2015: The Year of Less

We have wandered through the valley. 2014 has taken us through places we never want to revisit. For so many people close to me this has been a year of loss, deep wounds, betrayal, and grief. I’ve been thinking about it recently as this year, mercifully, draws to a close. We are within reach of a new year and I am personally looking forward to this midnight on December 31st more than any other I can remember. That includes the transition into Y2K when the apocalypse threatened to wipe out humanity. *Spoiler alert* it didn’t.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about who I want to be and what I want to do. I’ve been mulling over what are some of the things most precious to me and the moments that bring happiness and the deepest sense of contentment. I’ve also been thinking about the kind of things that cause stress and anxiety, and the types of situations that wound me and threaten the peace of my home. After much consideration, the Invisible Man and I have come to the conclusion that 2015 will be a year of less.

First up, less STUFF.

The Invisible Man and I both lost our grandmothers this year. We rejoice that they are home. We’ve seen both sets of our parents left to handle what was left behind. Our grandmothers are whole, complete, and reunited with those they never stopped loving deeply. We celebrate that. At the same time, there is now stuff left behind to deal with. Inevitably stuff becomes a burden. A drawer full of knickknacks loses the sentimental value when the owner no longer cares for them at all. And let’s face it, they aren’t grieving the loss of souvenir bells from Tennessee or plates from Georgia right now. It’s not things that give us the best memories of our loved ones, it’s the experiences we shared.

Things are stressful. When Mt. Washmore reaches epic proportions and piles of laundry take over any open spaces on furniture, it frustrates me. There are four humans and two dogs in this house. That can generate quite a bit of laundry. One day I realized, we just don’t need this much stuff! I came across this quote: “Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.” –Peace Pilgrim

Mt. Washmore in the early stages.

Mt. Washmore in the early stages.

It was a beautiful moment when I realized that I can control certain aspects of my own happiness and that I do have the ability to cultivate a peaceful atmosphere in my home. WHAT IF I only had ONE load of towels to wash? People around the world live with so much less. When did I begin to think that I needed so much? Quite simply, I don’t. When there are fewer things around, there are fewer things to maintain. I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the house getting rid of stuff. We’ve donated three carloads of things that others might need that we’ve just been hanging onto. How selfish of me to keep that extra blanket on the side table when there is someone else who might actually need it. What did we do with all of those old towels that amounted to TWO extra loads of laundry? We sent them to the local animal shelter, who was quite grateful to receive them because they ALWAYS need extra towels.

Something else has been whirling around as I’ve been clearing things out. Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” I am thankful to live in the house that the Invisible Man and I prayed for and waited to build for seven years. It’s a gift. I don’t want to take this place that’s meant to shelter my family and turn it into a place of chaos and stress by tripping over another pair of tennis shoes that don’t fit anymore or trying to cram another mug onto a shelf that’s overflowing. When you consider that He even didn’t have a place to call his own, it’s easier to let go of that blue vase that’s been under the sink for three years.

It’s a personal decision to let go of things. Our Invisible Family has been having conversations about this lately and we think this is the best thing to do for us. Just let things go. We’re clearing out, downsizing, prioritizing, and trying to teach the importance of people and experiences over stuff. I’m looking forward to our journey of less, and one of simplicity.

Relishing the beauty of Turner Falls.

Relishing the beauty of Turner Falls.

And The Rain Came Tumbling Down

And the rains came down.

The rain fell, the flood came.

I haven’t written much lately. Honestly, I haven’t written much this year. I thought once I decided to be a writer I would magically be able to sit down and write things. Anything. Something. What I failed to take into consideration is that sometimes life just beats the joy out of you. While it is exponentially therapeutic to sit down and write out what you’re feeling, what if you just don’t have the heart to sit down and let it all go? It has been a hellacious year. I do not say that lightly.

This year has been the hardest six consecutive months I have ever personally experienced. The losses have been great. From relationships, to trust, to members of the family, it has been a year of grief. It’s one of those places where you never imagine you could be. It never dawns on you, at least not me, that some of my most secure relationships could be in jeopardy, and eventually lost. It hurts. When you’ve said what you can and things are still broken, what is left to do but grieve and try to move forward?

