Archive for April, 2013

What I Learned From the Estate Sale

 Eventual destination of a lot of stuff.

Eventual destination of a lot of stuff.

A house, said comedian George Carlin, is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.

Since February, I have been liquidating an estate.  Weeks and weeks of going through overflowing rooms, cupboards, drawers, shelves, boxes.

Digging, sorting, tossing.

Fascinated, puzzled, amused.


I would now like to share a few things I learned from sifting through the lifetime accumulation of other people.

  • We human beings love stuff. We love to buy stuff WHEREVER we go, whether downtown or Australia or Disneyland or Egypt. Stuff, by the way, from places other than where we live is more interesting/attractive/valuable than stuff from our local mall. Evidently.
  • We do not stop and think about the irrationality of having boxes and boxes of stuff stored in garages or closets or attics or basements. And I’m not talking about Christmas decorations.  All of us have stood in the middle of the garage gazing at the crowded shelves, thinking, “This is ridiculous. I need to go through that mess.” Then we get in the car and go to Target.
  • The old adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” is true. True, I tell you, true. Do you have ANY empty drawers in your house? Hmm? Or empty shelf space? Or empty plastic bins? Why not? Because an empty drawer/shelf/bin just seems wrong. Why? THERE IS NO RATIONAL REASON. Except nature abhors a vacuum. It may have been part of the original Edenic curse.

     Dresden. Valuable. On some planet.

    Dresden. Valuable. On some planet.

·         We think that those collectibles or fine whatevers we find SO interesting will be appreciated and valued by the people we leave behind. While this is often true of family heirlooms, I can tell you that, for instance, a small antique Dresden lamp with the figure of a simpering French dandy passed down from great-aunt Justine is unlikely to be appreciated by anyone in your 21st century sphere. Trust me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have stuff.  But I am decreasing the amount of it. And listing items in our Living Trust I think my loved ones might like to have. And they can keep them or not. It won’t, at that point, matter to me.

You do have a Living Trust, don’t you?

Oh, well. It all ends up in that great river of human accumulation washing around the globe anyway. Think about that the next time you see “Estate Sale” taped to your corner street sign. Go ahead and stop by, but if you find a cool pair of brass andirons, make yourself take the Dresden lamp to the thrift store. Get something – get rid of something.

Fight the curse. Your heirs, or whoever organizes your estate sale, will thank you.

Thoughts? Are you an accumulater? Or perhaps a decumulater?


When Christians End Their Lives

 Always a need for more.

Always a need for more.

That phone call, or ring of the doorbell, that tells you a loved one has ended their life.

No one is ever prepared.

Those of us who have lost family members to suicide embark on a long, perilous journey. One of the things that make this experience so harsh is that toxic mixture of grief and guilt that accompanies the new reality.

What could I have done to prevent this? Why wasn’t I there? The very fact of my familial relationship means I am partly responsible for this death.

These thoughts will scream and scream and scream. Or sometimes they will simply sit in the corners of our consciousness, reaching out to prod the unbearable sadness with a cruel hand.

For Christians who have lost a believing loved one to suicide, there can be, shockingly, an added dimension of sorrow. Suicide, it is widely believed, is a ticket to hell. For anyone. Period. It is murder. Do not pass go. Do not go to heaven.

Our phone rang on June 25, 2008. My father was dead by his own hand. My father, pastor for 26 years, father of 3, grandfather of 5. My father. He and my mother had just marked their 57th wedding anniversary. A man highly regarded for his many outstanding accomplishments. My father, oh God, my father.

But clinical depression is a vicious enemy. When we say mental illness we mean illness of the mind, a dark and ravenous shadow that slowly invades the psyche like a cancerous growth. And sometimes, like physical disease, it wins.                            shadow

But, and this is important, what transpires before the end cannot be separated from the fact of the illness.

At Dad’s funeral, the pastor was very kind in his remarks while being very careful not to leave the impression that Dad might be with God. I dimly understood this as I sat with my shattered family.

It was a remark by a dear friend sometime later that began to help with healing. “Your father,” she said, looking at me intently, “was not forsaken on that morning. God sat there with His arms around him. God did not walk away. And He has your dad.”

My mother passed away 8 ½ months later from ovarian cancer – 9 weeks from diagnosis to death. There is no doubt that she is at rest in the presence of the Lord.

But can there be any doubt that Dad is there as well?

Just how merciful is God? Do some illnesses suffered by believers exempt them from heaven?

“A broken brain is as physical as a broken bone,” Rick Warren tweeted recently. He and his wife, Kay, have walked this road as well with the recent death of their son.

The tragedy experienced by the Warrens provides an opportunity to think carefully about this. It will touch all of us eventually, whether a family member or friend or acquaintance.

We all know, from personal experience, the boundlessness of God’s grace and mercy. When this terrible event occurs in the lives of other believers, it may test our own.

I also recommend Ann Voskamp’s blog post, What Christians Need to Know About Mental Health.

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