blown right through the home. We agreed to use no lights, only candles and kerosene lamps. And……Spam was on the menu! Spam became an undesired symbol of the hurricane during the aftermath.  It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re hungry!

Just one week ago, this house, belonging to our friend Grey, was torn in half by a large oak tree.  Amazingly, he was spared from harm— dashing from his bedroom as he heard the tree coming down. God’s love in the midst of the storm. Writing has helped me to recall difficulties I’ve come through and most importantly, God’s faithfulness. I take comfort; knowing He will likewise be faithful to His other hurting children. I’ll keep donating drinking water to our North Carolina neighbors and help however I can.  And I’ll remember to let go of things outside of my control, which is nearly everything.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami