When Comparison is the Thief of Joy

“Last year at this time I was/had….” How many times lately have I started a conversation with that comparative statement? More often than I would like to admit. Regretfully, I have spent much of my time this summer dwelling on the past rather than living fully in the present and contemplating the future. It is a relatively easy habit to fall into and when one is feeling mentally exhausted, stressed out, or just down in the dumps. Dwelling on happier times is a good respite for the emotional soul. Positive memories have an important place in our lives – they help us out of a sad moment, help us heal from the loss of a loved one, and create meaning in our lives. They can also send us spiraling into a trap of living in the past while ruing our present –  keeping us from moving forward and enjoying the gifts of life we have now.

11731884_1033524946672103_274556446325443046_oI found myself doing just that as I talked to friends about summer plans. Last year at this time I had already knocked out 23 hikes in the park including summiting several mountains with plenty of joyous trail journal entries and pictures to fill a museum. I was feeling strong and mighty, like the world below me was mine to conquer from those peak-top experiences and happiness seemed to radiate from my soul. This year however, I have only managed 6 hikes- 4 of which were remarkably wet and miserable to the point of relegating one pair of manure and mud encased boots to the trash barrel and another instance of dumping about a ½ cup of water out of each boot upon returning to my vehicle. On the two hikes not inundated by rain, I found myself drained of any stamina. I felt conquered by the world, my radiance reigned over by sadness. What was wrong with me? The lack of hiking opportunities due to rain cancellations and life events conflicting with fun in the sun were just the tip of this depressive iceberg.13754601_1256154167742512_2134166270177249671_n

My life has not been a bed of roses lately with the death of my mother, the loss of a relationship, and my father’s recent cancer diagnosis, surgery, and serious car accident. Rather than being thankful for the present I was asking “How much more, Lord, how much more?” As the summer wore on the happy memories of the past made my present seem more and more unbearable… I was on a trajectory of dejection with a dark stormy cloud hovering above me.  Indeed, this summer has been a season of discontent.

And then one of my dear friends shared a bit of wisdom with me, a belief she has followed through her own difficult times. When we dwell on the negative, we attract more of it. By focusing on what wasn’t going right in my life I was allowing that dark cloud to boil and billow into a huge thunderstorm of negative thought pellets that hailed down on me no matter where I went. The rain sodden hikes just exemplified this in physical form and further dampened my outlook! On the heels of those words of wisdom, a visiting pastor gave a sermon with a message that really hit home with me. It was one of those God moments where you think He is talking directly to you and no one else surrounding you.

The message, born from the books of Ecclesiastes and Luke, talked of getting wrapped up in the increasing busyness and trappings of life. Rather than getting caught in the frenzy of keeping up with the Joneses, or in my case keeping pace with my own over the top life of summers past, we should look to our present and give thanks for the simple pleasures and blessings we receive from others to find joy. Receiving these words of wisdom from two very different people made something click in my mind. Rather than resenting my present, I was able to accept that I was living in a very different season of life this year compared to last year. I wasn’t allowing myself any grace, something I am great at giving others but not myself obviously. By dwelling on the past I was missing the good things that were growing in this season’s garden as a result of the rain in my life. The dark cloud of comparison had hidden those good things from my sight.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” —Theodore Roosevelt

13613171_1265591673465428_7058362766506802065_oThrough this past and present emotional season of life I have been the recipient of many gifts given by others. And so taking my friend’s advice I began to dwell on those gifts – kind words, hugs, long talks on walks, the simple generosity of time given by one to the other. Because I have not spent every weekend this summer in the mountains I have rediscovered the simple joy of Sunday morning coffee hour after worship and connecting with friends I only see once a week. Because I have not spent every weekend in the mountains I have spent much more time at the piano and found new music to challenge myself with.  I began to dwell on the beauty of my surroundings – the valley landscape that I had often overlooked on my mountaintop adventures and the new life abounding around me. I dwelled on the joy of singing with a choir and the joy of sharing beautiful music with friends. I dwelled on the recent opportunities to celebrate life over dinner with friends. I dwelled on the simple but wonderful feeling of escape from the world found in the pages of a good book on a stormy evening. I dwelled on the sunlight reflecting on water. Most of all, I dwelled in this present season of life. Sure it has been a tough one, but the tempestuousness of it has made me stronger and more appreciative of yes, the joys of life.

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There is a time for everything in life, a time for living joyously and at full speed ahead and a time for mourning and rest. Both seasons should be embraced, not resented.

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

~ From Ecclesiastes 3

Let your light so shine.

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How Much More, Lord, How Much More?

20160716_060207“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

How much more, Lord, how much more? It was a question I found myself asking as I said goodbye to my Dad following our nightly phone conversation as I walked away the cares of the day. I had called to tell him about my latest auto-mechanic adventure and the unexpected bill I was facing to replace wheel bearings and rotors. Expecting him to commiserate with me, I was instead stopped dead in my tracks as I heard him wearily exclaim, “well, I think I can top that.” Curious as to why his brand new sizzling red GMC Terrain – the first brand new car he has bought since I was in first grade- would be causing problems- I could not believe the words I heard next. “I wrecked…”

My dear old Dad was finally on his way to Costco to begin the process of getting hearing aids – something my brother and I have been trying to get him to do for years – when in the middle of a lane change on the busiest street in Billings he somehow collided with an unknown number of cars, flipped and rolled his own – landing upside down, surrounded by airbags and trapped. To say I was aghast is an understatement. The fact that he was home and talking to me after the fact is even more startling. After emergency responders cut him from the vehicle he was taken to the ER for treatment of severe cuts and bruises and to be assessed for any damage to his defibrillator that keeps his ticker ticking.

After assuring me he was alright, he said an early good night and I broke down in tears – tears of relief, of emotional exhaustion and absent daughter guilt, and finally tears of defeat because I knew I would never get my Dad to get his hearing checked again. My thoughts then turned to my brother who has borne the weight of the family crises this year much more so than I have. He too must be exhausted – walking through my Mom’s end of life deterioration and death, followed by my Dad’s lymphatic cancer diagnosis and the multiple trips to the hospital this entailed, and now this- getting a call from a police officer while at work informing him that his father was taken to the ER following a serious car wreck – the same wild wreck his colleagues were talking about seeing when they came back from lunch.

