on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Swimming Upstream

When I was in high school I remember saying, “I can’t wait to go to college.” By the time I was a senior in college,  I was excited about graduate school.  Then came my marriage, job opportunities, divorce, houses, remarriage, children, and more.

If we are not careful, we will find ourselves believing the illusion that peace and happiness is just around the corner, instead of being available right here and right now.

If we are not careful, we will miss the gifts of where we live today, the relationships we have in our lives already, and the vocation that is part of our daily routine.

Mary and I have one of these challenges right now.  We have an empty nest with both kids entering their sophomore years in college.  In the past year I started the most challenging and enjoyable job I’ve ever had, and Mary has multiple opportunities for her work and education.

We want to simplify our lives, which is of course complex.  To simplify one’s life in the U.S. is like being a salmon who swims upstream.  Our American culture is the river and our new dream of owning less is the salmon.  To simplify is to go against against the flow.

One of our “simplicity decisions” is deciding where we want to live at this time in our lives–the lake where we presently live, or in the city of Birmingham.

As many of my friends know, when I was a “single again man” it took me six years to get back on my feet financially and emotionally.  And so in 2002, I decided to build a house on the lake.

It was time to go for a dream to live on the water. I went to the bank and borrowed the maximum amount I could, bought a couple of acres, and before long a house was built and I moved in.  Six months later, I met Mary, was swept off my feet and married about eighteen months later.  Much to my surprise, we moved our new family to the lake in the country so that we could all live together.

Our home has been a wonderful place to be family with one another.  Beautiful nature has renewed our souls on a regular basis.

On the other hand, it has been challenging because the grocery store and our church are a thirty-five minute drive one way, and my work is an hour away.

So why and what are we planning to do?  We don’t know yet, but we will when it’s time.

Over the next few days or weeks, I am going to write about my journey of deciding where to live and the reasons behind it.  I need to do so for my own sake.

There is grief to work through and new dreams to pursue.

I hope it will be helpful to you, my readers.

In the meantime, I am thankful for this day, where we live now, and for new dreams in my life.

When have you chosen to simplify your life?  What was it like?  Was it worth it?  Why or why not?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.  Let us learn together.

Peace be with you, today,



  1. Mary Bea Sullivan

    I am grateful to be on this simplicity journey with you. This morning as I was thinking about the heart-felt comments, “How can you sell that house?” The response came, “We have loved this home and will treasure and appreciate it for however long we are here. AND the Spirit is whispering new things…things not yet imagined. We can choose to hold on to what has been, or we can open to movement of the Spirit. For all we know, it will mean staying here in a new way. I think we are supposed to LET GO and LIVE and LOVE–we can do that anywhere because it is a state of heart.”

  2. Malcolm

    I too am thankful to be on this journey with you, Mary Bea. Regardless, wherever we live, as long as it is with you, there will be peace and happiness and joy.

    You are loved,

  3. Carol Henderson

    You adorable love birds!

    We simplified hugely when we moved to Chapel Hill from Boston. We left a house with a fabulous view of the city and a to-die-for deck, a house we had renovated and expanded. It was lovely–Italian tile floor in the new hallway, raised roof and skylights and beautiful new floors over the entire upstairs.

    We rented the Boston house for a year and moved to a tiny tiny place here in Chapel Hill, Bill’s mother’s house she only spent part of the summer inhabiting. The place was full of her dreary antiques and heavy drapes. Our furniture and most of our other stuff went into storage. When I saw our camillias in beautiful bloom starting in December–white, pink, red and the shiny magnolia and holly leaves glittering in the mild winter sun, I knew I never wanted to spend another winter in the Northeast.

    So after a year we sold the house we loved, where both our girls had been born, and left the neighbors we loved and crammed ourselves in here. For years the place was full of Bill’s mom’s stuff. I sought solace looking out the windows at the towering tress and the Carolina blue sky and the birds.

    We stopped spending money on stuff because we had nowhere to put it. We rid ourselves of our hefty Boston mortgage and lived off the house sale as well as our much-reduced corporate writing business.

    The benefits: time to be with our children as they grew up, a place to live modestly where no one could hide from anyone else. We are convinced ours is an even closer family because of the small living space. We had time to focus inward and not identify with a house, time to write and shift our career priorities, time for Bill to teach writing at Carolina–not a viable job without extra resources.
    Eventually the house became ours and now that the girls are grown and gone it feels even spacious. Small has been beautiful for us.

  4. Linda

    How amazing that you are blogging about this possible change in your lifestyle. Your comments are going to be read with the possibility of helping me (us) make a decision about re-locating to a smaller house in another state. In our 60’s, this is a big decision for us. And with the downturn in the economy, is it a good time to sell and re-locate? I don’t have the answer to these questions and have sought God’s guidance but we can not come to a clear conclusion. I look forward to your journey.

  5. Bob Blackwell

    Malcolm, as a salmon is swimming up stream, there is often a bear at the top of the falls waiting to grab it, and the bear is amazingly crafty at catching its prey. Kay and I sold almost everything we owned to move to Syria to live an amazingly simple life…it was wonderful. But in the past 3 years, we have managed to reclaim almost all of the “stuff” (both materially and emotionally) that we thought we had shed. The good news for all of us is that God is there with us in both the simplicty and the complicity of life… and I am enjoying the complicty as much as ever. A change in location, is simply that… a change in location… We are who we are wherever we are…and God is always God… Thanks be to God!

  6. Malcolm

    Bob, your wisdom from leading the journey is very helpful. Especially when you say, “A change in location, is simply that… a change in location… We are who we are wherever we are…and God is always God… Thanks be to God!”

    I couldn’t agree more and need to keep in mind there is no uptopia in which to live, but to live where we are.


  7. Malcolm

    Carol, you are an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and experience.


  8. Malcolm


    Take my hand, and teach me along your way, and I’ll do the same. It’s good to know we are not alone.


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