Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Goodbye Goober

I cried my first real goodbye tears today. I was home alone for an hour while the girls played at a friend’s house. I was packing and doing a quick load of laundry when Goober, my brother’s dog, came up to me, ball in mouth, ready to play fetch.

Michael and I are not necessarily “dog people.” We realize we enjoy watching our girls with dogs but mostly would be fine without one. We don’t feel that we have the time to properly spend with a dog. The opportunity came last summer to take care of my brother’s dog while he was sent overseas with the Navy for several months. It was a win-win. We got a dog that was already trained and super good with kids without having to do all the work.

Ellie has adored Goober, who, until recently, was better known as Goo-Goo in our house. A few days ago they were outside enjoying the warm weather, playing hide and seek and playing fetch. I could hear Ellie’s squeals of delight as Goober ran circles around her. Her first chore has been to help feed Goober in the mornings. They've become buddies. 

In the last couple weeks Hazel has suddenly noticed Goober as well, and is enamored with him. She smiles and waves and crawls towards him whenever she sees him.

So, there I was this morning, switching laundry loads in our garage, when Goober came over to me with pleading eyes to throw his beloved rubber ball, something he could do for hours, and something we don’t do enough of with him. I did. He eagerly chased it and came back to me, ready for more. I started petting him and suddenly realized this was probably our last game of fetch. He’s leaving tonight to stay with my brother’s friend until he returns.

With no warning a lump sprouted in my throat followed by tears. I gave Goober a good petting, saying goodbye in my own silent way. Goober has been a fun family pet to have, even if not “really” ours. I know Ellie will be asking about him for quite some time after we say goodbye to him tonight. He’s been a good friend, a sweet dog, and a loyal companion. I’ve enjoyed taking him on several runs with my double jogging stroller.

I wouldn’t have guessed that my first emotional goodbye this week would be for the dog. I’m terribly emotional with closure and goodbyes, so this week promises to be full of crying and throat lumps.

Thanks for being a good pal to my girls, Goober. We’ll miss you. 
Ellie said, "Goober do that," and lifted her leg to pretend to pee on the tree.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Leaving People Won't Be Easy

I’ve been verbalizing my struggle to let go of things, but I haven’t mentioned something even more difficult: moving away from friends and family.

Michael and I have lived away from our family for most of our marriage. There have been short seasons when we had the opportunity to live near or with family, but otherwise, we’ve clocked a lot of Skype and video chat time in eight years.

In several discussions over the past few years, as we’ve applied to various jobs all over the country (and considered jobs all over the world), we found ourselves yearning to be closer to family. We consider the northwest our home. I spent most of my childhood in Spokane, Washington and my high school and college years in Oregon. Michael was born in Peru and in early elementary school moved to and grew up in Oregon.

Oregon is special to us. We’ve lived in Alaska, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Rwanda, and California, and Oregon has always felt the most like home. Several family members and friends have moved out of the state, but it still holds our beginnings and many memories. We met there. We were married there. It’s a mix of nostalgia and lifestyle and people. Quirky ol’ Oregon.

We’ve considered several times moving back to the northwest, but the right job and timing has never lined up. At times we were desperate to get back there, especially when life and marriage and work were extra difficult. We've since realized that our desire to move back has often been motivated by either desperation or a pure desire for change, and we also acknowledged that moving there for memory’s sake may actually disappoint us.

God’s timing is so fascinating. It took most of our three years in Fresno to get to an emotional and mental place where we were no longer dissatisfied and searching for an opportunity to leave. It was only then that this job in Guatemala opened up. It was helpful in our discernment for accepting this job to know we were finally settled and connected here and that we weren’t looking at this job simply because it was a way out of Fresno. 

We are used to seeing family occasionally, a few times a year. Our girls don’t have cousins or grandparents in town (and we don’t have any on-call babysitters). We look at pictures and video chat and do what we can to keep in touch. 
We are used to making friends in new places and then packing up and moving away.

I think this makes us well prepared to live in Guatemala. We will see family even less than now. We will only be back to the States once or twice, but family and friends have plans to visit us in the Land of the Eternal Spring. We will continue doing what we’ve always done to maintain contact, imperfect as it may be.

It doesn’t mean we don’t desire to be closer to family. It breaks my heart to think of how much time will go by between visits with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. Five years is a long time for family and friends to grow and change. My girls won't be babies in five years. Seeing Ellie with special friends here in Fresno has made each day closer to leaving a little more difficult. I grieve the potential friendships my girls (and I) could have if we stayed in one place for several years.

