I polled a friend in St. Albans, United Kingdom: “What do you think about England having a royal family and a queen?”
Her reply was similar to others I’d heard. “The queen adds a special dignity to being British,” she said.
I recently read The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, the King she serves being our heavenly Father!
Every Christmas afternoon at 3:00, after kids have opened their presents, Christmas meals have been eaten, and families are relaxing together, citizens of the United Kingdom can listen on the radio or watch on the British Broadcasting Corporation the queen’s annual Christmas broadcast. Two of the most recurring themes are forgiveness and loving our neighbors. In 2014, Queen Elizabeth said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”
I picture in my mind’s eye a solid, heavy anchor. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is our solid anchor, providing us with all that is good. The queen continued: “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith, or none.”
There is a purpose in doing right, taking the long view instead of simply satisfying our immediate impulses.
To hold people in high regard, those of different faiths, even those with no faith, treating them with respect and consideration is so like Christ, humble and nonconfrontational. How can we learn about each other, become friends, if we don’t treat others with respect?
In her 1975 broadcast, Queen Elizabeth said: “[Jesus’] simple message of love has been turning the world upside down ever since [His birth]. He showed that what people are and what they do does matter and does make all the difference.”
I think we all know that everything we do matters and makes a difference, even though the things that get news coverage or “likes” on social media don’t tend to encourage little, thoughtful acts.
The queen correctly compares the little things we do in our daily lives to stones thrown into water. “Even the smallest pebble changes the whole pattern of the water. . . . Kindness, sympathy, resolution, and courteous behavior are infectious.”
Most of us—the “smallest pebbles”—doubt that anything we do matters in the big picture. But we have an impact. The queen speaks of it, she has experienced it in her life. On some level we know it too: it gives us a reason to continue doing what is good and right.
“I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right,” Queen Elizabeth wrote. “To take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. . . . I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.”
I find such inspiration in these sweet, simple words. Like us, the queen draws strength from her faith in God. He provides her with stability and is her anchor. She reminds us that there is a purpose in doing right, taking the long view instead of simply satisfying our immediate impulses, and putting our trust in God.
Sharon Tennyson is distribution and logistics coordinator for Adventist Review Ministries.
Döstädning” is a Swedish word that in English means “death cleaning.” As morbid as that might sound, the idea isn’t related to dying as much as to cleaning one’s house of things before you die so no one has to do it when you’re gone.
To author Margareta Magnusson, death cleaning seems directly related to aging. Her book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, published in the United States in January 2018, quickly resonated with people. It would seem that many people, to put it plainly, have too much stuff, and more important, may be loath to part with it.
In the story that follows, two individuals share current life experiences related to “stuff.” Merle Poirier recently encountered more moving than she bargained for; while Sharon Tennyson, answering a call with her husband to England, is busy downsizing.—Editors
If anyone had told me a year ago that I (Merle) would be facing the move from one apartment and four different houses within less than a year’s time, I wouldn’t have believed them. It began with moving my mother to a much smaller assisted-living center apartment. A month later a home was purchased for my in-laws that bettered their situation. That led to moving them from one home to another and preparing the former house for sale. My younger daughter was engaged two months later, and, two months after that, purchased her first home. At the time of writing, my other daughter’s husband has accepted another position and purchased a house to which they will be moving, just a few miles from mine.
While all this moving was for reasons largely positive, the actual act of moving was not, particularly with our parents. The longer we live, the more stuff we accumulate. And in that our parents have lots of company.
The average American home has 300,000 items in it. The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in the past 50 years. And one out of every 10 Americans rents offsite storage.1 So having stuff appears to be an American pastime. What was interesting about moving our parents, however, was that we quickly recognized it wasn’t just their belongings, for our grandparents and great-grandparents were also well represented.
Moving my mom was probably the hardest. Because she was going to a smaller space, it wasn’t possible to take everything. She faced her job stoically, but it was difficult to part with things that had been with her for years. “Most of us are held captive by things,” she said. “When the time comes to lighten one’s load, breaking the bonds with favorite possessions is painful. With gritted teeth and firm resolve, many things were given away or disposed of. Looking back, I was sad, but I am no longer a captive. What I thought I needed I no longer do.”
