Messy People

Cleaning brings out the worst in me. Do you see this desk? Isn’t it about enough to drive you crazy? If you don’t see it – look harder, maybe it’ll pop out at you like it does to me. Well if you haven’t figured out what is so offensive about this desk, here is the letter I composed to Daniel the other day while I was dusting pictured desk.

Dear Mr. Miller,

You may (or may not) have noticed that the two Lindt 85% cacao bars that have been sitting on your desk since 2006 are no longer present. I have delivered them to household chef with instructions to put daily allotments into your lunches until they are GONE. If you wish to eat them in their entirety, the chef has been instructed to let that occur. However, if they reappear on your desk, I will dispose of them without consulting you.


Ok, ok – so I had to chuckle at the ridiculousness of my letter (and at some of Daniel’s as well – yes, these candy bars are at least 5 years old), and my first instinct was to run to the computer, type up my letter and post it on fb. I thought a few people might get a good laugh. Daniel may or may not laugh, but he would most likely be good-natured about it and admit that 5 years is a long time. But instead I kept cleaning and pondered these 2 candy bars and my oversized reaction to them.

The bars are quite small, sit unobtrusively underneath Daniel’s binoculars, are usually neatly stacked, don’t tempt me because they are dark chocolate; so why do they drive me bananas when I dust? Maybe I’m jealous of Daniel’s self control. Who else do I know that could leave 2 tempting snacks on his desk for 5 years? (Actually, my Dad might be able to – but that’s beside the point.) Definitely!!! not me! I’d be happy if they lasted 5 days. Or maybe I’m a little hurt because the bars were a gift to Daniel from me and don’t appear to be appreciated. Maybe I’m upset because a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away before kids, lawn work and house repairs – and around the time those candy bars were gifted, I recall Daniel telling me that he would clean his office. That hasn’t happened even though I thoroughly understand the reasons why.

So I continued to stew while I vacuumed the office; and as I opened the door leading to the rest of the basement, the view was heart-stopping. My desk/scrap booking/catch-all project center of the house was the vision that made me want to sit and weep. Here I was getting upset over 2 measly candy bars when not more than 15ft away is the hurricane of a mess that I am responsible for. Of course I have my own reasons why this mess is so… immense – some of which I think are somewhat legit (small rambunctious boy), others which most likely are not. But the mess really doesn’t matter (other than the fact that it needs serious help!), I contemplated my attitude toward the 2 candy bars while I sit in my own pile of clutter. Thankfully I could see the overwhelming irony of it, took a minute to reposition my thinker, and went about my day without another thought of the candy bars (and was later motivated to find my desk’s surface so I could save face by posting this picture).

Too many times we’re quick to smugly point out the ramifications of the “messes” other people create – from not disciplining one’s children to overspending to overeating. We all have pet peeves that irritate us about other people, and we’re quick to think – “So glad I don’t have that problem” when we never stop and think “What is my problem?”. Maybe the problem is casting our expectations on someone else… expecting that someone else would eat his candy bar within 5 yrs—like I would. Expecting that someone would discipline, spend money, drive, work, talk, express love, etc, etc like I do. Many times we pat ourselves on the back and feel sorry for the messy person because her life would be so much better if she would just do it our way.

Daniel and I used to watch Dr. Phil on a somewhat religious basis (pre-kid era). After months of watching, we figured out that we enjoyed the hour’s worth of entertainment because we came away thinking “Man, so glad my life isn’t that screwed up,” and we felt better about ourselves. These thoughts obviously didn’t hurt any of the good doctor’s guests; however when you have those thoughts about the people you interact with (even if you don’t actually say it), you exude that attitude from within. Believe me, I’ve felt it from others – just like you have too. It’s not endearing or attractive.

Instead of getting hung up on someone else’s mess, let’s start making life a little easier on each other and possibly expect less from others, and more from ourselves – more awareness of our own messes, more compassion, more patience, more grace. Maybe we will see that the people we consider “messy” have more to offer us than we ever thought possible.

Small rambunctious boy was under strict instructions to keep the wagon in the basement while I cleaned up my desk. Obviously that did not happen.
Since I was inspired to cleanup, we started another project.
Looks and feels much better than it had. Sorry - no before shot.
The 1/2 finished project I found while cleaning up my mess.
I made myself finish my kusudama flower ball before publishing this post. I generally enjoy repetitious activity, but this one got a little tedious for even me.