How much more, Lord, how much more? If the cliché- ridden statement that the Lord will never give us more than we can bear holds any truth, I am not sure how much more of the Lord’s whims I can sanely handle.13177480_1208998692458060_8651611342329675533_nMeanwhile, the world around us seems to be growing darker and darker as international terrorists wage war on our sense of security and humanity, homegrown hate and division is running rampant through our cities, towns, and social media pages – spurring on acts of violence on par with the atrocities committed by the terrorists who threaten us from “afar.” Even our political candidates seem to be washed in a dirty gray hue of filth rather than the red, white, and blue shades of greatness and hope characterized by past election years.

How much more, Lord, how much more? Locally, my community has been rocked by the closure of a manufacturing plant leading to the loss of hundreds of good paying jobs and destabilizing the lives of numerous families; and the tragic deaths of two vibrant young men – pillars of the community and incredible models of goodness gone before their work on earth was done.

How much more, Lord, how much more? Within my own circle of friends, I know of family trauma and betrayal, as well as families enduring battles similar to my own against the ravages of cancer, dementia, addiction, or simply struggling to make ends meet.

Even the weather has been unduly harsh across the board-  battering communities with hail, tornadoes, floods, and fire. Indeed, it feels like a very heavy dark cloud is hovering over all of humanity – raining darkness on our parade of life. Weariness seems to be a common trait shared by those who go through the motions of living, but have become numb to news of the latest unrest of the day.

Sadly, for some, too battle weary with no end in sight, keeping-on doesn’t seem possible.  The struggle between darkness and light ends in the silence of a never-ending night; leaving others behind to pick up the pieces in the chaos and darkness, to keep on keeping on – amid shattered lives.

How much more, Lord, how much more?

God has yet to answer my persistent questioning of how much more. I wish He would. I like to be prepared for the adventures I go on in life; but lately, He has managed to seriously alter the courses of my travels with little thought to my need for a sense of control or even a schedule. Heck, He hasn’t even let me escape to the mountains once this hiking season without drenching me in “blessed” water and hail from above.

Frankly, all this darkness has made me a bit cranky and recently I have become aware of negativity seeping into my nature, a quality that for most of my life – despite my trials – has been absent. I wonder if others sense this, and I am ashamed if they do. And yet, the fact that I am aware of it gives me hope – yes, hope that this is not what God wants for me to know – this darkness that seems to have permeated our daily life.

Rather, He wants me to grow in confidence born from the keeping on of keeping on each day – growing through the struggles and pain so that I find myself and those walking a similar path still standing but changed – matured, sharpened, softened, more inclined to His will, rather than mine. He wants us to see the garden instead of the weeds. With each day of growth, He makes more apparent the blossoms of goodness growing around us in the company of each other rather than the thorns of a turbulent world that we have no control over and that tear our hearts.

How do I know this? While I may not know How much more, Lord, how much more, I can see His promise in each new dawn – even those clouded over with rain. In each new morning that I wake to keep on keeping on He shines a little brighter and I feel a little stronger, even through the clouds. He reminds me of goodness in the morning melodies of our tiniest neighbors from on high – bird songs overcoming the night, and in the friendly waves of other early morning meanderers, who like me are just keeping on keeping on as best they know how – a shared continuity of struggle and growth that comes with the living of each day.

And perhaps, there you have the answer to the question of “How much more, Lord, how much more?” Until the day when we can look at each other with eyes softened by darkness and only see the wonder of His light.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;  and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”                           ~ James 1: 2-4

Let your light so shine.

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Called by Grace

10711062_861264793898120_7417205138361937001_n Grace and Peace to you!

I recently had the honor of writing and giving a sermon for my congregation while our pastor was away. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to “test the waters” as I ponder just what on earth I am here for. I am sharing with you a revised version that has been edited only to remove the names of local people I refer to so I can share without exposing them to my “vast” readership!

What on earth am I here for? It’s a question that earned Pastor Rick Warren a spot on the best seller list for 90 weeks with his book, The Purpose Driven Life. If you Google the word calling, or its synonym “vocation” you are going to be overwhelmed with sources for self- improvement and spiritual journeys. As individuals we are a hungry people, hungry for meaning in our lives, hungry for purpose, and hungry for finding the perfect combination of purpose and meaning that makes us feel we have made a difference.

Some are lucky to find such fulfillment in their professional life be it as the doctor who heals the sick, the teacher who grows minds, the fireman who saves lives, the pastor who shepherds souls, the missionary that serves the vulnerable, the counselor who listens, the social worker who tends to the destitute, or the activist who rights wrongs. But for many of us, finding, following, and fulfilling our calling is not a clear path.

If you think this is a relatively new aspect of the human condition, think again. The search for purpose spawned the great philosophers, it flows through religions of every sect from ancient times to present day. For Christians, while the path to fulfilling our calling may still be discreet, there should be no question as to where to turn for guidance. Of all the books written about finding purpose and meaning for our life, the Bible is the greatest source of inspiration and encouragement. If you are searching for your calling in life, you might even recognize yourself in some of the dominant characters! Most of the Biblical heroes and followers of Jesus did not know what their calling was or where their often difficult paths would take them, yet they followed God’s call to journey with Him rather than follow the ways of the world.

There are many stories in the Bible about Jesus healing the afflicted, raising the dead, and tending to the widows and orphans. What does healing have to do with finding our calling you ask, especially if you are not the one performing the act?

As the Apostle Paul states in his letter to the Galatians, “God has called me through His grace.” It is through God’s grace that we who are sick, broken, vulnerable, weary, or destitute are healed. Who better to minister to those in need than someone who has been in their shoes and experienced the healing power of God?

More often than not, your calling will not come with a paycheck. Your calling will come through your personal experiences and the extent to which you use those experiences to help others. Those times when you needed God the most in your life will be the experiences he calls you to draw upon to help others.

Survived the ravages of cancer?  Perhaps God will lead you to walk alongside a newly diagnosed patient.

Know the pain of divorce? Perhaps God is calling you to support a newly married couple in prayer.

