more than pocket change

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When I am asked about my weekend, I always pause.

It’s not because I am concerned about my response but rather it takes a moment
to recall the details.
Monday mornings mean the comforter must be peeled away
and even though there seems no evidence, the sun has risen on the week.

Frequently I feel the same when considering the past year.
It’s like traveling the depth of the pocket of a comfortably broken-in coat.
You expect your fingers to land only on air and fuzz and linty bits.
But once your hand is airborne again, a stray $5 bill, a ticket stub or
receipt is discovered, you feel akin to a magician bearing a hat marked by remembrance.
There are times it pays to dig through the darkness to find the light.

Here is a bit of my dirt, unearthed in 2015:

  • I am smarter than a 5th grader.
    I began a new job the polar opposite of physical therapy last year.
    No longer am I concerned with a patient’s strength or walking abilities,
    but crunching numbers and working in an office setting.
    The first 3 months, my brain threatened to shut down from overuse,
    but so far, I have come out of the tunnel of learning unscathed.
    I can do hard things.
    At least hard things to me.
    I learned to rest in my words for 2015, “be faithful”.
    I would  return each day ready to learn and exhale when inevitable mistakes happened or I didn’t comprehend the new language.
    Week by week, faithfulness compounded like interest
    and strengthened my confidence.
  • Put down the mop and NO ONE gets hurt.
    This year, I had to lower the bar.
    Actually who is this mythical person who set the bar?
    I have pursued a bar I either constantly ran into or missed.
    This year, I took a breath and realized my vertical leap didn’t match my real life.
    My house wasn’t as clean last year. Nor will it be this year.
    Here’s the deal, our lives have ebbs and flow.
    When I visit my parents’ home, I love how clean it feels,
    but I am quick to  remind myself, they don’t own a forever shedding dog
    and a 12 year-old boy and his trail of cast off items.
    Yet a mom with toddlers might wander through my front door and declare the current state of our home as pristine, without Cheerios and blocks in every corner.
    Truly if we keep our eyes and ears open, we see a circle of outstretched arms beckoning the pilgrims behind them to breathe easy and enjoy the view without judgment.
    I learned  am learning to love our home in all its B+ cleanliness.
    See the Christmas tree at the top of the page?
    This was the year, we reaffirmed our ceilings to be 8 feet tall and to have the angel most likely to slam dunk when we left the house.
    One night we wound the lights, the next night we scattered multi-colored globes and never brought out the box of ornaments.
    I believe this was one of our favorite trees ever. It was a huge tree for our
    space but I sidled up to the twinkling wonder for countless nights.
    We lowered the bar and no one got hurt.
    I am writing less on this blog and more people are reading.
    Perhaps there were too many words ;)
  • Being intentional shouldn’t be relegated to a nice thought.
    One of Carl’s sisters died unexpectedly last year. The Saturday after her surgery, we made our way from Portland to Vancouver and encountered terrible
    gridlock. We considered taking the nearest exit and changing our visit to the
    next day. By the grace of God, we continued on our route. We had the most
    enjoyable time visiting with Vickie and other family members. We laughed
    and Vickie told several stories, she showed off her new knee and took her
    walker for a stroll. We invited those present to share Easter brunch with us
    the following week.
    On Sunday, Vickie’s walker was cast aside for a new body in heaven.
    I will never forget those brief hours of laughter at the hospital or the arduous ones
    the following day. We miss her deeply but those final memories, we hoard them.
    Be intention.
    Yet I still have to remind myself about the brevity of life.
    I aspire to move beyond the slogan to a guiding call.
  • Make friends with being misunderstood.
    I will probably have to break-up and make-up with this lesson for the rest of my days.
    We made a decision this past year. As with most major decisions, it required a lot
    of discussion and prayer.
    It was a tough one, with pros and cons in each direction.
    Decisions are made by experts.
    Our family are the experts when it comes to our family.
    I could tell you owning a dog is the only way to co-exist in a house
    and you might frown because dogs frighten you.
    Perhaps we continue to discuss this difference in viewpoint over nachos
    and I even take to Facebook to encourage dog lovers to unite and
    rally behind my decision. This is my right.
    It is also another person’s right to never wander into a pet store.
    This may sound like an absurd scenario but fill in the blank with any
    opinion which differs from your own.
    I started following threads and reading comments on Facebook
    which although clearly NOT directed at me, hit me personally.
    My heart would race and like any worthy introvert, I started composing
    my comments in my head and while I slept.
    I wanted desperately to share my viewpoint and not be characterized
    as someone I am not.
    But I was afraid because I had seen others attempt to share an opposing
    view and seen as defensive.
    One day, with one little click of a mouse, I stopped the madness and
    un-followed a couple of groups.
    My blood pressure slowed and I began standing in
    the decision and in the face of being misunderstood.
    I would rather have conversations about differences across a table and
    face-to face and most definitely with a plate of nachos.
  • I’m not stronger than I think, God is even stronger than I knew.
    Eleven years ago, I stood before an audience to give a word of encouragement.
    Part way through the talk, I shared how it had been the worst
    year of our lives. Can you tell, I never had taken a speech class? I promise,
    there was encouragement mingled with the unbearable.
    I shared about God and me. I talked about His love and devotion, which continues
    to stagger me. I spoke about the 18th Psalm which talks about God,
    His character, power and how He teaches His children to fight when the
    storms of life threaten drowning.
    My advice to you is never stand up before anyone and say it is your worse day, week, month or year ever.
    Although I believed it when I stood on the stage, life became several
    shades deeper than the hardest we had known.
    A few years later, I listed the events of that crushing season and it filled a page.
    Those were the “I don’t wanna answer the next phone call” hard years.
    Guess what?
    Life continues to be difficult and challenging.
    But you are smarter than a 5th grader, so you know this, right?
    I still feel fragile at times yet God remains incomparably strong.
    He is stronger than I ever gave Him credit and I am glad to be wrong about
    the scope of His strength and faithfulness.

