Sunday, January 8, 2012

Counting Up Losses

In the past month, we have been racking up losses left and right. It is a source of real discouragement for me. Some of these losses are small, but some are rather large. Some were poor investments. Some were careless losses. Each of them provides its own sting.

Recent toy purchases have ranked in as losses. It seems so difficult to guage what toys will hold up to my boys' sometimes less than careful use. There's the small motorcycle set which broke while Sean was showing them at sharing time at school. Two different 3-D shark models, whose fins snapped off within hours of opening. A window cling art kit which fell to pieces immediately upon completion. Hex bugs whose battery life was exhausted after only a few days' worth of playing time.

My favorite purchase of all this Christmas had to be the Smart Lab's Weird and Wacky Contraption Lab. It is basically a kit for creating your own Rube Goldberg machine. While it was a big hit, the pieces are all small and easily broken and the velcro board backing material is already pulling off the wall where they are supposed to mount the individual motion-creating pieces. Will it endure much more use? Time will tell. For the price, one would certainly hope to get more than a few weeks' worth of play out of the toy.

Then there are the losses due to carelessness. Trevor received quite a few small Gogos Crazy Bones for Christmas (one of his latest fixations) to add to his growing collection. He took them to school (against parental advice) and after showing them around on the bus, placed them in his backpack in the cubby at school. No doubt, you can imagine what happened. They have disappeared. Gone in an instant. Also, Bryce left his special calculator in a class at school and is now in need of a replacement.

Finally, there are the losses due to bad investments. A while back, I wrote a post about the purchase of the nail buffing kit. At the outset, I declared that I'm a natural sort of girl. I rarely wear make-up or do my nails. Yet, I was hooked in. I took the bait. It sounded so appealing that with minimal effort I could have shiny, well-groomed nails. However, I have only used the nail buffer and cuticle oil ONCE. It isn't that it is time-consuming. I just don't bother taking the time. Plus, I managed to drop the entire container of cuticle oil on the floor, watching it shatter and imagining the number of dollars I wiped up with paper towels.

Lured by a special coupon and sale at J.C. Penney, I purchased not one, but four new bras. I was assisted by the sales clerk and at the time, really felt that we had landed on a good-fitting bra. They only had one available in my size, but she assured me that we could place the order and I would still secure the "buy two get two free" deal. I have been wearing the new bra and have discovered that the fit isn't as good as I had thought. Now instead of having made one poor investment, it feels terrible to have made four bad investments in that area.

But the largest disappointment in my life right now has to be the expensive new mattress set we purchased just prior to my family's annual Christmas visit. We had decided to get rid of the mis-matched twin beds in the guest room and purchased a lovely used queen headboard. Our plan was to shift our old mattress set into the guest room and purchase a nice new set for our own bed.

Alas, this purchase has felt devastating. You spend one third of your life in bed. I crave good sleep. I abhor back pain. Unfortunately, I think we were in a hurry to just get the job done. We had been to one other store, where I had marveled at the cushiony feel of the Tempur-pedic beds. My husband declared he probably couldn't sleep on something that conformed to his body. Thus, we walked into American Mattress, laid down on the first bed the sales clerk directed us to and after briefly trying two others, determined that the first set was the one for us.

Of course, then came the haggling. I was hoping to spend around $700. My husband was willing to go higher since "a good bed is so important." In the end, the sales clerk sold us the floor model for $1300, six hundred dollars less than the indicated price. We felt we had just secured a really good deal: a high quality Sealy mattress for hundreds of dollars less than the display cost.

We eagerly awaited the delivery of our new mattress set. But, the very first night, I knew the problem was going to be great. It felt like sleeping on a brick. I barely slept and when I woke, I felt stiff and achy. I immediately reported my displeasure to my husband. He felt the bed was fine. He declared that he can sleep on pretty much anything (excepting, of course, a tempur-pedic mattress - ha). After several days of really hating this bed, he suggested I wait it out and then return to the store to refamiliarize myself with their "comfort-guarantee policy."

So, what is their comfort-guarantee policy? I have to sleep on the bed for two weeks and then I have up until the one month point to request an exchange. The hitch? I can only exchange UP. I cannot select a cheaper model and just eat the loss. No, I have to purchase a MORE EXPENSIVE mattress set and pay the difference in price. The clerk showed me the next level up and it would require paying an additional $600 to what we already paid. There was no way I could do that and even if I did, there's no guarantee that the more expensive bed would be any easier to sleep on. So, at this point, we feel stuck. We plan to move the uncomfortable mattress to the guest room (we already have too infrequent a need for the guest room - I would love to have more visitors - and now they'll be anxious to leave once they arrive because of the poor sleep they will experience while here - sob). We've talked about trying to sell the mattress set, but I'm not sure we want people trooping through our home to view a potential purchase. We are, indeed, between a rock and a HARD PLACE!

