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

unnamed

 

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.

 

an open book

 

black twist pen on notebook

On a stunning late June afternoon, our daughter Courtney became a wife.

Spoiler alert: It was the most amazing day sandwiched between two equally wondrous days of celebration.

Our family won’t easily forget the joy of witnessing love by raising glasses, cheering, dancing and feasting as our family enlarged for the better.

However, the months leading up to the big event were filled with countless sleepless nights.

Not because of attempting to lasso a budget although the rope often felt out of reach.

No matter how I tried, I could not envision what or how this day of days would look or feel.

Since I couldn’t visualize those 6 hours, I threw myself into list making during my waking hours and sadly my sleeping hours also kept a tally.

My sleep was compromised simply because my mind was restless for a glimpse of the future.

One night in late January, sleep seemed pointless due to my overactive brain, I left my pillow behind and entered the darkest gap between night and morning and tucked myself under the dining room table before my journal.

I wrote in bold letters:

ALL THE THINGS THAT CONCERN ME

I wrote it all down.

There was nothing too insignificant or monumental that wasn’t scribbled on two pages.

I laid every care, fear and worry upon the lines of that open book, like a prayer or a hyperventilating plea sent in the direction of heaven.

Then I went to sleep.

I would like to report to never having another night of tossing and turning.

I did but the space between waking and falling back into dreamland was narrower.

For the majority of my life, I have trusted God.

Trust has been reflexive like a doctor’s hammer tap below one’s knee but often a whispered hope.

This summer was one in a collection of remembering the God I trust.

Sometimes my trust in God has put the emphasis on my actions instead of tilting the weight off my shoulders and witnessing the character of the God, who can be trusted.

*****

When I was young, my mother taught me to thread her needle.

After I mastered this skill, she showed me how to tie a knot on thread draped through the needle’s eye.

I remember watching her fingers, thumb and thread and it seemed the most mysterious display, especially when my clumsy hands tried to duplicate the feat.

Two thread lengths tethered only by the eye of a needle, each side placed between my thumb and second finger, as they slid back and forth until a knot formed.

At first it seemed improbable, impossible.

A folded piece of fiber remained uncontrolled.

But after practice and failed attempts, knot making became automatic.

I wouldn’t give a single thought when presented with a needle and thread today.
But if I dare to  pause long enough to observe the reflexive movements of my hand, I still marvel when a knot appears due to the gentle gliding of two parts of one hand.

I believe in the God who knows how to thread the pieces of my life through their appointed spaces.

I believe in the God who expertly knots every dangling fear, insecurity and worry.

I shudder by how easily I grow accustomed to his handiwork, some seen and often more shielded from my view, all accomplished by the rubbing of his fingers to and fro over my life.

*****

During the final moments leading to the wedding, I was given time to spend with Courtney in the balcony area of the venue. I looked at her and decades of prayers flooded my soul and were placed alongside my love for her. We spoke, we laughed and desperately tried not to ruin our make-up. It felt like an eternity had passed once I walked down the stairs to see the procession lined up, excitedly chatting as they waited for me. I took my place next to my tall son in the front of the line. I was certain the sacred space with Courtney had put our schedule in jeopardy but I lifted my eyes to the wall clock and it was exactly 4pm.

When does a wedding start on time?

That day.

I am not writing to share how God crossed out or put a check mark beside every one of my journal full of concerns, yet He did.

I am writing to admit none of my sleepless nights accomplished anything but darker under eye circles.

I am writing this because although it sounds cliché, God is never late or too early.
In fact, His timing is impeccable.

I am writing this not because God gave us the most brilliantly happy day, yet He did.

I am writing this because He pulled out all the stops for a brilliantly happy day in the midst of a multitude of sad days past, present and undoubtedly in the future.

He gave us merriment hemmed in beside the hard places which have taken up residency in our lives and seem to have no intention of hanging a vacancy sign.

I want to whisper and shout about my days to God, knowing no utterance is too trivial for His hearing.

I want to be an open book.

As I surrender my lists to Him as an act of trust, the privilege is mine to see the God who can be trusted to gently slide His hands across each strand of my life and affix it to Himself.

It seem improbable, impossible.

In His mercy and kindness, He ties knots of faithfulness all over the threads of my life.

Each one is a full stop in the story of me, allowing me to pause, stare back in wonder of the God who can be trusted.

 

Photo by Mohammad Danish on Pexels.com