Photo by Stuart Showalter. Sunrise, January 6, 2019. From our front door.

Yesterday, the Day of Epiphany, fell on a Sunday,

and a little group from our church

jumped into conversation about the wise men, the star, and global warming,

in response to the sermon.

So, I was receptive when my friend Richard

posted a wonderful epiphany reflection, which begins this way:

For this Time Being – after Auden, 2019

By Maren Tirabassi

Well, so this is that again.
We are still dismantling trees,
unwinding the lights
of yet another year’s celebration,
packing our traditions in cardboard boxes
up to the attic, kissed with uncertainty –
for we always know more
about Advent than Epiphany.

The children are adults –
they’ve come for Christmas
but we gave them our best gifts years ago,
and we can no longer expect them
to follow our stars, only their own.
Our parents are children now
and we work to show them a hint of wonder,
afraid each holiday will be their last. . . .

I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in this poem,

both at the annual ritual

of the new year and the place in life where I find myself now,

between adult star-following children and my elderly star-following mother.

I’ve spent this morning meditating on how Epiphany

might light the path for the new year.

My word for 2019 is Jubilee.

Not only has this word taken root in my writing since 2016

but 2019 is the year Stuart and I anticipate celebrating our Jubilee Anniversary.

So am I doubling down on New Year’s Resolutions?


I am devoting the month of January to purging and pruning, borrowing from some unlikely bedfellows:

two Maries: Marie Forleo and Marie Kondo.

PURGE, says Marie Forleo.

Write down everything you want to accomplish this year.

Move it from your head to paper or computer.


Our pear and cherry trees in the back yard. With severe haircuts.

Our pear and cherry trees in the back yard. Pruned all the way back.

For everything you want to do use three filter questions:

  • What is the payoff for making this project happen?
  • How will this project ultimately benefit others?
  • Who will you have to become in order to make this goal come alive? (Does it cause you to grow?)

Marie Kondo “tidies up” by a similar method. She dumps out all the clothes unto the middle of the room. Then she asks the person who owns them to evaluate each item. Does it spark joy? If yes, the item goes into the closet. If not, it gets thanked for its service and recycled. Her series on Netflix right now is good television.


The poem that started this revery

by Maren Tirabassi, above,

ends with these lines:

Though the Time Being
is still and always redeemed
with its hope and suffering –
for surely, if Epiphany means anything at all,
some trailing light of the star
lit the flight to Egypt –

and we guess our ordinary days
will take extraordinary courage,
every one a rehearsal for Holy Week and Easter,
the Spirit practicing
across our keys some scales of joy.

I sense the Spirit ready to practice scales of joy,

even while I gather courage for the ordinary days ahead.

I am actually looking forward, now, to both purging and pruning.

In this year of Jubilee,

I wish all of you a jubilant New Year that will spark your

deepest joy and provide solace in your darkest hours.

What one thing do you feel called to purge or prune?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on January 7, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    I begin by putting away the Christmas tree and decorations on the day after Epiphany. Then I will go down to my office. That’s where so much clutter ends up! Every day a little until it’s done! Thank you for the reminder, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 7, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      Elfrieda, many blessings as you do your post-Epiphany decluttering. If you have Netflix, you may want to watch a few episodes of Marie Kondo. She is a delight. My favorite part of the program is when she introduces herself to each house and blesses the family.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on January 7, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Shirley — You can well imagine how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. My favorite part — the piece that really grabbed my heart — is the set of three filter questions:

    What is the payoff for making this project happen?
    How will this project ultimately benefit others?
    Who will you have to become in order to make this goal come alive? (Does it cause you to grow?)

    • Shirley Showalter on January 7, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Yes, Laurie. These questions sound like they are right down your alley. Do you know Marie Forleo’s work? She is an amazing young woman with a real flair for marketing but not in a superficial way. She is an excellent interviewer of authors. 🙂

  3. Shirley Showalter on January 7, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    If you enjoyed Maren Tirabassi’s poem above, you may love her blog.

  4. Linda Hoye on January 7, 2019 at 9:58 pm

    This is an interesting question, Shirley, because I am certain there must be things that must be pruned in order to ensure healthy growth (yes, I’m thinking about gardening even in January). I sat with this question for a time. One thing I am pruning this year is online time. My intention is to read paper books, limit social media, and fine tune my Feedly list.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 7, 2019 at 10:05 pm

      Linda, you would know about pruning! Did you notice the brave little wren house still on the tree without limbs above? I know the birds will be back, but maybe it will take a full season for the new growth to flourish first.

      I applaud your decision to prune online time. I want to join you in that goal. Being on social media for more than 30 minutes no longer passes the three filter questions above. Let’s encourage each other in the reading of real books!

