Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yard Sale Shopping With God

It's a weird title, I know...but bear with me here...

I've noticed God whispering to me lately.  It's that "still, small voice". 

There are two things I believe He has been speaking to me recently.  The first is relatively simply summed up: to practice generosity.  The second is less obviously stated...more on this later.

These gentle promptings might sound silly or insignificant, but I think He is showing me areas I need to work on in my life, areas I really didn't see as a problem before.  They're subtle, small things.  Actually, as I am writing and considering it, I actually think He has been speaking one thing to me, I've just viewed these things as though they were separate issues...but they are not really.

I was out this weekend "yard-saleing". 

I'm a pretty good bargainer.  It was difficult for me at first, but I quickly learned how to ask for lower prices.  There was a period of several years in my life when, had it not been for kind people selling their used kids clothes to me at dirt cheap prices, I'm confident we could not have afforded to clothe our kids.  I am equally certain that friends and family would have been more than willing to help, had we shared our need.  However, it's not the same having someone give you a bag of hand-me-downs, as it is to pay something [even just a little something] to obtain those necessities.  If you've ever experienced this, you know what I mean.  I love a freebie as much as the next person, but it is a helpless feeling when you are dependant on the charity of others to provide for your children.  [Just to clarify, the kids were never in rags and it's not as though we were starving or anything...just on a very tight, thinly stretched budget.] 

Anyways, it was during this season of life that I finally gutsied up and began to ask for bargain prices...I even negotiated prices with my dentist.  It was a humbling time.  But I learned in that process that most people are happy to give you a deal.  That table of baby clothes marked at 50 cents or a dollar is just a pile of used and unwanted stuff to them...and they are glad for you to take them off their hands for a quarter each...[or even for free].  I just had to be brave enough to ask. 

Of course, occasionally someone is grievously offended by such a question.  I got the "eye rolls" and the laughs or angry, sharp retorts of "I have them priced very reasonably...I'm not giving them away!"  So, I also had to learn to differentiate between the "get rid of it all" sales and the "I don't want this crap, but I know it's still worth almost as much as what I paid for it originally" sales and the "let's clean up and make some money for that _______ we always wanted" sales. 

It's all very scientific.  ;) 

When someone was terribly upset by my low offer for their goods, I would smile, and respond with, "Oh, I know it's worth what you are asking, I'm  sure someone will pay that.  I'm bargain hunting today, though...thanks anyway - have a great afternoon."  It's amazing what a smile and thoughtful response will do to diffuse an otherwise hostile yard-saleing situation.  ;)

Anyways, short story long [as per usual with me], I was yard-saleing on Friday and every time I wanted to ask someone for a lower price, I heard that whisper.  "No, pay them what they are asking," the voice spoke.  So I did.  I did not offer a single person a lower price yesterday.  I either paid what the items were marked...or left them.  A few items were not marked, so I either offered a price or asked...but never bartered.  I only bought a few things.

Can you guess what "treasures" I found? 
Here are some clues...

How many can you guess right?









Did you guess?

Ok...here's what I found...

#1. a beveled mirror.

[I'm in the middle of packing - and all my "decorative stuff" is put away...so, my salt and pepper shakers became props today...]

#2.  a decorative tray...

[I have a re-purpose project in mind for this little gem...]

[I really like the circular etching in the center of the platter.]

#3. brand new Sterilite plastic storage drawers...

I really like these clear plastic drawers. They aren't fancy, but they are great for organizing and storing just about anything.  I find them often at garage sales for pretty cheap and like using them in the kids' room, because unlike other furniture, they are lightweight and the edges are curved plastic, much safer for the kids to be playing with than straight edged wooden drawers.  I also like the neutral white...other plastic "kids" furniture is often brightly multicolored...which maybe the kids like, but it's too much for me...and let's be honest...they don't really care what their furniture looks like, they are more interested at the toys inside the drawers.

#4. a complete Stampin' Up! "Ornate Floral" Alphabet set...

I can hardly wait to monogram stuff with these!

#5. a Crayola watercolor paper pad for the kids...

#6. a Dover "stained glass" coloring book for the kids...

#7. a large glass jar with lid...

AND finally...

#8. a shadowbox picture frame...

[I'd like to point out a couple things about this picture.  First of all, the dust...I got lazy toward the end and opted not to clean the frame before I photographed it.  Secondly, I'd like to explain why the lack of motivation - may I call your attention to the center of the image above?  See that chubby little arm and those perfect little fingers?  They were wiggling and reaching and grabbing the entire time, she would cry when I put her down, so I chose to take pictures while holding her...my arms are actually sore as I type...it's amazing the energy that is required to hold a squirming baby. 

