let your life simmer

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There were two people who found love and married.

They added two daughters and a son to this wedded union.

Now there were five.

They didn’t know what it would be like to be married for 33 years when they entered their first year of marriage.

Now they do.

They didn’t know what it would be like to have a daughter then another and after many years later, a son.

Now they do.

They couldn’t imagine the teen years when those babies were teething. Or any of them reaching adulthood when they were taking their first steps.

Now they do for all but one.

What I know now is I couldn’t have imagined those future ages because they were meant to be a mystery. They were meant to be a fleeting ponderance reminding me to live in the moments placed before my eyes. I wasn’t called to lament over not having a single idea how I would teach a child to drive when they hadn’t learned to roll over. It was futile to worry about college acceptances before they had mastered the alphabet.

What I know is God has equipped me for each and every day of my life as well as my children’s. The hard part is He hasn’t promised endless days to any of us.  But He has promised to deposit what we need. God reminds us to reside in today not tomorrow.

Think of today as a simmering pot and each passing day adding another necessary ingredient. When we examine the length and breadth of our days, how much richer the view of the future when we have given our attention to this gift.

*****

For roughly 14 years, our family was comprised of five people, the Original Five. Whenever I wondered who was coming to a particular gathering, it was easiest to tally the Original Five. However, in the last few years, as the people my children love and are attached to expanded so did the number of expectations, logistics, and complexities when approaching special events and holidays.

Important days carry an added weight of tradition. Traditions can be one of the most emotional aspects of a family. Decision making can feel peppered with booby tracks when some members bank on a heavy dousing of tradition and others are fine with a sprinkling.

Personally, I wait all year for Christmas Eve. I love watching a dark church sanctuary slowly fill with candlelight, a loving embrace that the Light of the world has come, God with us.  I love watching my family open one gift after service and witnessing the power of the right gift for the right person in the right season. But if others in our number were asked, it might be ham or stockings or reading the Advent Book or even an avalanche of socks. Traditions provide an anchor to help connect us to one another’s histories.

The most challenging questions are: when is it time to hold tightly to tradition and when does it make sense to allow these anchor points to be adapted?

Over the last few years, there have been small iterations to our Christmas Eve and Day rhythms. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise after a litany of text messages, that the expanded Original Five would not occupy the same space for the Eve and Day. But as I allowed my mind to wander over so many people who long for even a few moments of face-to-face presence and will not have this access, it helped me exhale. I could either walk through December with an attitude or I could view this as one of the dynamic aspects of life. I had equated the change in our united observance as a diminished holiday instead of being simply different. With this reality check in mind, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to fling the windows wide open by changing our menu.

I will admit there was an audible sigh from the ham lover but I am grateful for her pliable ways.

Maybe because I was set on embracing a slower-paced life with its accompanying spaces for silence and solitude. Instead of being clamped down by constant outer noise which renders me indecisive, my mind was able to easily enlarge and immediately landed on making Beef Bourguignon. I had never made it before but every thought conjured visions from the movie Julie and Julia and filled me with a warm and cozy family feeling.

I researched recipes and found a recipe based on Julia Child’s classic recipe with four options for preparation. The Beef Bourguignon could be made on the stovetop, in the oven, crockpot or InstaPot. Could there be a more accurate illustration of our culture?

We had a lovely Christmas morning together with a casual brunch and exchanged gifts. A few members departed and others remained. We enjoyed telephone conversations with faraway family members we missed and a few naps were had. A day without little clock watching revealed I was later beginning my cooking than anticipated. But there wasn’t a reason to panic as dinner would happen in its own time.

I began cooking bacon and chopping vegetables and meat. The searing of the beef in batches took time but the smell made it enjoyable. Each layered step was important as I added herbs and spices while maintaining a low heat. I placed the covered pot in the oven for the magic of a few hours to occur. Just before taking the pot from the oven,
I would prepare mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic as a final add-in. Our menu would include mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh fruit, and rolls. This simplicity gave me plenty of time to sit, visit and enjoy the day.

There was a tiny part of my mind that mulled over the thought of this meal turning into a disaster. With every “what if”, I whispered to my mind to obey my nose, as the house began to fill with the aroma of glorious ingredients doing their job in tandem, those fears were subdued.

