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Back to Simplicity

Note: I wrote this a month ago while we were homeless. I have no idea how I missed posting it, but I still stand behind what it says, so here it is:

Just over three weeks ago, my husband, son, and I sold our house, five weeks before we could close on another one. In October my oldest son bought a house, and he invited us to stay with him. We said yes.

At this moment, 95% of what we own is in a storage unit across town. For the first few days we visited often as we added to it and tried to find the most important things to bring to my son’s house. But for the last two weeks, we’ve not visited our things at all.

I had been writing about decluttering and living a simpler life. I think this qualifies. My husband, son, two dogs and I are sharing a bedroom. My wardrobe is in a box, and for the sake of simplicity I haven’t dug down too far, so I keep wearing the same two or three items over and over again. We have nothing personal around–photos, art, decorations. Everything is my son’s. All of my hobbies are buried in the storage shed, so I do a lot of wandering and wash a lot of dishes to keep busy.

I don’t miss most of my things. I wish I hadn’t buried my planner or my son’s gradebook. I hope I find the grade book again, because his entire fall semester of grades is in there. Our cats were farmed out to family, and I really miss them. I want my dresser so I can lay out clothes so I can see them. But for the most part, my stuff is extra.

Granted, my son has kitchenware and dishes, so it’s not like we cook over a fire pit with sticks. He has towels and toilet paper. We’re living in a fully furnished house, only very little of it belongs to us. And I don’t really miss the stuff that does belong to us.

I’m excited about moving back to my own place. Not sharing a bedroom with a teenage boy. Room to spread out a little bit. A new yard that’s a wide open blank slate. But the time here with my son has been educational. It’s nice to know I’m not hopelessly attached to my stuff. We’re moving to the country, but my son lives in an urban neighborhood, and I’ve enjoyed that, especially the variety of races and ethnic groups we meet when we go shopping nearby. It’s good to know we can thrive where we didn’t plan to be and enjoy life when it doesn’t exactly follow the plan.

God blessed us with a place in the country, but I’m glad we had this little respite to hang out with my son and live a different kind of life.

Up a Gravel Hill

img_20170217_075026Last Monday I was able to fulfill a long-term dream. My family moved into a little manufactured house on 3.6 acres, so we are now living in the country. Across the street is a farm where cows wander all day. Behind us are horses that occasionally top the hill so we can see them against the horizon. It’s quiet out here. Roosters crow from the horse farm, and red-winged blackbirds call from everywhere.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about slow living. I like the idea of simple living, but I don’t focus on the decluttering part as much as the busyness part. I like living slow. And yet, I’m conditioned to  fight that.

I can watch an hour of television and feel no guilt. It’s entertaining, and it’s culturally acceptable. It’s even acceptable to turn on Netflix and binge every now and then and watch a season of something in a weekend.

However, if I stare out my window at cows for an hour, I feel like I am wasting time. Why? It’s interesting to me. I love to see and hear what goes on outside. Why is it wasteful to watch God’s Netflix but acceptable to watch man’s? And face it, what I watch out my windows is a lot more acceptable to God than some of the antics on the screen I call entertainment. Am I the only one who struggles with this?

As I was ‘wasting time’ this week watching skies and clouds, I was thinking about heaven. I wish God had given us more hints about what heaven will be like. But I suspect we can be present without guilt. We can take time to pursue a thing without worrying about needing to do something else. I want to stand on a cliff side and watch the sea for hours. I want to stare at the stars and listen to the wind or the rain and not ever feel the tug of time, not play a mental list of better ways to use my hours, never feel guilt about choosing to feed my love of beauty or my love of creation. In fact, people I love might stand at my side and stare in awe with me, for what will that landscape look like, when sin no longer causes creation to groan, when all is as it was meant to be from the beginning, when I can work with God keeping up the perfection of his world and never fear working against it?

I realize this is a blog filled with rather discordant ideas and thoughts, but that’s where I am this week. I left the home where I raised my children. Only one child moved with me. We’re not around the corner from the grocery store. I feel loss as well as gain, wonder as well as emptiness. There are a lot of emotions to process, because we all know a move has little to do with geography and a lot to do with memories and heart and people. And although we didn’t move far, only thirty miles, in the world of people that’s a long way. Things aren’t what they were a week ago. And it remains to be seen what our new life will look like.

