So I did a little thing yesterday. On Monday I received a text message from Houston Methodist that said, “As a patient we are pleased to inform you that you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine now based on your age and health risk status.” I would like to think I’m fairly healthy, but I have seen a few doctors this past year. I can’t help but believe that my mother pulled a few strings from above. Within days I made my appointment.
I took my morning walk and then drove to the Houston Methodist administration building in the medical district. I felt very young in the crowd of people there. I waited ten minutes in a moving line. The shot was just a little pin prick, overall painless and quick. I was back home in close to an hour, and that included a fifteen-minute evaluation period for allergic reactions. With my booster follow-up scheduled in three weeks, I’m thankful to be able to return to the work force soon without fear and to take myself out of the unintentional spreader pool. Especially as Texas lifts the state-wide mask mandate next week on March 10. According to MSN.com, “Texas has recorded more than 2.3 million cases of COVID-19—with nearly 5000 new cases on Wednesday—and more than 43,500 fatalities since the start of the crisis…The state is averaging 297 deaths a day.”
I felt very young in the crowd of people there. The shot was just a little pin prick, overall painless and quick. With my booster follow-up scheduled in three weeks, I’m thankful to be able to return to the work force soon without fear and to take myself out of the unintentional spreader pool. Especially as Texas lifts the state-wide mask mandate next week on March 10. According to MSN.com, “Texas has recorded more than 2.3 million cases of COVID-19—with nearly 5000 new cases on Wednesday—and more than 43,500 fatalities since the start of the crisis…The state is averaging 297 deaths a day.”
I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.
A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.
She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”
I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”
And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.
I said, “Wait, could I video this?”
Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.
My 31-year-old son has a collection of clutter to the point where one of our rooms is unusable. It’s called being a hoarder. I decided to look up the term. According to the mayoclinic.org, hoarding is a disorder. Signs and symptoms may include:
Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there’s no space
Persistent difficulty throwing out or parting with your things, regardless of actual value
Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them
Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable
Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing
Years ago, our garage included a home gym. Now, circular, cast-iron barbells litter the floor on all sides of the weight bench centered below a 7-foot weight rack. I haven’t counted the weights. There are probably close to thirty of them, of various size, from five-and-a-half pounds to forty-five. Some lay haphazardly on the foam mats beneath the bench, some on the concrete amid dead leaves, bits of rope, PVC, a weight bar, a circular saw, timber, a sledgehammer, empty cardboard boxes, and sawdust. A collapsible elliptical machine leans against the wall. A freestanding heavy bag lays on its side on top of a toppled bike. There is a Honda Grom with a large plastic storage container strapped to the back. Something is wrong with the motor. There is another mini-motorbike shipped in pieces from China, put together at one point, now in pieces again. Lots of destroyed and broken things. There is more, much more. Plus, regular garage stuff. Sawdust covers all of it. Our son Drew thinks he is building a house. The clutter is beyond clutter. It’s excessive. We don’t have the space. We would like to park a car in the garage. The mess belongs to Drew, but I take responsibility for allowing it to happen. He lives with us, well, not exactly with us. He sleeps in his car most of the time, by choice. He has schizophrenia, and his thinking suffers.
The hoarding was motivation for the Less Is Now 30-day challenge. Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, and so on. That equals 175 things to sell, donate, recycle, or trash during Week Four. My husband and I usually avoid the garage like the COVID. But during Week Four of the challenge, I turned my focus to the garage. One day I trashed or recycled 45 items. Lots of cardboard boxes and packaging pieces. Another day 72. Add those numbers to some other household items, and I’m currently 22 items short, but today is the last day of my fourth week. I still have time. Plus 29 for tomorrow and 30 for the next for a grand total of 453 items to be purged. I’m almost there. The challenge has been a challenge, made easier by a hoard. Progress is progress.
The Mayo Clinic also claims that many people with hoarding disorder also experience other mental health disorders, such as:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
I think we could add schizophrenia to the list. However, my son also has the OCD label. We’ve gone through ten plus years of a rocky, uphill battle. Do you give up on people who are ill? I’m trying really hard not to. I wouldn’t give up if the illness were physical.
Back on the Mayo Clinic website, they say schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function. Symptoms may include:
Delusions. These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, you think that you’re being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; or a major catastrophe is about to occur. Delusions occur in most people with schizophrenia.
Hallucinations. These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. Yet for the person with schizophrenia, they have the full force and impact of a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common hallucination.