Walked the lonely road of depression? Find someone with whom you could share the 20160422_181414fight and share your light.

Landed a great job after returning to school for a new career? Someone equally as motivated could use your mentorship.

While researching the topic of “calling”, I stumbled upon one pastor’s words that really hit home with me: Quoting Jesus he wrote “In this world you will have trouble.” He continues:  “If you’re called to something, expect trouble. If the Son of God didn’t get a free pass from trouble, then why do we think we should? A lot of people view trouble as a sign of something wrong in their lives, but it’s usually a good sign you’re headed in the right direction. To the degree you are willing to endure pain; will be to the degree that God can use you. The greatest people used by God in the Bible endured great amounts of pain. Pain seems to be the price to be paid for a life of significance.”

As Christians, we are baptized in Christ and called to be His servants, vulnerable to one another, and to the world, for Christ’s sake. We are to seek out and serve, not just the comfortable and the familiar, but the stranger and the alien, the least and the last, the lost, and the most vulnerable.  This is God’s call to us in our baptism and one that Martin Luther, a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation believed was central to the faith.

Martin Luther’s teaching regarding your calling centered on the belief that all God’s people are called to respond to God’s grace by serving our neighbors within our own particular places in society. Luther’s teaching liberated God’s hands here on earth from the papacy and gave new stature to the laity to do God’s work.

You may not feel particularly gifted or worthy of being God’s light in the world, but then look at the Apostle Paul!  Paul shares with the Galatians (Galatians 1:11-24) that he was a fanatical Jew—one who sought to destroy people whom he believed to be opposed to the ways of God – UNTIL the scales were shed from his eyes and he was called by God’s grace. Knowing about the Apostle Pauls’ background, no one would likely conceive that he would become the greatest advancer of Christianity aside from Jesus himself. Indeed, sometimes God uses the most broken among us to be His light in the world.

But your calling doesn’t necessarily have to dwell in the dark places of this world or your life, although it is there that we often find ourselves drawing closer to God, seeking His compassion and forgiveness the most. As Father Fr Frederick Buechner states “the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.” Imagine finding your purpose, your passion, your greatest sense of call in what was once your most difficult journey!

Jesus heals us. We are called to do the same.

Throughout the Bible we are witness to the healing power of Jesus.  Jesus raises a young man from the dead but then focuses on the young man’s mother who has also lost her husband. He has compassion for her and he tells her not to weep. Jesus has compassion, and gives her back her son. Jesus restored purpose and meaning to this woman’s life.  Not many widows could fathom as much.

Recently, at the Montana Synod Assembly for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a widow was lifted up and celebrated as she fulfilled God’s call to her. This woman, a widow, was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. I am not certain how much you know about the process of becoming a pastor, but the formation of pastors in the Lutheran church  is a long, thorough, multi-faceted process.  Some people graduate high school, go to college, then on to seminary, live on campus, do their internships, finish up, and get ordained.  Some people wait a year or two, or a decade or two.  Some do much of their academic work online, or in periodic visits to seminary, accompanied by intensive study and practical work in between sessions.

This woman did not follow the traditional route to ordination as her predecessors did. She married, had children, did a variety of things, and went to a variety of churches. Rather, she served as a legislator, and worked as a drama teacher.  She was a Lay Pastoral Associate (non-ordained clergy), and a widow.  And slowly, gradually, throughout her life experiences she began to hear God’s call. Ultimately, she saw a way forward to answer that call. This courageous woman’s journey through life was transformed by Christ’s love into a calling to minister to others.

God calls a variety of people in a variety of ways. He healed me when I was very sick, has helped me through many life-altering trials, lead me on a journey of discovery and blessed me gifts that I am still uncovering – gifts I hope to use as He calls me to pursue ministry through the Lay Pastoral Associate program.

Did you ever think that God might be calling you, or someone you know? Look within you and around you. Consider how God has been at work in and called others in their own lives. Undoubtedly, some stories of call will be dramatic, life-altering experiences, while others will be much more mundane. Have you seen lives or has your life been transformed? Changed direction?  How might God be calling you?

I know God has plans for me. He has called me through His extraordinary grace. I expect He plans to use my personal struggles and my greatest triumphs for something far greater than the pain, questioning, and jubilation I have experienced on this journey.  If you find yourself asking “What on Earth am I here for?”, listen for where God is calling you to. You may find that perfect combination of purpose and meaning, your greatest sense of call, in what was once your most difficult journey!

As was written in Jeremiah – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

If you listen with an open mind and eager heart, you might just hear God’s call for you.

Let your light so shine.

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I Got By with a Little Help from my Friends

“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

– Albert Camus

13147272_1204040166287246_6929792025810359721_oWe are meant to live in companionship with others. Nothing brings that truth to light more clearly than when we lose someone important to us, whether through death or the parting of ways.

After the initial shock and ensuing chaos in the days following my mother’s passing began to subside, my life took a serious turn into darkness. Not only was I dealing with the grief over losing my mother, I also had to come to terms with the ending of another relationship, and the loneliness that comes with losses such as these. At times, it felt as though my light had been permanently extinguished – the darkness reigned so heavily inside me I nearly suffocated from it weight. When life takes a downturn, it often seems like troubles just don’t stop coming and I certainly met with a few of them. In exasperation, I asked God if He was there and just what was He trying to prove?

13177480_1208998692458060_8651611342329675533_nThen came the flickers. Flickers of light began to reveal themselves to me, in moments when hope seemed impossible.

While I hate to think that God dabbles on Facebook, one Sunday morning a post appeared that hit me square between the eyes, it even used Snoopy as the messenger – my lifetime friend and companion. Charlie Brown thoughtfully tells Snoopy that “someday we will all die” and Snoopy replies “True but on all the other days we will not.”

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As I headed out for my Sunday morning run I reflected on Snoopy’s message. I fought the heavy loneliness in my heart as I continued with my own thoughts, “And those who haven’t died are left to wander in the world just a little more alone by those who have gone before us.” That heart aching feeling of being alone had hung on my spirit for weeks and I had not been able to break free from it – despite my unwavering faith. Faith is great but it is sometimes quite the battle when pitted against the stark realities of life. But Snoopy was telling me to snap out of it – to get out and start living again.

