Out of the Ashes

I never thought I would do it again. I never thought I could do it again. My last was the best. I gave all of my heart to it for 9 years and it in turn gave life to my heart. It became a part of me, almost to the point of defining me. When it ended it felt like my world had split in two and my heart ripped from me. No one knowingly subjects themselves to sorrow and pain of that  magnitude and so I went on with my life, finding new distractions, new ways of organizing my days, new sources of joy, and finding a new identity.

I didn’t expect that I would encounter, so soon,  sorrow followed by even more sorrow – more than I had ever known before. And these sorrows were met alone without the comforts of my past. And unlike my past encounters with sadness, this time of darkness was anything but brief. It became my constant companion, it weighed on my heart, it depleted my energy, it ended nearly every day with tears, and it made laughter a sound of foreign origin.

I began to pine for the comforts of my past. The identity I once embodied. I needed something to fill the void, to become the target of my focus, to make my heart whole again, to invigorate my days, to reorient the drudgery that had taken over my life and chase away the darkness – something that would give me the high of being in love again.

Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. My new home, though full of stuff, feels devoid of life – no matter how cozy I try to make it with items from happier times back when and other decorative fluff. Emptiness has greeted me at the end of every work day and just made the darkness dig in deeper.

And so I gave in and decided to go back to who I once was, even though it would mean that I would be the one left behind, out of the limelight, and completely exhausted – at the beginning at least. It is time.

I am once again, a girl and her dog.

Out of the ashes of the past two years – the loss, the grief, the growth, the discovery comes the promise of hope and the light and the warmth of a new life. Meet Ember, registered name Elkhorn Mountain Southpaw’s Ember of My Heart. He has stolen my heart and will hopefully begin to heal it.

A Never-Ending Love Story

60 years ago, today, my mom and dad began an adventure in holy and everlasting, tried and true, in sickness and in health, happy and hilarious – matrimony in a sweltering hot Lutheran church in Conrad, MT. It was,by all accounts, a simply beautiful wedding that led to a simply solid marriage. My mother sewed her wedding dress, the flowers came from her neighbor’s garden, the cake and punch reception was served by the women auxiliary in the church basement, their honeymoon consisted of a night in Butte at my dad’s brother’s home on their way to their new home in Dillon as Dad had to get back to work.

Theirs was a marriage of love and friendship, faith and family, strife and strength, home and happiness. Being a good mix of Danish and Norwegian – they did not openly express their love for each other very often (except for this wonderful day 60 years ago). Reserved in their romance, we rarely saw them hold hands and I need less than 3 fingers to count the times I saw them kiss with any sort of passion. But I never doubted their love for each other, or for us. They expressed their love through devotion to each other and family.

They weren’t always happy – they were real. That reality made them stronger as husband and wife and made us stronger as a family. We saw that love endured testing and overpowered anger. We saw that faith combined with love produces a commitment that goes much deeper than the heart. We never wanted for anything – even though others lived more extravagant lives and had more adventures, nicer cars, games, and clothes. Our summer vacations were road trips to visit family with maybe a drive through a National Park on the way or a road trip to our next new home. Throughout our lives, Mom and Dad instilled in us a certitude that family was more important than anything.

Now that they are gone the void in my heart is extremely deep. Despite their good example – I have yet to create a family of my own. Perhaps because the standard they set is impossible for me to match? Nevertheless, the memories of their love, their living, and their faith that persevered and carried them through hardships and happiness will stay with me forever.

Mom and Dad, I wish we were celebrating with you – your marriage and the family you brought forth. Instead, we can rejoice that God gave you the greatest gift of all – everlasting life together. Your love story is never-ending, of that, I am certain.

Our “Brown Furniture” is Priceless

Back on its golden hinges
The gate of memory swings,
And my heart goes into the garden
And walks with the olden things.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox – “Memory’s Garden”

The task that loomed before me was daunting. Armed with the background reading I had done regarding what to do with “your parents’ stuff”, what your parent’s stuff is worth and spurred on by the slightly offensive title of one article that warned, “Sorry, Nobody Want’s your Parent’s Stuff,” I was determined to get the job of cleaning out my parents’ stuff done. But now, surrounded by the accoutrements that once decorated our life as a family, I was overwhelmed by how empty I felt inside.

All the things that made home “home” seemed at first to be just things on a list to be categorized as keep, sell, donate, or toss were now claiming a place in my emotions. The family pictures in the main hallway will forever document my brother’s and my youth. The end tables covered with golf and political magazines going back years recalled the Sunday afternoons on the golf course and dinner conversations on current affairs. The kitchen table etched with hours of homework into its mahogany top now sat covered with empty medicine bottles and stuffed medical folders. The living room furniture that was painstakingly chosen for its warm and inviting fabrics after hours of deliberation, that supported my family through many a holiday and warmed us after my mother’s funeral, certainly could not be considered worthless post mid-century “Brown Furniture” by the estate sale pros. The knickknacks Fred and I so proudly gave to our parents as gifts still held their prominence on windowsills, desk and dresser tops while others were tucked discreetly away in “special” drawers full of all kinds of special things.

16681786_1491067427584517_4990078830237632947_nThe book cases – oh goodness where would I begin with the bookcases filled with book collections from my parents’ college days some 60 years prior, Bible studies, agrarian philosophy, mysteries, western history, family history, religious history, Montana history, Viking history, geologic history – literally hundreds of books sometimes double stacked on shelves; many with personal inscriptions denoting the sentiments of the giver rendering them “unsalable” and others with momentos tucked between pages that would bring woe to us if they were lost when tossed into a bargain book bin. And this was just what I documented in the quick walk-through I made to refresh my memory of where everything was upon my return home.

All my course-of-action pre-planning that I did during the 7.5-hour drive to Billings for
the five-day regiment of claiming pieces of the past and clearing the rest for an estate sale went out the window into the dark and stormy night as I stood in the “emptiness” of the house.  With Mom gone and Dad moved into an assisted living home after a sudden spiral into severe Alzheimer’s related dementia, this once inviting (at least to me) home and its humble but comforting furnishings now felt lifeless. Even the sturdy hundred-year-old wall clock rescued from a barn fire in the 1930’s that ticked and chimed through the days of our lives was ticking out of synch.

I was encouraged to be ruthless in my endeavors by friends who have also been through this season of life. Faced with the reality of the tininess of my present living quarters and the vastness of things our house contained, I was determined to do my best. Surprisingly, my things were the easiest to part with. When I came across the footlocker that my mother had saved all my childhood fashions in, I spent an hour or so going from shock at how small I was as a first grader, to remembering the Hanes t-shirt with the butterfly iron-on I wore the entire summer of my 6th year after I wrecked my bike while wearing a Farrah Fawcett style angel top. My entire chest had to be wrapped in gauze all summer and cracked ribs prevented me from taking swimming lessons… My mother saved every dress, and during my tomboy years, the flannel shirts I wore for class pictures going through 7th grade. Yes, I saved a few choice pieces that my mom had sewn for me or were worn for special occasions, but the rest – too old to donate or sell – went in the trash. I am sure no little girl today would want to wear my rubber pants even with the lace on the back.

