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A look at the second week of February…with appreciation


 

 

National Freelance Writers Appreciation Week is coming up. If you want to get technical about it – and I do, as I’m an avid researcher – the second full week of February is also: Celebration of Love Week, Children of Alcoholics Week, Jell- O Week, National Secondhand Wardrobe Week, and Random Acts of Kindness Week.

If ever there was a piece begging to be written, it’s this one.

You could call me a freelance writer, though I think of myself more as a hobby-columnist and fiction author who gets her giggles when the meager royalties checks post to the checking account. Strictly speaking, a freelance writer earns an income writing for others while not being employed on the side or full time. They produce the writing the client requires. Often, the freelance writer has multiple clients, and works from home or in a small office space.

Many of the blogs and features you read online or in magazines and newspapers have been composed by a freelancer. Versatile writing skills are a definite asset when it comes to freelance writing. Some are technical writers, providing written instructions for products or specs for design. Others cover broad topics, such as travel or the culinary arts.

 

 

The Internet provides opportunities for freelance writers through sites which specialize in freelancing of all types. One such site is Upwork. If a business has need for a product a freelancer can provide, there is a rated index of professionals ready for their purposes. Need a proofreader? No problem. Got a manuscript in need of editing? Dozens of editors await. Have a design need? The gamut of designers online astounds.

According to the definition, I’m barely a freelance writer. Personally, I think I’m not disciplined enough to be one fulltime. My motivations are different, as my financial security does not depend on the sentences and paragraphs I construct. I write because I can’t not write. More of a deranged obsession than an occupation. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it does buy me a few graphic tees at Savers or Goodwill.

Jennifer works from home, from the comfort of her sofa, with the help of her two sons—Jed (left) and Isaac (right)—and stuffed soft toy “Lizzie.” The company is great, but the assistance is somewhat lacking. Submitted photo

Jennifer works from home, from the comfort of her sofa, with the help of her two sons—Jed (left) and Isaac (right)—and stuffed soft toy “Lizzie.” The company is great, but the assistance is somewhat lacking. Submitted photo

Secondhand shops, thrift stores, and rummage sales have saved us significant dough over the years, and I can affordably keep my five kids in high-falutin’ style on a budget. Thrift shop clothes have been worn, but those brand new designer digs get worn and washed, too. Plus, I don’t have to trade an arm, leg, or firstborn for a pair of skinny jeans. In fact, the only new clothing I purchase at stores has to be on sale, or it stays on the rack.

The money saved is a good thing. But buying secondhand clothing is good for the environment, as well. In using previously worn clothing, we reduce emissions and waste of plants producing the new textiles while at the same time keeping unwanted cloth out of landfills. In a 2014 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discarded textiles represented more than 16.2 million tons of the waste in landfills. Sadly, a large portion comes from donated used clothing and new clothing that did not sell after production.

What can Everyday Joe do to help? When an old t-shirt no longer fits or has too many “scratching holes” to be decent, cut up the material and use it as cleaning cloths. Cloth rags can be washed and reused for decades. Love that souvenir tee you got at the beach, but it just doesn’t fit anymore? Use a square template, cut out the logo you love, and make a pillow or a quilt block to save. The same can be done for articles of clothing that belonged to loved ones who have passed on or that have sentimental value. Buy preworn for you and your family. It keeps textiles out of landfills and provides a budget-friendly wardrobe for everyone. You would join the approximate 70 percent of us humans wearing reused outfits and fit right in with my clan.

We’ve been a one-income family for nearly twenty years. In those twenty years, we have faced financial strains, deployments, readjustment to civilian (non-military) life, thirteen cross-country moves, five children, and every manner of trial, difficulty, and tribulation out there. Yet there is a thread of commitment binding us together. It’s love, but more than love at the same time.

Every week, I celebrate our love, and this designated week will be no exception. Commitments are hard. They wouldn’t be commitments if they were easy. And that’s what our marriage is: a commitment in the good times and bad. It is simple to celebrate the easy love, the hand-holding in the park kind. The romantic movie and candlelit dinner kind. The crying at the birth of a child kind.

It is a challenge to celebrate hard love. Hard love grits its teeth and forgives wrongs, and promises to not hold grudges. Hard love shudders on the shower floor, drenched and shivering, when the strain of being a wife and mother to imperfect people becomes heavy; it rises, washes, and gets on with the day, knowing love will endure as long as we have the will to make it endure. Hard love is accountable. It swallows pride and admits when it screwed up. Hard love sharpens us, as long as we take the time to celebrate it along with the easy like Sunday morning kind of love.