It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.

Psalm 18:32

What lessons have you  found buried in the pockets of this past year?

I would love to know.
Leave a comment here or even on Facebook.

Deluge

 

(photo taken from passenger seat)

(photo taken from passenger seat)

During the first week of December, Portland and the surrounding areas were hit with record rainfall.
My first morning drive to work, of what was to turn into weeks of downpours, felt like a car wash except for my disobedience to all the rules. My car was not in neutral, my foot was gently on the accelerator and my hands most definitely were gripping the steering wheel.

The ground seemed to cry “uncle” and could not keep up with the pace and quantity of rain leading to flooding and landslides. Puddles and standing water were everywhere making it difficult to walk let alone drive without extreme caution.

A few days into the deluge, I was driving home from work, the rain had lightened up and the sun decided to peer through the grey sky. As the sunshine began to stretch wider and longer, a single ray landed on an impressive high-rise.

I took my eyes off the road in front of me for a moment and gazed at this beaming building in the sky. The sun flickered enough to cease blinding my sight and revealed 5 letters across 5 window panes.

PEACE.

I locked eyes on the word, glanced back at the road and cars in front of me and then lifted my chin up. I admit wanting to snap a quick photo but you know, I was driving…on a freeway.

It’s just as well, because as I kept up this vigil of looking up and down,
I was caught off-guard as tears began to coat my cheeks.

I have no idea the window owner’s intention.

Nor does it matter because it spoke to me in the midst of a chaotic
season, a relentless year.

All I knew was this year my heart had been flooded by images of Paris, black bodies in the streets, weary refugees and thoughts about a man with power, position and a platform shouting out words of fear and hate.
Does his loud voice speak for the hushed beliefs of others?
These heartaches beyond my doorstep clasp hands with all that cross the
threshold of my home.

Tears speak.

In the ensuing weeks, I continued to look up through the clouds to see a word which continued to settle and help me exhale most of what is contained in a day.

I am not sure how many years, I have chosen a word or phrase to embrace for the year ahead. I have grown to cherish this practice. Some years, it has been a challenge and other years, like this one, it has beckoned to me from the sky.

My word for 2016 is peace and to further solidify the choice, unbeknownst to me, Carl picked the same word.