As if on cue, my pastor’s sermon that morning reminded me that though I may feel alone, the Holy Spirit abides with me and in Him I can find peace. I so desperately wanted that! He reminded us that when two or three are gathered in His name, that is where we will find God. We will find the Holy Spirit alive in the lives of those around us. He works through the hands and hearts of those we walk among. As one who likes to believe that I can do this life thing on my own – I was starting to come to the humbling realization that no, I could not. And believe it or not, I am not expected to and neither are you!

Despite hearing the words, I still battled a bit of shame perhaps? That I really needed to talk to someone- and yet I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues. And yet people were there for me. I had seen them in action and had proof for my psyche in the numerous thank you’s I had written. I had collected quite a list of people whose kindnesses eased the pain of my mother’s death and frankly the numbers were daunting.

As I pondered the goodness of others the heaviness of sorrow began to lift. In turn, I realized how important it is to reach out to others when they are facing sorrow or are in pain. I am eternally grateful for those who took a small amount of time to reach out to me – as their seemingly small (to them) gesture brought glimmers of light into my life again.

I re-read the sympathy cards and marveled at how wonderful the written word is at touching our hearts. Even those that said they didn’t know what to say spoke volumes as they shared a story about my Mom.

Getting back into the daily rigors of life illuminated the good things surrounding me and I found myself appreciating if not standing in awe of even the simplest things – a sunrise, a friendly smile at the post office, a great song on the radio, a turtle following my path. People I thought of as just acquaintances revealed themselves as bearers of hope with a phone call, a coffee shared together, an unexpected hug.

I realized that although I surround myself with people by singing in multiple choirs, attending church functions, volunteering for the symphonies and venturing into the mountains with like-minded mountain goats, I wasn’t very good at letting people into my life – allowing myself to be vulnerable. There were plenty of people out there that wanted into my life – if only I would let them in.

Then the flicker flamed.

On a particular difficult evening, I found myself walking with tears being my steady companion. I had a question for a fellow choir member and decided to send her a text message. By accident I hit the call button and to my horror the phone began to ring and she answered it! I was caught live in a moment of despair. I couldn’t hang up on her so I gulped and actually talked to her… apologizing for interrupting her evening. I was astounded when she replied that no I wasn’t interrupting her. Actually, she was dealing with severe pain of her own and really needed to talk to someone too.

90- some minutes later we were both laughing… a huge weight had been lifted from both of our spirits. I thanked her for sharing her time with me and she thanked me for helping her get through a rough evening and she actually felt like getting up and taking a walk! We had borne each other’s burdens for a while and my goodness it felt good to rest! Rest in the caring arms of someone else. We both felt so much better having opened up to each other.

“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.”

-Joseph Addison

Doctors realize this too. Numerous studies have been done over the last few decades that show social support and good health are connected. One study of cancer patients showed that those who had a good network of social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive cancers which made their chemotherapy treatments more effective. Other cancer patient studies show that those with a good support group live longer and feel less pain than those lacking a social network. The Mayo Clinic identifies maintaining friendships as a key component of wellness. Friendships increase your sense of belonging and purpose; boost your happiness and reduce your stress; improve your self-confidence and self-worth; help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one; and provide encouragement to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Making friends and maintaining those friendships is not always easy. It requires work and sacrifice from both parties but the payoffs are huge.

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I know that by leaning on others during the past few weeks I have regained my strength. I know that by helping others carry their burdens, my own seem lighter. My world seems less small and I feel a greater sense of responsibility to live well and help others do the same.

I won’t say that darkness has been completely obliterated from my life by a bonfire of buddies, but those buddies have become flickers of brilliant light when I am having a hard time finding my way. I feel less alone, even on days spent on my own and I feel much more alive when I have been able share a friend’s burden.

Yes, we are meant to be in companionship with others. If you need a spark, a flicker, or a flame in your life, shine the light of friendship into someone else’s darkness and you just might find yourself dancing in the light again.

Let your light so shine.

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One final lesson in life… Memories of my Mother

It is hard to believe four Sundays have come and gone since my life and perception of it changed forever. Sundays have always been a special day for me, but now they hold an even greater significance. Now I will cherish and reflect on the promise each Sunday brings even if my heart aches….

DSCN6033To celebrate the last day of winter I embarked on a farewell-to-my-winter-of-discontent journey to the top of Mount Brown in Glacier Park. It was a bluebird day and as I hiked through the woods I could hear the promise of Spring- of new life abounding – in the songs of the birds which turned my thoughts to my Mom. My mother loved to watch the birds and the squirrels, and of course our four-legged family members; the little joys the Lord gave us to make our lives richer, more wonderful here on Earth. These blessings made her life sweeter and more joyful these last several years of her life; our conversations always included a synopsis of Tucker the dog, squirrel, and bird activity of late.

As we entered Holy week, a time when we look to the promise of resurrection and life everlasting with our Lord, Jesus Christ and rejoice in His conquering of death so that we may all live free from its bonds through Him, I took comfort in knowing that my beautiful mother conquered her earthly bonds and journeyed home to live free with her Lord and Savior on Palm Sunday, the first day of Spring!  Her spirit left us quite unexpectedly but peacefully that morning, through an open window, perhaps following the song of a bird calling her home.

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Our Lord, Jesus Christ led me and my family on a new resurrection journey that week. Not once did he waiver in holding us in His embrace. From the moment I learned of my mother’s death on Palm Sunday, I was comforted in faith – knowing her Easter journey had begun. Still, it was the longest, most exhausting week of my life as we bore the cross of death – enduring feelings of such immense sorrow, heart-aching emptiness, and regret over things left unsaid, time not spent, preparing to say a final good-bye. Yet as we laid her to rest on Good Friday, an unexpected strength and desire to celebrate her life rather than grieve her death came over me.

As we sang her favorite hymns I sang out clearly, I sang my best- willing the throat gripping tears away, knowing these were her sending songs. And as we placed her earthly remains in the cold, wet ground and shivered in the cold wind and rain saying our final good-byes, I knew she was safe and warm in the arms of our Lord and Savior. Her life on earth finished. Her story finished… for now.

