Helen hearts…

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The morning of the solar eclipse.

Autumn has arrived.

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

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

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

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

The year was 2002 and I needed an email address.

I don’t recall if we had internet in our home yet, maybe dial-up.

So I signed up for a one hour computer slot at the public library and began the process of

registering for an email address.

The most stressful part was choosing the email address name because

technology was new and one wrong move meant being saddled with a

terrible email address FOREVER.

I’m a percolator meaning snap decisions aren’t in my DNA.

Naturally, I am in a library, needing to make a monumental decision and the only thing

bubbling up in my mind were the popular Bud Light commercials at that time.

Of course.

Do you remember these guys?

Over the years, I have used NetZero, Hotmail, Yahoo and GMail all proceeded by

wassuphelen.

It has become my “forever” email address and the source of laughter when people

have a flash of recognition.

Here’s a bit of WASSUP Helen?!

 

*****

Caleb left Sunday for a week of outdoor school.

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He is our final child to experience this 6th grade milestone.

There are 5 or 6 outdoor school sites for our area and it is amazing to us that

all three kids will have gone to Camp Howard.

No matter how long one has been a parent, goodbyes are never easy.

Six days feel long.

It’s good for all of us.

No screen time for him but instead trudging around the great outdoors and

learning campfire songs.

No carpool, practices, youth group and the “do you have homework” question.

It is a sweet blessing to press the pause button for a few days yet I know we will be

anxious to have our boy back home despite the loads of laundry to come.

*****

While Caleb is gone, Carl and I have an added responsibility.

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Meet Grover.

Caleb has wanted a guinea pig or hamster for the last two years, at least. Or a puppy.

It took us some time to completely warm to the idea.

As I have written often on this blog lately, this is a time of transition for our family.

One such transition involves Caleb being the youngest by a couple handful of years.

When we learned we were to have a third child, we heard some unhelpful comments:

“Did you plan this?”

“Oh my gosh, I am so glad it’s you and not me!” and often there was silence,

followed by hysterics.

However the helpful comments were of this variety:

“My brother was born when I was 16 and we are very close as adults.”

“I loved having a little sister so much younger than me.”

“My sister is 12 years older than me, she fascinated me.”

It’s evident, I remember both sets of comments.

But those comments steeped in experience,

I shellacked them to my front and back, propelling me

towards unknown territories  and harnessing me with secure hope.

Carlen and Courtney have been the such a sweet and crazy force

in Caleb’s life.

They have remained present in his life even when it meant a lot of juggling.

I am sure part of it is because it is what we do as a family.

We try to show up for one another. But I also believe they remember how

often Caleb was in the back of  our van or stomping around bleachers or being told

to be quiet during their school events.

His sisters are in their 20’s and forging their own paths.

Part of getting a guinea pig was to give Caleb his own thing and a companion.

We got Grover for Caleb.

But we all adore him.

He has a very sweet personality and his guinea pig antics are hilarious.

I had no idea.

As a parent, we try to do the best for each child and for each season.

We try our best to make everything equal but in reality, nothing is ever equal in

every season. There are patches of time when one child simply needs or demands

more time.

The only aspect in parenting that must be consistently equal is the size of love.

I was reminded by one child how we never got her the lizard she wanted.

Her recollection was that all she had to do was clean her room.

Mine was that it was not to be a one time event 😉

Sigh.

Good thing Grover is so cute.

He has covered over a lot of parental missteps and taught us all a lot about empathy.

*****

Carl and I have been working to give our basement family room a

much-needed facelift.

It has affectionately been called the cave for years because of the wood paneling.

Painting over the darkness created a brighter and  more spacious room.

One side of the family room has a built-in bookcase.

We spent weeks sorting through our book history.

There were yearbooks, encyclopedias, textbooks, cookbooks, a few too many

diet books, fiction and a lot of non-fiction books.

We parted with bags and crates full of books.

I am not saying it was easy for this book lover but it was necessary.

I kept only books I loved, would read again, still want to read or have significant

sentimental value to me. (Shhh…I still have more favorites in my office.)

I removed and recycled  all the book jackets and  this small act completely

changed the look of each book.

Then I organized them by spine color as is so popular now.

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We could use some less loved and saggy furniture and few other items to complete the room

but I am realizing how often I avoided this area because it didn’t bring me joy.

A couple of gallons of primer and paint and some deep cleaning and a new room was born.

It will be fun to continue to work on this space over the next few months.

*****

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I needed a way to bring focus to my 24 hours.

