I’m heading to New Jersey, writing as I fly. It was cold and gray in Atlanta when I left, and it is colder and grayer where I’m going. According to my weather app, Princeton will have snow tomorrow. Right now, I’m looking forward to breaking through the clouds outside my window to the sunshiny blue I know is just above them. The couple sitting next to me is bickering heatedly. They remind me that we are all longing for a break in our clouds.
Just this week, we moved back into our home after a self imposed move-out while our hardwood floors were refinished and every wall repainted. I spent the month of January packing up the stuff of our lives. The accumulated treasure of twenty years was carefully stored in bubble wrap, the trash bagged for Goodwill or garbage.
Marie Kondo’s “sparking joy” was my navigational guide through taekowndo trophies as tall as the children who’d won them, high school letter jackets worn a handful of times, leather boots from our honeymoon that are, alas, out of style and worn out. And now, tossed out.
I taped off library shelves and kitchen cabinets before the sanding began so that the inevitable dust from our floors couldn’t find its way inside and settle. We figured out where we could settle while the work was going on—in our own finished attic for starters. And then in our son’s newly finished home—his family’s dream come true after four years of living with us. Their move out was perfectly timed with our floor-n-wall project, but sadly ended our “living the dream” with our grandsons, their cheery voices the first sounds we heard every morning.
I lined up movers and workers, paid for PODS and painters, and fixed leaks in walls and windows. What started out to be a daring task quickly became daunting—should the stair building guy come before or after the sheetrock guy? Will the painters finish in time for the floor guys? Will the floor guys finish up in time for the painters? Will the wrought iron guy be back for his handrail install before I leave or after I get back? Would the shoe-mold be installed in time for the movers? And will the painters come back again for one last round of touch ups after everyone’s done, or will they want to be paid again first?
I was a dog chasing it’s tail in my quest for pristine walls and floors and stairs, perfectly synchronized with the movers’ return and the POD’S emptying, which, wouldn’t you know, was in time (by only a few hours) before another month’s POD rent was due. After all the work and scheduling snafus and successes, the satisfaction of saving $330 in rent seemed a measly pay off. But I savored it.
So while January was packing up and February was overseeing workers, March will be settling back in. Except since I’ve come up for air now that the dust has literally settled (and been vacuumed from every surface, nook, and cranny), I realize, oh yeah, mama’s house, too, needs tending.
She died in December of last year, and my brothers and I are selling her home. It is still full of everything she loved. We are meeting together this week to negotiate realtors and repairs and paint samples and rearranging and packing. Sounds oddly familiar.
In what feels like yet another Groundhog Day I can’t escape (think Bill Murray and the day that trapped him and played and replayed until he grew beyond it), I’m back on the home improvement track, doing a mini version of what’s just occupied me everyday for 8 weeks. I feel a little cuckoo, a little nonsensical, like the old lady who swallowed the cow to catch the goat to catch the dog to catch the cat-in-the-hat before mother came back, just like that.
Ok. I’m also a little punchy. My alarm went off at 3 am for my 8 am flight. There’s something reminiscent here of fairy tale and nursery rhyme. A glimmer of a truth, and I can’t quite find it to write it. I can just feel it out there on the edge of my mind. I’m also feeling what mama sometimes lamented after she’d forgotten where she put her phone: “I miss my mind!”
I think of the scene at home at this moment, boxes looming in the basement, awaiting the light of day. Dirty laundry piled up for washing, the washer breaking down in January and only getting fixed yesterday, March 2. Bright blue painters’ tape dots walls, doors, trim, and random spatters, signaling what needs attention when the painters come one last time when I return. We seem to be farther and farther from the perfect Pinterest vision in my weary head for our home rather than nailing it as I’d hoped we’d be doing by now. Stone called me on my way to the airport to tell me the washer still isn’t working
I haven’t been available to my kids much since the house project started—not to help the son and daughter-in-law who moved out. Nor will I be on hand much to help the other son and daughter-in-law who have just this week sold their home and moved up the mountain where we live. One of our daughters recently moved to Texas with her husband while the other is contemplating a move to graduate school. Our high school senior son is chomping at the bit to graduate. Like a horse headed to the barn, he has a singularity of focus with spring break on the horizon, only his sights are fixed on other barns in other places, not ours. Sniff.
