I am tempted to give you a blow by blow account of how the whole job proceeded, but because of shortage of time, I am going to have self control and share just highlights. I have taken many pictures which will remind me of the whole process when I have time to concentrate on that. The process itself was quite miraculous because of so many things happening in a timely fashion. For example, usually when a person needs a person to do work on their home, it can take a week or more to get them to come. Every thing that was needed doing was completed just when it needed to be done including plumbing so that the work part could go to the bathroom and flush the toilet!
The first highlight was when I arrived. I brought some purple mums thinking that if there could be one beautiful thing that we could focus on, then we could be reminded of the goal. Pat was over joyed because Retha just loves flowers. Retha could not express herself clearly when I first met her, but Pat, her mother-in-law, seemed to think that my gift was a very positive thing. One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is that sometimes a person will stutter so badly that he or she can not be understood except by someone who has been a constant companion. Retha was having a bad day, and this is the state I found her in. I was surprised because I had no idea that she was in such bad condition.
We all went to a restaurant called The Tabernacle which is owned by a Christian woman. Our goal was to build some trust and connection. When I asked Ted what his main priority was, he said, “For Retha to be cured of Parkinson’s disease.” I was deeply touched by his devotion to his wife which I witnessed during the entire time I was there, and this selfless goal of his practically brought me to tears. Since Retha was not coherent during the hours we spent at the restaurant as Ted patiently helped his wife feed herself, I mostly talked to Ted. I found him to be very humble and kind.
After getting to know the couple a bit better, I worked on creating a vision for them which of course would need to be approved. Pat gave me wonderful feedback which lead to us writing this mission statement together which is not exact because I left the poster board at their home.
“Ted and Retha are happy and healthy in a home where they can thrive, and share love and joy with others as they welcome them into a homey environment. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Without vision, the people will perish.”
They did approve of this vision, and we posted it up on the wall during the whole time we worked. We read it each tie we had a circle for the team, which we did about four times as people were added to the team and we needed to get to know each other better. And we definitely had the strength of Christ to help us do what appeared to be impossible tasks.
Reading that vision at the house blessing party we had where about nine people attended was such a miraculous occasion. For them to have a party at their house was unthinkable, but here they were hosting in a lovely living room and kitchen which was pretty clean and comfortable. The vision had come true in every way.
Here are a few of the highlights which I want to touch upon not necessarily in the order of when they happened.
Sheila playing a great rock and roll station and everyone singing along including 70 plus year old Pat. Retha starts dancing and later Ted joins her.
Praying every day before and after the job was done. Each person would pray a short prayer. This was super inspiring and also a way to get to know people better to build a team spirit.
Me working with one of the couple’s sons sorting papers and having a very deep conversation which he opened up to me about very vulnerable things. I cherished our connection.
Having a room full of clothes that needed sorting getting the first sorting done within a few hours by Pat and her grandson, John. Pat loved my technique about sorting several times so things could go faster. I loved seeing them work together and having fun in the process.
Soring about twenty boxes of paper into just a few categories such as memories, look through later, Retha’s art, and throw away. I did this with John and George, the two sons. I felt so privileged to spend time with them and encourage them as they did what could have been a very boring job. But instead, the way we did it meant that they could find treasured items and memories which lead to conversations between them that I think bonded them together even more. I especially celebrate how when I asked them about the contemporary music they were listening to on the Pandora radio station, and told them I liked the Beatles–they changed the station to one that had the Beatles. We all sang along together on such songs as “Hey Jude”, which I heard the marching band at the near by high school playing the next day.
I took about 200 pictures, including before and after. But mostly I loved getting shots of Ted and Reba who were glad to smile as they did things like sit in the new lift chair which was a last minute surprise. Often they would want their pictures taken together which was so sweet. When I went through the pictures, I was touched by the loving, peaceful, happy expressions this couple had. I also really loved taking pictures of the whole family, their friends, and every single worker who helped including the trash picker-uppers. I enjoyed telling them what a miracle it was that was happening and how they were helping make this miracle happen.
One of the funniest moments came when the man picking up the trash grabbed a toilet seat and used it to frame his face. His big grin and sense of humor was the source of much laughter as we would tell the story over and over to people who came to help.
I had no idea that we were going to be tearing out the whole carpet, but it became apparent when I got there that this was necessary. Pat had done what I thought was the impossible job (with out me:) of clearing out the master bedroom with the help of Ted, and getting just that section of carpet out. Once we found out there were beautiful oak floors underneath, and we saw the health hazards of keeping the rug, Pat and I agreed that it had to go. At first we thought Mike, the contractor, would have to do it four days into the job, but miraculously, Shiela, our fearless handy woman who can do just about anything except mend a broken heart, was able to work during the time we had the grandsons handy who could move the heavy furniture out the way so that I could continue organizing.
Pat was amazing because she would keep setting impossible goals that even I didn’t think could be done. But she would encourage us to work just a little bit longer so that we could do such things as get the rug out in two days. It was satisfying to have the whole thing done so that we could proceed with putting things back when the grandsons were present.
On Monday, we could see some real progress. I had the idea of having a house blessing party on Wednesday morning which was when I was supposed to leave. But two of the people who we knew had to be there could not make it. Chester and his wife Caroline had been faithful, loving friends to Ted and Retha. Without their help, this job would not have happened. Since Tuesday evening was the only time they could come, we decided we would at least get part of the house ready for the party.