Disorganized thinking (speech). Disorganized thinking is inferred from disorganized speech. Effective communication can be impaired, and answers to questions may be partially or completely unrelated. Rarely, speech may include putting together meaningless words that can’t be understood, sometimes known as word salad.
Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behavior. This may show in a number of ways, from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation. Behavior isn’t focused on a goal, so it’s hard to do tasks. Behavior can include resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, a complete lack of response, or useless and excessive movement.
Negative symptoms. This refers to reduced or lack of ability to function normally. For example, the person may neglect personal hygiene or appear to lack emotion (doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t change facial expressions or speaks in a monotone). Also, the person may lose interest in everyday activities, socially withdraw or lack the ability to experience pleasure.
All of it applies to my son. The hoarding is sort of down the list of problems we have at our house…or that my son has in his car. What happened to my little boy who made straight A’s and became a cellist with a full ride to college? I’ve learned I can’t reason with schizophrenia. There are people close to me who wish I wouldn’t be so open about Drew’s mental illness. But for me, secrets are heavy, and people keep them when they don’t want people to know the truth. Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe shame. Maybe grief. Secrecy perpetuates the stigma of those seeing help. I’m not ashamed, but I do mourn for the person he was before. Still I cling to hope. Hope for Drew to take responsibility for his symptoms and treatment. Hope for better medicine…a Team Drew…better days…a cure?
I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Geez, if you hang in here with me after that line, well, then, God bless you.
Today would have been my mother’s eight-first birthday, and every time I tried to write something eloquent, I failed hard. She was the best, and I miss her. During these last couple of months, I have been overwhelmed by the outreach of kindness and sympathy from friends, hers and mine. These words are among my favorite:
“I have sat beside, under her leadership and so close in prayer with your mother, on many Monday mornings—
She brought life, laughter, peace, memorized scripture passages, prayer needs and most importantly she taught me about “grace notes” and moments our Lord gives to us and our family: encouragements, joy, blessings—these are prayers of praise!
Praise prayers were prayed for you: in your teaching positions, your home sales and purchases, your honors, her grandchildren, births, graduations, and accomplishments. She thanked God for Kody, his strength and promotions, provision for you. We as a circle of friends “cheered you on” with our hearts lifted in unison for any concern, worry, or need. She prayed lovingly and with faithfulness, waiting patiently on our Lord to answer. I am still learning “patiently”. So, so thankful for her wisdom and understanding our Holy God and His promise, Psalm 31:15 “our times are in His hands.”
May you, sweet Crystal see and hear in this note, your mother’s deep spiritual love, her constant commitment to you…”
And these words go on. So, today I celebrate my mother. I see her as the picture of health with a smile that radiates sheer joy, and I hear her voice through the thoughtfulness of her friend. I hope she hears me, too. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! Happy Birthday, to you!
For Week Three of my Less is More Thirty-Day Challenge (Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, Day Three—get rid of three things, and so on), I hoped to make it into my garage to continue my purge, but ya’ll it’s freaking freezing in Texas. 63% humidity intensifies the chill. Thank goodness I had a 61 item surplus over my goal for Week One and Week Two. This week I collected a few more for give away, throw away, recycle, or sell (I’m not much of a salesperson)—6 items of my clothing and 32 of Kody’s, 9 outdoor items, 25 decorative/Christmas, and 5 candles which I burned to the bitter end (candles below still hanging in there). That adds up to 138 items for Week Three. 12 over my goal of 126 for Week Three. Next week. The garage.
Speaking of my candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water (without pressure), and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Answer:Grocery shopping during a Texas winter weather event mid-pandemic.
But as bad as that looks. I found frozen flounder and Ahi Tuna, chicken sausage links and ground pork sausage. Jasmine rice and pinto beans. Loads of veggies. We are warm, safe, and fed.
“Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state’s power grid vulnerable to winter extremes…
Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune…
Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and choice to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left power system unprepared for the winter crisis.
Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.
‘Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,’ said Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group who advocated for changes after in 2011 when Texas faced a similar energy crisis.
‘Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,’ he said.
It is possible to ‘winterize’ natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines and other energy infrastructure, experts said, through practices like insulating pipelines. These upgrades help prevent major interruptions in other states with regularly cold weather.
