One hundred forty.  That is the number of items that stand between me and my completion of the Minimalist Challenge.  I have already removed 325 (more or less) items from our little house by the river! I am thankful that my daughters were home for the holidays and helped me scrape together some of those piles and bags of stuff, but I think the last 140 are on me.  Deep breath.

I think I can, I think I can.

So what have I given away?  Lots of books (although we sold and gave away dozens of books before our move to Michigan), clothing (so many T-shirts!), Christmas items (do I really need poinsettia placemats?), shoes (those taupe pumps made me look even more middle-aged than I am), a yoga mat, a fold-up laundry hamper (college-dorm style), an old crock pot, an enormous electric roaster that I have used twice, cloth bags by the dozen, several pillows and blankets, and many, many other obscure items.

Is my house empty? Not even close.  As a matter of fact, the area that started this whole business — my desk– hasn’t changed too noticeably. (I did dust it once, by the way.) It’s shelves are still full of my husband’s theological and counseling texts and several framed photos of our kids. The desktop itself is still cluttered with my ‘to-do’ items — Bible study materials, bills, mailing supplies, and the like.  One of those organizational specialists would probably come in here with some coordinating accessories and make it look like there was nothing here at all, but, you know, I’m ok with its current state.   I do use most of this stuff at least weekly.

And that is how most of the house is — trimmed down to the things I use at least weekly.  So where am I going to get one hundred forty more items? I have a few ideas, almost all of them are going to involve standing on chairs or getting on hands and knees.  I’m going to go into the hard-to-reach cupboard over the fridge and the tall cabinets in the laundry room.  I’m  going to look in the back of that awkward cupboard in the kitchen.  Then, I am going to assess the utensil drawers — there’s gotta be some stuff in there that is just gathering dust.  Oh, and the ‘Tupperware’ drawer — gotta throw away extraneous lids again.  If all else fails, I can go back to my sock drawer, and that reminds me — the basket of mismatched socks!  I probably have at least 20 singletons that can be finally released from their wandering misery!

And what will all this trimming do for me?  Well, I am entering 2015 feeling quite organized, that’s one thing.  But probably more importantly is the shift that has occurred in my mind.  I have always been willing to give stuff away — that’s been rather useful in two inter-state moves.  Yet shift has still happened, probably on a deeper level.  I was in a thrift store yesterday (after dropping off 115 items!).  I was looking specifically for knitting needles and yarn.  The particular store I was in organizes craft items so well that there is actually a drawer labelled ‘yarn’ and a drawer labelled ‘knitting needles’.  No kidding.  I have been in the store enough times that I walked straight to those two drawers and found what I was looking for.  And here comes the shift….in my usual fashion I took a walk around the rest of the store just to see if there was anything else interesting.  And there was!  Books, and puzzles, and unopened rolls of Christmas wrapping paper for less than a dollar!  Everything with a white tag was 50% off!  But I didn’t pick up one thing. My mind kept saying, “I don’t need that.”

And I don’t.  I don’t need anything.  I have clothing, shoes, a family, a beautiful doggy, and a very small (and organized) house by the river. I have (apparently) 140 things in this house that I don’t need and I am going to find them in the next five days.  The next part of the challenge, which my thrift shop experience tells me won’t really be much of a challenge, is not to replace the over 400 items that have been liberated from my household.  The next part of the challenge is to embrace living simply.

Sounds simple.

Matthew 6:19-20

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,

where moths and vermin destroy and thieves break in and steal.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,

where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.


I love running.  I didn’t always.  It grows on you.

In my middle school and high school years the only thing I loved about running was when it was over.

But in college, when I was battling an eating disorder, I began to tap into the benefits of running — stress reduction, calorie burning, cardio-vascular health.   I found another benefit when I began to date my future husband.  We ran together.  On our after-school runs (we were both teachers), we would talk and laugh while letting go of the stress from the day, pounding out the miles.

Although I took a break from running while we were raising our children, I started up again when we moved to the seminary.  Again, I found it useful for exercise, stress-busting, and ultimately, bonding with my daughter and many students.  In fact, I was able to run two half-marathons and many 5k races before I had to sideline myself due to fatigue and pain.

Over the years I have connected with Scripture that uses running analogies, ‘they will run and not grow weary’ (Isaiah 40:31), ‘run that you may obtain the prize’ (I Cor. 9:24), ‘let us run with endurance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1).  These were images I could relate to.  Running and not getting tired, running and winning a prize, running a race that had been chosen for me.

But to be honest, as you know I have to be, running was part of that soldier mentality that believed that I could do all things through me because of my strength. Yeah, that’s not really scripture.  I am aware.

