Cleaning before Being Cleaned

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There’s something radically new in my life: a young woman comes every other week to clean my house. It’s pretty weird. But I’m getting used to it.

I was telling my husband about a book I was reading,  The End of Your Life Book Club — the story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will, and the books they read and discussed during her final two years. As I explained their background, I said, Well, they lived three doors down from Julia Child. And Mary Anne worked full-time, back when moms typically didn’t work. But she must have hired a housekeeper because all they did was read on the weekends and you KNOW that someone had to clean toilets.  And Curt, bless his heart, leapt into this opening he had been waiting for to suggest that we hire a house cleaner.

So Jamie comes and I gather scattered books so she is cleaning and not picking up. I work on a deep-cleaning project while she’s here. To me, it’s akin to paying a piano teacher when you mostly need accountability to practice.

But, here’s the thing: the instinct is so strong to clean up myself before I get help. It’s neat to clean (Next to Godliness is my favorite soap from Trader Joe’s) but this is more about self-protection and perhaps some self-deception. I see this tendency in my life in other areas. After I lose 15 pounds, I’ll go to the doctor, I promise myself.

Years ago, I participated in a foot-washing ceremony. A group of women circled their chairs and the friend on the right got on her knees and dipped my feet in a large bowl sudsy with warm soapy water, washed, rubbed, and dried my dirty, stinky feet — a profoundly unforgettable encounter. It struck the same emotional response in each of us. We were happy (happy! happy!) to wash a friend’s feet, but our heart screamed No! when it was our turn to be washed.

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Getting Paid to Read

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I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

We Were So Poor Stories

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I’m tempted to pity my grandkids whose life is bereft of We Were So Poor stories. When such stories are impressionistic paintings from the past, they surely are delicious memories.

A coworker of yore bragged about getting SIX. TEEN. cups of tea from one tea bag. He was so poor.

My friend asked her husband what kind of meals his mom made when he was growing up. He thought and said, We ate a lot of Spanish rice. She asked, What did you have with it?  Just rice. They were so poor.

Before we married our weekly date was splitting a $2.25 plate of chow mein. We were so poor.

After we married our grocery budget was $12 a week. My farmer uncle gave us a few bushels of tomatoes that I canned, Curt put a deer in the freezer, and tuna was on sale at $0.33/can. We were so poor.

A young couple moved to California from the midwest. When their folks sent a dress shirt from Sears for a birthday gift, they quickly exchanged it for cash to feed their babies. They were so poor.

One Christmas, we prepared our boys for a skinny Christmas. We didn’t have money and refused to go into debt to buy toys. That year ::takeabreath:: our boys wrote a note and put it in an envelope with twenty dollars from their savings. We hope this helps. We were so rich.

I’m pretty sure you have some We Were So Poor stories. Won’t you share in the comments?

 

Reviving A Comatose Pencil

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Curt and I, young and pre-children, had moved and were getting to know our new pastor at our new church in our new city. We explained that we’d loved to involve ourselves, but were burned-out and needed a season of rest. This wise man replied, “Take time. Sit down. Be still.  When the urge to serve comes back—and it will—, call me.” 

While I am not overburdened with my writing schedule (cough, cough) the urge to write is back. It’s time to revive A Living Pencil. Beginning with a few random thoughts.

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Has there been a decline in blogging? I think Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is to blogs what Walmart is to downtown boutiques. I find it oh so easy to post a photo to Facebook or write a sentence about the irony of including Man-Pleasing Chicken on our Mother’s Day menu.

The problem: so much content on Facebook (read Walmart) is generic and/or derivative. Most blogs offer a unique perspective. And most of the small blogs have closed up shop.

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I made it through the toughest weekend of my calendar. The anniversary of my mom’s death was on Saturday and Mother’s Day was Sunday. I also remembered my friend Carol, (my surrogate mom’s youngest daughter) who died in January, and her beautiful daughters experiencing their first Mother’s Day sans Mom.

I never want to drum up grief because of the day on the calendar. No. There was no need for drumming.

But this is what I realized this cycle: I always—for 48 years—carry grief with me, deep in the warrens of my soul. But May 7th is the day I give sadness permission to surface. I give myself permission to acknowledge the wound. I think that is a good, even healthy, thing to do.

