Contentment

Y’all have been here for awhile. You know me. I don’t like the cold. I do not look forward to sweaters and boots. I could easily walk away from this state for several months each year and live happily (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that). Last winter was a hard one for me, I went into it with a much better attitude and I held onto that positivity well into January. The season dragged on though, it always does. Do what you will to save your own sanity; stay in Autumn until the winter solstice, reach out and grab Spring while there is still a foot of snow on the ground. The ice and snow, sub-zero temps, layers upon layers…I can not love it.

I do hope to avoid the endless slog of sadness this winter though. I’m going to make an attempt to photograph and write about the things that bring me joy. Joy on the journey; that’s sort of one of my “things”. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go, but I have some ideas. My hope is that in sharing the things that are beautiful and warm and meaningful here on this page I can stay afloat just a bit higher this year. I want to look at this winter as a season of rest, a time to nourish and refresh. Instead of as the cold, dark place in my soul that I fall into and struggle to escape.

Please understand that I will not anticipate or be loving the winter, but I’d like to do more than survive it. The last few days I’ve felt myself slipping into bad winter-time habits; hiding indoors, sending my children out while I stay in, bundling myself in with books and blankets, not stepping out around the fire on the deck for fear of the chilly bite in the air. I am not going to do this for the next six months, I am not. I mean, except for the book part…totally going to do that.

As Autumn continues to swirl the yellow leaves in my yard as opposed to swirling snow I am choosing now to look at each good thing for what it is, not at what it is not. The leaves are crunchy under my feet, my scarf is soft and warm, the sky is clearest blue…these individual joys hold merit on their own. They do not have to be made better by comparing them with the cold-that-is-not-quite-yet-here. I know this now, but I’m posting reminders on my calendar to come back and reread these words, lest I forget.

My attitude change toward winter is a hard fought battle for me, you all know. Earlier this Summer, in deciding to stay, I found that Paul’s words came to me again and again; “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” (from Philippians 4). Don’t get me wrong, winter is nowhere near the conditions Paul is referring to, I get that. I will not compare my minuscule “suffering” to his. What I did do though is realize that my struggle with winter was not what God wanted from or for me. Yes, I believe He wanted to hear all of my complaints, to trust Him for a way out, to listen to His peace spoken in the still, small hours of frozen mornings. He also wanted me to learn, to grow, to not stay in that place where I could not, at least, be content regardless of the weather outside.

To be content has become my goal for the season ahead. I am reminding myself that contentment comes from Christ. I can (and oh! have I) worry over all. of. the. things., but this will bring my soul no rest. There is no contentment in my old fallback anxiety. I worry still, that I will succumb to the darkness and despair over the winter as I have in the past. In this worry I remembered some more of Paul’s words though and they reminded me how very not-alone I am. Both in my hatred of the season and in my desire to find joy in it.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (from chapter 4, verse 14)

I have an amazing circle of women who I will rely on to keep me on a positive track and who will allow me to complain a bit too. I am hopeful that they will continue to “share in my troubles” and that we will lift each other up without fear of giving too much. I will beg a lot of grace from my family when I don’t want to go out, and they remind me of these words, and I regret writing them because it means actually bundling up and going out, and they will give it because they are so, so good to me. It will be so good of all of you to share in my troubles.

Ultimately, I have no idea how to make this Minnesota winter, and the many I can see in my future, positive. I’m open to suggestions that do not involve actually going out into it! I’m looking for ideas that will be fulfilling, while remembering who I am fundamentally. So, while I will likely take the kids ice skating a handful of times, I have no desire to purchase snowmobiles or an ice fishing shack. Though I will take them sledding, I will still be happier to make the cocoa when we get home. There will be long underwear under my jeans and there will be stocking caps on my head until May, and I refuse to be happy about either, but I will choose to be content in the love and peace God continues to offer me.

My kids on the beach in South Texas last year…one of my favorite wintertime memories!

About the Garden, but Not

How long does it take to grow a garden? Can you rush it along and hurry it to it’s final, beautiful stages? Can you drop store bought plants into the ground, mulch heavily, water and then sit back and relax away the rest of the season? Is it possible to work diligently for one solid season and enjoy for the rest of your days? This is not just about the garden dear ones.

I can assure you it takes a very, long time.

This is our seventh Summer living in the midst of my garden. Each year, except this one (so far), I have carved away more and more sod to lay garden beds. Lilies, Iris, Lilac, Hosta, Coneflower, Borage, so many more now spill out everywhere. Happily thriving in the rich, heavily composted soil. My sweet husband once replied to my request to extend a bed with something like; “Well, it’s less to mow.”.

Y’all know how hard the winter is on me here. The garden itself and the work done in it is what saves me from deepest depression. Oh sure, there are myriad other contributing factors, but really, the garden keeps my soul above water. I can see it now, this year as I have faced walking away from it. I can see that I did not just grow a garden, I have grown a place for my soul to sit with God and find rest amidst all of the work it has required of me.