I am excited about this new step on the path. But I also know location doesn’t change the deep things. I hope to see God here on the hillside, but my sin is still my sin. My struggles are still my struggles. I’ve added images of beauty and awe, but I am still me. And I knew that would be the case, but sometimes I wish it was as easy to change the inner self as it was to change geography.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for this post. Next time I’ll try to be more organized. My physical life will be more organized as I work through boxes. The emotions should be calmer as I work through the new distances from my adult children and my friends. I might even post a blog entry with a specific point. But until then, if you find yourself on a meandering path, feel free to share that with me. I get to write to you all the time, and I’d love comments or emails with your stories, too. Everyone’s path includes stories worth telling, ideas worth pondering, insights worth sharing. Feel free to share yours. Here in the country I have time and space to hear and ponder with you.

A Job Well Done

file0001984548061My husband, youngest son, and I are putting our house on the market. This means all those repairs we’d neglected–we are working on those. All the clutter we stopped seeing ages ago–it’s time to open our eyes and deal with it. It’s taken an insane amount of time, which is one reason this blog has been sitting in silence for a while.

When we moved into this house we were a family of five. Our kids were ages 4-9. Within a year another one arrived. Most of my kids’ childhoods happened in this house.

Now, this post is not a walk down memory lane. Truth is I’m not all that sentimental about houses. But I remember what it was like to have little kids and a house, and I wanted to spend more time dealing with the kids than the house. The house was background, and the family within was foreground.

So now, nearly two decades of semi-neglect later, I’m trying to get my house ready, and I want it ready fast. I’m not very patient. My first instinct is to cut corners. Make it look nice, even if problems are hiding under the surface. So what if the whole place falls apart in a year? As long as it looks good enough to sell…

Right. I’m trying hard to think about the family that will move into this house. It means I might spend a little more than I want for things I’m about to leave, like the new kitchen faucet, which should last forever without dripping. Some young mama living in this house doesn’t need dripping faucets. Or the floor I’m putting in the laundry room because I didn’t bother a year ago when the water heater blew out–it’s true I got cheap flooring, since that’s all I could manage, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure it’s put down well so it won’t be a problem for a long, long time.

The fight between my impatient self and my kind self has been rough. I fear that I’ll finally get this place ready to go and all the houses I’ve been watching will be gone, and I’ll be homeless. But I know I need to do my best. No, my work isn’t the same as a professional, but I do my best within the budget I’ve been given. And I won’t fix everything, but I’ll be honest about what works and what doesn’t. The problems won’t be huge, like hidden mold in the basement or a colony of bats in the attic. Whoever moves in should be able to focus more on the people within these walls than the walls themselves.

God has talked to me in the silence while I lay tile or paint walls. And more than once He’s had to say Do that again. That’s the sloppiest trim painting job I’ve ever seen. What’s wrong with you? or Don’t you think they deserve a laundry room floor that isn’t peeling in the corners? And I laugh and sigh and put on another coat or lay another tile. I work for Him. And that means a job well done, even when the last thing I want to do is put up yet another coat of trim paint.

When Someday Might be Soon

sun-on-mist-through-treesAnyone who knows me knows I have always wanted to live in a country setting. I want to look out the window and see beautiful scenery and not just neighbors. It’s never been feasible for us to move, mostly because of money, so it’s just a dream. Someday, I say. Someday.

A couple weeks ago a few events happened that made me rethink the someday part of that dream. I saw a couple houses in our price range that had land and beautiful scenery. My son got married, and another is closing on a house, so our family is shrinking fast, meaning we could do with smaller spaces, which might be more our price range. My husband’s job is in a location that makes it easy to head out to a country setting without him spending half his life in the car.

So we talked to an  agent and decided to put our house on the market. I’m painting and repairing and working myself to death to get it all ready. And while I do, I worry. And I doubt. And I question the wisdom of this. We have a perfectly fine house. It’s on a pretty lot, considering we live in the city. There is no reason for us to move except that I want to. It will be expensive, and it’s work. My husband and son couldn’t care less, so it’s happening just because I want it to, and wow. It’s been hard to tell myself this is okay.

