Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Valentine’s Day: Beyond chocolate & roses February 13, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

VALENTINE’S DAY. What an opportunity to show love. Beyond the romantic, this day encompasses love within families, love among friends, love within communities.

 

Red roses, a traditional Valentine’s Day expression of love. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Love. We need more of it, exhibited in kindness and compassion and care. Acts and words of love remind each of us that we are valued, that our voices are heard, our feelings matter.

 

Valentine’s Day wood cut-outs. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But how do we show that love on February 14?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The timeless traditions of flowers, chocolates and/or dinner out always exude love. So do valentine cards. Some of my sweetest Valentine’s Day memories involve paste, paper hearts and shoe boxes with glittery hand-punched valentines slipped through slits into those boxes.

 

I have several vintage valentines from my mom’s collection and have displayed them for Valentine’s Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Nostalgia only lasts so long, though. It’s important to live in today, to show those we love that we genuinely care for them. Today. Now.

Last week I wrote about Valentine’s Day for Warner Press, a Christian publishing company in Indiana. I’m a blogger with Warner and recently also became blog content and strategy development coordinator. Basically, I plan, assign, write, edit and proof blog posts. I love this job, which fits my skills, talents and my faith. I love the team at Warner Press. They are incredible people who are caring, kind, appreciative, supportive and more.

I invite you to read my post, “Reflecting God’s Love as We Celebrate Valentine’s Day,” by clicking here. In my post you will find ideas that spread the love, whether you are a person of faith or not.

I welcome Valentine’s Day as a day of opportunity, a day to extend love. In words. Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers. May you experience an abundance of love on February 14. And may you also share that love with others.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Opening up about mental health January 3, 2019

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Slowly we are beginning to remove the stigma that masks mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

FOR WEEKS, WE’D PRAYED for Lila*. I had no idea why she needed prayers. But it didn’t matter, pray we would as a church family for this friend who’d moved to another state.

A few weeks later, Lila’s husband returned, alone to Minnesota, to lead a local fundraiser. That morning he stepped up to the microphone after worship services and told us about Lila. She was hospitalized, undergoing treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I could almost hear the silent gasp. That took courage, I thought to myself.

I told Henry* the same when I later hugged him, expressed my concern and offered encouragement. He admitted to struggling with his decision to go public. But we agreed that the stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to lift, that talking about mental health issues is important and necessary. For Henry, a retired educator, his openness about Lila proved a freeing, teachable moment.

We all have much to learn on the topic, including me. Kicking depression is not a matter of simply willing yourself to feel better, to just get over whatever someone thinks you need to get over. It’s much deeper than that. Overcoming anxiety is not as simple as jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and expecting someone to stay afloat.

I admire Henry’s decision to speak up. Likewise, I appreciate that my pastor publicly acknowledges his struggles with depression. That’s a first for me, to hear a pastor talk from the pulpit about personal mental health challenges. He’s young, of a generation seemingly more open to discussing mental health issues. The more we talk about mental illness, the better for those suffering and for loved ones and others trying to help.

Still, talk only goes so far. Waits can be long to see a mental health professional here in greater Minnesota. If you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t be told to wait six weeks. If you had cancer, you wouldn’t be told to wait for treatment. A mental health crisis is no less important.

I am grateful to two bloggers I follow—Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio (NewsCut) and Penny Wilson (Penny Wilson Writes)—who write often on the topic of mental health. (Click here for a particularly enlightening post by Penny.) They are breaking through the stigma, opening the discussion, pointing out the challenges.

Twice in recent years I’ve stood in a snaking line at a Faribault funeral home to comfort the families of young men who committed suicide. I struggled to find the right words. I expect their loved ones struggle with the what ifs, survivor’s guilt, regrets, but, most of all, an unfathomable pain. Some grieving families are choosing now to go public in obituaries about their loved one’s struggles with depression or other mental health issues. That takes a lot of courage. We often read about a deceased person’s long and courageous battle with cancer. Battles with mental illness are no less courageous. I’m thankful to see this shift in thinking, to see people like Henry step up to a microphone and speak about mental illness.

THOUGHTS?

* Not their real names.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas blessings in a Nativity scene December 25, 2018

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WHEN I FIRST PULLED this image from my files, I planned to simply use it to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas and wish you a blessed Christmas. Quick and easy.

But then I noticed something. Hands. So many hands posing in different ways. I knew this was more than just a photo of my granddaughter looking at a vintage Nativity. The same Nativity her mama, aunt and uncle viewed every December in Faribault.

Let’s start with Izzy. You can barely see Grandpa’s hand clutching her arm to keep her from falling off the bales in front of the manger. Grandpa was also stopping Izzy from climbing into the scene for a closer look at the Baby Jesus, which she wanted to do. I see love and protection in the closeness of grandfather and granddaughter.

Two of the three Wisemen also hold their hands in a protective pose, guarding the precious gifts they carried to Bethlehem.

And that middle Wiseman, well, to me his arms folded to heart symbolize love, how close we hold those we love most. I suppose one could argue he’s just keeping his cape in place. I choose to see his adoration and love for his Savior.

Then there’s Joseph, his hand gripping a staff. I expect he felt overwhelmed in many ways by the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Holding onto something physical can ground someone in times of mixed emotions.

Finally, Baby Jesus lies with his arms outstretched in a gesture of openness. Like he’s welcoming us to come and hug him, to feel his embrace. Izzy saw that. She wanted to climb right into the manger. But, of course, I couldn’t let her.

Instead, I stepped beside this 2 ½-year-old and suggested she say goodbye. “Goodbye, Baby Jesus,” my sweet little granddaughter said. And my heart melted as I held her close.