I spent many a summer afternoon and bedtime lost in the adventures of Nancy Drew. I could not wait to get my allowance and head to Walden Books to purchase my next adventure. The crack of the spine as I opened each story for the first time was thrilling. I still fancy myself a bit of a sleuth but my complete collection of hardback Nancy Drew books simply will not fit in my apartment and what good do those thrilling words of mystery do collecting dust on a shelf or being packed away in a box? Luckily, we have a darling little neighbor girl who has taken to my dad and loves to read. I am blessed to be able to pass my childhood (and to this day) joy of reading and adventures on to her.

This simple act of giving away a part of my childhood stirred in me emotions I was not expecting as it made me realize all the things I was saving for the daughter I would have someday had no value anymore. My life has turned out completely different than I or I am sure my parents – with everything they saved to pass down to our families –  had planned.  That particular someday will never come. The family line ends with me and my brother as neither of us have children.  This puts a whole new perspective on the value of our family “heirlooms.” Of course, we must hold on to them, mustn’t we? Some things have been in the family since before our parents’ time! But to be frank, what is the point? Our society is adopting a much more minimal, nomadic lifestyle. Collections of things are found in museums, not homes.

So yes, my collection of Precious Moments figurines will be sold. Hopefully someone will still buy them! And apparently, Fisher Price Barns, Dollhouses, and Parking Garages still have collector value so… maybe those will be worthy in the estate sale. Original Lincoln Logs anyone? My tin tea set with place settings for 6? Hmm… I’m afraid too many moms will have read about the hazards of tin to even touch that remnant – oh the hours I wiled away playing house, serving visitors, and opening restaurants!

By the time I made it through the thousands of dollars worth of Christmas décor (I kid you not!) nostalgia was turning into exasperated exhaustion. I decided it was not worth my time or sanity to test all the strings of lights and find their replacement bulbs which I know my mother saved yet I struggled to part with the ornaments of happiness encased in Rubbermaid bins.  No doubt about it, our family loved to celebrate Christmas and we did it in fine form! How do you sell or give away these things that we loved so much –  they belong to our family’s memories not someone else’s!

I spent 2 days searching for the prized collection of Bing and Grondahl Danish plates dating back to 1923 and have mysteriously disappeared in the crawl space but all I could find were tax documents and federal land plats.  After wrenching my back a few times lifting box after box of tax records dating to the 1960’s I was ready to scream. Honestly! My parents had moved 23 times throughout their marriage and they saved this but not the plates???

Now the cedar chest was another story. Safe within was a treasure trove of memories. Goodness, the things my mom saved – mittens from when I was 5, confetti from her wedding, her wedding dress, the patterns she used to sew her high school majorette uniforms and wedding dress, even the scraps from her wedding dress, and letters from her mother in-law tied lovingly with a ribbon… Going through her memories made me wish she could be with me as I sorted through all these things. How much more meaningful it would have been to share the stories behind instead of guessing why these heart items mattered to her.  Still, I love her even more now as I remembered this lesser known sentimental side of my mother. At this point, I realized I was going to need more than 5 days to do all this… and several boxes of Kleenex. I couldn’t be ruthless anymore. I realized we still have months to go before the house will be sold and more importantly, my dad is still with us. By the way, her wedding dress fit me perfectly!

Instead of slogging through the rest of my to-do list alone, I was able to bring Dad home for two afternoons and together we went through some of his things. Granted, I did not get very much done. We spent time going through photo albums dating back to the 1800’s. Surprisingly and a bit confoundingly, he could remember the names and events surrounding pictures from the 1930’s and even pictures of his grandparents and aunts and uncles in Norway and Denmark. We had a good laugh over a letter he wrote to his English teacher his senior year in high school not really apologizing for but doing his best to explain his bad behavior. This man who demanded straight-laced behavior in his kids wasn’t the squeaky-clean student we had presumed! We now have pictures to prove it!

I wept with pride as I read a letter written by a coworker upon his retirement after 40 years with the Bureau of Land Management, lauding his work ethic, philosophy on good government, professional but kind management style, and reinforcing how much his mentoring had meant to so many who continued on after him.  There are newspaper articles and more photo albums that will be gone through next time I am home, hopefully with Dad again.

Putting aside the schedule, one afternoon I just played the piano for my dad as he sat in his favorite chair. What becomes of the old upright Baldwin piano is much less important now than keeping the joy its music brought to our family over the years as my mother, brother and I played away, alive for him.

I realized that the things we hold on to do indeed tell our stories but the value of them lies only within our hearts. No price tag will ever adorn our memories. Time with those we love can never be bought or reclaimed.  The Bavarian china that sits in the cupboard awaiting a box will never have the same meaning in my home as it did when we all gathered for Thanksgiving around the table it graced. It could slip out of my hands and shatter in an instant but the memories will never be lost.

As I have shared my house clearing experience with my older friends, some have commented that they are not going to leave anything for their children to deal with. I can understand their well-meaning intentions, but I would caution them not to do this. The process of cleaning out and claiming pieces of our past is incredibly emotional and incredibly cathartic at the same time. Even the everyday items that made life livable like Sunbeam mixers, cookie sheets, Reynolds Wrap, outdated salad dressings, and crossword puzzle books remind us that life before illness, death, and grief took over really happened in this house. Some of the things I have touched and cried over will be let go and others will be kept.  Yes, it was emotionally exhausting at times but the process, even for just a moment, brought to a halt the chaos of the present day, the urgency of caretaking, the stress of not knowing what tomorrow holds for our family as I know it, and enabled me to pause and remember the times and trivialities that made life good for our family in the years leading to our present day.

If the storyline of our family does indeed end with my brother and I, I can be happy knowing the chapters of our lives were full and well documented. Whether or not the setting and accessories of our story sell at an estate sale matters little to me now.

 

 

Reflecting this Friday

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“Is not wisdom found among the aged?
    Does not long life bring understanding? ” ~Job 12:12
I miss my Dad of not even 3 months ago. What do I miss most? His wisdom. I used to call him up on my evening walks to shoot the breeze and find myself discussing politics, life, love, faith,finances, and family from a perspective far above mine. Sure he liked to interrupt and talk over me at times, but then I find myself doing the same (like father like daughter.) Now I would give anything to have him talk over me and go on from his point of view. Now we talk in alternate realities – a combination of confused facts and how the telephone cords wrap around his room….

I will treasure beyond measure our last real face to face conversation at Thanksgiving. It was just Dad and I sitting quietly in the living room.I listened as he told me about his childhood in Plentywood; what it was like that first year after his father passed away (he was only 6) and the years that followed before his mother met and married his stepfather. The warmth he felt as neighbors welcomed his mother, his brother and him into their home for a Thanksgiving dinner unlike any he had ever had before. His recollection was vivid, his memories as sharp as the biting cold that gripped Plentywood in the dead of winter.