My husband isn’t happy with his job. It doesn’t use his skills, and the pay is much lower than his last job (he was an engineer who lost his job about eight years ago), and it’s second shift, which has been hard. When we decided to move, he stepped up his job search, thinking maybe he could find a new job before we move, and then we could simply move to his new location. I’m fine with that. I hate for him to feel trapped and not to be challenged by his work.

So I’m worrying about finding a new house and whether it’s worth a move just because I want it. Feels decadent. And he hopes to find a job before I find my long-awaited country house, because he would hate to find a job three days after we settle and force us to move again.

Today he got a call from a recruiter about a job that’s close to us but far enough that it would make a country life easier. The job would make more money, and it is in a small, rural town close enough to our big town that I could easily keep my son involved in his life. It would be the best of all worlds. It would be amazing.

And my thoughts about this? It could never happen. That isn’t how God deals with us.

God must get so tired of me for doubting His goodness and His love and His power. I fall into this same pattern of thinking over and over and over. And yet the Bible makes it clear He isn’t tired of me. He doesn’t get frustrated and make my life hard just because I expect it to be hard. His love is huge. Of course He could give us a good job and a good house at the same time. He’s done it for other people. It’s not an impossible dream. And if He does or doesn’t do that, it doesn’t change His love for us. He isn’t a big meanie who doles out blessings like a miser.

So where does the doubt come from? I’ve had plenty of things in my life work perfectly. Healthy babies that grew up to be healthy adults. A roof over our heads even after months on unemployment. A great church. We have cars that run and toilets that don’t. So where do I get this idea God puts a limit on how good things can get?

I’ve been like this forever. It’s something God and I hash out over and over and over, my doubt that He cares about the little things, that He works in the details. The big stuff, sure, like salvation and justification. Heaven. I have no doubt he loved me enough to send Jesus. So why do I think a few details are beyond Him? And where do I get the idea that He wants me happy, but not too happy. Life can be good, but not too good.

I don’t have answers for that. I have the feeling the next few weeks are going to shake a few things loose. I’m a mom who’s spent the last quarter century putting myself second to my family, and right now I’m asking my family to sacrifice so I can see trees. You bet I have some things to learn here. And my marriage–whatever happens with the house and a job, we’re about to make some changes. We’ve not moved in seventeen years. And in more personal ways we’ve been pretty stationary, too. Big changes in our outer world will mean big changes in our relationship. And that’s exciting and scary.

So. We’re putting our house on the market. Simple words. People do it all the time. My son is a mover, so his entire livelihood depends on people moving from place to place. But it feels huge and strange, and it’s bringing up a whole lot of emotions and shaking loose a whole lot of wrong thinking. And God is there waiting, smiling, urging us to seek Him and work through it all and maybe for once get a real picture of His love, maybe one I can keep hold of for a time.

I’m excited. I’m terrified. And as the words of this blog leave my fingertips, I know this is God calling me to come closer. Whatever happens, He stands with outstretched hands and beckons me to come close so He can take the burden and work through the questions and grow me into the person he wants me to be. City, country, good job, bad job–He can and will work through whatever He has planned for us.

Step of faith? Step of selfishness? Doesn’t matter. He’s part of it and loves me, whatever the motives, whatever the path, whatever the outcome.

A Well-Fed Life

dsc00997A couple weeks ago I was in Florida on vacation. It feels like a year ago, but it was a week. A week ago today we were having our final swim in the pool. In the days since, I’ve missed a few things about the trip. I mean, beyond the obvious–having no schedule, being off work, all the vacation biggies. And I’ve been thinking about how I might add some of the things I missed to my current life.

First, we walked the beach twice a day. At least. And we saw different animals, and different people, and we discussed them, and we watched the sky, and I collected shells, and it was peaceful out there.

I can’t walk the beach every day here at home. But I can go outside more. We have two dogs who think walking is the best thing ever. We have a small park a block from our house. It’s slightly sterile as parks go–in the sixteen years we’ve been walking there, we’ve seen one duck, one snake, and one turtle, but we also watched a hawk pair raise a family twice, and there are always squirrels. And there are other parks around. The natural world isn’t limited to vacation sites.

I love animals. I love plants and fungus. So why don’t I make time to get out into it? I can fall into the trap of thinking rest doesn’t matter, that every second has to be useful, but when I’m out with my son or husband walking the dog, it’s never, ever, ever wasted time. We talk. We laugh. We observe. We relax. We wear out the dogs. (Okay, we wear out the Chihuahua. The cattledog always comes home and runs laps around the back yard, frustrated by having to walk at our slow pace.) And yet we don’t take the time to get out like we should.