The top notebook contains the 5 W’s which have begun to bookend my days.

I thought about 3 important areas in my life and ended up with 5

to govern my moments and for ease of remembering

found words bearing the same first letter.

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Word (soul care)-be intentional and consistent about being in God’s Word.

Walk (health)-be active, make and schedule ways to add movement into my days,
even if it is simply stretching.

Work (job, household, hard things)-be a worker of excellence, do the work, be grateful,
do my best, be a blessing, extend grace, share the love of Christ, be fearless.

Write (passion/creativity)-be the caretaker of my dreams, make progress everyday,
always be an encourager.

Welcome (vessel living)-extend welcome to those who live within my four walls or come
into them. May I exude welcome wherever my feet take me and look for
opportunities every.single.day.

I am not perfect with this “system”.

Please know this.

If I was perfect, there would be no need to make an entry.

No reason to look back and see the places Perfection came to

the rescue when I stumbled over my attempts to carefully craft life.

I endeavor to write the date at the top of the page either in the morning

or at day’s end and jot a few thoughts or insights related to each W.

Some pages are crammed with words and others have empty spaces,

just as it should be,

just like life.

*****

I will end with a book read and one I am reading.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane-I have meant to read this book for such a long time. I am so smitten by this book and it jumped up and made me cry on the final page.
Perfect read aloud.

The Miracle Morning-I may never be a natural morning person but there is such value in rising early. This book has already given me a new mindset and some hope of putting to bed
my habitual snooze button pushing.

Well, you know what I mean. Wink.

*****

WASSUP with you?!

 

 

i no longer wear a watch

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The path to church last week was a series of closed streets, on-ramps and detours.

The need to assemble sometimes outweighs being late.

After the third re-routing, let’s be honest,

I started scouting for diners,

ready to trade in worship for feasting.

We were able to exhale once

Caleb was deposited to his class and

the four of us took our places in a nose bleed

worthy upper balcony pew.

We missed the first songs, testimony,

announcements and sitting where we had

become accustomed.

It took many twists and turns to sit in those seats.

We all have our own faith journeys.

I glance from time to time to sneak a peek

at my two daughters

and think of Caleb in the next building.

From the moment each one was laid in my arms,

I have been consumed with loving them beyond reason

and without end.

The loving part is not a challenge.

It’s every other part of the equation which proves difficult.

I have wanted to teach them every possible lesson for

every possible scenario.

I have wanted them to love each other deeply and count

it all joy to be brother and sisters,

well, at least most of the time.

I have wanted them to unearth their passions

and breath deeply into their dreams.

I have hoped hard that they would one day believe Carl

and I had been the parents they needed

and somehow forget

each misstep.

Far above anything, I have wanted them to love

God because His love for them defies reason and

has always been and always will remain.

I have held so tightly to these hopes like they were

wishes upon a dandelion fully in seed.

I have witnessed gentle and violent breezes send

the seeds spiraling into orbit.

At times I have tried to be God, with everything

that Helen could muster, I tried to line up these

three people’s lives to align the way I viewed

as just, right and acceptable.

Yet sitting there in that sky-high pew, my hands

release their choke hold on these three beloveds

of my heart and soul.

There will be detours and road blocks in this life,

in their lives,

in my life.

There will be sections of life when roads are

closed for repair.

The tarnished and scratched watch I have worn

displaying my timetable

has now been relinquished to my Maker,

to their Maker.

I have found Him trustworthy.

I have found Him without equal,

flawless in character.

90 minutes pass and we are cramming into what was once

my grandfather’s Buick navigating our way home.

A question is lobbed in Caleb’s direction about his time in class.

He chatters about God providing manna in the wilderness and

water from a rock to satisfy the Israelite’s hunger and thirst.

We all nod and uh-huh as we had heard the same

moments earlier.

A shared experience.

We had all known wilderness

and hunger

and thirst.

We had all journeyed on different pathways

yet as one family.

We all nod and uh-huh that God has been

faithful to provide manna every day

for every hunger pain.

He has provided water to satisfy

our penetrating thirsts.

He has never taken a break

from His post watching our flock.

Every road we traverse,

I can trust He is there,

watching,

patiently waiting

and possessing hope.

A bucket full of hope

large enough to empty

its contents over me,

displacing my fears and

worst case scenarios.

I drop my timepiece in His hands

and open my mouth

to shout but the sound is only

released in a whisper,

“They are all yours.

You can keep time.”

He assures me,

a hushed prayer is

His delight.