The party was the true highlight of the whole job. Although Ted and Retha had not, for various reasons, been going to the church they used to go to, people like Chester and Caroline had not given up on them. The new pastor showed up, along with Chester and Caroline, and another couple from church came to the gathering. Margie had visited Retha regularly, but had never been in the house since Retha was so ashamed of the environment. Her face was shining when she was able to walk into a clean, uncluttered environment.
I was privileged to facilitate the event because Pat at the last minute said, “do your thing, Patricia.” She had seen me facilitate a number of very beautiful, bonding, trust building circles and she loved them and how they brought people together quickly. Pat and I were loving partners in this whole situation and we now consider ourselves dear friends who will stay connected.
After asking the pastor to open with prayer, I asked people to answser the question, “How has your life changed since you surrendered your life to Jesus.” Since I knew everyone where was a follower of Jesus, I knew that this would not offend anyone. The answers were so beautiful and inspiring, and the atmosphere of love and connection in the room was palpable.
I will need to describe the whole gathering in more detail, but I will repeat that this was the best part of the whole experience.
Spending time getting the place presentable for guests including cleaning up the bathroom, a bedroom and the hall way took considerable time away from the sorting process which seemed to go on forever. I still hadn’t touched the laundry room, and the master bedroom needed emptying for a bedroom suite which was going to be delivered the next morning. So after the party Shiela and I worked together including her patching a big hole in the wall which was hidden behind a stack of boxes of books.
The next morning I did not know when the bedroom suite was going to be delivered, so with only about five hours of sleep, I got an early start. With Ted’s help we were able to get all the boxes out just in time. And wonderfully enough, where we put the boxes were where they needed to stay anyway.
By Wednesday I was the main person working on the job since Pat was spending the day with her grandsons. Retha and Ted needed to take some breaks, although they helped some. I felt like an organizing machine. I was on my seventh day of working mostly 14 hour days. It had to be be God’s grace that I did not get tired or sick. I did bring enough healthy food like chia seed, green smoothie ingredients, and sunnie dip to help me eat mostly raw. That helped a lot. But to be able to keep going and have a clear mind to make the thousands of decisions I had to make to tie up all the loose ends was truly one of the many miracles that happened during this process.
By eleven o’clock on Wednesday night, I had the house looking very nice for Pat. I wanted her to see a somewhat finished job since she was leaving early the next morning for a Joyce Myers conference in Indianapolis. She was very pleased with the results, and we had a wonderful prayer circle with Ted before we said our good byes.
I was convinced that I would need to sleep in the next morning. But instead, I worked until about 1 and woke up ready to complete the job at 5:00 AM. I wanted to have some quiet time with the Lord, but I sensed him saying that I could have time while I worked because there was a lot to be done. I yearned to have the home in a place where everything had a home and systems were in place to help them keep the place uncluttered. I also wanted to have the car port to look presentable since that was something that everyone driving by could see.
Robert was picking me up at 9:30 so that I could get back in time for a job I needed to do in Fayetteville. When he arrived I was putting on the finishing touches of telling Retha and Ted about some simple systems and where things were. I had been able to put every room in order and usable except for one bedroom which was still in need of repair. I stacked up boxes to sort in categories together such as memories, Retha’s artwork, electronics, small things to sort. Many of the clothes and soft items such as sheets were stacked up on a high shelf out of the way in the laundry room. All was clearly marked. Sorting through this was going to take another day at least. I envisioned a “sorting bee” where friends could come and help sort the last of the stuff. Everything had been touched at least once, but my technique helps get rid of enough stuff so that there can be room to move. High priority things such as the house title and some special electronics were easily discovered and placed in safe places.
I took the couple, along with Robert, on a tour of the house, explaining where things were. I had already done this to a certain extent, but reviewing never hurts. I video taped the house and also some beautiful comments by Retha and Ted which really touched my hearts. They were so appreciative. I felt as if I was a hero to them.
As we hugged and said good byes, there was so much love and affection between us. I wrote on the spray bottle of the natural cleaning solution I had brought, “I love you, Retha and Ted. Whenver you spray this, think of me and how much I love you.”
I admit that I asked for this, but the mallet that we used to play the xylophone whenever we wanted to celebrate a part of the job being done was presented to me by Ted and Retha. We had initially used a spoon, but when a mallet was uncovered it was even more handy and melodious. I will now always used the xylophone to add fun and laughter to our process, and will tell the story of how I obtained the mallet.
I took a picture of Retha and Ted waving at me as we drove off. When I reviewed it later, their smiles and demeanor reminded me of how they had been so loving, kind, patient, and often joyful during what was often a painful process of letting go. But Retha told Robert and I at the end, “I realize now that all this stuff was a huge burden weighing me down.” Ted said, “Thanks for lending us your wife for this long time.” Even though I was totally honest from the start that Robert is my former husband, everyone insisted on calling Robert my husband. I thought that was sweet.
I can’t wait to make a video of this whole endeavor. I long to do this again. I have a huge amount of ideas and have learned so much. It was the most uplifting organizing job I have ever experienced. I hope that our Wellspring Community members can help with the next one.