When I look back on this meal, I will recall glancing at my watch and knowing the intended eating time had passed but the actual time was perfect because no one was in a hurry. I will remember the popping of Christmas crackers and the placing of crowns upon our heads.  I will visualize the star attraction of the meal being ladled over creamy potatoes, the smiles and chorus of sighs upon first tastes. I will never forget our (never understated) son-in-love Adam grabbing me not once, but twice by the shoulders to proclaim it the best Christmas dinner he had ever had, coupled with his desire to have Beef Bourguignon every year. A new tradition, perhaps.

The meal was exceptional not because of the cook. It was delicious because of the ingredients and time. The dish was allowed to simmer and each part was allowed to mingle. Perhaps the experience could have been replicated in an InstaPot but I have my doubts.

The depth and richness of a recipe are often only achieved when the ingredients are allowed to cook slowly for an appointed time.
We would be wise to let our lives and the cast of characters remain at a simmer instead of fretting over why a rapid boil hasn’t occurred.

True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (The Message)

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Top of Post Photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

 

when you are watching and waiting

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From my earliest memories, I have loved ladybugs.

I know I am not unique in my affection.

This past year, I have reflected on the ways ladybugs have flown onto my path.

When I was a little girl, we lived in a house on Clifford Drive and I deemed the tallest tree in our yard, the ladybug tree. I remember during the early summer, ladybugs would magically appear all over the leaves, each bearing 2 black spots. Until we moved from the Clifford Drive house, I would watch and wait for green leaves to be dotted with pinpoints of red and black.

*****

For the last ten years, Carl has been faithful monitored to see if he would fall prey to a genetically predisposed cancer. He has had untold needle pokes and biopsies, each one more invasive and numerous than the last. We have been watching and waiting until a year ago in April, the waiting was over and the diagnosis confirmed.

Even when there is a sense of a possibility, it still can feel like a surprise, as the waiting is coupled with lots of prayers from lots of people.

We sat and listened to Carl’s diligently dear doctor begin to discuss options and he encouraged us to keep the news to ourselves for a bit before the world could have opinions and share stories. But now that I typed the last sentence, I am not sure if I was there. There are many parts of last year I don’t remember and I am sure even more for Carl. But nonetheless after the appointment, we decided to tell our kids and I believe, my parents.  Two days later by the grace of God, we headed to the beach for Caleb’s state chess tournament.

For a girl who didn’t grow up close to the ocean but fell in love with a boy with a blue  pickup, who drove her regularly to the ocean, it is our shelter, our sanctuary and often, our church.

We could have driven down for the day of the tournament but we had the thoughts months earlier to stay for two nights. While Caleb was occupied, capturing chess pieces, Carl and I tried to read and make small talk with other chess families.

The tournament ended and the next day, we were tired and subdued. We ate breakfast at the Pig ‘N Pancake and the guys wanted some arcade time. I asked if they would mind if I took my book and read on the promenade. There was no argument. They fear my skills.

The last traces of morning mist had been replaced by golden rays and kites floating against brilliant blue.  As I gazed at the waves on a bench, a woman joined me and told me she and her group were staying an extra day, I should do the same. Oh how I wanted to text the girls and tell them to cancel life and join us for a week:)

I wished the beach lover farewell as she set out to join her party in the sand below. I tilted my head back and felt the sun tighten my cheeks and forehead. I opened my book, read a few pages and then I was joined by another type of friend.

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The sun was so intensely bright and the ladybug sped along my arms, I wasn’t sure any attempt would prove worthy but I reached for my camera phone and snapped away. I took my index finger and placed the ladybug on the stone railing before me. As I glanced down to the sand at my feet and the stone arched rail in front of me, I saw dozens of ladybugs, crawling along the rail and in the sand. I put my book aside and stared at the ladybugs at my feet.

Even on my best days, I control hardly anything. I can’t conjure the results I want or the scenarios, I would choose. Although all my worrying would prove otherwise. My hands are rarely open in acceptance and surrender.