I realized when I was on the beach that there are some things I never tire of. I was excited every single time I saw a lizard. And since we saw lizards every step we took, I was excited a lot. I can pick up 4,000 iterations of the same seashell and be delighted by every single one. Here at home, I can watch birds and squirrels all the time and get as giddy as the first time. For me, animals and the natural world never get old.

While vacationing we fed turtles, squirrels, and water birds at a little city park. I was in heaven. It was the most fun thing ever. And yet recently my bird feeders at home have sat empty. I don’t always have to go for a walk to see the natural world. I can draw it close. (And as the raccoons that recently spent time in our attic show, sometimes it comes a little too close!!). So I want to do that again, too. Beauty can be free. Or cheap, since I have to buy bird seed. But I want to draw beauty close. I do most of my writing a few feet from a window to our backyard within sight of the bird feeders and a bird bath. Why am I not taking advantage of that?

So. This seems a little rambling, I know. I’ve felt a little rambling since getting home. I’m struggling to catch my balance in a few ways. But what touches me most on vacations is the natural beauty, so why am I not making the effort to bring that beauty into my real life? I gardened a lot this summer, so parts of our yard are lovely. Time to fill those lovely places with birds and squirrels, bring some life and beauty close, and feed that part of me that thrives on the natural world.

Are there places in your life, in your heart, that you’re starving for no good reason? Maybe it’s time to feed them. As I was reading about King Solomon recently, I noted that he studied animals. He had gardens. He seemed interested in all kinds of things. Hobbies matter. The world around us matters. It’s okay to spend time pursuing things without measurable reward. For me, that means the views out my window or what I see when I go walking. For you it might be something different. But last week reminded me that parts of me need fed, that I need to feed and value all the pieces of my life. Jesus promised to give us life to the full. I think that includes things that simply make our hearts sing.

Simplicity Meets the Garden

simplicity meets the gardenWith the arrival of summer, I’m looking at my garden. And I’m groaning. I love the idea of gardening. It sounds so great–beautiful flowers, healthy veggies, cool and shady spots to sit with a cup of tea. I think the theory of gardening is amazing.

However, the reality of my gardening attempts seems to be fungus, rot, bugs, heat, slugs, weeds, and  failure.

In my quest to simplify this year, I’m tackling my yard. And I have given myself permission to tear out most of the gardens. Last year I let most of them go, because the budget included exactly nothing to take care of them and I wasn’t in the best place and didn’t want to bother. This year, they’re wild. I’m not using a trowel and pruning shears to deal with them. I need a full-fledged shovel and branch loppers. A chainsaw wouldn’t hurt. But I will conquer them.

Destruction is kind of fun. I have found there are parts of simplifying that I enjoy. I love throwing things away. I love tearing things down. I should have gone into demolition. Give me a crow bar, a hammer, loppers, a shovel, and I have a blast.

Then, though, things have to be put back together. And in a garden, that means things have to be planted, and things are supposed to grow.

I am limiting my gardens to the foundation planting  and a path along one side of my house, a spot I see from my kitchen. My youngest son and I have decided to use Asian gardens as our inspiration, because they are simple and feature things like stone lanterns and rocks. It’s not easy to kill a rock. Or I hope it isn’t. I’ll keep you posted on that.

My hope, of course, is to come up with something beautiful. Beauty out front that the world can see as it drives by. And beauty out back where I gaze while I wash dishes. I love beauty. I long for it. And when I fail–when beauty dies or leaves or isn’t within my grasp–it hurts.

Gardens can hurt. Homes can hurt. My dreams and visions are so much more than my abilities. I think many of those dreams and visions are anticipatory. The perfect garden is coming. The ultimate beauty of a world lit by a loving son–coming. Sometimes, when I’m in a garden fighting Japanese beetles or fungus or weeds, I have to stop and smile. The first garden didn’t have these problems. The next life will have gardens without these problems.

For now, I’m trying to make beauty with as few plants as possible, because we’re not to that next garden yet. This is the garden with the curse. And man, God makes the best curses, don’t you think?  But imagine how awesome the next garden will be since I had to fight so hard for this one. Makes all of this worth it.

