what i am loving and learning

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Hello.

The end of August marked the 10th year of A Work of Heart. I stand amazed for a number of reasons but most of all by readers. The content available at the click of a pinkie finger is immeasurable. I never take for granted that even one person would take the time to read a long post, write a comment, share on Facebook or hit the like button.
Initially only my family and a few friends knew the existence of this site, but now there are almost 500 followers of this little ol’ blog. It’s a drop in the bucket for many bloggers but my cup runs over with gratitude as a blogger who doesn’t follow any of the “rules” anymore and only posts occasionally. Thank you from all corners of my heart.

Now to what I am loving and learning:

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I am not different from most, I like the after-effects of cleaning. In the category of frivolous, I love Caldrea countertop spray. I may lose my Oregonian credentials as I should be using a homemade vinegar and water solution but no. I love the fragrance and how it faintly lingers hours after I have cleaned, reminding me that I have indeed cleaned…something.

 

I had heard a bit about Netflix’s original series Stranger Things but it wasn’t until I asked my Facebook peeps to help us find some television/movie ideas while Carl recovered from a recent surgery that it became apparent it was time to check the series out. We felt like we had been transported into the 1980’s in the best possible way. It was such a treat to watch a series that defies age. No spoilers here, just watch it.

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I am not sure why it took me so long but I finally  started a bullet journal. If I am honest, I thought it would bother me if I didn’t do it “right”. What I have learned is that mistakes are a part of the process and this journal is for me alone. I love having everything in one place. I tended towards having many notebooks and lists and never made a lot of traction regarding goal keeping and organization. Be forewarned how easy it is to drool over the creative world of those who keep a bullet journal, perhaps this was a bit intimidating as well. I am loving making my journal feel like Helen and no one is grading my journalūüôā

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Behold the sunflower glory. Our year has been marked by waiting. Waiting is difficult and it is stretching. I fought hard to get seeds into the ground this year. The rest of our yard is a bit challenged and sad-looking. Last summer’s extreme heat devastated most of my perennials and gave us a weak blueberry harvest. Sniff. These sunflowers are beauty and hope in the waiting. This year I planted 10-12 different varieties and then I misplaced the seeds and couldn’t find them for weeks, another delay and more waiting. When I look at each stem swaying in the breeze, being enjoyed by bees or even the very tallest ones the squirrels didn’t allow viewing before they carted the blossoms off, they are my sunrise and sunset. They represent all that is contained in a day and in our lives, a lot of waiting but also such a lot of glorious beauty to behold.
This week, I read this verse:

I can be content in any and every  situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.   Philippians 4: 13 (The Voice)

I have read this verse countless times but in this translation, all I could do was say out loud, “Not even.”
I haven’t been very content in most situations lately.
I can be, only through God.
If contentment were easy, God wouldn’t need to help us secure it.
I can wait.
I can be content.
I can lean heavily onto my Maker to make it be so.

My word for the year has been peace. Oh that has been such a great word for many reasons. We all need peace and want it. Sometimes, I have to hunt for peace when I scroll through social media feeds. Another aspect of peace which I didn’t anticipate is my need to finally surrender to taking better care of myself. It encompasses all the things we all know we should be doing but for me it also is simply being kinder and gentler to myself. I don’t have to move at an urgent pace everyday. I don’t have to conquer everything. I can say no or yes. I can rest. If I wasn’t convinced, I need to look no further than how Caleb has gotten in the habit of giving me a neck and shoulder massage. It is the most dear thing ever but he notices. Tight muscles are noisy messengers.

I read Shauna Niequist’s new book after grappling with many of the themes of her book for years. I finished it in a couple of days and wrote all over the margins. It became a journal of “aha’s” and “yes, me too”. This summer, I also started the crazy habit of reading one book at a time. Gasp. After decade of having lot of bookmarked books, I decided to read one book at a time. It makes me feel less cluttered. I think I am loving it.

