What I learned as a bride and as the mother of one

 

In June, our daughter Courtney celebrated her first year of marriage with Adam and roughly a month later, Carl and I toasted to 33 years.

Anniversaries and the summer wedding season has me thinking about what I learned from both experiences. One wedding is fresh in my memory and the other may be fading, I am listing some wisdom and tidbits of what I gleaned from two big days in my life.

  • Breathe. I promise you, everything will be alright.
  • Remember, there is no such thing as perfection. There is only a perfect experience for you. For the couple and those in attendance, strive for a joyous occasion filled with perfect moments.
    Even though Instagram may cause us to believe otherwise, the illusion of perfection keeps others at a distance and this precious day is when you want arms extended and lingering embraces.
  • The funny, unplanned or unanticipated moments will be the stories shared for years to come. I wore a tea length dress and during the pre-wedding photos in the church rose garden, my heels literally became golf tees pressed into the grass. I will never forget my dad running to the store for white shoe polish to cover the inch of dirt circling my heels. Or my mom’s faux scolding the groomsmen for eating the majority of the honey roasted peanuts for the reception.
    One of Adam’s groomsmen serenaded us with Frank Sinatra songs after dinner and was an unexpected delight. How can I forget my three children dancing together to a favorite song? You can plan EVERY SINGLE DETAIL and CHECK EVERY BOX but the spontaneous moments are the confetti.
  • There will always be another wedding. Now I am not suggesting round two for you and your beloved. Perhaps I should say, there will be weddings which come after yours. I recall a few weeks after our wedding, a friend who had been in attendance raving about an amazing wedding she had just witnessed. It’s silly now but it stung as I was still getting birdseed out of my hair!  A wedding will never be as special to anyone else but you and your spouse, as it should be. My parents still refer to Carl and my wedding as our wedding. I love this and believe every parent feels this way.
  • Don’t get lost in Pinterest. If you can believe, there were only a few bridal magazines when we planned our wedding. I depended on catalogs arriving in the mail to choose invitations, napkins, etc. Now there are endless choices online. It is easy to get lost in the visuals. We know our phones hear us and even when not looking, ads pop up shouting other possibilities. It can definitely create decision overload and fatigue. Settle on what you like and make your special day resemble all of you and not what is pinned on a screen. I guarantee your photos will stand the test of time and not a fad.
  • Ask for help. I know my mom had her tribe of friends who lent a hand. I will never forget the friends who walked our venue and dreamed with Courtney and me. Or the ones who drove miles to blow up huge mylar balloons and transformed the bar area without hesitation, marking the celebration. It’s easier for me to help than ask for it. I realized late in the game how much friends want to help even if they aren’t on the guest list.
  • Breathe. It will be alright. No, I didn’t forget to edit. If I counted all the sleepless nights during  wedding planning, I would have repeated this word instead of rehearsing the what if’s and lamenting the never-ending lists. It all gets done and what doesn’t wasn’t meant to be. It’s truly impossible to forget the most important details.
  • You will worry about details which NO ONE will notice. Don’t be consumed with decorating EVERYTHING. For this most recent wedding, our one detail related to plates and glasses, it took up precious real estate in our minds for weeks. On the day,I remember eating on plates, toasting with vessels and being really happy, the once seemingly big deal ceased to exist or matter. If anyone had clucked their tongue at this or any other detail, their attention clearly landed in the wrong place. No cake for them!
  • You won’t see or (and in some cases) remember everything.
    Be grateful for the professional and amateur photographers. One whispered promise I made myself was to dance a lot at Courtney and Adam’s wedding. They had a very long engagement and we were all ready to kick up our heels, which I did happily. Yet days later, I had no recollection of dancing with Carl. How was that possible? Thankfully, my parents sent us video and sure enough among the footage, I was dancing with handsome Carl. Not to be outdone by the bonus video of my aunt and uncle dancing to “The Cupid Shuffle” while my dad sung along as he filmed. Priceless.
  • You may be unable to invite everyone. My parents used to tease me about how many wallet-sized senior pictures I wanted to order when I graduated from high school. Back in the day, we used to exchange photos. It was many years before I could express to them that it wasn’t about having scores of friends. It stemmed from finding the thought unbearable of not having enough if someone asked for one of mine. The guest list was undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of the whole shebang. You don’t realize how many people are in your life until you began to compile the names from so many facets of living.
    It could be related to expense, the couple’s wish for a small gathering, the limits of a venue or any number of factors which create a guest list. My advice is to be upfront with loved ones who may feel left out to help alleviate awkward misunderstanding. I wish I had navigated this area better,please learn from my mistakes if this is an area where you might struggle.
  • The month, day and year soon to be etched on your life forever may not work for everyone. The people you can’t imagine not being in attendance may not be able to make it work. Adam’s grandparents were not able to fly from Florida to attend. We did the next best thing and a family member live streamed the ceremony and his grandparents gathered their friends and made a celebration from afar. Once you enter into the big day, there may be absences but somehow the collection of celebrants assembled is a tender mercy and gift.
  • Pause and ask yourself if (fill in the blank)is necessary. If it’s not, edit or eliminate. Courtney and I dreamed a lot. However, there is also the reality of execution. Neither one of us excels at shooting holes in great ideas. Every so often, I would ask, Do you want to “x”? Can we actually do “x”? Will you regret if we don’t do “x”? Will we feel less stress if we just say great idea, but no? It was a great check-in to decrease the clutter of the litany of possibilities.
  • You will never look at a wedding the same again. You will never take for granted the importance of RSVP’ing early and you will find extra doses of joy to be a guest not the main attraction. Count on it.
  • It’s all about you and not all about you. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be generous. Be considerate. Be grateful. Be loving. Be aware. Be chill. There are plenty of reality shows which spell out the opposite of the “be’s” I have listed. A couple establishes the tone and the atmosphere absorbs and embodies it.
    I could write a list simply of all the ways Courtney and Adam were all of the above. I hope my parents could do the same. People will remember your wedding but I think how you made them feel will be written in indelible ink over their minds and hearts forever.
  • The most important piece of advice is to remember there is a marriage at the end of a wedding. Make sure you take time to plan for the years to come as much as for those quick steps down an aisle.

