Finishing the Forty Bag Challenge

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There it is.

The last trunkful of my Lenten purge. I had to go back to the places I’d already cleaned out to get here.

The last 6 bags and big items came from one more tour of the kitchen cupboards, one more look in my closet, one more scan of our son’s toys- and more.

One this Holy Saturday- I drove the trunkful of items to a donation center, and unloaded every last bag.

We still live with abundance. Truthfully- some of our closets and drawers are still cluttered. I encountered belongs that we don’t use that I still couldn’t part with.

This Lenten journey was a starting gesture in a life’s worth of work. I hope to continue to look through our home while asking the question- what do we really need? And what could bless others?

As Easter comes tomorrow- I look forward to experiencing the renewing hope of this holiday- the reminder to us all that in the end: the tomb, the rock, and the burial cloth were all left behind. It’s the call to love, the urgency to hope and the challenge of living by faith that we take with us. Happy Easter.

Garbage, Clutter and Boxes

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I’m posting on trash night, because this week, my Lenten purge is a bunch of garbage- literally.

I took a close look in the invisible places of my home. This led to some alarming discoveries:

-Expired hot sauce in the fridge
-Soy sauce packets
-Pantry items way past their shelf life
-medications from years ago
-too many hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles
-half a drawer full of orphan socks without a match
-cards from people I can’t even remember
-handouts from grad school that are no longer relevant
-coupons and junk mail from stores I will never go in
-cardboard boxes we’re hoarding for no reason
-Old crusty paint cans and paint brushes from previous owners of this home

This week’s purge does not serve anyone else or benefit any organization that we support.

But clearing out old drawers and cluttered corners of our house feels good.

It reminds me how important it is to create space in every aspect of my life. Instead of cramped cupboards and a full basement – I’m inching towards more simplicity. I’m longing for breathing room, and home seems like the best place to start.

By the time I leave the house tomorrow, our front curb will be empty again. Our old boxes and handouts and greeting cards will be recycled and transformed into new and useful items. The extra garbage that was hiding in the corners of our house will be picked up, giving us a new opportunity to start fresh, to limit the intake and outtake in our home.

These are the unglamorous parts of the Lenten purge, and yet, some of the most necessary.

Habitat for Humanity: Donations that Change Communities

40 bags week 4

I remember the first Habitat for Humanity home I worked on in high school. It was a hot day, and I felt tired in the first hour of painting and nailing siding… I took too many water breaks trying to rest. At the time, I could only think of my own discomfort as I trudged through the long day of physical labor with my classmates.

But in the 18 years since, I’ve participated in 10 other house building projects- and with each Habitat for Humanity Home I helped build, my appreciation and admiration for the work of this organization grew.

I love that the homeowners work beside us to build their own houses.

I love that Habitat for Humanity educates the homeowners on basic home repair skills.

I love that Habitat for Humanity partners with organizations like Financial Peace University to teach homeowners about financial responsibility and living within our means.

I love that Habitat for Humanity can offer interest free loans on these houses so that more and more families can plant roots and experience stable housing conditions.

I remember the Saturdays I spent building alongside homeowner Tracy this fall. As I got to know her, I started to imagine her son Zayden running down the hallway and decorating his own room once they moved in. At the home dedication ceremony- I watched as Tracy’s 3 year old son Zayden befriended my son Felix. The two boys took turns playing with a balloon and weaving in and out of the legs of all the Habitat for Humanity partners and builders that joined together to celebrate Tracy and Zayden’s new nest.

Habitat for Humanity has been such a meaningful organization in my life- teaching me about how to truly be a neighbor to others. Habitat taught me how to collaborate and how to drywall, as well as how to watch a community rise up.

This week, instead of bags in my Lenten purge, I called the Habitat Restore. They came to my home and picked up a variety of old doors, tables and housewares that we do not need. These items will be sold in their Restore and the funds with help more families like Tracy and Zayden become homeowners. The funds will also help more people like me open their eyes to the opportunities we all have participate in the building up of our neighborhoods and communities. What a blessing.

Possessed by Possessions

As I prepared for this week’s Lenten cleanse, I felt the familiar clinching in my chest as I began to choose items to purge. What if I want to use that again? What if I regret getting rid of this? What if I need this some day?

I hesitated at the initial thought of getting rid of household items- and yet research tells us that less stuff actually brings more joy.

I began to look at statistics on American clutter this weekend, and I realized we all seem to hesitate or struggle to purge. I read a compelling article on becomingminimalist.com by Joshua Becker- who provided some astonishing facts about the issue of consumerism in the U.S..  

