Sunday, September 30, 2012


1 b : of or relating to a change of residence
2 b : stirring deeply in a way that evokes a strong emotional response

Moving is hard work.  Arduous physically.  Tough emotionally.  Draining mentally.  Pretty much difficult all around.  We hired movers to help with the physical portion of our move and it was still exhausting.  If 10+ hours of watching my stuff being loaded onto a truck was tiring, I can't imagine how I would have held up if we'd actually done all of it ourselves.  We loaded up on Monday, moved in on Tuesday (nearly two weeks ago) and started unpacking right away.  My goal for that first day was to get the beds set up with linens and towels in each bathroom.  Doesn't sound like much, but doing it in the midst of directing movers from one room to another with boxes and furniture was no small task.

The next morning the real work began - the work of turning a house into a home.  First stop: the kitchen.  As I prayed with my 12 year old daughter A on our first night in our new house, she said to me, "Mom.  I didn't want to eat out tonight.  I'm ready for you to cook.  Aren't you ready to cook?"  I understood where she was coming from, but there were technical difficulties: everything in boxes, an unloading that stopped just shy of 6 pm and no refrigerator.  I couldn't do much about the lack of a refrigerator, but I could attempt to get the kitchen in working order so that night #2 (or 3) would be different.

Thankfully, I had help: before 10 AM Wednesday morning, two friends were here.  One of whom had made five pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for our first morning breakfast, another of whom stopped at Walgreens on her way to gather drug store essentials inadvertently packed away.  Both got to work unpacking boxes, wiping down dishes and putting them away.  Friend #1 left to take A and B to their tutorial so that I could keep working.  As friend #2 and I tried to figure out where the utensils should go and what to do with the plastic ware, I got a call that two more friends were on their way.

I can not articulate what this felt like.  They drove clear across town - it probably took them nearly an hour to get there - and got straight to work.  It felt like the cavalry had arrived and I was no longer in danger of losing the battle of unpacking.  For a few minutes, they tried to follow the order friend #2 and I had established.  But my mind was not its sharpest, so the cavalry that had just arrived pretty quickly saw that I was no general - they needed a new plan.  Luckily, these are the kind of women who can craft a workable plan with their hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded and gagged.  So one friend unpacked while another told me where to put things in my kitchen.  If you've never had someone else organize your kitchen, I highly recommend it.  I can only imagine the chaos that my kitchen would be had my friend not shown up and put things in order.  She brought an objectivity and mental clarity that I completely lacked and as they left hours later (after feeding K and I lunch, no less), I felt like a burden had been lifted.

That same day, another friend stopped by with a rotisserie chicken.  A few days later another friend came to visit the day our refrigerator arrived.  She brought with her groceries to fill my fridge, right down to burgers we could grill that night.  "Consider it a housewarming gift," she told me as she handed it all over to me.  Other friends gave my children rides to and from places and cut me slack on returning phone calls and e-mails.

I know that I am blessed to have friends who care for my family, body and soul.  But it has never been more clear to me than in recent days.  It was deeply moving to have friends offer help without my even having to ask.  Because honestly, I was too tired to even ask, too wrapped up in getting through the next minute to plan ahead and ask for help, too busy trying to keep my family together to think through how to get children to and fro.

This entire process of selling our home and moving has been an exercise of faith for me.  As such, it has shown me just how little faith I have.  I've reverted to fear, clung to ideals and been terrified to open my hands and receive gifts.  All of which makes God's continued graciousness even more amazing.  Right now I would tell you I hope to never move again.  I would also confess that if I do, I hope I will look back on God's faithfulness through this process in both big and small ways.  Perhaps given another chance, I can move with more grace and less angst.  (But don't count on it.)

In the mean time, I'm going to try to remember both meanings of the word moving: yes we packed up a residence, but we also received gifts from our friends that elicited a deep emotional response: one of gratitude.

Monday, September 17, 2012


2: coming at the end : being the last in a series, process, or progress

Some seasons in life bring more than their fair share of finality.  Moving homes certainly spurs one such season.

