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Seeing Butterflies

1 houseYesterday I was prepared to write a blog post about the 100+ year old house that we’re renting. The post would have been joyful, inspirational even. I was planning to include pictures of the butterfly garden near the front porch, like the ones you see here [taken a few days ago at our new-to-us house].

1 butterfly garden6 black eye susans
Those of you who have known me for a while know that butterfly gardens hold a special meaning for me—my husband Brent had planted one when we were blessed to have a hobby farm. Those were some of the happiest years of my life, when my children were little and we were living in a beautiful place.
My butterfly garden and my youngest child were the inspiration for my first oil painting, “Savannah Reading in the Butterfly Garden”. I submitted it to EASEL and the painting was accepted for a 14 month tour. It was the beginning of my career as an oil painter.
Becoming an artist changed my life. It was one of many transitions. Mom died, my dance school ended, we moved away from the hobby farm and my kids were no longer little. Some seasons move slowly, with no big changes from month to month. Others are a blur, with so much to process that it’s hard to keep my head above water. Eventually though, I accept my new normal. Life moves forward.
It has been over four years since I’ve enjoyed a butterfly garden. I was distracted when we first looked at this house and I didn’t realize that the flowers behind the white picket fence were the same varieties from “my” butterfly garden. Nor did I remember that I’d always wanted to live in an old house with a white picket fence. No, all I thought about was how desperate we were to find a rental that would allow us to sign a short term lease. Would anyone? Only one property was offered to us under those terms. Would we take it?
What choice did we have really—we sold our house! Did it really matter if I liked the house or not? It would only be for a few months. I could handle anything as long as I knew what I was in for; especially if I knew that it would be only for a short while.
But it does matter if I like living here or not. Every day matters. None of us knows how many days we have here on Earth—isn’t that a truth that I understand by now? When I finally gave myself permission to look at the flowers I understood that I’ve been given a piece of happiness back. Yesterday may be gone and tomorrow may feel uncertain, but I have today.
That’s when I looked for the butterflies, and I found them. I saw a gorgeous Monarch with a wingspan that took my breath away. I saw white butterflies and colorful ones. I enjoyed bumblebees too, from a safe distance. What a precious gift this was! Surely this was a sign that life was going our way.

5 colorful butterfly 4 colorful butterfly 3 colorful butterfly 2 white butterfly 1 white butterfly
And then… well, then came today. It’s been a horrible day full of stress and bad news. Brent’s unemployment benefits are messed up. Somehow the government doesn’t have any record of his almost 19 years of employment. His account is going through an audit and there will be no payments until this is resolved—which will take at least a month, if not longer—and we don’t know if the result will be retroactive or if he simply won’t get any benefits for this first month of unemployment. We are living on a prayer.
I didn’t find out about this until the last few hours of an excruciatingly long day that I’d spent cleaning the house we’re closing on. I also found out, just when I felt that I couldn’t go on, that we have to be out sooner than I’d expected because the buyers want to do work on the house for two days, and they also want a final walk-through. That means that the house will be occupied for part of the day for the next three days before the closing. This is very short notice. I know that this is how things happen sometimes when selling a house, but the stress is getting to me.
I was blindsided by the abrupt change in plans. I felt kicked out of our own house, the house that we have paid to live in! We are temporarily paying for both this rental and the mortgage on the house. I also found out today that the dryer that doesn’t work at this rental requires a part (a fuse) that won’t come in until at least Friday. I’d planned on using the nice washer and dryer that we’d bought and paid for, in the house that we’ve paid to live in, up until the close. But now knowing that the house will be a hub of construction, I don’t want our laundry in progress. No, it’s time to move out completely even if it means that our laundry piles up. Well, I could go on here. The day really was THAT bad. I admit that I lost my cool more than once.
I thought about cancelling my blog post. I don’t have time for it anyway. Then I thought about how quickly my grateful “butterfly attitude” turned ugly. My new butterfly garden is shared with my now-teen baby girl, Savannah. Yesterday she was faster than I was to get out her camera and take pictures. And this same sweet girl was with me today at the house we’re closing on, cleaning at least as well as I can. She may be passing me by.
Isn’t it a test of my character if I can manage to deliver my happy post about the rental house and butterfly garden when it’s not easy to do so? Of course I can write a cheery post when I’m having a good day, but could I remain positive when I’m having a bad day? What kind of inspiration am I if I only post positive things when I’m feeling positive? Why do we need faith if every day is a butterfly day?
Isn’t faith about believing in good things to come even when everything is falling apart? Today I felt as if the world is against us. Today I felt as if nothing would ever change. I’d always be that sad little girl, no matter how hard I tried to rise about my circumstances. But yesterday I saw butterflies when I chose to look. I saw my life and the people I love—and I embraced the changes. Have I really forgotten that lesson already?
I was so certain. I knew that life was good. I knew that I was loved by God, and that I’m special. Nothing has changed between yesterday and today—nothing important. So, I’m sending you my beautiful pictures because life is good. God bless, and may every day be a butterfly day… whether you see one, or are peacefully waiting…

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On the Market!

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Our house has a new addition to the front yard, a “FOR SALE” sign. My feelings about this are all over the map. So much has happened over the past few weeks. Where do I begin?

