Decluttering and letting go

china plateOne of my challenges as I unpack in my smaller home is to decide what to throw away, what to give away and what to keep. I find that I  have the hardest time getting rid of things that have a memory attached to them. Things like my mother’s china.

I have a lot less kitchen space than I used to. That led me this week to reconsider everything I used to have in my kitchen. One of the things I came across was part of my mother’s china. As I unpacked it I remembered the day my mother bought it. She bought a china cabinet to go with it! I still have the china cabinet, but the china is incomplete and I have my own china. As a result, my mom’s china had been sitting in my cabinet at the other house, never touched, never used.

It’s interesting how even when we are not using something, we have a hard time parting with it. How can we get to the point where we can let go? Here are some questions I’m asking myself as I unpack my boxes.

  1. Is it useful.  I’m amazed at how many things we have that don’t even work anymore! I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. Those we can just throw away. Warning: Don’t go back to look through the bag once you throw things out.
  2. Do I use it. When we moved, I found a box in the garage that we hadn’t looked through in four years. I took a quick look to make sure it wasn’t important, but honestly, if I haven’t used it in four years, I should probably get rid of it. If it’s in working order and we haven’t used it, we should probably give it away and let someone else enjoy it. No need to to think about how it might come in handy some day. Right now it is taking up space and energy. A word about those clothes we might fit into again some day. If I ever lose so much weight that I can fit into the clothes I used to wear, I am getting myself a whole new wardrobe!
  3. Is there someone who would appreciate it. Among the giveaways, we have things that are difficult to part with because of the memories they hold. The problem is that if they are not being used, they are taking up space and deteriorating. Eventually they will not look the way they did when they were forming memories and they will end up broken and tattered. However, maybe we can think of someone who could appreciate that object and enjoy it the way we used to. Such a thing happened last week with me.

Looking at my mother’s china, trying to find a place for it, my brother and sister-in-law came to mind. So this weekend when they came over for dinner, I gave them the china. My sister-in-law was so thrilled. She never met my mom and was truly touched that I would consider giving her something so precious to me. We looked online and found how she could replace the missing pieces and she left very excited and grateful.

I originally dreaded the idea of downsizing, but now I’m understanding the value in it.  Considering whether something is useful, whether I use it now or finding someone who will appreciate it, has become a good exercise for me.  It helps me reevaluate what will stay and what will not.  It helps me be better at decluttering and letting go.

Crossroads

It happens often. I need to get to a certain address I’ve never been to before. My GPS is not working or is unclear. The directions I was given didn’t include this crossroad I’m on. Is it left or right? Now most people would say, well, guess. There’s a 50/50 chance that you make the right choice. But I am convinced that those odds do not apply to me. If I have to guess, it’s more like 90/10. And the odds are not in my favor. When I do make the turn, I find that I’m usually wrong. To which I conclude, “And that’s why I don’t play the lottery.”

In life, taking the wrong road can be costly. It can cost money, time, opportunity and more importantly, relationships. How can we be sure we are taking the right turn? Making the right choice? Here are a few steps we can take to help us in the process.

  1.  Pray. The most important ingredient to important decisions is wisdom. And God is the wisest Person I know. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” That’s what I’m afraid of! That I’ll make, what appears to be a good decision, and then later I regret it. So pray for wisdom.
  2. Review your goals. According to Greg McKeown in a podcast with Michael Hyatt on his book Essentialism, every 90 days we should take a day to review the last 3 months. Were we true to our goals? What adjustments do we need to make? Then we make plans for the next 90 days (click on Greg McKeown‘s name above to listen to the podcast).
  3. Stay focused. I love to write. I write my blog, I write curriculum, I journal, and I’ve even written a book that I’m editing. But it is so hard to actually sit down to start. The distractions are limitless. My biggest obstacles are shadow missions. In one of my favorite books, Overcoming Your Shadow MissionJohn Ortberg writes about those things that we might be good at or that we might like to do but that actually distract us from our true purpose. Before you commit to something, think about how it will affect those things that are really important to you. Will it improve them or will it get in their way?
  4. Choose. Staying at the crossroad can be more stressful than actually making the wrong choice. Most choices can be reevaluated. We can make adjustments. Turn back. Take a detour. But sitting at the crossroad too long wastes time and makes us lose momentum. And it robs us of peace.