Thursday and Friday K and B spent their free time working on a fairy house for the front yard.  They gathered wood, berries, a pine cone and other assorted items (being sure to add nothing with iron, since everyone knows fairies don't like iron).  As they created together, I felt a twinge of nostalgia.  While this would hopefully not be the last fairy house they created together, it would be the final one to grace the yard of our home on Setliff Place.

Saturday night, our family took our last walk to Jeni's for dessert.  That morning, the movers came to finish up the packing.  They accomplished in two hours what would have taken two days (or more) of steady work for J and I.  Even so, we worked throughout the day, cleaning out closets that should have been cleaned out long before, hauling old paint to the recycling center, making more trips to Goodwill (where they now know me by sight).  I'm sure after our move we'll still make the occasional trip to Jeni's fulfill our ice cream cravings, but it will be well out of walking distance.

Sunday afternoon, the sweet buyer of our house came by to do a walk through with me, A and K.  I showed her the baby gate we're leaving for the stairs.  She asked about how to clean the griddle on the stove.  It was a low key, easy time.  She is excited to live in this home, which makes my heart happy and was good for our girls to see.  Near the end, A thanked her for buying our house.  Of my children, A has been the most obviously sad about the move.  She has cried on and off for two days and I have been so busy, so tired and so preoccupied that I haven't always dealt kindly with her sadness.  Last night as she went to sleep I asked her to share some of her fears about moving and encouraged her to try to stop riding the loop of thoughts playing in her head.  I think she spends a lot of time in her head and needs to do what she can to get out of her current thought patterns, so I let her stay up a bit late to read and left her with reminders that most of her fears would have subsided in just a few days' time.  One of her final comments before I left was that The Power of Habit was true.  I was thankful to hear her recognize her thinking patterns as habit - maybe that will help her choose new ones.

I have seen not only A, but B and K struggle with their emotions over the last few days.  A cries, K argues, B provokes - they all mean the same thing: we are sad and scared to move.  Sunday morning before church, I looked through my go-to book for blessings and ceremonies.  I had hoped to find a final home blessing, some words that would help my girls say good-bye to the house while offering blessing at the same time.  I paged through time and again and couldn't find the right words.  As I looked through perhaps the second or third time, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit that we needed to write our own final blessing instead of finding one already written.  So just before bedtime, we all gathered in the living room to offer blessings.  We thought about what we've loved about this house and what we hope this home will offer its new owners.

These were our final blessings:

A: I hope you and your family have as many - if not more - memories, dreams and good times as we have had in this house.  May this house protect and watch over you and your little one.

B: I hope the piano is always loud, entertaining and in tune.  I hope the desserts made in the kitchen will taste good and not be wasted.

K: I hope this house will protect the Holcomb family and be a joyful place.  I hope their little girl will find her room comfy and fun.

J: I hope this house is filled with books, laughter and engaging in each others' small moments - like breakfast together on Saturday mornings, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard, walking to Sweet 16th and saying goodnight prayers.

My own: May this house give you space and place to learn to parent, to grow as a couple and to welcome friends and family.  May you leave your fingerprints all over it, making it into the home your family needs and craves.

We have created so many memories in this home.  It has given our family room to grow into who we are as individuals and a unit.  It's been a source of joy and tension (three girls and one downstairs bathroom).  It's held books and readers.  It has transformed from a two bedroom home with an upstairs apartment to a three bedroom home that we've used as a four bedroom one.  Through it all, it has been a safe place for us to rest, to come together and to invite others into our lives.  One thing I reminded A last night was that a house is just a thing.  A big thing, to be sure, but what makes us who we are is not the home we live in, but who we are  - collectively and individually.  We will still be who we are on Wednesday morning when we wake up in a new house.  And our God will still be our God.

Like my eldest daughter, I have some lingering sadness about leaving this home that has served us so well and been well-loved.  But as I write my final blog post from these four walls, I feel blessed.  Blessed to have lived here, blessed to be selling our house to this particular couple and blessed to know they love the same God we do and He will continue to be an invited presence here.

