Archive for October, 2009

A Home Is…

Those who know me well know that for years now I’ve been collecting quotes. I have a green notebook that’s next to where I sit and read and when I come across a quote that I find particularly inspiring I mark it in this notebook. And, unlike those articles that I cut out “just in case” (see previous blog post), I do look through this notebook from time to time for inspiration.

Yesterday I came across this quote, which I thought could be an addendum to my last blog post.

“A home is a place to do things, not store things. It’s not meant to house your possessions, but your life.”

Source: Barbour, Celia. “The Snug Life.” O, The Oprah Magazine. October 2009, p. 182-183. (Sorry, I could not find this article online. So, you must go to your local library in order to read the article.)

This quote inspires me to see my possessions in a new way. As I clear out the clutter from my past, I should ask myself: “Is this item just taking up space, or is it a part of the life I want to create for myself and my family?”

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I have too much stuff!

How many times have we looked around our houses or apartments and said these same words to ourselves? Recently I was doing a bit of redecorating. In the midst of this redecorating I had to take things out of drawers and off of shelves and move them to other rooms so that my husband and I could move the furniture around. The more I removed from shelves and drawers the more I kept saying to myself “I have too much stuff!”

This little exercise got me to thinking about all the rest of the stuff in our house. Phrases such as: “Funny, I thought I had more counter space than this when I bought this house…” and “Hmmm, these closets seemed bigger years ago…” kept going through my mind.

Now admittedly, when I bought my house I was not yet married. My husband’s stuff was still in his house and most of the small appliances we now have were wedding gifts. But, before the wedding, to make room for him, I did take a car-full of my possessions to Goodwill. Last year another car-full went. And soon a smaller load will be donated again. Upon seeing the second car-full of my possessions going to the less fortunate, my husband said “don’t give away everything, keep some of your stuff.” Obviously he didn’t realize that much of what’s still cluttering up the closets is still my stuff.

What happened? My husband will be the first to admit that I don’t buy very much. No retail therapy for me. And, after the last carload was taken to Goodwill, I made the rule that for every one thing that comes in to the house, one thing has to go out (with the exception of books). So, this alone should alleviate the overstuffed shelves and drawers. But it hasn’t.

Something deeper is going on. What is cluttering up those closets?

First, the “we may need this someday” syndrome. My husband and I are both guilty of this. If something breaks, my husband salvages the old parts. We save things that we haven’t used in years, “just in case.” We both read interesting articles and then save the articles or the whole magazine thinking that we may need to refer to this information sometime in the future. Do those articles ever see the light of day again? Rarely. Do we keep clipping articles and saving magazines. Yes. Why? Just in case.

Second, memories. Yes, memories. Now, some memories are keepers. Old pictures, for example. But then there are those boxes of saved stuff from my school years or mementos from other events in my life, in my past. Over the years whenever I want to save something that is important to me, I put it in a box. It’s amazing how many “important” things one can accumulate in 39 years of life.

The original intent behind these boxes was so that I could look through them periodically and reminisce about the happy (and in some cases not so happy) times in my life. That was nice in theory. But, as time went on, the original box stayed, and more boxes were added, mementos kept being put in them, but rarely have I ever actually opened the boxes to see what’s there.

And, this perhaps is the biggest problem when it comes to my “clutter”. Not wanting to deal with my past. But deal I must if I want to make room in my life for the future.

In church last weekend the gospel reading was Mark 10:17-30 (from The New American Bible):

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.'” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At this statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

In our pastor’s homily, he asked us to ask ourselves “What is keeping me from following Jesus?”

Now, I don’t think that the individual pieces themselves are keeping me from following Jesus, per se. But, as I think more about the stuff, as a whole, that I consider important, I have to ask myself “where do my priorities lie?” Does this stuff bring me closer to Jesus, or take me farther away? That ultimately will be the deciding factor in what to keep and what not to keep in my memory box.

I think it’s time to open up those boxes, confront those memories, put things in perspective and decide what is truly important to me now. Then, and only then will I be able to free up some space in my closets, in my life, and in my heart.