When Sunday morning dawned. we celebrated the promise of Easter anew, with assurance that her story will live on. She danced in heaven as the trumpets sounded that He Is Risen! And yes, so had my Mom! Risen, Indeed! While she has a new life with Jesus, her earthly story will live on through each of us who carry her in our hearts. I will honor her life through mine and be happy, as that is all she wanted me to be.

I have shared with you in the past about my relationship with my mother and the regrets I have experienced in these last months over the state of our relationship. Unfortunately, so much was left unsaid, a truth that I will forever live with.  In what may be a selfish attempt to find peace, I felt a need to not only write the final chapter but profess to my mother before God and those that loved her, the feelings deep with in my heart.  What follows is my eulogy for my beloved mother, Evelyn Morck.

(Following on the heels of my brother’s wonderful synopsis of the richness our mother brought to his life.)

Memories of my Mother

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I have always been a bit envious of my big brother as with his advanced age he got to enjoy more fully, our Mom in her best years. Alas my fondest memories are found in my childhood…

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Being the child of a former schoolteacher my life was one big lesson. Back to school time was a golden time of year. My mother filled me with excitement and anticipation as I returned to the classroom with new school supplies and a new Snoopy lunch box, packed with a PB&J or turkey sandwich, Cheetos, and grapes. She never got tired of making the same thing over and over again, and I never got tired of the wonderful notes she always included inside… something to make me feel good about that day. I loved getting notes from my Mom in my lunch box, especially when I was once again the new girl in town and bullies made sure I felt like the ugly duckling. Mom’s notes always chased those feelings away, at least for a little while.  I never bought hot-lunch, not because of the length of time standing in line took away from my playground activities (as I espoused), but because then I wouldn’t get to read her notes.

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During her best years, my Mom dressed to the nines in classics that made her look exquisite. She was confounded by my aversion to shopping and preference for flannel shirts and jeans, but always managed to sew me some very nice outfits, even into my high school years. She even sewed my high school graduation suit – a pale pink sheath and jacket. That was the last time I wore a pink dress as I haven’t found any as appealing as that classic style. Yet despite her classiness, she loved to comment on farts and the art of passing gas… going as far as to explain methods she learned in college to relieve it to anyone willing to listen.

My mom was involved in much of my brother’s and my youth activities. She was a terrific Brownie leader, stepping in when no one else would to keep our troop going after our leader was in a car accident. I remember the Halloween party we had for the Brownies at our house one year – she went all out recruiting my brother to make haunted house sounds at just the right time and boy was he successful! She gracefully put up with hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies inundating our home and under her leadership, my Brownie troop made headlines in the Rock Springs Rocket Miner numerous times… much to my delight. To this day I support the neighborhood Brownies and Girl Scouts in their endeavors.

My mother helped with Confirmation, and she was the school volunteer extraordinaire – spending countless hours in the library, more often than not keeping rabble-rousing Junior High students in line (much to my horror).

As the only Mom that didn’t work outside the home, she was also the neighborhood mom for all the kids whose parents weren’t home, often having 8 or more of us crowded around the table for open faced cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate along with supervision after sledding or playing War in the woods until parents came home from work. Our home was the neighborhood haven even into junior high when we were supposedly too cool to have parental supervision—everyone still happily congregated at our home within ear and eye-shot of my mother.

My Mom was a great Mom to travel with, at least when I was five on our Bicentennial trip across America. She sewed the two of us matching outfits in fun yet stunning styles and I felt like a queen. She was my back seat buddy and sang along to the eight-track tapes that came with our brand new 1976 Buick Regal. Those songs became the sound-track to some of my happiest child-hood memories (Rollerball, Free Spirit, Almost Heaven West Virginia, Country Boy….)

One of my favorite times spent with my mother was during our 3-year stint back east in Virginia. My parents bought a modern 3-story colonial home that backed up to the woods. It got very dark at night and our first winter there my Dad was away for almost a month for work and my brother was away at college. We would walk through the house together each night, making sure every door was locked and all was sound. She would tell me stories of her days as State Champion Majorette, as the Dean Picture1of Women at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, and about her apartments and her adventures with her room-mates and odd land ladies as a teacher in Livingston. Each story always had some moral lesson for me swallow. We would eat supper together in front of the fire on TV trays, and because it was cold and damp she would let me get dressed in front of the oven in the morning before school… even if it meant I missed the bus… she would gladly take me to school. In fact, as a youngster and teen who was subjected to quite a bit of bullying for being the new kid before bullying became a bad word- my Mom did what she could to keep me safe –perhaps going a bit too far at times, but one thing is for sure, she always had my back.

Ah yes, the memories of childhood and grade school, a time in my life when things really did seem golden, for the most part. Certainly, there was childhood angst and family kerfuffles, especially when my Dad was gone on one too many business trips for my Mom’s liking or we were moving once again.  We were your typical 1970’s -1980’s middle class family except that no matter where we lived, my parents had the distinction of being the oldest parents on the block, by 15 years at least.

Those were the good days, days and the memories of which, I took for granted for far too long. Alas, life has a way of challenging us and my family was not immune to challenges, especially the kind that make emotions raw. For some, those challenges become too much.

As the years wore on and I grew more into my own person, our mother-daughter relationship began to fray. We became more and more opposed in our approaches to and outlook on life.

Indeed, ours was a difficult relationship, but then, the things that matter most in life are not always easy. Nonetheless, I know she loved me as deep as any mother could love a head-strong daughter.  While I often wished we could have a relationship like those my friends enjoyed with their Moms, one filled with lunch dates, laughter, and dreams for tomorrow – I came to accept that those things were not important to my Mom.  Counselors told me I needed to set boundaries in our relationship but how do you set boundaries between yourself and the person that gave life to you? While fences make good neighbors, boundaries do not address the conflicts that created the need for them. However, putting a physical boundary of 400 + miles between my mother and I with my move to Whitefish 2.5 years ago changed the dynamic between us. On visits home we still engaged in rapid fire from time to time but during our phone conversations, rather than constant head-butting, my Mom seemed to relish the fact that though I was living my own life, she could live vicariously through me in her old stomping grounds. Yet by this point in her health and our relationship, our conversations never ventured much past the surface.