When this image hit my Instagram feed several days ago, I could not stop looking at the Obamas. It is such a stunning photo of a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. I had so many thoughts and feelings. It gave me pause for all the ways I feel about my body, all the ways I feel it has been less or more than I want it to be. I added it to the running list of “loves”  in my bullet journal (of course). But then I read Deidra Rigg’s post and it was such a slam dunk and a hallelujah, I will let her eloquent words stand. She is a lot braver than I am. I want to be braver. Fist bump Deidra and Michelle.

*****

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Not the best photo (not my car), but remember, obviously you can never have too many car fresheners ;) 

What are you loving and learning during these golden days of September?

 

 

when love is built in parking lots

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Dear Carl,

July marked our 30th year of marriage. We knew it was a big deal yet something about the weight of this number has felt more solid than the past milestone years.

After all this time, you know me and it won’t surprise you that this letter will weave stories to illustrate my point.

I do have a point, I promise.

It’s been a few weeks since we said goodbye to our wonderful Chocolate Aussie Hazel. Recently I recalled that we brought her home on our 14th anniversary. We had waited an unbearably long week because we were traveling. At the time, it was just the four of us, thinking that Hazel would be our last baby. We were enjoying our vacation but now and then one of us would look at the other and express how anxious we were to get back to Portland and scoop up Hazel.

A few years later, Caleb came into the world and he became the object of Hazel’s herding tendencies. Now that there were five of the people variety and a forever-shedding pup, we felt complete.

None of us will ever forget her last morning with us. When you spend a life together, there are sacred moments, horrible ones and everything in between. It was a Sunday, it was sudden and it was a collection of sacred and horrible. All of us navigated our way into the vet hospital parking lot at different times and crazily in 4 different cars. Our time was full of unabashed emotion and words. It’s what happens in the best kind of families, the feelings run deep and there is no way to shield each other from them, nor would you desire.

Carl, I will never forget your strength mingled with emotion.  When none of us could speak, you lavished us with prayer, such a needed balm, bestowing on us peace and comfort.

When there was nothing else to do, you suggested finding a place for breakfast which is always the best solution for five breakfast lovers plus no one wanted to spend much time at the house.

As we were walking to the parking lot, either you or I turned to say something to the other and when we faced forward again, we gazed upon the tenderness of our kids in a tight circle above the raw asphalt. We were close enough to see their lips moving but far enough to not hear their words. We never asked their words, those sentences weren’t ours to know but it was testimony of their overlapping grief.

We shared breakfast and a toast to a good and faithful dog.

The girls took Caleb for the rest of the day and to see Finding Dory.

You and I silently and slowly ascended the stairs at home to complete painting in Caleb’s new bedroom. We might have preferred to curl up on the sofa but we were partaking in a rite of passage, fulfilling a promise, preparing the largest bedroom of our house, where each of his sisters had inhabited, together or solo.

Hazel’s death has shaken us. It has upended routine and rhythm and relationship. We have known plenty of loss over these many year but this one feels central to the core of the family we have built. That pivotal day before the 4th of July when we grieved her caused me to see how our marriage has been built in parking lots.

To be honest, no one really thinks about parking lots until they need a parking place or to find their car. The world would frown at this marriage statement because it’s not sexy or reality show friendly. The world would count our time as worthy only if it contained exotic locations complete with designer bodies and children.

Exotic is defined as very different, strange, unusual, not living or growing naturally in a particular area. It means strikingly, excitingly or mysteriously different or unusual. 

I would say sharing 30 years together is very different, unusual and is not considered a natural occurrence in this world. It truly is mysteriously different.

The course of our marriage has been spent traversing across the varying temperatures of parking lots and not being taxi-ed away on planes. Trips are a short-term landing, sometimes the exotic part of a marriage is lived out day-by-day in the same place, in the same house with the same people creating the most amazing view of the world’s landscape.

The soul of our marriage is you and me.

The heart of our marriage is the extensions we have created in family and friendship.

Marriage is full of parking lots.

I am grateful for the snow-covered airport parking lot when you surprised me to propose.

I will never forget the parking lot you pulled me across when we made our getaway the day we were married.

Do you remember our measured tiptoeing and breath holding from the hospital to the car with each new bundled up baby?