He told me of how much he and my mother loved my brother and I, and of how much he missed my mother. That he sometimes found himself waiting for her to come downstairs in the morning. He told me he wished I was home, that I wasn’t so far away, and that surely I could find a good job in Billings. He assured me then I could even get a puppy! He told me how proud he was of me and my brother. That we had done better than he had expected us to (he has a way with words.)

Last night after chatting briefly as the “telephone situation” was aggravating him – I told him I loved him and he thanked me for calling. Told me “It was good to hear from you again” as if I was an old BLM buddy.
My heart aches.
I LOVE YOU, DAD.

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Overwhelmed by Love

13147272_1204040166287246_6929792025810359721_o “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — Rumi

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have started to write this piece only to delete everything (computers are an amazing writing tool!), walk away, and endeavor to try again when courage is restored. I feel completely inept to write about a subject I have avoided to address in my life for far too long out of a keen desire for self-preservation, feelings that I am not worthy of it, and my tendency toward perfectionism that sways me away from things I know I will ultimately fail at or be rejected by. For certain, it is not out of delight that I feel called to write about LOVE.

While I may not be very good at it, I do not shy away from loving deeply. To be honest, I find it hard not to love everyone. Sharing life with people brings great joy to my heart and things that bring joy are easy to love. But love is about more than sharing life with people. Love is about risk and pain as much as it is about trust and joy.  In the aftermath of a broken heart, the death of my dog, followed by the death of my mother, the very real risks and pains of love made me rethink how much love I could let in to my life anymore. Closing the door on love seemed like a good decision but doing so left a lot of room in my life to fill.  I filled that void with busyness, commitments, complicated scheduling, and mindless wandering where I swore to myself that I would never again allow myself to love too much, too deeply, or too easily – because too much love guaranteed too much hurt when that love was lost.

But fear is not in my nature and not something I take kindly to, especially when it threatens to surpass joy. By closing the door on love, I was closing the door on joy.

summit climbHenri J Nouwen, a Catholic priest and one of the most insightful theologians I have ever come across, encourages us to love deeply and to feel the pain that deep love can cause because the pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. “It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant.” In his book, The Inner Voice of Love, he goes on to say: “Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.”

My fear of failure, rejection, and being hurt has no root in the soil that grows love. The Bible tells us this: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18) I will never reach a state of perfection in love because there is only one perfect love, and that love has already been freely given to me (and you) by our Lord. By accepting this as truth, His perfect love cast out my fear and changed my heart from one that avoided love to one that wants to know how to love like the Lord loves.  No more will I let my fear of rejection by others become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the more I fear rejection by others, the more likely my actions towards others will cause them to reject me.

“The giving of love is an education in itself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

I write this with a heart that has been overwhelmed by love.  I am ashamed at how selfish my understanding of love was. I have always marveled at the charity of others-  those good souls who give so freely of their hearts and of their lives towards the needs and betterment of others. I never felt qualified and sadly, I told myself I was too busy.  Besides, what could I give that someone else couldn’t provide better than I? Once again, I let my fear of failure keep me from loving others. Now, as my family has been humbled by the graciousness of neighbors and church friends who have given their time and hearts in love to my father as he battled and now recovers from cancer and who have extended their love to me, I understand that there is no measurement for the right way to love.  The only right way to love is to simply do it. Make time for it. Sacrifice for it.

C.S. Lewis believed that those who fear direct their focus inward and worry about what will happen to them if they fail or are rejected. Those who love direct their focus outward towards caring more for others than themselves. The more you look outward the less time you have to dwell on your fears.  Martin Luther called the love of neighbor the highest and most important form of love aside from loving God. He went as far to say that those who do not love their neighbor could not love God. Luther believed that to know God was to understand that He is nothing but an active and self-giving love. Therefore, if you do not have faith in God, or do not love God through faith, you will not be able to do any truly good deeds.  While Luther believed we are saved by grace and not by works, this does not lessen God’s greatest commandment to us – to love one another as He loved us. Luther calls us to act in love, to be reflections of Christ in the lives of others.

Still, works of love take courage. Works of love make us vulnerable but maybe that vulnerability in the end makes us stronger, our lives fuller, and our hearts happier. C.S. Lewis wrote that the only place outside heaven where you will be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. Have you ever noticed how full of joy and full of life those who love through their works are? They have brought a small part of His kingdom down to earth and are blessed to live in it.

Nouwen sums this up nicely: “The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of yourself and thus gradually build a community within you. Those you have deeply loved become part of you. The longer you live, there will always be more people to be loved by you and to become part of your inner community. The wider your inner community becomes, the more easily you will recognize your own brothers and sisters in the strangers around you. Those who are alive within you will recognize those who are alive around you. The wider the community of your heart, the wider the community around you. Thus, the pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

12657168_1145106078847322_6415618807933147334_oThis Valentine’s Day marked one year since I last saw my mother alive. She did not like me to take risks in life – she wanted to protect me from being hurt. This was a constant source of frustration between the two of us. The love a mother has for her daughter is something I will never personally know but I do know how very much this daughter loved her mother. That I said goodbye to her on Valentine’s Day holds a far greater significance in my heart than I ever dreamed it would as we parted that last time. In honor of her love, I am going to go take a big risk and start loving deeply again – in new, fruitful, active ways. That will mean I will have to sacrifice some of that “busyness” I used to fill the void when I closed the door on love but I am okay with that. If you are living in fear rather than love, I invite you to  have courage and join me. I expect we will be overwhelmed by love as we do love and maybe, just maybe walk in His perfect ways in a small part of His kingdom here on earth.

Let your light so shine!

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Don’t Cry Because it’s Over, Smile Because it Happened.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

– Dr. Seuss

15585330_1423685114322749_7195857032468761883_oI had a difficult time letting go of 2016. In all the years of my life I do not recall one that contained so many life changing circumstances as the past year. One would think I couldn’t wait to close, make that slam, the door on the year that brought emotional upheaval, sickness, strife, and death to my life but instead I found myself wanting to hold on to the year that was as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. In every aspect, 2016 was a year that will shape the narrative of my life for some time to come.

The stories we tell others of the most extraordinary events –  good and bad – that we have experienced in our lives and that help us make sense of the world and shape us as individuals are what Northwestern University professor Dan McAdams, a pioneer in the field of narrative psychology, calls our narrative identity. We tell these stories to give our lives meaning and help others understand us. While many people may experience a similar event in their lives, each person interprets the event differently and assigns different levels of importance to it. Some people will simply move on from an experience like a swimming lesson gone awry, while others are transformed by it, perhaps emboldened to face their fears throughout life or traumatized by the experience they viewed as a broken trust.  McAdams calls these “narrative choices” and they predominantly fall into four thematic categories: redemption (stories that transition from the bad to the good that follows), contamination (stories that transition from the good to the bad), communion (stories that emphasize connection, love, friendship, intimacy, caring, or belonging), and agency (stories that emphasize achievement, self-mastery, empowerment, status, and influence).

McAdams’ studies have shown that those whose narratives fall into the redemption, communion, or agency themes have a better outlook on life, find more meaning and purpose in their life, achieve more of their goals, seek out and find more connection, enjoy deeper relationships, and generally report a greater sense of well-being. People who tell their stories through a contamination lens tend to see themselves as victimized, less-than, and fail to thrive in their personal and professional pursuits.