In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said…
Texas politicians and regulators were warned after the 2011 storm that more “winterizing” of power infrastructure was necessary, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation shows. The large number of units that tripped offline or couldn’t start during that storm “demonstrates that the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds,” regulators wrote at the time. More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the outages, the report said…
Texas’ grid is also mostly isolated from other areas of the country, a set up designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity to Mexico and to the Eastern U.S. grid, but those ties have limits on what they can transmit. The Eastern U.S. is also facing the same winter storm that is creating a surge in power demand. That means that Texas has been unable to get much help from other areas…
Rhodes, of UT Austin, said Texas policy makers should consider more connections to the rest of the country. That, he acknowledged, could come at a higher financial cost — and so will any improvements to the grid to prevent future disasters. There’s an open question as to whether Texas leadership will be willing to fund, or politically support, any of these options.
Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.”
Back to the candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water without pressure, and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil our water. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Lauren called late, 10:38, last Sunday night. She said, “Mom, will you come to Dallas?” I felt a tug in my heart. Something in her voice said, I need you, whether she said it or not.
“Of course, I’ll be there tomorrow,” I said. Lauren knew I had planned on making a trip sometime before the end of February. I just needed to wrap my brain around when. Just a month ago, I helped her load her Houston apartment into a U-Haul. She had lived fifteen minutes away. Now four hours. Part of my thirty-day purge required unloading some items from my house at Lauren’s new place. Still, when your child tells you you’re needed, you go. At least I do. If I’m able. And thank God I was. So I drove the road to Dallas beneath overcast gray skies.
Lauren is okay. New place. New job. Some of the same old stresses. How many times did I call my mother, especially in my twenties, with news of how the sky had fallen off my world? Sometimes a girl just needs her mom.
Together we hung a few things on the wall, some of my discards. “Anything you don’t want will go to Goodwill,” I said. Two small bags of things went back to my car. She let me rearrange some shelves and décor. We ate a few meals out, a few meals in, and each night we curled up on the couch and tried to make it to the end of a movie. We finally finished The Devil Wears Prada and concluded that no one needs to sell their soul for work or things.
And today I’m headed home. I don’t like the thought of leaving my baby girl alone. And so I leave her in God’s hands and trust. What else is a mama to do?
And for a quick post script, this week’s purge included 6 Christmas items, 13 decorative, 23 to Lauren, 5 more for dogs, 8 from one cabinet, and 31 from the garage straight to the trash. That’s 86 things no longer needed, used or loved, now gone from my house. AND, I’m 61 items ahead of schedule going into Week Three, which is awesome since I’ve been out of town. And at Lauren’s I helped her do the same 58 items out of her closet and dresser drawers. I had a trip planned to Goodwill anyway.
The day was February 1st, and I needed a kick in the pants. I decided I was the one to do it. Inspired by my friend Dwight’s Less Is Now Challenge, I figured the first of the month was a good day to start. My own guidelines go like this: SELL, DONATE, RECYCLE, TRASH. I just don’t have the energy to sell. Two questions guide my decisions: Do I love it? Do I use it?
Day 1 — get rid of one thing
Day 2 — get rid of two things
Day 3 — get rid of three things
And so on for thirty days. If my math is correct, week one’s removal adds up to 28, and the entire purge ends up eliminating 453 items.
In my entry way closet, I had a small box started with 8 items to donate. In January, I helped my daughter Lauren move and ended up with some of her laundry, which equaled 11 things. In my car, I still had 3 trash bags of her clothes to donate (I didn’t count what was inside, but I counted the bags) and 2 patio chairs that I didn’t care to keep. From my own closet, I pulled 3 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 pair of jeans. In the pantry, I found 23 dog items I no longer needed. In the garage, I found a box of flooded books, numbering 13, and recycled. And on Monday, I made a trip to the Goodwill donation site closest to home and left everything except what will go back to Lauren. From there I drove to the post office and mailed four envelopes and counted that, too. I started my gathering last Sunday, and on Monday 70 items vacated my house. That felt awesome, and I’m ahead of schedule.
And on February 1st, I went for a walk, two miles or so. As I did on February 2nd and the 3rd and the 4th and today is young. Also I started February 1st with a devotional from a book I haven’t finished. This year I thought I would try. I’ve kept it going all week. How is that for a kick in the pants?
I awoke to the moon shining through the trees and studied it with delight in the cool Sunday morning breeze. I felt God with me. My mother and my dog Rain, too. No longer here. But vividly here. In my heart.
Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2
The Lord created the world. That thought alone boggles the mind. His works are great. I will study and delight in them.
