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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what i am loving and learning

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Hello.

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

Now to what I am loving and learning:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

 

 

hang on, sweet mama (a gift on my birthday)

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Today is my birthday.

Happy dance with me.

I am squinting hard to see your moves.

Oh, you are looking good!

Last year was all about reaching the big 5-0.

It seems after the age of 25, birthday milestones are marked by

increments of 5.

After the ages that end in zeroes or fives, comes a settled resting place,

or at least it should.

So I am embracing the age of 51 because now I get to sink into my 50’s.

Often I don’t feel my age, except on the days when my joints

make noises when I walk.

I feel the way 51 should feel for me, that is the best explanation.

*****

For the last several years, we have taken a day trip to somewhere along the

Oregon coast during the last week or so of August.

To celebrate my birthday, to attempt to make summer last as long as possible

and because my people know my heart belongs to the ocean.

On Saturday, we gathered all the essential gear, grabbed a friend for Caleb

and headed south.

Of course it wasn’t an original destination and we waddled across the sand to

stake out our territory in as much solitude as possible.

The boys placed their chairs several feet in front of Carl and mine 🙂

They ran with shovels towards the wet sand to dig the biggest hole EVER.

Carl and I sat and breathed.

I surveyed the other sand dwellers and one family caught my eye.

A family of four settled to our left, weighted down by Trader Joe

bags, sand pails and two very excited little girls.

The couple attempted to lay a couple of blankets which proved

to be quite a task as the wind began to gain strength.

Once they had wrestled the blankets to the sand, the dad

jogged towards the shoreline to begin the first of many trips

filling buckets with water for castle building.

I on the other hand, strolled towards the shore, snapped

a few photos of the sand excavators and reminded them

to alert us before they ventured into the water.

They assured me they would give us ample warning

and Caleb proceeded to share a story explaining the reason

you never turn your back on the ocean.

Back at our chairs, Carl was sinking deeper into his chair

and I  happily joined him without hesitation.

I glanced over to the family again, the dad was entertaining

the little girls and the mom was sitting with a towel  over her

shoulders with her back to the ocean, reading a book.

Perhaps half an hour later, this was the scene:

 

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Oh sweet mama.

I feel your fatigue deep in my bones, in my soul.

I have known the need to turn my back on majesty in favor of rest.

Even now being in this mothering game for half of my life, I still have ever-present

exhaustion, but it’s not the same as when your children are very young.

I applaud your husband for giving you room to rest without requirement and his delight

in playing with his daughters.

Sweet mama, when you all gathered up your belongings to leave (at just the

right time, before a sand storm took residence), as you passed me, we gave

each other a gentle smile as fellow travelers do.

It was all the more powerful as you went on your way because I realized

you spoke in a foreign tongue which I didn’t recognize.

Mothering has no language barrier.

So if we could share a few moments from one mama a bit farther down the road,

this is what I would share, my gift to you, one I should have opened more often.

  • Hang on.
    Hang on to who you are in this season of high needs and demands.
    Hang on to the knowledge that today is not forever.
  • Say yes.
    Yes to naps.
    Yes to help.
    Yes to taking time for yourself even if it a few moments horizontal
    or reading a book because little moments amass but taking zero time for
    yourself always calculates to zero.
    Yes to good enough over perfection.
    Yes to lived-in messy over untouchable clean.
    Yes to doing a few things well and letting go of the other things.
  • Say no.
    No to being supermom or a martyr.
    No to finding your worth by attempting to do everything.
    No to obligation over calling.
    No to comparing yourself with other moms.
    No to comparing your children with other children,
    the scales will never balance because children are
    not mass-produced but should be greatly loved.
  • Remember
    Remember to keep life simple.
    Remember you are doing a wonderful job
    and are a great mom. You are, even when
    you lose your temper.
    Remember to say thank you to your husband.
    Remember if you are walking this road without a mate,
    ask and accept all that others want to offer.
    Remember that asking for help is not weakness,
    it’s wise.
    Remember how well you feed your children,
    feed yourself well too.
    Remember what brings you joy beyond your family
    and if necessary, for now, keep it tucked away until you can
    fully pursue it.
    Remember how everyone says how fast the life of child
    flies by? Well, it is true.
    Remember to be fully devoted to this time when your
    children are the ages they are now.
    Remember not to worry about your child at an age beyond
    where they reside (I’m still working on that 🙂 )
    Remember you are equipped to be their mama today
    and you will be equally armed when you arrive at the later years.
    Remember to smile.
    Remember to laugh.
    Remember to play.
    Remember, we moms who are walking ahead of you,
    we think you are a wonder.

So hang on, sweet mama.

 

P.S. I have written so much lately about losing my rhythm in this season. I had lamented not planting my row of sunflowers along the fence. Time kept slipping past me to do such a simple task. But one day in July I believe, I decided to toss a few seeds figuring that by October perhaps a bloom or two would visit. I scattered mostly Mexican Sunflowers because I developed quite a crush on them last summer but the photo above was what greeted me on Sunday. August didn’t leave without a bloom erupting. God has been teaching me how small offerings left in the hands of the Maker can bring forth a different harvest than envisioned. I have missed the long row of towering sunflowers all summer but I am deeply entranced by this solitary flower bringing delight to a steadfast bee.

 

the classics never go out of style

During the summer, I pulled out a small devotional classic to begin my days

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and complete my nights.

Although, the prayers are written in an English,

of days flung into the past,

when I read them aloud,

I am anchored.

And yes, sometimes a little friend joins me 🙂

Here is the Fourteenth Day morning prayer complete with images of summer glory.
(Use the colons as a pause to weave your heart and mind together.)

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O Thou who indwellest in our poor and shabby human life,
lifting it now and then above the dominance of animal passion and greed,
allowing it to shine with the borrowed lights of love and joy and peace,
and making it a mirror of the beauties of a world unseen,
grant that my part in the world’s life today may not obscure the splendour
of Thy presence but rather to make plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow-man.

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Let me stand today–
for whatever is pure and true and just and good:
for the advancement of science and education and true learning:
for the redemption of daily business from the blight of self-seeking:
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for industrial cooperation and mutual help:
for the conservation of the rich traditions of the past:
for the recognition of new workings of Thy Spirit in 
the minds of the men of my own time:
for the hope of yet more glorious days to come.

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Today, O Lord–
let me put right before interest:
let me put others before self:
let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body:

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let me put the attainment of noble ends above the enjoyments of present pleasures:
let me put principle above reputation:
let me put Thee before all else.

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O Thou the reflection of whose transcendent glory did once appear unbroken
in the face of Jesus Christ,
give me today a heart like His–
a brave heart,
a true heart,
a tender heart,
a heart with great room in it,
a heart fixed on Thyself,
for His name’s sake.

Amen.

wait

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Despite…

the seeds finding their soil home later than ideal,

the dog believing the leaves (which grew

from those late arriving seeds)

were her personal, irresistible snack

and all those

careening soccer balls treating

the stems (missing leaves) as if they were goalposts

for an invisible net.

The first flower emerged.

Somehow the watering,

the sunshine and

the feeding of the soil outweighed the daily assaults.

Struggle couldn’t obliterate the promise.

So remember today,

if only for a moment,

it is never too late.

The blows and the bites

from the outside will not

take you down.

Despite the daily toll,

wait.

Allow yourself to be

fed

and

watered

and

the sun to

canopy you with strength.

You will bloom.

Wait.

You will see.

A day is rooted in your future

when eyes will land upon you

and reflect on the effort

required and the fortitude needed

to keep your spine straight.

We will bask and

be changed because

we shall behold  beauty.

 

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; 
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11