So...cute baby, dirty dusty frame. 

That about sums up my caption on this one.]

One more game and then I'll get to the conclusion of my story...
Guess how much I spent?

Go on, take a guess...


Did you guess?
Come on just take a guess...


Ok...sooo my grand total for all these items:  $5.50!

Alright, enough with the games and back to business...

At one particular sale, I made a purchase - and headed back to my truck.  As I drove away, I realized that I had never even looked the man in the eyes.  I was so busy scoping out the "stuff" and in a hurry to scout out the next sale...that even as I gathered my items...paid him...and as he bagged my things for me, not once did I look at his face.  I mean, I glanced at his face.  But I couldn't have picked him out of a line up.  I remember he wore a hat and his hands were dirty...not like filthy dirty, but almost as though they had become "stained dirty" over the years. 

I continued down the road feeling convicted.

When I spotted the next sign and pulled my vehicle over, I eagerly glanced over the items in the driveway.  And then I heard it again...that voice..."Look in his eyes."

I browsed through the sale casually as I headed toward the back of the garage where he sat in his lawn chair...anticipating a customer.  I looked at him and smiled.  "Hello."

"Hello," he replied.

"How's the sale going?  Have you had many people stop by today?"

"No...not too many actually."

"Yeah, well, the weather isn't really cooperating." [It was a bit windy, overcast and cold that morning.]

"No...nope.  It seemed like it was gonna clear up earlier, but I think it might not now."  His voice was relaxed...disappointed and maybe a little weary even.

"I'm sorry.  I hope it does clear up for ya."

I looked through the assortment of vintage dishes on the table...and glanced across the rest of the garage.  He had an antique rocking chair, and kitchen table...some ladies shoes and vintage women's clothing.  My guess was he may have been doing the sale for his mother.

I spotted the little silver tray and walked back over toward him with it.  I handed him my change, looked him in the eye, smiled and thanked him and then wished him a productive sale.  When I arrived back in the truck, the voice whispered again, "I love him."


This I needed to consider for a moment. 

I realized that God wanted me to be less involved in my "shopping" and pay attention to the things He loves.  While I was busy looking for a bargain, He was trying to get me to pay attention to people.  I thought He was trying to teach me generosity and purge my selfishness a bit...I think His real message to me had nothing to do with money or stuff.  He wanted me to take my focus off of the stuff...off of the deals...off of the very thing I had set out to do, and redirect my agenda to meet His own.  He wanted me to love these people. 

It's weird how God involves Himself in every moment - in things like "yard-saleing".  At one time in my life, I believe He used it to humble me...and to provide for me.  And this weekend He wanted to use me to provide for others...and to love them, even if in a simple way, of smiling and sharing friendly conversations. 

Sometimes I just don't pay attention when the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me something.  But when I am still enough to hear those soft encouragements...and attentive enough to recognize His voice...I realize that He is speaking. 

I think especially as a mother of small children I have developed a sort of necessary tunnel-vision.  I become so focused on my kids, and the immediate tasks at hand [because I must focus on the kids...and I only have very small windows in which to accomplish a task before someone has a minor crisis and demands my complete attention], I forget to look around me too.  Oh, to be sure, mothers must also master the delicate art of multi-tasking...but it's often within the scheme of the duties that present themselves as a consequence of family, or career.  We tend to easily overlook simple and less demanding and noisy responsibilities.

It's easy to forget to acknowledge the cashier when your toddlers are fighting over who gets to put the groceries on the conveyor belt, and grabbing candy bars begging to buy a handful because they are "starving".  It's not uncommon to nod at our youngsters and throw in an uh-huh while they carry on and on and on about why "this monster truck car can beat that monster truck car when they are crashing into the other guy and doing a double back flip", and never really hear their heart behind the story they are telling us.  We become busy and preoccupied...and simply finding a quiet moment to call a friend and say, "Hello...how are you?" takes planning and effort and let's be honest...quiet moments are rare - and sometimes we are just plain stingy with them.  We need to shop and hurry back home before lunch and naptimes or else kids will have meltdowns...and we forget that God loves the person standing next to us...and we don't have the energy, time or even the thought sometimes to smile and say hello, to start a conversation...to love them.

I learn a lot when God and I go yard-saleing together.  

