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Welcome home: Moving, part 2

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Read part 1.

It’s been a solid three months since we moved into our new house, and a lot has changed. Paint colors, light fixtures, furniture, pictures, potted plants.

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Our first mailbox flag.

We’ve said goodbye to spring and welcomed summer.

We’ve had our first guests.

We’ve found different routes to work, different grocery stores and different doctors.

We’ve met new neighbors.

We’ve both been locked in a spare room and locked out of the house.

Pete fixed our old dryer, and I experienced 12 loads of laundry in three days.

I caught my first lizard on the windowsill and have misplaced the vacuum more than once. (There are more places to put it now.)

We’ve figured out where the hardwood floors creak and what doors make which squeaky sounds.

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New kitchen table centerpiece! Made it myself.

And now the mailbox at the entrance of this beautiful home we saw nine months ago is ours.

I haven’t thought about our old house much. We’ve been so busy making this new one our own.

For the first little while we were there, it was overwhelming with so many projects to do, and it didn’t really feel like home until we started hanging stuff on the walls.

Now that we have some movie nights and meals on the patio under our belts, it definitely feels like our space.

There are still some big things to tackle—kitchen countertops, emptying the garage, etc.—but I like being there, and it’s fun to watch things shape up.

You should’ve seen me Monday when I was still on a shopping high after getting new curtains. That’s the fun stuff. 🙂

 

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When your friend is dying

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*Update: A few hours after I posted this, I learned that my friend passed away.*

My friend is dying and I’m painting the bathroom.

That’s all I could think about last week as a gallon of Sherwin Williams helped color our bathroom walls blue. Up and down, up and down the roller went until I paused to refill my tray. Some melancholic song was playing on my phone in the background.

Thirty-nine is an unacceptable age to die. And barely 39 at that. You’re not even over the hill yet. Not even halfway done.

I know this stuff happens and that we may never know why, but it still sucks. It’s horrible, heartbreaking and sucks. I’m tired of people having cancer.

My friend has been a fighter from the beginning. We aren’t close, but I’ve known her for about eight years now, first as she and her husband joined our pre-marriage class, then as they joined our small group at church. We went to their wedding and celebrated when they adopted their daughter. I went to an ovarian cancer fundraiser and watched the husband run in teal heels.

But now it’s getting close to the end. No one wants to come out and say it, but it’s true. We can tiptoe around it, talking about how she doesn’t have much time left or how we’re praying for the family as they move forward, but she’s dying. I hate it.

Instead of planning vacations, juggling work and kids, lamenting over house projects and whatever else almost-forties do, she’s getting weaker, frailer and about to leave a little girl behind. And a husband of seven years—such a short time.

Unless something miraculous happens—and I’m not discounting that possibility—she won’t have another Christmas or birthday or anniversary. Her plans for the future are from here to tomorrow. I almost feel guilty as I settle into a new house, making plans for new countertops and wondering where I’m going to hang that picture.

I know I could drop dead in five minutes. Any of us could. But knowing death is around the corner … well, I can’t imagine. Not at 39.

At least she’s had lots of friends visit. That’s huge. I’m kicking myself for not knowing her condition sooner and planning an earlier visit myself. Now it’s too late, no more visitors, although I hope she liked the card we sent.

Things like this always bring up the words “wake-up call.”

“Life is short,” people say, and of course it’s too true. It makes me wonder why any of us waste time arguing about insignificant things or whining about stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. Life is truly a gift, and today will never be repeated, so why don’t we treat it like that?

In the middle of all the sadness, I can’t leave out the one bright spot, the one thing that makes me happy.

I will see my friend again.

From our time together, I know her soul to be secure, destined for a place she’ll no longer live in pain or be frail or have cancer. The C word doesn’t exist there. I’m still sad and devastated for her family, but content knowing where she’ll be after this. I know not everyone can say that about people they’ve lost, but I sincerely hope whoever is reading this can say that about themselves.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Leaving the familiar: Moving, part 1

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Our first home. Cute, isn’t it?

