Monday, May 28, 2012

Yard Sale!

Why, oh, why (and how!) do we accumulate so much STUFF?!!

I truly believe storage units are a sign that we as a society are very sick with "affluenza," spawned by our materialistic craving for more, more, more!

I am in the middle of sorting donated items for our church yard sale, and I'm adding my own personal goods to the mix.  You should see my garage.  Do you know I thoroughly clean it every year, starting by gutting it (yes, totally emptying the entire space) and spreading everything out on my front lawn and driveway (with a mixture of pride and embarrassment of my neighbor's opinion---either, "Wow, look at that girl go" or "Wow, she's got the messiest garage on the block!").  Then I scrub the concrete floor with a bleach solution.  I usually purchase yet another shelving unit (they're pretty expensive so I just keep adding one by one each year).  And then I sort through all the "stuff," making the classic decisions of what to keep, what to toss and what to give away.  I put the "Keep" stuff back in the garage, neatly organizing it on my shelves or in bins, and finally, I load the car and make a trip to Goodwill, the glass depot, the consignment shop and other people's houses to return any borrowed goods.  And then, I confess, I spend the next couple weeks peeking in my garage at random moments throughout the day just to admire the clean, orderly rows of goods...and when Jeff mows the lawn, I let him leave the garage door up until he's finished, because I almost want the neighbors to see my gorgeous garage.

And then life happens.  It starts with the recycle bins.  Everyone opens the doors, tosses in a can, bottle or newspaper, misses the bin, and walks away.  And no one empties them but me, so they start to pile up.  Then the boys need sports gear, but they are in a hurry so they haul the bins out to the middle of the floor, rummage through the contents for what they need, and leave the rest behind to magically jump back into its place on the shelf.  Then Jeff rolls the lawn mower into the garage with wet grass stuck to the wheels, which dries and falls off all over the floor.  Then the girls need a Disney DVD for the kids they are babysitting, so they dump the bin to grab a couple before running out the door.  Then another person needs school supplies from the supply bin, and another person needs a costume from the costume box, and another person needs a sleeping bag.  A campout and a picnic bring down the tent, coolers, lawnchairs, and bocci, which we end up keeping out because we're going to do that a few more times in the next month.  A special event calls for special dishes, holiday platters and the fondue, but there is no room to put them back because someone got tired of stepping over boxes on the floor so they stuffed them into the empty spots on the shelf.  The kids go to college and their bedroom contents are stored in the garage.  The kids come home from college and their dorm room contents are stored in the garage, and before you know garage looks like this:

Off the shelves and onto the floor!

Recycling and garage-sale stuff!

My second pantry...still pretty organized!

Add to my garage the church, which I am responsible for, and I feel like I live a sort-sell-sort-clean-sort-toss-sort-organize sort of lifestyle! 

I was quite excited two weeks ago when our Canadian college kids were going to take all their stuff out of my garage and move it home.  What I didn't count on was my own two college kids bringing their stuff (and some other kids' stuff) home to replace what just left.  I feel like I can't win or get ahead, no matter how hard I try!  But I will not, I will not, I will not EVER rent a storage unit!  (My personal vow.)

So, this week is step 1:  Sort contents of garage and take many loads to the church to add to the yard sale.

And I'm supposed to do that while I sort the contents of the church as well as the hundreds of donated items for that same yard sale.

Sometimes I think I should just leave everything right where it is and simply put a sign on the door that says, "For Sale," and let everyone have at it!

My biggest fantasy (and this is for real, I'm not making this up!) is to live in a little cabin in the forest.  Have you ever seen one of those micro houses?  They fascinate me.  I love how everything folds up, pulls out, rolls away, and tucks under to make room for comfortable living in a very small footprint.  At night I sometimes imagine myself to sleep by designing one of these homes in my head.  I want it to be rustic and modern all at the same time...clutter free, clean, organized and functional, surrounded by the forest on three sides but facing forward to a beautiful view of the valley below, and simple and inexpensive enough that I can afford little domestic luxuries like an amazing rain shower, a top-quality bed and linens, and a fully stocked kitchen with custom-made appliances that perform professionally but are scaled to my small cabin.  Last, I would have a little nook with a desk in front of the window where I would be inspired by the view to happily write for hours.  And that would be my life...small, simple and serene...and totally storage free!

My dream!