Note–it’s summer now. I’m going to spend more time trying to live a simple life and less time writing about it. So, my Simple Living Friday posts may come less often. I may  wait until fall to talk about how I did this summer. I may not. But I’m cutting myself a little slack and trying to get a handle on things in my physical life before the school year rolls around again. Enjoy summer, everyone. Celebrate. Find beauty. Rest. Read a good book. And let God speak into the quiet.

Yesterday was the Last Day

the last dayFor the past twenty-one years, I’ve been a home school mom. I have graduated three, and my last student is just about to finish sophomore year.

A lot of moms won’t home school because they don’t feel they are organized. They worry about lesson plans and keeping up with housework and a myriad of other things related to organization. I am here to say that, as much as I am trying to organize my life, if I stopped living it until I was organized I’d be 47 and not even out of the starting gate yet. I certainly wouldn’t have home schooled, and that has probably been the biggest blessing my family has had.

Here are a few ways I handled being disorganized as a home school mom. The point of this post is to show that, while organization isn’t a bad idea, a perfectly acceptable life can happen in the mean time. A really great life, even.

First, I get bored easily, so even though I taught four kids, I seldom used the same curriculum twice. This meant I didn’t need to keep my books pristine. We could write in them, cut them up, do whatever we wanted, and next year I’d get something new. Sure, if one ends up in good condition I can sell it, but I don’t pressure myself to keep my books in new condition. Wayward spaghetti sauce or cat pee aren’t life disasters. They’re just life.

Second, I’m a failure at lesson plans. In the writing world, there are two kinds of people. There are plotters, who outline their books down to the minutiae before they ever write a word. And then there are pantsers, who have a general idea what they want to write and let the story unfold while their fingers are on the keys. (Fly by the seats of their pants. Thus, pantsers.)

I am a pantser in my whole life. I tend to glance over new books from cover to cover when I receive them. Then I plan what to teach the day before. Or, now that I’m down to one student, often the day of. I open the book and decide on the spot how to tackle it. So far, my kids can read and sound coherent in conversations, and all of them can hold jobs, so I’d say the method worked for me.

I don’t schedule holidays along the way. Some are obvious, like Christmas. But sometimes we’ll take a day here or there because we need a break. Sometimes we have snow days, because every kid should experience the elation of waking up and finding school has been canceled during the night. Sometimes we have spring break, but some years we push on through and finish early. Then we can laugh because everyone else is still in school. (There’s a chance that after 21 extra years in school I’ve regressed back to childhood myself.)

Then there’s the last day of school. For the first decade I put it on the calendar. But never once did I follow that. For some reason, there is always this magical day in May where I wake up, and the sun is shining, and the flowers are out, and I look at the school books and say “Hey, everyone, yesterday was the last day of school. We’re done.”

Then we put away the books, and I print up grades and all the paperwork for the year, and it’s over. Now, lest you think I’m completely crazy, this day usually happens when we are finished with most of the books. For instance, right now my sophomore son has exactly two subjects he hasn’t finished. I’d say our yesterday is on the horizon.

Normally I don’t celebrate the final day of school, but this year I will. I want to include more celebration in my life. We’re half dead around here when it comes to celebrating life. I saw that on Mother’s Day, and I realized that they aren’t going to celebrate me until I start to celebrate them again. So, when I wake up, probably in the next week or so, and realize yesterday was the last day of school, we’re going to have a party. My son and I will probably go out to eat. Maybe we’ll think of something else to do. But we’re going to celebrate what we accomplished and the fact that it’s behind us and summer is ahead.

I’m not giving up my dream of being a little more organized. Some things, like taxes and book promotions, need a little bit of preparation. Things get lost. Life can get messy if it’s all left to chance. But, disorganization within limits can be fun. And it’s life, whether it’s organized or not.

I hope this post finds you with fun celebrations to look forward to and interesting stories to tell about the disorganized parts of your life. There’s a good chance that by next Simple Living Friday, we will have had a party around here celebrating the fact that Yesterday was the Last Day of School, and I can tell you if I followed through. I hope I do. Life is too short to worry too much about getting it right. Too short to skip the celebrations.  And one day, yesterday won’t be the last day of school. It will be the last day, and I want to enjoy the days we have.