unseen

Our daughter Courtney was married on Saturday.

When I can wrap my mind around all I felt about that day, I will share that in writing as well.

But for now, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

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I took this photo in late April.

In all our preparations for the wedding, we were also trying to spruce up our much lived in home, inside and out.

I planted nasturtium seeds along our fence up to the place where the sunflower seeds would be thrown.

I lamented how nothing was happening other than a few new weeds needing to be plucked from the earth.

I had mostly given up hope but gave one last effort of watering and forgot about this plot of land, because of all the list making and such.

One day, I pulled into the driveway and upon exiting my car, my eyes landed on green.

Sprouts had pushed through my disbelief and emerged, like lily pads floating above a pond.

The month of May in Portland brought very little rain. These conditions seemed ideal and my nasturtiums grew and then didn’t. But I left them alone as they don’t demand a lot of fuss or rich soil.

By June, the plants seemed stronger and I felt confident they would be blooming to happily greet our visiting family.

The week before the wedding, they were in full bloom.

My parents arrived on Tuesday to begin the parade of wedding guests. On Wednesday morning, I opened a couple of wedding business related emails that contained miscommunications and anxiety began to crawl inside my stomach.

Carl came into the kitchen from the backyard and asked if I had been digging in the nasturtiums. I looked at him puzzled and said no.

As I stepped onto the patio, I could see small mounds of dirt, holes and nasturtiums strewn all about and a deep hole along one section of the sunflowers.

An animal must have been searching for something unseen.

Quickly I scooped up droopy plants and soil and tried to replace them and showered each plant with water, hoping to revive.

It may seem silly but I felt unraveled by this discovery. The emails had brought stress and coupled with this annoyance, I felt overwhelmed.

Time, however, does not stop or rewind. We marched on, tried not to grumble about misunderstandings because a wedding was coming!

A wedding that no matter how hard and often I prayed, I could not lasso a glimpse of what it would be like. I couldn’t envision the collection of people who would be witnesses. I couldn’t imagine how we would feel as we watched two lives joined and families who live on opposite coasts united. The not being able to see caused me sleepless nights. It renewed my awareness of my need for control.

What I know now is that early sight can obscure the full expanse of seeing a vision in totality.

I was not supposed to peek into the future. I was to continue to walk towards the unseen and believe.

Trust.

Hope.

Breathe.

I wasn’t given foreknowledge or foresight because I wouldn’t have believed what I saw.

I wouldn’t have appreciated the beauty had I not held fists full of dirt that marred my mood and view.

I wouldn’t have prayed as much.

I wouldn’t have realized how important it is to ask for help.

I wouldn’t have learned how sharing the load brings joy to the co-laborers and ease to my shoulders. We all need to lean on someone.

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I wouldn’t have opened my hands in surrender.

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I wouldn’t have appreciated beauty if it weren’t for the disruptions and destruction that crossed my path.

If you are straining for a better look at a future vision, don’t fret, we all tend to want to crane our necks.

This life is a mystery and it is littered with sights unseen.

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Open your hands.

Lift your chin to the sky.

Open your lips and let your held breath escape towards the heavens.

Allow the buried seeds of your life to stretch from darkness to light, from a whispered hope to the glory of vibrant blooms marking your path.

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He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3: 11

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Perhaps the pot at the end of the rainbow is filled with books

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I will never forget handing a recently read and loved book to a friend only to have the book returned a few weeks later along with a proclamation of how much she hated the book.

Religious, political and even book preferences can unite and divide. Over time, I have realized it is absolutely more fun to discuss books with those who share the same affections but it can be equally instructive to learn the reasons a certain book is experienced differently among readers.

This year, I read a book by a much beloved author, I am in that camp as well but this author’s newest book won’t land on my favorite books of the year as it may be on other readers’ lists. My own personal lens and experiences crept in and try as I did, I couldn’t separate myself. If I was to have a conversation about this book with someone on the opposite side, our differences in opinions could prove awkward initially but I am willing to wager would create connection. We would each learn about the other person and might agree the book is neither good nor bad, simply found each of us at the right or wrong time. Books have an amazing way of exposing us. This is probably the reason I can be hesitant to share my reading lists.