Whenever I choose a word in January, I always believe I know the reasons but there are always surprises and deeper purposes than I know at the time.

This is what I know now.

There are times when our lives become so saturated with the cares and concerns of our lives and world that the evidence comes by way of flood or landslide.

I believe there is a way to live at peace despite the deluge of life.

I want peace to reign in the world and I will pray and do my part for that end.

But peace has to be at work in my heart, my actions and my emotions.

The way I treat others or even mutter about them in the confines of my car speaks to the place of peace in my life.

I am becoming increasingly aware how often I replace the good with the hard,
obliterating the blessed fingerprints all over my life.
I can be forgetful.

I want peace to be an umbrella over the good and hard throughout my days.

The good is present, the hard may arrive but God has not changed.

God remains and Jesus continues to be my Prince of Peace,
I must allow Him elbow room in my heart and mind.

I want His peace to invade my life to such an extent my heart can’t keep up with its pace and quantity. The only solution is to allow the runoff to saturate the world around me.
That’s the best kind of flood.

May 2016 and beyond be lived in the midst of these verses:

And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you.

Philippians 4: 7-9 (The Voice)

To my faithful readers,
as I enter my 10th year of blogging,
thanks for sticking with me whether I have doused you with many words
or you have patiently waited through droughts,
this is my blessing and prayer for you:

The Eternal One bless and keep you.
May He make His face shine upon you 
and be gracious to you.
The Eternal One lift up His countenance
to look upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26 (The Voice)

 

(I have been writing this post for weeks, in my mind and on
scraps of paper. Yesterday I finally sat to write  and my blog
would not open..sigh! But late last night, it appeared and this
morning there is snow! Each day is different and a chance
to practice peacekeeping.)

advent and riverdance

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The girls and I went to see Riverdance a few weeks ago.

Allow me to rewind by at least 14 years to our very first encounter.

The girls were  8 and 12, maybe younger, we can’t quite place the exact year.

We sat high up in the auditorium and from the opening note and shoe tapping

unison, I was smitten.

At intermission, I sped past the concessions (good call) and the restroom (bad call) and

plunked down money for a CD and not a DVD but a VHS tape.

Yes, it was a long time ago.

I skipped back to my seat before the lights extinguished and quickly was entranced

once again by the singing and dancing of Riverdance.

During the final curtain call, I sniffed back tears as I clapped along with the audience.

It’s easy to be swept away in the moment, make an impulsive purchase only to later

shake your foolish head, this was not one of those occasions.

I played the CD incessantly, in the car and while I did chores.

When I was discouraged, I would press play and my mood was elevated.

I can’t explain it, but Riverdance reached a place deep inside me.

The music is haunting and joyful, the dancing is exhausting to witness yet celebratory.

Somehow when Riverdance was on its farewell tour a number of years ago,

I wasn’t able to attend.

Major disappointment.

When I learned the company was touring to celebrate 20 years, I decided

even if I went solo, I was going.

Keeping my cool, I casually asked Court if she was interested in seeing the show

and she said sure.

I inquired of Carlen and she kind of groaned and said yeah I guess so.

I didn’t wait for any minds to change and

proceeded to purchase tickets online.

I had a budget and decided the 1st balcony would be just fine.

No matter how I tried, I kept getting an error message and could not complete my order.

I was forced to call a ticket agent. I say forced because the site clearly stated

not to call for ticket orders.

Thankfully my plea was answered by the most kind helper,

who inquired about my seat selection and once she had this information,

she asked if I wanted closer seats.

Absolutely but my budget and we are three short women who do not want to risk

our view being obliterated by tall patrons of the arts.

I suspected she wanted to make a higher dollar sale, but she assured me

she had orchestra level tickets for the same price and this way we would see their faces.

You want to see their faces.

Sold.

So off we three short women hustled through downtown Portland in pursuit of

Celtic merriment.

We found our section entrance and our seats. Superb.

Then I got a little giddy.

As I fidgeted in my seat, I wondered if the same magic would be

present. I knew every song, the order and the timing of every breath of each vocalist.

As the lights dimmed and the first tones of the music vaulted into the room, I found

myself already crying.

Black hat.

Wand.

Rabbit.