  5. Melodie on January 8, 2019 at 7:42 am

    I never thought about whether an item of clothing brings me joy. I often think, will I wear it, when did I wear it last, do I like this item: but joy? I’ll have to give that a try. I do use the joy factor when deciding on whether to purge other objects or books. My husband and I have a garage to tackle when I retire this spring and I love your questions from Marie Forelo on purging and they will be useful as we keep the goal in mind of being able to get the 2nd car into the garage. 🙂 I do dread the answer to this question: “Who will you have to become in order to make this goal come alive?” I don’t want lots of arguments and anguish as we tackle the process.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 8, 2019 at 9:11 am


      The best part about the program on Netflix is watching the way Kondo listens to people in their homes. When she introduces herself to the house by kneeling and sitting, speaking softly, she sometimes brings the family in the show (and many in the audience, I suspect, to tears). So when she folds clothes with her palms and describes what she means by “sparking joy,” the whole process is spiritual. I read that she spent time in a Shinto monastery or temple. I had read about her before, but hearing and seeing her made me respect her more.

      And, ha ha, if you watch the show, you will realize that whatever you have in that garage, it couldn’t be as bad as many of the collections people on the show have.

      So this is the year of your retirement. May it be the best ever at work and the beginning of an exciting journey away from the “time clock.”

      • Melodie Davis on January 8, 2019 at 4:09 pm

        Thanks for these additional descriptions of the reverent way that Kondo listen and works. Fascinating. We rarely watch Netflix but may more in the years ahead, I have rarely watched TV at all in recent years, I am quite out of it.

        When I look at the projects started and in process on my husband’s work bench etc., I have to think of the many writing projects I still have in process, and how in comparison, my piles and files of paper and notes can be handled and store more easily and neatly than rods and metal for welding projects together, or wood for other objects: a discarded mailbox project, etc. etc. you get the idea. He is creative and productive but in different ways.

  6. Marian Beaman on January 8, 2019 at 9:45 am

    This is a perfect post for the new year. I especially enjoyed the pun in line “I sense the Spirit ready to practice scales of joy, “weighing the material, investing in joyful moments.”

    You probably remember my jubilation over discovering Marie Kondo’s book before we moved; I even blogged about it then. Her philosophy provided fuel for sorting through a mountain of our stuff. And, yes, we began watching the Netflix series this month. I was especially touched by the grieving widow who curated her house contents, including her dear husband’s clothing.

    We have contacted a tree surgeon, Carl Countryman (don’t you love the name!), to prune the oaks out front and especially out back where boughs hang over the lake. When the job is done, my hibiscus will bloom better because they’ll get more light. Wow – I think I have just written my self into another blog post!. Thank you, Shirley, for all this and for the Maren Tirabassi poem which is new to me.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 8, 2019 at 11:12 am

      Yes, Marian, I remember your tribute to Marie K. before your move. My daughter also benefited from reading the book, and I got to observe how she put good practices to use. I never read the book, but I do enjoy the show, especially, as the article linked above under “good television” points out, the paradox that Kondo never seems to judge all the material excess of the typical American lifestyle. Instead, she blesses the house and the family, mess and all, and helps them come to their own conclusions. By creating empathy for things, she helps us stop our cravings for more and winnow to just the things we love.

      Yes, Carl Countryman is perfect. Sounds like one of those characters in 18th century literature. Could not have made up a better name for his business!

  7. Phyllis Wulliman on January 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Shirley, I love everything about this blog entry. Your thoughtfulness expressed with your writing is powerful. Thus, my love for Marie Kondo’s ideas/book comes back to life with a new perspective – yours!

    The idea of practicing scales of joy is wonderful. Asking how pruning can bring others’ joy and what do I need to become in order for this all to come to life are musts for this time in my life.

    Blessings on you and your house!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 18, 2019 at 6:59 am

      Phyllis, I am sorry it took me so long to see this comment. I have to see why I am not getting notifications when people leave comments.

      But I am always honored when you find a post resonant with your own life. I think of you as not needing Marie Kondo. You have always been able to carefully select beautiful objects that spark joy. Your home is so lovely. And your quilts a delight to all the senses.

      And you practice scales of joy all the time — literally and figuratively. Returning the blessings!

  8. Sherrey Meyer on January 8, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Shirley, God knew I need a personal emotional boost this morning. The waiting for surgery to hopefully bring relief to long-term pain has worn down my spirit. I’ve practically closed down my site for the long-term, but seeds have been planted along the way by folks like you and Linda Hoye. I don’t have my 2019 word yet but I’m thinking simplify or contemplation, leaning toward the latter. After all, what’s a girl to do when her mind is fogged and her body is in pain but lie back and contemplate? Even if that contemplation includes cobwebs!

