The Great New Years’ Clean Out

All of us have too much stuff.  When we have too much stuff, it’s next to impossible to keep our houses neat and clean.  The difference is: some of us want a neat and clean house; some of us want stuff. 

After years of doing property management and dealing with tenants who have left behind stuff, junk, trash, dirt, and more stuff, I think I’ve grown more and more appalled by the hoarder mentality.  It’s amazing to me how people with no money to pay rent accumulate So. Much. Stuff.  And when they have to move, they suddenly realize all that stuff means nothing to them.  They have no way to move it and no place to put it and so they leave it behind for someone else to put in a dumpster.  And then they start over; accumulating stuff again.   

But it’s that sort of nonsense that encourages me to continually purge our house of stuff.  I don’t want so much stuff that I can’t find my stuff.  I don’t want so much stuff that I can’t take care of my stuff.  I don’t want so much stuff that my house looks like I’m in love with stuff.  I’m not a minimalist but I confess, I get a certain thrill when I pop my hatch at Goodwill and start unloading bags and boxes.  Occasionally, I even get so extreme as to not buy stuff because I know it will just be…more stuff. 

When I do bring home more stuff, I try to even it out by simplifying and decluttering enough to keep the equilibrium.  In fact, I always keep a give-away bin where I toss things ready to be banished to Goodwill.  I even try to do an extra purge before the holidays.  But Christmas always bring more stuff than I thought it would and New Years always brings with it this burst of motivation coupled with a tiny sliver of time in which I try to accomplish a weeks’ worth of cleaning and sorting in a single day all the while putting away Christmas decorations, writing thank you notes, grocery shopping, and now…watching kids.

But I still have this drive to lighten our stuff load in 2023.  So I’ve taken a few minutes to put my own twist on some of the best tips and tricks I’ve gleaned from the smart ladies who make the TV shows and YouTube videos. 

Generally, I think of starting my clean up by putting away the things that are out.  For example, I had gifts people have given the girls and me; bags from travel that needed to be unpacked; Christmas decorations, boxes, and wrapping that had accumulated while my bedroom was a staging area for Christmas; a few misc gifts that never been given; bills and mail that had piled up, plus a few days of “life stuff” that was out because in the general rush of things, our house had gotten a bit disheveled.

But I know I’ll get to those things.  So I started with making room for all the stuff floating loose around the house screaming to be put away.

The black bag, the brown box, and the clear tub

For me, it works best when I start by getting a black trash bag for stuff I am throwing away (it must be black so no one in the family can see it once it goes in!); then a box or two for stuff I am giving away (I recommend a box because some times it’s easier if you tell yourself you will store it for a week or two and if you miss anything in the meantime, you can take it back out).  And ideally, a plastic bin for things I come across I want to keep but need to go somewhere else (if I am constantly trying to run things where they belong, I get sidetracked and NEVER finish!).  I like a clear tub, but if you’re overrun with Amazon boxes and tubs are in short supply, don’t let that hold you up.

The 75% Rule

Here’s my suggestion: Make a list of your most crowded storage spaces (ie – clothes closet, linen closet, pantry, bathroom drawers, etc).  If you really want to stay organized, you have to keep the major storage junctions of your home (closets, drawers, cabinets, bookshelves and bins) at or under 75% capacity.  If they are full and running over, you can’t add anything to them and if you can’t add anything, you can’t clean up efficiently. 

Let the container be the bad guy.  You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.

If you have the luxury of time, you can tackle each one by taking everything out of that space and putting items back in one at a time–sorting as you go–so that in the end, you have a beautiful looking closet.  But unless you have a LOT of time to devote to one space, I don’t recommend you start that way.  Instead, tell yourself you need to reduce this storage space by 25%.  In my clothes closet for example, I glanced through and did some rough math and figured out about how many items I needed to get rid of in order to reduce by 25%.  I figured I needed to pull out at least 25 items of clothing…and it’s never as easy as I think it’s going to be.  Even though our many clothes choices overwhelm us, the thought of fewer choices scares us.  Go figure.

But because this is New Years, I tried to be especially ruthless…I stopped counting at 26 items and I definitely could tell a noticeable difference. 

Side note—if you get rid of a bunch of stuff in your closet, get rid of the hangers too!  I don’t keep more than a few extra hangers or else I’m just inviting new stuff.  Besides, it looks so much more spacious when you see the actual rod, not a mass of messy hangers.

If you have containers within your space (bins, baskets, boxes) and, as an aside, I highly recommend you do: the same rule applies.  They need to be kept at 75% of capacity.  I’ve found the most effective way of doing this is often to glance in, choose the things I most want to keep, hold my nose, and dump the rest in the trash.  This is especially effective for junk drawers and places where tons of little nothings collect!

The Bulging Hamper Principle

For spaces like a sock drawer, I start by asking myself, “how many pairs of socks do I really need?”  If the answer is 6 pair of athletic and 5 pair of black dress socks, I match up that many pairs and dump the rest in the give away box.  Keep in mind that you really don’t want to go more than a week without doing laundry anyway.  Who wants three weeks’ worth of stinky clothes piled in the hamper?  Yuk. 

The same principle applies, for example, for storage containers in the kitchen…how much rotting food do you want to keep in your refrigerator at any given time?  How many bottles do you want piled up in your sink?  How many mugs do you want to unload from the dishwasher?  How many pens and pencils do you want lying around the house?  How many towels do you need under the sink?  If there are four people in your family, you don’t need twenty mugs even if you do have plenty of cabinet space for them.  You don’t need more than two sets of sheets for any bed.  Truly.  You don’t. 

Fill up those give away boxes with vases and water bottles and don’t worry about who gave them to you!

The Timer

After setting a rough goal of how much to purge, I set a timer.  My theory was that this would help me budget my time.  For example, If I have 10 spaces on my list that needed to be cleaned out to get down to 75% capacity, I can realistically only spend 15-20 minutes for each one.  The good news is that if I have your bins ready to go and you can stay focused, this is plenty of time to make meaningful headway in most spaces.

The reality was, I started on my closet at 10:00 in the morning and set a timer for 20 minutes.  I finished up at about 7:00 pm.  That’s because this is real life…and because I took my time to make it look neat…and because I ended up with a mix of my closet, bedroom, bathroom, kids room, kitchen, and hall closet…and because that’s the way it works sometimes.

I had filled up two trash bags, four give away boxes, and one large plastic “put away” bin. 

The Conclusion

I was glad I had the trash bags as proof that I had made progress because it was a little discouraging that my house didn’t look significantly different than it had at 10:00 am.  But I also knew that I had done a lot of the hard work to declutter so the next phase of cleaning could be done much quicker and with longer lasting results. 

And it did…after the Great Clean Out it only took about two hours to clean up my house and unpack because everything has a space.  Well, almost everything.  There is always another frontier. But we made progress as evidenced by a very full Highlander ready to be driven to charity.

And you should have seen the grin on my heart when I popped my hatch and began to unload.  I’m loving 2023 already.

Baby showers: A whole new world

TeddyBearPicnic_1201089195Those of you who have truly followed my blog forever, may remember this post. Which can basically be summed up as follows: you’ve been to one baby shower, you’ve been to them all. Someone, please save us from trying to guess how many m&ms are in the baby bottle!

All baby showers were basically the same: cake club plus oohing and ahhing at booties, onesies, binkies, blankies…and guessing how many m&ms are in the jar.

Then came Pinterest.

I guess you could say it was an answer to my prayer for increased creativity at baby showers. Pinterest has, in fact, taken baby showers to a place I never dreamed they could go. I mean, we have co-ed baby showers. (Now there’s a trend I’m pretty sure won’t last. Men are not given to sitting in a circle oohing and ahhing over booties, onesies, binkies, and blankies…even if there is cake involved.

Back to Pinterest

So…a few weeks ago, I volunteered to host a shower for my friend, Hannah, who along with husband, is expecting a boy this summer. After all, it’s easy enough to send out an invite and make a cake.

But then there was Pinterest.


You can’t have a baby shower without a theme.

And you can’t have a teddy bear theme without brown paper plates with construction paper ears glued on them. Without “Beary Punch” and a Bee Hive cake.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I loved, loved getting carried away looking through the many teddy bear picnic ideas. After all, I have long been a believer that showers do not have to be pale pink or powder blue.

I spent many happy minutes scrolling through glimpses of other people’s parties and pulling recipes like this adorable cheese ball hedge hog and the awesome toffee dip…

Of course, I thought the whole idea of Pinterest was that you could find the stuff you pin later on. Nothing makes me feel old like not getting an App to do the only thing it does.

But then, I guess I am old. I remember when baby showers consisted of sitting around in a circle oohing and ahhing over booties, onesies, blankies, and binkies. Only then, I think we called them socks, clothes, blankets, and pacifiers. And anyway, girls now are getting bottle warmers and boppies and unspillable cups and wireless video baby monitors. So much has changed.

Thank you, Pinterest. I called, you answered.

We are all better off for it.

Except the men.

I went to a small, Christian correspondence law school. Here’s how it turned out.

img_7671.jpgI went to an Oak Brook College of Law Alumni Retreat at the beautiful Lake Tahoe this summer. You could say it was a reunion of sorts. One third of my graduating class was present. Hard to believe that we started 20 years ago. The three from my class don’t look like they aged a day. Okay, so maybe I do.

Despite a rather punishing return trip that had me back to Kentucky two calendar days later than I planned, it was a good experience. And pondering it made me realize that I’ve never shared my student experience or bragged on my law school on this blog. And I really should.

Those who have asked where I went to law school have probably heard me say that I went to “a small Christian law school in California.” But that doesn’t really do it justice; so let me explain.

It’s small.

Yep. It’s small. It’s been in existence for 25 years and it has something like 300 Alumni. That’s not per year; that’s total. I don’t know the exact averages, but I’ve heard in law schools there is usually a 50-70% attrition and my school has probably experienced that. So that was not a misprint above where I said a third of my graduating class was there and there were three of us. I think we started out with eighteen and ended with nine (and a few finished with a later class).

I’m excited to say that OBCL is growing now so maybe one day soon it will be 300 a year; but that definitely wasn’t my experience.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to be big to be a good school. After I finished and was studying for the bar, I took a nationwide bar review course with graduates from law schools all over the country. In the various subjects, my memory (and give me some grace here, it’s been 15 years) is that my scores ranged in the top 25% to the top 2% of the test takers (depending on the subject). And I was not the top of my OBCL class and I’m not super smart—I just studied hard.  Anyone can do that.

The California bar is one of the hardest in the nation with something like a 25-35% pass rate (depending on the year) and my school had one of the best pass rates.

Beyond that though, I’m always impressed by the caliber of the graduates and the number of ways those 300 are impacting the world.

Many have started their own law firms and are doing quite well. Some have become District Attorneys, one is a top election lawyer for the Republican party.  One holds a top position for the Department of Labor.  We are very proud of Christiana who has appeared for Fox News and the Today Show to represent Alliance Defending Freedom.  Many more work for other think tanks, legal defense associations, and political action committees.  Some of the graduates are pastors, home school moms, teachers, and more.

So…I would say, though we be small, we are mighty.

It’s Christian

Oak Brook unashamedly proclaims Christ and maintains a biblical worldview.

The mission of the school has remained unchanged since the beginning 1995.  We have a Statement of Faith. Our graduations feel a bit like a church service. We pray before and after our alumni meetings. We believe that law is the standard that tells us what is right and what is wrong. That’s correct, we can draw a line and say certain things are wrong. We’re Christian.

If you don’t believe in Jesus or the Bible; we understand. There are lots of other law schools in the world and we suggest you look into them. We are Christian. I hope that never changes.

It’s in California.

So this is where it gets complicated. And this is the part I usually find myself leaving out. Historically, I was afraid to say I went to a long distance learning law school lest people think I had done nothing more than get a cheap mail-order diploma to hang on my wall. But I passed a tough bar exam, remember, so at least hear me out on this.

Oak Brook attracts students from all over the US (and Canada, eh!) but the student population is largely concentrated in the few jurisdictions that will allow OBCL graduates to practice law. Let’s start with California.

OBCL is licensed in California and all graduates can take the California Bar. [Hey, guess what? We found something that a state full of crazies actually got right.]

There are a handful of other states and provinces that will allow grads to practice (ten currently, plus federal jurisdictions); especially if they pass in CA first (and, in some cases, practice in CA first).   But not all states will even allow you to take their bar because the liberal, power-loving ABA has a tight grip on most state bars and it will not accredit Christian, long distance law schools at this time. It’s not fair; but hopefully as online learning continues to grow and expand, the liberals will eventually be forced to be more…well…open minded, diverse, and accommodating to the lower class.

It’s Far Less Expensive

Here’s one of my favorite things: the unconventional route of Oak Brook allowed me to work my way through school and graduate broke, driving an old Plymouth Voyager, but completely debt free. Dave Ramsey would have been so proud of me. In fact, after the bar exam, I spent 10 days in Rome with classmates and alumni and returned home still debt free though I had been working for $7.25/hr.

It was important to me then; but I realize just how valuable that was now. I have friends and co-workers who, 15 years out, are still paying student loans. Some are ten years out of law school still living with their parents. Yikes!

Maybe, maybe, my earning power would have been more if I had gone the traditional route. But I think, when I last calculated, I get something like a 700% return on my post high school investment per year. That’s not exactly terrible. Some grads do better than that; I’m sure a few have done worse, but then general rule seems to be that graduates of OBCL who apply themselves can make a good living doing whatever they choose. Not all practice law; and not having a mountain of debt gives them that freedom to do whatever they feel called to do.

It’s the People

But here’s my favorite thing about Oak Brook. Remember that is said I got home from my trip two days later than planned? It went like this…I got up at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning so a friend could drive me to Reno for a 7:30 flight. Alas, my flight had been cancelled. So I spent the next several hours of my life trying to arrange an alternate itinerary and eventually resigning myself to the fact that I would not be able to get out until the next morning.

The retreat was ending, but a group of 8 or so was staying over at a rental house nearby so they invited to bunk with them. It was in in the opposite direction of the airport, which had me a little concerned because in my attempt to be a good steward, I had not rented a car and was instead relying on friends to get to and from the retreat center.

This meant my very unfortunate friend who had offered airport transportation had to get up at 4:00 am so we could make the drive to Reno/Tahoe Monday morning. I could hardly drag myself out of bed so I could only imagine the happy thoughts he was thinking at 4:00 am after a weekend retreat.

But hey, we only see each other like once every five years so it’s great to have some time to compare notes with some other lawyers, hear how their practice is going and encourage each other to love Jesus, do right, and change the world.  We had two extra hours to do that; which is about the right amount of time to figure out how to change the world.

Of course, it was not until he dropped me off and I got to the front of the security line that I realized I forgot my purse. Which meant, of course, that I had no ID and no hope of making my flight.

Reluctantly, I called my friend who confirmed that the purse was not in his car. It was at the rental house…two hours away.  Too bad we had already figured out how to change the world.  There was nothing left to do except try to apply my very tired brain to figure out how to get my ID and get myself to Kentucky.

The best I could come up with was to ask my very tired friend to come back and get me and take me to my purse.  Then I would pay my fair share of the Stupid Tax in the form of an Uber or a one-way rental to get myself back to the airport.

If I was a Harvard grad, that’s probably what I would have done.

If I was coming back from a weekend with classmates from Loyola, Yale, or Stanford; frankly, I probably wouldn’t have had a friend to pick me up at the airport to begin with.

But Oak Brook is different.  And maybe that’s why still another OBCL alumni gave up several hours of his own sleep to grab my purse and meet us halfway so that I could make the next flight.

But as I attempted my long cross country venture for the third time, I was feeling extremely blessed and especially glad that I choose Oak Brook.  I didn’t know when I started that the people I met would still be my friends 20 years later.  That I would want to see them enough to risk getting stuck in Reno and they would risk getting stuck with me.  Perhaps most impressive, that they would never tell a soul about my mistake.

I have no regrets about where I went to law school.

And when we change the world…well, that will just be a little bonus.

As to the Stupid Tax…don’t worry; I still got to pay my fair share.  When the airline starts feeding you pizza…well, that’s when you know things are bad.


The Perfect Gift

This week marks 15 years since I packed my two suitcases and boarded a mid-sized plane to begin my new life in Charleston, South Carolina.

A few months before, I had never even heard of Charleston and probably couldn’t have told you if it was on the beach or in the mountains. But I was fresh out of law school and willing to go wherever I could get a job. Which meant, frankly, pickins were slim.

When I had arrived in Charleston, a few weeks before for an interview at the Bostic Law Firm, initially, everything seemed to go wrong. US Airways had lost my bag.  I got a migraine. I was staying with people I hardly knew and (due to the migraine) could hardly hold an intelligent conversation with. My potential employer was stuck in KY due to weather so, to buy time, I ended up having an intimidating interviewed by every one of the firms’ four attorneys and the paralegal. When I did get a chance to speak with Mr Bostic, we took a hard look at the licensing differences between California (my home state) and South Carolina and we concluded I was pretty much a fish out of water. I felt very much like the young, ignorant law student that I was. I wasn’t really ready to be a lawyer.

So when Mr Bostic offered me a job making $38,000/yr, I felt like I had won the lottery; not because of the money but because of the enormous odds that we’re not at all in my favor. As I contemplated the opportunity over the course of the next day, I felt sure it was the next right thing.

I arrived in Charleston the second time on a rainy Tuesday. Actually, it rained every day the first month. But I hardly noticed. I was so busy trying to make heads and tails of my new job that the weather outside was pretty much irrelevant.

One thing I quickly realized was that my prior employer had given Mr Bostic the misguided notion that I was a computer genius. He wasn’t trying to lie exactly. To him, anyone who could send an email was a computer genius. And I could send an email.

But Mr Bostic—eventually “Curtis” to me—wanted me to install a server, a new printer network, and new legal software. And I didn’t have a clue. He would eventually figure that out.

So that was the beginning. Curtis took a chance on a green-as-grass girl from another state whose main job experience to that point included teaching piano, filing papers, making phone calls, applying stickers to first grade math papers, and checking head after head for lice. About the only skill from my prior life that came in handy was the ability to send an email.

Despite all my ignorance, Curtis treated me as an equal with the other attorneys at the firm. He spoke highly of me to others. He affirmed my work. He often stopped to explain things to me that I probably should have already known; but didn’t. And he chose to forgive my many, many mistakes. Sometimes, he even owned them to other people instead of pointing out that it was me that made an oversight.

I immediately found a lot of fulfillment in my job. I liked learning new things and I also found that we did a lot of work for churches and nonprofits—helping them get started or untangle serious issues. He had a lot of business sense and an authoritative manner that often passed on confidence that helped clients head in the right direction. I could tell he had a lot of people’s respect from various segments of the community. We were never hurting for clients.

Not all those early days were easy.  Most were long and many were pressure-filled and almost all of them stretched me in some way.  I specifically remember one particular time when I was feeling frustrated trying to sort out a legal research project and I landed on an article that encouraged attorneys and law students to own their work and to strive for excellence.  I remember getting an attitude adjustment from its pointed admonition: Figure it out.  You are not a potted planted.

That little article has stuck in my head all this time and the admonition has come back to rebuke me from time to time.

Over the last fifteen years, As Curtis has traveled all over the world, I’ve booked a ton of flights and spent hours of my life on the phone haggling with Delta airlines over last minute changes. I’ve helped prepare countless powerpoints…searching for the right pictures and the right quotes and sometimes trying to think of the right illustration. I helped him run for Congress, transition to general manager of the Kinzer Companies, and start non profits. I’ve helped buy and sell properties, airplanes, cars, and kangaroos.

But what most people don’t know is the extent Curtis has gone to to support me. He and Mr Jay painted my first house. He paid to fix up the first car I bought in Charleston—which had been in a strange sort of wreck that left it scraped and dented on both sides. (And he hasn’t given me grief despite the fact that I think I’ve scraped every truck he’s owned.). He and Jenny let me be a part of many travels and I have happy memories with the Bostics all over the world.

But I think far more than his generosity to me, I’ve been motivated by the opportunity and the words of affirmation. He chose to include me in some larger cases, deals, and projects that a new associate would not typically get to work on. He didn’t have to do that; especially early on when I had little or nothing to contribute.

Curtis encouraged me to grow and learn professionally, but even beyond that, he helped me grow as a person. He knows I love to work with kids and when I suggested doing respite foster care, his reply was, “I think that’s a great idea!”

And when foster care ended up being a lot more of a time and energy commitment than I anticipated, he tried not to complain about the significant distraction and many afternoons of missed work. I mean, he really, really tried.

A couple years ago, when Curtis was given an office inside the headquarters at the Kinzer Companies, where we frequently travel, one of the Kinzer employees showed up with a plaque of Curtis’ name to put in the slider on the door.

“Where’s Danielle’s?” Curtis asked.

No one had thought to get me one. There was only one slider on the door. And, frankly, my feelings weren’t the least bit hurt. I wasn’t the manager.

“Let’s get her one.” Curtis said.

And Curtis didn’t put his name on the door until after he put my name on the door.

It’s funny, if my name had never been mounted, it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least. But the fact that he stopped everything and wanted me to feel like an equal and have some ownership of the office still means a lot to me.

Other things have changed over the years. I don’t spend as many hours on the phone with Delta airlines as I used to. We haven’t sat in court together for a long time.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that I’m very grateful. I sent 50 resumes before I talked with Curtis and had had only one interview.

When I was drafting this blog, I remembered and re-read this post which I wrote five years ago. It essentially said that dreams don’t always come true, and that’s a good thing. The undertones were that my life hadn’t exactly gone as I planned. My intentions of working 3-5 years had turned into 10. And I was learning to trust God’s hand and believe that His story of my life would be a good one.

Five years later, I’d like to add the follow up story and just be clear: I don’t feel like my life is a consolation prize. God doesn’t give out consolation prizes. He gives good gifts (James 1:17). At 38, I am more confident than ever that God loves and cares for me. I am more amazed at the little ways He works and the small prayers He answers for His glory.

I am more grateful for the people he’s put in my life—my parents, my siblings, my friends, my church, and definitely Curtis and Jenny. He could not have picked a better couple to help me grow those first years in the working world.

I guess I’ll never know what my life would have been like had I not moved to Charleston. But I’m glad I did. I learned I wasn’t a potted plant (and a few other things besides). A job at the Bostic Law Group was the perfect gift.

And I’m grateful. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, Curtis.

We’ll Never Forget You, John Gates

The kids in Sunday School proffered their feelings of sadness as we opened class.

“I’m going to miss Uncle John.”

“Me too.” Another agreed. “He was always so nice.”

“He called me his grandkid.”

“He always cheered the loudest for me. I could hear him yell my name…”

They were talking about John Gates.

John came into our lives through a simple act of kindness. He was attempting to trim some overgrowth in his yard one day and Curtis happened to be driving by. John had suffered a stroke and was almost complete paralyzed on one side. This made it extremely difficult for him to maneuver the clippers. Curtis and his sons jumped in and were able to make short work of the lawn care.

As they talked, Curtis learned that John was in need a of a lawyer. After years of making payments on his home, he was being told that the checks were not owner-financed mortgage payments as promised, but simply rent. Instead of turning over a deed, the owner wanted to turn him out. Unfortunately, John had been on disability for years and did not have funds to pay for an attorney.

So that was how I first met John; When the Bostic Law Group took his case. Which, I might add, we won. John was in tears when he thanked us for our help. He got to keep his home and we got a new friend.

In fact, John began showing up regularly at church. Despite his severe limp, he would work his way down to the front to sit with the Bostics whom he called, “his family.” He would often then often join them at home for lunch, chatting with Jenny as she would finish preparations. The stroke had left him to struggling some for words and stuttering a little bit, but that didn’t stop him. The man could talk.

I hung around some too and heard him share about his life and background. As best as we could put together all of the pieces, it appeared he had a rough upbringing and some even rougher adult years. In fact, it seemed that the litany of health issues that he dealt with were partially caused by years of drug abuse.

But despite whatever the challenges of life had been, he had kept his tender heart and sensitive nature. And in very little time, the whole church started becoming his family. I remember when Curtis and Jenny threw him a birthday party.