Probably the knowledge that running would no longer be part of my daily routine was one of the first blows toward destroying that self-reliant attitude that could keep God on the sidelines.  That blow hit hard.  Running had become part of my identity.  I was the ‘teacher who ran’, the ‘mom who ran’, the girl whose heart rate and blood pressure were amazingly low, ‘because she ran’.

Transitioning to walking was a blow.  But ultimately it was the beginning of a slow-down that has changed my entire pace of life, of thinking, of being.

I used to rush to work, rush home, hurry to change so I could run, hurry home so I could make dinner, quickly wash the dishes, take a few minutes to straighten the house, make sure the kids had everything they needed, ‘sleep fast’, as my dad would say, and get up to do it all over again.  I was rushing so much that I didn’t really take time to feel, or process how anyone else was feeling.

I don’t rush very much any more.  I roll out of bed, stumble through my routine, work up to doing Pilates, saunter out for a walk, stop to talk to people in my path, write about my experiences, think, read, feel, rest, sleep. Rinse, repeat. Nothing happens very quickly, but plenty happens.

I have been thankful for this transition, while at the same time being a little sad about it. I mean, I was rocking the running routine.  Even if I was leaving the people that I care about in the dust.

At the moment, I’ve got nothing but time.  So, I am walking.  And this morning, in my Bible study, I was challenged by Paul, Silas, and Timothy to “walk in a manner worthy of God” I Thes. 2: 12. I was reminded that God Himself walked in the Garden of Eden, that Enoch walked with God, and Noah walked with God.  Maybe walking isn’t so bad.  I mean, I have noticed already, that I am not alone.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and

walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…

Ephesians 5:1-2

The simple things, A Re-Visit

In July of 2014, I joined my husband in this little house by the river; I wrote this post that very week. Just shy of seven years later, we are going to move our things and ourselves to a different little house nearby. I’ll write more about that in the coming days, but before I do, I’m going to indulge in a little reminiscing; join me if you like.

Yes, we are living on campus.  Don’t worry; I think I am going to love it.  

When my husband moved to Ann Arbor one year ahead of me, in the fall of 2013, and I was still living in St. Louis, the university offered him a house on campus so that he wouldn’t have to purchase a home or rent an apartment before I joined him. It’s a simple little place — three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen/dining on one end, living room on the other. They put fresh paint and carpet throughout and temporarily furnished it for him. 

On our first visit, as my daughter and I walked through the place, I thought to myself, “this could work.” Moments later, she said out loud, “this is horrible.” It could be perspective.  

In St. Louis we owned a large two-story home with a finished basement — three lovely levels of living space that were perfect for a busy family with three teenagers. We loved it at the time that we purchased it, fresh off four years in seminary housing. Our kids each found their own space, and we spread out a bit. It was a lot to maintain, but I was healthy at that point, and we had a crew that could be enlisted to help.

However, over the last two years, as two have moved out and I have begun to deal with the pain and fatigue of autoimmune disease, it has become a challenge to maintain the house and the yard around it. In fact, before my husband was offered this position and we decided to move across the country, we were actually looking for a small place that was all on one level. That’s right  — we were looking for a place just like this!

Even better, the university does all the maintenance, so my husband can focus on his job. They do the yard work. They clear the snow. We get to choose what we spend our energy on. When I arrived on Sunday, I found that my husband had planted a small garden, so we can pick fresh tomatoes! When the movers brought our things yesterday, we discovered that our Adirondack chairs sit perfectly under the overhanging roof on the patio, so I can have my morning coffee outside with a view of this gorgeous campus.  

We were worried that everything wouldn’t fit, or that the things we brought might not work in this new place., but we’ve had surprise after surprise. Our bedroom furniture fits perfectly, even my grandma’s little chair. The guest bedroom houses all our daughters’ things while they are in transition. Our son’s futon fit in the office to provide a spot for overnight guests. I’ve got a reading corner complete with picture books for any children that may visit. And, best of all, my puzzle table found a home just outside the office.

My heavenly Father knew exactly what I needed, before I even asked him (Matthew 6).  This simple home is going to be very easy for me to maintain, so I will have energy to spend on the things that matter — meeting new friends, hanging out with my husband, and being still. 

Epilogue: I don’t think we imagined in 2014 that we would live in our little house by the river for seven years, but it turns out that God knew then what we did not, that He had provided a place of simplicity where we could focus on some deep work that He was preparing to do in us. This little house by the river has been a place of healing — more reminiscing on that later this week.