7803683540_76d8f5f45d_bHow we interpret our experiences, how we tell our stories, will set the tone and direction of our journeys in the year and years to come.

I tell my story through a lens of overcoming and persevering through events which brought me to a closer walk with God. By overcoming a near fatal eating disorder in my twenties – the ramifications of which altered the trajectory of my life including my schooling, my career, and my relationships –  I gained an inner strength and appreciation for life itself that I would not have otherwise acquired. I truly was born again into a life with Christ when I came out of ICU and gave my life completely into His hands and the hands of others He worked through to make me well again. I have lived every day since, cognizant of His divine mercy and grace in my life.

While 2016 had its fine share of wretchedness that at times drove me to places of darkness and sorrow, it was also a year of great personal growth and new direction in my life. My mother’s death changed who I am in this world going forward. I no longer have my mother to stand by me and as odd as it may sound, at 45 years of age I no longer feel like a child. Rather, I am determined to be the woman she never imagined I could be with a strength that I know she quietly and not so quietly instilled in me throughout our tumultuous yet loving mother-daughter relationship.

My father’s car accident and battle with cancer which began shortly after my mother’s death reminded my entire family that we cannot do this life thing on our own. We were richly rewarded through the goodness of friends and family surrounding us with acts of love and prayers. Through it all, my Lord was there, walking with us, carrying us, and working through His angels here on earth – and there were many- ensuring that this battle was fought with faith and determination and through His great providence, we won!

In 2016 I was reminded that I am not invincible and God knew just how to do that. The mountains that once gave me so much exuberance and fed my conquering spirit would put me in my place and lead me towards a new respect –  that for myself and my own well-being. Mind you, the mountains are really not the place to discover your weaknesses – at least not your physical ones. The events of the year had been quietly taking a toll on me, leading me to crash and burn on a mountainside for the first time in my epic climbing life (writer’s opinion inserted there). It was the first of many signs that I had been neglecting my own health but I ignored them and pushed through the symptoms of exhaustion, collapsing spells, and stomach issues chalking them up to stress.

When fear started to overwhelm everything else in my life, I headed to the clinic one morning for a check-up and ended the day being thought of as a bit of a walking miracle as I sat for five hours in the transfusion chair receiving three units of blood. This was a rather unexpected outcome of quick check-up! To put it bluntly, I had no red blood cells and quite frankly, the doctor told me – I should have been dead.

My 2nd brush with death in life reminded me once again that my physical body –  God’s temple on earth-  needs attention too, and for the first time in too long, I began to take serious responsibility for my own health. To win in life, one must be strong, unwavering, and humble – we must know our weaknesses to overcome them and I found mine.  Now I am in a process of restoring my health and I am making good progress! Which is a good thing because I have embarked on a new direction in life that had been far too long in the planning stages. My mother’s death and father’s illness made me very much aware that life is to be lived – not just observed or reflected upon. My goals of becoming a Lay Pastoral Associate and becoming a voice of hope in others’ lives will be realized.

While it is easy to succumb to a woe-is-me-what have-I-done-to-deserve-this-attitude when life goes awry, (which is a perfectly natural response) I choose to see my experiences as stepping stones rather than hurdles and tell a redemptive story of new goals, new opportunities, and strengthened relationships, rather than a story of my life going from good to bad which would ultimately lead to a life suspended. By choosing to see the events of my life through a lens of redemption and communion I am choosing to embrace the challenges I have faced and use them for good.

1795353_897513270273272_6053940868719391842_oI used to look to the mountains for my escape. They were a place I could go to get away from the chaos of life, challenge myself and come out on top (literally and figuratively), talk to God, and find peace. But my mountain sanctuaries did not avail themselves to me as much last year as in the recent past, partially due to the incessant rainy weather, partially due to my health, but mostly because God determined the chaos of life needed to be lived not escaped from, my challenges would come from within not from a wanderlust adventure, and I would come to find my peace in Him at all times – not just when the mountains called me.

2016 changed me. I am stronger now, in WHO I am. I am humbler. I am more aware. I am more alive!  I don’t need to run from life or the circumstances I encounter any longer. When I turn to my Lord instead of running away, I have the strength to find the good in the moment – even when it seems this moment is all I can see. When I call on Him to shine His light in my life, I can be a light in the lives of others. When I am weak, when I have lost heart, He picks me up and restores my spirit.

I don’t need to prove myself on a mountain or be anyone other than the me God created. In fact, as I gaze out at the mountains from my valley home now, the anxious desire I once felt to constantly climb and conquer every trail and peak I could sanely ponder has quelled to a more restful yearning filled with an appreciation of the beauty, opportunity, and peace that awaits me.

What is your story of life and 2016? How will you tell it and how will it define your goals and direction for 2017 and the years to come?

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

~ from Isaiah 43

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Looking Back, Living On, Emerging Strong

But as for me, I will sing about your power.
Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
a place of safety when I am in distress.

~ Psalm 59:16

One would think I couldn’t wait to close, make that slam, the door on 2016. A year that brought emotional upheaval, sickness, strife, and death to my life. And yet, while 2016 has had its fine share of wretchedness, it has also been one of great personal growth and new direction. And so, before I bid this life changing year of 2016  goodbye and welcome the promise of 2017 with wide open arms, some reflection is due.

I used to look to the mountains for my escape. They were a place I could go to get away from the chaos of life, challenge myself and come out on top (literally and figuratively), talk to God, and find peace. But the mountains did not avail themselves to me as much this year, partially due to the weather, partially due to my health, but mostly because this year God determined the chaos of life needed to be lived not escaped from, my challenges would come from within not a wanderlust adventure, and I would find my peace in Him at all times – not just when the mountains called me.

13147272_1204040166287246_6929792025810359721_oSuffering from a broken heart and  questioning my future I started the year out very much alone, navigating a route on this journey that we all travel through at some point in our lives – the end of life for one of our parents. Witnessing from afar and feeling quite helpless and guilty as the absent daughter, I watched as my mother progressively began to let go of life as my Dad and brother did what they could to keep her with us. What began as a shift in living arrangements from repeated hospitalizations to moving her to an assisted living center ended with skillful avoidance of her questions about when she was going home. Her clear minded quest to go home twisted my heart as I frantically tried to make connections with her that I knew she could no longer comprehend. My visits home were far too few and too late to bridge the gap and make amends in our fractured relationship however one-sided my attempt was. I fought against the dawning realization that my was mother heading to another home, a much better place for her life weary soul.  Through it all I held on to the belief that God was in this and with us.

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I had marked the last day of winter with a jubilant snowshoe hike to the top of Mt. Brown and on that blue bird day I said farewell to a serious winter of discontent  – ready to claim Spring into heart again.  And then the call came – the call my brother surely agonized over as he dialed – and one I was completely unprepared for.

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After her last happy and bright morning,  my mother had passed sweetly on her way to rest in my Lord and Savior’s arms on the first day of Spring.

