tend slowly

tend slowly

Today, I shall pause from my love of metaphors and share how living in a slower way has paid dividends in my everyday life .

Several years ago, I decided to buy a few suet holders to hang from  branches in our yard. I chose suet because using loose seed can be messy and attracts squirrels.

I don’t have anything against squirrels but they tend to impede the gathering of birds and are greedy. Squirrels hide food for delayed meals, birds do not. I choose to attend to the birds.

My initial belief was the birds would quickly discover the new bounty, which proved false. Although I didn’t conduct a study with data, I believe it took a year before our feeders had regular visitors and another year before birds of different varieties would frequent our home’s branches. Once we had a regular crowd of the feathered kind, we investigated the best types of suet (hot pepper) to keep them attracted and discourage squirrels. We also bought an additional feeder to allow small birds easy access when larger birds dominated other feeders. 

Bird watching has become a family affair. Our main feeders are outside our dining room window. As I type, it is gently snowing and at least 25 bushtits are partaking in their regular communal style meal. Throughout the day, we stop, watch and identify bird types. It’s necessary to slow our movements when passing the window as larger birds are prone to flight. I remember the days of glancing at our full bird feeders, feeling dismayed by the lack of activity. I could have easily given up. I am grateful to have waited. 

Birds fly past Carl as he washes cars in the spring and summer, unbothered by his presence. They defy gravity and perch at right angles on our brick archway and dive bomb cats who stalk the birds’ hangout. 

Check out the bottom of the post to see the birds who frequent our dining hall.

*****

Last spring, I pressed play on a podcast discussing skincare. If it hadn’t been a favorite podcast, I might have skipped the episode but at the end of my listening, I knew it was time to up my skincare game.

It wasn’t as if I never washed my face. I simply hadn’t paid attention to the needs of my face at this point in time. Although I may still suffer breakouts like in my teens and 20’s, this was no longer my age group.

I started with a few recommendations from the podcast and over the last nine months, taking better care of my face, especially in the evenings, has become one of my most favorite rhythms. I look forward to placing a hot washcloth on my face after oil cleansing. I love adding a couple of drops of serum to my moisturizers. It has developed into the most soothing ritual to take a few minutes to care for my face. As I have slowed down to submit to this step at the beginning and end of my day, I have seen results in texture and appearance of my skin. At this point, even if I didn’t see a difference, I would continue to spend time washing off the remains of the day, it simply feels sacred.

*****

In the middle of August, I had lunch with a friend. For many years, we had the habit of meeting once a month, never ending our time together without pulling out our calendars to schedule the next date. We had gotten out of the habit as both our immediate and extended families had gone through health and other trials during the same passage of time and we were thrown off rhythm. When we tried to remedy this lapse, we struggled to intersect either due to our physical distance from one another, work schedule or the demands of life. 

We had a long meal which was book-ended from start to finish by her sharing about what she was doing to lose and maintain her weight. She wasn’t considering it a plan but how she intended to live for the rest of her life. Sometimes the most precious gifts are when the best people in our lives don’t extend a pointed finger but reflect a mirror onto themselves first, allowing the illumination to spill over to your own face. 

I made the decision later in the evening to begin paying attention to myself and my consumption. I tend to live unconsciously. It doesn’t make sense, I live in a body, know how it moves, feels in clothes and am acquainted with the image in a mirror. But somehow I am completely unaware. I prefer to only gaze at myself in 2-D. 

We have met once since that pivotal meal, I have and will continue to thank her for exposing her life so I could change mine. I had let an aspect of my life get out of hand and I needed a helping hand.

Losing weight is hard. Keeping the weight off is hard as well. It is difficult to make choices which honor the commitment every day and some days I do not. The last few weeks have been a struggle as I left my job at Thanksgiving. My normal out of the house rhythm has been upended and now the kitchen is incredibly close. I am learning choices are neither good or bad, only a choice. When I pause to consider my choices, it has proved to be instructive. But sometimes, it is helpful to remember life is made up of fasting and feasting. 

Make the choice and get on with living.

We have been given a body. Our bodies can grow accustomed to hurry and worry. Oh what we might discover if our bodies practiced slow motion more often. If we don’t take moment by moment opportunities to slow down, we won’t be able to tend to ourselves much less any other living creature.

 

This is the third post in The Slow Collection. You can read past posts here and here.