I learned that the average American home contains 300,000 items (LA Times) and the average size of our homes has tripled in the past 50 years (NPR).

Even with our larger homes, 1 out of 10 of us rent a storage unit for our stuff (New York Times Magazine). In fact, there are over 50,000 storage facilities in the US- five times the number of Starbucks.

We rent storage units because we’ve already filled our homes, and our garages- 25% of us cannot fit cars in our garages due to our stuff and an additional 32% of us can only put one car in our two car garage because of our belongings (U.S. Department of Energy).

In America, we seem to be completely possessed by our possessions. We are only 12% of the global population and yet we use over 60% of the world’s resources. We are pushed into these practices by our culture too.

Did you know that Shopping malls outnumber high schools and 93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime (Affluenza)?

Joshua Becker pointed out that statistics show women will spend more than 8 years of their lives shopping (The Daily Mail).

After learning these facts about our culture, I had new eyes to look in my cupboards and closets. I boxed up underused items over the weekend. I realized, clearing out my shelves allows me to live and love my everyday life, instead of longing for what was or what might be.

Goodbye to the margarita glasses- instead of keeping a set of six stemmed cocktail vessels that I haven’t used since graduate school- I boxed them up- so that my shelves have plenty of room for sippy cups and lunch boxes in the next few years.

Farewell to the party supplies and excess platters I imagined I might use for some elaborate grown up party with the friends I might meet in the next few years- instead, I need enough room to welcome the Christmas plates my children will decorate at school.

This week, I boxed up and hauled out the housewares that represented what might be or what once was- so that I can embrace this beautiful chapter of kid tea parties, close friends over- whispering in our living room after baby bed time, and the simplicity of our life just as it is- not as it might be in the future.  

Goodbye: boxes and bags #17-22. Already, I sense the relief of letting go, and the peace that can come with gestures of simplification.

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The Real Stuff: Lent Purge Week 3

bags 11-16

This is the real stuff.

This week, I turned to my own closet for my Lenten purge.

This week, it’s not about offering cloth diapers to a mom less fortunate, or donating food to a food pantry. No, it’s far less glamorous.

I had to strip away the illusion of ministry or generosity and ask myself to let go.

I knew one week in Lent I would turn to my own belongings. I had a pile of clothes covered in paint from the Habitat build that I looked forward to purging. My husband bought me a new pair of sneakers for Christmas so I expected to ditch the older pair. But that doesn’t fill 6 bags, and it doesn’t address what needs to be cleared out.

My closet and my dresser overflow. I have too many clothes. It should have been easy to fill 6 bags, and I should be able to fill 6 more.

But as I tried to purge- here are some of the issues that came up:

-I spent too much money on that to let it go

-I like owning clothes in that size, even I never wear it

-I want to fit into that again some day

-Maybe I won’t have a tummy in the future- I should wait to see

-This is trendy, and I want to be trendy, even if I haven’t ever worn it

-I still want to be the type of girl who wears stilettos, even if I haven’t in 3 years… I can’t let them go

Yes, I happen to be 5 months pregnant. So perhaps now is a good time to wait and see what I can and will wear in a few months.

But the clothes in question go way back. It’s not pre-pregnancy wardrobe, it’s 2010 items that are difficult to eliminate. The year I got married, and went to the gym 6 days a week… the years I spent in graduate school following the trends of the big city… it’s the years of carrying only a little purse and staying out too late…

Purging my closet means letting go of those chapters, those seasons. It means I no longer carry a small purse: instead, it’s a diaper bag and a 25 pound child. It means I need to wear shoes that balance me as I drag an infant car seat and an antsy toddler. It means I need clothes that honor my experience as a woman who’s stretched to carry two children, who has relaxed into a routine of cooking at home with her husband instead of running around town. It means I need to let go of the relics that remind me of a different time and a different era of this long, beautiful life.

It’s not about the heroic act of donating under-used items. As I turn to my own closet, bags #11-16 in this Lenten purge must be filled with all that I must let go: lingering pride, subtle shame, distant longing, and more…

I filled 6 bags, but I did not finish the work of letting go.

Don’t get me wrong- this chapter of my life is joyful- perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling chapter yet. I find myself regularly saying to my husband: “these are the happiest moments of my whole life!”

And there will be future chapters that will likely include more tiny purses and nights on the town, more afternoons at the gym instead of the Children’s museum. But I don’t need to store up supplies for those chapters. Instead, in this Lenten season, I am trying to remember to live in the now.

Another week, another 6 bags, and another opportunity to ask the question: what do I need, and what do I need to let go?

