Simplifying: not always so simple

Last night, at the end of a long day, I went downstairs to confront the sorting of piles once again. In the traditional Christian story of the Creation, God separated the light from the dark to create day and night. In my current story, I separate pictures from the letters from the notebooks from the concert stubs, from the family history records to create piles upon piles.

I grabbed another notebook of dad’s to look through and decide if there was anything in there I wanted to keep. The one I grabbed was not his usual ranting, sad poetry, or angry letters to be sent later. This one was nearly full of letters he wrote to women in response to classified ads they placed in magazines like The Enquirer. I don’t know if magazines still have these kinds of ads – perhaps it is the early equivalent to Ashley Madison or other dating sites. Anyway, this notebook was plum full of letters my dad wrote. “Dear Ms, I am a divorced, 5’9, 190 lb man living in Minnesota,” (he was none of those things…except living in Minnesota) each of these letters would begin – and then he went on to share his version of woo-ing the intended recipient. Some of it was sharing his dreams of moving south, some of it was piling flattery on some details she may have shared in her description, “you love to cook? That is perfect, because I love to eat!” In some of his letters, he spoke about how his “ex” wife didn’t understand him, didn’t meet his needs, didn’t live up to her “wifely duties.” He ended each letter with expressing how he couldn’t wait to meet and giving our home address and phone number.

These letters were mostly dated around the year I was 16. He would have been 52. ‘

I can’t say the letters upset me all that much. It’s not like I have any illusions he was a perfect man or that his marriage with my mom was without difficulty. I’ve been married long enough to know that sometimes things can happen that drive you bat-crap crazy. Maybe mom and dad had been fighting and one of the ways that he got through it was imagining a different life for a while. I don’t know if he ever sent one of those letters but I do know he never met one of these women. He was a hermit – he never left the house. In fact, he could barely walk down the driveway so he most likely would have had to ask mom to mail those letters.

No, I think these letters were a gasp at life and freedom and excitement for my dad whose real life had already become so severely limited by physical and mental ailments that he was desperate. “Is this all there is? Is that great opportunity never coming to find me up here on this hill where I hide? I’m scared shitless of this gray hair, these wrinkles, this expanding midsection, this unending sickness of spirit and body.”

Was this my dad’s version of a mid-life crisis? Writing letters to imaginary women in the far-off warmer climates where he always wanted to live? Dreaming of himself as taller, thinner, free-er, healthier, just different than he was?

No, these letters don’t upset me. What upsets me is knowing he felt trapped by circumstances – ones that were both within his control and beyond his control. He had all sorts of longings – like all of us do – but he felt powerless to change. He was so infinitely afraid…and unfaced fear eventually turns to anger.

The anger was what we got to see. He may have had all sorts of complex emotions roiling underneath, but what we saw and how we remember him is by the anger.

I tossed the notebook in the garbage.

 

 

Rejoicing in Repurposing

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how a significant portion of the items I have been releasing into the care of others have been china, dishes, glassware, serving dishes, and vases that I never used. I have two china cabinets – one was my mother’s and the other was a far more beautiful china cabinet that a family was giving away in Texas and they brought it over to us. I like both cabinets for different reasons: My mother’s sat in our living room my whole life while I was growing up and just looking at it brings back memories. Also, if you walk by it quickly, the glass doors make a noise that sounds like 1974 to me.

The other cabinet is a dark wood that looks nice with our other furniture. Plus, the bottom cupboard holds art supplies and some puzzles.

It’s never been the cabinets I wanted to release – just most of the stuff inside. I’m very happy with what I’ve done now. The bit of china that is left has been moved to the dark wood cabinet, and my mom’s cabinet has become the perfect storage place for my office books. Yesterday, Owen and I moved it into my sunroom, unloaded the ugly little bookshelves I had in there (which he was pleased to take for his game room/office) and filled the cabinet with books. The storage area underneath is perfect for old journals and some of the pictures I still need to scan.

So now it feels like mine. Having two cabinets full of tchotchkes was silly and didn’t make sense for this life in which I never use all those fancy dishes –  but using one of those cabinets for the books I use all the time – now that is fine and works for my life.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Not getting rid of everything – but getting rid of what is extra and unneeded, getting rid of the countless things that I might need for “someday,” creating space for what matters.

Words are Heavy

Without a doubt, the most difficult task in my de-cluttering is the boxes of papers, pictures, and letters. Seriously, there are about five large, heavy tubs at least.

Eventually, I want to scan many of the pictures, so they are staying for now – but I’m sifting through the papers and seeing what I still want to keep. I used to write a lot of sad poetry – that’s going. Much of the stuff the kids made when they were teeny tiny is also going – I’ll just keep a few select, favorite creations. I have thrown out a few pictures of people or places that I don’t recognize. Today alone, I filled one garbage bag full with this kind of paper/picture/letter stuff.