If you are planning a special day, I hope these words are helpful. The most precious aspect of  a wedding is the joining of two lives and how love is multiplied by all the extensions from the union. May your wedding memories be filled with joy beyond measure.

  • Addendum: After the above words, how could I still have more to add? Don’t forget the mother or father of the groom. It’s easy to be solely focused on the bride and her side of the family. Make sure you include the joining family in your preparations. I have heard it is easy to feel left out on the groom’s side. Make every effort not to let this happen. Everyone is a part of the celebration.
    Send updates to one another about plans and the happenings and ask for input and what aspects are important to their family. Err on the side of oversharing!

If you have been on either end of this experience, any words of advice or wisdom you would add? Kindly leave a comment.

 

Long Division

I didn’t gain the clichéd Freshman 10 during my first year in college, I gained the Newlywed 15.

Carl and I spent our first two years of marriage in Minnesota as I attending physical therapy school. Carl was a medical technologist at the time and we envisioned endless employment opportunities when we traveled to the land of the Mayo Clinic. However we hadn’t anticipated the level of specificity of the medical community. It took Carl nearly a year to obtain full-time employment.

Godfather Pizza entered our story. Carl became a manager until finding part-time work in a virology laboratory. I attended 8 hours of classes, established library residency and spent evenings leaning over cadavers while Carl worked the late shift. We deemed our apartment the wedding cake. From living room, kitchen, bedroom to bathroom, each layer was smaller than the one preceding. Upon returning home from class and studying, I would often find a slightly warm cast iron skillet of Hamburger Helper atop our itty bitty stove. We seemed to always miss laying eyes on one another. Our days ended during the wee hours of the next day each smelling of formaldehyde and tomato sauce. We shared a Godfather pizza at the close of exhausting days and Carl always insisted we each eat half. We were equal partners in this ships passing life.

The dearest and generous of gestures helped pad my figure.

I wanted to decorate our apartment and pour over cookbooks. Carl wanted to do the work he loved and take his new wife out to a dinner using utensils.