A few fun treasures from garage sales: $5.50
Snacks to keep the kids happy: $2.00

A reminder that God sees, cares and desires to be involved in even the little things...priceless. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big Decisions, Turquoise Marble Laminate and Other Mushy Stories

As I sit here staring at the offer on the table before me [quite literally], a flood of memories has rushed into my mind and sentiment fills my heart…suddenly what seems as though it should be joyful and exciting is becoming increasingly melancholy. It’s not that I’m unenthusiastic about the papers lying there…waiting for our signatures…I am excited. My sorrow is at all the memorable moments this sweet little home has been a part of.  And as the reality of possibly soon parting with it sinks in, it is a little sad.

I know it’s kind of silly; after all, the house is nothing spectacular. It’s small, it’s old, the floors are slightly uneven…but it is familiar, and comfortable. It is has been home for practically all of my adult life.

As I type here, in the living room, I remember the evening J. proposed to me…right here.

We had the place torn apart. Everything was being remodeled…we gutted the place from one end to the other. Electrical, plumbing…all of it! We had finally arrived at the very exciting point of attaching sheetrock to the walls, and choosing colors, light fixtures, countertop, cabinets…etc.

J. picked me up and our “plan” was to swing by the house to measure something and then head out to the hardware store and decide on lighting. When I stepped inside the house, I realized, the “plan” wasn’t really the “plan”.

A small round wooden two person table was set up in the middle of the living room, surrounded by sheetrock…the bare wood floor exposed with bits of black paper still loosely attached. Rose petals were sprinkled across the unsightly flooring and atop the beautifully arranged dining table. A vase of roses adorned the center of the table. Off to my right, sitting on top of the stove [by “stove”, I do not mean kitchen stove…I mean our heating stove] sat a pot of spaghetti; I later found out he had prepared the pasta himself at his parent’s before driving to my place that night. And soft music gently flowed in from the small bedroom beside us.

He smiled. We had waited a long time – and it felt so much longer to us than it actually was. I remember staring at my ring often throughout the weeks to follow…it was beautiful, and it was mine…from him, what more could I want? That night was like a dream…and here I am today…in the very same place, nearly a decade later…still just as uncertain of what lies ahead, and equally as thankful to know that whatever it may be, we will face the future together.

To my left is the kitchen. I have a clear view of the countertop; I can vividly recall sitting there and crying the first time J. brought me here to see the place. I assure you…it is NOT the same countertop he showed me. It is different, but in the same spot.

The house was a little bit hideous when I first saw it. I exaggerate sometimes, but it really was not attractive…at all. The living room wall was covered in cedar shingles. Gross. Who would cover their wall with roofing?! The carpet smelled. The place was covered in spider webs. I can’t even begin to talk about the bathroom. The dining space was decorated with faux brick wallpaper and a rusted rectangular ummm, well, for the lack of a better term “chandelier” hung about 5 ft from the ground from dirty old metal chains. In the kitchen, all I could even focus my eyes on was the turquoise marble laminate countertop…it was everywhere…and screamed, “Look at me, I’m hideous!” The cabinets were actually ok-ish. They were white, which I love…and hope to someday have white cabinets again…and a few even had glass fronts, which I also love, however, they were painted so thick, they couldn’t even close properly anymore and were old and falling apart.

After J. gave me the “grand tour”, he asked what I thought about the house, and right then I lost it and began bawling. I began to re-think my decision to be seriously involved with this man…how could I possibly live HERE?!

He laughed. It was a kind, “you poor silly girl that I love” sort of a laugh. Then patiently and graciously he explained to me that it was more than what we could even afford and the best of any of the houses he had previously looked at. He convincingly explained that he would “fix it all up” and make it just perfect for me. And being so desperately in love, I choked back the rest of my tears, determined to pretend not to see the horrid turquoise counters anymore, and wishing I had a better imagination, but resigning myself to the fact that I simply did not, I decided I would trust him when he said it could be “fixed up” and “pretty” even.

He definitely followed through. My house isn’t “everything I’ve ever dreamed”, but it has been just perfect for us. It is warm, and inviting…and I am still amazed at what a wonderful job he did making a home for us.

Our yard is full of memories too. It is a big, beautiful yard, fully fenced. J planted a garden off in the corner, where we’ve been growing all kinds of vegetables: beans, zucchini, carrots, squash, and tomatoes. We also grew cilantro and lettuce. Peas are one of our favorites, but sadly, they didn’t produce this year. And we’ve also tried corn, melon and radishes, peppers and strawberries…those too were duds.