That celebration is why I loved my father in spite of the habit that killed him. My dad, Robert, was an alcoholic. It’s odd to think there is a Children of Alcoholics Week, and even though I am nearly 43, I will always be the child who sat in the cab of the truck outside the liquor store, excited that my dad went in to buy beef jerky or candy sticks for me. Yeah, he brought another paper-wrapped package that went behind the seat, but I never paid much attention to it.

I know the relationship I had with my father differed from the one my mother had with him. Those relationships are in different universes. He was just “Dad” to me. A quiet, strong man who worked hard every day with his hands, both on the job and on the five-acre small horse farm we had for a while, or in his taxidermy shop. Being married as long as I have been, I understand the many facets of husband he must have been to my mother for the nearly 28 years they were married. He was never a mean or abusive man, and for that I am grateful. Yet, when he died, I was incredibly angry with him.

How could he be so selfish? I used to wonder that all the time. He left my mother a widow in her forties, died before he could meet my second child. I was pregnant with her when he passed away. Cirrhosis of the liver, organ failure, and ruptured varices in his throat were the results of alcoholism that started in his teens. Years passed before I realized my bitterness toward him in death overshadowed the joy I felt for having him as long as I did. I let it go. Forgiveness is tough, but there is freedom in it.

I guess I figured if Jesus could forgive my father’s faults, then who was I to hold onto them? My heart lightened, and I transitioned from bitter, grieving daughter to a grateful daughter missing her daddy. That, in itself, is also a celebration of the ultimate Love.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Hate shackles us. It enslaves. Hate traps our hearts in a cycle of an almost cannibalistic emotion, feeding on itself and the hate of others, growing larger and darker every day. Hate begins with divisiveness, with bitterness and discord. Like King said all those years ago, hate cannot drive out hate. It only feeds it. The only thing that can stop hate is love.

There is a song I’ve sung since I was very small. I’m sure you know it. “This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine.” The light comes from love. It shines brightest when we treat others the same way or better than the way we want to be treated. Light blazes through the darkest night when we fuel it with love for one another.

One way to walk the path of love and light is to be intentional with our good works. If you pray, pray for God to put someone in your life today that you can help, or minister to, or just be a crying shoulder. Buy a nice card with an uplifting message and give it to a stranger. Give $10 to the disheveled homeless man sitting at the corner stop sign. Buy lunch for the people in the minivan behind you at your favorite fast food restaurant drive-through. Random acts of kindness only seem random to the recipient, and that is the fun part of it. As the giver, the act is intentional. Real. And each one shines a light of love to someone who might be lost in the darkest night or day of their life. Even a hello and a smile can save a life.

Sure, we never know what the man with the hand-lettered cardboard sign is going to spend the money on. We do not know if the card will end up in the trash. That’s not the point. The point is doing what is right for the sake of doing right, and not worrying about the other person’s response or actions as a result of it. An act done in the name of love with the expectation of a return is not a true act of love.

I look people in the eye when I’m shopping, often with a smile. Most of the time, I’m met with a questionable, distrustful look. It saddens me that a kind gesture today is thought to have an ulterior motive. We all need to be little lights shining. Know what happens when a single candle shines in the darkness? It creates a tiny pool of light. But add dozens of candles and soon the room will radiate light. Kindness is contagious, friends. Don’t be afraid to let your let shine.

As I wrap up this freelanced column at home, wearing a secondhand top I proudly bought at Savers, surrounded by my loves on this frigid winter day, my heart is warmed by the memory of my father and those who have blessed me with their own random acts of kindness. I need those thoughts, the comforting ones.

You see, it has been a long few days. My youngest son and one of my daughters caught a stomach bug. The faint smell of bleach still lingers in the air, though they are recovering. There’s a bowl of orange Jell-O in the fridge (bet you thought I forgot about Jell-O Week!) and saltines in the pantry. We’re down a few rolls of paper towels and a few hours of sleep, but we will recover.

In the end it all boils down to appreciation, doesn’t it? Contentment isn’t having what you want; it’s wanting what you have. I wish I knew who first said that. What I have are an abundance of blessings.

Jennifer lives in Aurora, MN, with her husband, five children, and menagerie of pets. You can get in touch with her at jennifer.osufsen@gmail.com, or visit her newly updated website at www.jenniferosufsen.com.

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