This time next week, I’ll be calling a different place home.

All our things should be out of the house I’m currently sitting in, and I’ll likely never see the inside of it again.

I admit it’s a little sad. This is our first home together, and there have been lots of firsts here: first holidays, first guests, first time buying real furniture, first landscaping attempts and first arguments as a married couple. It’s where I fell in love with the coffee shop around the corner and where I trained for our first 5K. We’ve had so many great moments here, along with some tough ones, and it’ll be weird getting used to a different place.

A different route home, a different grocery store, a different spot for the dishes. New neighbors, new paint colors, a new key on my key ring.

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Dreaded moving boxes

I’ve been ready to move for the past few years, and now that it’s happening, the reality of it strikes me during the most mundane moments. Like when I’m walking across our bedroom, unloading the dishwasher or waiting to turn right out of the neighborhood.

A week from now, I won’t be doing that anymore, I think. At least not in the same places.

We’re moving only an hour away, but it’s far enough to feel like a completely different community. I still don’t know where a lot of things are there, so I expect I’ll be GPSing my way through the first couple of weeks or so.

The thing I’ll miss most is the friends who live close by. It’s not like I’ll never see them again, but distance has a way of making it harder to keep in touch. Although I’m pretty good at it and I really don’t want to lose these friends.

I’m ready for this move, and I know we’re going where God wants us. Why there, I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m 90% excited and only 10% nervous.

Over the next weeks, as I Google new vets, research dentists and get used to climbing stairs again, I’m sure the new normal will set in. In the meantime, we need to find a day to make one last trip to that coffee shop.

 

5 things people assume because I’m a writer

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Ten years ago, I started my first blog. I’ve always loved to write—ever since those first-grade writing assignments on super wide-ruled paper—and over the years, it’s become my outlet. It’s therapeutic. My best form of expression. And my job.

After writing for my high school and college newspapers, I got my first “real world” job as a reporter at a local paper. Five years ago, I switched things up and started writing and editing for a ministry.

Thousands of articles, dozens of news briefs and four blogs later, I’ve come up with a list of things people assume about me because I’m a writer.

1. I need more journals in my life.

Right this moment, I have four empty journals on my bookshelf. A fifth one is half empty, and I just gave two to Salvation Army. Of the seven journals, I purchased one of them myself, and that was because it had my name on it. (Well, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but same thing.) The rest of them were gifts. I know a lot of writers take time to journal, and I do appreciate each one I get—especially if it’s unique—but I just don’t use them. That’s what this blog is for! I do, however, go through lots of pens and always appreciate a new pack of Pilot Precise V5s.

2. I read a lot.

This past weekend, my father-in-law asked what I’m reading. I expected the question since both my in-laws are readers, and unfortunately I didn’t have a great answer. “Well, I just finished a book I started a year ago,” I told him. It’s true; I started a book months ago, then put it down, and just picked it up and finished it last week. I have three others that are half read. It’s almost embarrassing—I come from a family of readers, for goodness’ sake—but frankly, after reading and writing at work all day, I don’t necessarily want to come home and read more. Plus, most of what I do read isn’t in book form. It’s news articles or other blogs. So when people ask if I’ve heard of so-and-so-author or such-and-such-writer, many times I haven’t. (It feels good to confess that.)

3. I always know what to say.

If you’ve ever gotten a birthday, wedding, anniversary, congratulations, thank you, get well soon, Christmas or sympathy card from me and Pete, I probably wrote it. I’ll set the scene: I’m sitting at my desk one evening, pen poised over a card, trying to figure out what to write. “What should I say?” I ask Pete. “You’re the writer,” he says. Sometimes the words flow, and sometimes they don’t.