My favorite skincare line

Welcome to our Bird House:

One   

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen 

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

As with life, I have greater affection for some of these birds than others,
crows and starlings are not my favorites as they tend to be bossy, loud and aggressive. The Stellar’s Jay has made it’s first appearance this winter which thrills me. Once last year, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bird land on the wrought iron pole holding the largest feeder. I was startled, turned, saw a large curved beak and as it took flight, knew it was a hawk, the wing span unmistakable, a fellow bird loving neighbor confirmed the identity.

when your life is stacked too high

when your life is stacked too high

In the course of a month and a half, I broke six objects.
I can’t recall breaking anything in years but now I am continually reaching for a broom.
I broke several succulent pots, a lovely amber ware platter affectionately called the ham plate, my flat iron’s landing place, a large baking dish, small and extra large measuring cups and a porcelain message board.
During one week, it seemed every item I reached towards shattered, the opposite of the Midas touch. I was constantly pouring a waterfall of useless pieces into waste baskets.
Once I moved beyond feeling incredulous, the majority of these crashes could be narrowed down to rushing on my part and items either stored improperly or stacked in precarious positions. Despite broken things being a part of life, each one of these accidents could have been avoided. Most of the occurrences were simple disappointments but one was a piece which held sentiment, not easily replaceable as the others.
Day after day and week after week, I would recount to Carl the contents of our garbage can. Some days I would throw up my hands and shake my head over my foolishness but other times I pointed a finger of blame away from my frame.
Yet I was the one who had been doing all the pulling and pushing, grabbing and moving at the speed of hurry, not him.
It’s easy to stack our lives too high, crammed so tightly, if we attempt the removal of one piece, one activity, one commitment, the fallout resembles losing at Jenga.
I can no longer keep sweeping up the broken pieces scattered at my feet without examination. Each piece represented the wreckage amassed from my relentless rushing and busyness.
Besides this ingrained habit, these mishaps occurred because I hadn’t put those items away properly. A rushed person plus a teetering tower equals calamity.
Platters need to be stacked two high instead of to the ceiling. When every inch of shelf space is utilized, the contents risk being crushed.
Recently I spent several hours across a table from a friend, neither one of us had our phones on the table or checked if an alert rang out. Time was checked only when we realized how much time had passed. I am grateful this hasn’t been an isolated occasion . I have left each person feeling seen, heard and important, I hope they felt the same. This isn’t to say a rushed cup of coffee equates the opposite because sometimes life demands brevity. However to sink into the luxury of time and not the pinch of other obligations can be as different as freeze-dried and french press coffee.
As I look back on my most important conversations of the last year, each required time, to get to the point, to blossom, to be courageous enough to share fully and deeply. Don’t underestimate or shortchange time spent with others. How awful to witness cracks form due to the weight of too much outside pressure.
When my days are filled to overflowing, I instantly feel stressed. I can’t fully be present or engaged when my time is limited and lack control from annoying outside forces like traffic or construction zones. I also feel a sense of dread whenever I know my day will demand sprinting. The hard truth is most of us know on either side of relationships when one party is squeezing time between engagements.
I am trying to look at the squares and rectangles of my planner and expand the margins. Not to add more items but to establish more room for the people and activities I want to nourish and cultivate. I can accomplish this as easily as leaving for appointments 15 minutes earlier than usual. These bonus minutes create a windfall of less clock checking or fuming when inevitable traffic jams occur. In fact, I wonder how many car crashes are due to a driver rushing and attempting to insert a vehicle into too small of a space?
There are two camps perhaps, neither one is better than the other, which is the best news.
The first camp is comprised of those who have figured out how to wrangle each day’s given hours to meet its demands and carve out sufficient time for connecting with others and themselves. This is Camp Whole as they have aligned their lives with a healthy balance of time, commitments and margin. Well done, Camp Whole.
The second camp is for those who find themselves in short supply of time but ample quantities of broken pieces. The pace required to keep up has become unmanageable and discouraging. Welcome to Camp Mosaic. You have the opportunity to pick and choose which shards belong to create days sewn with peace and contentment. You get to decide which parts no longer make the cut. Mosaics create beauty from brokenness. Mosaics reveal a new image from a formerly whole object. Well done, grabbing your glue gun, Camp Mosaic.
There is no competition with either camp because each has the same goal or destination of balance, one camp simply needs more adhesive. Each camp either remains or is being remade.
I am endeavoring to not put ink up my calendar if it will squeeze the vitality out of what already resides in a box. I am slowing down my time with people, so I can look them in the eye and linger over sacred words.
It’s been close to a month and I haven’t shattered anything lately. I have been clearing out some items which have only been taking up space in my house, no longer serving a purpose and helped build unsteady towers.
I am slowly adding epoxy to the broken places of a hurried life.

This post is part of The Slow Collection. You can read the first post here.

 

photo credit: Unsplash

The power of a word

The power of a word

 

On the occasion of my 55th birthday, I scribbled a few thoughts on Instagram. Here’s an excerpt:

Midway through my 54th year, I found myself unsettled, restless, perhaps untethered is a more fitting word. I was easily overwhelmed by making the simplest or smallest decision. I said no, more often than I desired, unable to contemplate one more thing which might topple me.