With that introduction, I have listed the fiction and non-fiction books that top my list this year. For parts of 2016 and most of 2017, as much as I checked and rechecked out so many of the “important books” from the library, many dealing with racial reconciliation, etc., I have found myself completely tender and raw in those areas. I know there will be a time to revisit these books and many are downloaded and waiting in my Audible library.  As I assembled this list, I discovered a pattern, I tended to read to escape into a story very different than the present and when the escapism seemed to be out of balance, I leaned back to books of faith. I learned I really like fantasy and magical realism. I love being swept away by a well-written and thought-out book. I love stories of messy families because don’t we all have messes?! I love memoir and this year deepened my love for a couple of authors. I also saw a pattern of loving books about books.

Each title will have a link to provide the book description. I will simply write why I call it a favorite.

Fiction:

 

 

Beast of Extraordinary Circumstance-This is the story of Weylyn Grey, who was raised by wolves and the people he touches. Parts of this book are set in the Wildwood Forest in Oregon. This book swept me away and I finished it while we were at the coast during a storm. I loved every bit of it.

A Discovery of WitchesMost sane people wouldn’t pick a 600 page book to read during that part of the year when their book goals are in jeopardy. This book had been on my radar several times, checked out from the library and I kept hearing praise for it from readers whose taste I respect. This book is the first in a trilogy.  I loved that I didn’t know any details before reading this book, so I am not going to venture into plot except to mention, a very sought after book is one of the main ingredients. In my opinion, there was never a lull in this book and difficult to lay aside. It was also one of the cleanest books which to me means an excellent writer.

Little Fires Everywhere- Celeste Ng has a gift for writing books that allow me to sink into the story but also think about the choices I make as well. I really appreciate how seamlessly she illustrates family dynamics and relationships. She has written two books and she is batting a thousand with me.

 

 

 

 

The Lost Book of the Grail- I am a sucker for a book about books, an antiquarian, the liturgy of the hours, an unforeseen love story and is set in libraries and churches with a dash of intrigue. Oh and King Arthur!  This book was such a sweet spot for me. It makes me smile just remembering.

Commonwealth- My sense is that reviews were scattered about Ann Patchett’s latest novel. I really loved this look at a pivotal family event and the trajectory of the children’s and parents’ lives dealing with the aftermath.

 

Station Eleven– I read this book at the very beginning of the year, while Portland was submerged in snow. I don’t remember a lot about last Christmas. I tried to ignore a pinched nerve in my neck that rendered me quite useless during all of my planned time off. I was a shadow to my family rotating between sleep and taking pain medicine every four hours. Dare I say, the wintry road conditions were a gift? Station Eleven was the book I read when my pain started to subside. It was also the book that created a long reading slump post-reading. It’s a National Book Award Finalist so I had high expectations and was not disappointed. It’s about King Lear, a traveling symphony and a super flu just for starters. I particularly enjoy books when characters collide in unanticipated ways. This book is perfection to me.

Non-fiction:

March-Book One- March is a graphic novel series depicting John Lewis’ experiences during the civil rights movement. We bought the 3 book set for Caleb last Christmas. I read the first, he read the first 2 and Carl read all three. I mention this because it is a very well done book series but it isn’t easy. Caleb said after the second book that he needed to take a break. Carl powered through and agreed with Caleb. We can do and read hard things, it’s important and necessary. I think this series is a perfect resource to
share history in an approachable way.

Hourglass-Time, Memory, Marriage- I was so taken by Dani Shapiro’s memoir about marriage. Her words gave me so much to think about how often I remember isolated parts of my life and my marriage. What do I make up or remember falsely? How do I reconcile dreams that linger unfulfilled and life’s directional changes? It’s a short book  full of soul-bearing material mixed with parts evoking laughter of recognition.

Liturgy of the Ordinary- Take a look at the daily activities of our lives and see them as a liturgy. This small book gave me an appreciation for the smallness of life and the importance of daily rhythms.

The Book Market of Paris- This is a memoir which read like fiction. I had to keep checking the book jacket to make sure it was indeed non-fiction. This book made me cry because it is such a tenderly written love story between a woman and the grandfather who gave her a love of exotic birds. It is an astonishing story and told with brutal honesty. We have become quite bird watchers at our home and this further heightened my appreciation for birds.

Home by Another Way- Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World is one of my all-time favorite books. I have read several of her other books as well. Home by Another Way is a collection of sermons she preached over the course of a church calendar year. My mom and I both read this book together from different places. I believe she read it straight through and then started again. I read according to the calendar, I am also on my second reading so I just finished the Advent readings. All I can say is each piece is exquisite and makes one reflect on familiar passages with new eyes.