Confessions of an Allergy Mom

Del Monte

Tonight, I’m headed to a Chili Cook-off at my church.

My secret recipe has been simmering in the crockpot all day. This year, I aim to win the taste contest. I’ve been secretly campaigning all month- whispering to church members “mine will be the black bean chili in the black crockpot”.

But I will head to this youth group fundraiser alone tonight. My son and husband will stay behind- not because I don’t want them there- in fact- I will miss their precious votes for my chili- but because even a chili cook-offs pose a threat to our little guy.

We recently learned that Del Monte canned tomatoes contain sesame oil. A small ingredient meant to enhance the taste of these tomatoes- and yet- those few drops of oil could send my son to the E.R.

Even if he only tried my chili at the event tonight- a small kiss from a loving church member with sesame oil on their breath would swell his face and possibly affect his breathing. Or, an embrace from someone using essential oils or face cream that contains sesame oil (a very common, hidden ingredient in many beauty products) could cover his body in welts.

This is the new normal for our household. Before venturing out to potlucks or parties- we have to ask the question: will someone use Del Monte tomatoes? Or bring hummus? Or will there be bread from a bakery that might have cross contamination with sesame seeds? Even Campbell’s chicken noodle soup has added sesame to their ingredients this fall.

Tonight, Felix won’t miss the chili cook-off. Instead, he and his dad will make loops around the kitchen- racing shopping carts and Tonka trucks. They will stack all of his blocks as high as possible- just so Felix can crash them down.

But tonight makes me think of the many Friday evenings ahead- when Felix will be invited to social gatherings or fun events- and we will have to consider the risks, the potential exposures, and we may have to curb his enthusiasm in favor of his protection.

This is the reality for allergy families. Tonight, my heart breaks a little bit- because I can already imagine the day I will have to explain to Felix that the BBQ may not be safe because of sesame seed buns, or the friend’s birthday party won’t work because they are going out to Asian food… or that he cannot participate in the chili taste tests because someone may have used Del Monte tomatoes…

I am grateful that Felix is a healthy, energized, vibrant boy. I have no doubt he will savor every ounce of life ahead of him. I believe that a world without sesame is still a fun and exciting world.

And yet, a part of me will always worry about his allergy. I will always flinch as he continues to explore the world- hoping he is safe, hoping he never has an anaphylactic reaction again… these are the confessions of an allergy mom….

 

A Letter to My Future Daughter on International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

Dearest Child,

Today is International Women’s Day.

For the first time in my life, I celebrate being a woman AND- having the great honor of ushering another woman into the world this year.

The world desperately needs you- and I cannot wait to see the ways you will bring change, compassion and justice to it.

May you come into this world ready to shine.

Be your whole self from day one. Be bold. Be courageous. Speak your mind. Dream big dreams.

You can do anything and be anything you wish. Generations of women before you have worked hard to ensure this inheritance for you.

As you grow and spread your wings- be sure to take others with you. In your lifetime, there will still be many women with less opportunity than you. Notice them. Listen to them. Take their hands and partner together as you grow. Invite them along as you make your way in the world. Never feel threatened by collaboration or sharing with other women- instead, live with a lens of abundance.

One of the greatest resources you will experience in your life is the power of women joining together.

As a woman: you will have a voice. Use it to speak up, to ask for what you deserve, and to advocate for others.

As a woman: remember you are more than what you look like, more than who you birth or who you marry. You are more than a token, more than a quota. You are a full human being. Never let anyone tell you differently.

The world you will enter this July is still evolving. We have work to do to make sure all women are safe, empowered, and encouraged. But I can promise you that you are joining a family that will work hard to ensure that your rights, your safety, and your potential are protected and promoted.

We are so excited for your arrival. On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate all women- but more than anything- I celebrate the promise and mystery of your life- which will begin in July. When you arrive, I know the whole world will be changed, and blessed.

I leave you with this excerpt from the poem “I am a Woman” by Riffat Hassan, may you always trust your eternal heart:

I am a woman

with the eternal heart of a woman

the bearer of life

the nurturer of life

the protector of life

I can give life

because I am not afraid of pain

for I know that love is always pain

even joyful love is ringed with pain

and no one can love

who cannot embrace with heart and soul

the pain of living

the pain of loving.

Love, Mama

Week 2: Bags for Moms

40 bags week 2

This week, my 40 bag challenge continues for Lent.

I focused on my son’s belongings.

When he arrived, we received so much support and love. We filled his book shelves with stories to read. His closet and dresser overflowed with clothing for the first year. He received a mound of blankets that kept him warm each night. Church communities, friends, and family rallied around us to offer resources and supplies.

