Making room for new things

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”

~ Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher

Sometimes, it’s necessary to toss the chaff away to make room for the wheat.

As the new year dawns, I can’t patrol any social media site without seeing evidence of resolutions to organize closets, give away housewares, sort through junk drawers and toss expired condiments, medications and eyeshadows. People are making room for better things by getting rid of clutter.

So it was with one of our trees last fall.

The hard maple tree in the front yard of our chome wasn’t there when the church was constructed back in the late 19th century, but it’s evident in pictures from the mid-20th century. An inoperable light fixture remains attached to the trunk; we’ve been told one of the pastors lived in a trailer outside the church, and the fixture provided exterior light.

Pruning, in progress.

It’s a beautiful tree but an aging one. We were forced to cut down three mostly dead Chinese elms on the property line in the spring of 2019 after one of them split in half in an ice storm. This hard maple was mostly alive, but one of its main branches hung over the road, threatening to kill someone in the right (or wrong) windy conditions. So Tyler determined the tree need a major trim. His cousin, an experienced tree trimmer, agreed to perform the work in September just as the leaves were beginning to turn.

It made me sad to see this tree’s huge limbs turned into kindling. I knew it was for the best, but I was appalled. I imagine some people feel the same way about dropping their belongings off at the Salvation Army store or Goodwill. I know a lot of people who watched as we renovated the church in 2018 felt sad about the passing of an age, but it was necessary to save the church structure and create the home in which we now live.

Here’s the tree, fully leafed out in early summer.
And here’s how it looked after its haircut.

The tree looked scrawny after the pruning, but we hope we have given it many more years of life.

Peace begins with a smile

Chatting with a friend the other day about 2020, she said, “It was a complete waste for me. I accomplished nothing.”

I pressed her on this pessimism, and she managed to find a few flecks of gold in the mining pan, but for many of us, 2020 was an outlier, and we’re all glad it’s in the rearview mirror. As an introvert who already worked at home and didn’t get sick, I found the year of the corona virus to be simply weird, not terrible. But I personally know two people who died of COVID-19, and I’m just as tired as anyone of wearing a mask and socially distancing. Goodbye, 2020, you won’t be missed.

I updated my beautiful church sign when the ground was still green, not white, but who couldn’t use flowers in the wintertime, right? And the message applies to a new year. If we’re still lamenting the awfulness of 2020, maybe the arbitrary turn of the calendar page might help put it behind us. And if we’re worrying about what 2021 might bringpolitical chaos, vaccine delays, inconveniences, sickness, deathwell, that’s wasted time already.

Better to live each day as it comes. Did you enjoy sleeping in, tucked in warm pillows and blankets? Is the sun shining? Do you have the extra time to remove the seeds from a fresh and juicy pomegranate? Can you appreciate the function of your legs, however fat and hairy they may be? (“I cried because I had no shoes,” said Helen Keller, “until I met the man who had no feet.”) If all the restaurants are closed, make a pot of soup. If you can’t have a party, write a letter. If you can’t go on vacation, read a book. Fill your lungs with crisp fresh air. Home is a sanctuary; savor it.

Living mindfully in the present. These are the acts that give me peace. And that’s what I’m wishing for you, too, in the new year.

# # #

The quote that forms today’s headline is attributed to Mother Teresa, a nun and missionary who devoted her life to caring for the sick and poor.

Hope is a gift

I’d had been wanting to attend an outdoor church service all summer, and I got the chance this morning when a couple of nearby congregations celebrated at a park overlooking a lake.

To enjoy the fellowship of a church service at all in this COVID-19 world was a treat, but to absorb it in the grandeur of a lake setting was even better.

One of the Bible readings at Church on the Lake this morning was the same one as read at my 104-year-old grandmother’s funeral last year.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

~ Philippians 1:21-24

One of the legacies of my grandmother’s long life is that she had faith. The reading reminded me of her and of the church sign I had displayed for a time this summer, inspired by our current events of calamity. I hoped that people fearing death by virus (or the end of democracy by election) might appreciate a reminder of hopefulness.

Hope illuminates even the darkest of days with glimmers of possibility.

~Author Kathy Carlton Willis

Embarrassment of riches

We like a good cucumber or Tyler wouldn’t have planted three hills of them this year in our little garden.