It gets tricky when it comes to my mom and dad’s papers and pictures. Dad was really into genealogy and I’ve told myself I might want to read all his findings “someday” – but that means holding on to copious amounts of paperwork in the meantime. Also, all his writings that were never published (and which I can barely read because his handwriting was so terrible) – I can’t quite part with it yet. Especially because from what I’ve read, it seems like many of his spiritual struggles were similar to mine and I feel like if I really take time to read it, I might come to understand him in a way I haven’t before. I would like that. Perhaps I will post some of his writing here – and then I guess technically it WILL be published. That would be a dream come true for my dad.

I think I’ll start right now.  Hold on – I’m going downstairs to get one of his notebooks…

I’m back. I grabbed a notebook from 1969 – he would have been 36 years old. This was the year before I was born. By this time, he had been on disability leave from parish ministry for a while – maybe 5 years. He left full-time ministry because of his various health issues after only three years in the parish.

“Purpose

The air can be stifling. So hot and miserable that it chokes. There’s an absence of that “peace that passes all understanding.”  We may reach for our old escape hatches. We find they are gone.

I felt so alone that I feared each moment. A meaningless moment is hell. To wander aimlessly without purpose is hell. There must be a purpose and a goal.

There’s nothing so stifling as the loss of peace. I lost that peace. I was serving at Tea, South Dakota (as a pastor). The nest became rougher and rougher. Finally, I was forced from the nest. I couldn’t fly – I hid in apartments. I hid from all the world.

But peace escaped me. Again and again, I tried to fly – I couldn’t. Then things became worse. I fell into deep depression. The darkness of night was frightening. I feared life and I feared death. 

How can I explain the inner torture? How can someone understand the inner hell I knew?”

He never spoke about any of this to us. He wrote down his heart. I do that, too.

These last days as I’ve been worrying about health issues, I’ve been pondering that passage from Philippians about “peace that passes all understanding.” I hope my dad eventually found that peace at some point during his earthly life. If he did, I hope he wrote about it so I can find out someday – somewhere in those piles and piles of paper in my basement.

 

 

 

De-cluttering – With a Twist

Sometimes the slightest pivot in circumstance puts things in a whole new light.

Last week, I was happily de-cluttering my house with fervor. It was fun and satisfying to fill up another bag or box with items that were mostly just taking up space. I enjoyed pondering why I kept all these things so long and how much time had passed since I last touched or used this or that.

Then, I started noticing an irritation, a sensation really, in my throat that was unusual and has been lingering for a few weeks now. I don’t want to describe it too much because I’m not looking for any help with diagnosing – but I will say it was troubling enough that I went to the doctor, and she is concerned enough that suddenly I’m having a small battery of tests to determine what is going on.

And I’m freaking out.

I hate to admit it. I would like people to think I am constantly filled with the peace that passes all understanding, but the truth is that I am not. Not always, anyway. In fact, the last few days I’ve been overreacting with fervor. Just ask the kind radiologist who happened to do my ultrasound yesterday. I burst into tears as soon as I walked into his little ultrasound room. He was so nice as he said comforting things and handed me tissues and water. But you see, I kept thinking about how the only other times I had  ultrasounds were because we were expecting a baby – and what if this ultrasound finds something that is terrible and I’m dying and I have to leave my beautiful babies and this beautiful life and…

The ultrasound showed nothing.

So now I am having another kind of test scheduled soon and in the meantime, I’m telling myself to breathe, to stop imagining the worst, to think about what this intense fear I have is all about and what it is trying to tell me.

I think the fear comes partly from the generalized fear that most mothers have of something happening and not being around for our children.

It’s partly because I have spent time with so many sick people over the years, visited them, prayed with them, and seen their quality of life slowly diminish, and sometimes be extinguished. I don’t want that. But then, neither did they. None of us ever know when or if illness will strike.

It’s partly because my own father was sick for so many years and it stripped away all his joy and life in his life. I still grieve how his poor health robbed him, and our family, of so much.

It’s partly because my father-in-law died from a cancer that began as an irritation in his throat…

See, all these things! I may be healthy as can be…or maybe there is something wrong. I’m in the in-between time right now when I don’t yet know. So, staying busy helps and I want to throw myself even deeper into the de-cluttering…

But now when I sort through another tub of papers or clothes, there’s a quiet, but impressively over-dramatic voice in the back of my head whispering, “Well, that’s one less thing for Chad and the kids to take care of when I’m gone.”

You can see how the whole spirit of de-cluttering has shifted in this light.