A picture from my backyard - just because I always anticipate the forsythia blooming. Must be my love of yellow flowers.

Little Lamb

Dear Alicia,

It’s another Thursday; I’m back from choir – yay! for adult interaction and using my brain. I’ve decided there’s a reason why Ralph picked Handel’s “Solomon” to sing this spring (and Vivaldi’s “Gloria” this past Christmas). He’s been telling everyone it’s to please Marian since it’s her favorite piece (yup, she’s still playing the piano/organ), but I know better. Ralph has never told me this, but I’m pretty sure we’re singing a piece I really have no interest in and no liking for because otherwise he knew I would be bawling my way through every practice (same with Vivaldi). Embarrassing myself every Thursday evening until Ralph (or whomever Ralph would appoint) would finally ask me to move to the back where I wouldn’t be a disruption.

But maybe he knew he couldn’t ask me to move to the back because I would only be a sorrier mess there – I’m certain of it. I tried sitting in the back once or twice during the fall practices – that was not a good idea. It brought back so many memories of you; I couldn’t concentrate at all. I’m not even sure I actually sang during those practices. We used to sit in the back row – the 2 of us, and as “quietly” as we could (ok, so maybe we got a few “shushes” from an unnamed bass) laugh our heads off the entire time. This fall, there was no one to talk about the week with, no one to laugh with, no one to make sarcastic remarks with, no one to say “Word” with – our favorite saying. So I’ve permanently placed myself in the front, where it’s easier to sing the songs that haven’t touched my soul yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look at the back row longingly.

While making Christmas cookies this past December I listened to Rutter’s “Mass of the Children” and nearly had a break down in the middle of the kitchen. (Yes, those chocolate covered peanut butter ritz were extra salty this year.) Rutter’s mass moves me like almost no other piece (Faure’s Requiem is a close second) so beautiful – just like you and your voice that I miss. You loved this piece when we sang it together as part of the children’s choir – your clear, lovely voice rang out just as sweet as those dear children. (Was that the Christmas concert when we sat behind the bass soloist and practically swooned from his heavenly cologne?) Your favorite part of the work was the middle section of Agnus Dei when we sang…

One of your favorite flowers

“Little lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o’er the mead.
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly bright,
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little lamb, who made thee?
Doest thou know who made thee?”

As I think about it again “Gave thee such a tender voice, making all the vales rejoice,” we were singing about you, such a sweet little lamb. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Singing comes hard for me now – not just at choir, but at home, in the car, at church – those times when a song moves me the “wrong” way and my eyes get that familiar sting in them. If I could sing on autopilot, it would be so much easier. But as Daniel has heard me say since we were dating, music is about words for me in most cases (and a great percussion mix in other cases). The other Sunday we sang a song before I was to play piano for the children’s choir, and the words hit too close to home  – I couldn’t sing it. Had I tried, I would have been left with tears streaming down my face and no sound coming from my mouth – all of 2 minutes before I was supposed to play in front of 150+ people (thankfully the people were watching the kids and not the pianist).

Other people who have lost loved ones tell me singing is hard for them too, so I know I’m not alone in this. Sometimes it makes me crazy though – I’d like to be able to sing normally without fighting all the emotion. So glad I’ve had Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Handel’s “Solomon” to practice that on Thursday nights. If you see tears, it’s for a reason other than emoting from the heart. Hoping by next spring I’ll be ready to sing Faure’s Requeim, which is on the agenda (applause and cheers!); but I have my doubts. Maybe if I stand in the back row and bury my head in my music no one will notice the red-faced, nose-blowing soprano who isn’t singing.

Missing you, Little Lamb. Save me a space in the choir – in the back row. I’m looking forward to it – my tears will be tears of joy.