We have a large family with legitimate needs, and I’m limited at the moment in how much I can help them. I have grandboys I love to romp with weekly and a house in New Jersey that won’t sell itself and a house at home that won’t unpack itself. The sun through my airplane window blinds me a little, and I squint and pull down the shade. And I realize that maybe my best help to my kids and their kids right now is simply sparking my own joy, handling my stuff and my life’s choices so they don’t have to do it for me one day, as we are doing for mama.
I’m glad to be able to get away to help her even after she’s gone, glad for the time with my brothers, but I hope that one of my gifts to my kids at my own death will be that I downsized my life before I lost my ability to do so. Along with this clarity of resolve, what’s still a little cloudy for me is when does the race to live in the Pinterest-worthy house get traded for the downsized life and the race to leave my kids uncluttered and unimposed upon at my death? I have no idea. I’m not ready at 60. I’m still “swallowing the cat to catch the bird to catch the spider.” Hopefully it will be at some point before I swallow the horse because, well, when the old lady did that, she was dead of course.
Just last Tuesday, the day the movers came and moved us back in, I sat on our newly refinished steps and surveyed the scene. It was quiet and I was alone. I was exhausted as only a woman can be who has just rounded up stray moving men like cattle to keep them focused on the task at hand, the $139 it was costing per hour to wrangle them, cha-chinging in my mental cash register. One mover was gathering lamps in his arms in an attempt to be helpful, but I shooed him out with, “I can do that! Remember only the heavy stuff please!” He put his head down and slunk out. I gave them a tip for finally leaving me in peace rather than for good work; the piano in place and the mammoth fridge humming were good enough.
I found crackers and pimento cheese in my makeshift laundry room kitchen and sat on the steps to eat. It was mid afternoon and light was pouring in our west windows, giving our newly sanded and finished pine the spotlight. Jesus, I am so weary, I thought. I can’t even think what to do next. And I’m too tired to walk to the sofa to crash.
Just at that moment, my phone dinged. My friend Rachel from church had texted, sending a song she was “currently obsessed with and want to share with someone.” It was entitled “Welcome Home.” That’s ironic, I thought. She doesn’t even know about my move today or about the home improvements we’ve been doing.
But he knew. God knew exactly what my life’s been like and about all the work and weariness. He knew about my hopes for our house, and all the things that have gone wrong, and all the details of colors and finishes, and all the dad-gummed dollars. I let out a deep sigh. The sunlight slanted in, soft and warm. I loved the way it brightened the room, the light floor a kind of reflecting trampoline that received the light and bounced it back and all around me.
I clicked on the song link and Spotify swung open. An enchanted melody with words that went straight to my heart began:
“Hello, I’ve been waiting for you
I didn’t know if you’d recognize my voice
Cause I’ve been whispering your name again and again
I’ve been imagining this day…
It’s so good to see your face
“Come inside from the cold and rest your weary soul
You belong, you are loved, you are wanted
You’re not alone
I’ve missed you so
Without you here, it’s not the same
And I’ve been waiting here
My heart squeezed in recognition. Jesus, you timed that perfectly, I thought. Thank you for sending me this song. Thank you for reminding me that you see and you know and you care about all the big and little things of my life. Thank you for loving me and for welcoming me, for giving me this refinished house, but even better, for giving me your presence here with me, right this minute.
Getting a love song from the lover of my soul doesn’t happen often. And it warmed me. I smiled, thinking about what a little thing it was, really, and also about how huge it was, too. God is so tender and intimate a lover. Only he can lift me up and carry my tired and weary soul to warm sunshine and blue skies and joy with him over and over again.
Oak, age 6, came in unexpectedly after the song. We are writing and illustrating a children’s book together, and he wanted to read the next story I’d written so he could do a drawing. We had hot chocolate on the steps and read together. Another shaft of sweet sunshine for that day. Thank you, Jesus.
As my flight touched down , I realized the bickering couple had fallen asleep, leaning on one another, head to head. Maybe they were just weary, too, like I was? Give them a song, too, God. Show up for them like you did for me.
Pour out joy for us—and more blue sunshine, too.
“The prospect of the righteous is joy.
“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”