Well, I guess it all goes back to about seven years ago, when the company that my husband Brent works for was laying people off. There were multiple buy-outs, pay-cuts, and of course the dreaded downsizing, downsizing, downsizing. The writing was on the wall. There was no future for Brent at that company. He had dodged several rounds of lay-offs, but pay cuts and salary freezes had squeezed us beyond return. We had to make tough decisions before things went from bad to worse.

We sold the hobby farm that we had worked so hard to build. We sold the animals, our personal property, and eventually the house. I especially mourned the loss of my beautiful downstairs studio space where I had taught not only my own children, but dozens of students as well. Brent had installed the flooring himself and had handcrafted the wooden dance barres. He’d put in cabinets and a sink. It was the perfect space for art, dance, theater, and more. We had done everything on a shoestring budget, but we still owed too much money.

I was never going to make enough income from teaching Ladybug Arts for the financial investment to pay off, but the investment I was making was in people, not money. There are more important things than money, right? I believed that everything would work out, right up until the day when I realized that it wouldn’t.

I ended Ladybug Arts prior to putting the house on the market, for many reasons. But the decision was quickly validated when my mom’s health took a sudden sharp decline. I became her caregiver, while also preparing to sell the hobby farm. My heart was numb. Everything was ending all at once.

Mom was dying. My job was gone. My firstborn was leaving for college. There was no time to process what was happening. From there, the hardships snowballed. Mom passed away in August. Our daughter started school in September. We sold our house in October. The smell of fall leaves and the hauntingly beautiful breeze that carries the colors away take me back to that time. Colors change, then fade, then die.

Never again would I see my kids bouncing down the halls, riding their bicycles on the long gravel driveway, or running with the miniature sheep in the pasture. All of it was gone, including the kids. They weren’t little anymore. None of them would “bounce” down a hall with their wispy hair flying in the breeze. Clomping, shuffling, or bounding–that they could do. No, we didn’t have Santa Claus believers or Tooth Fairy wishers in our family anymore. Life was changing, whether I liked it or not.

We moved into a small house in a town about an hour away from our hobby farm. Here, where we are now. The treeless leaves were soon snow-covered. And after a long winter, spring came. The trees were green and full of life again. Yes, they were different trees, in a different place, but life began again.

It’s pleasant here. The neighborhood is pretty and nearly perfect. It’s a nice place to live. But it’s not our place. Four years after moving in, the house is on the market.

During our four years here, Brent went back to school. He received his graduate degree in Education last month, May 2015. He has one final semester before getting his teaching certification, the student teaching semester. Teaching full time without pay, while also paying tuition? He has to quit his day job? Isn’t there some other way? No, there’s not. He worked too hard to get this far only to give up now. Things at his current job aren’t improving. He had no luck getting a new job in his field. It was definitely the smart play to go back to school and start a new career. But at least he still had his job…

And then we found out that after years of crying wolf, the wolf was finally actually undeniably at our door. Brent was told that his position will be eliminated in August. He is getting laid off. Well, there goes the safety net! This student teaching semester was going to happen, whether we had cold feet or not. At least he’ll be able to draw unemployment benefits, for a while anyway. Looking at the positive was what we tried to do, but nothing can take the fear away completely. Brent has had a job since he was a teenager. He had never been laid off. He had never been unemployed. He had always, always worked.

And I had always, always, been underemployed. My primary focus was on my family. I built my artistic career around our lifestyle. My husband’s job always came first, the kids next, and my job was dead last. Jump-starting my career was what I’d attempted to do ever since my oldest went off to college. I’ve made progress, but not enough progress. Here we are again, needing to sell our house.

We’ll rent something cheaper than our mortgage until Brent’s student teaching semester ends. Then, he’ll be certified to teach and our plans are to move to Ireland against all odds. We still have those nonrefundable plane tickets that we’d bought with money raised from my side job as a garage sale maven. Oh yes, we’re doing this thing.

So, the house is on the market. The pain and loss from selling our hobby farm, and everything that meant, is complicating my feelings toward selling our house in Pleasantville (not the real name of the town, I’m being facetious). I never wanted this pleasant house in this pleasant neighborhood. I wanted MY house, the one we raised our kids in. I wanted that life back, but the past isn’t mine to have, except in my memories.

The past is safer, because it is over. I know how the story ends. The future is scary. Who knows what hardships and disappointments lie ahead! What if there is grief lurking around the corner, a sorrow that runs deeper than losing my parents, a heartache more profound than I can imagine?

But what if there’s something wonderful ahead? What if the future sparkles brighter than I could ever imagine? And what if my hope in the future is a self fulfilling prophesy?

Some things in life are beyond my control, but I can always choose my attitude toward what is happening to me. I can choose to be grateful for the past, hopeful toward the the future, and content with the present.

Today, this moment, is all I’m guaranteed. And at this moment, I hear my children’s voices in the kitchen. They’re laughing. They’re  happy that it’s Friday and that there are molasses cookies on the counter. The house is on the market. But this moment,  spent in a pleasant house with my kids’ laughter in my ears, this moment is not for sale.