The Lure of the Dragon Hoard

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. p. 106
A collection of sea shells drying on a countertop.

When we went on family trips to the beach, one of our least favorite tasks (besides leaving!) was choosing only the very best shells to take home. It meant going over each one, one by one. Which edge was perfect? Which colors were the most striking? Which bivalve had a full hinge? Each of us had to weed down until we only had the perfect ones. Then we had to repeat the process until we filled our allotted containers.

I am sure by the time I was old enough to collect shells, my family had already accumulated buckets of them. Mom patiently waited while we sorted and agonized over the bits of shell and sharks’ teeth. Couldn’t we take them all??? No… Just this much. It was a lesson in appreciating the best we could find. On setting limits. On not making acquisition of stuff a goal in life.

It struck me recently, as I have weeded out books, materials, and other resources to consolidate my church office into my home office, that I was re-learning this lesson of sorting shells. I gave away books. I recycled boxes full of old print-outs, bulletins, and teaching materials. (Perhaps it is a sign of my generation, but keeping paper copies is like a security blanket. I don’t really need them. But I want them.)

a box of yarn

While sometimes I joke about my dragon hoard of craft materials, the truth is, I will probably spend the rest of my life using up the supplies that I have! (Of course, it does not help when someone offers me some yarn, or fabric, or other tempting items, and I respond, “Yes! Sure!” I’m still learning this lesson, apparently!)

What is enough? What is too much? What can I give away, give back, pay forward… the questions have been on my mind for several weeks. I realized where I am stuck. Because when I feel the “keep it!!” feeling come over me, much like that young girl sorting shells so many years ago, it is that anxiety that I don’t have enough. I might “need” more!

Perhaps the clue is going back to the teachings of Christ.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:27-31, NRSV

What drives this desire to keep everything??? Anxiousness. Fear. Insecurity. What makes me want to keep everything the same, to be so resistant to change?? What makes me want to be controlling and not roll with life’s latest crises? Distrust. Uncertainty. Worry. And… if I’m honest… Greed. Lust. Pride.

In a time of great unrest, perhaps being willing to let go of one small thing makes it easier to cope with the bigger challenges we humans face. Perhaps not striving to hold on to power or wealth or STUFF would result in less conflict, less angst, less unrest… less war… less abuse… less violence… Isn’t that what Christ is asking us?

So as you chew on that, I offer this beautiful piece of music. It helps me focus and remember it’s what we do for Eternity that really matters.

Blessed be. sdg


Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis!

The Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins

Cleaning and rebooting

IMG_48334 boxes of books
3 bags of recycling
2 bags of shredding
1 (almost) clean office

(Sorry. No partridge or pear tree! But I do have a very friendly cat.)

In their early school years, we would have a “clean out my desk” day with the kids. It seemed like a good time to get back in that habit myself, even though there’s no one living here going back-to-school tomorrow. (We do have teachers in our family, but they are all out-of-state.)

I was also inspired to do some cleaning of my home office because it will have to absorb everything from my office space at church. I really needed to think about books, equipment, supplies and storage reorganization. Some items I had absolutely no problem putting into the discard pile. Some items I couldn’t wait to shred. And some gave me pause as I thought about an event, feeling, or person that they brought to mind.

I was pretty ruthless. Seminary papers? Recycle! Textbooks and manuals that are out-of-date? Recycle! Old OPM paperwork? Shred! Journal articles, old bulletins, church-specific materials? Recycle! Scholastic book about cats? Donate! Folders of schoolwork from our daughters? HA! Give them the stuff and let THEM sort it. 

I was making great progress until I came across some painful memories from a previous  employer. Years ago, I had written on it “demon folder” as a warning that the contents might be toxic and even traumatic. For some reason, I wasn’t able or ready to let go of those papers. But it seemed right to do it today.

Stopping to regroup, I sat for a while and processed the very real feelings of hurt, of disappointment and disillusionment. It still sucks. And in one of those very opportune moments of the Divine, a song popped up on my playlist:

Because there had been enough distance, it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. Some therapeutic shredding helped, as did a handy box of tissues. I realized how much I’ve grown past that period in my life. God is gracious.

