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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the upside of anger

 

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

I simply wanna pull my own weeds!

I only wanna deal with MY stuff!

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

Yet how illuminating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay attention to your anger.

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

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

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

I’m back to weed pulling and less muttering.

Care to pull some weeds with me?

 

of superheroes and ladybugs

I rescued a ladybug last week.

Since I am confident I won’t be featured in any upcoming

superhero blockbuster, I will share the details here.

While driving home from completing my last errand,

I noticed a small orange hump on my hood.

Naturally I slowed my speed to ensure a safe ride for my hitchhiker.

Once securely parked in my driveway,

I inspected the front of my car.

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A ladybug had hitched a ride and the landing appeared to be less than ideal.

I was positive it perished at impact yet when I ventured a poke,

the ladybug’s legs were catapulted into motion.

She split her polka-dotted shell in two and prepared for lift-off only she remained

hood-bound.

After several attempts at flight, I decided to coax her onto a leaf.

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Slowly the ladybug began to cling to the leaf.

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There she remained as I cradled ladybug and greenery in my hand.

The corner of the leaf was just enough stability.

Well as much as I adore ladybugs, I needed to move along.

I placed the ladybug and the leaf on top of a bed of leaves.

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I left my sweet little ladybug passenger to find its way home.

I went inside because I had things to do and one rescue a day met my

minor league superhero quota.

Several hours later,I surveyed the garden and

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ladybug, ladybug flew away home.

Now I may joke about having even an ounce of superhero blood in me,

but I am well acquainted with a true Rescuer.

He is the who has found me on those days when I have taken a nasty spill

or even when life has hit me squarely in the jaw.

When I have grown tired from keeping a death grip against whatever happens to be

moving my life at warp speed,

He rescues me.

He bends close and assesses the damage.

He tenderly hold me in the warmth of his hands

and deposits me in a bed woven by his security and protection.

Unlike me, He is not so wrapped up with worldly things that he

abandons with merely wishful thinking.

I never escape his watchful gaze.

He waits with me until I have strength to sit,

stand or

even fly.

Without a camera, the trail of the ladybug

from my car hood to plucked leaf to hand

to bed of safety might simply be a cute story.

Perhaps a different lens is needed to color

in our life stories.

Each day there is an invisible thread stitching a trail from the Father to you.

Look for the thread.

Witness the Rescuer.

He is the all-powerful one who tethers you to himself

when you lose your grip.

His rescue abilities obliterates quotas.

Aren’t you glad?

Let yourself be rescued.

Allow him to fly you home.