Magic.

Breathe, I reminded myself.

Simply enjoy the event.

I exhaled and  let the Riverdance world captivate me. Again.

And because I knew this music by heart, I also knew when it would end.

I felt equally sad and happy but grateful it lived up to the memory.

The crowd rose to their feet from floor to ceiling and clapped endlessly

and the dancers tapped faster and faster and stopped only in obedience

to muscle fatigue.

Carlen (she who previously groaned) leaned across Courtney to say she was surprised

how well she knew the music and when she realized it was ending she felt sad.

Fist pump.

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Over sandwiches and sodas, we debriefed about Riverdance.

It wasn’t until that moment we realized how much Riverdance had become a part of the

soundtrack of our three lives. The girls would probably add The Wiz as well.

By now, nearly 800 words invested, it is clear how deep my affection

runs for this stage show.

I believe what truly moves me even beyond the music

and the dancing is laying hold of excellence.

Excellence strengthens the beat of my heart and floods my eyes.

Do you know what I mean?

It’s a gymnast sticking a landing at the Olympics or a diver achieving a rip entry into the pool.

It’s fingers coursing over black and white keys creating a soul-shaking melody.

Sometimes it’s a group of children singing one song in all sorts of tunes, yet it is not

one note shy of perfection.

Excellence usually requires hard work and effort but other times it simply arises

from the purest of hearts.

*****

Are you wondering about the title of this post?

Well, here’s the thing.

It’s Advent, the season of marking the 4 or sometimes even 5 Sundays

before Christmas.

Oh how I love Advent but I have often made it difficult.

I have attempted to do too many activities and readings to commemorate the

occasion, by the middle of December, I am defeated and exhausted.

This is what I have realized about Advent and the approaching birth of Christ.

The verses and passages from scripture are so familiar.

If you are a follower of Christ, you know them by heart.

You know the order and what comes next.

Even if you aren’t inclined to open a Bible, break out Charlie

Brown Christmas and give a listen to Linus

orating from the book of Luke,

this season is steeped with familiarity.

You know the story.

Often I wonder when approaching God’s Word if it will be full

of the thrill and wonder from when I first believed.

I curl up in a chair when the lights are low, wade through

the same passages for the same reason, for the same season

and hope that the sameness won’t abolish the glory and mystery.

It’s a circle without end because I long for wonder but I desperately need sameness.

I need Jesus to be the same yesterday, today and forever.

I need to read those familiar words because they place me in the best

seat for each stage of my life.

His words equally bring me to tears and create smile lines.

The Bible is the word track of my life.

This season of Advent, I am not doing more because often

it was about proving to God I was willing to give Him

a big stage show of my love.

His coming needs the center stage spotlight,not my tap dancing.

I am breathing,

lighting a candle each night and speaking or listening to time-tested words.

I will sit in my assigned and paid for seat, pour over His words and

let the curtain rise in front of my face long enough to see His excellence

and beauty.

Whether I am solo or among the masses,

I want to see His face.

Because I am smitten, entranced and captivated by Him.

Again and again.

Amen and amen.

And do you know what?

The lines in my smile will deepen as the promised ending approaches.

Excellent.

 

WASSUP?!!!

The year was 2002 and I needed an email address.

I don’t recall if we had internet in our home yet, maybe dial-up.

So I signed up for a one hour computer slot at the public library and began the process of

registering for an email address.

The most stressful part was choosing the email address name because

technology was new and one wrong move meant being saddled with a

terrible email address FOREVER.

I’m a percolator meaning snap decisions aren’t in my DNA.

Naturally, I am in a library, needing to make a monumental decision and the only thing

bubbling up in my mind were the popular Bud Light commercials at that time.

Of course.

Do you remember these guys?

Over the years, I have used NetZero, Hotmail, Yahoo and GMail all proceeded by

wassuphelen.

It has become my “forever” email address and the source of laughter when people

have a flash of recognition.

Here’s a bit of WASSUP Helen?!

 

*****

Caleb left Sunday for a week of outdoor school.

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He is our final child to experience this 6th grade milestone.

There are 5 or 6 outdoor school sites for our area and it is amazing to us that

all three kids will have gone to Camp Howard.