Or how we circled the blocks to find just the right parking place on all those first and last days of school? Or you clasping my hand when I wanted to “take just one more peek” and helped me begin the slow sniffle-filled walk to the car?

All the seemingly endless searches for parking spots for practices, games, concerts, medical appointments, braces on, braces off, entrances exams, graduations and college-drop offs.
Never to be outdone by the most dreaded question asked at bedtime,

“You need what by tomorrow morning?”

Start the engine and proceed to the nearest store.

The frantic dash to any of a number of churches in time to be seated before the first song. After 30 years, it is still a struggle.

We’ve had our favorite work parking spots, some have lasted for years and others came to unexpected endings.

Sadly we have bowed over so many loved ones who have left life’s parking lot for Heaven.

The picture above is actually before we were officially married. I have no idea what you said to me but it made me laugh. I can tell because my cheeks are reaching towards my eyes. You have never ceased to make me laugh even when it seemed impossible.

Thank you for traveling every parking lot with me.

Thank you for trudging through the snow to claim me as your own.

Thank you for shepherding our kids like a champ.

Thank you for believing my wedding day image is the same one you see every day.

For a girl who grew up never locking doors, thank you for keeping us safe.

Thank you for patting the cushion next to you so I will sit closer to you.

Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made, those I know and will never know.

Thanks for  believing in me despite my serious doubts.

Thanks for being my safest place.

For the pocket of parenting days and nights only you, me and God know the depths, thank you for limping through that long, hard season with me.

We are facing a parking lot we wish we could not find a place to park. We don’t ask for Him to take the trials away only that His presence would remain. If there is anything we know after 30 years, God will never abandon us without hope.
He is with us and loving in the midst of every obstacle and triumph of our life together. He is our peace and our guide. He is the Maker and the keeper of our marriage. In Him we can trust and rely. He has been the one who has filled every pot hole and resurfaced every rut. We expect nothing less than Him being God.

You see, I did get to the point.

It required a lot of words to simply say:

I love you and am forever grateful you are my husband,

 

Helen

 

the remodeled life

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“Open during remodeling”, we have all seen the signs.

Our neighborhood grocery store has been open during its recent remodel. In fact, they are still remodeling and rearranging.

Every visit has been a new experience as aisles have been moved and exchanged in favor of newer fixtures and a promised improved layout. The grocery store’s goal is to make shopping more eye-catching and functional.

At this point, most shoppers are just plain cranky and confused. Bread should be where it has always sat and not where the condiments used to be. I try to initiate conversation in whomever cashier’s lane I land and if appropriate to other shoppers. Over the past 6 weeks, those interactions have been tense and without a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings.

However this past week, I caught the eyes of a fellow shopper as I was hunting for non-dairy yogurt options and she exclaimed, “I can’t find anything!”

I smiled back at her with a chuckle and said, “Well, it certainly is a scavenger hunt at times!”

She stopped her cart from rolling past mine and remarked, “That is a better way to look at this mess. Much better than my attitude!” I assured her I had done plenty of grumbling on both our behalf.

Life is a lot like my neighborhood Fred Meyer store’s remodeling project. Just when I knew where all my favorite brands resided and could easily traverse the landscape in ten minutes tops, it underwent a renovation without asking my permission.

Any type of remodeling can be confusing and time-consuming especially when it involves your life.

Over the last 15 months since I started a job, I wrote less on this blog but when I did write, my assumption is I spent a lot of time bemoaning the loss of my former life. (I haven’t checked, but I am certain it is a good guess.) I wandered up and down the aisles of my life and I couldn’t find anything familiar or in its place. I most definitely didn’t view those early months as a scavenger hunt.

In the last couple of months, the office building where I work has added two women and if lined up, the three of us each represent 10 to 20+ years of being outside the paid workforce. It has been a comfort to look into each other’s faces and speak the same language, voice the same fears and feel the identical weight of remodeling a life.

I have discovered a newfound community at work every bit as much as among muttering shoppers. Everyone wants to know their feelings are not unfounded or isolated.