    I’m rethinking the focus of my blog to include more writings about faith, life issues, aging, contemplative posts, Scripture, and quotations. It doesn’t mean I’ve forsaken my memoir manuscript. It’s a mountain I just can’t climb right now, and with Bob’s wonderful Writing Studio he built for me, my workspace to finish the book awaits me. But for now, I can only cope with what is possible in the moment. I lay back and close my eyes a lot and think about what I want to give to others from my blog. I’ll be joining Linda in her efforts to step back from the digital world and focus more on the tangible and personal connections.

    Thanks for jogging my brain cells this morning! I spent part of yesterday bemoaning the fogginess of my brain due to meds and pain. Today is starting out better.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 18, 2019 at 7:13 am

      Sherrey, since it has taken me a long time to find your comment (notifications aren’t working for me right now), I hope you have been continuing to get stronger. The word CONTEMPLATION might be just the right one as I listen to the pain you are experiencing. One thing sensitive souls feel deeply in both physical and emotional/mental pain is the fact that it is so hard to focus on anything outside the self. You are choosing to select what you can’t control, and in doing so, you are gaining an ounce of freedom. Your desire to turn your forced rest into active contemplation is brilliant. I salute you and hope that soon you will be in that lovely studio again. I’m glad you have let go of the memoir. It’s time will come. Or it won’t. The work you have done will never be wasted. It’s now part of all that you contemplate. Many blessings to you.

  9. Dora Dueck on January 9, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Downsizing to move into an apartment a couple of years ago was a difficult but positive experience. I used Marie Kondo’s ideas to help us in that process. I’d forgotten the business about greeting one’s house when coming in, and also about thanking one’s possessions for their use. I want to become more mindful of that as I come into our apartment. More particularly to your post, however, thank you for sharing Marie Forleo’s concept of purging and pruning at the project level. This is where I can quickly get bloated: too many ideas, too many research/reading/writing projects on the go.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 18, 2019 at 7:25 am

      Hi Dora, hope you get notified of this response. My own notification system seems not to be working.

      I can only imagine the task of downsizing to an apartment, but we are starting our preparation for that stage now. I got rid of ten drawers of files in the last month, pruning much more than I would have at one time.

      On the project level, I suspect we are quite alike. I continue to get flashes of inspiration and try to jot them down before they flee. One lifetime will never be enough to implement a fraction of these — especially since the distance behind me is much longer than the distance ahead. If you haven’t clicked on Marie Forleo’s name above, you might want to watch her. My daughter referred me to her, and I am quite impressed by the good guidance she gives.

      I continue to think of you and always enjoy your reflections on age and language and beauty.

  10. Carol Bodensteiner on January 9, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    After our conversation and now reading your blog, Shirley, I’m going to work at pruning ‘ruminating’ from my life. 😉

    One thing I sincerely hope to keep is our thought provoking conversations.

    Happy New Year!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 18, 2019 at 7:28 am

      I am glad we have found a way to converse across the years and miles, Carol. When we talk to each other, it’s no longer ruminating, right?

      Let’s keep helping each other reflect and renew.

  11. Tracy Rittmueller on January 17, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Wow-Shirley, this is getting a little whoo-whoo; I, too, have begun purging via the Marie Kondo tidying method! As for “the one thing” I need to purge / prune, it’s the need for things to be perfect, or at least right.

    Happy Jubilee year to you and Stuart, my friend.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 18, 2019 at 7:37 am

      Thank you, Tracy, for letting me know we are engaged in similar enterprises. Hope you have found new lightness of being as you say gentle good-byes to what is no longer serving you. I want to remember the gentle part. My Swiss German hausfrau genes can kick in and make me efficient in overdrive. Kondo’s presence is so calm and loving. Yet the result is the same. The lightness comes from carrying less, but not in a literal way. May you carry only what the angels desire for you this year.

  12. April Yamasaki on February 11, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    I love this post, Shirley, and am listing it in my blog article for today on how I’m rightsizing my books. My former church office had a whole wall of shelves and cupboards, and at my new church my office has just one bookcase. I suppose I could squeeze in more, and I’ve done that at home for quite a lot of my books, but I’m also taking this opportunity to prune and purge as you put it. Thank you for the encouragement, and blessings to you in this post post Epiphany season!

    • Shirley Showalter on February 14, 2019 at 7:35 am

      Hi April, sorry it took me a while to find your comment. I’m always happy to see you here. I’m celebrating Valentine’s Day with an appointment to ship six boxes of books, letters, and memorabilia to the EMU historical library. 🙂

      I found pruning books to be very hard when we left Kalamazoo eight years ago. Back then I had multiple thousands. Now I am down to five large bookcases, and when they get full, I go through the stacks, making space. I am so grateful that we have so many diligent volunteers in our area who accept used books and other items. It is easier to let go OF something when you know it will go TO someONE else.

Leave a Comment