But for now I live in a small town in my two-story suburban house with a 3-door garage that holds all the wordly goods of my family---me, my husband, four kids full-time, and another 3 to 5 kids part-time.  And I will spend every day this week sorting my life into bins:  Give Away, Throw Away, Keep and Return.  I'll bet there's a pretty good spiritual lesson here.  When I'm done cleaning my garage, maybe I'll work on it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Our worship team...two are leaving!
I haven't blogged for awhile because we have been so very busy with some of the happiest and saddest events, all in the same week.

For those of you who have followed me for awhile or knew me before I began blogging, you'll know that we live kind of a unique life...almost five years ago we left our home in Canada and a thriving church that we loved to take a little church that had dwindled down to 25 people, and with us came an interesting dynamic...a team of Canadians!  First was our worship pastor, Marcus, and then came a bunch of our kids' friends...all students at Portland Bible College who spent every weekend with us for the last five years helping us to grow this little church to 150 and truly becoming a part of our family.  Many of my blog entries have included this extended family, with a dedicated "Table Talk" that was based on the escapades, antics, discussions and humorous events that took place around our table at our huge Sunday dinners.  Over the past five years we have had Marcus, Matt and Megan, then Jamie, Tasha and Bryce, then Ryan, Tim and James, and then John.  These kids regularly made the trek from northeast Portland to Newberg four times a week, bringing with them a wide assortment of friends from literally all over the world.  Our church has been greatly enriched by their enthusiasm, energy and passion for the Lord and His House.  They have played instruments, led worship, cleaned and repaired the church building, gathered kids and led small groups, practiced preaching, gave exhortations, prayed and fasted, run events, set up and tore down more tables and chairs than they'd care to count, ran errands, loved people and gave up a lot of campus life to serve us.  And our own kids were able to make the toughest transition of their lives (giving up lifelong friends and a huge, thriving youth group to move to a tiny church in a small town where they knew no one their age) because of this evolving gang who kept them happily socialized and connected.  Our family was blessed and enriched by the great fun, lively discussions, rowdy sports games, happy holidays, and the vibrancy of youth they brought into our home.  Sometimes, when the mess would be almost overwhelming, with piles of laundry, sports gear, 50 shoes scattered in the entry, dishes, empty Stumptown cups and chip bags, and makeshift beds all over the house, I would think to myself, "One day this season will be over and this full house will only be a memory, and I will look back on it and think, 'Those were some of the best days of our lives.'" And then I'd be okay, cheerfully scooping up the garbage, stripping the sheets, and re-loading the dishwasher week after week after week, knowing one day it would end.

Well, that day has come.  This past week was both a dreaded and anticipated time in my life.  I was thrilled that so many of "our kids" were graduating and taking the first step into the call of God on their lives, but I was sad that we---our family and our church---were losing them.

We had a farewell service and our "Last Supper" with our gang, and then the next week we had the very last service and a huge Sunday dinner with 30 people as we celebrated (yes, celebrated) the kids who were leaving.  I'm not much of a crier, but I'm happy to say I shed a few tears at both the farewell service and again at the last service.  Why am I glad I cried?  Because it means that I loved and was loved...which is a very beautiful gift.  I truly love those kids...each one.  They are unique and precious to me.   And I'm pretty sure they love me back, because I sure got a lot of hugs and kisses and meaningful words of thanks and appreciation!

So we sent them on their way with blessing, waving goodbye on our front porch with a bit of a lump in our throats, and then spent the last week washing away all trace of them, by laundering all the duvets, comforters, sheets and blankets, sorting and putting away or giving away the things they purposely left behind, setting up our kids bedrooms as single rooms again, eating up the left-overs, and finally, today, going to church for the first time without them.

You know what?  It was just fine.  They are gone, but God is good.  We have a new team to raise up, and it will be exciting to watch them grow and develop...and we may even be a little surprised at who steps up to the plate!  There were no tears today.  We rejoiced over what the Lord has given us...a healthy, growing church brimming with potential...and we have not only the Lord to thank but a group of students who came here as rowdy, fun-loving teenagers with a passion to serve the Lord and left as young adults, having "bore the yoke in their youth" for us and for God, and being better men and women because of it!

What a privilege to have influenced and poured out our lives to these anointed young men and women of God only to receive so much in return.