 Maybe I had a mid-life crisis without knowing but I am choosing to call it a midlife-crossing, crossing from a previous perception to a new uncharted reality. I am also calling this time, a midlife-crafting. Guess what? I get to craft what these years will look, feel and taste like. I get to embrace the limitations of my vessel but also marvel at its wonders.

Turning 55 was pivotal and because of this reality, I felt compelled to choose a word to guide my chronological year to come. For at least a dozen years, I have selected a word at the beginning of a new year. I love this practice but perhaps I was anxious, ready to call out a word to define those particular 365 days ahead. 

The word I chose might evoke a chuckle, which is understandable given my confessed age. My word for my 55th year is SLOW. 

True, I can be prone to forgetfulness, my joints won’t yield to the splits any longer. Somewhere in my early 50’s, a cartwheel, although attempted and completed, was accompanied by such an equilibrium shift, it necessitated a moving dismount. 

I chose the word “slow”not because of my internal or external physical frame, but because I sensed a need to stop hustling and hurrying. Perhaps I could get away with it during my younger years or fooled myself to believe perpetually rushing was non-negotiable. If I am honest, I can no longer keep up and I am weary from sprinting.

Christmas day marked exactly four months since embracing this word. I have learned a lot about the way this word has brought a sense of ease to my life and also how often I need to pump the brakes on my pace.

On upcoming Mondays, I will share the ups and downs of my pursuit of slowness amid a world bent on breakneck speed. Some posts will contain unexpected small steps taken yielding a bounty of peace and refreshment. Other occurrences felt like a gust of wind in the face, leaving me unable to ignore the after-effects.

It might seem counterintuitive to suggest slowing down at the beginning of a new year filled with goal making and loud cries to make this the year to accomplish everything under the sun.

Yet I can hear the faint echoes of a cheer through the gymnasiums of my youth growing louder.

“Take it easy, take it slow. Take it easy, take it slow, now that’s the way to go!”

Does this cheer make sense?

Why would it be necessary to exhort athletes to take it slow, when the goal is to move quicker and harder? Perhaps giving ear to this cheer might help us all win but in slower motion.

I hope you will join me.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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 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

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
Twelve Years

Twelve Years

It has been a few months since I last logged onto my blog.

After I verified my identity, (thanks WordPress for rubbing my absence in), I was greeted by an anniversary missed.

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Twelve years.

Twelve years of sharing words, stories and small glimpses of God at work if only attention is paid.

Twelve years of a trembling pointer finger over pressing the publish button and hoping for readers and simultaneously hoping no one read the deepest words from my heart.

Twelve years of cultivating, nurturing and waiting on a dream.

Although those “in the know” deem blogs as having run their course, I am glad blogs still exist and am witnessing many writers returning to the movement of which I am one in this number.

The space of not blogging feels much like not having a conversation with a friend for an extended period of time. Once seated face to face, where do you begin, when there is so much to say?

I suppose it’s wisest to push past regret or shame and simply begin again. Start talking or writing knowing all the gaps won’t be entirely closed with one return conversation but there’s movement; a narrowing of the previous chasm.

My last post in June detailed discovering dug up nasturtium plants. At the time, I believed the event to be isolated. However, it was a nearly daily occurrence this past summer, a major irritant during a hot and smoky summer. Carl and I placed fencing along the driveway to discourage the digging and it didn’t hinder the activity of squirrels and/or raccoons.

When I speak or set an intention, I believe the work is done. I said it, it will happen.
I planted the seed, was a caretaker in the growth, let their be flowers without end.
I don’t expect disruptions especially when I can see the sprouts then leaves and finally the vivid color of buds.

Some of the nasturtium plants died after the repeated upheaval.

Some flowered on very small spindly plants.

However others grew with abandon, stretching tendrils on either side of the initial seeds, leaping over fencing to spill onto the driveway with a profusion of blossoms.

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Dreams aren’t solely about speaking words into existence.

Dreams often require patient waiting, rearrangement and being a vigilant watchman.

A fence doesn’t guarantee a dream will grow and won’t be disrupted.

There will be naysayers.

There will be obstacles.

There will be less than ideal conditions.

We live in a time of instant access and it seems a mystery when our dreams don’t arrive on our doorsteps as quickly or as nicely packaged as Amazon guarantees.

Somehow, twelve years have passed and I failed to notice I was already living a piece of my dream. A dream which had been set in motion day by day and post by post even with large gaps from time to time.

Somehow, I had been busy looking at the holes and not the blooms which stretched forth from every press of the publish button.

Earth.

Seeds.

Life.

Leaves.

Flowers.

Death.

New seeds.

It’s the cycle of life and dreams.

Do you have a dream you believe resembles a hole but if you looked closer, is actually full of rich life-giving soil?