We know and trust this is where the Lord is leading us. Our family accepts and supports that, though they are sad and grieving in their own way, too. Just like the possessions that we’ve sold and given away, we are sacrificing time and potential memories with family and friends that we would have if we stayed. I trust that the Lord will help us keep our precious memories close to our hearts to carry with us to Guatemala. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Living With Less Stuff

10 days left in Fresno. One month in Oregon and Idaho.  My thoughts and emotions are mixed. I am focused on all the “to do” details-doctor appointments, paperwork, more sorting and packing, saying goodbyes-and not sure when reality will hit. 

We had two yard sales. Selling almost everything a family of four owns takes time. The night before our first sale our garage was filled to the brim, our possessions shoved in boxes and bags stacked to the ceiling, taking up every empty space. Our living room was crowded with more boxes and tables of items. We advertised well and had a consistent flow of people all morning, and the sales were steady.

I watched as our belongings that have made up much of our life together get carted off: lamps, bookshelves, kitchen appliances, toys, clothes, tools…slowly our lawn and driveway emptied.

The second weekend our garage was full of tables with things already priced and ready to go, the leftovers from our first week’s sale. Most of the furniture was gone but we had enough for a decent sale and did well. By the end of the second weekend our household had been reduced to a couple bags of a few knick knacks and clothes. Our garage was empty.

Our yard sale leftovers taken to MCC's thrift shop in Reedley..
I sold most of our furniture online. The only major items left to sell are our refrigerator, which we’ll do next week, and our car, which we’ll do up in Oregon. We are sleeping on a borrowed air mattress and our clothes are in stacks lining our bedroom walls. We have a borrowed couch in the living room, a borrowed card table and chairs, and a borrowed TV. The girls’ toys are in a cardboard box in the living room and scattered around on the floor. Bare essentials, yet we live in abundance.

People keep asking me about this process of reducing our possessions. In many ways it’s cathartic and freeing. We are loosening our hold on owning things. Many Christians espouse the view that our earthen things don’t matter, yet few of us live that way. We are instructed to not store up earthly treasures, to give away our possessions to the poor, to abandon all those people and things that block us from knowing Christ. We are told that our money and possessions are the most difficult block for us in our relationship with Christ. Yet we accumulate. 

Our personal journey includes the realization that it’s our relationship with Christ and how that connects us to people and the way we live our life that matters. To live simply is to live free. 

We Americans think we need MUCH more than we do. A bedroom for every person in the house, toys and books and gadgets and lots of space so we can keep to ourselves, several outfits so that we aren’t caught in the same clothes too often, shoes for every occasion and outfit, phones and internet to watch videos of cats and share them with our acquaintances online.

We consume and fill our garbage cans with trash, yet we have a tendency to hang on to stuff because we can’t bear the thought of letting go. Our stuff has a hold on us even as it sits gathering dust in the garage or the attic or basement. We don’t even know what’s in all of those boxes, but we keep them. We tell ourselves we might need them someday. And it gives us a sense of security to hold on. Then there's the stuff we can see, spread out throughout our home. Homes have a way of filling up with stuff, regardless of the size of the house or the number of inhabitants. We found this to be true when we lived both in a four bedroom house and in a studio apartment. 

I’m a sentimentalist. It is natural to attach meaning and memories to objects. There were brief moments of hesitation and sadness as a few items disappeared during our yard sale, mainly, toys and clothes for the girls. We have been blessed with a bountiful of gifts and hand-me-downs that are more than we can carry with us to Guatemala. We are taking toys and books and based our decisions on size and frequency of use. I’m pleased with how many we are keeping (I’m not totally depriving my children) and don’t feel like the girls are going to miss most of what we sold, but I know what they’re missing. Despite the knowledge that they can get more and that toys are just toys, and despite our intentional efforts to acknowledge that it's just "stuff," it’s still hard. We are consumers and creatures of habit.

I am thankful that I still have piles of clothes and books and toys to take with us to Guatemala. We have several boxes we are putting in long-term storage that include mementos and books and household items we may want when we return to the States in 5+ years. Though everything we own will soon fit in a small trailer or U-Haul next week, I know we are still in a state of abundance. We are not impoverished. We have choices of what to wear and what to eat and toys to play with. We are wealthy, both in things and in relationships. I won’t be looking back on our time in Fresno and reminiscing about the toaster oven I sold but rather, the friends who have reached out and blessed us in generosity and love.