My husband’s parents were fortunate in that the home they moved to had plenty of space for their things. They elected not to downsize because of the circumstances surrounding the move. That didn’t mean the move was any easier. Instead of spending time sorting, we spent the time arranging. Things that had a place in one home suddenly didn’t fit into the other. And while the large basement afforded storage, the random placement of things by movers made finding anything challenging. Fortunately, my father-in-law is a gifted organizer. After all, organization is the best step toward knowing what to keep and what to give away.
Magnusson recommends that death cleaning isn’t necessarily about throwing things away but offering them to family members now. She advocates starting with something easy, such as sorting clothing, and to save sentimental items such as photographs and old letters for last, or not at all. “It’s an ongoing process that is never truly finished,” says Magnusson. “You just have to get started.”
Our family (Sharon) recently accepted a position in England. Suddenly we began looking at our stuff and knew it was a good time to begin letting go.
Adding children to our home quickly increased our store as we accumulated books, toys, homemade items, “works of art,” twin sheet sets, blankets, towels, and linens—all things you squirrel away because you think you’ll need it all, maybe in the future, or it is just too precious to part with.
As I began to sort and pack, I found boxes in our basement that hadn’t been opened for decades. As the oldest daughter, I had inherited special items from both sides of my family. These boxes contained letters and papers from my parents and grandparents. I gave in to the temptation to dig deeper, to read each and every paper. I got caught up in my family’s stories. I found a journal my mom kept in college. I completely lost myself in the letters my dad wrote to me my first year in college. These long, handwritten letters conveyed such love and concern. I grew teary-eyed as I spent hours reading, knowing that my father had spent a good bit of time writing them to me. I felt his comforting words again.
A rush of emotion overcame me as I realized these people I knew and loved from my past are all dead and gone. Their memories came back to life as I read. I felt a reconnection with my past, and an affirmation of my identity now as, together with my family, I make this life transition. I had to move on with packing, so I reluctantly set them aside. But these items will stay with me—no death cleaning for them. I carefully packed them up to take to the UK.
Preparing to downsize gives pause for reflection. Someone told me he had no plans to clean out his house or downsize. “They can do all that after I’m gone!” he said.
I’m not sure I agree. My home is now completely cleaned, painted, and polished to sell, with the clutter removed and barely anything left to show of our life in that home. It has been painful and emotional letting go, but the process has also been liberating. Solomon seemed to understand: “There is a time for everything . . . a time to keep and a time to throw away.”2
Merle Poirier and Sharon Tennyson are indispensable members of the support staff of Adventist Review Ministries. They both live in Silver Spring, Maryland, for now.
I have not always been a Seventh-day Adventist.
I lived in Hawaii for five years and decided it was full of flaky guys! A friend’s boyfriend was building a galactic door to carry to the top of Mount Haleakalā (a dormant volcano on Maui) on an auspicious date, to enter into another galaxy. One of my best friends was supporting a woodworking artist who designed elaborate, exotic Hawaiian koa wood doors and grand staircases that would fetch up to $50,000 a pop (in today’s dollars). But he’d take years to complete one, because of all the pakalolo he was smoking.
After breaking up with my helicopter pilot boyfriend of nearly three years, I decided it was time to get back in touch with reality. I sought spiritual things and joined a coworker at her Mormon outing. Something seemed empty and lacking in the sincerity I felt from that group. I joined my friend, Christie, with her Sufi dancing group on Friday nights. That was an interesting outing, but definitely not a spiritual experience!
I put my spiritual pursuits to rest for a while and focused on my work. I was a property manager living in Ekahi Village, an oceanside condominium complex. After reinjuring my knee in a fall and having surgery in Honolulu, I was back at work managing the housekeeping and maintenance crews during the day, and meeting with a traveling, self-employed physical therapist named Heidi Howard during my lunch break. She and her 2-year-old daughter, Tatiana, would come to my condo, where Tati would pretend to do ultrasound on my good knee while her mother worked on the recovering knee.
There was lots of chatter during our session, and often Heidi commented, “God has really blessed our family! Steve has now found a long-term construction project.” In Heidi I found a warm, sincere person who had a connection to God.