A few final shots of our life in this house:

Learning Together

Reading Together
Decorating Together
Celebrating Together

Thursday, September 13, 2012


: a place (as a room) with cooking facilities

I have kitchens on the brain today.  In an hour or so, some friends are coming over to help me pack up my current kitchen.  It's the only room (other than the basement, which I am studiously ignoring) that hasn't been nearly completely packed up.  Each daughter has just enough clothing to get her through the next week.  The bathrooms hold the bare essentials.  Even the bookcases are empty, with the exception of the library bookshelf.  It is just not possible for anyone in my family to go five days without reading.  I could try, but it wouldn't be pretty.  You think we're stressed and anxious about the move now?  Try taking away our books.

I'm undecided as to how to go about putting my entire kitchen into boxes.  Do it all in one fell swoop tonight and eat off of paper plates for four days?  Leave out five plates that we wash after each meal?  Chuck it all and eat take out for the next two dozen meals?  None of these options are especially appealing, but such are the vagaries of moving.

In the midst of packing one kitchen, there's another kitchen on my mind:  my new one.  Earlier today, I headed over to our new house to hold up some paint swatches and pick colors for a few rooms.  I know it will be easier to have some of these rooms painted before we fill them up with stuff.  The beige oatmeal on the walls throughout does not satisfy my soul's desire for color.  So I chose a light aquamarine for the kitchen, a blue for A's bathroom and a gray for the master bath.  If only I'd been able to make those choices before seeing the refrigerator sitting in the kitchen, awaiting installation. 

I've always been particular about refrigerators.  When we renovated our kitchen two years ago, we considered and discarded multiple refrigerator options before settling on one that had handles that felt nice and held enough food for our family.  Over the course of our fifteen years as homeowners, we've had every type of refrigerator you can have - side by side, freezer on top, french door.  Our favorite is definitely the french door, so when we put our new house under contract, we inquired about what refrigerator would be installed.  Not wanting to be too controlling and demand a french door one, I instead asked only that it not be a side by side.  Anything but a side by side - which never has enough room for cold or frozen food and often has those cumbersome ice makers hogging precious space.

What sat in our new house today?  Of course it was a brand-new, ordered-last-week side by side refrigerator.

Here's the thing: I completely let this steal my joy.  I had come to the house alone, hoping for some bonding time by being there alone in the quiet.  I left the girls watching a history movie and brought my paint swatches and a blessing book.  But the whole refrigerator thing threw me off so badly that I second guessed myself for the entire visit.  Was I crazy to paint the kitchen this color?  Would it make the bathroom too dark to choose this?  What color would bridge the living room and dining rooms like I wanted?  I have a lot of faults, but being indecisive is not generally one of them.  I know what I like and am not afraid to make a choice, but I was so rattled by that refrigerator, I completely forgot who I was.

So as I pack up our kitchen tonight, I'm going to try to remember the myriad choices that went into that space: the blue walls, the honed granite countertops, the knob pulls that not only look good, but feel nice on your hands.  It is a space where I trusted my instincts and the results were pleasing.

Perhaps in time, I'll achieve enough mental and emotional equilibrium to know and trust my instincts in my new home as well.  For now, I'm going to try to set aside any decision making and just pack, pack, pack.  Hopefully, the old me will return and I'll find some colors that will make our home sing welcome, come in and relax to all who enter.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


2 : a taking of leave

Last night, we hosted our final party at our home on Setliff Place.  After we decided to sell our house, found a new home, readied our home to go on the market and received an offer - all far more quickly than expected - I told J that I really wanted one last party here.  It would have made me sad to leave without a final gathering.  I wanted to celebrate previous moments here, mark the occasion of our departure and be surrounded and encouraged by friends as we close this chapter in our lives.  After all, one thing I've loved about living here is filling our house with friends and family. 

A few weeks ago a good-bye party seemed like a great idea.  So I set the date, sent out the evite and carried on with life's daily tasks of packing, teaching, cleaning and cooking.  Yesterday morning, the full import of my plan hit me and I sent J the following text while he was out running errands, "Having a party tonight might be my craziest idea ever.  How am I going to get this house even somewhat ready for guests?!?  Next time, you must save me from myself. ;-)"

Moments later, a friend swung by to pick something up: 
"Doing OK?" he asked. 
"I think so," I replied somewhat uncertainly.  "There's a lot left to do before tonight."
"Are you an extrovert?"
"I didn't think so.  It surprised me to see you were having a party this close to moving," he said.
"I know.  But some of our best moments in this house have been parties, so I wanted one more to help us say good-bye." I explained.
He nodded and headed off, leaving me to finish cleaning and readying our house one last time.