I wanted to snuggle on the couch and be dreamy and I am sure Carl wondered if moving away from familiarity and family was foolish.

For two movie buffs, our first two years of marriage didn’t resemble any romantic comedy we had ever seen.

+++++

We moved to Portland, Oregon exactly 2 years from when we arrived in Rochester, Minnesota. During our final months, we experienced a record snowfall of 12 inches on the last day of April and on July 31st, we attended a wedding of a classmate in St. Cloud and were greeted with golf ball sized hail. It was time to leave!

After a few years we were able to buy a house. Not everyone in this life will own a home.
Not everyone will live in a home 26 years. I think we are an oddity. We are grateful. There are aspects of this house we would have loved to change but our children never wanted to leave this house. This house has been a persistent teacher. Five people and one shower, that will teach and provide endless lessons in patience. We have grown deep roots in our neighborhood.

One of the first summers we spent in this house, we would have conversations with neighbors. As we were at the beginning stages of learning to manage a home and yard, I would frequently ask neighbors with yards I admired tips to keeping weeds out of their flower beds. Without fail, the neighbor would pause, chuckle and not answer the question.

It was seriously annoying.

I wanted to know the secret but no one would offer the hidden knowledge.

+++++

Several years ago, I was asked to be one of a few speakers during the Mother’s Day service at church. I don’t particular enjoy public speaking. But after a little chat with God and telling him I hate feeling nervous, He countered my argument with asking if I could endure 5 minutes of jitters for Him?

I spoke about the 5 different colored and sized wooden ducks adorning our mantle at the time. A created visual reminder of my deepest desire for my ducks to be all in a row but the reality of life rarely allowing this scenario. I spoke of dreams deferred and the importance of being present in our lives even when, especially when, the arrows of trials land like a bullseye on your back.

I witnessed nods and exhales during those five minutes. I lived by those words.

Until I wanted the duck line formation reinstated.

+++++

 A few weeks ago, I saw couples walking by our house and pausing to scan the flower beds.

When the coast was clear, I walked down our front steps and looked for myself.

Disclaimer or reality check needed, our yard will never be featured in Better Homes and Garden.

Our yard has never seemed to get its act together at the same time, maybe it’s the owners.
Perhaps this explains the walkers staring in wonder.
Usually squirrels dig up tulip bulbs, the camelias start to bloom earlier than usual and bare spots abound where flowers never returned.

But this year, the tulips and daffodils are tall and proud before opening, the grape hyacinth planted nearly 25 years ago has leapt over or under brick in bunches, the daphne is waking up. The wall flowers never stopped putting out orange flowers despite snow and ice and as I round a corner shoots of lily of the valley are emerging.

It has taken over 25 years for this garden to grow and bloom in season.

However, the flower bed on the other side of the steps is a different story. It’s anemic. The tulips look bedraggled and the daffodils spindly. Similar flowers and grasses flourishing to the south are sparse in the north bed. Our maple tree, planted the year after we moved in, has made a part sun and shade north bed . The butterfly bush with deep and expansive roots is a playground and feeding stop for birds and appears to dominate the terrain.

+++++

In my 54th year, I know and admit:

I have wanted my life to resemble my own imagining and visions.

I have believed the sum of my days would be two perfect halves.

I thought the long division of my life would never yield a remainder.

My days will be composed of inclement weather in  seasons not of my choosing.

Weeds grow quickly and silently and must be pulled. There is not a lofty weed removal secret other than consistently doing the work.

For ducks to remain in a static row, someone or something must hold them in place. I am not this powerful or that someone. It takes strength to admit weakness and let go.

I have cycled in and out of times of wilderness most of my life. Wilderness is not an uncommon place to inhabit.

My yard has created a visual of my favorite wilderness definition.

 a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

My garden reminds me of the temptation to focus on barren places and block the view of the ground flourishing with growth and beauty. I am encouraged by the years preceding this vision when every glimpse seemed fruitless, empty and my thoughts were laced with the whisper of when? The whispered response beckoned me to risk waiting more than 5 minutes.

I thought God was pausing and chuckling at my expense.