A Scrabble Proposal

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By David Harper

I was struggling to find a text that would fit Margaret. My wife read this to me and I’d like to read it to you. Now the Proverbs are difficult, sometimes, to understand. I’ll give you my take on this particular verse.

All the days of the afflicted are hard,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15:15

You’ve already heard that Harpers like food…and you can tell! But, I think that the contrast here, as it ought to be interpreted, is the contrast of the afflicted in their person, in their soul.

I’m going to apply it to Margaret. She was afflicted and endured many days of difficulty. Difficulty that I don’t know anything about, and most of us don’t. She endured a lot of affliction in her person, but not in her soul. She was a cheerful person. I don’t think I ever heard her complain. She was a joyful person.

I remember when she came out to visit us, she had just graduated [from college] and it was December. She came out to Johnstown and I had gone over to pick her up. She had headaches then. She came to our house, and her headaches were so bad she was continually throwing up. It was that tough.

We didn’t know what to do. So, we took her to our family doctor who was on vacation; he had a substitute who couldn’t get rid of her fast enough. He thought it was bad, and it was. She went to a neurosurgeon in Altoona. He didn’t have any ability or didn’t think he could do anything about it.

So we took her to Pittsburgh to Montefiore Hospital. She was still in pain and they were arguing, as neurosurgeons and neurologists do. Arguing about what kind of tack to go with her. They couldn’t decide because they didn’t know what was going on.

The thing that gave her relief was a spinal tap to take fluid off her spine. It gave her relief for a day or two then they would have to do it again. The rest is the long struggle that she went through. She was afflicted, but I never saw her without a smile on her face.  Even when she was in that kind of pain, I still remember that.

But, she is now with the Lord and none of us would want her back. Well, maybe John would. But I think we all realize she is far better off now.

One of the things we did as a family —the John Harper family is large, in more than one way— as we grew up, part of our time was [living] out in the country. Dorothy, Margaret, and I went to the old Bogan School. That school was a two-room school house with four grades. Did you go too, John? It was a tough go. It was five miles from our house (or so it seemed) and it was uphill both ways.  It was hard! We went to this little schoolhouse and I just think about my mother who for three-and-half-years raised seven contentious children [alone].

Then we went to Bair Lake [Bible Camp] in the summertime, most likely because it was free room and board for seven kids. My dad was the manager of the camp and that’s where we got to know a lot of friends. We were there every summer and enjoyed it. Love for camp came from those days. Even when I was in high school we would go from Chicago back to Bair Lake. When I was in college we would do the same thing: go on weekends. And build things and do things. It was something I really enjoyed and I think all our family did.

One thing I want to remind all of us here, was one of those situations that was not dealt with happily by my sister. One of the services she performed for us brothers: more than once her girlfriends became our girlfriends. She was just a bit miffed about it. I remember that. It didn’t take except for Dan. That worked well. Real well.

One of the things I especially appreciated about Margaret was her happy spirit and this verse reflected that.

She loved food. We all loved food. But she couldn’t really appreciate the other senses of life. Walking around. Getting up. I sit for a while and I get kind of sore. And I think Margaret must have gotten a lot of soreness, too. And I appreciate what she went through to the limit and extent that I can.

I want to tell you about a time that Margaret was in Grand Rapids and was in the hospital. She had just had a number of mini-seizures and she was flat on her back.  I came in to visit her. I’m talking to her. She’s still her joyful and smiling person. Then she told me this thing that stunned me. She told me about this guy, John Walker, who had just asked her to marry him.

I said, really?

Yeah, but I am going to tell him no. (I don’t think she actually told him no, but she was planning on telling him no.)

He deserves far better than me, she said. Of course they became good friends, not only at River Forest, but playing Scrabble. (She could beat me. Whupped me.)

I said, Well, why would you say no?

I can’t give him children. He deserves far better than me. Look at me! I can’t do anything.

Margaret, it’s very clear that John loves you. He doesn’t love your body, he loves you as a person. And if I were you, I would get on the phone and say yes.

The way it turned out is that in Scrabble ‘YES’ is more points than ‘NO’. So Margaret said, I’m going for the big word!

As far as our family is concerned, John is a prince. I could not do what John has done. Over twenty-one years. Truly remarkable. And we thank the Lord for you, John.