I’m not quite done with my office clean-up, but I’ve made progress. There’s a flat surface to use my laptop, and even a space to spread out papers. The charging station for my hand-held devices is where I can reach it! (Shocker.) I found a quote or two that I’ve tucked under my desk blotter for encouragement.

I guarantee you a week from now, it won’t look this nice! But I won’t miss those shredded papers and forgiven memories.




The Myth Stops Here

It’s time. I have to confess. People think I am “so organized.”

I am not.

  • I can’t find the checkbook to write the checks for the piano and oboe teachers. (They are among the few who still require checks! I do indeed remember how.)
  • I found three things that were meant as Christmas presents for my kids and beloved bearded spouse. That would be for Christmas 2011. (Yes, they will get them this year. I hope.)
  • The first floor of the house finally got cleaned, but only because the 3 of us worked on it for several hours today. (I will do just about ANYTHING except clean my house. Well, not exactly true. I will not clean the litter box.)
  • The suitcases from our trip to South Carolina (4 weeks ago) and The Johnny’s college move-in (2 weeks ago) are still not put away.
  • I just cleaned several mold experiments from the fridge and pantry today. (Never mind what. I didn’t serve it, so that’s a plus.)

I am working on getting back into routines — ones that perhaps will work this time around. Routines which are not so blinking complicated, like, “I will file every paper every time a new one comes in the house, after I have done ten jumping-jacks, combed the cat and written a new villanelle.”

As if.

Some of this motivation is because I want to be a good steward of our many blessings. I don’t like wasting food, or letting “stuff” accumulate, particularly items that we don’t use or don’t really need. When you have too much “stuff”, it seems to migrate from room to room, waiting to be “put away.” Or am I the only one who has this problem?

I’m also trying to include new habits in my routines. This is dangerous. Habits like:

  • writing more on my blog
  • spending less time goofing off on the computer/iPad/iPhone
  • working on a conference paper proposal and two articles
  • researching and writing “that book” (see my blog from Friday)
  • exercising!!

Here’s to a new school year, new plans, new dreams and new ambitions. God’s help in all things, and honesty when I don’t keep things going the way I want.

Sounds like a plan. (A mom can dream!)

Order from chaos

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One of the left-over issues from construction last fall was that a whole lotta stuff got crammed, shoved, stashed or otherwise piled into places and spaces out of the way. It was easy to overlook the “stuff” until one actually wanted to USE the room. With the busy-ness of my CPE schedule (work AND class AND on-call) I simply did not have the brain cycles to do the work of weeding and sorting.

Add to this the complication that The Johnnie was returning with her own set of chaos-making unpacking. I had also promised her that I would get the remainder of the construction stash out of her closet and room. So that meant I had to pile it elsewhere.

For the last few weeks I have been working at decluttering. It’s tedious. Annoying. But necessary. And oh, so worth it!!!

Check out the two “after” pictures. 🙂  I’m really pleased. I not only have a place to read and journal, I have a desk that I can USE!! WOOT!

Now… let’s talk about the garage… oh dear.

Flexibility in decluttering

I’m still on the decluttering kick. My study is now in the awful, “where’s the phone?” stage. I can’t find anything quickly. And there’s lots of piles that are still being processed. It’s a little overwhelming at the moment… but I’m pressing on. I have to if I am going to fit another year’s worth of notes, books and activities into my study. It’s amazing how I am accumulating material – partly because the CPE program is not just practicum but also involves research, studying and writing.

Today I continued to sort. Books I read once and can pass along. Books I had to read for class, hated, and would just as soon recycle them (but that’s wasteful… so I will sell them for pittance on Half.Com.) And then there’s piles of materials that I don’t know if I would never need if/when I get accepted into Supervisor-in-Training. I’m sorting things into binders, making a promise that I will re-visit all this stuff in a year to see if I really do “need” to keep it! And if I do, then it’s a bonus.

I also found some old (technology) cell phones, their charging cables (isn’t it nice I put them together!?), and even an old flip phone case or two. These I’m dropping off at the local Verizon store so that they can recycle them and dispose of the batteries. The contents are already wiped off the memory cards, so they are ready to go. They are upwards of 8 years old. And I kept them — why?? Because I never remembered to take them and drop them off. Yup. they are in the car too.