The Wellness Revelation- The book, the podcast, guided workouts, and the Revelation Wellness community has begun to help change my relationship with food and fitness. I have always struggled to find balance in my physical and spiritual life.  Either I was exercising hard and felt like I was neglecting time with God or the reverse. In my eyes, it was hard to do both with equal intensity. In my 20’s through the majority of my 40’s until physical ailments plagued me, I loved exercise. I had to have unlimited passes for Jazzercise (dates me, I know), At 29, after having a second baby, I felt I needed a challenge (don’t laugh, okay laugh, it’s justified) so why not train to walk a marathon, which I planned to walk at 30 and 40 and 50. I did walk one at 30 and then in small ways my body started to fail me, a gallbladder needed removing and liver issues came out of the blue. But I kept pushing, at 49, I remember texting a friend over Memorial Day, if perhaps she wanted to walk a half marathon on the 4th of July. We were perhaps walking about 3 miles at the time. But we conquered it and a few weeks later, a bike ride led to the summer of sciatic pain. Then there was disc disease in my neck and chronic shoulder tendonitis and severe arthritis in my knees. Sigh. I started a desk job nearly three years ago and what feels like suddenly my body is a stranger to me. How I feel in my body versus what a mirror reveals doesn’t seem connected.  Reading The Wellness Revelation has been such a timely book for me at this stage in my life. One way it has revealed my cycle of obsessing over and neglecting my body. Alisa Keaton’s words have helped me to be grateful for the body I reside in today as I honor it by treating it well*. Truly it feels like the first time fitness and faith have embraced one another and I can finally exhale. So there’s my true confession. I am fighting the urge to press delete but if there is one thing I have learned over the years, there is one person who will read the words above and completely get it and know they are not alone. So the words and feelings are true and will stay.

Meeting God in Scripture- For me, this will be an ongoing book to use weekly. Jan Johnson provides 40 guided meditations for deeper scripture reading. I like the opportunity to slow down and reflect on short passages and the questions aid to see the references from a different perspective. A wonderful way to enhance reading of the Bible. One of the reflections helped me determine my word for 2018*, a little time of quiet is always a good thing.

Tell me a book or two or a dozen that you read this year and enjoyed or what are reading now? This is not a rhetorical questions 🙂

I hope to finish The Bookman’s Tale before the clock strikes midnight, it seems like the perfect book and title to end the year!

Happy New Year!

I have learned not to promise how often I will post because I tend to fail. But I definitely am grateful for your readership whenever I press publish!

Helen hearts…

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The morning of the solar eclipse.

Autumn has arrived.

I can’t quite let go of summer, despite the scorching temperatures and smoke-filled skies. Here is a small accounting of the parts I loved about this past summer, the lessons I learned both big and small or ridiculous and what I hope clings to me through each and every season. Simply put, Helen hearts…