Crossroads can be stressful, but they can also be seen as opportunities to move forward. Pray, review your goals, stay focused on what is most important and then choose.

 

Paper Dolls and a Mother’s Love

Paper dolls. They were my toy of choice when I was four.  I loved looking through the pages of paper doll cut outs with their outfits, shoes, jewelry.  So many combinations!  These days they are hard to find. When you do run across them, they have perforations for easy removal.  But in my day, they were really made of paper and only the doll was made of card stock. No perforations, no easy removal. It could take hours to cut everything out. And if I made a mistake, I could cut the little flap that attached the clothes to the doll and ruin the whole outfit!

One day while at the drugstore, my mom bought me one of those deluxe, super thick paper doll books. It had 6 dolls! Wow! I was mesmerized. But it was going to take a long time to get all those outfits cut out.  It was late when we got home and my mom sent me to bed, even though I begged her to let me start cutting. The next day was Saturday and my mom didn’t have to go to work so we could be home all day. I wanted to cut them out before I went to bed and then spend the whole day playing with them the next. My mom wouldn’t have it. Looking back, I couldn’t have gotten much done anyway, but I was disappointed.

The paper dolls were the first thing on my mind as I got up early the next morning. We lived in a small apartment and I could see my mom from my bed as she was sweeping the living room. When she saw me awake, she went to the table and got a large thick envelope. As she got closer I began to understand what was in there.  The paper dolls! She had cut out all the outfits, all the jewelry, every detail and the six dolls!  I remember it like it was yesterday.

Not until I had my own kids did I fully appreciate the amount of time and how late she must have gone to sleep cutting those pieces out.  Now I appreciate the sacrifice and the kindness even more.

That day we bonded. That day I realized that she was for me. We had a lot of bumps along the road after that. Moments of true rebellion on my part during my teenage years. But always that memory was embedded in my mind. My mom cared about the little things in my life. She didn’t do everything for me, that would have been a mistake. But she knew what I cared about and did her best to provide. Balance is everything. Do you have a moment in time when you realized your mom was for you?

For me it was paper dolls. Who knew they would be so important in my understanding of a mother’s love.

 

 

How do we handle regret?

Recently I was reminded the difference between disappointment and regret. Disappointment has to do with expectations. Our expectations can be dependent on our own actions, the actions of others, circumstances beyond our control or a combination of any of these.

Regret, however, has to do with choices.  Choices that we have made. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. And it can be riddled with regret. We all have regrets we have to deal with and some are harder to get past than others. Regret can be paralyzing.  It doesn’t allow us to move forward in that area because we are always revisiting the moment we made,  what we think is, the wrong decision. So how do we get past regret?

1.  Learn from it
On this side of regret, it doesn’t matter why we made the choice we made. At the time, for whatever reason, we made that particular choice and there’s no way to go back a choose differently.  What we can do is learn from our mistakes. What drove us to make that decision? Was it fear? Pressure from others? Time constraints? Lack of information?  Lapse in judgment?  Knowing what motivated us can help us not make the same mistake again.

2.  Guard your heart from what if’s.
The truth is that hindsight is not 20/20. In fact, it’s quite distorted. Since our present situation is not what we wanted, we live in the “what if” world where the other choice would have been better. The problem with that is that there is no way of knowing how accurate we are in our belief that we would have been better off with that situation.  Too many variables! Of course we think that would have been better! Yes, it might have been better in some ways, but it would have brought it’s own challenges. Because that is life. There is no such thing as an easy or perfect way. Every scenario has its own challenges. And there’s no guarantee that had we made that choice, we wouldn’t be sitting there regretting not having made this one! There’s simply no way of knowing, yet we spend a ton of energy envisioning what might have been instead of making the best of what is.

3. God works everything for good. Our God is a resourceful God. Some of the greatest stories I’ve heard have been the ones where God took the worst decisions and turned them around. He makes no exceptions. He will do that for anyone who takes their mistakes and hands them over to Him to fix.

