Everything In Its Place ~ moving in with Mom

Thomas Kinkade oil painting of a 19th century English cottage

In what seems like a quaint Jane Austen novel or a zany nineties sit-com, depending on the moment, my husband and I now live in the same house as my 82-year-old mother in the small town where we grew up. The decision to move back to our hometown to care for Mom was an easy one. More difficult was the logistical issue of combining two very different households into one.

Imagine moving the contents of an average home and times that by two. For someone who values simplicity and order as I do, it was almost too much. For a month before the move, my fitful dreams were filled with visions of multiple toasters, sofas, blenders, ironing boards, pianos, and hangers…so many unmatched hangers!

I made the executive decision to pack up everything from both homes and, in one fell swoop, move it all to the new house on closing day. From there, we would choose what to keep and what to donate. Since Mike and I lean toward minimalism, our mostly functional possessions took up substantially less space than my mother’s.

As box after box was unpacked, each item met its fate. What Mom lacks in simplicity, she makes up for in good taste. In nearly every case, her things trumped ours. Our bed, books, photographs, and collection of heart-shaped rocks were just about the only things that made the cut.

Once we pared down, it was time to put things away. My mantra has always been “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Houses have a way of telling their owners where things naturally belong. Pots and pans go near the stove. Hats and gloves go near the front door. Once you find a perfect home for something, that’s where it should stay.

Within a couple of days after moving, I took Mike and Mom on a walking tour of our house. As I opened every cabinet, closet, and drawer, I proudly waved my hand and said, “Dish towels go here, wine glasses go here, cleaning supplies go here, snacks go here, office supplies go here …” Their eyes glazed over after the wine glasses, but they graciously humored me.

Much like my mom, the new house is more elegant than the contemporary lake house where we used to reside. Her Royal Doulton and Hummel figurines look beautiful on the living room book case. My grandmother’s china cabinet and sparkling crystal are perfect in the traditional dining room. More importantly, I know it all makes Mom feel happy and at home.

A week after moving into our new house, the three of us prepared for dinner as if we’d lived there for years. Mike cooked in the kitchen with ease. Mom gathered placemats and silverware to set the table. I pulled plates and glasses from their rightful spots.

We sat at the dining room table in our usual places. Mike was on one side of me, and Mom was on the other. We clinked our glasses in a toast. I looked around our cozy home and had no doubt everything and everyone was in exactly the right place. §

‘The Hill We Climb’ ~ inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman

(Stock Photo)

The Hill We Climb by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry.
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. §

Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate and first national youth poet laureate, delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Simply reading the words of her poem is like reading the lyrics to a song. To truly capture the rhythm, rhyme, mood, and promise of this powerful poem, please experience Gorman’s beautiful inauguration day performance. You can watch it at https://youtu.be/LZ055ilIiN4

Mangoes ~ life-changing words from a child in Africa

The first piece of mail I opened in 2021 was a letter from a 7-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda. Nothing sets you straight faster than the cheerful words of a child who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world.

I was attending my own pity party when I saw the letter on the kitchen counter. It was from Lukas, a child we sponsor through Compassion International. Just seeing the familiar envelope was enough to make me flush with embarrassment. I stopped whining and opened the letter. On one side was a colorful picture drawn by Lukas, and on the other, a letter written in English by a translator.

Lukas was responding to a letter I’d written to him during the summer. Normally our letter cycle takes about three months, but the pandemic made the process twice as long. Lukas asked how we were doing and told us more about himself. We already knew the names of his brothers and sisters, that he likes to play soccer with his friends, and his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud to my husband, my voice cracked when I read, “Lukas also adds that he appreciates so much his birthday gift of 86,350. With that money, he bought a mattress and a piece of candy.”

We’d forgotten his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account. Lukas didn’t replace an old mattress with a new one. He bought the first mattress he’d ever had to go with the mosquito netting he bought with last year’s Christmas gift.

The little boy’s grateful words hung tangibly in the air next to my greedy ones.

I’d just been listing the next bushel of things I needed to happen, needed to do, needed to get in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness – things Lukas has no idea even exist or would ever believe he was entitled.

Then Lukas told us something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds – something incredibly simple and utterly life-changing.

The thing that makes him happiest is climbing trees for mangoes.

We love mangoes. We buy them at the grocery store when they’re available. Mike is good at picking a perfectly ripe one. He slices through the yellow-red skin and then makes neat cuts in the bright yellow flesh to release cubes of the tropical treat. Biting into the fruit brings a burst of floral sweetness with a slight hint of pine. If eaten mindfully, it’s heaven.

I imagine our young friend nimbly skitter up a mango tree in his village. His bright brown eyes spy a ripe fruit. His tiny hand picks it off the limb and stuffs it in his pocket. He climbs back down the tree, laughing. He sits on the ground and leans against the base of the tree. Pulling the golden prize from his pocket, he takes a big bite, juice dripping down his smiling face.

When we find ourselves getting caught up in our first world delusions and disillusions, Mike and I need only say one word to remind us of the good life.