So, I've been mulling over what to do with the extreme discouragement these losses have wrought in me. The only thing I can come up with is to eat the losses and cling to material things less vehemently. "It is only money," I try to tell myself. Some days this argument works. Some days I still feel pangs of disappointment. I don't want to tally up the actual financial cost of all these losses. It would devastate me. Instead, I want to learn something from it. I want to take away some sort of life lesson.

I don't think I'll be able to fully avoid further losses like this. In some ways, they are inevitable. Things will break or be lost. What seems like a good investment at the time, will, upon reflection, be shown to be a poor investment. So the best I can do is to weigh things as carefully as possible before purchase and then accept the losses when they come.

In fact, instead of focusing on the losses, I think I should probably shift my perspective. We were recently watching the movie "Soul Surfer." The youth pastor shows the youth group a series of slides and asks them to identify what turns out to be a fly's eye or a walnut. She encourages them to gain perspective by stepping away from the immediate appearance. Indeed, we watched Bethany Hamilton gain the perspective she so desperately needed. She had lost one arm, while the people of Thailand had lost home and loved ones in a devastating tsunami.

I am choosing to learn her lesson. I have so much to be grateful for. The very fact that we could afford to plunk down $1300 on a mattress set is alone cause for rejoicing, regardless of the fact that we may be sleeping on our same old set for years to come. Our children have more toys than they really need. Perhaps the new owners of the Gogos and calculator needed them more than we did. Who knows. But, I'm ready to let go of these losses and move on. Clinging was just wrecking my mood.

In light of more significant losses, like the loss of your child's health or life, my losses are extremely minimal and pointless to grieve. But they are still losses and I will still grieve them. I just don't want the grief to overwhelm me and suck my hope and joy.

I follow several families battling the devastation of cancer. Recently, Coleman Larson's family observed the three year anniversary of his death. Even though I don't know them personally, in sharing in their journey and supporting them in prayer, I feel some small modicum of their loss. What always amazes and inspires me is that they choose to cling to hope and daily battle for the best perspective. Yet, I've also watched other families who choose to wear their loss as a badge of distinction - basically declaring "noone else's loss is as devastating as mine and therefore I will remain here in the trenches of despair and refuse to go on because my child was ripped out of my hands before their time." Living in the constant light of loss rips all possibilities of joy and fulfillment from a person.

Although I've lost a child, in miscarriage, my loss is nothing compared to these losses. But I think the method for dealing with loss remains the same. We all face losses of some kind or other, be they big or small. It is what we do with the loss that determines our ability to go on and to cling to hope and faith.

I am hoping for a change in fortune in this coming year. Scripture mentions that there is a time for loss and a time for gain. Would that 2012 reveal itself to be full of equally significant gains to cover those losses we've experienced in the past month. I would wish the same for anyone facing loss, be it small or great (like the anticipated loss of a loved one I am watching for a family we vaguely knew when we lived back in DeKalb). Their loss, at this point, is inevitable. I pray that God would comfort them in their extreme, unspeakable loss and provide them with a time of gain and the ability to retain hope and joy in the midst of their suffering.

Loss is a fact of life. Our perspective in the face of loss is our choice. Thankfully, life isn't limited to this realm alone. There is a future where these momentary losses will be far obscured. I'm clinging to that hope, that future and trying to cling less to the losses of the here and now. I'm trying to claim Bethany Hamilton's life lesson and focus on what I do have rather than what I've lost. Even though my losses are small, in light of life and death, some days I live out the lesson better than others. Now that I've counted up my minimal losses, I'm going to let them go and try to change my perspective so that I can cling to hope and joy.


Elizabeth A. said...

I hate disappointment because I feel I was naive somehow.

As far as the mattress situation goes and you're willing to spend a little more money, I would suggest a foam mattress top of some kind. I have a $20 cheap one on my guest bed with mattresses that are older than I am (they're decorated with harvest gold flowers.), and it helps a lot.

And that can only trade up thing would have ticked me off royally. I mean that just sucks, plain and simple.

Amy Sorensen said...


This is a lovely post, which is sort of weird to say about sadness an disappointment. But from the organization to the end---sooo well written.

Also, two words: memory foam. Seriously. It will make you love your bed so much you will never want to get out of it. AND! I don't know if you have a Costco? But if you do, memory foams are on coupon this week and next.

Elizabeth A. said...

I agree with Amy. This post was sooo well written. It just flowed.

And we definitely have a convenient Costco here in Indy. Right off the Michigan Rd exit on 465.

Wendy said...

Amy - thanks for your kind words. Bryce slept on memory foam at a friend's house and said the same thing. I will have to look into that.

Liz - thanks for the heads up on a Costco location. I never knew. Perhaps the memory foam will save the day. The mattress is about 15 inches thick and my sheets barely fit now, but it might be worth the memory foam and deeper cut sheets if it means better sleep for the long haul.

Elizabeth A. said...

I have some miracle sheet clips that really hold my sheets on despite my foam topper, because it is a bit of a stretch.