I started this post back in August. Actually, it wasn't really a post. Just a title. I saved it as a reminder to myself that I had something to say on this topic. But a lot has happened since August. I didn't know then just how much purging was coming my way.
When I went on vacation this summer, I started a list: Things to Purge. I had clutter in mind: Closets that were bursting with one too many season's worth of clothing; baskets overflowing with well-loved, but forgotten old toys; my office desk which, after a summer of neglect was looking like it was crafted of paper-mâché, and the dreaded loft: an unfinished third floor room filled with old furniture, Christmas ornaments, baby gear, and dozens of tubs of clothes. The loft had been in pretty good order until the girls decided to go up there and dig through the tubs in their never-ending quest for something different to wear. What had been orderly stacks of clear tubs labeled by season and size had been reduced to utter carnage. It looked like a Target had exploded up there and I hadn't had the guts to face it.
But with fall coming, and the start of the new homeschool year, I was feeling the need for order and so, sitting on the beach in August, I started that list of items to purge. I didn't get far. We came home, did a little shuffling of things here and there, then settled into the school year. The list, my big ideas, and my motivation for purging were quickly forgotten.
In fact, a curious thing happened. Instead of purging, I started hoarding. No, not in a gross, finding-flattened-cats-in-my-garage kind of way (by the way, thank you, A&E, for that image I will never be able to un-see). I started collecting activities. Commitments. I starting saying yes to every opportunity that came my way. I was taking three dance classes a week, working my TA job, volunteering at church, and considering taking on more responsibilities in my homeschool community. Before long, I had plans every day and most nights of the week except Thursday.
Anthony was not thrilled. The girls were even less so and let me know in subtle ways like plastering themselves to the bay window sobbing and knocking on the glass as I backed out of the driveway for a 45 minute tap class. This made no sense to me. I'm with them constantly, after all. You'd think they'd be glad to be rid of me for an hour or so. But they weren't.
Then, two weeks ago, we got an update on a friend who had been struggling with breast cancer for several years. She was actually my sister Nicki's best friend from high school. While Nicki had kept in touch with her and visited her in Georgia a few times, I mostly kept up with her on Facebook. That night, her 16 year old son updated her Facebook page with a status that read: Mom is in bed, she has been getting worse lately...she's headed HOME! just think how amazing it will be when all this pain and suffering is DONE! All the prayers and support have been so loved and needed! She loves all of you and we will see her in GLORY and live forever!
My stomach lurched. Of course, I agreed with what her son wrote. But I was grieved, too. How could I not be heartbroken for this family when their wife and mother, who had only turned 40 a week earlier, was leaving them? I was also amazed by this incredible son our friend had raised.
Still, I started crying. Carys and Anthony were both asleep next to me, so I tried to calm down and go to sleep. But I couldn't stop. It was 11 at night, so I ran down to the basement hoping I wouldn't wake anyone up while I was losing it.
I thought about my friend and her beautiful family and the utter grace with which they were handling this unthinkable situation. I was comforted thinking that she was surrounded by her husband and children who adored her. Even from my limited observation, I could see she had done a brilliant job raising her children. How had she done that? I wondered. I feel like I'm dropping the ball daily with my girls and then praying later that none of my many screw-ups will leave them scarred for life. Just that day, Chloe and I had a big dust up during schoolwork. She just couldn't get the hang of counting mixed coins, no matter how many times I taught it to her. With each mixed coin problem in her workbook, I had to teach her the concept all over again. I eventually blew up at the poor little thing, saying things I immediately wished I could take back, and reducing both of us to tears.
I'm sure my friend was not the perfect mother and that she felt the sting of personal failings sometimes, too. But as I sat there crying for her, I started to see that she made very different choices than I had been making lately. I saw my packed schedule and my insistence on adding more and more to it and it dawned on me that I wasn't making my family my priority. I was squeezing them in to whatever time I had left over. No wonder I was so frazzled and short-tempered with them! Was this what I had quit my job for? And why was I signing up for all these things anyhow? I was ashamed to admit that my decision to participate in something usually had little to do with the purpose of the event, and much more to do with what I would get out of it --recognition, a new circle of friends, bragging rights. What did any of these things matter compared with this limited time I have with my daughters as they grow up. I've already been home for four years. What do I have to show for it?
As my thoughts returned to my dying friend, I knew that in these last days she was not thinking of what she had given up or sacrificed so that she could pour everything she had into her four children and her husband. She knew she could do many, many things with her life, but she chose carefully. And she chose wisely. She knew what mattered. And she knew what, in the long run, was inconsequential.
I went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I started sending emails withdrawing from commitments. I felt terrible to be going back on my word, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I also replied "no" to holiday invitations, dropped a dance class, and turned down some new opportunities I had been considering.
Two nights ago, I was relating all this to my friend Tracy when it dawned on me that this was not the first time that I had recognized I was doing too much and not giving my family the attention they needed. I had gone through this process at least twice before in the last four years. I hadn't remembered those experiences at all that night I was in the basement thinking about my friend.
Suddenly, a new compassion and understanding for my little Chloe was born. Understanding priorities and balance are my mixed coins. And I keep forgetting how to count them.
The friend who inspired so many. She died on December 6th.
"Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her." --Proverbs 31:28