But we live in Canton, Ohio. Our city is ranked #29 for the most single parent households in cities over 50,000 people in the United States. Canton made national headlines 10 years ago when 64 girls at Timken High School became pregnant in one school year. Even as national teen pregnancy rates dropped- Canton’s numbers remained high, and teen pregnancy cut across all ethnic and cultural lines.

So in the very same city where our son has been encouraged and spoiled- we have neighbors who struggle to provide for their sons and daughters. The disadvantages faced by teen moms in Canton and across the country are heartbreaking.

Nationally, studies show that the average cost for baby clothes alone is about $60/month for the first year. Usually basic toys, books and blankets average $20 to $40 per month as well.

Diapering is another story. Parents spend on average $76 a month on diapers.

These costs are only a small part of the expense of having children.

We know through Felix’s journey with allergies that health costs can be astronomical. Additionally, we pay roughly $10,000 a year for childcare.

This week, as I thought about what we have, and what we really need- I realized we have beautiful, gently used clothes that can help other moms in Canton. We have a stash of extra cloth diapers we can pass on that will help a mom cut costs. We have extra swaddle blankets, more toys, an extra baby carrier and baby bed that we can pass along to children who did not receive the support of churches, friends and family as they came into the world.

So bags #5-10 are going to a support center for moms in Canton, Ohio.

It is a small gesture. There is still so much work to be done. But what if we each took a step every day to be generous with our neighbors? Could the world be different?

“Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world.” –Pope Francis

 

40 Bags- A Lenten Practice

 

lent-bags

Today, Lent begins.

We are putting away our Alleluias and our bright colors. We are welcoming in more quiet, more reflection, and more piety. For the next six weeks, we are all invited to lean in to our faith, to pray more, to fast, to give up practices or habits that hold us back from experiencing God.

I always enjoy giving something up for Lent. I look forward to the opportunity of letting go and setting limits. Over the years, I’ve given up make-up, alcohol, dessert, or meat. Other years, I’ve added in a practice of blogging each day, or taking quiet time each morning, or reading before bed for all 40 days.

This year, a friend of mine suggested a ’40 bags’ Lenten practice. Participants are urged to fill up a bag of things from their home to get rid of for each day of Lent. It’s a way to make room in our homes, to de-clutter, and to think deeply about what we really need.

As our family prepares to welcome a new member in July, we are all focused on making room in our home. So, this year, I am taking on the 40 bag challenge.

Today, I filled my bags for this first short week of Lent. With each bag, I wanted to make sure that I was not only emptying space in my own home, but that I could imagine these bags blessing others.

This week:

Day 1: a bag of magazines.

I plan to bring this bag to our pediatric dermatology office. The bag is full of Harvard, Bucknell, and Divinity School publications- as well as a year’s worth of Marie Claire’s. As I put together the bag of magazines that I never have time to read in this busy life, I remembered the many hours I spent sitting in the waiting room of our dermatologist and allergist’s offices. I would have loved a sweet distraction, a scholarly article, or a light editorial about women’s fashion. My mind was so full of worry for our son that I would have paid big money for something to read besides my Facebook feed. I hope these magazines will be a blessing to other families who have to wait for a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

Day 2: a bag of toys and books

This is a bag of duplicate toys and books from our son’s extensive collection. He has so many wonderful people in his life, that we found ourselves with several copies of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See”, at least 3 shape sorting toys, and several variations of toys on wheels. Our boy has been gifted everything he could ever need and more. So this bag of toys and books will be donated to a shelter that can use these toys and books to bless other kids.

Day 3: a bag of vases

We have received some beautiful flowers over the years. At our wedding, the birth of our baby, a special anniversary- and more. But the truth is, we only use one vase at a time. So I put together a bag of our extra vases to donate to my church- so that our weekly altar flowers can be divided and delivered to our homebound members or those in the hospital with ease. I love imagining these vessels that carried such joy into our home bringing joy to others.

Day 4: a bag of food

Over the holidays, we hosted our families. We stocked our pantry with a variety of food to appeal to the different tastes and preferences of our 8 out of town guests. But the holidays have come and gone, and our pantry contained food that we do not need- at least, not as much as those who use the Zion food pantry for their weekly staples. So the final bag for this week is filled with pastas, soups, jams, and other treats that will hopefully help a family eat well this week.

I believe this will be a fulfilling and gratifying practice during Lent. And there is still time- would anyone else like to join me on this journey?

Whatever your Lenten season looks like, my prayers are with you in the days and weeks ahead.

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