Mangoes. §

About Compassion International ~ When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you become the single sponsor of a specific child. You get updated pictures and profiles of your child, and you can exchange letters. Your donation help your child’s local church provide medical care, education, nutritious meals, and other needs. To find out more about sponsoring a child through Compassion International, go to http://www.compassion.com/Child/Sponsorship.  

From the Prayer Garden ~ Help. Thanks. Wow.

My best days always include a long walk alone with my thoughts. For the past few weeks, my daily treks have taken me on a path leading to a better understanding of the power of prayer.

Since the first of December, I’ve been living in my hometown with my mom after she had a mild stroke. Although I miss my hikes in the secluded woods of our home in Indiana, I’ve still been able to get in a daily walk. My route takes me through the neighborhood, down the sidewalk of a busy street, across the train tracks, to the intersection of a main road, and back again.

One blustery afternoon, a patch of woods along the train tracks called to me. I left the concrete sidewalk and headed a different direction across the frosty ground close to the tree line. As my feet kicked through thick crisp leaves, I heard myself let out a long breath I’d been holding for weeks. I closed my eyes briefly and opened them to find myself in a small prayer garden.

The garden is situated on the edge of the grounds of a large church that wasn’t there when I was growing up. It’s a small area that’s simply but well-designed. I sat on one of the cold stone benches, knowing what I needed to do. There was much to pray about, but my thoughts blew and swirled around like the dry brown leaves trapped against the garden wall.

I settled in for some serious invocation, but my mind focused on inconsequential details in front of me – moss growing on the large center boulder, the patterned brick below my feet, the low curved wall. Okay, pray.

In the silence, my attention turned to the sound of the wind shaking copper leaves still clinging to their branches, the distant squawk of geese dotting the gray sky, and the busy scratching of a squirrel in a nearby tree. C’mon, focus.

Frustrated with myself, I shook my head only to notice another distraction – an abundance of acorns, hickory nuts, and broken shells scattered at my feet. I scoffed at my spiritual ineptitude.

A train was rumbling down the tracks. Its low blowing horn and clattering of iron on iron came closer and closer, roaring louder and louder in my crowded mind. Suddenly I remembered the title of a book by Anne Lamott called Help. Thanks. Wow. In it the author advocates three simple prayers – one of supplication, one of gratitude, and one of sheer awe.

I walked in a slow circle around the center of the garden, picking up acorns and nuts and placing them on stones to help me visualize each individual prayer. Instead of a train wreck of messy thoughts in my head, my prayers were laid out in a neat, comprehensible pattern along the garden wall.

Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow.

I walk to the prayer garden nearly every day now. In my own way, I suppose I always pray as I walk, but time in this sacred spot makes my prayers more clear, more intentional, more hopeful, and more faithful.

The title of Lamott’s book reminds me to keep my prayers in specific, grateful, and humble balance. For every prayer asking for help, there’s another for thanks, and yet another for joyful praise of things like serendipitously stumbling upon a private and holy sanctuary just when it’s needed most. §

Joie de Vivre ~ a mantra for the new year

Oleanders, the 1888 painting by Vincent Van Gogh, features a colorful vase of flowers and Emile Zola’s novel, La Joie De Vivre.

Joie de Vivre!

It’s a French phrase literally translated to mean joy of living. Pronounced  ⁄ZHwä de ‘vēvre/, it expresses an exuberant enjoyment of life. Is there another phrase that so happily rolls off the tongue? Just saying it makes me smile, and I’m excited to make it my mantra for 2021.

Rather than making resolutions, each new year I choose a word as my guiding light or touchstone for the next twelve months. The last three years, my words have been simplicity, nature, and seasons. Each word served me well as I aimed to infuse its essence into every nook and cranny of my life.

La Joie De Vivre is the title of a novel written in 1883 by Emile Zola. The main character is ten-year-old Pauline who goes to live with the Chanteaus after her parents die. The author contrasts Pauline’s optimism and open-heartedness with the negativity found in the Chanteau household. The book popularized the phrase joie de vivre as an admirable approach to life. A likeness of the novel is featured in two well-known paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.

Contemporary author Mireille Guiliano wrote, “In France we have a saying, joie de vivre, which actually doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.” While I don’t claim to be a true Francophile, I do hope to bring this French saying to my life, especially as the new year finds me in an unexpected place and circumstance.

In thinking about how to practically incorporate this phrase into my daily round, I realize a spirit of joie de vivre can be expressed in virtually all areas of life. If I stay mindful, everything I think, say, and do can reflect a joyful appreciation for each and every day of the new year.

I look forward to seeking joy in routine rituals such as eating and dressing as well as on a deeper, more spiritual level. Galations 5:22-23 reminds us that in addition to love, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness, and goodness, the fruit of the spirit includes joy!

I feel sure this is the perfect season of my life to consciously embrace la joie de vivre and to remember what Walt Whitman wrote, “Happiness, not in another place, but in this place, not for another hour, but for this hour.” §

Question of the Week ~ Have you chosen a word for the new year? Please share it with us in the comment section. Wishing you a week filled with joy and a very happy new year!