The week surrounding her death changed my relationship with God forever. I no longer had my mother to stand by me and as odd as it may sound, at 45 years of age I no longer felt like a child nor could I be.  Rather, I felt determined to be the woman she never imagined I could be with a strength that I knew she had quietly and not so quietly instilled in me throughout our tumultuous yet loving mother-daughter relationship.

As the days after my mother’s death grew greater, the numbness I survived my days with and the fog that inhabited my mind began to fade.  I was left to remember her. To miss her.  To think of happier days  when just knowing she was there wondering what I was up to was enough. It just didn’t seem real that she was gone and yet her absence was all too real in my heart and mind.  I had so many things left to tell her. Now I could and I did. And a sense of peace that truly did surpass all understanding came over me.

Through it all my Lord walked with me, healing me and strengthening me  – preparing me for the coming days that came all too soon.

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Before the sorrow of losing my mother subsided, a new challenge emerged. Cancer came knocking on our door and made itself at home in my Dad. There was no more time for sorrow in our lives. My Dad, my brother and myself had a new battle to face.  Despite having many friends and family members who have faced down cancer  – some winning the battle and some winning their higher reward, I never pictured the battle being waged in my immediate family. We were ill-prepared and already battle weary. How do you fight the unknown? By July we were fully engaged in the  exhaustive, painful,  frustrating, emotional, scary, angry, helpless, hopeful battle. Throw in a car accident and we truly questioned just how much more we could bear.

And through it all, my Lord was there, walking with us, carrying us, and working through His angels here on earth – and there were many- ensuring that this battle would be fought with faith and with His great providence we would win.

And He spoke to me many times. Awakening me and humbling me.

To win battles, one has to be strong, unwavering, and humble -we have to know our weaknesses in order to overcome them. It was my time to be tested. God knew just the thing too… the mountains that once gave me so much exuberance and fed my conquering spirit would put me in my place and lead me towards a new respect –  that for myself and my own well-being.

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The mountains are really not the place to discover your weaknesses – at least not your physical ones. While the events of the year had been quietly (or perhaps not so quietly but I chose to be stubborn and ignore the signs) taking a toll on me.

What began on a perfect, bluebird sky morning and a much anticipated, dreamed about, read about, planned for, trained for, prayed about, stayed up late waiting to get on the much prized waiting list for –  journey across the infamous  23 mile  Floral Park Traverse would end weeks later with much less jubilation.  I had had more than visions of sugar plums dancing in my head during my last three years of living in paradise. From the first time I heard about it, the Floral Park Traverse  captivated me to the point of nearly reaching an obsessive quality in my mountainous pursuits. Tales of deaths, grizzlies, cliffs, glaciers, even just the name – inspired my wanderlust to go wild with want. And finally this was the day, on my 3rd Anniversary of being a Whitefishian no less, that my wanton wanderlust was to be fulfilled! Instead, as I wrote in my epic trail tale, for the first time in my epic climbing life- I crashed and burned and never really recovered.

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But being a stubborn Morck (thanks Dad!) I chose to keep on pushing through –  pushing through stomach distress, exhaustion, inability to breath, and bouts of collapsing with my same determination that I faced everything else – this too shall pass and you will rise above it. Only I couldn’t.

When  fear started to overwhelm everything else in my life, on the morning of September 29th, I headed to the clinic for a check-up and ended the day being thought of as a bit of a walking miracle as I sat for five hours in the transfusion chair receiving three units of blood –  seeing as how I had basically lost all mine and quite frankly as the doctor told me  – should have been dead.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.

My own brush with death made me realize that my physical body –  God’s temple on earth-  needs attention too and for the first time in too long, I began to take serious responsibility for my own health. I had focused solely on others for too long. And so now I end 2016 in a process of rebuilding my life in more ways than I thought possible. I am making good progress! Which is a good thing because this year, through all the turmoil and wretchedness, I embarked on a new direction in life that had been far too long in the planning stages.

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In the midst of the battles being waged in July, God whispered to me –  it was time. He placed before me this meditation – and it changed me.

“In times when everything is changing, when everything seems to be in transition, when nothing seems certain, God plants people in our lives with voices of hope.
These are those who in our times of suffering point us toward the day when suffering will end.
They reassure us in times of doubt that we can have faith.
They remind us of our baptismal callings and of the God who makes a way out of no way.
They remind us of God’s purpose and God’s love for us.
They believe in miracles, not least of which is the miracle of God calling us to fulfill God’s purposes.
And when we cannot, they remind us that God claims us as beloved anyway, just because.”

This was who I wanted to be. THIS was WHO I am called to be!

We need to feel that our lives reflect who we are, that our story is true to who we are.  And at every stage of life, you have choice; you can choose to rebuild your life to become WHO you are or you can keep on feeling restless doing what you do.

And so in October, I began my own journey of becoming WHO I AM –  to be a voice of hope in peoples lives. I finally have a sense of peace in regards to the direction my life is taking. This amazing journey of life I have been on (and will continue to travel) brought me to a point of discernment, discovery, and trust in His purpose for me. How it will all turn out is no clearer today than it was when I first began, but now I see my life through a different lens. I no longer see my life on a wayward trajectory with no purpose. On the contrary, all those potholes, U-turn’s, downhill sprints and uphill trudges were merely a training ground. I do know I am so blessed. Blessed to be alive, blessed to have lived the life I have so far,  blessed to feel centered and focused in a positive direction, and blessed to be finally following a path I have pondered instead of wandered for far too long!!!

2016 changed me. I am stronger now, in WHO I am. I am more humble. I am more aware. I am more alive!  I don’t need to run from life or the circumstances I encounter any longer. When I turn to my Lord instead of running away, I have the strength to find the good in the moment – even when it seems this moment is all I can see. When I call on Him to shine His light in my life, I can be a light in the lives of others. When I am weak, when I have lost heart, He picks me up and restores my spirit.

I don’t need to prove myself on a mountain or be anyone other than the me God created. In fact, as I gaze out at the mountains from my valley home now, the anxious desire I once felt to constantly climb and conquer every trail and peak I could sanely ponder has quelled to a more restful yearning filled with appreciation of the beauty, opportunity, and peace that awaits me.

Let your light so shine ever so brightly in 2017!

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This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”~ from Isaiah 43

A Radiant Light Shines in Heaven Today ~ Happy Birthday, Mom!

December 6, 1933 – March 20, 2016

Video: A Remarkable Woman – A Beautiful Life

picture183 years ago, a baby girl was born into an already very large Norwegian family of 7 boys and girls (2 of the girls would die in infancy) and three more would follow after her… This family of ten would live out their young lives in a railroad car in Conrad, MT. This remarkable woman lived through the Great Depression and stood in the food lines for food and coats to wear. This experience would give her a flair for fashion; in her later years as a teacher and then wife and mother she loved to shop and adored her shoes! She watched as her oldest brother went off to war in WWII, pulled her father out taverns and lost him to a premature death when she was a senior in high school.