If you are dipping your toes into a new body of water, these are my words for you today.

  • You are not alone. Look around, take your eyes off the shelves of missing items and scan¬†your surroundings. You may discover fellow pilgrims walking the same aisle.
    You will recognize them as they bear the same glazed look you wearūüôā
  • Give yourself time. Remodeling takes time. Usually it bleeds over set deadlines. This clich√© is true, take it one day at a time. There is only ever one Day One, just keep amassing days towards regaining your footing.
  • Extend yourself grace.¬†Some days you will blow it. You will make a mistake at work. You will oversleep and the world around you can tell. You will yell at someone in anger or forget an appointment. Take a deep breath, survey the collateral damage and move on. The same bad day rarely repeats. Don’t be so concerned with doing everything well that you forget the only requirement is to live a real life not a perfect one.
  • Keep life very simple.¬†Hold fast to home routines. Make the people within your four walls the most crucial priority. Simple meals, simple clothes, simple chores (YES), and simple schedules.
  • Ask for help.¬†Most of us do a bang-up job of looking like we have it all together. When in reality, we are hanging on by an ever-fraying rope. It is more obvious during a crisis for others to reach out but during life-rearrangement, struggle can be unseen. I have found text messages to be my saving grace and have been blown away by the expediency of others wanting to meet my needs. When someone asks, say yes please. I repeat say yes please. Pray. Even the most basic one-sentence plea, can create an unfathomable amount of peace as your burden is placed squarely on unshakeable shoulders.
  • Cling to the habits/routines which make you who you are.¬†If you are a runner, run. If you are a book lover, read. If creating a cake brings you joy, bake. If a noisy office drives you bonkers, find quiet. Get in the habit of asking yourself what’s missing that could benefit your days. Two areas I grieved when I started back to work were my morning routine and walking. This loss has shown up in my life in external and internal ways. It has taken me a year to realize I was frantic because those areas were absent rather than I couldn’t possibly add them to my days because I was so frantic.
  • Rest.¬†¬†On Instagram, I use the hashtag #faithfulfridayrest. Friday is my day off and I have tried exceedingly hard to make it a day of rest. Rest could be sleeping in (although I am not that great at it anymore), reading a book, extending my devotional time, going to a movie alone or with a friend or spending time with a friend. This is what a rainy Friday looked like with Courtney:
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    Unexpected perk for short girls: Luxury Loungers. Translation: No dangling feet!

    I try to resist the urge to “catch up on everything” on Friday. I overt my gaze from the clutter and dog fur lingering in corners. Most of all, I relish in being what most would call being lazy. If that is what you want to call it than I am going to re-brand the word and banish it from the bad word list. I embrace being lazy. It’s perfectly fine to not be perpetually busy.
    On Sundays, our family practices a Sabbath rest. I have written about it a lot over the years. I viewed it as stopping everything related to working.
    However, last year our church spent a year focus called practicing the rhythms of grace. One of those practices was Sabbath but they called it Celebration. I was humbled to realize I had not considered taking a Sabbath as a time of celebration. An hour, a half-day, a day or longer of rest is much cause for celebration. A chance to celebrate all that God has brought us through during the week and in all the ways He has made Himself present within the course of those days. It is very easy to turn any practice into a drudgery. This year, I have been looking at rest as celebration. I now think of resting as doing my lazy dance.

Sometimes our days are laid out for us like the clothes we will wear the next day and other days, we simply cannot find any article of clothing to match.

I pray you hunt well and don’t wander around feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.

Because you don’t hunt and search alone.

The remodeled life can be like a scavenger hunt of reclaiming sought after items.

But if your scavenger hunts were anything like the ones of my youth, often the person beside the open door would announce,

“I don’t have that particular item but I have this. Will this work instead?”

In the remodeled life, you get to decide what works for you and what to leave behind.

Choose well, my friends.