Sometime later, I was giving B instructions on getting her room clean.  "Vacuum your rug and then put the vacuum cleaner back in A's closet."  No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than I had the thought, "Won't it be nice to live in a house where the vacuum cleaner doesn't have to go in a bedroom closet?"  I'm not sure this thought was entirely my own because it, combined with a lovely dream fulfilled via our party, has helped me re-orient my thinking about our move.  The decision to see and dwell on the many blessings that await us will undoubtedly help me get through the next nine days.

And the party?  It was all I had hoped for and more.  New and old friends mixed, mingled and snacked.  Children played inside and out.  Conversations ebbed and flowed.  Football games were won and lost.  Food and drink were shared.  Stories were told.  Laughter was heard.

One friend who came last night had never been to our home, so I gave her a brief tour.  As I did, I described the various renovations to this house over the years.  It made me realize that we are leaving it a different home than it started.  We are leaving it with a far more functional kitchen, an open flow that aids parties, a master bath that is a true retreat and rooms that were filled with love, laughter and family.

There is much we will miss about these four walls.  They have not only sheltered us, but given us the chance to literally put ourselves into them.  Our daughters have grown here.  None of them even recall ever living anywhere else.  Our floors have held sleeping bags crowded with girls, spit up, toys, shoes and crackers crushed underfoot.  Each room has been a part of the story of our lives over the last decade.  And it is time for a new chapter.  A chapter that offers space for teenagers to stretch their wings, room to bring ballet into the home and even a long awaited chance to hang college mementos.

Independent of each other, two friends said to me before departing from the party, "You have the nicest friends."  As I lay in bed, recalling the night, these words came back to me.  We do have the nicest friends.  And they will go with us wherever we live, no matter the house.  It was a beautiful reminder of all we've been blessed with and all that awaits us - and that we don't have to do it alone.

Friday, September 7, 2012


1 : making an attempt
2 : severely straining the powers of endurance

Last Sunday, our rector started a series on the book of James.  As a part of his introduction, he talked about what a challenging book of the Bible James is.  He referenced Martin Luther's desire to have it excluded from canon, so challenging (and contradictory?) did he find it.  Yet my priest believes James is largely about living as though the kingdom of God is present here and now.  I'm interested to hear more about this and found the timing of it interesting, since I had only the day before thrown into the recycling pile my notes from an inductive study of James several years prior.  I dug contents of the former James binder out of the recycling box and today I got around to reading some of my thoughts and learnings from my previous encounter with this book.

I flipped through the pages today while soaking in the bathtub and by the time I'd read a few weeks' worth of thoughts, I was struck by one thing: how hard I was trying.  I read my words and while some of them were and are true, they are also the words of someone who is making an attempt to do more, be better, force change.  They are the words of someone whose faith was head based, not heart centered.

It made me sad for that Shannon to read how harsh I was with myself  and how desperately I wanted to conform to someone else's image of a Godly woman.  Many of the things I said about myself don't even sound true to me now.  Where they then?  Maybe.  Maybe I have changed and grown. But I also suspect that part of why they don't ring true now is because I have typically defined myself relative to those around me - that's one danger of being so aware of what others project with their feelings.  And the environment I was in was one where conformity was encouraged, sin should be seen and rooted out and there was one right answer.  I always struggled with the "one right answer" portion and I now believe that sin is not so much something for me to identify and remove as something that I have to wait for God to reveal to me.  My deepest sins are so much a part of the way I think that I often don't see them as sin - and they wouldn't even be sin for someone else.

As I lay there in the bathtub this afternoon, I gained less insight into the book of James than into my own heart.  Reading those reflections and principles made me see that I am a different person now than I was five years ago.  You may recall that my word for this year is radiant.  I've seldom written about it, so difficult have I found this word to absorb.  For most of this year, I've imagined radiant as a command - something that God wants me to become.  But today I felt a whisper that radiant is not a command, but a truth that I have been blind to.  God thinks I am already radiant.  All that is left is for me to see it and accept it.  Which is, of course, easier said than done.  No amount of trying will get me there.  Seeing myself for who I am is not a matter of working my way to it.  It's far more like letting go of all that I am trying to do and be and seeing what's left when I am left with essence.