Regret is painful. It’s paralyzing.  It focuses on the past, wasting our present and stealing our future. While it is true that our bad choices can lead to bad situation,  there is no reason to dwell on it. It is done. All we can do now is learn from it, guard our hearts from the what if’s and remember that God can turn anything around. Move forward. There is more to be done. And with your experience, you’re just the one for the job.

Focus your energy on those things that ONLY you can do.

Having six kids to home school while managing a home, volunteering at church and all the “little” things that take up so much time brought me a desire early on to read a lot of books on time management. One thing I always took away from these great books was to focus on what is truly important first, then squeeze in those other non-essentials.

Recently, this has gotten me thinking of another principle I have to continually put in check. Focusing my energy on those things that ONLY I can do.

I need to catergorize the things I do and ask myself,, “Could I pay someone to do this and  get the same or even better results?” If the answer is yes, then that is not something ONLY I can do. However, if the answer is no, then that is where most of my energy and resources should be going.

Here are some things that only I can do.

  1.  Provide a loving environment for my family.
  2. Nurture my relationship with my husband
  3. Create a safe environment for communication and positive influence in my home.
  4. Prepare my kids for adulthood.
  5. Be an example of godly character
  6. Study my children to see how they learn best and provide the tools for them to do so.

Most of these things are done in the midst of the mundane. We may not do them perfectly, but if we are not present, we won’t get to do them at all.  I have to constantly remind myself that every time I say yes to one thing, I’m saying no to another.  The challenge is to remember which is which.

My best investment, my best resources, my best effort should be put in those things that only I can do. That is where the battle is won or lost. That is where the greatest gain will be.

 

 

Three life hacks I learned by downsizing

Our family recently moved to a smaller place.  We no longer need a big place, since many of our children no longer live at home. I have personally found it challenging to make the change, but in the midst of it all I have learned a few hacks that are good to remember on a bigger scale.

1.  You can’t take it all with you.
The best news I received came when I discovered that spring cleaning in our town would be 2 days after we moved! This meant that we could leave whatever we didn’t want or need on the curb and Monday morning, the town would pick it up! Couches, broken tables and appliances, pieces of wood,  you name it, it could all go on the curb.

It was a bitter sweet experience to tag what would go to our new house and what we either had to give away or put on the curb. The reality was that the house we were moving into was much smaller. Having a big house meant you could just keep piling in without having to make that kind of choice. But needing to have a place for everything and have everything in its place pushed us to be intentional about what we took with us.

Similarly,  when we decide to be intentional about our future,  we find we have to make a list of what we can take with us and what we need to let go of. It is both freeing and scary.

When I went back to school I found that I had pockets of time that I wasted on an episode of a tv show or sitting doing nothing productive, or making several trips just because I hadn’t organized a time to do errands. Having homework to do in the the midst of an already busy schedule made me take a hard look at those pockets of time and use them more productively.

It can be scary to break a routine we’ve had for a long time or let go of something that is familiar to us. But sometimes, all that is left worth saving is the memory of how it used to work. Now it’s just one more thing to manage or one more waste of time. Perhaps you’re at a different season and you can be doing something more productive or more conducive to who you are now. Don’t be afraid to put that on the curb.

2.  You don’t need as much as you think.
When my kids were little, I used to try to be prepared for every possible thing that could go wrong when we went out. Hunger, pain, cuts, soiled clothes, drawing opportunities,  reading opportunities,  hunger again, thirst, the list was never ending. The result was a very heavy bag and a lot of preparation time. The fact is that I never needed everything I had. Recently, some of my kids and I decided to go to the zoo. I quickly started to make a mental list of everything we needed. One of my kids stopped me and said, “Mom! We’re all grown up and we all have jobs! You don’t need to make sandwiches and we certainly don’t need the wagon! We can all pay for our own lunch. Let’s just go!”

Again, bitter sweet. But what a great time! It was freeing to not have to carry anything and just enjoy the day.

Most of us are carrying way too much emotional and/or physical baggage, while others  are convinced that they’re stuck because they don’t have what they need to move forward. The truth is, you don’t need as much as you think.