I have grown the garden for the riot of color, for the produce, the herbs, the smells, the feel of the dirt under my nails and on my knees…but there is so much more. When you pour yourself into something, like a garden in Minnesota, you get to miss it and think of it and dream of it for several months of the year. It is something to be desired, longed for, ached over even. It is not just a space to sit and sip rum ( I wrote about this once) or a pretty place to rest; though it is that as well. For me at least, though I know not for all of you, a garden is a place to straighten out my thoughts when they are more scattered than daisy seeds on the wind. A space to pray the darkest, scariest, most fear-filled prayers while surrounded by light.

As I mentioned, this is my seventh season in this garden, and this year for sure it is a little out of hand. We were enjoying ourselves at the beach for the month of June and so the garden at home was allowed to run wild. I have been gifted truckloads of mulch twice and that kept the weeds down to a minimum, but the flowers (and the wild-flowers, aka weeds that I allow to grow in my space) took the month to explode and grow and soak up all that my absence allowed. In the old testament it is required to let the fields rest in the seventh year, I wonder if the Jewish people were still able to collect some sort of harvest from those resting fields? Did the fields still provide something of value to those people as my garden has provided for me even as I have given it (part of) the season off?

I wonder about this as I wander among the raspberry brambles collecting as many berries as I ever have in the well-cultivated years. I don’t know how this matters to you, but it matters to me. I can’t help but assume that whatever seeds fell to the ground in those ancient fields would have grown up in the season of rest, even without tending. Sure, there would have been weeds and wildflowers too, but…

Provision is a word that I can not help but associate with my Creator as well as with the garden He allows to grow up around me. He provides all things in their season. He allows all things at their most perfect time. He gives good, good gifts. I see this clearly not only because I grow a garden, but I see it amongst the flowers and herbs more than most other places. This Summer as I look around our yard, trying to decide what to do next (both in the immediate and life-altering sense) I have found my rest, I can see the provision ever-more obviously. This is not what I expected to find here.

This morning I definitely planned to write about the garden, to reveal to you in some small way that it takes a lot of time, effort, and passion to grow. I wanted to examine a bit how the garden has shaped me as I have worked to shape it. Somehow I have lost that track. Now as I sit, I can only see how the Lord has provided so many, many times for me. There has never been a moment that I have strayed from His care even when I ran hard and fast away from His will for me. I’m not really sure I can finish this post well.

I have been sitting with a decision this past week. Well, really we’ve been working on this for the better part of a year now, for me though a lot of it became real in the past couple of weeks. I wasn’t really going to tell you how I have realized that I could not ask all of my people to do something “just for me”, even though they were willing. I wasn’t going to write out how selfish that made me feel or how I knew at once the words were spoken that we could not follow through with our plans at this time in our lives. I was not intending to let you know that we changed our plans and were moving hard and fast toward a different end, yet here I sit typing it all out.

And now that plan is changed as well.

The garden is where it began and this garden is where I will stay. I didn’t come here this morning to tell you that we were not going to move away, but I suppose maybe I did. I wasn’t completely sold on the plan to stay here in this house, in this neighborhood, in this garden. Typing this out though has made me realize more than I would be willing to tell you. I now realize that knowing your family is willing to move across the country for you, in planning to do just that, and then choosing together to stay. That is not the abandoning of a dream, but the realization that you are truly loved, there can be no fear there.

The garden. Provision. Goodness. Peace.

Someday I will go friends, though it seems that day is far off. I’m a little sorry for dragging you along on this emotional journey, but not too much so. Over the year of planning to leave and the last couple of days and weeks in deciding how and where to stay, I have seen how loved I am. How connected to community we are. How leaving this village would not benefit any of the people I love enough to do it. I had felt that there was too much concession on my part, but that’s just not true. I am not giving up a dream, merely postponing it. And I completely trust that wanting this one thing and receiving another will work together for our good. I have no fear and no regret, only peace…though it did take some time in the garden to get there.

Recycling and Assigning Value

I’ve been decluttering the last few days. I don’t feel like my house is overly full, but somehow we regularly end up with a box for the thrift store and books to drop in little libraries and a pile of things that need to be disposed of properly. It really adds to the list of errands that we need to run and while I get quite the sense of satisfaction from it, my kids do not always enjoy the extra stops. Especially when it’s six degrees outside.

I have three stacks in my house right now as I am making a hard push to get rid of all unnecessary items. The first stack is the “donate” pile. The things in this box have not been dug out of the backs of cupboards or closets in at least a year. I may look at some of them longingly, wishing I could convince myself they were needed, but I just can’t. They have to go. This stack is really easy for me to put stuff into, I don’t have a ton of sentimental attachment to things. I also don’t have a ton of cupboard space since I asked my husband to drag the island out of our kitchen two summers ago. Space is at a premium for me and so if it’s just collecting dust, it’s gone.

The second pile contains all of the things that I would call “recyclable”. My own big blue bin is full right now after snapping pictures of the dusty wine bottles I’d saved from special occasions and the thirteen-thousand pieces of child-art. This is normal recycling. What I’m talking about here is the out of date printer/empty toner cartridge/broken charging cord that needs to be dropped off at BestBuy. Did you know this was a thing? It is sooo simple, you should really try it out if you haven’t yet. You barely have to walk in the door with the smaller bits, and there are basically zero questions asked even with the larger items.