This spring semester, I’m studying William Wordsworth’s epic poem, The Prelude. According to my syllabus, “it is often said that The Prelude represents the true beginning of modern literature.” Book One depicts the poet from his youth, studying and delighting in the works of the Lord. Wordsworth never directly credits God, but he contemplates nature—the time of year, the warmth of the day, the placement of the sun in the sky, the color of the clouds, the illumination of the ground, and the peace of his surroundings—in connection to his own place in the world.
‘Twas Autumn, and a calm and placid day, With warmth as much as needed from a sun Two hours declined towards the west, a day With silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass, And, in the sheltered grove where I was couched A perfect stillness. On the ground I lay Passing through many thoughts, yet mainly such As to myself pertained…(74-81).
Wordsworth provides a basic lesson of gratitude in his appreciation of small pleasures, and in this case, the world’s beauty. God resides in His creation, and like Wordsworth, we can find God’s peace if only we stop long enough to see and breathe in His presence in the world. Through a meditative pause and an eye on divine creation, Wordsworth found inspiration, hope, and a soothing balance in his life, and so will we.
…Thus long I lay Cheared by the genial pillow of the earth Beneath my head, soothed by a sense of touch From the warm ground, that balanced me…(87-90).
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him… Psalm 34:8
I want to say the year was 2013 when my friend Pamela attended an Oprah-sponsored Life You Want Weekend in Miami. She texted me a selfie, and I texted her back, “Awesome! Take notes and forward!” I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want to live the life they want?
She texted me back, “There were so many takeaways but what rings in my ears right now is something Rob Bell said, ‘The life you want starts with being grateful for the life you have.’”
January 2021 was hard for me, a month of grieving, not exactly what I want to do with my life. I know I can’t rush the process, but I want to move forward. Since 2013 (I think), I’ve chosen gratitude as my path to the life I want. Don’t get me wrong. Acknowledging pain is important. Wasn’t it Rilke who said,
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final" ?
It was Rilke. No feeling is final. Thank goodness. I’m thankful, too, for my little collection of words and insights and people, all of the ones helping me through. I’m especially thankful for my people. So many of you have lifted me up with your words this past month (and even before now) as I struggled against lowest lows. If that was you, leaving kindness in your wake, thank you from the depths of my heart. If you are reading now, I appreciate you for being here. I tend to feel everything deeply—beauty and terror—compassion, prayers, and gratitude.
And do you know what I love? How this WordPress blog tracks the distance of my words and the location of readers. I’m humbled, so humbled, by the readers who visited in January alone, readers in 47 countries—the U.S., India, Canada, The U.K., Germany, Spain, France, the U.A.E., China, South Africa, Australia, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong SAR China, Egypt, Pakistan, Netherlands, Indonesia, Austria, Japan, Finland, New Zealand, Portugal, Jamaica, Philippines, Singapore, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Kenya, Thailand, Greece, Venezuela, Brazil, Bhutan, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Congo-Kinshasa, Zambia, Chile, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Israel, and Mongolia.
I am grateful for you.
It’s funny how a simple thanks doesn’t seem good enough.
“Fill your paper
with the breathings
of your heart.”
Wordworth’s words awhile.
I've worn them
around my neck.
Today I breathe
a few of my own
onto this page
with my whole heart.
Wordsworth would say,
“The Poet thinks and feels
in the spirit of the passions of men…
he must express himself
as other men
with “a greater readiness
and power in expressing
what he thinks and feels.”
It’s about the expression,
man’s or woman’s,
keeping it simple.
He would say,
as ideas and feelings
whether the composition
be in prose or in verse,
they require and exact
one and the same language.”
So Mr. Wordsworth,
Do your words
a poem make?
Today my heart stopped breathing.
So did the heart of my dog Rain.
She was fourteen years old
with a heart of gold,
a heart that failed.
But did it really—
when she gave so much
One month ago, my mother passed.
Rain traveled across
the state line.
A good eleven hours
in the car each way.
Away from home
The trip was hard.
For both of us.
Rain suddenly seemed
On the third day
of the new year,
Rain couldn’t breathe.
I was ready then
to let her go.
a hospital stay
and a dollar or two
could fix her
good as new.
For a moment.
Just ten days
after my mother’s death,
I couldn’t do loss again.
But I knew Rain’s time would come.
And now—“The rain is over and gone!”
Yet somehow my heart breathes on.