No matter how long one has been a parent, goodbyes are never easy.

Six days feel long.

It’s good for all of us.

No screen time for him but instead trudging around the great outdoors and

learning campfire songs.

No carpool, practices, youth group and the “do you have homework” question.

It is a sweet blessing to press the pause button for a few days yet I know we will be

anxious to have our boy back home despite the loads of laundry to come.

*****

While Caleb is gone, Carl and I have an added responsibility.

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Meet Grover.

Caleb has wanted a guinea pig or hamster for the last two years, at least. Or a puppy.

It took us some time to completely warm to the idea.

As I have written often on this blog lately, this is a time of transition for our family.

One such transition involves Caleb being the youngest by a couple handful of years.

When we learned we were to have a third child, we heard some unhelpful comments:

“Did you plan this?”

“Oh my gosh, I am so glad it’s you and not me!” and often there was silence,

followed by hysterics.

However the helpful comments were of this variety:

“My brother was born when I was 16 and we are very close as adults.”

“I loved having a little sister so much younger than me.”

“My sister is 12 years older than me, she fascinated me.”

It’s evident, I remember both sets of comments.

But those comments steeped in experience,

I shellacked them to my front and back, propelling me

towards unknown territories  and harnessing me with secure hope.

Carlen and Courtney have been the such a sweet and crazy force

in Caleb’s life.

They have remained present in his life even when it meant a lot of juggling.

I am sure part of it is because it is what we do as a family.

We try to show up for one another. But I also believe they remember how

often Caleb was in the back of  our van or stomping around bleachers or being told

to be quiet during their school events.

His sisters are in their 20’s and forging their own paths.

Part of getting a guinea pig was to give Caleb his own thing and a companion.

We got Grover for Caleb.

But we all adore him.

He has a very sweet personality and his guinea pig antics are hilarious.

I had no idea.

As a parent, we try to do the best for each child and for each season.

We try our best to make everything equal but in reality, nothing is ever equal in

every season. There are patches of time when one child simply needs or demands

more time.

The only aspect in parenting that must be consistently equal is the size of love.

I was reminded by one child how we never got her the lizard she wanted.

Her recollection was that all she had to do was clean her room.

Mine was that it was not to be a one time event ;)

Sigh.

Good thing Grover is so cute.

He has covered over a lot of parental missteps and taught us all a lot about empathy.

*****

Carl and I have been working to give our basement family room a

much-needed facelift.

It has affectionately been called the cave for years because of the wood paneling.

Painting over the darkness created a brighter and  more spacious room.

One side of the family room has a built-in bookcase.

We spent weeks sorting through our book history.

There were yearbooks, encyclopedias, textbooks, cookbooks, a few too many

diet books, fiction and a lot of non-fiction books.

We parted with bags and crates full of books.

I am not saying it was easy for this book lover but it was necessary.

I kept only books I loved, would read again, still want to read or have significant

sentimental value to me. (Shhh…I still have more favorites in my office.)

I removed and recycled  all the book jackets and  this small act completely

changed the look of each book.

Then I organized them by spine color as is so popular now.

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We could use some less loved and saggy furniture and few other items to complete the room

but I am realizing how often I avoided this area because it didn’t bring me joy.

A couple of gallons of primer and paint and some deep cleaning and a new room was born.

It will be fun to continue to work on this space over the next few months.

*****

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I needed a way to bring focus to my 24 hours.

The top notebook contains the 5 W’s which have begun to bookend my days.

I thought about 3 important areas in my life and ended up with 5

to govern my moments and for ease of remembering

found words bearing the same first letter.

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Word (soul care)-be intentional and consistent about being in God’s Word.

Walk (health)-be active, make and schedule ways to add movement into my days,
even if it is simply stretching.

Work (job, household, hard things)-be a worker of excellence, do the work, be grateful,
do my best, be a blessing, extend grace, share the love of Christ, be fearless.

Write (passion/creativity)-be the caretaker of my dreams, make progress everyday,
always be an encourager.

Welcome (vessel living)-extend welcome to those who live within my four walls or come
into them. May I exude welcome wherever my feet take me and look for
opportunities every.single.day.