I enjoy the Coffee Cup Bible Studies that Sandra Glahn has written. I recently picked up my copy of “Mocha on the Mount,” to finish going through it. There have been many days when what has been written has specifically been a balm to my spirit in this season. Yesterday was both balm and fire. The passage focused on Matthew 7:13-28. If you are unfamiliar with those verses, Jesus is addressing entering through the narrow or wide gate, recognizing a tree by the fruit it bears, and referring to wise and foolish builders. It became strikingly clear that he is outright telling us how to live life in those verses. He is telling us there will be decisions to make. He is telling us there will be consequences when we choose the easy way, the broad way. Our actions have resounding consequences both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. No man is an island. A tiny pebble starts a ripple of reaction. Every cliché is true about our choices affecting those around us.

The picture of the wise and foolish builders has been spinning around in my mind. When I was a kid my grandmother taught us a song about how “the wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rain came tumbling down.” The other verse of it also said, “the foolish man built his house upon the sand, and the rain came tumbling down.” The thing they had in common is that they were both caught in a storm. Verses 25 and 27 both explain that “the rain fell, the flood came.” We aren’t supposed to assume that a relationship with Christ will somehow miraculously shield us from hurt or situations we don’t want to be in. He never says that. We are to assume that a relationship with him will enable us to endure the rain and floods that are certain to come. He tells us how to live. He tells us it will be difficult, but to choose the narrow road anyway. He tells us that you can know so much about a person by the fruit, the actions, they are displaying. Broad roads and sandy foundations lead to destruction. And we can’t always limit who will be in the fallout of our foolish decisions.

What if, like us, you are sifting through the ashes of everything that’s been destroyed? Ah, there is one more verse that has been with me during this time. We don’t have to permanently live in the valley of destruction. We don’t have to sit on our collapsed foundation and say this is as good as it will ever get. We don’t have to hang hurt around our neck and wear it as a permanent albatross to remind us of all that has been lost. If you keep reading to the end of the story, or really, the beginning, we find Revelation 21:5, And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

The challenge of this verse is accepting it. If you are the perpetrator of offenses, choose the narrow gate and let him redirect you. Let him make things new. It starts with one small decision, one action at a time. Rebuild your foundation on the rock. If you are caught in the repercussions not of your own making, the rains and floods will come, but he is there. In the middle of the pain, hear the promise again, “I make all things new.”

Rain doesn't last forever.

Rain doesn’t last forever.

Icemaggedon 2013

For the past 78 hours we have been iced in our 1,736 square foot home with two adults, two children, and two dogs. For an experienced Northerner, this is nothing. However, for a Southerner who had sunny skies and a comfortable temperature of 75 just days beforehand, this is a bit jarring. Ice and snow make rare and infrequent appearances down here. We were told this would be a significant storm and to prepare for it, but we’re skeptics when it comes to pretty much any form of supposed precipitation. We’ve been burned one too many times by lofty assurances of rain or an accumulation of snow more than 1/8th of an inch thick. Call us jaded.

Nonetheless, the Invisible Man and I (regrettably) spent our weekly date night at the grocery store stocking up on apples and potatoes with enough yams to last the rest of the winter. The check-out lanes were each a mile long, and the contents of those shopping carts around us made my eyes bulge. Man can’t live by cereal and beer alone, and he yam well better not try to live off of boxes of corn dogs and potato chips. I won’t even mention the sodas. Yowzah.  I felt both sufficiently prepared and yet not overly prepared so as to not waste any food in case nothing predicted came to fruition. Yams. Oh, the yams.

We awoke Friday morning to the sound of ice hitting our windows and things only took off from there. I opened the front door just in time to see a branch fall from a neighbor’s tree. Droughts and ice storms are mortal enemies.  So here we were, all six of us holed up in our house while the world continued to freeze around us.

Frozen.

Frozen.