Now I think He paused, considered His child, handiwork, masterpiece, then chuckled.

He chuckled because He could see completion, the hidden work I could never cook or dream up in my itty bitty kitchen of a mind. He knew the terrain of my life would one day make people stop and admire the view.

+++++

Dearests, if your life is filled with weeds and barrenness. If your life appears foreign in contrast to the dream reel in your head, I am sorry for the rocky and hard patches. A few people passed my dwelling place and allowed me to gaze in wonder at spring arriving in a small section of my chosen soil.

May these words help you see beauty in your life from a fresh vantage point.

The Joy Collection

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It’s a new year.

Hello.

I thought it would be fun to recap the many ways I encountered joy during the previous month.

This year I have been using the Passion Planner as my daily calendar. Within each weekly spread is room for Space of Infinite Possibility. I am dedicating one box monthly to collect joy which might slip from my view unless documented.
This month, reaffirmed how technology can be used for good in my life. I suppose there isn’t anything new or earth-shattering in my collection but isn’t it marvelous how often joy is contained in familiar and mundane places.

Bring on the joy.

Fitbit: When I was a physical therapist, I never worried about the number of steps I walked in a day. My day consisted of walking patients up and down hallways and stairs. I was always eager to take the stairs instead of elevators to access a patient’s room.
For the past four years, I began my first-ever sit down job in a small office building.

I started wearing a Fitbit a few years ago and was horrified by the average number of steps logged at the end of my work day. I am here to tell you, inactivity breeds inactivity but thank goodness, activity breeds activity.

  • I have started taking 15 minute walking breaks during my work day. It has been such a great way to add steps to my day, clear my head by actually walking away from my desk and deposits renewed energy for the remainder of my day.
  • I invited my family to do a Workweek Fitbit Challenge a few weeks ago. Before the week was over, Courtney had already invited us all into a Weekend challenge. It has been a lot of fun to gently nudge one another to be active. I don’t see any end to the challenges. We dragged our feet about Caleb having a Fitbit as he doesn’t need one and more importantly he will clobber us. Are we competitive? Yes!
    But Adam our newest family member disagreed and bought him one this past weekend. The first day at noon, Caleb had already logged 9500+ steps. (Currently he averages about 26,000 steps/day). Another reason I walk the track while he has soccer practice. Every step counts:)

The Bible App: Currently Carl and I are reading through the Bible using a 3 year plan and Carlen and I are reading through the Bible in 90 Days. Slow and fast.
I can’t tell you what a touchstone this has been to my days. Each of us leaves our thoughts on the readings. Doing these plans together has helped me stay connected with two important people in my life, given me built-in accountability and provided rich face-to-face conversations.

Power Sheets: As I said above, I am using the Passion Planner as my daily calendar. During a Cyber Monday sale, I took the plunge and bought Lara Casey’s Power Sheets.
I have loved using this goal setting system. For me, it was helpful to have it in my hands in advance of January as there is plenty of prep work before a single goal is formed. I found the process thought-provoking and glad not to rush because January 1st was beckoning. The sections about what I am saying No and Yes to this year as well as what worked and didn’t work for me were enlightening. By the time I finished, I had a great grasp on the direction to head in the year ahead, instead of grasping at familiar popular goals. The built-in monthly assessments of goals allows me to change my mind. What a novel thought 🙂

Family Skype Calls: My parents live 350 miles away. My brother and his family live 250 miles away in a different direction. We only span two states but we don’t see one another as often as we would like. I am horrible about picking up the phone. In fact, I have to put it on my calendar to remind myself. It’s not my preferred method of communication. For an introvert, texting and email are divine. For the last year, my family has had as often as possible weekly Skype calls. Yes, Skype is old-school and out of date but it keeps our family up-to-date. It’s so nice to see each other’s faces in motion. We have had serious calls recounting test and treatment results and unfortunately, those topics aren’t over yet. We have watched and listened as my brother Bill cooked spaghetti, comical and noisy. We have laughed over past history and it’s always fun when the younger set who favor SnapChat or FaceTime make an appearance. I believe our record is 12 people making a chatty, fun time.