I am not perfect with this “system”.

Please know this.

If I was perfect, there would be no need to make an entry.

No reason to look back and see the places Perfection came to

the rescue when I stumbled over my attempts to carefully craft life.

I endeavor to write the date at the top of the page either in the morning

or at day’s end and jot a few thoughts or insights related to each W.

Some pages are crammed with words and others have empty spaces,

just as it should be,

just like life.

*****

I will end with a book read and one I am reading.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane-I have meant to read this book for such a long time. I am so smitten by this book and it jumped up and made me cry on the final page.
Perfect read aloud.

The Miracle Morning-I may never be a natural morning person but there is such value in rising early. This book has already given me a new mindset and some hope of putting to bed
my habitual snooze button pushing.

Well, you know what I mean. Wink.

*****

WASSUP with you?!

 

 

every little thing

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I was thrilled to be part of the launch team for Deidra Rigg’s new book
Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are.
I devoured an advance copy about a month ago and have been itching to share a

quote which has continued to tumble around my brain and heart.
But this is simply one small aspect of this incredible work from Deidra.
If you ever needed a friend to help dust you off when you have fallen,
you need this book.
If you often wonder how you landed in the place you currently reside,
allow Deidra to share her own experiences with humor, wisdom and honesty.
Every Little Thing will help you discover how it is possible
to change your small pocket of the world simply by being you,
wonderful world-changing you.
Every Little Thing is available everywhere you would find stellar books.

*****

God is in the wilderness.
Go there.

You can trust him to meet you right in the middle of
your wild and worn and weary places.
Take off your shoes.
Tear off your pretense.
Skip over the polite conversation.
It’s you he wants.

Simply you.

~Deidra Riggs
Every Little Thing

Reading and writing has always helped me figure out who I am and

what I am experiencing.


These two activities work in tandem to help me make sense of my world,


allowing me to dig deep enough to hit the core of what’s going on.

None of our lives are experienced in isolation.

There are people we love, circling our hearts and when they hurt,

it creates shared suffering.

Add our personal realities to the collective realities of others and it is

no wonder many of us feel swamped by life.

When I read the above quote and allowed my eyes to linger on the word wilderness

I finally found a peg to hang my hat.

Granted I am not unfamiliar with the wilderness.

I have logged quite a few seasons upon its terrain just like many of you.

Past times seemed dark, quiet, lonely and hopeless.

This current wilderness landscape feels polar opposite.

Forward progress appears to be impossible.

I simply can’t “try hard” myself out of these confines.

About 7 years ago, I looked up every possible definition and synonym

for the word wilderness.

There was a definition for wilderness which fascinated me all those years ago

and instructs me today:

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

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This definition sums up how I feel right now.

There is life and growth but there is also a lot of wild, massive tangles.

I see new blooms and others bent low, exploding with seeds for

another season and death can’t be hidden.

There aren’t  tidy perfectly symmetrical rows of flowers consisted of

concrete and absolute answers in this section of the garden.

Perhaps if I take a few steps backward, I will discover a garden with straight rows

nuzzled against the unruly plot of land.

The wilderness has purpose, there is undeniable growth despite its wild nature.

Weeds and blooms weaving themselves together isn’t necessarily the bad news I feared.

I just might be able to survive this section of my life garden.

Deidra’s words provided my mind with a new synapse to ponder good

rising from the wilderness.

She reminded me, I am not alone.

God is with me in every knotted length of this terrain.

He longs to meet me in the midst of my exhaustion and questions.

Most people would never choose the wilderness as their destination.

Yet God doesn’t say “see you later when you are on your way out of the wilderness”

and take a shortcut to the outskirts of the wilderness.

No, he chooses to plant himself right on the most uneven paths.

I am grateful to have read Every Little Thing because it is filled with wisdom

when you find yourself in the least likely and undesired places.

It’s a book of encouragement for when we fall down and desperately

need a perspective adjustment.

Tucked between the yellow starred covers,

I am confident you will come face to face with the realization,

it is possible to make a world of difference right smack dab where you are,

even if it happens to be in the wilderness.