Homecoming

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the average U.S. household contains 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards. That statistic presented a dilemma when it came time for a move to Dubuque, Iowa, where I now work. The house I purchased was less than half the size of my former one. I realized I was going to have to get rid of a lot of “stuff.” Several weeks of sorting, two garage sales, and copious donations later, last week I managed to fit all my worldly possessions into a U-Haul cargo van driven by my son and a horse trailer pulled behind the truck of my generous friends Dan and Carmen Cooke.

In preparing for this move, I had to carefully consider each and every item I owned, deciding which items meant the most to me. I would no longer have a separate office. No storage space, except an outside shed.  Some of my favorite things that wouldn’t fit in my smaller home made their way into my new office, instead.

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One thousand books were weeded down to less than fifty. I sold a bench, two oak shelves, my huge solid oak desk, a kitchen shelf. A cabinet. Half my wardrobe. My mother’s kitchen table that wouldn’t fit in the new house, went to my sister. I sold, donated, and left things on the curb to be carted off. I was amazed, and somewhat horrified, at the sheer amount of paper in my possession; photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, greeting cards. I spent hours, then days, sifting through stacks, boxes, totes, and a trunk. Daybooks (shorter day diaries) were burnt, journals kept. Greeting cards that were simply signed; discarded. Despite all this, much of the paper still came with me; photo albums packed into storage totes that fit under my bed, letters organized by groups; my mother, my siblings, my children, and yes, even fan letters. The childish scrawls of a niece, crayon drawings of a grandson; too precious to dispose of. The trunk in my bedroom is filled with such paper memories.

I’ve spent three days unpacking, managing to fill one room with the contents of two; my bedroom and office. The laundry area is also in this same room, but hidden behind a door in the corner. Because of what shall forever be remembered as “the great purge,” everything that remains gives me joy, makes me smile.

st. michaelThe corner across from the laundry area. Without a desk, a single cabinet and several file folder totes hold my important papers. The wonderful hanging bins are from Hobby Lobby, and serve as a receptacle for my stationery. Of course my bird/butterfly curtains and Michael the Archangel came with me.

cabinet

My mother’s cabinet. The books inside are the only survivors of the purge, outside of  favorite spiritual ones I moved to my office, and a stack of books to be read on the floor by my bed. The hand-carved clock made by my brother Bill has my favorite Bible verse inscribed on it.

chair

The cozy chair my children gave me for Christmas, where I listen to music, write, read, and journal. I’ve been known to fall asleep in this wonderful chair.

There’s a reason a big black star was drawn on one of my kitchen boxes; the coffeemaker was inside it! My daughter Rachel came over Thursday night to help me unpack the kitchen. She organized a coffee shelf and a tea corner for me. Those make me smile, too.

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There’s still a lot of unpacking to do, organizing, and hanging pictures on the wall, but overall, I’m excited by how the house is coming together, and grateful for my children’s help and that of my good friends Dan and Carmen in getting here. I don’t know what I would have done without them. It was a huge amount of work.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should move once every ten years, just to clean out their possessions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but downsizing to a house half the size certainly does the trick!

Take My Hand

Just weeks before my husband David unexpectedly died in 2012, we’d shared a conversation that was uncharacteristic for us; regarding what we’d want the other one to do if we died first.

“I’d want you to get married again,” David had said. “Because I know how much you love hugging and holding hands.”

I miss his hugs, his hand in mine.

handsHad he lived, David and I would have celebrated our 39th anniversary earlier this month. I’ve been without him for more than six years. I’ve faced a lot of changes in my life since then, both good and bad, but even good changes can cause stress.

According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, the stressful life events I’ve experienced just in the last six months put me at a solid 285 in regards to measured stress levels, too near the dangerous 300 level for comfort. Among those life events I’ve experienced; a virulent flu virus that lasted more than two weeks, an attack of Shingles, an unexpected loss of income, a subsequent need to change jobs, a daughter leaving home for a month-long stint at an organic farm in sunny California, and an “outstanding personal achievement.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word outstanding, submitting my manuscript one day ahead of deadline was a personal achievement, nonetheless, one that left me feeling somewhat at odds with myself. You can’t have worked on something for so many months without missing the intensity of the writing.facebook
Lucky for me, I didn’t have time to feel that way long. Two days after submitting the manuscript, I began a new job, as program coordinator for a spirituality center. This is the view from my office. When the window is open, I can hear the peaceful sounds of the trickling fountain.

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While I no longer have David’s steadying hand to grasp, in the past six years I’ve discovered a stronger one yet. It is God’s hand that led me to a workplace that not only allows prayer, but encourages it. Which is why I was comfortable asking my new co-workers to pray for me on Friday when I was sidelined by a concern regarding the sale of my house. One of them went above and beyond, composing a beautiful prayer specific to my worry and e-mailing it to me; the message a reminder to trust God’s plan and providence. Taking a deep breath, I read and re-read the prayer, as if drawing sustenance from it. All the months of working on a book, searching for a new job, looking for a house, sorting through things to downsize and prepare for a garage sale, watching a daughter leave home, getting a house ready to sell…alone. Without David. I was so tired. Emotionally drained.

Please, God. Just show me that you’re with me in this. In all of it.

After work, I just wanted to go home. But I needed to be someplace else.

I headed to a nearby building, where my required TB test would be read by a company nurse. Lacking an internal GPS, the last time I’d attempted to follow directions to the nurse’s office, I’d ended up in the lunch room. So it was with some trepidation I approached the front desk. A tiny woman was hunched over a newspaper, only the top of her head visible. When she looked up, I asked if she could page the nurse. Her eyes darting around nervously, she suggested I just head there. It occurred to me, as a volunteer, she might not know how to operate the phone system.

“I got lost the last time I came,” I laughed as I explained, and her face brightened. She jumped from her chair with an energy that belied her obvious age.

“Then I’ll take you there,” she said as she approached from behind the desk. She held out her hand. Taken aback, I hesitated for a moment, but her friendly smile left me no choice. It would be rude to refuse.

Hand-in-hand, we started walking.

“Now, just pay attention, and watch where I take you, so you can find your way back,” she said in a voice so gentle, I unexpectedly felt a lump form in my throat. Her hand was warm, her clasp firm, as she guided me through a room, down a short hallway, and through a doorway. I recognized the winding hallway lined with potted plants.

“I know where I am now,” I said, pointing to the end of the hall. “I just go that way and around the corner.”

“I’ll show you a better way.” The delight in her voice was unmistakable. She seemed glad to make my trip easier. “Just go right through this door, and you’re there!”

She didn’t let go of my hand until we’d stepped through the doorway together.

“But you made this so easy,” I marveled. “Thank you.” She smiled before turning away to return to the desk.

A room, a hallway, two doorways… Previous routes had included steps, elevators, a trip through a closed courtyard. I felt foolish as I blinked back tears, pondering the encounter.

The welcoming gesture of an extended palm. The unexpected warmth in holding a stranger’s hand. The gentle voice guiding me as if I were a child. The sudden ease in finding my way. This had been no random meeting. There was a message in it.

“I’m here. In the prayer from a colleague. In the stranger at the front desk. The hand you miss so much is with me, but I will bring you other hands. I am with you and I will guide you. Trust me.” 

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (NIV)