Friday: hot chocolate with marshmallows, pumpkin pie, favorite books, and wearing cowboy hats and bandanas to dinner as we ate Black bean Chili.

Saturday: hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, forts, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and a malfunctioning heater that resulted in an all-day fire in the fireplace. Excitement waned as tree branches continued to fall and canines discovered walking on ice really isn’t all that fun.

She didn't move from this spot for two days.

She didn’t move from this spot for two days.

Sunday: another all day fire, The Nutcracker, kids playing in the ice, tripping over forts, grumbling about invading rooms and forts, and a quasi-desperate run to Taco Casa because I just didn’t have it in me to throw together another nutritious made from scratch meal.

By the end of the day Sunday we were under each other’s skin. I had tidied the living room for the hundredth time, done a minimum of two loads of dishes a day, and picked up countless scattered shoes, gloves and coats. Attitudes seemed to plummet, even as the temperature rose.

We are one of three school districts in our area that actually went in to school today. Last night that glimmer of hope propelled me through bedtime preparations as I thought of the comfort of settling back into our routine. This morning I got everyone out the door with an I love you, and a wave. I then came back in to my quiet and still house. There are no lights on, no sounds other than the ticking of a clock and the hum of the heater that the Invisible Man made sure was working for me before leaving. The fireplace is cold and dark and there isn’t a trace of fort remnants or strewn winter gear. I can tidy the living room and nothing will move for the next 8 hours. So what did I do with my newly granted solace? I sat in my favorite chair and cried because my home was so silent and empty. It’s the people and relationships in my life that give everything beautiful significance. And tonight, we’re having yams.

Our version of Naria.

Our version of Naria.

Standing for Life

Anyone paying attention to the news in America knows that this has been a big week. I honestly can’t say that any of the decisions or events were surprising, given the momentum some topics have gained recently. I live my life from a standpoint of the belief that I’m NOT a judge, and it’s not my responsibility to be one. I’m here to show love and grace to people who don’t adhere to the same faith and set of beliefs I try to model. That’s it. Love and grace.

So it’s been a bit of a challenge this week to keep that love and grace extended when I really didn’t feel like offering it. I’ve heard so many people applauding Wendy Davis and vowing to stand beside her. I would like to tell you a little story about why I’ll never be one of them.

In the winter of 2002, I was a recently married college kid, living in a small rent house, with a very tight (miniscule) income. We married young, a decision that created all of the financial challenges people warned us about.  Even in light of those hardships, it is a decision I would happily make all over again because I am that in love with my Invisible Man.

Now let’s fast forward to New Year’s Eve, 2002. I hadn’t been feeling well and we had stopped on our way to a party to pick up a pregnancy test. At that point, I still didn’t think I was pregnant. I’d just finished up a week long mini-semester in college and it had been a long, exhausting week. When we arrived, I went straight in to take my test. All I will say is that it was amazing just how quickly those little lines turned pink. Please don’t think less of me for my reaction. While some are immediately overjoyed, I was not one of those. I actually began to cry, but they were tears of unparalleled fear rather than celebratory joy. We hadn’t been trying for a baby. I had so much school left. We had very little money. What was going to happen?

I spent the next few weeks eating grapefruit and trying to shake off the very present fear and worry. On the Invisible Man’s birthday, roughly four weeks after finding out we were expecting, I began to spot and cramp. A new fear took over, and it was more intense than anything I had known up to that point. It was the weekend, so we headed to the ER to see what was going on. They confirmed that I was bleeding and the nurse began to prepare me for a miscarriage. The tears would not stop. They weren’t tears for fear of my own wellbeing, but of the little one I had unknowingly already begun to love.

They took me down to get a sonogram. I remember the tech was a blonde woman and she was also trying to prepare me for the worst. We all waited as it began, eyes glued to the screen.  And then we saw it. A tiny, rapid heartbeat. A heartbeat. That was all the confirmation they needed to assure me that my baby was still with me. That life was still there. A tiny, growing heart, fluttering on the screen put everyone at ease.