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Yesterday I watched an inspirational story on the Oprah show. Oprah has many inspirational stories on her show, but it’s rare that I actually get a chance to watch them. And, not only that, it’s rare that I can actually relate to a story. Yesterday was different. The title of this episode was “Don’t Stop Believing”. The story I felt that I had to share with you today was “Khadijah’s Journey: Skid Row to Harvard“. To read about Khadijah’s story click on the title.

When I say that I can relate to Khadijah’s story, I don’t mean that my life started out on skid row and ended up at Harvard. Far from it. True, my father and I were monetarily poor. My father would say that we were lower middle class, but trust me, we lived well below the Federal poverty level. However, I always had a house to live in, clothes to wear, food to eat. But, I didn’t have an easy life either. I can relate to Khadijah’s determination to get an education in order to pull herself out of poverty. I too had that determination and I didn’t let the circumstances of my life deter me from my goal of a college degree.

My father was older than most fathers. He was 60 when I was born. My mother died when I was 3 and a half. Because of my father’s advanced age and because I was an only child (and the only person he believed would take care of him in his old age), my father was very overprotective. I was not allowed to do many of the things that other children were permitted to do. Extra curricular activities were out of the question. I couldn’t drive a car until I was 23.

When I was 13 years old, my father had his first stroke. Throughout my high school career my father continued to have mini strokes. As my father’s health declined, I had to do more and more of the work around the house. My father could not attend my high school graduation. I graduated 3rd in my high school class. The top female. I received a full tuition, 4-year scholarship to Wayne State University.

After 3 and a half years of working toward getting a teaching degree, I found out that getting a teaching certificate was not possible. I would not be able to graduate in 4 years. My scholarship ended and my life goals were up in the air, though I was still bound and determined to get a college degree. My father’s health continued to fail. By my 3rd year in college, he developed senile dementia.

I decided to take a year off from college to re-evaluate my life goals and to take care of my father. I went to work, but had to quit shortly thereafter because of health problems of my own. Eventually my health improved enough for me to find another job. I was a CSR (Customer Service Representative) at a Pizza Hut delivery restaurant about 6 or 7 blocks from my house. When weather was good, I would bicycle to and from work. In the winter I would walk. I worked the evening shift and would come home around 11 pm.

Throughout the year that I worked at this job, my father’s senile dementia worsened. Sometimes my father didn’t even recognize that I was his daughter. At night he would wander so I had to sleep with one eye open, so to speak. Early in 1993, thanks to my job at Pizza Hut, I had decided what my major in college would be and I applied to attend Wayne State University in the Fall. I still can’t believe that I thought I could attend college and take care of my father in his state of health. Crazy in retrospect, but as things turned out, it was advantageous that I did apply.

July 1993, two months before I was set to go back to college, my father had a stroke that paralyzed him. And, with that, began my 6-month experience dealing with the bureacracy of hospitals, nursing homes, banks, Social Security department, Medicaid, doctors, and private insurance companies. All while attending Wayne State University full-time. Oh, and did I mention, that I developed chronic health problems of my own around this time?

My father died December 22, 1993. Just hours after my final, final exam for the semester. But the obstacles to getting a degree were not over. Now I had to deal with lawyers and probate court (though being the sole heir made things quite easy on my end). Oh, and yes, my health again. I had to drop out of college for a semester.

By the time I went back to school in the Fall, my health was sufficiently recovered. I had learned to drive and bought a cheap used car. I eventually got a job at Arbor Drugs (where I ended up working for the next couple of years) and things were finally back on track. I graduated with a degree in Computer Science in May 1996 and at the time I already had a job with the company I still work for today (and let’s hope will be working for for a long time in the future!)

This story is not meant to toot my own horn. It’s just meant to show, like Khadijah’s story, that no matter what life circumstances you have to live through, you can achieve your goals. You just have to know your abilities, set goals accordingly, remain honest with yourself and others, and keep working toward your future goals even when life takes you on a detour. Don’t let the circumstances of your life define who you are or who you are meant to be.

I truly believe that God gives us detours in life to strengthen us for the life we are meant to lead in service to His creation.

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