  • Apples with limes
    Most people are well acquainted with the benefits of using lemon juice over apples.
    Next time you cut up an apple, grab the green citrus fruit instead and commence eating. I can’t tell you how delicious this concoction is to me. What a great way to keep that pesky doctor away?!
  • CSA Boxes
    I noticed last summer, we rarely visited farmer’s markets for two reasons; we lost one of our favorite weekday markets and soccer tournaments on weekends. We decided to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box throughout the summer months. It is an easy way to support area farmers and have the pleasure of the freshest produce. The farm we chose allowed box customization but sometimes when the deadline passed, we were “forced” to experiment with different produce than our usual fare. It was a great opportunity to be a bit more adventurous. Find a CSA near you here, many offer year round options as well with different products.
  • Music
    This is the portion of this post which dates me. So here goes, back in the day when music was mostly enjoyed on the radio or CD players, I played music seemingly all the time. Whether it was in the car, cooking dinner or cleaning the house, the tunes were blaring. Now I must be increasingly intentional to listen to music. The world is plenty noisy. I crave silence. However, music brings joy to everyday moments. Two hearts go to Spotify’s family plan. One monthly fee to be shared among up to six loved ones. Everyone gets their own playlists and can dance to the rhythm of the beat.
  • Favorite new magazineMagnolia Journal
    I used to have a hefty magazine habit. I have reformed my ways and only subscribe to 2 at the moment. Magnolia Journal is one of those two. Issues are quarterly-ish and reading it makes me feel restful and happy.
  • Books
    Oh how I have been in such a book slump for most of 2017. It all began when I read Station Eleven during the big Portland snow. Every book, I picked up thereafter felt a bit “meh”.  I took some time away from reading and this summer, I decided that I was only going to read the books I wanted to read, not those heralded by the masses. I would ignore Goodreads Challenge screams declaring I am however many books behind of my goal. I decided to keep reading. The best books I have read in the aftermath of Station Eleven (so dramatic, I know) are: The Lost Book of the Grail, Liturgy of the Ordinary and Hourglass. I have been slowing reading with my Mom, Home by Another Way , an exquisite book of sermons by Barbara Brown Taylor spanning the Christian year. I just started the first of the Sidney Chambers books which the PBS series Grantchester is based. It seems to be the perfect cozy mystery series to welcome autumn.
  • Stability
    This past May marked 24 years of living in the same house. The first two years of marriage found Carl and me in Minnesota, while I finished graduate school. The next 5, we moved to Portland and lived in 2 different rentals.
    It’s rare to stay in one place. We have chosen to remain in one neighborhood for the vast majority of our marriage and our children’s lives. I don’t see any moving vans in our future. In St. Benedict’s Rule of Life, stability is one of the vows taken by monks and nuns. Stability is devoting oneself to stay in one place, to belong to and love one’s community. In the same way we believe certain things can only be learned from experience. There is an unmatched sacredness only earned from remaining. We have a common history with those who share walls but a unique story is written along our sidewalks and yards. There have been conversations and requests for prayer which I believe only occurred because the years unfolded in front of our porches. When we are a part of a neighborhood, we belong to one another. I often forget as I don’t want to be nosy like Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched.  There have been two occasions over the last couple of months when Carl has been invited into a difficult situation or sought to be of help in an emergency. One with a long-time neighbor and the other a new family to our block. I continue to be reminded how being involved and caring is not butting in.
    I have a list of “to do’s” inside and outside our house and sometimes, I ponder the proverbial greener pastures, but I love the neighborhood we feel called to call home.
    *****
    After 24 years, all our flowerbeds needed attention. The plants looked tired and many had sustained damage from the harsh (for us) winter and some didn’t return during the spring or summer. We decided to re-imagine our landscaping, of course, during a summer without rain and high temperatures.  It has been an exercise in patience, mainly mine. I like to draw the plan and execute. I want it done already.  It’s not finished but I am slowly accepting this reality. We tended the plants we have and allowed the soil to rest and our eyes to readjust to empty spaces. We have enriched the soil, removed unnecessary root systems, smoothed the lumps and replenished depleted soil with healthy earth. Because if I am realistic, the rebuilding, remaking and reclaiming shouldn’t take a weekend but much longer. How often have I plucked out old root systems in my own life and immediately sought a replacement without allowing  time to clear the landscape of my mind, my heart or my soul before creating new designs?
    *****
    Every year, sunflowers instruct me. This summer was no exception. From a practical standpoint, Caleb and I planted the sunflowers along the fence by type and height. In years past, when it was time to thin the young plants, I couldn’t tell some of the types apart and ended up completely losing certain varieties. For whatever reason, the sunflowers bloomed one type at a time.  It wasn’t until the end of August that each kind was in bloom. Not sure what my strategy will be next spring. Every season is different for unknown reasons but always an opportunity to pay attention and learn.
    This was a summer of giving bunches to friends, co-workers and discovering our fence line neighbor was cutting bunches for himself to enjoy. One Friday, I gave bunches away and I was the most blessed. Most of those bouquets bore leaves covered in ash from all the wildfires. A visual reminder of beauty mingled with destruction.IMG_20170908_161454_800All during the growing season, whenever I needed or perhaps whenever I truly looked, I found ladybugs.