Our garage borders the garden and the yard. Along the side bordering our yard, J. planted some ivy we had used to decorate our guest tables at our wedding reception.

This picture was actually taken several years ago...it's grown all the way up now.  We weren’t sure if the clippings would take, but now the entire wall is covered in greenery. I am amazed sometimes that those plants have made it so long. A few years they turned brownish in spots and we thought they might die…but they pulled through. It reminds me that our relationship has endured some “dry” seasons…times when life and love were not always as easy as it was when we were younger…but we were determined to love, and here we are.

Or, I think of the day I found out I was pregnant with our first child.

It was an average summer afternoon; the sun beat hot through the passing clouds, the air was a hint thicker with humidity, and the neighborhood was singing with noise. I could hear the train whistle loud and strong as it passed by near our home. The children next door threw their ball back and forth across the yard, occasionally a kid would miss the catch and the fence would tremble and then moan at the impact, like an old man. Our tall walnut tree was full of sound; squirrels chased one another, climbing in circles up her tall, thick branches, and occasionally a bird, perched on an outer limb, sang out some cheerful announcement across the air before stretching her wings and taking flight.

My husband was outside doing something. I’m sure that even if I had asked what he was doing, the explanation of it would cost him more time than it was worth for either of us, but I doubt I bothered to question him. I recall him using a ladder.

I was inside our little bungalow of a home, in the bathroom, off the kitchen [yes, you read that right…you walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom…that arrangement unfortunately could not be efficiently remedied during our remodel] *ahem* there I stood starring at the object before me in disbelief, unable to discern my emotions, unsettled, uncertain and understandably so.

How would I tell him? How could I go and explain this news to the unsuspecting man outside on that ladder? What would I say?

I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I felt a little bit numb, but not so numb that my internal turmoil went unnoticed…just numb enough to no longer notice the dishes in the sink, or to pay much attention to Sobi as she smacked me with her thick, black tail in excitement when I stepped outside.

“Hey, J…could you come here for a minute?” I called out.

“What d’ ya need?” This was his sensitive reply. [He often uses lazy English when he’s focused on a project. I think he inherited it from his dad.]

“I need you.” I answered, vaguely.

“Honey, I’m in the middle of something. What is it - a spider?”

No. It was not a spider. A spider would be easier…simpler, and far less invasive.

“Uh…noooo.” By this point, I had become more than slightly irritated. This was not how I envisioned our conversation going. I’m not certain I had much of a “vision” for the exchange, but I knew that THIS was not it. Why didn’t he just put the hammer down and run over here to squish the assumed spider for me?! Why were we having this dialogue across the yard? Didn’t he know I have something very serious to discuss?!

“Of course not…how could he?” I reasoned with my self. Then I regained my composure and marched down the steps and through the grass to meet him. He obviously wasn’t convinced by the urgency and seriousness in my voice and intended to continue hammering.

Once I finally blurted out the news, pregnancy test in hand, he responded entirely unalarmed, or emotional, “Ha-ha. Funny Heather…” It took some time for me to convince him that I was indeed serious. [Let that be a lesson to you…it’s like a suped-up version of “the boy who cried wolf”. I think I may have played one too many practical jokes on the guy.]

Oh how our world was forever changed!

Now here I sit with not one, but three little ones around me. My son, [the one who rocked our world a bit] is now five, and is sleeping on the floor in the bedroom. My oldest daughter, three years old, is crashed on the couch across from me…and my youngest little love is resting peacefully and happily in my arms.

Our house is full of memories.

Most of them are sweet…a few are agonizing to recall. So, I won’t.

But the beautiful thing about memories is that we don’t have to leave them behind with the house…they are OURS. I am thankful for the moments and years God has given us here. And although, I really do not know what the future holds for us, I know Him who holds it.

And today, instead of looking around me and crying, [like I did when J. first brought me here so many years ago] I will fix my eyes on Him and know that He loves me and regardless of whatever my present or future circumstances may be, He has promised that He would go and prepare a place for me. And because I am so crazy in love with Him, I will determine to ignore whatever “turquoise marble” I may encounter, and trust that He will take care of me. He may just even be able to make something beautiful out of the messy, filthy, ugly – worn out world we each are all too familiar with living in […and contributing to if we are willing to be honest about it].

Not to say I feel like my current situation is a hardship or difficulty, I just know that life isn’t always easy or glamorous; but I get to share it with Him. THAT is worth overlooking life’s “turquoise marble”.

Now enough storytelling, I’m off to crunch some numbers and pray about big decisions to be made…