Final Resting Place

Christmas is officially over in our house… a few months late. After several days of “listening to” the kids begging me to let them take the ornaments off my 12inch forever green (fake) Christmas tree that has graced the top of our refrigerator since mid-December, I finally let them de-ornament the lovely 14 year old tree. Once the tree was away, I couldn’t stop and gleefully collected my sparse winter decorations from the rest of the house, the same decorations that had been so hard for me to put up in December. Fall and winter were hard on me this year, which is not the norm for me but I know others experience this almost every year. January/early February brought about new lows and dark spaces that I had never experienced before and don’t care to go back to either. It is only now as I’m emerging from that darkness that I realize how dark it really was. But I also promised you something in January – that I would publish the piece that I wrote/read at the longest night service in November. I have such a love-hate relationship with this piece that I can hardly stand to read/edit it any more. So as part of my spring cleaning, I’m going to get it out of my mind and off my hard drive. Then maybe I will feel like spring decorating. (Keep in mind this was written in November so the timeline is according to then and also that I was addressing a group of people.)

It stares at me from my closet. Silently it taunts me every time the door is opened, reminding me how quickly life can change. For the past 7 months, I’ve wondered what I should do with it. Today I decided. I remove the offending item and march it down to the basement to the crate of unwanted things. Things that will eventually go to the Re-use it shop. Or maybe Goodwill is a better fit for my closet item since that was where our history together began. Maybe by returning it to the beginning of our journey, I can somehow turn back the hands of time… I would do just about anything if that were an option. As I throw it in the bin alongside the motley assortment of cast off items, I expect to hear a thunderous “BOOM,” as if it landed bearing the weight of the worst day of my life. I pause, waiting for it; but I can barely hear the rustle of the fabric as it slips into the crate. I don’t know why, but I’m covered with goosebumps as I return upstairs; and I do feel a bit lighter having made this decision.

About 8 months ago I was dress shopping, hoping to change up my summer wardrobe. I bought 3 dresses, one was black and white. I intended that one to be debuted on a random date night with Daniel – that was not to be. Before there was even a possibility for a date night, just three short weeks after I bought it, I wore it to Alicia’s memorial service. I remember looking into my closet the morning of the service and thinking that I didn’t want to wear all black. Shouldn’t we at least be thankful she’s in heaven with Jesus? Aren’t we supposed to “rejoice” that she is in a better place? White (or any color other than black) is a sign of our belief – a value passed on by my family. Looking back, I almost laugh at my thought process that morning. The shock must have knocked the fashion sense out of my head. How I’ve felt anything and everything but thankful in the wake of Alicia’s absence. Since then I have not been able to put that dress back on and shudder at the thought of doing so. I see it hanging in my closet each Sunday and am reminded of the horrific event that has changed our family’s history. The only place I ever wore it was to the memorial service, and thus all I have to associate with it. Not even my frugal Lancaster county upbringing can convince me that giving away this dress which I only wore once is a poor monetary investment.

If only removing the pain that our family deals with was as easy as discarding that dress. Even now as I write about it, I can’t help but wipe the tears from my eyes. Many of you know this pain well – deep loss – a loved one, a relationship, health, expectations of the future unfulfilled. It threatens to swallow us up, that we may never come back to the surface again. Many days we wonder how we can go on, how we will bear this burden. Where will the energy come from to walk this road without that which we hoped for the most? We flounder and sink. But after a while, we begin to take steps – learning to be patient with ourselves… and others. Learning to let ourselves grieve as we need to. Learning that the energy required to walk will come, but there might not be any left for other things. And after a long time of walking through the abyss, we do begin to surface. In our surfacing, we begin to notice others – we especially notice the pain of others because we know it so well ourselves. We’ve been there. We’ve lived there. We’ve walked hand-in-hand with it. We have a new ability to recognize it. We have a new way to relate to those around us who are also hurting deeply. Isn’t that one of the reasons we came tonight – to relate to those around us who are also hurting deeply? They know. They understand when others cannot.

There are many things I’m learning since Alicia’s death. I’m learning to be more thankful, for every day and every moment. I’m learning to celebrate even the mundane things of life. I’m learning to be more intentional in my interactions with others – living like this could be my last time relating to another. But the thing that I value the most by having to work through this is that I’m learning to be more compassionate with others. I’m learning to feel their pain as my own. It is my hope that in the grief and loss that has brought us here tonight, that we do not turn inward. But rather we use some of the things we’ve learned to truly reach out to others in love and understanding… and therein lies the hope and possibility that something good can come from overwhelming loss.