Also, the expired bottles of children’s Advil/sore throat spray/prescription-you-didn’t-finish in your medicine cabinet. Most cities have a place to drop these meds off so that they don’t end up polluting the groundwater or in the wrong hands. I’ve included the link for my county, but it’s quite simple to alter the search for your own corner of the world. I was worried that I’d have to {gasp} pay for parking just to drop off my expired bottles yesterday, but I was able to run into the downtown location quickly and without issue. Definitely safer than just tossing this stuff in the trash.

If you’re anything like me, despite your constant use of cloth bags for all of the things – groceries, library runs, even the liquor store- you still have a bazillion plastic grocery/other bags that make their way into your house. These usually should not be thrown in with your regular recycling, but can be easily returned to a grocery or box store for recycling. Also, many other places will take them too. The library will take clean bags for folks who ended up with more books than they thought they would and now need an extra hand. Many thrift stores will take used grocery bags. In my neighborhood there is even a group (probably more than one) that uses the bags to make “plarn” (that’s plastic-yarn) and then knits the plarn into mats that are distributed to the homeless community so that they have a layer of protection between their bodies and the cold concrete. If you want to donate your bags to this project let me know and I can connect you to someone who currently knits the mats.

There are other things in this pile; items I want to post on the Facebook sale sites, toiletries and dry goods that can be donated to the local shelter, jackets and shoes my kids have outgrown that I’ll pass on to friends with smaller children. Being able to do all of this makes me feel good. Sure it sucks up half a day once every couple of months, but I’m also able to benefit so many people by taking this time. It is a good opportunity to remind my kids that the trash is not the best option much of the time. It helps them to see that most items have a usefulness beyond what we might think. Yes, it requires a bit more work, but I think it’s worth it.

I honestly didn’t come here this morning to talk about recycling. Or even about downsizing in preparation for upcoming travel. I can’t exactly say how you got to read five paragraphs of this. All of this purging, all of this disposing, causes me to pause and really look back over the last ten years of accumulating. That is what I had hoped to mentally sort through here. When I went through my divorce, I left with one pickup truck bed full of things from my previous life. Though my lawyer told me I could go to my house and gather all of my belongings, my ex said otherwise and, since I was in a place of shame and fear, I returned only once to sneak back some of my favorite gardening things.

This leaving began my process of starting over. I truly had very few possessions at this point in my life and, looking back we should have hit the road right then and there. Instead, I felt the need to acquire all of the lost treasures I’d had “before”. This was made difficult due to job loss and babies, and deep emotional struggles. We worked through it though. By the grace of God we have come back from the lows of constant financial worry, pressing anxiety, and fear of what is to come. How do I now justify to myself the giving away of all that we have worked to gain? I suppose I do it by recycling. I imagine that is how all of those paragraphs came into being this morning. By giving the things back to those who need them.

In walking away from all that I had worked for nearly ten years ago, I felt a sense of loss for the material possessions. Those things represented all I had longed for, all of the brave and bold steps I had taken over the years to do little things for myself. The sacrifices I made to work where I wanted to work, to put effort toward what I wanted to do with my life. When at home I had been repeatedly told the things I felt were important, were not. I felt like the things I was walking away from were pieces of myself. Almost literally footprints from the times I had stood up for my own wants in a marriage that did not care what I wanted.

And now? Now I am choosing it. It is less heart-wrenching to dispose of the things because this time, most of them are just things that we have used. Not things that are a statement of who I am. I am trying to walk this line carefully, not insisting anyone in my family give up things that are special to them. Not forcing the donate pile to be too large in spite of cries from my children. While I don’t see the need for twelve stuffed animals, should I force them to be given up? I won’t yet. I can understand their fear of losing treasures that are truly important to them at this stage in their young lives, and I will make a conscious choice to not steal those treasures away.

If you’ll remember I started out by telling you I was making three piles. The third box that I’m filling up is full of the things I will take with me. While my sweet husband has repeatedly told me that he will only take three things along when we leave this place, my list is slightly longer. The things I am setting aside as important are small, most cost me nothing, and almost all of them speak to the person I am or have been over the last ten years. The pieces of history I put in the box all speak to me, some remind me of who I have worked so hard to become. Others show me where we are going.

What would you put in your box? Which possessions in your house would you definitely bring along if you had to/got to leave? I don’t mean the external hard-drive with all of your family photos on it. Though that could go in there for sure. As you look around your home, what holds value for you? What would you be grieved to leave behind? You may think that all of it is just “stuff”, I know that I did before. It’s funny how things can be so meaningful in showing who you are and who you’ve been. While I’d be one of the first to tell you that you’ll be fine without all of the stuff, I’ll also be one of the first to understand when you can’t part with a hand trowel or a bird bath or a jewelry box.

As I prepare for more things to be put into piles this weekend, I am feeling peaceful. I trust that I’ll have just what I need, exactly when I need it. There is no need to hold on so tightly to all of the knick-knacks or memorabilia. I can get through it, I know now that I can be defined by some thing and still let that thing go. The definition is still inside of me even without the external representation.