You may have noticed at the start of this blog that I included two very different definitions for the word trying.  That Shannon of the James Inductive Study was trying to be someone new.  The Shannon of today is walking through some trying times.  It's not easy to pack a home up, even under ideal circumstances.  Doing so while homeschooling three and with a stress fracture is certainly straining my powers of endurance.  Yet I hope that while activity swirls around me and to-do lists swirl in my mind, I can find a small, quiet place in my mind to go and just be with God.  Not to try to learn or do anything, but to rest and remember who I am.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


2 : to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

Friday afternoon, I went to my bank.  I had received a new check card in the mail earlier that week and activated it.  While I was able to use it as a credit card, any time I tried to use the PIN, it wouldn't work.  The same thing had happened to me two years prior when I received a new card.  So I thought I knew what I needed to do: go to the nearest branch and have them manually reset my PIN.  But when I got there Friday afternoon, the tellers had another theory: because my old card expired September 1, the new card wouldn't work with a PIN until September 1.  This theory worried me - partly because we had a three day weekend coming and I would have no access to cash if they were wrong.  After waiting for more than twenty minutes for them to contact someone and get confirmation on my situation, they encouraged me to leave, assuring me that my card would work Saturday, September 1.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that my card did not work Saturday.  As I drove back to the bank this morning to have the problem corrected, I was thinking about how this situation made me feel.  It made me angry, certainly, that I had to make two trips to get a problem corrected and that I had to rely on J for cash over Labor Day weekend.  But what bothered me the most was that the tellers didn't listen to me.  I told them more than once that I had the same problem with my previous card, yet they were convinced their own conclusions were the right ones.

As we've been readying ourselves to move into our new home, I've realized I have some shame about moving into a larger home.  I became aware of this when I met the home inspector at the conclusion of his inspection and he asked how large the house is.  I was embarrassed to tell him.  J and I have discussed why I feel this way and I have a difficult time untangling my feelings, but I think it relates to my fear of being seen that competes with my desire to be seen.

I have good reason to be afraid of being seen.  As the child of an alcoholic, it's always best to be able to blend into the background.  Being seen could equal being on the receiving end of verbal abuse.  But I learned to be afraid of being seen in other ways as well.  Picture an elementary school cafeteria:  It's loud.  Kids are jostling, joking, laughing as they stand in line to get their lunches.  I finally have my lunch and am sitting at the table.  Partway through the meal, a boy in my class has his tray bumped.  The jello on it starts wiggling.  Something in his brain makes a connection and he says loudly to the classmates around him, "Look!  This jello looks like Shannon when she runs."  Laughter erupts and I want to disappear.  Being seen can mean being known, being cared for, being loved.  It can also mean pain.

So I've gone through life alternately wanting to be seen, acknowledged and accepted for who I am and simultaneously wanting to blend into the background.  Last week I read a series of Richard Rohr devotions on the concept of paradox and its place within faith.  Those writings left me pondering whether this is one paradox I will always live with: fear and desire competing in my heart when I think about or experience being seen.

Being heard doesn't bring the same baggage for me.  I'm not a loud mouth.  I don't dominate conversations.  I like to listen.  So when I do speak up, I want people to listen to me.  I am speaking for a reason.  I can't always choose whether I am seen or not.  My body is present and visible no matter what I do.  But I can choose whether I speak or stay silent.  And I don't talk to fill the space.  I do it because I need to communicate something, want to share a story or experience or simply desire connection with another human being.

I'm not sure how to apply all of this insight into my own heart to my interactions with others.  I can't know whether someone wants to be seen or not (hopefully most people have more pleasant fourth grade memories than I do!).  What I can do is listen.  Whether it's one of my children struggling with an assignment, a friend who needs to talk or a stranger with a question, I can listen.  And in doing so offer them what I long for - to be heard.