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  • Rest
    In the middle of July, Carl and I had a length of time when Caleb was off beach camping with his youth group. We decided to stay at home instead of traveling. We couldn’t seem to shake our exhaustion and didn’t want to pay for a mattress when we owned a perfectly good one designed for sleeping in and napping. We recognized the long year it had been especially as related to Carl’s health. No matter how tightly we held onto each other or to God’s hand, the unknowing and the daily grind of life which doesn’t cease during trial found us with a deeply worn groove of fatigue. We were only a few days in and a few plants purchased, when we received an unexpected phone call. It was news not anywhere near our thoughts or on our radar concerning a loved one. It was such a shock. Over the last perhaps 11 years, the phone has rung innumerable times with hard news or information. I am sure it has for you as well. It is life.  This time was different. I don’t mean who it concerned. What I mean is that my response was different. I won’t say there was not fear because it was there. But there was rest as well. We had rested, we weren’t completely rested and probably none of us ever will be, but we were able to hear the news from a place of rest not depletion. The rest crowded out the fear and brought peace. I assembled my people who pray for me not so that I could line up as many people who could somehow moved the hand of God in the direction I wanted. I asked for prayer because believers believe in prayer. I also believe in God’s word, while reading in the book of Genesis about the death of Sarah,
    this portion of the verse has deepened my gratitude for each day.
    “…these were all the years of her life.”
    Genesis 23:1
    We are all given a certain amount of days. They encompass all the years of our life, no matter how long or few. No matter if they are taken by disease, the hand of another,  old age, unjustly, understandably or too soon. We don’t determine the number.  God breathes life into us and when we have lived all the years he has ordained, he will extinguish. Leave no weighty words unspoken to those you love. We are not promised tomorrow.
    Embracing rest has changed the way I approach each day and the way I work. I try not to strive getting to week’s end so I can rest from my work. I work from a place of rest. I have heard this sentiment often but now I understand. Not surprising, my neck pain has diminished greatly, a welcome side-effect.IMG_20170725_204909_024
  • Saying no to rushing and yes to personal retreats
    Many of my days are spent rushing and wishing I was at my destination quicker and sooner. I have been increasingly impatient and cranky and my neck always aches (see rest above). I don’t have any magic words here but I have made it my aim to stop rushing and to linger. When someone unexpected drops by and my eternal list  gets pushed aside, I am trying to stop internally drumming my fingers. I breathing deeper and fully inhabiting my body by engaging. It sounds ridiculous and a bit shameful to realize how often I more concerned about conquering life instead of dwelling with those in my presence.
    I began jotting notes for this post during the middle of August. I started writing it last Sunday and today it is October. It used to be so important to produce new writing frequently. I was the only one who was in such a rush. The words needing to be remembered remain even when delayed and more often, un-hurried words are better, more formed expressions.
    Also in the spirit of abolishing rush, I embarked on my first and definitely not the last personal retreat. I set aside roughly 5 hours during my day off to curate my dreams, scribble in my journal, tend to my hard and tender places and explore whatever needed un-hurried time to ponder. It was such a rich and satisfying time to step away from an ordinary day. It was after a walk, the thought to make sunflower bunches to give away emerged. Retreating is the goal not mapping productivity. I sketched a rough framework for the day of retreat and stayed open to abandoning structure if necessary. Let the undefined time guide you away from bullet points. You might be surprised how setting aside only a few hours can help re-acquaint you with your soul.
  • The friendship among children

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    Our kids are now 14, 24 and 28. I have savored their childhoods and hurried them at same time. (Notice a theme?) Sometimes, I wanted to know how they would turn out, you know? I always knew (well, most of the time) I was called to be the mother to each child at the age they were that day, that age, not 6 months or 6 years in the future. I knew God would always equip me for their ages. Although, I can’t believe their collective ages I am confident I arrived here by traversing each stage of mothering.  One of the sweetest gifts of this past summer has been to witness the friendship of our children. We always prayed they would love each other deeply and be closely connected. The photo above was sent to me at work one day in June, when the sisters were taking their brother for a day at the Oregon coast. I had often worried the age gap would be insurmountable, it has taken time and patience but they are a very loud, laughing, silly and fiercely loyal threesome. I couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful.
    It’s been a summer filled with lessons and I trust the autumn will unearth others. The end of August marked the 11th year of A Work of Heart. Thank you for reading and waiting and rejoicing when a new post miraculously appears in your inbox or however you find these words. I couldn’t love writing more or be more thankful for your support.
    Thank you Summer.
    Welcome Autumn.
    Just look at my babies 🙂
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when you are watching and waiting

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From my earliest memories, I have loved ladybugs.

I know I am not unique in my affection.

This past year, I have reflected on the ways ladybugs have flown onto my path.