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For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Merry Christmas!

FYI: To see more photos of the Nativity, click here to read my 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.

 

Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. Neighbors.

Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.

 

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.

 

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.

 

This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tune in as faith radio addresses the issue of domestic violence October 24, 2018

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod several years ago.

 

October 25 could be a lifeline.

Those words banner the home page of my favorite radio station’s website as I write this post. That would be Twin Cities based faith radio, KTIS. It is my go-to station for music and messages that uplift, comfort and encourage.

On Thursday evening, October 25, KTIS radio personality Donna Cruz leads the station in addressing the topic of domestic violence through stories, information, and uplifting messages of hope and healing. Cruz can empathize. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

Additionally, counselors will take calls from listeners, engaging in conversations that will not be aired.

For this radio station to put the spotlight on this issue during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is noteworthy. Too often faith communities avoid the topic or approach it in a way that blames the victim, excuses (and/or believes) the abuser and encourages restoration of a relationship.

It is time for that to change, for those within faith communities to acknowledge that domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It is time for faith communities to recognize abuse and believe victims. It’s time for faith communities to figure out how to help—and that stretches beyond prayer to education, support and connecting with professionals.

Really, it’s time for all of us to educate ourselves, to start caring, to break the silence, to be the voice, the help, the encouragement for those who need support and hope for a way out of an abusive relationship. It starts with you. It starts with me. Today.

FYI: Please tune in to KTIS at 98.5 FM or online from 7 – 10 p.m. Thursday, October 25.

Please note that some faith communities have tackled the topic of domestic violence and for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shipwrecked & blessed at VBS August 13, 2018

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When we feel lonely, worry, struggle, do wrong and feel powerless, Jesus rescues. That was the focus of the Vacation Bible School program, Shipwrecked, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, last week.

 

ASK A CLASSROOM of two dozen kids to sit still in silence for 60 seconds on a summer evening and the feat seems impossible. But the students did just that, much to my surprise.

It proved a rare minute of stillness in 10 hours of bible stories, crafting, playing, snacking, singing and a short video time during last week’s Vacation Bible School at my church. I volunteered as a crew leader for five kids—four boys and one girl. And, as you might rightly guess, I had a few spirited and active boys. That they all remained still for a single minute impressed me.

 

A bible verse was reinforced during each evening of VBS as part of the Shipwrecked theme.

 

It took me about 30 seconds, though, to still my mind from worry that one of them would act out and disrupt our reflection on Psalm 46:10—Be still, and know that I am God. It’s an important bible verse to remember in today’s high tech and busy world. We all—kids and adults—need to find time for quiet. Put down the phone. Get off social media. Turn off the TV. Disengage from the video game. Just be.

For five evenings, I had the joy of just being with my kids. I call them “my kids” because, by the end of the week, I felt a closeness to them that comes from togetherness. We bonded as we talked, shared, laughed, sang and more. I now know more about them and some about their families. It’s amazing what kids will tell you.

 

One of my boys thanked me for leading our Team 4 Jesus crew with a message in a bottle on the last night of VBS. How sweet was that?

 

I shared my gummy treats at snack time (because I don’t like gummies), asked my kids to sign nine thank you cards (which they did without complaint), parceled out beads for a bracelet written in Morse code… In turn, they opened and closed a drawstring bag for me, held doors for me, slid a chair across the floor for me to sit on… They were lovingly compassionate toward their leader with the broken wrist. Anyone who claims youth today are self-centered don’t know my kids. They showed me such care and love.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I wasn’t even supposed to be with these kids. Initially, I was assigned to be the VBS photographer, a job I’ve done in the past. But then I broke my wrist and had subsequent surgery. There would be no running around with a camera for 10 exhausting hours photographing all aspects of VBS.

I was exactly where I needed to be last week—shipwrecked with this great group of first graders to fourth graders. To praise God with them, to learn about Jesus with them, and, yes, even to be still with them for 60 seconds blessed me.

FYI: Click here to see the VBS program, Shipwrecked, from Group Publishing. Love this publishing company’s VBS curriculum. Next year we’re doing the Roar! program.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From writing verses to blogging at Warner Press August 6, 2018

The blog home page, with one of my posts on the left.

 

FOR MANY YEARS NOW, I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publisher. I’m not on staff but am among freelancers submitting work for consideration. Lest you think penning verses is easy, it’s not. Originality counts. Quick, try to think of a (Christian) message that hasn’t been written before when wishing someone a happy birthday.

That all aside, I blogged earlier this year about writing greeting card verses and emailed a link to my editor at Warner Press. She asked to share the post, which eventually landed on the not-for-profit’s blog. I looked at the blog and noted a need for fresh content. Then I pitched my blogging skills, soon landing a spot among a team of bloggers.

 

Another post I penned.

 

Now, months into this freelance work, all is going well. Sometimes I generate ideas. Sometimes I get assignments. My experience as a book reviewer has aided me in writing product features for new releases. But mostly, my life experiences have woven into the blogging I do for Warner. I share my stories, adding a personal depth and warmth that connects to readers. My writing comes from a faith-based perspective. Truly this is an ideal fit for me, my writing skills and my values.

 

Both are my posts.

 

Please check out the posts I’ve written—from book features to posts about tech-free summer activities for kids to Father’s Day and more—by clicking here. There’s lots of great and informative content from other writers, too. Also check out the church supplies, kids’ books, ministry resources, boxed greeting cards and more by clicking here. I’m blessed and grateful to freelance for a company like Warner Press.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling