This post is day 14. New to the series? Start here. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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declutter

This post is of the Very Practical variety, and I am sort of squishing two posts together, so bear with me because I think these two tips are some of the most important when it comes to moving: Declutter and get help.

So first, decluttering.

I went through each room of our house and put things into three categories: give away, throw away and keep. Years ago I read Tsh Oxenreider’s book Organized Simplicity, and it was the first tool I had to look at ‘stuff’ differently. In her book she says to look at your things and ask Is it beautiful? Is it useful? and if the answer is no, the thing needs to go. I would also add that for me there are things that are beautiful and useful (or one or the other) that I simply was not using, and I went ahead and gave it away.

Set aside some time before your move to evaluate every single thing you own. I promise your future self will thank you for it. Get rid of the garbage – and think about why we have so much waste (it was scary how much garbage we had lying around in our house). Throw away the little things that take up space on your mantles or bookshelves. Give away books and music that sound good but you don’t really love. Look through your kitchen, are you still using that gadget? Or the pot? Perhaps it is better in someone else’s kitchen.

The most surprising quantity of things I had were three boxes worth of childhood memorabilia. Cards, programs from shows, photo negatives, photographs and albums, notes (remember how we passed notes in class?), basically a forest worth of trees in paper. I spent an afternoon going through each box, reading many of the cards, looking through the photos, laughing at my preteen humor and I will say it, crying several tears.

Transitions are about looking back and looking forward, decluttering can help us do both. I saw a picture of the girl I was, insecure but brave in her own way, forever out of place, misunderstood, confused, and I saw the way slowly, over time, I’ve come to a space of my own, where I have a sense of who I am, what is important to me, what I love and who I want to be with. I saw a girl who didn’t know much about boundaries, a young woman who wanted to please everyone, and it helped me celebrate even more the boundaries I fight to maintain now and the beauty of a life lived within the confines of who I am and what I love. Three boxes of memorabilia became one box by the time I was done, and I suspect that in the years to come I will whittle it down even more.

But I am so thankful for the opportunity to reflect on who I was, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to put the past in the recycling bin. Hopefully someone else will turn it into something useful or beautiful for the future.

And after you’ve decluttered, make sure you say yes to help. 

I don’t know what culture you are from (and maybe you could comment, it would be great to find out), but I grew up in Asia and in the United States, and we were always surrounded by a community of people who helped out, no matter what. When the stress piled on, they pulled in closer. Smiling women with casseroles showed up at our door after our family car wreck in 1991, people drove us to the airport in the middle of the night, family members helped us move, friends helped me clean every year that I moved out of my university dorm room.

These were huge gestures to me of love and community, and quite simply, I needed the help. I could not have done it on my own.

Swiss, Swedish and German cultures are different in this department. Very, very different. A stressful time comes your way? Most people pull away because they think you need the space to deal with it on your own. No one wants to burden you with their presence, and no one wants to be a burden themselves. Being strong enough and doing it on your own is highly valued, and people do not want to make you feel like you cannot do it on your own. I remember meeting a new Swedish mom at our church and telling her I would love to bring her a meal, and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. Why would I ever do such a thing? Different culture, different values.

We’ve done most of stressful times on our own for the past few years with very little help from others, not because we have chosen to live that way, but simply because we lived in cultures that had a different attitude about help.

Not this move. This time I knew I would need help, I knew we couldn’t do it on our own. Instead of looking at my life and lamenting the ways in which I didn’t have enough help, I looked instead at the ways I did. I listened carefully to people who offered help and I took them at their word.

I asked for help.

When someone said, Do you need help? The answer they heard back from me was always, always, Yes.

The contrast was huge.  A friend brought by a meal while her husband helped my husband cut up furniture we had to throw away, so everything fit in our car. Another friend looked after my boys while I cleaned bicycles. Another friend brought us food, arranged or us to stay in her apartment building, provided toys for our kids and numerous other tiny and big details.

Your friends are probably wanting to help you, too, they may just be waiting for you to ask. Give them specific tasks they can do for you and let them honestly tell you if they can help or not.

Now it’s your turn: What do you need to get rid of in your life or maybe even your heart? Who can you turn to for help? How can you be a help for someone else right now?

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This post is day 13. New to the series? Start here. You can join the conversation by commenting, it would be lovely to have you join us. If you’re reading this in your email, please click over to the post to comment. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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rock 2

The story goes like this, I tell Big Boy and Little Bear, Joshua and the people of Israel were getting ready to cross the Jordan River. Days away from entering the Promised Land after decades of wandering in the wilderness. And God tells them to build an altar, an Ebenezer, the altar is a monument to the faithfulness of God, it is Israel’s way of saying thank you.

Ohhhhh, the boys nod along in the car.

So today, we are are going to make our own Ebenezer, I tell them. We are standing at the steps leading up to the door of the Yellow House. Everything is finished inside, clean and gleaming, our things are gone. Our landlord comes in an hour to inspect and take the keys. Our little family of four gathers around this large rock and a permanent marker.

We will write down our thanksgiving on this rock, and it will stand as a monument to the faithfulness of God. 

What are you thankful for, Josiah? I ask Big Boy.

I’m thankful for the Yellow House, he says.

And we write it down. Line upon line, here a little, there a little. Little Bear goes next, Husband, me. We cover this rock in what our eyes have seen, what our hearts have known. We write down the ways in which we were embraced by Love. In the throes of grief and sadness, it tells us the truth: He led us here, he provided for us here, he gave us everything that we need here, and he is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, he goes before us as we leave. 

You cannot say goodbye without first saying thank you. Our gratitude drew us back to the truth, that we bore witness to the goodness of God the two years we lived in Sweden. Even though we were heartbroken to leave, even though we didn’t know the details of what comes next, we needed to remind ourselves of what is trueLook what God did. That’s what this rock says. We planted it in the bushes in the garden that is no longer ours, a monument to the faithfulness of God.

rock 3

rock

This was on a Monday, the day before we said goodbye to our little church in Stockholm. Our dearest friends gathered around us, laid their hands on us and prayed. Our pastor said he saw a picture of a snake shedding its skin, There are some things you are going to leave behind in Stockholm. And my soul knows it is true, there are habits that cannot continue, there are attitudes that will kill my soul, there is selfishness that will destroy my family. I can repent, I can say to myself: No more. It does not have to continue. 

Leaving Sweden was an open door to me to draw a line, to take responsibility and to turn in a new direction. Leaving any place is that opportunity for all of us, the ending of one thing is the beginning of something else. We do not have to know what that thing is in the very real terms, I may not know what our life will look like in Australia, but we have ownership of our hearts, our souls, our minds, our actions. We can choose what those things will look like. We can choose how to think, what we will believe and how we will act. We are not helpless victims in difficult circumstances, we can choose what goes into our minds, we can choose the meditations of our hearts.

So that is what we do next at the Yellow House. I have scraps of paper in my handbag, and we each write down what we want to leave behind. What I wrote was personal, but I can tell you this, it felt powerful. Like I was owning my life instead of saying life is happening to me, like I was taking responsibility for my mistakes instead of saying someone else made me choose this. 

The boys dug a tiny hole in a corner of the garden, and we buried those scraps of paper in the fresh earth. I can tell you that it felt like freedom even though the work is real, the failures daily are real, but there is a hope this moment writes on my heart. He makes all things new. 

I was searching for the Ebenezer and Joshua story in the Bible while writing this post and couldn’t find it because it turns out, I got the story wrong. It is found in 1 Samuel 6-7 (chapter 7:12, for the specific verse). Israel is walking away from God, and in the beginning of chapter 7, they turn around and ask Samuel to intercede for them before God, turning away from their idols and promising to love God alone.  As they gathered to repent, the Philistines come back to attack, but Samuel intercedes for them and God saves Israel.

Samuel then sets up a stone and calls it Ebenezer, Hebrew for, The Lord is my help. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us.

Thus far the Lord has helped us, he says. Because he helps us in all things, and we saw his help, his provision, his incredible grace in the Yellow House, and all we can say is, Thank you. Because he helps us see our mistakes and our weakness, and he says, Return to me. Always, always, his words are, Return. 

I don’t know who you are or what your circumstances are, but perhaps he is asking you today, What do you need to give thanks for? What do you need to turn from? He is your help, and he can do it. 

I’m linking up with Jennifer and Holley today. 

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This post is day 12. New to the series? Start here. This week I will be writing about practical ideas related to moving, you can expect posts about marriage, getting help, decluttering and making space for beauty. You can join the conversation by commenting. I would love to hear from you. If you’re reading this in your email, click over to the post to comment. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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bucket list blog

This is one simple way to make a transition meaningful and fun. Make a bucket list. Take the time by yourself to make a list of serious or fun or unique things you can do before you move. My list had a mix of things I wanted to do, places I wanted to visit, and moments I wanted to have with my family. Hang something up in the garden. Go to Ulriksdal with the kids. Make cardamom buns.

Writing down my desires is one of the most freeing and satisfying experiences of my day-to-day life.  It releases me from feelings of shame that I even have desires, it sets me free to work toward something and it lets me know what is important to me. That last one may sound silly to those of you who are heavily sensory, but for us intuitive types, we don’t always realize what is on the inside. Putting it on paper makes it more real, and it gives me a list I can give to Husband and say, This is what’s important to me right now. Inevitably it also shaped the way I spent my time in the weeks before our move.

One thing we did with our move from Sweden was to sit down with our four-year-old and ask him if there was anything he wanted to do before we left. He had a list of six things, and we wrote it down nice and big on a white sheet of paper, and it was on our fridge until the last day. It was a wonderful insight into his heart and mind. There were places he wanted to visit that were special to him like the Vasa Museum and Lek o Bus (an indoor play centre), but there were also very simple things like play in our garden, go to the water, go to Aunty Wilma’s house. These are insights into his heart that I need, it reminds me now after we’ve left Sweden, these are the things he probably misses the most, these are the places where his heart is likely to be hurting.

We worked our way through the list one at a time, he crossed it off every time we finished something. He loved it. His bucket list was a way to give his opinions and feelings a priority during our move, it acknowledged to him that he is important, and in the process we made several wonderful family memories. The last item on the list we crossed off a day or two before we drove away from Sweden, and something about finishing his list said to all of us, It’s time to go now.

Now it’s your turn: What do you want to do before you move? Even if you aren’t in the middle of a move, what things would you like to do before the year ends? How would you like to spend your October or November?

This post is day 10. New to the series? Start here. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

Today’s post is by my friend, Lana of the wonderful blog Spare Change. I met Lana through her blog before I moved to Stockholm, and she quickly became a great source of information on life in Sweden and then so much more.

Lana Wimmer is a writer and artist. She received her B.S. in Family Psychology from Brigham Young University and earned her next degree in Reverse Psychology from raising four kids (ages 6-19). Married to a U.S. diplomat for 21 years, she’s moved over 15 times, calling five different countries “home.” When she’s not multitasking, cooking or carpooling, she can be found hiking in the red rock mountains behind her St. George, Utah home. Her current project, due out someday,is a guide to the expat lifestyle.

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lana guest post

All words and photographs by Lana Wimmer

Even If Things Are Going Wrong, You Are Still Alright

Nothing went as planned, starting with the ants. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We moved to the U.S. in July. We’d been living abroad in Sweden for the past three years and before that, our family of six, moved over 15 times, calling five different countries “home.” With my husband posted to Iraq this year, we decided to buy a home closer to family (and with good weather, can you blame us?) in St. George, Utah.

Miraculously, we found and bought the house in four days. Every obstacle that came our way was removed. It felt right. It felt good. It felt exciting!

And yet when we arrived so many things went wrong.

Starting with the ants. They were everywhere, in the bathrooms, the kitchen, the basement. Roaches too, but the ants were worse. They got into our clothes in our closets and into our shoes. They crawled in through the windows and up through the drains. They even camped out in the dishwasher! The exterminator sprayed four times but they kept coming back. And then…

The waters came. I welcomed the rain, but not the leak in the bathroom exhaust fan. Water poured through, kurplunk kurplunk, splashing into the toilet and onto the floor. Ants and rain! We called a roofer to fix the leak and then…

The kitchen ceiling started leaking, water poured in from the light fixtures and above the cabinets. It was coming from the air conditioner so I shut down the system and temperatures indoors soared to 90 degrees. When the technician arrived, he found the condensing tubes clogged. The water in the “overflow pan” was flooding through the ceiling. We fixed and paid for repairs, and then…

The neighbors below us stopped by to introduce themselves, and Oh by the way, did you know you have water coming through your concrete fence onto our driveway? We’re scared the wall might destabilize and fall over onto our cars. What?!?!

I followed them back to their driveway and couldn’t believe my eyes, water oozing through the fence, surrounded by gigantic white mineral stains. See we told you, their heads nodded. “And look,” the wife said, pointing to the curb, “there’s more water running down the street. It’s coming from your yard.” A swift moving current flowed along the asphalt; something a child could have floated a paper boat on. “Where’s it coming from?” I asked.

“Maybe your pool is leaking,” the man said, easing his way toward his front door, “Or it could be your sewer. Nice meeting you.”

I stood alone feeling as though a force combined against me was trying to wash me away, literally, stripping down my resolve, planting doubt in my heart and fear in my mind. What if the pool was leaking? What would that cost? Who would I call? What about the fence? Could it be the sewer? Back home I paced the tiles, footsteps echoing, gazing up at the water stained ceiling. How many things had gone wrong?

Lord, I silently asked, how can everything go wrong when I thought this was right? Didn’t you lead me here? Hadn’t you taken every obstacle out of our way? Did I make the wrong decision to buy this home, when things had gone so smoothly?

And then this thought…when did right mean easy? Did doing the right thing mean life was going to be smooth sailing ALL the time?

No, of course not.

When I looked at my circumstances in their entirety, as they really were, I had a good life, a very good life. I just wasn’t remembering. In the face of challenges I’d forgotten how much was still going right…I had my health, I had a home, I had my family. That was the point, after all, to move back closer to family, to be there not only for holidays but also for the everyday stuff—family dinners and get-togethers. I was extremely blessed to have people who loved me and cared about my kids. I also had mountain trails to hike and National Parks nearly in my backyard—places of beauty. I had a safe community and good schools. There was so much to be grateful for.

Thank you Lord, I mustered, even if it is hard.

I looked at the contacts list on my phone. My neighbors across the street, a retired couple, had said if I ever needed anything to give a holler. “Hi there,” I said, “it’s me, your neighbor…” and unfolded my dilemma.

They said, “We’ll be right over.”

Minutes later we were gathered at the curb, heads down, studying the flow of water. The husband traced it back to my water main and pointed to where the water gurgled up next to the light pole by the road. “This is a city problem.”

I took in his words slowly. Did you just say…this is a CITY problem? “So it’s not my pool?”

He laughed. “The water pipe is broke under the road,” (he’d seen it in other parts of the neighborhood). “Call the utility company and they’ll handle it.”

The city will handle it. I don’t have to handle it. Thank you Lord!

I called the city and twenty-four hours later a crew was digging up the road, making the repairs. As for the concrete fence, I turned off the sprinklers and contacted a landscaper. The landscaper came right over and identified the problem: dogs. The previous owner’s dogs had chewed off the drip lines watering the bushes. Instead of dripping at a slow rate 45 minutes each morning, they gushed water, causing the massive seepage! The landscaper kindly replaced the drip heads AND DIDN’T EVEN CHARGE ME. Yes God, thank you for reminding me, your grace is free.

When everything seems to be going wrong and it feels overwhelming, keep trusting and answers will follow. My series of unfortunate events brought me to the point of surrender. In that humble place, I could view my circumstances and not only find gratitude, but grace too. Here’s where I found friends and help and the solutions I needed to my problems. Faith isn’t what makes things easy; it makes them possible (Luke 1:36).

When we trust God, our challenges feel different, less like hardships and more like surmountable obstacles designed to make us stronger. I was overwhelmed, taking care of ants, leaks, floods and disasters! But acceptance, rather than resistance, gave me the mindset to move forward.

We may not understand why things are difficult at a particular moment in time, but we don’t have to. All we really need to know is that, “Where you are today is no accident. God is using the situation you are in right now to shape you and prepare you for the place He wants to bring you into tomorrow. Trust Him with His plan even if you don’t understand it.”  Author Unknown

God’s grace will always take you where you need to go, even if sometimes that place is right here, right now, in the trial. Trust that wrong can actually be all right and you’ll find seas part and rainbows descend just when you need them.

Now it’s your turn: How are your challenges helping you to move forward? What are you thankful for?

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