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

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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