One Saturday afternoon she invited me to join her family at the beach, where they would be windsurfing. She made sprout sandwiches on homemade whole-wheat bread, and the kids happily ate them. This commitment to health, family, and God was all so new. In fact, it was delightful.
My physical therapy sessions ended, my knee healed, and I thought, I should contact Heidi and ask where she goes to church. I had overheard something indirectly about “Seventh-day Adventist” this or that, and had tucked it away. I never did go to church on Maui with them. Instead, I moved back to the mainland to a new job with the same company in South Carolina.
In Charleston, South Carolina, I had the opportunity to go back to college as well as work. I took advantage of this and studied accounting at the College of Charleston, aiming to work toward becoming a certified public accountant.
On the first day of Principles of Accounting class the substitute teacher explained why the regular professor was not there the first week of school. “He’s inspecting sites for orphanages in Guatemala as part of his church work as a Seventh-day Adventist. In fact,” the substitute exclaimed, “he’s even a vegetarian! What a nut! You’ll get to meet him soon enough.” Before even meeting Mack, I was interested in learning more about him.
I became friends with Khung-he, a girl in class who also was a good friend of Mack’s. She told me that he was single and not dating, but that he never dated students. Over the course of that first semester I had a crush on my teacher!
The finals were posted on a Friday afternoon before sunset, and I walked to Mack’s office and knocked on the door. I had been encouraged by both Khung-he and Missy, a friend from work, to approach Mack, since he never would approach me. “Would you like to go for a walk?” I asked.
He immediately dropped the stack of books he was holding, which I took to be a good sign. We walked all over downtown Charleston for nearly two hours. He walked me back to my car, and we said goodbye over the tops of our cars.
My heart was beating fast as I rushed to a pay phone and called his home number, knowing I’d get his answering machine. “Hi, Mack. Would you like to go with me to my company Christmas party next week?” I figured I had been pushy twice now, and if he chose not to contact me, I would spare myself being turned down in person.
Ultimately, we went to the Christmas party together. Missy was delighted she’d encouraged me to invite him.
We were in love. He met my parents; I met his. I went regularly to the Charleston Seventh-day Adventist Church with him, and studied with the pastor. I had no idea I was preparing to be baptized, as no one had explained the process. I didn’t even know what baptism was.
When we decided to get married, I thought of a trip to Maui and getting married on the beach. We would elope! What did we need to do to prepare? Nothing!
We flew to Maui and went to the Kahului Seventh-day Adventist Church that Sabbath. Walking in during the song service, I spotted a familiar head. It was Heidi and her whole family. Mack and I came in and sat next to them. Visiting with them after church, I told her what an impact she had been on my life. She was shocked, to say the least. She said she was too timid to witness to others, and didn’t really know how to do it.
Heidi helped plan our wedding. We decided to get married that next Sabbath in the Lahaina Seventh-day Adventist Church, as part of the church service. She and her husband, Steve, would be our witnesses and stand up with us during our ceremony. I invited all my friends and coworkers from my previous job in Hawaii to come to my wedding the following Saturday morning. A friend’s husband took photos, another friend made leis, someone brought a cake, I brought food I had ordered from a takeout place, and we had a wedding.
The church was packed that day, with the potluck women in a panic about having enough food (there was plenty). The pastor gave a sermon about love. At the end of his sermon, the pastor asked us to come forward as he announced to the church, “We will now have a wedding.” My friends were surprised to be part of a church service, since I hadn’t explained the situation to them in advance.
We even had a flower girl! Heidi’s daughter, Tatiana, older now, took it upon herself to pick a basketful of fragrant gardenias from her yard. She tossed them in the aisle as she followed behind us as we left the church.
The following week I was baptized in the Charleston Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a couple weeks after that I went to my first Carolina camp meeting, where we invited someone special home for lunch. A friend from church asked, “Aren’t you nervous about having the president of the General Conference to your place for lunch?”
“What’s the General Conference?” I asked.
The rest is history!
Sharon Tennyson serves as a marketing assistant at Adventist Review. She is still in love with Mack, director of the General Conference SunPlus accounting software. She recently shared this story of her wonderful journey during staff worship.