His first birthday party.

Most people thought he was turning 70, but in fact, he was only in his early fifties. And he was as excited as a kid. We were celebrating his first birthday party, but he was celebrating his first family. I remember watching him cry as we sang to him in the law firm conference room.

I thought Curtis was a little crazy when he suggested taking John to Disney World. That generally isn’t where you take fifty-somethings who struggle to walk (even with a cane), have one arm in a sling, have no children or grandchildren, and have frequent health struggles.

But John said it was on his bucket list. So we loaded up and went to Orlando.

And we had a grand time. Curtis rented motor scooters for John which helped him get around and helped all of us get in the “short line” everywhere we went. I felt mildly guilty cutting in front of the poor vacationers spending their whole day weaving back in forth in the long lines. Don’t worry, the feeling passed.

We even went to Sea World, and Stephen got John’s picture on the big screen during the Orca pre show. I doubt he ever forgot that.

One of my favorite memories of John was when I got assigned to a dessert contest judging panel with him and one other guy. After talking about his judging responsibility for days (and telling everyone not to tell him what dessert they were bringing), the time finally arrived for us to taste the huge spread of delicious looking pies, cakes, and cookies.

That’s when he announced that he was allergic to all nuts, berries, and chocolate. So…my apologies to everyone who entered that contest. It was rigged. Sorry.

I think having more to life than watching TV did great things for John’s health. He even seemed to be regaining some of the use of his paralyzed limbs. Weeks before the big day, he asked me to spot him while he walked to the front of the church one morning because he planned to do it without his leg brace. It was a huge deal to him as we paraded to the front—him carrying his cane and me carrying his brace.   It was a good reminder to me of the little things we take for granted every day, like two good legs.

Over the years, folks at church helped John in various ways. Jay and Anita brought him meals. Jenny drove him to the hospital a few times. Families like the Sterretts had him over for meals. People included them in their Thanksgiving and Christmas plans. Mary Lou helped care for his dog and would take him to Walterboro to watch the young people from church show horses. He talked all the time about how much fun he had watching them win ribbons.

John wasn’t just a on the receiving end of love and attention. He liked to “pay it forward” as it called it. He took an interest in all the kids at church, but particularly fell in love with the Remember Hope Children’s Home. He sponsored two girls in Burma faithfully, sending small gifts or funds for them to purchase new school uniforms. He was very proud of his efforts to procure hundreds of pencils, pencil sharpeners, and erasers with the help of the fine folks at the Dollar Store.

Last Tuesday, Jenny hosted another birthday party for John. Little did she know, it would be his last. It was Mary Lou who found him lying unconscious in his home a few days later when she stopped by to give his dog some meds. He passed away quietly at MUSC.

He can walk without his leg brace now. And he doesn’t need me to spot him.

John didn’t leave behind a lot by way of worldly possessions, but as Curtis went through his things he found what was perhaps most important to him—letters and cards written by members of our church over the years. I’m so glad he didn’t die a lonely old man with nothing to do but watch a TV set. He died a member of a huge, loving family.

The next day, I sat with some friends who were explaining to me why they didn’t go to church any more—just watched a service on TV. I thought about Charleston Bible Church and the incredible way this body of believers welcomes and loves others whether or not they can pay it back or “pay it forward.” I thought of our meaningful worship, solid Bible teaching, and practical encouragement for godly living. These folks are missing out.

I told them I loved my church and a little bit of why, but I didn’t say enough though. Or perhaps I said too much.

I can sum up my feelings about church in two words: John Gates.

Episodes of Sunshine


In my last blog, I promised a 2017 list coming soon.  Turns out, today is as soon as I could.

So here’s the list.  Things I’m thankful for.  Not exhaustive and not in any particular order..

1. Costco is carrying Lindt dark chocolate.  Thank you.  Why did that take so long?

2. My large…VERY large…collection of original artwork.  After years of being an Awana leader, Sunday School teacher, first grade aide, babysitter, and aunt (now of 18!), let’s not forget missions trips…I now have a home museum in a box.

I would put my collection up against that of anyone’s.  At least in quantity.  I haven’t kept it all.  I just couldn’t wihout renting a self storage unit.  But just the same, I have a bunch of treasured creations from little people everyone.  And I love it!


3. While I’m talking about my art work, and, because I found so many while sifting through artwork, I’m thankful for all the notes friends have written me over the years.  If you ever wrote me a meaningful note, I probably still have it.    You may not even remember it, but I probably read it last week and cried.  Because, sometimes, that’s what I do when I’m happy.

4. My garage.  And the ability to get in my car in the rain with all the junk I’m forever toting around getting soaked in the Sunday morning downpour.

5. Sundays… NFL… Patriots.

6. Hope.

I’m convinced hope is the most painful of all virtues.  Because it doesn’t let me give up when I want to give up.  Won’t let me quit when I want to quit.  Makes me hang on when I want to let go.

Hope is so stubbornly stubborn.  Like a kudzu vine it keeps coming back.  Like a pitbull… once it clenches its teeth, it’s just done.  Decision made.

Despite all of the frustrating miscarriages of hope here on earth; I’m thankful for the highest calling of hope: to anchor us to heaven.  Hope will attach our soul to the life to come in unforgettable, unquenchable, unyielding confidence that makes all of life’s disappointments not matter.  I’m thankful for hope.

7.  Flowers.  Especially roses.  But also tulips.  And daisies.  I can’t seem to grow any of the above, but I think they are beautiful just the same..

8   Kara Tippetts and the legacy she is still passing on a few years after her transition to heaven.  She knew a think or two about faith and hope.  I started to blog about her a while back, but I lost my work in a computer glitch and I concluded it just wasn’t meant to be.  I probably couldn’t do it justice.

But I’ve read all of her books and I just thought: wow.

9.  Stuart…all my family actually.  But Stuart is the newest member.  I got to hold him on Christmas when he was just a few hours old.  He is a keeper.


While we’re at it, here’s Riley…giving me a private ukulele concert.


I’d better stop here before I get started…remember…I have 18 and they are all the best!

10. Weather and the variety of seasons…and the fact that even some of the grayest of days have moments of grace and episodes of sunshine.