I still think of that screen and the moment I saw my daughter’s heartbeat for the first time when I hear of people choosing to terminate a pregnancy. It was that same heartbeat that confirmed life, that told us everything was okay, that I still had the opportunity to bring this child into the world. And people stop them. Every single day. They see that heartbeat, or ignore that heartbeat, and choose to stop it. As if it isn’t actually a tiny heart beating right in front of them.

It distresses me that someone will even choose to stop the heart after the baby is 20 weeks, which is what was trying to be stopped in Texas. If it’s still not considered life, or human in the first early weeks to some, let’s just take a look at a few things that happen around the 20 week mark. According to babycenter.com:

At 17 weeks the skeleton is changing from soft cartilage to bone.

At 18 weeks a girl’s fallopian tubes and uterus are fully formed, and the genitals of a boy are already present.

At 19 weeks some research suggests that the baby can now hear you. He or she can hear your voice, your heartbeat, in a way that no one else ever will.

At 20 weeks not only are you halfway through your pregnancy, but now that once tiny flutter of a heartbeat can be heard through a stethoscope.

So, no, I’m not proud to stand with a woman who supported the idea that it’s okay to end a pregnancy so late in development. And no, I’m not going to support the woman who prevented clinics from closing down. I don’t sympathize with the argument that a woman would have to drive hours away to have an abortion, as if the inconvenience of the distance should somehow outweigh the action of terminating life. It’s not an easy decision. And it shouldn’t be convenient to stop in at any corner clinic to ensure that the heart beating inside of you will never beat again.

As I said before, I’m trying to live from a point of love and grace. I hurt for the woman, terrified, wondering how in the world this is going to work. But I honestly believe that life is intentional and there will always be a way to overcome obstacles and pain. Choosing to end a life leaves a mark. It’s not something you just walk away from without a scar. I hurt for those still bearing the pain of loss and pray for those who see it as anything less than a life growing inside to take a minute to just consider the possibilities. Who is this, growing inside of you? What are their contributions going to be? Will they have your eyes or find your jokes funny? Will they be a blessing in disguise by showing you the simple beauty of the world around you? Will they give you an appreciation for differences and help you become a better person? This isn’t about a political statement. It’s about choosing life.

Raccoons, Chocolate, and Nature

The invisible family and I just returned from a two day camping trip to Dinosaur Valley. I hadn’t been there since I was close to their ages, but I have fond memories of playing in the river and running around with my cousins. We wanted our kids to have the same opportunity for childhood memories, so we went with one of my invisible brothers and his two youngest.

As I continue to mature, because it is certainly on ongoing process, I learn more about myself. I have already figured out I have a need for nature stamped into my DNA. Whether it’s playing in the flowerbed, or just sitting on the back porch, I need to be outside. I’ve been camping several times now, and each time I have left feeling sad. I’m saying that’s a good thing because it means I enjoyed it so much.

The invisible man and I took the four invisible children on a hike. I mean a hike through the woods with the trail marked by a painted blue rock every here and there. It was as we followed the trail up the side of the river that I first wondered if everyone in our party was coordinated enough to handle it. We came to a ledge with a substantial drop-off to our right. The invisible man explained quite clearly that staying to the left meant safe, while the right meant death. It worked. All 8 of those smaller feet sought the safety of the narrow left-hand side. Consider that a visual life lesson, kids.

As we came to a meadow of wildflowers, I had to stop and soak it all in. I have to commit moments to memory because I need them when the van is out of gas and I have places to go, or homework isn’t finished and it’s past bedtime, or the refrigerator leaks and water damages the cabinets. The six of us stood there in silence as we listened to the hum of bees around us. It still calms my heart when I think about it.

I’m not saying that it was all glorious moments of tranquility. I was tired after getting up at 5:30 to get a good campsite. All flies in the state park seemed to congregate around our campsite, rivaled only by the community of stink bugs. It was June in Texas and sticky hot in the afternoon. Raccoons visited our campsite and unlatched the coolers. They ate all of the avocados and grapes, as well as the chocolate bars left for another round of smores. The little critters even drank the chocolate milk boxes and took a midnight swim in the icy water to cool off.