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Since my mother became ill, I have learned much about what is important in life and the lesson has been painful. The past conflicts between us that remained a barrier to my heart have raked my heart. The fact that my mother and I could not realize a reconciliation of any meaningful depth fills me with deep regret. Why had I not pursued this with my Mom sooner? My hopes are such that the pain and anger we inflicted on one another disappeared into her lost memories as I am not sure she could comprehend the feelings I wanted to express. Part of me feels at peace in the simple sweet conversations that we did share. Perhaps that is God’s grace reigning over my ineptitude. I have learned that life is finite. Its seasons far too short for anger, guilt, pride, and selfishness to linger in our relationships. Storms will come and we do not know when or how they will end.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Solomon was wise.  Life is meaningless if we do not tend to what truly matters. All the fun, work, accolades, and treasures of life we collect along the way are meaningless. What matters are the relationships we have; that our hearts are right with God; that we resolve conflicts with those we love; that they know they matter to us; and how very much we do indeed love them.

Reconciliation with my mother was a selfish goal of mine. But how much more powerful and life giving it would have been had I been able to make peace with my mother while she was alive and not as I stand before you today in an attempt to honor her life and role as my mother.  Perhaps it is best and all I can hope for that my Mom and I pursued the springtime memories of our life as we walked through her final winter together.

I last spoke to my mother on my birthday, 18 days before she passed away. It was a conversation I will never forget. Aside from the fact she was upset that I would be celebrating alone and didn’t have a special dinner date (Hey, I had church and choir practice, what’s new?) she just kept saying all she wanted was for me to be happy and would I consider coming home. I kept telling her I was happy but I had too many mountains left to climb to think about coming home –but that didn’t mean I didn’t miss her. I told her I loved her so very much. Her last words to me were:  I love you and I just want you to be happy.

One of her favorite songs was “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy;

I sing because I’m free;

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know He watches me.

I know He is watching her, shine and sing once again. She couldn’t have been called home in a more perfect way. The first day of Spring and the day we began the celebration of Easter.

Mom, I know we had our struggles as a mother and daughter but I will forever carry with me your sweet love of the joys of life, the tender ways you loved me through childhood, and your simple understanding of what is good. I will continue to strive to live the kind of life you so wanted for me – one that is happy and lived for the Lord. I never stopped loving you and I will always hear your voice and feel your love whenever a songbird sings.

And when I do, I will sing because I know you are now happy, and I’ll sing because I know you are free. And I will smile at the sight of every sparrow, because then I’ll know you are still with me.

Let me leave you with my heart… don’t hold on to conflict. Let God’s grace wash it from you and walk in forgiveness and reconciliation with those you love. Open your hearts and your minds to the promise of Easter, of new life, of new beginnings. Let Easter live in your hearts and relationships today and every day.

 

cropped-20150626_060333-001.jpgPeace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

~ John 14:27

Tools for Climbing the Mountains of Life

DSCN3252As someone who is accustomed to the flat prairies of Eastern Montana and relatively new to mountain living, I was surprised to find in wilderness hiking and mountain climbing, a passion that has eclipsed any of my previous past-time pursuits. Consequently, I have started to anticipate and plan my upcoming alpine adventures once the sun comes out and the snow begins to recede.  While I have enjoyed a few epic sojourns on snow shoes, this dreary winter has started to lay claim on my once buoyant, sun-fed, summit-high spirits.

Although I have been feeling trapped by the erratic ice and slop of this cloud enshrouded valley, I have actually been doing a lot of mountain climbing lately. No, I haven’t been lucky enough to escape the winter snows of Montana for warmer climes and dry trails, and unlike the fervid mountain goat that I am during the other three seasons, I haven’t quite become a snow bunny on the slopes.  Rather, I have been clambering up metaphorical mountainsides, those looming peaks and cliffs of life.

Turns out, despite my prairie legs, climbing mountains really wasn’t such a foreign concept to me after all. I have been climbing mountains all my life but it wasn’t until I began climbing the genuine deals that I realized just how important the proper tools for climbing mountains are.

cropped-dscn3576.jpgI find that in the wilds, the only boundary lines I face are the physical ones. I conquer the physical boundaries I encounter on my weekend escapades to the mountains far more adeptly than the invisible ones that dwell within me. I remember the first time I visited Glacier a little over 3 years ago. I was timid in my steps. I stayed firmly planted n the middle of the Avalanche Lake Trail, I shuddered at the height of the Hidden Lake Overlook, and I clung to the walls of the Highline Trail, afraid to look down for fear that my less than graceful tendency to trip would send me plummeting to my certain death.

Fast forward 2.5 years and many a mountain climbed. A lot has changed in my life. I went from living a rather sheltered life in a place I had known for more than 24 years with lots of friends and family providing a safety net of support to one of the unknown where I found myself more often than not completely on my own as I navigated a new job, a new town, and very new lifestyle. I will admit to suffering serious bouts of doubt in my decision to completely uproot my life. I had attained a place of security and confidence in life after years of work overcoming a serious illness, several job changes, and being the caregiver to both parents during 2 serious health crises. I was finally in a very happy place before I embarked on the unknown and I struggled to come to terms with my new reality that I purposely chose. Rather than reaching a mountain summit with grand views, I found myself lost in a fog of uncertainty.

But I have also spent a lot of time in the mountains in these last 2.5 years, taking on
evermore challenging routes and reaching new heights with new friends and a new sense of confidence. When I find myself in the mountains, the fog and the doubt I suffered and the limitations that came with them seem less so. With each challenge on and off the trail faced, the rock walls of fear and doubt that once held me back from making difficult decisions to working through grief to believing in myself, crumble.

summit climbWith each physical boundary that I once flinched at crossing conquered, the invisible boundaries that confine my life and seemed insurmountable, dissipate in their strength and formidability.

Now, along with the dust of more than 50 hikes and the summit of 5 peaks collected on my Oboz and Salomon boots, I have also grown more sure-footed and more courageous in my mountainous exploits. I run to the edge of precipices to get a better view, scamper to the top of Angel Wing, and slink along goat trails that cling to cliff edges.  I have claimed victory with my Carol Burnett style Tarzan call on the top of MT Siyeh, MT Henckel, Crow Feet, Triple Divide and Razor’s Edge. Each one a mountain with unexpected challenges and rewards.