So parting is sorrowful, but it is also sweet.  Good-bye to the brightest and best!  How we love you!  You will always have a place in our hearts and in our home.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Things That Go "Oink" In The Night

Yesterday was an odd repeat of my Sunday just two weeks before...I was abandoned by my family once again!  We had a big church event last night with a dessert buffet that kept me in the kitchen until 9:30 cleaning up.  I had just finished washing the last of the dishes but had yet to put them away, wash the counters, and sweep and mop the floor.  Jeff came in and told me we had to leave right then because he and the kids were going to see The Avengers at 10 and we only had the one car between us, so I had to go home with him.  I was not impressed with the fact that I'd have to return the next day to finish the kitchen, as my To-Do list was already pretty full.  Nor was I thrilled about working hard all afternoon and evening (big dinner at home, dishes, set-up for the event, serving at the event and then clean-up), only to go home to the mess waiting for me at home---unloading my own dishwasher and finishing my laundry that had been bumped out of the washer and onto the floor so the gang could do theirs before returning to school, and then making my bed (Note to self: Don't change the sheets on a Sunday!)!  So Jeff dropped me off with a quick, "Thanks for everything, was a great event," before he closed the door and headed out to party with Justin and Kate.  I kicked off my high-heels and headed upstairs to put my wet load of laundry in the dryer so it could dry while I unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen.  I sighed as I remembered a very similar feeling a couple weeks ago.  After finishing the dishes, I made myself some popcorn and went upstairs to fold the laundry.  I usually fold it in the laundry room, but tonight I folded it in my bedroom because Anna had left all her laundry behind to pick up on Wednesday.  I actually like folding clothes...they are warm, clean and fragrant and look so nice when neatly folded and stacked into their tidy piles.  The cat came upstairs to keep me company (my only friend) while I folded.  It was a beautiful night with a bright full moon and the bedroom window was wide open.  Suddenly I heard a shrill series of squeaks and a huge commotion., some things....were tearing across my backyard in a frenzy.  Then, BANG!, something hit my barbeque hard and was making a commotion in my shrubs.  I dropped the shirt I was folding and ran for the window, reaching it at the same time as the cat, who jumped up on the window sill and arched her back, fur raised and body tense.  I could see nothing in the inky blackness, but I heard that awful squeal go on and sounded much like a pig!  Whatever it was had scaled our fence and was flying across my neighbor's yard.  The phrase "bat out of hell" crossed my mind.  I couldn't figure out what animal could possibly move that fast, climb that quickly, and make that strange a sound.  The neighbor's motion-sensor lights flipped on, but I couldn't see over the fence.  That shrill cry continued into the next neighbor's yard and then faded away somewhere deep in the woods.  As I leaned a little closer to the screen, my hair brushed against my cat who was perched right next to me.  Well, that freaked the living daylights out of her.  She jumped straight in the air and came down hissing and batted the sides of my head with a 1-2 punch.  She backed herself into the corner of the window and stared me down with wide yellow eyes.  Now of course, that freaked the living daylights out of me!  But I am proud to say I didn't scream.  Rubbing my stinging scalp (very glad she got my head and not my face!), I said, "A little tense, are we, Kitty?"  She blinked at me and continued her low, gutteral growl.  Running my fingers through my hair in search of blood, I hurried downstairs to get a better view of the backyard and see if anything remained.  The yard was totally still in the darkness, except the grilling basket that hangs on the side of our barbeque; it was still swinging back and forth from being hit hard by some furry body.  The cat had followed me down, but she had no desire to go outside when I opened the door for her.  I closed the door and locked it...not that a wild animal was going to try to open my door, but it just made me feel a little more secure. Back upstairs I finished the laundry while the cat paced, then made up the bed with fresh sheets and climbed in.  Kitty was happy about that and jumped up on my bed and curled up tight by my side.  We both fell asleep uneventfully and woke up in the morning with nothing to tell except a rather lame story.  It sounded so anticlimactical in the bright morning sunshine.  I told it three times, to Kate, then Jeff, then Justin and got the same response:  "A wild animal that sounded like a pig squealing as it ran through the yard?  Wow, sounds like you had an exciting night."  I felt slightly deflated.

So that's exactly how I'm ending this story.  Abruptly, unresolved, and with no "moral of the story."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Blow Dryer is My New Best Friend!

So, remember my last entry about my little forage into the forest for lovely leaves and blossoms? Well, I brought home more than flowers that trip. The next night I was at my computer when I realized I had been absent-mindedly scratching my cheek. I got up from my chair and went to the mirror and saw a bright red streak down the crease between my cheek and the side of my nose. I thought nothing of it, other than I must have touched something irritating when I was pulling weeds that afternoon and then rubbed my nose. I shut down my computer and headed for bed. The next morning I woke up itchy...really itchy. I flipped on the light in the bathroom and looked at my face. It was beet-red and swollen. My cheeks were chipmunk, my nose was fat and my top lip stuck out above my lower one and I couldn't pucker. Then I looked down at my arms. The entire length of both arms was covered in a raised, red rash. I pulled off my pajamas and saw that the inside of my legs was also covered in the same rash. My back, stomach, calves, hands and feet were spared. "No, way," I thought. "Please, don't be poison oak!" We were about to start a very busy...and very public...week of ministry beginning that night. We had meetings for the next three nights and then guests arriving on Friday, a wedding, and special services the rest of the weekend. I would be at restaurants, hotels, downtown Portland, and church meetings surrounded by people who I had to talk to and interact with. I groaned inwardly and scratched outwardly and then logged on to my computer and googled "poison oak." I had never had it before, so I wanted to see what it looked like.

