Monday, May 19, 2014

A Box of Memories

This weekend we started the big purge.  Half our life is in a 10x10 storage unit that was packed to the brim with everything that lived in the 1200 square feet we did not replace with this move.  Pretty much everything in the lower level of our house.  We have another 5x10 somewhere else with all the stuff that was in the garage.  Neither one is pretty and both are a little overwhelming.

To be honest, I have only thought of maybe 2 or 3 things that I have missed from storage over the past 7 months.  And I am comfortable with how we have arranged our space here.  I don't want to clutter it up with a bunch of stuff I don't need but can't get rid of.  So I am ready for that hard purge...mostly.

What I learned Saturday as I opened boxes before loading them in the truck for my parent's garage sale is that while I am ready to purge, it is still painful.  Letting go of things, even things we know we don't want or need is still hard.  And after about a dozen boxes I realized I needed to stop, walk away.  I had not prepared emotionally for that deep a cut, I was not prepared to go through and say good bye to all my things, special treasures from my grandma's house, pictures, gifts from friends and family.  I know I don't use them, even in the house they were rarely used, I know I can't justify finding space in my condo for a silver soup tureen that I have used maybe 6 times since our wedding nearly 24 years ago.  It has to go.

But there are other things...

We do love living in this little condo and we just might end up staying here forever, but I don't know for sure what the future holds.  And getting rid of some special memories because at this moment in my life I don't have room for them...that is hard.  And wrong.  How do you define what is worth keeping and what it is time to let go of?

Jake's old toys.  His Lego's and Brio train set.  I kept them after he had outgrown them, do I get rid of them now just because of this possibly temporary downsize?  John and I agreed to keep them.  For our grandchildren, for the memories.  I have gotten rid of a lot of toys over the years but those bins are staying.  And I think I would get an affirmation even among the most streamlined homemakers.

However, some things have no value except to create memories, and I wonder if I really need them.  I pulled out of the storage unit a box that has followed us around from our first little apartment with the bug problem to our second little apartment that we loved and on to our first and second houses before heading into our storage unit.  Never opened, never reviewed.  On the top of the box it says, "wedding cards" and "b-day cards" and indeed that is what is actually inside.

In some ways I am embarrassed to admit I still have cards from my wedding and 20th birthday.  Especially considering that cards I now receive barely make it past my trash after they come in.  I love getting them but at some point many years ago I decided there was no reason to keep them.  I receive, enjoy and toss.  Special occasions may dictate I display them for a season, Christmas, birthday, etc but once the time has past, they are gone.  Actually, I do save my Christmas cards in storage all year long and then re-read them when we get out the decorations before tossing them.  It has become a fun tradition for me.  

So, naturally, I had to re-read all the cards in the wedding box before I could toss them.

Reading the cards was like a trip back in time.  We had a pretty big wedding, my parents invited everyone they knew and they all showered us with love and blessings.  It is fun to see the names on the cards.  Many of the people are gone now, my grandparents and great aunts and uncles.  And a few people who died too soon.  Then there are people who through the passage of time and the changes of life we don't know anymore.  It is funny that most of the people we have spent our adult life with did not know us when we got married.  But a handful of friends were there and it has been a treasure to journey through life with them.

On the back of every card is written what they gave us for our wedding.  I love the ones from older family members who actually wrote what they gave me inside the card themselves!  I used the cards to write thank you notes.  I even found a thank you note for someone in there!  A forgotten thank you note for a family member who is now gone.  I must have been forgiven because nobody ever said anything.  And on one of those cards was that silver soup tureen that I have loved having but rarely used. Given to us by someone I don't remember.

This is why I keep things like this, for the memory, for the trip back in time.  It is precious.

As a bonus, I found all the letters I wrote to John when we were apart for 3 months after graduating from high school.  I think I might have the letters he wrote me in another box but these were all from me.  I didn't read them all, most of them follow this basic theme:  "I love you baby.  I miss you.  I really love you.  I love you. Love always, Mel"  An occasionally piece of news or acknowledgement of something he wrote thrown in there, and a countdown of the days until I will see him again.  Mainly the typical ramblings of a love-sick teenager.  But they also remind me of my son, his long distance relationship and the letters he was surely sending as well.  My favorite was a letter written to John when he was at camp before I left for college.  I had a fight with my parents and told him he could probably guess what it was about but if not I would tell him later and I was so upset I was pretty sure I would never speak to my parents again.  Ah yes, the memories are clear now.  The thrill to get away from the crazy people who had loved and raised me all those years.  Oh the injustice of their thinking they had any right to speak into my life.  How do we ever get out of childhood unscathed?  My parents have probably been laughing a lot this past couple years.