3. Creativity flourishes when needed.
My kitchen is small. It’s my least favorite thing about our new house, probably because of the amount of time I’m in it! Getting everything in its place is a work in progress. But I find that I’m enjoying looking for creative ways to fit everything that I need.

We all have creativity. But for most of us, it doesn’t really take off until we need to become resourceful. Not having everything we would like in place in order to move forward might be frustrating, but it is also an opportunity to be more resourceful; to use creativity to get to where we want to go and not give up.

Just like looking for the perfect house that doesn’t exist, we will never have the perfect environment to move forward or make the changes we need to make. Growing, overcoming bad habits, changing seasons, these all require a reevaluation of where we are and where we want to be.

Am I trying to bring everything with me even though it doesn’t fit anymore or it doesn’t even work? Do I need to get creative with what I have?  If so, what an opportunity to downsize!

Thanks, mom. Miss you.

My mom was my best friend. I’d call her at 4:30 every day and give her an update of the day and listened to her talk about hers. If I missed the 4:30 mark and called later, she would answer and say, “Who’s this?….My daughter?  No, my daughter calls at 4:30!” It might have sounded a little passive aggressive, but it was in good fun….really.

Even now I find myself occasionally thinking at 4:30, I have to call my mom. Or sometimes I have big news and think, “My mom would enjoy this.”

Selfishly, I think what I miss most about my mom is how much she spoiled me. How she made my favorite food for my birthday, how she loved my kids, how she enjoyed having us over. How she worked hard to keep us together.

My mom’s passing was a catalyst for me to start thinking about my own life.  My personal decisions, life choices and how I would choose to spend the rest of my life. There were many things my mom enjoyed doing,  most of which she did not get to do.

She loved photography, but never pursued it. She loved to draw, but didnt have time to cultivate it. She was a good writer, but there are only a few pages here and there as evidence. She always wanted to open a craft business and never got the chance. When I miss my mom, I don’t only miss who she was, but who she didn’t get the chance to become.

In honor of her, I have chosen to intentionally seize the day. To explore my gifts and talents. I chose to go back to school and finish my degree.  I chose to go on a missions trip to Haiti with my daughter.  I say yes to speaking engagements whether it’s for 3 people or 800. I encourage my kids to pursue their interests.  I work hard to overcome obstacles. I want to become the person God intended me to be when He created me. I want to move forward from where my mom left off. She is my inspiration. Thanks mom. Miss you.

Four lies about money that can break up a marriage

There are many helpful tools out there that can help us manage money. But whether we are managing money well or not, it can be the cause of much strife in a marriage. Whether there’s an abundance of  money or there never seems to be enough, who gets to decide how it will be spent? What are the priorities?  What gets paid first? Who’s money is it?  The answers to these questions and others like them, can uncover deeper causes of strife and insecurity. Here are four lies about money that break up marriages.

1.  If I had more money, I’d be happier. The truth is, money just magnifies who we already are. Thinking that money will make us happy adds more pressure to the marriage. We feel we need to work harder. We need to spend less. We need to save more. We follow quick rich schemes, lose money and have arguments with our spouse over it. Realizing that money is not the source of our happiness will help us concentrate on those things that do. Our relationships. Our relationship with God, with our spouse, with our kids, with our community.

2. I need to keep up appearance.  Issues with money are some of the biggest secrets. Just because your neighbor is driving an expensive car doesn’t mean he has the money to pay for it. Just because your friend has a big house doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling to make the payments. Of course, not everyone is in debt up to their eyeballs, but according to our economy, more than we think. Those appearances pressure us into thinking that we need to get us some of that expensive stuff too! But that kind of thinking can bring real problems in the marriage when the pressure is on to make payments on all that stuff. My pastor has shared a nugget that I repeat to my family every time we see something we like that isn’t in the budget. “I can admire it, without having to acquire it.” Next time you’re tempted to spend money to keep appearances, think about what it will really cost you to, as Dave Ramsey says, “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

3.  I earned it, it’s mine, and I can spend it however I want. We may not say it that way, but our actions speak louder than words. When we don’t respect our spouse in the decision process and just spend however we want without consulting them, this is essentially what we’re saying. Sometimes we act like children when we should be behaving like adults. The best definition I’ve heard for adult is, “doing what has to be done when it has to be done, whether I feel like it or not.” Every couple should have a budget, created by both parties, and followed by both parties.