When I was a little girl, we lived in a house on Clifford Drive and I deemed the tallest tree in our yard, the ladybug tree. I remember during the early summer, ladybugs would magically appear all over the leaves, each bearing 2 black spots. Until we moved from the Clifford Drive house, I would watch and wait for green leaves to be dotted with pinpoints of red and black.

*****

For the last ten years, Carl has been faithful monitored to see if he would fall prey to a genetically predisposed cancer. He has had untold needle pokes and biopsies, each one more invasive and numerous than the last. We have been watching and waiting until a year ago in April, the waiting was over and the diagnosis confirmed.

Even when there is a sense of a possibility, it still can feel like a surprise, as the waiting is coupled with lots of prayers from lots of people.

We sat and listened to Carl’s diligently dear doctor begin to discuss options and he encouraged us to keep the news to ourselves for a bit before the world could have opinions and share stories. But now that I typed the last sentence, I am not sure if I was there. There are many parts of last year I don’t remember and I am sure even more for Carl. But nonetheless after the appointment, we decided to tell our kids and I believe, my parents.  Two days later by the grace of God, we headed to the beach for Caleb’s state chess tournament.

For a girl who didn’t grow up close to the ocean but fell in love with a boy with a blue  pickup, who drove her regularly to the ocean, it is our shelter, our sanctuary and often, our church.

We could have driven down for the day of the tournament but we had the thoughts months earlier to stay for two nights. While Caleb was occupied, capturing chess pieces, Carl and I tried to read and make small talk with other chess families.

The tournament ended and the next day, we were tired and subdued. We ate breakfast at the Pig ‘N Pancake and the guys wanted some arcade time. I asked if they would mind if I took my book and read on the promenade. There was no argument. They fear my skills.

The last traces of morning mist had been replaced by golden rays and kites floating against brilliant blue.  As I gazed at the waves on a bench, a woman joined me and told me she and her group were staying an extra day, I should do the same. Oh how I wanted to text the girls and tell them to cancel life and join us for a week:)

I wished the beach lover farewell as she set out to join her party in the sand below. I tilted my head back and felt the sun tighten my cheeks and forehead. I opened my book, read a few pages and then I was joined by another type of friend.

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The sun was so intensely bright and the ladybug sped along my arms, I wasn’t sure any attempt would prove worthy but I reached for my camera phone and snapped away. I took my index finger and placed the ladybug on the stone railing before me. As I glanced down to the sand at my feet and the stone arched rail in front of me, I saw dozens of ladybugs, crawling along the rail and in the sand. I put my book aside and stared at the ladybugs at my feet.

Even on my best days, I control hardly anything. I can’t conjure the results I want or the scenarios, I would choose. Although all my worrying would prove otherwise. My hands are rarely open in acceptance and surrender.

On that Sunday, God reached into the depths of me. Helen, lover of ladybugs. Many people may happen upon this random fact about me, but God has always known. He knew I look for ladybugs. He knew I felt scared for Carl and what was ahead. He knew ladybugs would speak to me, help direct my eyes to where they needed to reside. The ladybugs could be at my feet but my head could be lifted.  He knew everything because He is the maker of ladybugs. He fashioned ladybugs to be brightly colored with dark spots to ward off predators and as a shield. He has made Carl and me and shields us from every predator that ventures to cross our path. The boys eventually joined me and they were able to bear witness to my ladybug inhabitation. I sat on a hard stone bench weary and defeated but we all rose wearing armor, ready to walk.

*****

As Carl said this week, he’s in the middle place. He is a month shy of a year post-surgery. All his test have come back clean. He has another year to go before he is deemed cancer-free. We would never take this reality for granted and even more so because we know so many who have different stories and prognosis.

This past May, it was chess time at the beach again. The weather was lovely, Caleb made more checkmates and we lingered again. We took one last walk on the beach before heading home. As we headed downhill towards our car, laughter mingled with gratitude is the only appropriate response to such a sighting.

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***I have been trying to write this post for the last several months but I haven’t been able to get myself in front of the screen to type until today. Today, I needed to remind myself of God’s faithfulness. I needed to renew my belief that He sees me in my weakness and weariness. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed, weary, discouraged or lost. Maybe you are waiting and watching for something dreaded or hoped for. It might not be a ladybug, but what can you look for that shouts your name? He sees you and He is willing to use the most seemingly insignificant ways to draw you to His side, the nearest and dearest place to find His comfort.