And I found a precious note from John's mom written to him I am guessing after he moved into what would be our first apartment but before we were married.  Actually she typed it which is funny but in it she is telling John she is proud of him, likes how the place is decorated and is careful to acknowledge both of us not just him.  I totally feel for her, the worry of losing her son and desire to say the right thing and be encouraging.  It felt like the kind of notes I have been writing lately.  She has always been special to me but so much more the past few years as I have watched my son move his affections to another.  It is something every mother expects and desires for her son but that doesn't make it any easier.

How do you toss all that away?  I am not sure I can.  I can squeeze in one more small box, right?  I will get rid of the wicker chip basket, and my grandma's lazy susan with serving bowls, and I put out the soup tureen.  But I can't give up the memories and the relationships that have been part of the making of this life and who we are today.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On the Mountain with God

"Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.  The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.  And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud." Ex 24:15-16

Have you ever been following God up a mountain, or walking across a sunny field with him in silence?  Just basking in his presence.  On a cold day, like every day of this winter has been,  I think back to warm summer days.  I am laying on the hammock we used to have in our backyard, soaking up the warmth of the sun, looking up at the beauty of a turquoise sky contrasted with the green leaves and brown bark of the big tree in the middle of the yard.  I would just close my eyes and soak in that moment.  Warmth, beauty, safety, peace washed over me in that moment.  Even the sound of a car driving by or a plane flying overhead did not distract, rather they were the normalcy of my life, they reminded me that all this beauty and peace was part of my every day life.

This is what I think of when I read the passage about Moses going up on the mountain and having God's glory rest on top in the form of a cloud.  Now honestly, while it sounds spiritually cool, physically it just sounds cold to be up in a mountain with a cloud covering me.  Beautiful and fun for a moment as long as I am dressed right but as time passes...Well, I am going to have to imagine that God's cloud presence is warm and beautiful not cold and beautiful.  Otherwise the wimp in me would say, "OK thanks God, this was fun, got to go now," after just a few hours.  I mean if I was covered in God's glory I don't think I would be miserable, pretty sure it would be awesome and I would never want to leave.  Adjust your imagination accordingly.

So there we are on a mountain covered in the glory of the Lord waiting for him to tell me what to do next.  Now I don't know about you but I love vacations where I can just lay on the beach and do nothing.  Just soak up the warm sun.  But then I prop myself up to watch people walk by and then I am looking to read a book or a magazine.  Then I need to walk down the beach to move around a little and pretty soon I NEED SOMETHING TO DO!  What is the point of just laying on the beach doing nothing?  And for 6 days that is all Moses was doing.  Just sitting there basking in God's glory.  Again, I am sure it was amazing but even when I am in the most wonderful of worship services where God is so clearly present I get wiggly.  Which is not to say that actually witnessing a cloud of God's glory isn't far more powerful than singing the crescendo to How Great Thou Art or 10,000 reasons or How Great is Our God, but still it is 6 days of Moses sitting in God's presence in silence.

So here we are in our life, in 2014.  And we are living our day to day life.  And while we might occasionally get to take a vacation from our life to follow God up a mountain and just sit there in his glory waiting for him to speak, most of the time we are all forced to live life while in God's presence.  We still follow God when he tells us to go up a mountain, and we might even find ourselves witnessing the glory of the Lord in our current circumstances of life having followed Him to this place.  But we are also surrounded by needy kids, work demands, responsibilities, problems, trials.

Maybe you followed God across the country to a new job, a new life, and while you see God's presence in this new place, you are lonely, don't have any friends, can't find a new church you like.  God is present but he is silent.  And you just don't understand what you are doing there.  Why did he lead you to this new place and then just sit back watching you struggle?