Our cucumbers, planted in rich mushroom compost and fed with adequate rain, are producing, well, like cucumbers. That is to say, abundantly. We have picked at least a hundred cucs in the past three weeks, and that’s about 90 more than we can comfortably consume or pickle. Between Tyler’s uncle who is staying with us for a bit and me, we have harvested enough cucumbers to suit us, our friends at church and the patrons of the local food pantry (twice).

And still, there are blooms aplenty in there.

If the cucumber patch were like Charlie Brown’s pumpkin patch, the Great Cucumber would be rising from it anytime to bring toys to sincere and believing vegetable lovers everywhere.

Therefore, we’re sharing. Need a hummus dipper, tzatziki ingredient, salad topper or quick pickle? One hundred percent organic! Stop by and pick through the box at the end of our driveway. Enjoy!

Country thunder

Nothing grows sign

A friend who visited recently suggested I might use “storm” as the inspiration for my next church sign message, and I obliged with this. Whether we’re experiencing thunderstorms or not, we’re all experiencing the storm of COVID-19. Many terrible things have come about because of the pandemic, there’s no doubt, but some rainbows have made a showing, too.

Just today, I heard a story on NPR about a guy who build a treehouse with his three kids with all the extra time on the family’s hands. Instead of a packed sports schedule, they have a treehouse now! And the experience of making it.

I’m trying to find the silver lining in this strange world, and maybe you can, too.

# # #

Today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to a huge country music concert event that occurs every July—but not this one—just a few miles northwest of our old church.

Of basements, gutters and excuses

Let’s talk basements.

Our basement remains one of the outstanding projects here at our chome. Early on, we demolished the church kitchen and one wall in the bathroom, but now the basement expanse is simply storing Christmas decorations and lamps. Lots of random lamps.

The toilet in the basement bathroom is the only original bit of plumbing that came with the church. With a missing wall, it’s not a great space, despite the functioning flusher.

We’ve hesitated to get to work down there for three reasons. One, we’re still recovering from the renovation of the rest of the church. Lots of homes have unfinished basements, right? What’s the hurry? Two, finishing a basement costs money, and we’re spending money elsewhere (can you say “boat,” Tyler?). And three, and most notable, we’re watching for leaks. A wet basement is not a basement into which you want to put a lot of drywall.

When we purchased the church, the basement flooding was so frequent, standing water on the west side had damaged the floor tiling. I can only imagine the panic that gripped organizers of the food shelf that operated out of the basement when it rained hard on distribution days. We once observed an inch of water in this area. We solved the problem with a functional gutter before we even closed on the sale of the church.

Then we saw how groundwater leaked through the 18-inch thick foundation walls, especially on the south side. Tyler solved this problem by painting all the walls with basement waterproofing paint.

Heavy rains during construction that first spring caused water to pour in through the window wells on the north side. This, we addressed by building a garage and eliminating some of the window wells.

Still, when it rained a lot, we’d get water on the east side of the basement. We had gutters installed all around the church, and Tyler put St. Johnny to work installing a French drain system on the east side of the church. Proper dirt grading was implemented. This helped a lot.

In fact, we thought we had the basement water problem licked. For more than a year, the basement stayed dry, even when rain poured down.

But a couple of weeks ago, Tyler noticed a couple of gallons of water on the floor in the furnace room on the east side of the church. He traced the problem to the gutter on the east side. It’s twenty feet off the ground, but Tyler guessed it was clogged with pine needles since it hangs beneath the boughs of our beautiful and enormous pine trees.

Since he wasn’t interested in cleaning out a gutter twenty feet off the ground on the regular (or ever), he determined we needed gutter guards of some sort. Why all gutters don’t come with guards, I can only guess, but they don’t. Research led him to Leaf Filter.

I’ll spare you the sales presentation, which was exhaustive, let me assure you. The salesman delayed our supper by an hour the evening he visited. But he was effective. We invested in Leaf Filter gutter guards for all the gutters on the church structure and garage.

Leaf Filter
You go, gutter guy!

The Leaf Filter guys worked their magic earlier this week. When they cleaned out the gutter on the east side, they found four inches of pine needles and silt up there. Yuck! No wonder water was spills over the edges, into the ground and seeping into our basement. The Leaf Filter system comes with a lifetime guarantee against gutter clogs (lifetime of the building, people!), so we’ll see if system works to keep our basement dry.

