Just Do What You Can

The pale pink sign grabbed my attention with racks of “Red Dot Items $1” and boxes of shoes and books with the same signs placed out front of the door. I was coming from an appointment with my Hand Specialist in Boca Raton (having broken my finger in September), stopping by Trader Joe’s to grab “just because” flowers for my daughter and a small carton of heavy cream for my father’s morning coffee, before heading home to grill hot dogs for lunch with my family. Thrift stores used to be one of my happy places. On a lazy weekend afternoon or a random day off school, combing the racks and shelves of forgotten treasures, hoping to score a deal, fueled my joy. One of my greatest “scores” was finding a pair of Ralph Lauren maroon velvet pants that fit me like I glove for $5. This was the only way I could afford designer clothes.

The thrift store on this particular sunny day in south Florida was attached to a Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale. Although I slowed down slightly, I didn’t stop. I don’t have time for that. Although today, I did, and I heard a gentle whisper in my spirit urge me to turn around and have a look, maybe even remember when I could slow down enough to just enjoy looking for something, even if I didn’t find anything.

The journey doesn’t have to produce anything for it to be worthwhile.

But I think my resistance went deeper than that. It wasn’t just about having time, it was also about not having a place to put anything I might find.

About a year ago, my husband, three kids and I were living with my parents in San Antonio, Texas. My husband had just returned home from finishing up his last semester on Saba, in their medical school program. We implemented family road trip days on the weekends in order to re-integrate our nuclear family bond–the kids and I had just gone 7 months without a husband and father.

On one of our first “outings” we headed south towards Poteet. Along the way, there is a massive flea market, stretching for what feels like miles. “We should check it out,” my husband says excitedly. One of our first dates was a walk down the street to a garage sale.

“I don’t know, maybe.” My apathy surprised me. Wait a minute, I LOVE flea markets! What is wrong with me?

“How about you go and check it out, and I will sit with the kids in the car–they’re asleep anyways,” I offer disinterestedly.

“Well, are you okay? What’s up?” my husband asks.

I start to cry.

“I just can’t handle looking around at all these perfectly vintage things, dreaming about all the ways we will restore them and integrate them into the aesthetic of our exceptionally hospitable home, when we don’t have a home, and won’t have a home probably for the next ten years. I can’t walk around the booths without increasing anger punctuating each thing I pick up and put back down.”

My husband and I proceed to talk for hours in the parking lot, processing the last four years of our marriage, and sharing the ways we have changed and our dreams have shifted. We spend our hours differently and are running after new things, and some of the things that used to give us joy, no longer do.

We were coming back to each other as new people, and that’s okay.

It felt so good to admit that I no longer like going to flea markets, estate sales, and thrift stores. The current longing for stability is too tender, and stores/houses full of lives lived and lost, collecting dust (and potentially fleas) breaks it wide open.

We decided in that parking lot, that we would no longer go to these places until I was ready.

At the next stop light, I turned around and parked in front of the “Pink Lady” thrift store. Familiar smells lifted from the random clothes and household items as I searched the shelves for treasure. My daughter has been into ice-skating in her “slippery-wippery” socks on the living room floor, so I thought I might find an old, sparkly formal dress I could adapt for her performances. I find something perfectly tacky and begin pulling it off the rack when I remember I don’t have a sewing machine.

Oh no.

I feel the familiar shame creep up my cheeks.

It’s fine, it’s fine, you’re not a bad mom. Just put the dress back and see if they have any jeans in your size.

I walk over to the pants section and find nothing but old lady slacks and Abercrombie and Fitch jeans circa 2002 when waistlines were so low you had to shave.

I should leave. 

I return the gaudy, silver heels I had grabbed for my daughter’s dress-up bin, and hightail it back to my van.

I open the door and take a second to breathe before sitting down.

Just do what you can.

“How?” I whisper out loud. I wanted to give my daughter a whole outfit. It felt important in this current season of moving around every three months for my husband’s clinical rotations. I wanted her to have access to “make believe” materials, even if I couldn’t build her a playhouse or help her decorate a bedroom to reflect her own dreams and delights.

I want to feather a nest and invite people over.

While I can’t manifest the home I dream about, I realized I can pull down a beam. I can break off a little lattice-work and open up a back porch window.

I can make what I do have magical, and one pair of shoes can become many incredible things with the right imagination.

2 Corinthians 8:12 says “For if the intention and desire are there, the size of the gift doesn’t matter. Your gift is fully acceptable to God according to what you have, not what you don’t have.” (TPT)

I walked back into the thrift store, grabbed the heels, placed a dollar in the cashier’s hand and walked out the door. I couldn’t wait to show my daughter.