But we had a swimming hole to visit in the heat of the day. And the flies went away when the sun set. And we now have a shared memory of the raccoon named Fuzzball climbing up on the picnic table to meticulously peel each avocado. The momentary annoyances were worth the price of creating memories and falling asleep while looking at the stars.

I don’t have any pictures from the trip. I let my phone die. No calls, texts, or emails were exchanged after everyone in our party had arrived safely. I sat and watched fireflies. I listened to the laughter of kids digging for fossils. In those moments I felt completely happy and unshakably centered.

What I walked away with is a verse I had read just the week before. As I gazed at stars, impressive rock formations, wildflowers, cardinals, green water in a cool swimming hole, small lizards and large dinosaur footprints, I remembered Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Nature resets me because I have time to simply sit and marvel at His creation. We all need to allow ourselves to feel small sometimes or we miss the opportunity of feeling safe and surrounded. We are constantly surrounded by the glory of His presence, we just don’t always take the time to notice it. 

The lone picture the Invisible Man managed to snap before his phone died.

The lone picture the Invisible Man managed to snap before his phone died.

The Garden

My family must have hobbit blood trickling through our veins. My maternal branch of family consists of about 40 folks that started with my grandparents. Now I have nieces and nephews, cousins and second cousins, and the potential for more on the way. It’s a big family with a big heart. I could not imagine life, or holidays without them. We celebrate promotions and birthdays with a cookout.  We laugh together, (Oh, how we laugh!), get upset with each other, crawl under houses to fix foundations, share and pass down clothes, wisdom and stories. This year, we are grieving together. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my grandfather passed away in August. I’ve also mentioned that he loved to be outside with all things growing and living.

This is where our hobbit blood originated. Most of us, in our own way, have this instinctual desire to grow plants and tend gardens.  One of the first things my mom gave me when I moved away from home and into my dorm room was a small ivy. I still have a branch of it in my house almost 14 years later. My family has been known to exchange seeds and bulbs, trees and plants. The huge Aloe vera plant on my front porch started from a tiny leaf my grandmother gave me over six years ago. I’ve since given her back a branch from it when hers died.  It’s just what we do.

One of my invisible uncles, the most wise cracking of the three, and there is much wisdom to be cracked in this family, has had a garden going at my grandparents’ house for many years. It’s the biggest garden I know of. He is more than willing to let anyone dig around in the dirt, show them what he’s learned, and even let them take home what they’ve picked. It was with his encouragement that the invisible man and I finally planted our own garden three years ago. My hobbit blood thrilled when it began to grow. I had everything I needed for salad right in my back yard. I was hooked. Until this year.

My uncle wasn’t sure he wanted to have a garden this year because my Pops had been his constant gardening buddy. It’s just not the same without him. He was encouraged to keep it going, and he chose to, knowing it would be difficult. But life continues.

He asked me at Easter how my garden was growing, and I confessed I hadn’t planted anything. What I didn’t say was that it hurt me to think of doing so. I wasn’t ready. But I finally felt like I could get back in the dirt this weekend. I got all of my tomatoes and peppers planted, but when I got to the squash, grief just disabled me. I sat there in the dirt, holding that little squash plant and sobbed. Not the graceful kind of tears running silently down your face cry, but the sucking -in -air –snot- faced kind of sob. When the invisible man saw me, he just sat right down in the garden with me and held me. Didn’t even have to speak. He’s amazing like that.

After a few minutes, the pain receded, and I wiped my dirty face and finished planting that little squash. I know in a couple of months I am going to enjoy going out there and picking a sun-ripened tomato to use for a meal. You haven’t really lived until you’ve had one, fresh off the vine, still warm from the sunshine. Gardens are literally life springing up around you on a daily basis. Growing means living, even when it isn’t easy. I imagine all of us will think about Pops as we go out to check on our crops. But we are celebrating his life as we continue to live ours. He really wouldn’t want it any other way.

The early stages...

The early stages…