 

 

the upside of anger

 

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I am slowly learning to make peace with posting my thoughts infrequently. Perhaps this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When the beginning of posts remain hidden in the draft pile, it’s easy to consider them as discarded thoughts. Now I see them staying unearthed because they haven’t finished percolating. Often the person I am at the time of pressing publish is not residing in the same place as when I first tapped along the keyboard. The words remain true and I don’t want to bury them because although I have taken a few steps further on the path, it is only a few feet.

*****

Early in April, I hired Caleb to help me deal with the weed issue in our yard. Carl was committed elsewhere and I needed some built-in accountability and company.

I suppose most people don’t enjoy weeding, it’s the after results which beckons even sore muscles to dance.

Caleb and I assumed our positions along the fence line of our driveway to deal with the tangled assortment of foliage. My hope was to clear the weeds, spiff up the soil and plant sunflower seeds to whisper the promise of a summer full of glory.

At first glance, the dirt appeared possessed with an assortment of stray grass, clover and bluebells. But once we moved farther down the fence, there was evidence of the ground cover our neighbor had planted along his side of the fence. The longer I pulled, the more problems ensued. Not only had the ground cover found its way under and through the fence but plunged its roots system deep throughout my plot of earth.

As I progressed, I yanked out tendrils of green with gusto. I might even say with some fury. I was locked in a game of tug-of-war and mostly unintentionally disrupted the plants on the other side. What was most unsettling was the amount of muttering taking flight and rage churning within me.

I stood up to stretch and surveyed the backyard. Every season seems to bring gifts from our neighbors’ yard. Fir needles and pine cones, stray branches and fallen leaves endlessly seem to be strewn across our patchy lawn and neglected flowerbeds.

I simply wanna pull my own weeds!

I only wanna deal with MY stuff!

How foolish to experience the makings of a tantrum over inanimate objects.

Yet how illuminating.

It has taken piles of yard debris shoved into cans to reveal the anger in my life, not basic anger but unproductive and unresolved anger. Anger from someone else’s weeds growing outside their confines. Anger which has risen from all the many unwanted intruders which cross into my self-imposed life boundaries.

I don’t consider myself an angry person. Aren’t angry people those who keep their faces tightly pinched into a frown? Surely that isn’t what my public face reveals.

Anger has become an easily accessed emotion. It has slowly and stealthily become my go-to response. It’s not tears or even pouting. It’s not bouts of depression although it is sometimes involves eating whatever emotion I am trying not to explore.

Anger is like a place card set on a table for a guest yet to be invited. Anger takes the place of what you have not allowed a seat at your table. It could be fear, lack of control, sadness, depression, discouragement or any other emotion that is eclipsed by anger and rage. Anger settles right below our subconscious, waits until its ready to make an ungraceful entrance. Anger leans on the horn and abandons once you remember there are no tinted windows. It is consistent in humbly making us regret our responses. We understandable  avoid examining anger as it makes us feel ashamed.
Nothing gets everyone’s attention like anger.

I am trying to not panic when anger arrives. I am looking at the upside of anger and seeing it as a teacher and not my undoing. I have viewed each day as a sprint from beginning to end and haven’t allowed myself precious time to break down each heartache, struggle, disappointment, dream deferred or ended. I forced a steady supply of weeds farther and farther into the depths of its receptacle. I hoped like my actual weeds that by setting them at the curb to be carried away every week, they would cease to exist when in reality they re-seeded and multiplied.

It’s the reason my journals are barren. Blogging has fulfilled part of my need for expression but the majority of my thoughts needs to be worked out with ink between hardbound covers and not on a screen.

My responses to loved ones have contained heavy usage of the word “fine”. I need to give better answers and my people deserve to hear them.

I have chosen the conversations I have wanted to have with God. I have kept my words tightly reined instead of loosening my tongue with abandon.

I am not a tether ball on a string being whipped back and forth by every outside force seeking to keep me from the center pole.

I am the pole and God is wrapping His presence around me no matter which direction the prevailing winds blows. God’s string of protection and love is tightly coiled around me when I need it most and loosens so I can avail myself to others.

My friends, are you erupting over the most basic annoyances of life?

Pay attention to your anger.

Take an inventory of what might be the root of your rage and what it is
attempting to bury.