Favorite bite:  A toasted bagel with equal parts cream cheese, avocado sprinkled with Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, topped with arugula.
I eat carbs.
Shudder.

Feed the birds: “People living in neighborhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress” ~the University of Exeter.

For many years our family has hung bird feeders. I can attest to the fact it is soothing to watch the birds at the feeders. I also know this has been a slow act of faithfulness. We have placed an offering of food on branches and have waited to become a regular feeding stop for different types of birds. We love to watch outside our dining room window during breakfast and witness our feathered tenants. This is not a new joy but one which continues to endure.

My one word: Unwavering

It would be easy to say last year was a difficult year sprinkled with patches of great joy. If I am honest, the last many years have been challenging. I am learning this might be the bittersweet gift of aging, experiencing more joy and sorrow. I have lost track of myself. I can see it in my body, not paying attention or taking the time to care for my entrusted vessel. I witness it in forgetfulness of what I like in favor of other’s preferences. I sense it in how overwhelmed I feel by the immensity of suffering of those around and beyond me. I feel the ripple of fear of finding myself in the most unsettled place I have ever resided within my faith community. I recognize how neglectful I have been to hold in my hands, the grief of the past decades in favor of simply soldiering on.

The paragraph above might scare you or read as a real bummer.

You might think, wasn’t this post supposed to be about joy?

It should scare me.

It should completely bum me out.

Instead, it feels like a flashlight or perhaps a penlight has been flipped on. I can’t hide the corners of my life anymore. It’s time to remember who I am and also honor the road walked and the path still to tread. I know it won’t be easy. There will be days when I will pray for the flashlight’s batteries to dim the light or to die.

Joy often shares a lap with sorrow.

This is why I chose the word unwavering for 2019. I am on an unwavering pursuit in many areas but most importantly, I am on an unwavering pursuit of Helen. I need to rediscover and reintroduce her to all the inhabited spaces she occupies. At times, I have lived in the third person. There is joy in recognizing this awkward speech pattern.

Every time I am tempted to whisper to myself any back talk, I have been running towards and repeating a verse allowing the truth to establish residence in my mind, heart and soul.  This verse is the first of I hope many to guide my steps and beliefs this year and hopefully, forever.

I am believing as I stretch my arms like branches, with hands full of crumbs, He will faithfully create a resting spot for me to feast.

That’s joy today and to come.

 So let us seize and hold fast and retain without wavering the hope we cherish and confess and our acknowledgement of it, for He Who promised is reliable (sure) and faithful to His word.

Hebrews 10:23 (Amplified, classic version)

What’s on your joy list today?

Advent is coming + a free download

One of my writing goals for 2018 was to write an e-book. Joyous wedding preparations declared dibs on the first half of the year. But in October, visions about Advent started to percolate, an idea was born. Then 3 weeks of fatigue from a strange virus left me wondering if my window of time and opportunity had passed.
Lately, I have realized how often I break promises to myself so I rose early to write and came home from work to write even more. I must admit, I had a lot of fun thinking about Advent from my childhood through adulthood.
Tomorrow, the calendar turns to December and the procession to Christmas day quickens. Sunday marks the first day of the Advent season, which is the first day in the church calendar. Essentially it is a new year before New Year’s Day 🙂 There are 4 Sundays in Advent and many church traditions celebrate by lighting candles, singing specific Advent carols, reading scriptures, praying and a whole host of other ways as well.
Sometimes the most challenging part of Advent is it happens during the crush of December. Why not spin this reality and respond by acknowledging the fullness of December and endeavoring to counteract it by spending time pondering the birth of Jesus?
As the image above displays, I have written an e-book called
Behold
An Uncommon Advent Guide.
I have compiled 4 weeks of short readings and meditations to draw you away from incoming stress and towards resting in the peace Christ came to bring. This is not a daily devotional but weekly reflections.
On the sidebar (or at the bottom of site if using a mobile device), you can download your free copy and print as you desire. With the help of my son Caleb, we kept the color minimal to be visually restful and not empty a computer ink cartridge.
I hope you will enjoy this gift for my faithful readers. I am so immensely grateful for your continued reading.
Blessed Advent and Christmas to you!
Helen

a meandering path

A short time ago, I wrote a post about how God can be trusted.