The tales she would tell of family bath nights using the same water, having one of her hats thrown down the outhouse hole by the bratty neighbor girl and getting even with her by “sharing” goat turd raisins, and the fights and teasing she put up with at the hands of her rascally brothers and sisters would fill a library. She would be farmed out to her tiny Norwegian Aunt Annie’s farm to help cook and clean during the summers.

She would traverse the countryside with crazy Lutheran pastors that drove like bats out of hell over wash-board roads to get to the various country churches on Sunday mornings where the pastor would preach and she would play the piano. She gained fame as the State Champion Majorette – baton twirling was competitive back then – and she would spend summers at Whitefish and Flathead Lakes first as a nanny and then as Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp’s Dean of Women.

She would then go off to college, become a teacher, meet my Dad in Livingston, MT and marry him 6 months later at the age of 23. She would have a son and 10 years later, a daughter, and she would move 23 times to follow my Dad’s career ambitions. She would become a Brownie leader and classroom and school library volunteer. She would help plant and start a new Lutheran church. She raised her children in a home that always knew her love. She welcomed and put up with the constant comings and goings of the neighborhood kids and her presence was one their working Mom’s always appreciated.

She was tested physically throughout her life including surviving congestive heart failure, a stroke, and the onset of dementia. She was tested by her children, whose lives did not always reflect her greatest wishes for them and her husband whose career she sacrificed her own for.

She was and always will be my first love in this world and someone I did not fully appreciate until she was gone. I wish I had known the woman she was BEFORE she had me – the carefree college girl and ground-breaking elementary school teacher who in many ways was before her time in instructional practices. I wish I had known my Mom before time took a toll on her spirit.

The woman I did know, however, was a wonderful mother, who despite our clashes in later life, was my best friend. She shared the adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder with me at bedtime and wondered at the life and times of our first president George Washington at Mount Vernon and the history we were surrounded by while living in Virginia. We explored the meanderings of Alkali Creek and the dress racks and shoe islands of Lord and Taylor’s department store with the same zeal.

She had a tender heart, a curious mind, and at least throughout my childhood – a very fun sense of play and humor. While she hated to cook, she loved to decorate – especially at Christmas – in later years this would become a point of contention between us as I had the same affinity but not always the same ideas. Candles in the windows were her statement to the neighborhood that the light of Christ shined within our home. Candles were a part of every dinner as well – a light ever-present in our lives, even when times were cold and dark. I found a stash of her candles while home at Thanksgiving this year – she had an abundant supply – a constant source of light she was certain never to be without.

We are without her light in our midst this year – a void that is achingly real. But I know her light shines on – within each of us and those whose lives she touched. I love and miss you Mom, so very much. The sun is shining brightly today in your honor. Thank you for filling my heart and my life with your love and own special light. Happy Birthday, Mom. I know heaven is radiant with your beautiful light today.

Getting to the Heart of What Really Matters

Family. I wish I knew mine better.

Sometimes it takes extreme circumstances to awaken us to something we take for granted as just part of life. This entire year has been one of those extreme circumstances for me. Until I moved to Whitefish a little over three years ago, I had never lived away from my family. While my brother lived in other state for much of my adulthood, my parents, many of my aunts and uncles, and cousins were nearby if not just down the hall. Because of their close proximity, they more or less just became a part of my everyday life. Nothing special. NOTHING SPECIAL until they were gone.

Why does it take separation or loss to make things, and yes people, matter more to us?

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Me, Mom and Grandma Dyrud

I never had the chance to truly know my grandparents. My grandpas had passed away years before I was born and my grandmas died when I was still very young – at an age when my grandma’s few and far between visits meant candied orange slices and fun with dentures but not much more. It pains me to write that, but it is true! I was not old enough to truly appreciate the wealth of life that sprung from my Grandma Dyrud, my mother’s mother. I do remember fondly our visits to her lifetime home from marriage forward- a converted rail passenger car that housed a family of 10 in Conrad, MT. She was widowed by my grandfather, Adolph Dyrud, when my Mom was 17 and never remarried. She was content in her faith and the lives of her many children.  She was the bringer of orange slices and dentures. She prophetically announced during one of her last visits to our home in Rock Springs, WY that I, at the verbose age of 6, would be a pastor someday.

I visited my father’s mother in a nursing home in Plentywood, MT one time when I was all of 5 years old. Grandma Cummins had already succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s by that time and did not know me. We lived too far away to make more frequent visits. Much of what I know about Grandma Cummins – who was widowed by my Dad’s father, Frederick Dorph Morck (a good Dane!), when my Dad was 6 – comes from picture albums and a few stories about my Dad’s childhood. She was one of the few working women with children at that time. They also took in boarders to make ends meet. Then she met and married my Dad’s stepfather, Wilbur “Bill” Cummins – THE only border patrol agent for Sweetgrass County. My Dad had several older step-brothers and sisters I know nothing about – some from his Dad’s first wife who had passed away and others from his step father’s first wife who also had passed away. In those days, families that were far apart age and distance wise stayed that way in relationships as well.

My entire life I have envied those who knew their grandparents and actually had relationships with them as I feel somehow cheated out of my own history – not to mention the special love and bonding that grandparents seem to have with their grandchildren. I had and still have wonderful aunts and uncles who, perhaps realizing the void in my life left by the absence of grandparents, stepped in and filled my heart with pseudo-grandparent love as best they could.

When I moved from Billings to Whitefish – a place with virtually no family ties, I had the wind at my back. I couldn’t wait to live life on my own, to prove to the world that Miss Morck could stand alone and stand on her own two feet and remain upright – granted it would be much easier to do in Whitefish where the wind isn’t at a constant 30 mph breeze, but I digress. And yes, indeed, I proved it. But then the first and second Christmases that I couldn’t make it home hit home. And then illness after illness hit back home. And then Mom died. And then Dad got cancer. And I was here… Far away from it all.

Suddenly this busy, independent life of mine seemed to not matter so much. The chaos and callous of the world we get so wrapped up in didn’t matter so much. My life didn’t matter so much.

dscn6527And then this started to mean something to me…. This antiquity my dear Aunt Mary sent with me when I packed up my things and moved West. It had belonged to my Grandma Dyrud, sat in her cozy little kitchen, and at one time registered the temperature. Aunt Mary thought I might like it. I set it on the little ledge in my own cozy little kitchen and let it be. This pastoral picture-thermometer of Meadowbrook Dairy, a Voermans Bros. property with a phone number of 89Y situated on Voerman Road in Whitefish MT – the very same Voerman Road I have run on every single day since I moved here – suddenly mattered to me. How did Grandma come to have this? I wanted to know! Had she been to Whitefish? What was her life like after she left her family in MN to move to MT? How did she manage any time to herself with 10 kids in a railcar? How did she come to trust in her dear Lord Jesus so deeply that He was all she needed in her long life? What was my I want to know, and I will never be able to ask her. All I have now, is our own little connection made here on Voerman Road.