You might discover more weeds than you envisioned. Examine one at a time
and carefully allow your mind to attach the proper emotion with each memory.

Weeding is hard, back-breaking and knee-aching work. Weeding requires time and repeated¬†effort. I didn’t plant the sunflower seeds during that weed-pulling, rage-filled day. In a matter of weeks, more weeds grew to replace the cleared section of land. In fact, they were numerous and large.

I’m back to weed pulling and less muttering.

Care to pull some weeds with me?

 

three books

DR SEUSS

During a recent visit, I asked my mother how she would describe me as a reader while growing up. She immediately responded by saying I always was reading a book. To further emphasize the point, she said during frequent trips to visit grandparents, my brother would know the route as his face was turned towards the window and the scenery, mine was envisioning the scenery on the page.

Reading relaxes me.
Reading centers me.
Reading informs me.
Reading transports me.
Reading is what makes me…me.

My last post was about the first year back to work. I mentioned not having
a lot of time to read. But how like God to have me assist a fellow book lover to and have book chats all during the week. We speak the same language.

Several friends have told me how much they enjoy posts about books. I thought it might be fun to from time to time to share three books in these three categories:

  • Books I love
  • Books I have recently read
  • Books I am reading

These are not reviews, simply an appetizer to whet your reading appetite.

As you see from the stack, I am already cheating. I can’t help myself.

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Books I love

The Night Circus: Books read during the summer, I tend to remember the most.
If a book can draw you away from running around in the sunshine, it’s a good book.
I read this during the summer of 2011 and it captivated and transported me.

“The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and 
billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply
there, when yesterday it was not.”

It’s the story of Marco and Celia, two young illusionist who have been trained by two masters to compete in a “game”. That is all I will say. It is on my re-read list as I recently learned it is being made into a movie, which excites and scares me. I am not sure I want what I envisioned to be cast on a screen instead in the mind.

Girl Meets God: I adore memoirs. This is one of my favorites. Lauren Winner tells the story of her conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It is written in sections according to the Christian church calendar and is intermixed with her grief in missing her Orthodox Jewish traditions. Lauren writes with such intelligence, humor and honesty.

“Easter, it seems to me, is the most profoundly Jewish of all Christian holidays. For a Jew becoming a Christian, bodily resurrection is no surprise. It is what we had been expecting all along.”
Books I recently read:

Coming Clean (not pictured): I had the pleasure of being in a writers’ workshop lead by Seth Haines last year. I was anxious to read his first book. Coming Clean is a recounting of the first 90 days of Seth’s sobriety. It’s a journal about cravings and being unable to pray in life’s harshest moments. We all crave something don’t we? What are we using to cover our pain, our fears, our doubts?
Coming Clean is brilliantly honest and candid.

Books I am reading: 

My books are toppling over at the moment. The only way to decide what to read next is based on library due dates and which books cannot be renewed. Sigh.

Four Seasons in Rome:  Once upon a time, I spent 10 days in Italy. It was part of a 3 1/2  week holiday during my semester abroad. As wonderful as that sounds right now, it pales in comparison to being given the opportunity to write in Rome for a year. Within those 365 days, Anthony Doerr created All The Light We Cannot See.

When Breath Becomes Air:¬†This book doesn’t need much introduction as it seems to be everywhere. As of last week, I was #322 on the library hold list. My sweet neighbor and friend Stephanie surprised me by knocking on my door to give me her library copy and share her personal connection with Paul Kalanithi. Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. I have a rare evening to myself and anticipate finishing it tonight. I know it won’t be an easy completion but when we read or listen to each other’s stories, we honor their footsteps.

The Better Life:¬†Don’t you love the cover? I’ve had this book for a while. I read some of it and then it got buried under a pile of books, no doubt. It is simply a tiny book of short chapters about small things that can be done right this very instant to make your life better.

 

I would love to know what you are reading OR what books you love?

*****

Want more book ideas?
My favorite Tuesday morning ride to work routine is to listen to Anne Bogel’s
podcast What Should I Read Next?

You can find it here. A new episode every Tuesday.