Thank you, Lord.

Are there any happy people out there?

This is a reblog of a post I wrote a few years ago.  I wanted to share it again in case you missed it.   And so I could share some of my 2017 list (coming soon).

Yes, it has been three months since I’ve blogged.  I pretty much gave up blogging.

But recently, some friends encouraged me to continue.  The type of friends that I’m honored even take the time to read my writing–much less miss it when it isn’t there.

One kind soul even took the time to ask if I was “okay.”  So here is the short story:

October and November were difficult months.  I’m not gonna lie.

December was peaceful, pleasant, and even fun.  But with the peace came sort of a spiritual “dryness” that left me really with nothing to say and definitely, nothing to shout above the din of viral videos, cute cartoons, pithy comments, family photos, Christmas music, personal notes, and far, far better blogs than I’ll ever write.

My theory is, when I have nothing to say, I should be quiet.

But there is a competing theory that there is never a perfect time to write.  Life will always be messy in some respect or another.  Sometimes, I just need to do it. Even when it is easier to just be quiet.

Anyway, so in December, I was kind of a cautious happy, not a confident happy.  I tried to blog a few times, but I wasn’t quite able to pull it off. And this week, my spirits seemed to be in a steady decline.

By Tuesday afternoon,  I would listen to anyone who would tell me a tale of woe.  And when anyone else would listen, I would tell my own tale of woe.  Pretty soon, I felt like one unhappy person surrounded by a world of unhappy people.  6 billion unhappy people is a lot of unhappy people.

And we would all say, “Oh, and Happy New Year!”  at the end of the tale.  As if, suddenly, the clock would strike midnight and we would all reset to happy. (No pressure, January 1).

Seriously, though, I found myself asking, “Are there any happy people out there?”  The poor aren’t happy.  The rich aren’t happy.  Students aren’t happy.  Working people aren’t happy.  Retired people aren’t happy.  Parents aren’t happy.  Kids aren’t even happy.  How messed up does a world have to be for kids not be happy? 

I’m willing to wager that if I had been at Disneyworld on Christmas Day, I could have found for you boatloads of people singing the blues to “It’s a Small World After All.” If the happiest place on earth is devoid of people living happily ever after, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I read somewhere that the key to happiness in a relationship is the constant belief that the other person is better than you deserve.  The more I thought about that, the more I have realized there is a lot of wisdom in that simple statement.  Perhaps because, whether they realized it or not, the author’s conclusion was essentially the biblical principles of humility and gratefulness…with a touch of contentment.

I’m convinced that the same truth applies to happiness in life.  Choose to believe that your life is better that you deserve.  [BTW: that is the truth—whether you believe it or not.]

I don’t intend to be trite—I know that some of us were created to think constantly, feel deeply, and care passionately (not only about our own hurts, but about others’ as well). It can seem cold and even irreverent to cast aside feelings of hurt for feelings of hope.

But, nevertheless, it is never wrong to embrace the joy that humility and gratefulness bring. So, I started to do something new this New Years.  Not a resolution, but maybe a new tradition.  I decided to write down one hundred things I was grateful for—one hundred.

Some came quickly…and in no particular order: New Kitchen cabinets. Working heat.  Ministries I get to be a part of.  Grandparents.  My Sunday School class.  The Bible.  A working car.  Dish soap.  My phone.  Salvation.  Julie Anne.  Photos.

Some brought to mind a negative counterpart…my health (but not migraines).  My paycheck (but not taxes).  But I put a lid on that: no list of things I’m not thankful for.

My resolve was tested before I even hit 20.  My day included poorly timed reminders that all was not well in life—or at least not the way I want it.  But when you keep in mind that what you deserve is hell, that kind of puts a different perspective on things.  Life is good when it is better than you deserve.

I got to 50 without too much trouble. Then I started again:   Roses. Indoor plumbing. Nieces and nephews. A hope of heaven. The USA. Our troops. Sundays.

I named people God has brought into my life; current and past. The Lanes—who let me stay at their house and drive their car for free for 8 weeks while I studied for the bar exam. My sisters and brother – who let me buy annoying toys for their kids. Candi Grinder – my high school yearbook advisor who told me I was good at graphic design. The Kinzers – Clients who have come to be special people in my life.

That brought to mind a story that I just have to share…I was in Kentucky by myself and the weather was an ungodly 1 degree. I needed to leave and I couldn’t get the car to start. It was bitterly cold—my brain was frozen and I couldn’t really think of what to do next.

Jerry Kinzer—one of the wealthiest men I know—happened to call and asked about something. I confessed that it wasn’t the best morning in the world and that I couldn’t get the car to start. Jerry could have done nothing at all. He could have said he was sorry. He could have given me the phone number of a tow company. He could have sent one of the 100 or so men that work for him to come and give me a jump.

But a few minutes later, he showed up in the 1 degree weather, hooked up the cables he brought (with his ungloved hands), and jumped the jeep so I could get on the road.

There are a lot of stories like that in my life. There are a lot of people like that in my life. And before I even got to 100—I was wholly convinced that my life is much better than I deserve.

Are there any happy people out there?

I don’t know. But there is at least one happy person.

In here.

Memorize. Memorize. Memorize.

I am one of those people.

One of those people who makes a list of goals on January 1.  I usually make a budget.  Write out a calendar.  Start reading through the Bible and get on a fitness program.

Organization excites me.  I guess that’s why I love New Years Day.  I love getting a new calendar.  Starting new financial software.  Filing the stacks of papers on my desk and making all new files.  It’s glorious!

But over time, I have learned that when I make a long list of goals, I usually get to the end of the year and realize I accomplished about half of them.

And when I write a short list of goals, I usually get to the end of the year and realize I accomplished about half of them.

Almost every year, I have Scripture Memory in my list of goals.  And almost every year, it ends up in the half of goals that went by the wayside.  Around January 5.

Not proud of that fact.  Just being honest.

So I give Katie Blatchford credit for her convicting question to me yesterday…”Are you on a Scripture memory program?”

So I’ve purposed to try in 2017.  Again.