More often than not, these off the beaten path excursions become adventures in psychotherapy. The depth and breadth of analysis that takes place singularly and in conversation with equally escape-oriented souls is unmatched by the same we pay experts to guide us through. The clarity of mind I have as I settle in for the drive home after a day on a mountain nearly matches that of the brilliant clear blue sky that I found at the top. And with that clarity of mind I am starting to understand how three very important pieces of climbing equipment can make molehills out of mountains, or at least get me to the top and down in one piece – that is if I use them.

hiking bootsMy first piece and one of the most important pieces of mountain climbing equipment is a good pair of boots. I have worn through the soles of my first pair and moved on to a sturdier more rugged pair of Salomons. Hiking boots are your foundation, without them, you risk slipping on wet rock, bruised and blistered feet, twisted ankles, and if you are like me, tripping and falling at the most inopportune times. My first pair of hiking boots left me wanting…. Their soles became very slippery if they got wet, and while slipper like in comfort, they did not provide the support I needed for meandering 20+ miles in a day.

Just like we need a good pair of hiking boots to keep us on solid ground and sure of foot when climbing mountains, we need a strong personal foundation to keep us upright when we encounter the challenges we face in life. A strong personal foundation can be formed through the practice of our religious faith; the moral and ethical values we were brought up with; and the lessons we learn from mentors and friends throughout our life. Our personal foundation consists of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that help us maintain emotional, physical, social, environmental, relational, spiritual, and intellectual wellness. Having a strong personal foundation helps us to be self-directed and self-reflective in our goals. A strong personal foundation helps us maintain excellence and integrity in our work. When we encounter the unknown, a strong personal foundation keeps us focused. When we have a strong personal foundation we are aware of our strengths and can acknowledge areas where growth is necessary. A strong personal foundation helps us to be courageous in our curiosity for what we might become. Simply put, our personal foundation is the basis of our identity. Without a strong sense of who we are and what we desire for our lives, the challenges we face will be difficult to overcome as we do not know where we are going or how we define success.

My hiking boots have seen me through some challenging routes and very long days on the trail. I am confident in their treads to keep me from slipping and their support keeps me pushing forward to the end. Knowing who I am at my core has helped me make difficult moral judgement calls as well life altering decisions with confidence rather than doubt.

The next piece of equipment that accompanies me on all my hikes are my trekking trekking polespoles. I used to eschew them as inconvenient hindrances to the free movement of my arms; an unnecessary weight and a crutch for the clumsy. That was until I started climbing 10K foot peaks and descending scree slopes that grabbed and tore at my ankles and shins.  Trekking poles give us much needed balance when navigating across rocks in a running stream. They take the load off our knees on steep descents and they give us stability when scrambling through boulder fields. In essence, they are our friends- not an inconvenient weight on the journey.

I have always been a bit of a free spirit – choosing to make my way in life on my own. Certainly I have friends, but it wasn’t until the last several years that I realized what true friendship is about and how important it is to have that connection with someone. It is important to have one or two good friends in your life- trekking poles if you will –  who can share your load, give balance to your perspective on things and provide support when the going gets rough. A good friend sees through our tough skins, excuses, doubts, and tells us like it is. They support us even when we don’t think we need support. They provide humor when needed and a non-judgmental shoulder to lean on when the trials of life get dark or endless. Trekking poles make those steep summit climbs and descents a bit less painful, and friends make the celebrations when we conquer the mountains of life all the more sweet.

The last piece of equipment that is crucial to your survival on the mountain is your backpack. I have met many a hiker on a trail with just a water bottle clipped to their belt and maybe a fanny pack. I am amazed, not at their scarce need for sustenance and supplies but by their sheer stupidity. Inside my backpack are the tools critical for survival – first aid, food, water, bear spray, extra clothing, Matches, MAPS, and of course my camera! Suffice it to say my back pack contains everything I would need to survive if I couldn’t make it back to my car as planned. The necessities of life. Over time I have learned which items I will always take with me, which items simply add extra weight to my burden, and which items my fellow hikers swear by and I will one day too.

backpack 1The back pack you carry with you as you climb the mountains of life contains all the life lessons you have learned along the way, your experiences – both good and bad, and the wisdom you have acquired from your family and friends. Some refer to this carry all as “baggage” in a negative sense. I look at this “baggage” as a collection of tools I have gathered throughout life, experiences in the past that have prepared me for the challenges I am facing now – just as these challenges are preparing me for the next life adventure. When I look at this sometimes heavy baggage from that perspective, I will gladly carry it upon my back and take comfort in knowing that in it I have the tools necessary to climb and conquer the mountains of life.

A firm foundation will see you through the longest of journeys; friends you can trust to support you will give you the balance needed when everything else in your life seems off-kilter; and a backpack filled with the life you have lived upon your shoulders – these are the tools I turn to for climbing the mountains of life. So far, they have not let me down. The summits I have reached with them have provided life changing perspectives worthy of celebration.

So go on, take stock of your equipment and go climb those mountains. If this once timid flat-lander can do it, so can you.summit

 

 

January 1, 2016 Choosing to Dance in the Light

20160101_103026“I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide.”

~ Martin Luther

As the New Year dawns, I like to review what my goals for the passing year were and luckily, as a writer I have all of those hopes of yesteryear at my fingertips.  January 2015 marked the continuation of a major change in the life of one Erika Morck. Despite seeming to have it all: a great job, new friends, plenty of singing opportunities, and scores of mountain adventures my life seemed out of balance. So I resolved to put the SPRIF model for living back into practice, giving proper attention to the Spiritual, Physical, Relational, Intellectual, and Financial aspects of my life and making some intentional changes in areas that needed some work.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

~ Proverbs 16:9

Looking back at the excitement I felt as I met the year ahead made me smile, with just a touch of melancholy in my heart. Oh such plans I had in store for the year to come!

I am happy to say that I found a wonderful new faith community in which to worship and find myself becoming more involved in the life of this church. I look forward to the many opportunities it offers me for the serving others part of my faith I wanted to work on. My faith and my faith community are my backbone. I am feeling much more complete spiritually now.