Driving Lessons

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It’s Friday. My day off. May I offer you a snapshot of the day?

  • Alarm set a half  hour later.
  • Assembled Caleb’s lunch and attempted to coax some breakfast into him.
  • Left bed unmade as it is time to change the sheets. Later.
  • Hair appointment to straighten the unruly curly and presto change-o the grey, the white, the silver to ebony.
  • Read text from Carl while under the dryer wondering if I can make a 1:30 car appointment to assess low tire pressure. I reply yes.
  • Pay and tip my hair genius.
  • Drive to The Whole Bowl for a speedy lunch, no black olives, cilantro or sour cream please.
  • Sit in cushy chair and read while my tire is being inspected. Diagnosis: a stray nail.
  • Dart to car and dodge every raindrop because you know, my glorious hair.
  • Drive home, make menu plan and grocery list.
  • Drive to store, load up my cart, the cashier asks if I had any trouble finding what I needed, no trouble at all as I glance at the conveyor belt. We talk about his desire to work closer to home due to the long bus ride home when he closes the store, I thank him for his help, tackle the parking lot, demonstrating ninja skills to avoid rain drops.
  • I push a button to heat my seat and sigh that MY day has evaporated.
  • Drive to pick up a pizza to bake at home before we head to a night at the movies.
  • Bed remains unmade.

I grin because there is a parking place at the eternally full lot shared by several businesses. If I can just wait out this stop light and turn quickly, I will have a coveted space. But I am hurrying and the turn is more hairpin than I anticipated so I struggle. I glance up at the front of the pizza entrance and there is a man cross-legged leaning against the window. He is making hand motions with a slight smirk to guide me as I re-position the car. After two tries, I have accomplished the feat or should I say we mastered the parking space. I jump out of the car and say to the man, “I think I could use your help in my life.” He laughs, nods and smiles as I enter the store.

I exit with arms full of pizzas and climb into my vehicle. I pause for a moment and reach for my wallet. I am unaware of its contents as most of it was left at the hair salon but I know there is some so I empty it and as I reflect later, it was a tenth of my hair plus tip. Hmm. I climb out of my car and lean over to my driving instructor, look at him and tell him, I hope he is able to have a hot meal tonight. I place papers into his hands and he says Amen. I drive away, not before glancing back and seeing him extend his hand for a fist bump with a 3-year old who eagerly accepts the exchange.

I wonder why I offered money and not an invitation to  share pizza in my home. The bills were easier to give, I suppose. But isn’t he my neighbor?

This truth haunts me.

My drives across Portland equally haunt me. No matter the path or direction, the terrain is lined with a rainbow of tents. Everywhere. I cannot ignore my heated seat existence in contrast to those who bear the brunt of the elements every moment of their days. There are no days off. There are no clean sheets.

I don’t have answers. What does it mean to offer the excess of my wallet and not myself, my life to someone in need.  I don’t know how to reconcile that I have power to change the existence of my hair type with a phone call and some cash and I feel tongue-tied when faced with multitude of those in need.

I am going to let the question percolate in my soul until I hear with better ears and see with clearer eyes. There are plenty of organizations I can partner with but first a little heart repair is necessary.

I don’t know even a part of the story of the man who helped me park. I didn’t even ask him his name. It is easy to make assumptions. He may or may not be homeless.  But I know he is a son. He could be a brother, an uncle, a husband or a father, a friend. I drew near enough to see he had lost part of his  pinkie finger. I am sure he could write paragraphs of that episode and pain from the loss of a part of himself and the pain which finds him seated by a pizza store window.

Alan Graham says “the single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.”

I am grateful for his words as they help lower the pointed fingers of presumed reasons for homelessness. How would any of us survive without the people we name as family? When we lose family, we lose the connecting points of our identity.  I don’t want to imagine the magnitude of being severed, but I see it painted along the highways and the no longer hidden corners of my city.

The man I encounter, asked for nothing. I think he wanted to be noticed, to feel connected, to feel valued. If I am honest,some days, actually most days, it’s hard for me to look because it requires truly seeing myself and my life crammed with stuff. I’d rather try to outrun the rain that might ruin hair than the many who live continually with rain-soaked clothes.

This man, he is my neighbor. This means I am his neighbor.

Would he consider me his neighbor?

All I do know is I needed his help more than he needed mine.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,

by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
~The Book of Common Prayer