My mother. We lived together for so many years; she was just part of my everyday life, sometimes a very frustrating part of it, but also a very wonderful part of it. She was always there. I know about her life. But as I think of her now, I really never got to know her. I know she grew up in the Great Depression in a converted rail passenger car with 10 brothers and sisters, lost her Dad at 17,was the state champion majorette (that was a big deal in those days),  loved her summers as a nanny on Whitefish Lake and as a counselor at Flathead Bible camp, had a great time at the same college I went to, got into hot water a few times (doing things that I must never, ever, EVER do), met my Dad while teaching in Livingston, fell head over heels in love,  married him 6 months later, and the rest is history…. History that I never really took the time to talk to her about.

Oh, Mom, how did you manage to throw that baton, twirl, catch it and keep twirling it without breaking your nose? I would have been so sick with nerves!  How did you know that Dad was THE one other than his grin? What was your favorite date of all with him? How Picture1on earth did you manage to eat while buying all those shoes before you got married? Was your heart ever broken so deeply you were afraid to love again? What did it really feel like to become a Mom? When you were a little girl, what were you most proud of? Fearful of? How about that Trump??? OH! There are so many things I want to ask you!!  Why do we disagree so much? Mom, will you ever forgive me?

Our one deep connection – one she seemed to treasure in her last few weeks – was the fact that I now lived in Whitefish, a place where she found so much joy in being. She only came here one time to visit me. And that one time I was so busy – busy with a choir performance and busy worrying about what we would do for dinner since she was hard to please and didn’t like going out until she was out, and busy making everything right, and busy with life, that I did not take the time to talk or listen to her. Did the sunsets on the lake make her cry too?

And now she is gone. And, I will never be able to ask her.

It is a hard, aching lesson to learn- what matters. But when you do, you realize that your own life really does matter because you matter to the people who matter to you. It is one of those wonderful circular courses where each relation grows from the other over and over again. You find your life fuller and richer as you share in other’s lives and as your relationships deepen beyond the surface niceties.

This Thanksgiving, this girl that proved to her family she could stand very well on her own, thank you very much, is going home to get to the heart of what really matters. My Dad.

I have always been Daddy’s little girl and for a long time that was all that mattered. Now I want to know what really matters to him. I will ask him all kinds of questions that never get asked because we are too busy doing life. And my brother and sister in-law… well they better be prepared to be peppered as well. After the life-shaking events of this year, we need to have a nice long chat!

I encourage you to do the same with your family and friends as you gather to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings and challenges we have been given this year. Relish the TIME you have with them. Go ahead, talk politics and religion around the table (trust me, someday you will cherish their perspective), and ask that silly question you are just dying to know the answer to over a game of Scrabble. Tell them what gets your goat and ask them what keeps them up at night.  Take long, quiet walks and share your hearts, even in the silence. Ask for forgiveness. Forgive. Love.

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Family. The Heart of What Really Matters

Don’t let the heartache of the unspoken, the relationships that just touched the surface, and the letdown you feel after the chaos is over and the time together is lost be your lesson about what really matters. Cherish those moments of connection. Find the treasures in their hearts and take them with you. Because that is what really matters.

An Adventure to Remember

This post is a month overdue in celebration of my 3rd Anniversary as a Whitefishian (August 14th), however, as today is the last day of summer I thought it was appropriate to post at least one epic adventure I enjoyed this year. Here’s to mountain enigmas, escapes, escapades, and and another season of life in the books.

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Such a serene beginning.

“Oh! My back!! My back! I think its broken!” she screeched as her partners congregated around her and jumped back and forth wondering what to do other than scold and laugh at her. Eventually one jumped to her aid and freed her from her agony as the imposing pressure was lifted and she scampered away, breathless but seemingly all in one piece. She would live to eat another nut.

And so on a perfect, bluebird sky morning, I began my much anticipated, dreamed about, read about, planned for, trained for, prayed about, stayed up late waiting to get on the much prized waiting list for –  journey across the infamous Floral Park Traverse. You see, I have had more than visions of sugar plums dancing in my head during my last three years of living in paradise. From the first time I heard about it, the Floral Park Traverse has captivated me to the point of nearly reaching an obsessive quality in my mountainous pursuits. Tales of deaths, grizzlies, cliffs, glaciers, even just the name – inspired my wanderlust to go wild with want. And finally this was the day, on my 3rd Anniversary of being a Whitefishian no less, that my wanton wanderlust would be fulfilled!

The sun was just starting to warm the cold mountain air as it made its way around Going to the Sun Mountain. Cars filled with die hard explorers and nonchalant goat watchers were already filling the Logan Pass parking lot and it wasn’t even 7am! The busyness of human beings preparing for the business of conquering this sanctuary interrupted the sanctity of this mountain morning and in the heat of it all, a family of ground squirrels found themselves dancing and darting around me until one sorry squirt of a squirrel slipped under my swiftly stepping foot and got squished.

Just like that, within 200 feet of our transport vehicle, I had my first wildlife encounter of the day. Squealing myself, I instantly felt the weight of the world hang itself on my back pack – no way could that little lady have survived a squishing like that – and yet she did! Her sibling or suitor- I couldn’t really tell which, squealed right along with me and they both shot out from under my step with impressive speed.

Was this a sign of things to come? Perhaps. Alas, I had visions of my own mountaintop squeals – of delight mind you – spurring me forward, even as my cohorts had already shot ahead of me on the boardwalk, climbing to the Hidden Lake overlook.

Surprisingly, I found myself already sucking air – something I have never experienced before – I am a distance runner for goodness sake- the 20+ miles that lay ahead of me should be a walk in the park – no pun intended. Heck. I swiftly clamored up the boardwalk to Hidden Lake in the dark just last fall to watch the eclipse! Finally, as my lungs gasped in relief, the lake came into sight and it was time to shed my jacket – as fast as I could as my hiking mates were already heading down the trail in the shadow of Mount Clements.

14086448_1284313418259920_5606975740344039861_oI met up with two other blondes – one a fisherman and fellow Scandinavian I am sure with his long flowing locks and handsome outdoorsiness and the other – the first goat of the day… looking sublime in a meadow of flowers. The Norseman and I kept pace together all the way down to the lake far below and then parted ways as he took his place along the shore and I proceeded to ford the Fjord! Sigh… for a moment there I was in a fair maiden’s heaven!

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But THIS is where the story gets interesting. Once we crossed the inlet to Hidden Lake (which I did with aplomb!) the trail came to an end and the real adventure began. Bearhat Mountain loomed over us to our right and Reynolds Mountain soared high to our left. We made our way along Hidden Lake and then began our grassy, bushy, sappy-tree-filled ascent up from the lake basin. We emerged above a cliff band and were treated to a view of a massive slope of scree – yippee.

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I hate scree.

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The scree slopes from a safe distance.

I haven’t mastered but will tolerate scree skiing down a mountainside but climbing up or worse, side-hilling across what seemed like an endless expanse of unforgiving sharp rocks was not what I had emerged from the trees in hopes of seeing. My crew was much more adept at navigating across the goat-trail-less rock field than I and I soon found myself alone- just me and those ragged rocks – oh and a stupid creek in which I fell face first in my graceless glory. At that moment, I thanked God for my solitary state. It was after one massive downhill slide which was not the direction I was aiming for, that I had to sit down and have a good cry before I could pick myself up, brush myself off and do it all over again!