I’m sure I’m fine…or maybe I’m not…either way, I’m alive now and nothing is bad. I woke up and gave my children breakfast, and helped my long-haired 11-year-old boy comb his thick blonde hair into a pony-tail. I went for a jog and while I did some cleaning I listened to some spectacular mix-tapes I found while going through old boxes. I just ate the perfect hard-boiled egg. I’m infinitely thankful God gave me this day. This gorgeous, one-of-a-kind,  possibility-filled, breath-taking day.

 

 

 

What to Keep, What to Not Keep

The process of decluttering is still surprisingly easy. Still, bags are leaving my house each day. I’m getting to know the man at the thrift store who takes in donations pretty well. Yesterday we chatted about the weather as I unloaded boxes of books, games, clothes, toys, etc. As I released into his care the theological tomes of pastors before me that were “gifted” unto me, the glass bowls that generations of other women in my family served potatoes or a nice jello salad, the countless random decorations I don’t ever look at but still take up space and collect dust, I felt nothing but glad and ready to go home and fill up more boxes.

When in the process of purging I come across something that makes me pause heavily, even if it is something I will likely never use again, like my simple wedding dress, or some particularly beloved item my children made for me, I set it down and let it be. There still has to be some room for keeping, for the sentimental.

But not much. The end goal is to store most all photographs and papers digitally, only one box of keepsakes will be kept. One small shelf of favorite books. My wardrobe pared down to the essentials. Any decorations or furniture will be carefully thought out and kept at an extreme minimum.

I have a long way to go, but I already notice space is opening up in our house. It’s already becoming easier to find things and to keep things clean without so much to move around and go through.

For a while, I needed to hold on to so much that belonged to my family members who died and passed it down to me, but that need is now gone. I’m releasing so much of what I have been holding on tightly for the last many years, both emotionally and materially. Bless it and let it go. Give thanks and release.

No wonder I’m feeling lighter every day.

Tchotchkes

The decluttering continues with fervor. Sometimes these days I won’t let myself leave a room without taking a few items from it to put in the “give-away” box. Today, I grabbed two amusing sun-catchers from a windowsill in my home office. One, a pumpkin-headed figure, I picked up when the boys were small to amuse them as Halloween was approaching. The other, a red, white, and blue patriotic bear, my son bought on our most recent visit to Texas. They are cute, slightly entertaining as they sway in the sunshine, but I don’t need them or have any kind of affection for them, so they are going.

Decluttering can feel like a surprisingly spiritual process if one is ready for it. I feel like I’m peeling back layers of time as I get rid of all these things that have piled up. Away with the knick-knacks, away with the clothes that no longer fit, away with the extraneous tchotchkes of life and pare life down to the essentials. With each bag and box that goes, I feel like I’m making room for new things to come into being. What exactly? I’m not sure – but I’m getting closer. I can feel it in my breath and bones. The hazy image of it is becoming clearer as there are fewer distractions around me to dust and sort.

 

 

Letting Go

I’ve been purging possessions. It began with getting a few items together for the church rummage sale a couple weeks ago and has escalated into bags and bags of stuff heading out the door.

For a while now I’ve been startled at all the possessions I’ve accumulated over time. I say ‘startled’ because I’m the girl who used to pride myself in that I could fit everything I owned in a backpack. I vividly remember the contentment I had on a day in West Africa about 25 years ago, wearing the same t-shirt and shorts I had worn a billion times, sitting on my backpack waiting for a bus. I had a few clothes, my journal, my cassette player and some tapes. I was indescribably happy.

But those traveling years ended and I went back to school to become a pastor. Over time I collected books, lots of books, scraps of furniture here and there. Having children escalated the amount of stuff I owned, but what increased the volume by a TON was when my husband’s parents died and my parents died. Suddenly there were all these possessions that needed a place to be and I couldn’t quite bear to get rid of some of it. Trust me, we got rid of A LOT but there was still A LOT left.

It’s funny how things, simple material possessions, become precious. Mom would probably laugh at the things I kept. An ice cream scooper, a sugar bowl, her china closet, the waffle maker she inherited from her own mother – so many items we never, ever use but they sit around me and collect dust.

So almost as an exercise, I picked up the sugar bowl and put it in the box to give away. It felt okay. I brought it over to church and set it down. It felt okay. I saw it sit on the table while people shopped. It felt okay. No one bought it and so it would be packed up to be taken to the local thrift store. It felt okay. I never had a need to go pick it up again and squirrel it away to remember her. As if I could ever forget her.

So then I went home and have been getting rid of so much more – books, clothes, trinkets, decorations – and with every bag that goes, I feel like I’m uncovering the girl who sat contentedly on her backpack in West Africa. I needed to hold on to those things for a while, but now I no longer need them.

Yesterday, my husband was cleaning out the garage and picked up the waffle maker that has been sitting there for years. He said, “Is it okay to finally get rid of this?” I said, “that’s fine.” And it is.