4.  I’m afraid we won’t make it. As our economy has shown us in the last decade, there’s no such thing as security. The days of working at a job for 30 years and retiring with a nice pension have all but disappeared. The average 30 year old will have several jobs before age 65, and many 50 year olds are having to reinvent themselves. Fear can make us do crazy and unreasonable things. And crazy and unreasonable things can cause a lot of damage to a marriage. Don’t let fear motivate you in decisions regarding money. Make decisions together as a couple and work together to get ahead.

Money is a tool. It should be used to help us meet our goals as a couple and move us forward in our journey together. It doesn’t make us better or worse than we were before, it just brings out what’s already inside of us. So work on yourself. Think about what money means to you. Do you think it’s your answer to happiness? Do feel pressure to keep up with the Jones’? Do you have a hard time letting it go and being generous because it’s yours? Is fear keeping you from making changes in your life or robbing you of peace? Be honest with yourself and reconsider your position on money. It might help you have a better relationship with it and with your spouse as well.

The greatest gift I can give my kids

No matter what else I do in life, I know that my greatest responsibility,  my greatest privilege and my greatest opportunity for impact will be the raising of my children. So it will be for every parent. So the question I have had to ask myself is, “What is the most important gift I can give my kids?”

For me, the most important thing is for them to know God and have a relationship with Him. I have many desires for my kids, and knowing God in every one of those desires will make them that much better. For example:

I want them to have a good marriage. If they know God and have a relationship with Him, they will pray for His direction in their relationships. They will not get their identity from their relationships or seek someone who will make them happy or take away the loneliness.  Their identity will be in Christ. They will know not to tolerate abuse for that is not God’s will for them. They will seek someone who is like minded. They will learn to love with God’s love,  rather than what the world teaches is love.

I want them to make the best of their one and only life. If they know God, they will discover the gifts and talents that God has given them. They will find that it really is better to give than to receive and that great joy comes from helping others.

I want them to be financially stable. If they know God, they will glorify Him in the way they use their money. They will use God’s principles to work hard and make an honest living. They will trust God to provide and not love money.

So the most important thing I can leave my kids is to teach them about God, to expose them to others who know and love God and to be a godly example of what God can do in the life of someone who trusts Him. Everything else will fall into place if we keep the most important thing first.

A Post Easter Reflection

Today, as I went to the Easter service, I remembered the year that Easter took a whole new meaning in my life.

I was driving to the hospital. We lived an hour and a half away. Still had some forty-five minutes to go when I got the phone call. “Your mom didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.” Out of my mouth came a sound I didn’t recognize as my own. I screamed in anguish. I tried to contain myself as I drove trying to get there as quickly as I could, knowing it was already too late. My son was sitting next to me. I felt so bad for him. I knew I was making it worse for him as he sat there crying. But I could not control my pain. And I was desperate to get there. How could this happen? We were only supposed to go visit and spend the night with her. We would laugh, watch a movie, talk.  Now everything had changed. It took one phone call to realize that nothing would ever be the same.

Even if they wouldn’t have told me, I would have known as I walked into the room. Death is so empty. Looking at her lifeless body, the question that came to me was immediate.  “Do you believe?” “All these years you have celebrated the event. Now, here, one week before Easter, do you believe in the resurrection?”

That was ten years ago. Easter has had new meaning for me ever since. It means that I can have the hope of not only having eternal life, but that there on that hospital bed that day, lay just a shell. She was not there. She is in the presence of her Savior. She believed and accepted His mercy on her. And because of that, I will see her again.

This is the true meaning of Easter for me. That those who have trusted in Jesus to pay the price we cannot pay, will live for eternity in His presence. And while the day to day living in a relationship with Him is so amazing, being face to face with death, there is no greater comfort.  And for that, I am grateful.