Wow. Talk about gruesome pictures. A man's back with blisters the size of a salad plate. A child covered from head to toe with oozing sores. A baby with its little face completely swollen. If you don't believe me, try googling it for yourself! All the websites said the rash had fluid-filled blisters. Well, I didn't have any, but somehow I just knew it was poison oak. And all of the websites said the rash lasted anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks. Oh, no, no, no. There was no way it would be gone by the weekend, and then it was going to last well beyond that. That night was my first public appearance. I didn't dare put make-up on the was already burning like fire and felt rough like sandpaper to my fingers. I put my make-up on all around the rash and made sure I did my eyes up a little brighter than usual to compensate for my Rudolph nose and Donald Duck top lip. I showed my arms to a few knowledgeable and trusted friends and all of them said, "Hmmm. You don't have blisters. It might not be poison oak." Then everyone gave me their favorite home remedies and I went home and tried them all...not because I was hoping to please everyone but because nothing worked. Tecnu, hydrocortisone, anti-itch cream, calamine lotion, tea tree oil shampoo, a special poison oak soap, organic "un"petroleum jelly, lip balm, pure coconut oil, and even Jeff's prescription-strength steroid cream, but I just itched and itched and itched.

Next day my right eye was swollen half shut and my face was rough and red. The rash was erupting on my ears, neck, chest and shoulder and one spot on my lower back. The itching was even more intense. I called a friend who had had a bad case last year and she gave me this advice: Use a blow dryer. She said to aim it at the rash and the hot air will make it itch even worse, then it will burn, and then it will go numb and I'll get relief for a few hours. I went right into the bathroom to try it. She was right. I thought I was going to go crazy with itchiness. Then my arm started to burn. Just as I began to move the blow dryer away to escape the heat, this incredible sensation spread over my arm. I was obviously triggering a very deep nerve response because this wonderful sensation of, "Quick, scratch my back! Ahhhh, you got it," flooded my whole body and actually gave me goose bumps from head to toe and made me shiver and shudder, half with pain and half with relief. And then the sensation went away and so did the itch. I spread cool calamine lotion over the bright red rash and went to work without scratching for about an hour. Every time a new spot would begin to itch, I'd wait until I couldn't stand it and then go running to the blow dryer. This became my new past-time...even at 3:30 a.m. I could be found in the bathroom blow-drying my arms, legs, stomach, neck, etc., etc.

Every day the rash got worse, and yes, the rash began to blister and then burst and weep and scab. I was one ugly chick. Out came my winter wardrobe as I looked for long sleeves and high necklines. But they had to be the right fabric too. I made the mistake of wearing a sweater and ended up with gray fibers stuck to the open sores on my skin. Another time I wore a long-sleeved pale pink blouse and stained it with the oozing fluid. Yuck, yuck, yuck. The best clothes were plain, lightweight cotton. I wished I could wear my pajamas every day!

Today I'm exactly one week through it. I discovered yet new patches this morning. The swelling in my face is gone and the skin around my nose and lips is flaking off in big pieces as they heal. My arms---the first and worst to have blisters---are scabbing over and the red has faded to pink and they itch much less. Now it's my hands and fingers and behind my knees that are at the crazy-itch stage. So I know I have another week with those new areas. And then the final week will be everything healing up. Three weeks is a very long time!

My hand, just beginning to form blisters.  It will get worse
before it gets better.  My arms are much worse than
my hands...but I'm not too willing to post gruesome
pictures of myself!!

I read on one of the websites a man's thoughts about poison oak: If you've never had it, be very kind to someone who does. Don't laugh at how they look and offer sympathy for how they itch. And if you have had it, you will never laugh at anyone who does but will have the deepest sympathy and kindest wishes for that person.

I also discovered that when my cat licks my rash-covered hand and fingers, it feels great! Just the perfect amount of roughness and pressure to sooth the itch! (Don't worry, I wash my hands very well after she is done!)

And now, I'll sign off so I can go spend a little quality time with my blow dryer!