On that Sunday, God reached into the depths of me. Helen, lover of ladybugs. Many people may happen upon this random fact about me, but God has always known. He knew I look for ladybugs. He knew I felt scared for Carl and what was ahead. He knew ladybugs would speak to me, help direct my eyes to where they needed to reside. The ladybugs could be at my feet but my head could be lifted.  He knew everything because He is the maker of ladybugs. He fashioned ladybugs to be brightly colored with dark spots to ward off predators and as a shield. He has made Carl and me and shields us from every predator that ventures to cross our path. The boys eventually joined me and they were able to bear witness to my ladybug inhabitation. I sat on a hard stone bench weary and defeated but we all rose wearing armor, ready to walk.

*****

As Carl said this week, he’s in the middle place. He is a month shy of a year post-surgery. All his test have come back clean. He has another year to go before he is deemed cancer-free. We would never take this reality for granted and even more so because we know so many who have different stories and prognosis.

This past May, it was chess time at the beach again. The weather was lovely, Caleb made more checkmates and we lingered again. We took one last walk on the beach before heading home. As we headed downhill towards our car, laughter mingled with gratitude is the only appropriate response to such a sighting.

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***I have been trying to write this post for the last several months but I haven’t been able to get myself in front of the screen to type until today. Today, I needed to remind myself of God’s faithfulness. I needed to renew my belief that He sees me in my weakness and weariness. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed, weary, discouraged or lost. Maybe you are waiting and watching for something dreaded or hoped for. It might not be a ladybug, but what can you look for that shouts your name? He sees you and He is willing to use the most seemingly insignificant ways to draw you to His side, the nearest and dearest place to find His comfort.

advent: one or two things edition

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The church I attended while growing up adhered to the church calendar.

I especially looked forward to the Advent season, the slow procession

towards Christmas.

Each Sunday leading to Christmas, a member or a family would

read a scripture related to each week’s theme and light one of the candles

circling the wreath.

With held breaths, the candlelit Christmas Eve service would

begin with high school students presiding over  the evening.

As children, we waited to reach the magical age of the teen years

and take charge of the church for an hour.

As adults, I hope we can wait with similar anticipation of the

unfolding season of Christmas.

Tomorrow, when I open my devotional books,

I will begin on page one.

Advent means coming or arrival and Sunday

marks the beginning of the church calendar year.

With all the promise of new

beginnings, they can create a tendency to overload

our to-do list.

Personally, I have done a bit of thinking and

am determined to put on an attitude of waiting

and only do 1 or 2 things during this season.

I went to a DIY craft fair with a friend last week

and saw dozens of great ideas, I am only

choosing one or two crafts and the same

goes for food items.

Believe me, I want to make 90% of the offerings,

but in this instance less means more time for other endeavors.

I reflected on my intentions regarding Advent calendars and

came to the conclusion that 24 days of doing anything is

a challenge during a busy Christmas season.

We always fall behind and I feel like a failure.

We are doing a stripped down version this year

a la 12 days of Christmas.

I audibly exhaled after making this decision.

Why do I often take activities designed to bring

joy and make them a burden?

As far as Advent reading, I can be so prone to

want to read every. single. book.

This year I will continue with my normal readings

and add this one and nothing else.

The following are a few other options you

might enjoy as well:

Good News of Great Joy

YouVersion (multiple options and lengths)

She Reads Truth-O Come Let Us Adore Him

 

In 2006, our pastor joined with 5 other pastors

to develop the Advent Conspiracy .

You can read more about it here.

In simplest terms it is a clarion call to

Give More, Spend Less.

We decided to revamp our Christmas list

for each member of

our family to fill out this year:

  • Something you need
  • Something you want
  • Something to wear
  • Something to do
  • Something to read
  • Someone to bless who is in need
  • A charitable activity to do as a family
  • The one movie I must see before the holidays end
  • The favorite holiday treat I must eat
  • My favorite holiday activity to do as a family
  • My favorite holiday tradition
  • A game I want to play with the family

Our hope is there will only be one or

two items under the “me” categories and

many more than one or two ideas under the

family and others categories.

That’s our intention.

That’s our plan.

Let’s welcome Advent with waiting

and extending ourselves on behalf of

others and not merely overextending

ourselves.

Oh and yes by all means exhale a lot

by only adding that which brings meaning

and exercising your right to say “no thank you.”

Joyous Advent!

 

 

 

 

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