Or you are a new mom. God led you to leave your job where you were respected, had friends, put on nice clothes each day, and challenged your brain.  Now you spend your days with little people who are constantly disobeying you, questioning your authority, demanding your attention.  You are tired and wear jeans, a t-shirt and a ponytail every day.  You love being a mom and believe God paved the way for you to be home but you wish he would give you a little more direction.

God lead us to close our business, sell our house, send me back to work and send John on a 6+ year educational journey to become a Physician's Assistant.  And while we can see God's glory in the experience sometimes a little clearer message of what to do next or how to do it would be great.

So there is Moses, follows God up the mountain and is surrounded by a cloud of his glory.  And if I am Moses I am thinking, "OK here it comes, God's big speech."  Hands rubbing together in excitement.  And then I Just sit there for 6 days.  Fingers drumming on the rock beside me.

I think God does this to us on purpose.  I wrote about the Middle recently, that place in life between events.  Those 6 days are definitely the middle of this event for Moses.  Sometimes God gives us less than 6 days but sometimes he gives us more.  How long did the Father of the Prodigal wait for his son to return?  How about the years between the end of the Old Testament and Jesus' birth?

What do we do in the middle?  I wonder what Moses did?  I think he basked.  I think he also built a fire, maybe a little lean-to, gathered firewood, made dinner.  But always basking in God's presence.  I think that is the big point of the 6 days.  To let the reality of God, who He is, how powerful He is settle on Moses. If it was me I might start walking up the mountain like, "yeah, God wants to talk to me, I'm cool."  But then the cloud would settle on the mountain and I would spend 6 days staring at it and realizing how powerful God is and start thinking about how insignificant I am, and what a huge responsibility God has given me to lead his people.  And each day I think Moses might have felt a little more humbled.  At least that is how I would feel.

As I wait through John's education, through my career building, through challenging relationships and I turn to God who is present next to me but not always as chatty as I would like him to be.  As I seek to just know him better and be aware of who he is and what his plan is for my life, I do become humbled.  I am humbled that he would take time for me, believe I am capable of all he has put before me.

And usually as I am seeking to figure out God and my place in the world, I come face to face with my failings.  I become overwhelmed by how much sin, just from me, Jesus has taken on.  How much I have been forgiven.  And I become even more humbled.  I recently read an article about 20 things I wish I had known in my 20's.  Number 15 is "realize life is not about you."  It is so true, as we grow closer to God, as we come to understand our sin better and see His power surrounding us, suddenly I realize it isn't about me, it is about HIM.  Whatever is happening in my life right now, it is all about God and all for God.  And I am humbled to be part of His plan.  The good, the bad and the ugly of it all.

Then, after 6 days standing in God's glory, God speaks to Moses and calls him to actually come into his presence!  Not just look upon it but be in it!  WOAH.

And for 40 days and 40 nights Moses was in the physical presence of God.  Again, WOAH.

Coincidentally it rained for 40 days and 40 nights while Noah was in the arc.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 day.  And Lent is 40 days.

I wrote this during lent, don't know why I didn't publish it, but I think it is true every day.  Being aware of God's presence even when he doesn't speak, even when you feel like you are just standing there doing nothing.  As Christian's we often refer to "mountain top" experiences with God.  Those big high moments where you are in his presence and hear his voice.  We tend to seek out those experiences as if they are short exceptions to our day to day life.  But what if we can have mountain top experiences all the time?  Because we can, God is always present with us.  He doesn't come down in a cloud like he did in the old testament, he sent his Spirit to come and live in us.  So powerful.

Today I am standing on the mountain with God.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Walking with God through Stressful Days

I hate being stressed out.  So often I just chose not to deal with stressful circumstances.  This works well for me when I am stressed about something like getting stuck in traffic and being late as a result.  I just go to my happy place and sit in my car relaxing as crawl down the road.  I reason that being stressed out won't get me there any sooner so I might as well just enjoy the moment I am in and deal with the problem when it comes.  Often I end up being on time, just miss brief introductions, the meeting is also running late, or others are even later than me.  Being stressed would have been entirely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, not every stressful situation is as simple to deal with as getting stuck in traffic.  Nor as quickly resolved.

Recently I found myself feeling stressed over a work situation.  It was an ongoing problem that could not be run away from.  I could certainly go to my happy place but eventually I would have to come back and deal with it, until I did it would not go away but would only get worse.  I hate that.