If you, like me, understand the benefits of memorizing Scripture but need a little extra “something something” to keep you going, here are some ideas:

Katie told me about Beth Moore’s blog and Scripture Memory program.  It has you choose your own verses and memorize one every two weeks.  You get a spiral 3×5 card holder to record and review verses with.

I had also recently taken a look at the Fighter Verses Scripture memory program.  It has a plan for one verse a week and you can subscribe to have them e-mailed to you.  I also downloaded their really cool app which has, not only the verses, but some commentary, and the verses set to music.

Music is a good way for me to memorize, so I listened to Psalm 40:8 set to music about 100 times while I got ready this morning.  I plan to do that all week although, admittedly, it’s a verse I memorized as a kid so I think I already know it.  [Also, I was also reminded of one the big reasons I consistently stall out with Scripture memory–the battle of the versions.  The version I used for Scripture memory as a kid isn’t the same most programs are in now, so it gets confusing and sometimes a little counter productive for repeat verses.]

As I was downloading the Fighter Verses app, I found out that there are actually quite a few apps out there specifically for Scripture memory.  So no excuses.  Shoot, they even have an app that will listen to you say the verse and beep when you get a word wrong.

Yep, there’s an app for everything.  Including budgeting, working out, counting calories, meal planning, keeping your house clean, and even blogging.  So…I guess that means I’m pretty much out of excuses for everything in 2017.  Too bad they don’t make an app to live 2017 for me.

I won’t stay organized in 2017.  But this time, I’m determined to at least stick with Scripture memory.  That’s why I’m telling you.  So at the end of 2017, Scripture memory will be in the half of goals with a check mark by them.  Actually, I want it to have a check mark even if it’s the only one.


If I Were King

I don’t know about you, but this election cycle about has me thinking we should go back to a dynasty system where nobody runs for anything and kings are just born and not made.

But I don’t really mean that and it really has nothing to do with this post. I’m just really really sick of seeing two specific but unnamed people on the news.


This post is about keys.

Because if we did have a king in the US; and if that king was me; I would get rid of keys. Period.

I hate keys.

Keys hate me.

Keys, or lack thereof, are the reason I have kicked in my own garage door, broken a plate glass window, sat outside in the rain and cried, and not so very long ago, walked with my nephew all over Sturbridge Village with our heads down before sitting outside in the cold for an hour waiting on a locksmith.

I am about $500 poorer thanks to locksmiths I have paid just in the last few years. There are a lot of other things I would rather have done with that $500. Shoot.  I would rather have given it to you.

(And that is only that low because, at least once, I stayed locked out of my house for three days rather than pay a lock smith to get me back in.)

Of course, my best key story involved a 2:00 am search for a single Toyota key…my grandma in her pajamas…raiding the cash drawer in the dining hall…and dragging innocent civilians out of church…But many of you have heard the details of that epic adventure and since being let out on parole after that memorable night, I’ve been on fairly good behavior.

That is, until this week.

Like many of the episodes in my long list of key losing misadventures, this one involved a borrowed car. The borrowed car that means a single key…a loose key…left to its own devices…wreaking havoc…reducing to tears a girl that tries so hard to be brave…and robbing me of hard earned cash.

Some things were never meant to be single.

Keys are one of them.

But due to my recent travels back and forth to Kentucky, I’ve been driving a borrowed van (which I liked until today) and carrying around a fat black fob that has a few simple buttons–the controls to my dignity, my schedule, and my happiness.

It started when, between two 420 mile drives, I tried to squeeze in a house showing. All seemed to go well until we were locked up and ready to go on to the next house.

My clients, their two little girls who had been on extremely good bahvior, and me.   With no key.

The next twenty minutes or so involved walking, unlocking, musing, and searching, before finally discovering the key was, in fact, in my purse all along. The little trouble maker was hiding in the folds of my black purse and evidently escaped the first 1,456 searches.

Thankfully, my clients were understanding and their girls were–well, they deserve medals.

It was just a few days later when I was leaving the office in Kentucky and couldn’t locate my key (I’m so used to the keyless entry…where would I be, who would I be without keyless entry???). I did my best to dig for the same black key in the same black purse holding a water bottle, laptop, and armload of files. It was a futile effort.

Finally, I headed back inside where I dumped the entire contents of my purse onto the table and pawed through the items. Whether it had been on the purse or my table, I don’t know, but I found it!  I practically ran outside and fired up the van before the key had another opportunity to escape.

I drove halfway accross the parking lot before I noted– with terror– that my armload of files was blowing across the parking lot. Apparently, I had set the stack on the hood on my first trip while looking for the key.

To make matters worse–much worse–my laptop was precariously perched against the windshield. My first impulse was to slam on the breaks, but I knew that would be, well, let’s just say I would rather donate a few weeks of my life to holding a sandwich board on a street corner than recreating the files saved on that precious sliver of carefully arranged atoms. Much rather.

Thankfully, I was able to glide to a stop without incident. And after some effort in the start of a summer downpour, I was able to chase down the various papers that were rearranging themselves around the dampening parking lot.

But the incident was not without afterthought. I mean, I couldn’t just go on like this. I couldn’t just let this devious little fob continue to wreak it’s havoc. I had to have a plan.

So I made a plan.

It was a great plan.

I left the key in the cup holder. I left the van unlocked. I mean, who does that?  No one would expect it. No one would notice it. The places I parked, no one would steal it if they did notice it. And it would eliminate so much potential for disaster such as forgetting it in my back pocket and having it end up in the toilet (which may or may not have happened over the course of this narrative).

Okay, so if you are any kind of a sleuth at all you can probably figure out what happens in the next chapter of this story. You probably know jolly well why I’m sitting in a planter in front Moes getting alternately eaten by ants and bitten by mosquitos and watching the sun go down in Irmo, SC writing a blog and feeling my evening slip into the abyss of unfortunate key stories.

The key is right in the cup holder where I left it, but at this moment, I’m really wishing that I at least got the instant gratification of flushing it.  That would have been way cooler.

But I have a take away: if you are looking for a business, locksmith is where it’s at.


You can call every number in the area under locksmith and what you will find is that, apparently, you can run a successful locksmith business without even having a working phone number.

You can have a website that was designed in 1992.

You can have a Facebook page with a photo of your niece eating a marshmallow.