This morning, we woke up to a pouring rain and a dry basement, so fingers crossed. Not that a dry basement will hasten the finishing, but at least a wet basement will no longer be an excuse for procrastination.

Declaration of July Fourth

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

~ Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776

Fourth of July Church Sign 2020

I almost ran out of A’s and Ns for this Fourth of July message on my church sign, but the period after the S in President Truman’s name was probably not necessary. His middle name was simply S, which his parents chose to pay homage to honor and please his grandfathers, named Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

Truman might be better known for declaring where the buck stops, but this wordier message is a good one, too.

Passersby can choose to apply whatever subtext they want. “Be brave and go back to work” or “Do the job at hand of wearing a mask in public” or both. I hate how everything nowadays has political implications, forces us to choose sides and cultivates suspicion of one’s motives. Can’t we all just get along?

I love America. I love our messy system of government, I love peaceful public protest, and I love Mount Rushmore, too. It’s an majestic work of art, even if you don’t think much of the men whose faces are depicted there or you believe it’s built on stolen land. We’re still forming a more perfect Union, folks, not to mention establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility. The work of we the people will never be done.

Tonight, Tyler and I are going to ring our church bell at sunset and watch the full moon rise over the treetops, and I’m going to celebrate the freedoms wrought, however imperfect, by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago. I hope you find blessings of liberty, too, however you observe today. Happy Independence Day!

Take a deep breath in

As I’m sure you’re aware (because your calendar is bare and those obscure holidays in tiny type are more easily read these days), we observed the Summer Solstice on Saturday. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year when we have the most daylight.

I celebrated with a colorfully flamboyant dress and a crown of fresh daisies. Oh, and a new message on the church sign.

summer solstice church sign
You can get away with more when you live in a church. People already think you’re a little crazy.

I found this verse on the internet, so I can’t claim it as my own, but it rose to the surface when I googled “quote about breath as soul.” A yogi recently suggested our souls may actually be our breaths. Yogis are quite obsessed with breath. It got me thinking about a body without breath (as in, one lying in a coffin). Funeral goers often remark that the dead no longer looks like themselves. Well, the soul is gone, the faithful think. But the breath is gone, too.

If my soul is my breath, I value my breath more. This boring function of breathing that occurs 20,000 times a day suddenly becomes more sacred, doesn’t it? And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our breath is important. We get home, toss away the face mask and take a deep breath. A deep, soulful breath.

Feel the sun on your soul, friends. Each day now in the Northern Hemisphere, we will lose precious minutes of sunlight, so relish in the sunshine.

3 glorious things about living in a church

Earlier this week, I complained (a little) about a few minor irritants of living in a church. Today, we turn that frown upside down as I regal you with the glorious parts of living in a church.

Turning a church into a residence isn’t for everyone, but it suits me fine. Our home is a sacred space from steeple to church basement, and I find it a pleasant oasis of peace. Here are three reasons why.

goad sign
Not a road sign, a goad sign.

No. 1: The church sign is a platform for speaking truth (or telling jokes).

Not very many residences have a way to make announcements to the public, but my house does. I still love my church sign for writing encouraging or cryptic messages of my choosing for passers-by. Last year, my son-in-law goaded me into posting a funny, fake Bible verse on the sign. Well, it’s my sign. I can write whatever I want! So I did! Well, I try to keep it clean in respect for the elementary school children who spend recess on the playground across the street, but the sign is a fun, creative outlet for me.

No. 2: Music of all sorts sounds great in here.

Our great room, once the church sanctuary, was designed for sound. I can only imagine the choirs and parishioners singing along to a piano or organ. Or a soloist, standing in the front, mezmerizing the crowd. The acoustics are amazing. Tyler’s sound system makes the most of it. The Rolling Stones sound like they’re singing live, but instrumental music? Even better. The whole symphony makes a full-throated appearance when we play Handel. Someday, I think it would grand to have a band play on our balcony.

No. 3: The bell! Of course, the bell!

You knew the church bell would be on this list, didn’t you? I love ringing our bell for visitors or special days or just on Sundays. Lately, I’ve taken to ringing the bell for a minute at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Because I can. And a bell brings a smile to people’s faces. No other home in town can boast of such a unique talent. As far as I know, the bell was erected when the church was built in 1891, making it an historic element of this village. When I go for a walk, I admire my bell as I reapproach the church. It’s tall and distinctive, and I love it.