Somehow three hours later, I returned to my default.

I slid off the edge of trust and into an abyss of mistrustful thinking.

Once again I couldn’t grab any sense of control with my fingers and my thoughts wandered everywhere but towards truth.

It was painful, crippling and humbling.

Not only do I need to practice what I preach but read what I write and believe it.

I am grateful this spiral didn’t last long but was a reminder of how quickly I can return to faulty and familiar ways.

*****

Three times in this past week, my eyes came upon words which helped me to recover, reminded me of where my trust should reside and provided comfort despite my propensity to tumble.

The Word

“I have not spoken in secret,
In a corner of a land of darkness;
I did not say to the descendants of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain [with no benefit for yourselves].’
I, the Lord, speak righteousness [the truth—trustworthy,
a straightforward correlation between deeds and words],

Declaring things that are upright.

+++Isaiah 45: 19 (AMP)

This verse was a good reminder of how God speaks words of truth directly.
He is not playing hide and seek with His people.
If I am actively listening for His voice, I will and for my benefit.

A STUDY

My God does not speak in whispers and accusatory hisses.
My God only speaks in promises. He only speaks over me.
He is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper.

His language is promises.
To hear God speaking, we must become familiar with his promises.

+++Hannah Brencher (from First Be A Follower)

When I am overcome by fear or struggle, if I reflect, the words circling my mind are not affirming, life-giving or encouraging. God’s words are full of promises not defeat.

A STORY

I’m a reader but  when I suffer a book slump, I have found reading middle grade fiction, especially fantasy, snaps me out of my book fog. I picked up Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow from the library last week.

All you need to know about the plot is the main character, Morrigan, believes she is a cursed child but she has been rescued from the family and city which gave her this identity. She must conquer a number of trials to be granted admission to the Wondrous Society.  At this point in the book, she fearful her patron will not be present for her last trial. She has the following exchange with Fenestra, an enormous feline or a Magnificat (stick with me).

~~~~

He’d promised her. He’d promised.

Just like he promised to take you to the Nevermoor Bazaar, said a little voice in the back of her head. And look how that turned out.

But this was different, Morrigan told herself. This was her trial. The big one—the one he’d sworn he’d take care of, the one he’d said she didn’t even have to think about. She’d done her very best not to think about it, but now what? She couldn’t do it on her own. She didn’t even know what her talent was supposed to be.

“Fenestra, please!” she yelled, and the cat turned to glare at her. “What’s he doing, where did he go?”

“He said he had something important to do. That’s all I know.”

Morrigan’s heart sank. More important than being there for the most important day of her life? More important than keeping his promise?

She felt wrong-footed. Seized by the sudden terror of her predicament, she entirely forgot why she had been looking for him in the first place.

She was on her own. She would have to do her Show Trial without him. She was on her own

Morrigan slumped down into one of the leather armchairs by the fire. Her whole body felt as if it were made of lead.

Fenestra stood up suddenly and appeared above Morrigan’s armchair, bringing her enormous furry face down to the girl’s eye level. “Did he say he’d be here for your trial?”

Tears pricked Morrigan’s eyes. “Yes, but—“

“Did he tell you he’d take care of it?”

“Yes, but—“

“Did he promise you everything would be all right?”

A few hot tears spilled down Morrigan’s face. “Yes, but—“

“That settles it, then.” With a placid blink of her huge amber eyes, Fen nodded once. “He’ll be here for your trial. He’ll take care of it. Everything will be all right.”

Morrigan sniffled and wiped her nose with her shirtsleeve. She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.

“How do you know that?”

“He’s my friend. I know my friend.”

+++from Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

When faced with struggles, ask the following questions:

Am I all alone?

What do I know to be true?

What true words can replace my words of fear,insecurity or lies?

Who am I? Who does God say I am? Does each answer agree or contradict?

Can I trust my Friend today?

May we each continue on the path of complete and continuous trust in our Maker, but may we also accept grace when we meander.

Amen.