The cool thing is, you stay so busy, you don’t even  have to work. For that matter, you don’t have to answer the phone. Or, just for fun, you can answer the phone with a slick customer service slogan like, “Hi, can I put you on hold?”

And you can exercise absolute power by letting divas in blue jeans stay on hold for indefinate periods of time until the call eventually drops.

And if a particularly persistent customer, such as the type that finds themselves far away from home locked out of their vehicle, consistently calls back, you can right all the evils of the social injustice of our society by asking a long serious of questions such as “what color is your car?” (Which should be illegal under discrimation laws) and then promise to have a tech call them back.

Apparently, you can make so much money, they don’t ever have to call customers back. Or maybe you can choose based on whether you like their car color.

Basically, you can do whatever you want.

And when you show up, you can change your price to any amount you want.

It’s your business.

But you better get in the business soon, because I’m warning you, if I become king, no more keys. Period.

I know, I know, people are always trying to help me out with ideas of hidden keys and keys with neighbors, and I appreciate all that. But they also say you can’t fix stupid. And when it comes to keys, I’m afraid that’s the category I fall in.

So no more keys.

I mean, how much worse off would we really be if we just left our stuff unlocked?  I for one, would be $500 richer.

And I wouldn’t have all these ant bites.

And I would be home by now.

Just sayin.

Five Great Valentine Ideas to Make Your Wife Happy.

It all started because Pastor Joel asked me to design an invite to the church Valentines Dinner. I went of course, to Bing for inspirational graphics, and what I found was a ton of great blogging material. Which reminded me…my Valentines blogs last year were wildly popular. (I mean, as compared to my other blogs which, basically, nobody reads.)

Ahhh yes. Valentines Day. It started the day after Christmas. I guess Wal-Mart finds it necessary to display six aisles of pink and red merchandise beginning the 26th of December as a courtesy to all of the men out there who like to plan their romance a full six weeks in advance.

Six weeks is a long time if, for example, you are babysitting someone else’s kids. But it’s not a long time for other things. Like, being engaged.  Or being pregnant.  Or…well, planning just the right Valentines Day celebration. So, while the bad news is that most of your six weeks is expired, the good news, gentleman, is that I’ve found a few gems for you last-minute planners and there is still time to incorporate them into your epic celebration of all things romantic.  Because I know you’ve been stressing about what to do.

fingersOkay, so here’s the first little gem that popped out at me.  Show your wife you love her by drawing people hugging on your hand.  It’s really a great idea, because all it requires is a gel pen, just the right audience, and a serious lack of sleep and this could win  you some serious creativity points.   If nothing else, she will love the gel pen.

My second “find” was this touching little poem.  The upside: it wouldn’t be hard at all to memorize.  You could quote it to your wife on Valentines morning with very littlefingers5 prompting.  And if memorization isn’t quite your thing, you could tape it on a card and give it to her with a rose or candy.  Apparently, the author of these inspiring words chose to remain anonymous leaving the door wide open for you to take all the credit to be had after your wife recovers from the joy of being loved to bits.  If that makes  you feel guilty, I bet you could grab that gel pen and write a poem all your own (although it might be hard to match this one for quality and creativity).  Then again, if nothing else, she will love the gel pen.


fingers2This one I actually don’t recommend.  It sounds noble and all, but it was probably written by a bitter wife and repeated by cheap men who were hoping for a cop out.  Don’t be one of those cheap men looking for a cop out.  Of course we need special days.  Otherwise, we don’t have any special days.  And if nothing is special, well…what’s the fun in that?  Do something special.  Like drawing people with a gel pen.

Now things are getting interesting.  I mean, what wife doesn’t covet these lovely hearts for her finger nails?  What a practical gift.  It won’t make her gain weight like candy.  It won’t wilt like a flower.  It’s cheaper than dinner.  You might even offer to have the family help apply them for her–turning it into a great team building experience and cooperative effort.  She will be grateful for your thoughtfulness and can enjoy the beautiful results for a full couple of hours before she has to wash a dish or something.


Here’s my final free suggestion:  A page of valuable coupons.


Because nothing says “I love you” like a sheet of expired coupons.

Seriously though.  The expiration date is only the first clue that this was written by a very, very clever man.  A man who liked hearts, pink and purple, and fancy fonts.

I’ll leave the back rub alone I think and jump in to the dishes.  Note it doesn’t say, “I’ll do the dishes.”  It says, “free get out of dishes.”  That leaves a lot of room.  Room for the kids to do the dishes.  Room for paper plates.  Room for the dishes to be left for another day.  Yep, he was a very clever man, he was.  He used a lot of pink hearts, but he didn’t fool me.  He knows a thing or two about getting out of dishes.

Then notice the next one–“free watch what you want and I will watch too.”  Very clever here.  Very clever.  Because he used “watch what you want” and the “Free Video Game Night” to sandwich in “Free Candle Lit Dinner” in the middle of the page where it will never get clipped and used before the impending expiration date.  Because what wife has time to watch TV or cares about playing video games?  In 34 years, I’ve never heard a single wife complain that her husband won’t play video games with her.  Not once.

But I think he was even smarter than that.  He made the sheet look like something incredibly sweet and thoughtful, when, in reality, half the coupons were things he would enjoy more than she would.  His unsuspecting wife might even find it on the internet and give it to him for Valentines.

Okay, so maybe I’m mistaken about his motives, but I really suspect I’m on to him.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t use the coupons.  As long as your wife doesn’t read this blog.1

Finally, in addition to all the other ingenious attributes of this sheet, notice that the final offer is a “free night out–dinner and a movie.”  Free.  That sounds to me like a lap around Costco tasting all the samples and watching cartoons on the giant big screens.  If she complains, hey, remind her that you can’t get much for free anymore.

Especially not meaningful Valentines Gifts.

If I haven’t made anything else clear perhaps that is it:  Meaningful Valentines gifts are unlikely to be printed off of the World Wide Web.  Sorry I couldn’t carry the water for you on this one.  But Wal-Mart does have six aisles of merchandise.  And Office Depot has great gel pens.

1.She’s the one that showed it to you, didn’t she?  Guess the coupons are out. 😦