One afternoon as I was feeling particularly stressed I was praying  and begging God to bring me peace, help me find that happy place and take care of this problem.  But as I prayed I knew that even if He gave me peace in that moment, I would still have to address the problem.  That was my job. There was just no getting around it.  And in that moment of clarity God gently told me I was asking Him for the wrong thing.  Not that asking for God's peace was wrong but I wanted him to make it go away, to not have to deal with the problem.  What I really needed to be asking was for God to walk with me through the problem, to give me wisdom and peace while dealing with it.

A couple days later as God was walking with me the situation actually got worse not better.  But, in that moment it became clear what needed to be done.  The biggest stress of the situation had been in not knowing which right choice to make but now it was clear and I could make a decision.  And once I did that we were able to start over and ended up with a far better outcome.  I couldn't see this better outcome at the time but God could and he walked me over what now seems like a minor bump in the road.

I wish every hard decision had such a quick positive outcome.  I wish I could so clearly see God's hand in every course correction.  But having a week like this gives me something to hold on to when the stress spans months or years and I am having a hard time seeing the other side.

In my perfect world I have no stress.  Everything goes smoothly, people always do the right thing, problems do not exist.  In the real world, stuff happens, not everyone does the right thing and as a result we need God, need him to lean on, hold us, walk with us, save us.

Thank you Lord for walking with me through every trial and challenge.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I will sing with joy

I thought I would share a little update on our life.  This year my word is "joy".  I always think I will write more on the topic of my word of the year than I do.  I am easily distracted and even briefly considered changing my word a few weeks ago unsure this was the right word.  But as I reflect this has been a good word for our year.  We are nearing the 1/2 way point of the year, amazingly, and it has been a joyful year so far.  As we have transitioned away from the trials and stress of 2013 our joy and passion has increased.  We are more relaxed and happier than we have been in a long time.

That isn't to say there isn't still stress, but it is less and it is manageable and we see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Plus, who doesn't have some stress in their lives?  If I woke to find I had absolutely no stress in my life I would probably come to the conclusion that I was dead.  In this life there will always be tension because there is always a fight between good and evil going on around us.   But we can have joy anyway because we know who will win that fight.  We trust Him to take care of us as we walk the hard roads.

So we have joy as John continues with school.  After a rough start to his academic career at the University of Minnesota lasts fall, his winter/spring semester has gone much better, back on track.  That said we are going to look at him possibly transferring to a smaller school next fall.  There are pros and cons to making a move with only 1 year left until graduation.  We are also considering slowing down his progress a little next year to ease the schedule.  He is either looking at 2 very challenging semesters until graduation or 3 doable semesters.  And then on to grad school!  We are calling this the half way point of our education journey and we feel more committed to it now than when we started.  We also have joy because this is the first semester since he started we did not have one of those overwhelmed break down fights where we wonder if this is all really worth it.  We are working together now and becoming comfortable with the craziness of our lives.

We have joy because I am busy with work.  Both my part time self-storage job and my real estate are keeping me on my toes.  As much as I still lament the loss of days spent in my pj's until noon doing housework, writing blog posts and chatting with friends, I am enjoying the challenge of my days and learning a new routine.

We have joy because Isabelle has joy.  She is a happy kid enthusiastic about life.  She does have wild hormonal mood swings to keep us alert but overall she is fun and joyful.  I enjoy spending time with her.  It is interesting to raise a second child.  Jake and I were so much a like we had a very comfortable, easy relationship and I always felt like I understood him.  Isabelle is totally different and I practically never feel like I understand her, but it is so fun to be with her, to listen and figure her out.  I am learning to encourage, motivate and love her in a way she understands and appreciates.  Parenting is challenging but an invigorating challenge.  And as our life has been insane and our time together limited I am often surprised by how much she does love us and wants to spend time with us.  We are blessed by her presence in our life.

Mostly I have joy because each morning I get up and seek the Lord.  He directs my thoughts and my path, gives me strength and peace.  It is a habit developed over many years that I guard tightly because without it my days just aren't the same.
Ps 59:16-17But as for me, I will sing about your power.    Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.For you have been my refuge,    a place of safety when I am in distress.
O my Strength, to you I sing praises,    for you, O God, are my refuge,    the God who shows me unfailing love.