All this meandering in musing because I realized something as I was working on the de-cluttering process. Many times I keep things because I can’t let go of the person, the memory, or the feelings they evoke. Today I unpacked a box that I had sealed up before construction started on our kitchen last fall. Not a single thing in that box was missed, needed or wanted in 9 months!  So with great courage, I sealed the box up again and carried it down to my car, lest I have second thoughts.

The second insight I had this morning was that I could be more efficient in where I how I stored things, but this also required that I be willing to move things from where they have “always” been.

Just being FLEXIBLE — being willing to re-arrange my desk — means that I will have a more functional office space. And that I might even have open flat space (aka a “desk”???) when I do want to write or study.

Just being FLEXIBLE means that I move out of old, comfortable habits into more usable, profitable ones.

Geez. You’d think this is a no-brainer. But I have been fighting myself all the way!

“by their fruits…”

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matt. 7:20)

I started working on cleaning up (and de-cluttering) my study this week. One of the things that I decided to do was to finally hang up some of my diplomas and awards. Not because I want to live on my past, or even brag about it, but because I need to be reminded that my work, my ministry and my reputation are based on what I do today. Not yesterday. And that I got this far through a lot of hard work and perseverance, and with the help and support of others.

Don’t get me wrong, yesterday’s achievements do color how we are perceived today. But I also know what it’s like to want a “fresh start” when there’s memories of high school or college in the back of someone’s mind. I think about those who have been through difficult periods –  like those who were incarcerated, or were even just accused but not convicted of a crime. How much they long for grace and for a way to walk in new habits and with a new self-image! If only we could see and feed it.

Starting into an election cycle, I hold a deep frustration for the “mining of ancient history” for political candidates. Should we know if someone took kickbacks or used their office for financial gain? Certainly! Do we need to know what someone’s voting record has been on specific issues? Sure. (It says far more to me whena candidate moves in his or her views rather than being concretized.) But do I care if he or she had marriage struggles, or if their college yearbook shows them with a glass of beer, wearing mardis gras beads? In the era of Facebook? not so much.

I’m more interested to know how a candidate spends their discretionary money. Does she support and care for causes which represent the neediest and least privileged? Or does she just talk about it? And more than that, how does he treat his office staff, right down to the person who unloads copier paper or cleans the bathrooms? Does she care about the environment and drive an SUV? (Hey. I’m guilty of that one.)  Does he state he is in favor of equal opportunity, but then surrounds himself with advisors who look and smell like him?

So I found frames for my diplomas and pondered… What’s growing here? How have I changed since I flipped that mortarboard’s tassel? What will you see when we look back over the last couple of years?

Just tending the plants… watching for the fruit that develops…

Packing up Christmas

If there’s one thing I truly dislike, it’s packing up Christmas. Somehow a majority of it falls to me. This year, I did get a boost from The Johnnie and Reedy Girl who un-decorated the tree. But I still had to pack up the tree. Bearded Brewer did hoist the tree up into the nether-regions of the storage shelf. But I had to make it an agenda item for us after a long, overly full day.

Now about that “fake” tree. Yes. It has no smell. But for my allergies, it’s the best bet. However, you might like to know that cats eat the needles of fake trees and hork just as easily. It happened to me and also a friend. Unbelievable.

But the rest of Christmas – the creches, the little Christmas pretties… yup. They all fall to me.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fun to see Christmas re-appear each December. This year the decorations weren’t up very long because of our remodeling. So I kinda procrastinated until I knew. It’s time. I had images of being a blue-hair with my tree up in February and those electric dancing Santas by the fireplace. I do NOT have dancing Santas (for the record!) But we’re dangerously close to mid-January.

Tonight I started with one box. An easy one. Our “tree of animals” is a collection of the huggable Christmas things. Every year one of the grandma’s brought stuffed animals. Then I added one that was “too cute” not to have. A trip to Germany brought little bears in lederhosen. There’s a penguin who’s a puppet. And so on. They are now squished into a bin (they don’t seem to mind!) and the job of packing up Christmas has begun.

My inertia over packing also relates to the fact that so much of the house is still kinda in chaos. Half-finished move-ins are in several rooms. It’s overwhelming. Fixing this and sorting through that… and half my garage has furniture and boxes in it for someone else. I want to just call Salvation Army and take it all away.

But I started with just one box tonight. And it’s done! Progress!