Pulling myself together with my sap covered hands, I made the final push to the ridge where the group sat, in the distance, basking in the sun and watching my every stumble, I just knew it. But I made it, with a smile on my face no less – and found the perfect rock on which to rest my sorry self and devour my first PB&J of the day.

14115526_1284313534926575_8143115894599556429_oIt was at this peaceful moment when I got the great idea to have our awesome crew leader Sue snap my photo because I needed to prove I was actually on this hike. Removing my camera from my back pack and nestling my pack into the hillside I posed with a happy smile and…… my pack began to roll, and roll, and roll right over the cliff edge and down, down, down the embankment over and over and over again until it finally came to rest at a spot that seemed a mile away.

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Super-zoomed…

I just stood there in shock – everything – my much needed PB&J, my water, my extra clothes, my keys, my license, and my cell-phone were now at the bottom of the basin! Sue sat with her mouth agape and I started laughing because it was all I could do to keep from crying…That was when Paul, the uber-hiker who had completed a 17-mile hike and 2 peak summits the day before jumped into action. He could see it and I could make out the speck of it with the zoom on my camera. At least my beloved camera wasn’t inside! He made his way down the steep, cliffy slope and I watched in adoration as he swung it over his shoulders and began the trek back up. Overjoyed, as he came over the edge I noted that my water bottle was gone, as was my bear spray – but not to worry – my thermos of coffee would hold me over and the bear spray – well I was with everyone else, bears wouldn’t dare bother us!

Paul asked me if I had my keys in the pack… and I glanced at the open pocket and the empty key fob that had supposedly secured my keys safe inside. I almost threw up. My keys were gone! Lost forever on those rocky slopes. Then Paul pulled his hand from his pocket and produced not one but both sets of keys! I could have kissed him – but I settled for a great big bear hug. A glimpse of silver had caught his eye – my house keys some 600 feet from my bag and as he made his way up and he came across my car keys another 900 ft. or so away. It was a miracle!! A sheer miracle, I tell you. Amazingly- everything else in that un-zipped compartment stayed put including my phone. And Paul remarked that this was one of the nicest packs he had seen— one that I no longer despise so much myself! Paul assured me he had enough water to share just as Jason (not one to be outdone in heroism) emerged over the edge with both my water bottle and an exploded bottle of bear spray – what a mess that created- and I was once again complete.

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Sheer drop to Avalanche Lake

I quickly devoured my no-worse for-tumble sandwich and we were off to our next point- the cliffs overlooking Avalanche Lake. This is where people have died I was told, and the scenery certainly supported that reality.

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From there we ridge walked a ways to a point overlooking Lake Mary Baker and the Floral Park basin we would descend into… a long unforgiving adventure in scree again that ended in a grassy flower-filled expanse of beautiful flat land!

 

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The floral in Floral Park…

I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder coming down- not falling once in the scree and letting loose in the grassy sea – only to fall flat on my face and tumble head over heels in the meadow. Once again, praying I was far enough behind that no one witnessed my graceless feat, I righted myself and joined the group for lunch on the shore of Lake Mary Baker. It was a brief stop, at least for me – as the bugs were relentless and the climb up to the Sperry Glacier loomed long and large.

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Mary Baker Lake – looking back on the “hill” we plundered down.

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And that snow is where we head up to again!

 

Did I mention it was a climb UP? Still looking for my lungs that were obviously waiting for me back home, in the comforts of my bed I presumed, I once again fell far behind this exuberant hill-climbing crew. This scree slope was intermixed with grass and shoe-lace pulling bushes making for a literal trip up the mountainside. We finally made it above the cliff bands and I breathed deeply as I looked at what lay ahead – a beautiful expanse of red slab rock, glacial melt ponds, and fast flowing streams. It all looked so pleasing to this weary wanderer’s eye. Apparently that red rock is also deadly when wet….

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This is NOT the damned waterfall I fell into.. it is unworthy of a photo.

We came to a fast moving water feature – I’ll call it a waterfall- as it cascaded down several levels of rock. I have a paralyzing aversion to wet rock due to a few bad experiences on prior hikes, but my crew made it look so easy – hopping across with an anchor rock in the middle – surely I could do this! And so I launched with the full certainty of Peter Pan that I could fly- but no… this graceless wonder bombed again and fell hard on even harder rock covered by the rushing water. Try as I might to get out I kept slipping on silt slicked rock. I scrambled for anything dry to grasp as I saw myself going over the approaching edge. Finally, after what seemed like forever I was able to roll up onto the edge and found dry rock. Soaked and shaken I got to my feet. I still had to get across!

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We “enjoyed” miles of this….

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Melt pond.

And there were my fast but trusted friends ready to help me across. God bless them for their encouragement and empathy! I made it across this time and we began our ascent up a moraine of clay, sand, snow, and rock… this was worse than scree and much steeper with a snow field below it! My hip screamed with every step and it seemed like every step I took I took 3 slides back.

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Rather other-worldly don’t you think?

As I emerged at the top, the wise group decided I needed electrolytes and caffeine. I readily accepted! Normally I don’t pop pills but these were surely needed. I was done – mentally and physically. Before us lay an expanse of more melt ponds and more slabs of rock, then a hilly climb to the snow fields of Sperry Glacier and I needed energy…. That’s when we heard the thunder. Yes, thunder AND lightning! Just the excitement we needed to spur us to the highest point in the area. God help us.

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The storm.

The snowfields proved to be easier for me to traverse than I expected. We were finally at the boulder fields that I had crossed and proved my mettle on 3 years ago when I was still a newbie to all of this – but that is another story…. Comeau Pass’s intriguing if not magical staircase hewn out of rock led to a welcome sight- a trail! We had a trail and even better it was all downhill from here! I have never felt such a spurt of energy pulse through me – a second wind! 6 miles of downhill bliss but then it started to rain and then hail…. There would be no leisurely reflection on our grand adventure at the mirror-like glacial lakes as planned.

The rain insurance policy inside my pack ($90 rain pants) eventually came through for me and the rain let up and the sun came out. The long Sperry Trail enveloped us in the trees for the rest of the hike, with early evening dappled sunlight warming us now and then. It was a quiet descent. One filled with lots of contemplation while scorning the tiny pebbles that kept working their way into my socks. The Lake McDonald Lodge parking lot welcomed us back some fourteen hours after we left. A wonderful end to an epic tale in the form of our hiking group’s traditional trail tailgate ensued with some of the best tasting chips, salsa, and chocolate chip cookies this girl has ever tasted (of course I always say that at the end of a hike!)

The sunset was one that brought tears to my eyes as I made my way along the shore of Lake McDonald. Sighs of relief and I’ll admit, exhaustion filled the air of my Santa Fe.

I had done it! Battle wounds be damned. I could mark Floral Park off my bucket list – 20+ miles of epic Glacier Park adventure. It was everything and more than I imagined and I can’t wait to do it again …. after I get reunited with my lungs and make amends with my legs.

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The End….