4. I’m making a mental note of your grammar errors.

OK, this one is true. I’m constantly finding spelling and grammar errors in everything from menus, posters and pamphlets, to magazines, books and billboards. You can afford a billboard but can’t have someone run the words through spell-check first? I admit I do the same with emails, Facebook posts and blogs. Sometimes even texts, although I’m more lenient on those given the quick nature of communication. I know not everyone cares about misspelled words and comma abuse like I do, but at least proofread. Poor Pete has to hear my corrections all the time: “They misspelled ‘marshmallow’ on the dessert menu.” … “This ad needs a comma.” … “The church bulletin should’ve lowercased ‘director’ in this context.” I can’t help it; they jump out at me. The worst, though, is when I make a mistake myself. (Yes, it happens.) I once caught a spelling error on this blog from two years earlier and immediately changed it, completely horrified.

5. I’ll gladly read your résumé.

This one is actually true, too, with a small caveat. When people need a résumé proofed, a letter edited or a recommendation written, they often come to me. And I like that. In fact, I do the same thing but in different ways; I go to my crafty friend for help with projects, I go to Pete with help fixing stuff, and so on. When people come to me with something to proof or edit, it says to me, “You know what you’re doing, and I trust you to do a good job.” I take it as a compliment, and I thoroughly enjoy trying to make the letter/email/whatever else sound better. What’s not so great is when the text in question has been sloppily put together, assuming I’ll fix it all. Not cool. I may be a writer, but I have teacher-like tendencies and need some effort here.

So what about you? Do people assume certain things about you because of your job or hobbies?

The Gratitude Jar

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In my last post, I talked about my one-word focus for the year: balance. One way I hope to achieve that balance is by staying focused on what’s most important in life. And one way to do that is to acknowledge all the little pluses that come along.

And so we have The Gratitude Jar.

Sometimes I can get so caught up in what isn’t going right that I completely overlook all the good things. Then I start complaining, which takes too much energy and sucks the life right out of me.

This year, I decided to make something tangible to encourage me to think about the positives in life—an actual place to put the things I’m grateful for. I knew I wanted to call it The Gratitude Jar, but browsed the internet for ideas of what it should look like. I came across this thankful jar tutorial, then copied the basic idea on my own.

First I got out an old (applesauce?) jar because it was the largest one I had on hand. I wrapped it with some leftover green and white polka dot material that I used to cover the gray panels of my cube at work, then dug out an old black ribbon to tape around it. I could’ve used glue or Mod Podge, but this way I can change it more easily if I want to.

Next I used Canva (I have a free account) to create a simple graphic that I printed out and taped on the front. I wish I had used card stock the first time around, but I might take some I have at home and print it out again so the pointy edges are more sturdy.

I was going to cut a slit in the jar lid, but it’s a little difficult since it’s metal, so for now, I’m leaving it as is. I didn’t want to leave it open, but that would be an option.

Originally, I was making the jar to leave at home, but ended up taking it to work so others could add things to it if they want to. I put it on the table behind my desk (sort of a community space), then put strips of construction paper in an old iPhone box with a pen. I put it out last week and already have a handful of papers in there—some from me, some from others.

I don’t know what others have written, but one thing I added was that I’m grateful for the man in Food Lion who let me go ahead of him when I only had two items. 🙂 This was a few days ago when everyone was calling for snow and people freaked out, buying up the whole store.

Anyway, the plan is to empty the jar and read all the entries at the end of the year!

A case of post-election anxiety

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In first grade, I drew a picture of Ross Perot, an independent presidential candidate with big ears. (Looking back, they weren’t that big, but they did stick out a little.) It was 1992, the year George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, and the world went on.

Eight years later, in the 2000 race between the younger Bush and Al Gore, I remember standing in line with my parents at a local church, waiting to vote in the kids’ election—basically a paper ballot that didn’t mean squat but got you a sticker. Bush won and the world went on.

This year is different.

Granted, I’m older now and pay more attention to the news, but never in my lifetime can I remember America feeling so divided. And not just divided, but on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Reading my Facebook feed 24 hours after the election was like listening to one of those commercials where a fast-talking announcer lists all the potential side effects of a certain pill.

May cause panic attacks, rage, relief, upset stomach, fear, tears of joy, heart burn, depression, pride, thrill, surprise, total contentment, complete disgust, indignation, hope, poor word choice and the desire to move to Canada.

People are all over the place with emotions. For many in my own circle of friends, anxiety is one of them, no matter who they voted for:

What’s next for our country? How will the next four years affect us and the next generation? What will happen to the economy, to education? Will we be safe?

I heard a local pastor say recently that no matter who’s in office, God is ruler over all: “You didn’t vote Him in, and you can’t vote Him out.”

He’s immovable, unshakable, and no matter how chaotic things get, He is constant. Whatever is on the horizon for America is no surprise to an all-powerful God who created this country and all the people in it.

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”
—2 Chronicles 20:6

The job of president is certainly important and its impact far reaching, but God is so much bigger than that. If we allow Him to penetrate our lives one by one, He can bring order where there’s chaos, peace where there’s restlessness—no matter who’s in the White House.

Maybe you were on cloud nine as Donald Trump emerged as our next president this time last week. Maybe his win over Hillary Clinton has been a hard pill to swallow. Maybe you’re still processing. Whatever the case, our response matters. Your response. My response.

Are we trusting in God’s sovereignty? Do we believe He has a plan in all this?

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
—Proverbs 19:21

On a more personal level, how are we treating others—fellow creations of God Himself—a week after the election?

Are we kind and compassionate toward the other side? Are we open to constructive, civil conversations, or are we busy unfriending those who don’t agree with us?

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
—James 1:19

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
—Proverbs 15:1

The future of America is a big question mark for all of us, but not for God. He knows what each day holds and tells us not to fear. He is God and we are not, and all the bickering and anxiety in between will get us nowhere.

Wrong way: When it’s time to turn around

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A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to work and noticed big, dark clouds hovering in the distance.

I checked my rear view mirror—clear and sunny. Up ahead—not so nice. I half expected alien machines to burst out of the charcoal clouds, brandishing metallic octopus arms like in those Armageddon movies.

I wanted to turn around, but I doubt my bosses would have been happy if I’d cited “foreboding weather” as a reason for being late.

It made me think of all the times we’re headed for something bad and have a chance to “turn around,” in a sense, but don’t. In this case, I stayed on course because I had to get to work, but other times a detour may serve me better.

Here’s an example: At least once a week, I get words caught in my throat. It may be a pending criticism, a bad joke, a bit of gossip, a petty complaint … whatever it is, I know I shouldn’t share it, but sometimes I do anyway. And immediately regret it.

I may have the chance to stop myself and say something else—something constructive or uplifting—but sometimes I just don’t.

Here’s another example we can probably all relate to: Overeating.

Say it’s Thanksgiving and you’ve already had a plateful, plus a bite here and there when no one was looking. You know you should stop stuffing your face, but (again) it’s Thanksgiving, so you spoon out more mashed potatoes or try the other kind of pie, knowing you’ll regret it.

An hour later, you’re mad at yourself for ruining a diet, giving yourself a stomach ache or at least a food coma.

Why do we do stuff like that?

Maybe it’s not an untamed tongue or an undisciplined appetite you’re dealing with, but an addiction, abusive relationship, toxic job or road rage—something you know needs to change.

Think for a second about the last time you had someplace to be.

When you’re trying to get somewhere and miss your turn, you don’t keep going, knowing it’s the wrong way. You turn around and get back on track.

So why is it so difficult to do that in other areas of our lives? Why do we keep doing the same things, knowing they’re not good for us, or heading the same direction, knowing it’s the wrong way, when we could do the right thing or go the right way instead?

Maybe because it’s harder? Inconvenient? Unknown?

One Proverb says this:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
—Proverbs 14:12

Yikes, sounds pretty serious.

Maybe you’ve watched a friend head down a destructive road, bracing yourself for a result you know can’t be good. Or maybe you’ve traveled that road yourself.

One thing I’ve learned over and over is to not underestimate my conscience, not ignore that gut feeling. When that feeling or that little voice takes over—when those dark clouds are looming ahead—it’s time to refocus, reevaluate, make changes, get help or whatever it is, while you still have time.

Are you going the wrong way today? Maybe it’s time to make a U-turn.