In terms of balancing out my physical life – that remains a work in progress- but then it always should be! I was recently told that “The word going round is that you’re a finely tuned athlete,” which I must say has been my aim all along. I still need more sleep, because even though I believe we will get enough sleep when we are dead, living life to its fullest does require periods of restoration.

In terms of focusing on myself and not losing sight of my own goals and objectives, I failed miserably up until I was forced into solitary at the end of the year, but that does not go without saying I am not learning as I go. The relationships I have with others in my life remain far too valuable to me to devote less time to maintaining and growing them than spending too much time reflecting on myself. I know that sounds like a cop-out on my intentions, but I have learned this year that connection with others is vital to my spiritual and mental health.

I am pleased to say that I have indeed spent more time reading good old fashioned books this year and renewed my love affair with the written word. I have also expanded my repertoire of subjects that I read THANKS TO and not in spite of online media – from political and religious thought to science, health and historical genres. I have also fulfilled my goal of writing my own blog… a long held aspiration that I finally saw come to fruition.

Financially this has been a hard year for me, influenced by many outside factors. However, with hardship came learning opportunities in areas of budgeting I have never had to worry much about. So while buying a house may not be in the cards for me right now, I am still on my way and haven’t lost sight of that not-so-far-in-the-distance goal.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

~Proverbs 19:21

If I have learned anything this past year it is that life happens outside of my plans – sometimes the happiest moments are those I never saw coming and yes, the hardest ones too. Nonetheless, no matter where my paths led me – from mountaintop celebrations to tear-filled goodbyes until heaven, my life was made richer, fuller, well-lived. Wisdom comes with the walk, and I have walked many a mile this year. I know God was with me every step of the way. I still have much to learn, but I am well-prepared for lessons yet to come.

 “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  

~ C.S. Lewis

In deed, 2015 was a year of challenge and growth, of new lows weathered and new heights achieved, of monotony and adventure, of great sorrow and abounding hope, of renewed understanding of the importance of family and finding family with friends, and of most importance to me – a closer walk with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As I look to the New Year I won’t be making any resolutions. Rather, I will be making a promise to myself.  Every day is filled with darkness and light, clouds and sun. We can choose to dwell in the shadows or dance in the light. My promise for 2016 is to find the sunshine even in the darkest of days. Wishing everyone a very happy 2016- one where you don’t have to look too hard to find the sun!

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

~ Jeremiah 6:16

December 31, 2015 Throwback Thursday… Ch Ch Changes – My Plans for 2015

Note: This was my workplace newsletter contribution that ran for January 2015. It is an uplifting glimpse into my hopes for the year that lay before me and worth reflecting on today.

snowshoe“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Last year, in our debut issue of the Coco Connection I introduced you to my “Why Not” approach to life and how this approach led to some pretty dramatic changes in my life. Changes that ran the gamut from getting more involved in my church, taking my running to the races, to a complete life change by jumping on a new job, pulling up stakes, and moving to Whitefish. (You can read that article by clicking on this link)

As I shared then, my “Why Not” approach took the place of my list of New Year’s Resolutions.  I realized that the only thing that was holding me back from living life to the fullest was my approach to life in general. I was raised to be logical and pragmatic in my decisions and I approached life with caution. When faced with change or an opportunity, my modus operandi always started with the question “What If?” Unfortunately, the “what if” was always followed by all the negative outcomes that might befall me if I changed or jumped at an opportunity. The result was stifling. So, rather than making a few resolutions to jump-start my life, I changed my approach to life as a whole. Of course, changing my approach to life required, you guessed it – more change. However, I took some deep breaths and instead of following my “What if” with all the reasons I liked staying in my comfort zone of safety, I challenged my “What if?” with a “Why Not?”

I continued my “Why Not” approach throughout 2014, jumping at chances to become more involved in my new community, accepting challenges I never dreamed I could accomplish, taking life by the horns and literally saying “Why Not” to every opportunity that came my way. The results were wonderful! I have never been as involved and connected to a new community as quickly as I am now. I focused seriously on hobbies I always pushed aside as not worth pursuing (photography, taking writing classes) and worked at perfecting my craft. I joined Toastmasters (a great organization by the way!) after years of thinking about it.  I joined three choirs and sang to my heart’s content. I volunteered with the symphony and theater company. I joined two hiking groups and found myself in the mountains nearly every weekend tis summer and fall. I spent lots of time in the presence of others, maintaining relationships, and nurturing new ones. It was, in every respect a year filled with all opportunity and experiences I could ever ask for, and more!

So why, as I surveyed the year that was, did I feel like something big was still missing in my life? I like to ponder so I spent many wintry walks pondering this feeling until I could define it. I realized that all my “Why Nots” had certainly filled my life with opportunities, but also created a definite imbalance in areas of my life that in all honesty, still needed work. Boy, it is hard to admit that! After all, my life is as full and happy as I can remember… but all that activity and jubilant busy-ness are exterior trappings, my “public face” so to speak. Instead of realizing any concrete accomplishments at the end of the year, I felt internally scattered and completely unfocused.

Thank goodness I have a compass I can use to reorient my Why Not’s for 2015. The Coco Enterprises SPRIF model for living is something I have internalized as a Coco Enterprises employee from day one but I have let those tenets get buried under the busyness of life. All five tenets (Spiritual, Physical, Relational, Intellectual, and Financial) are certainly present in my life but some (Relational and Spiritual) have clearly dominated my priorities at the expense of the other three.  Moreover, even the two tenets that were priorities in my life were, in retrospect, not focused in the right direction.

While I fed my spirit with my personal relationship with God and nurtured my soul with weekly mountain wanderings, I did not extend my quest for spiritual health to the tending to the needs of others. In other words, my Spiritual focus has been rather one-sided and selfish. I have not been God’s hands in the world as I am called to be. I will work on this in 2015 by finding ways to give my time and talents to the benefit of others.

In the area of my physical health, I am out of balance in exertion and I do not get the rest and refueling I need to be as active as I want to be. I play hard and tend to believe that I can rest when I am dead. This leads to days when my mind is scattered and I cannot focus on the task at hand or mornings when not even the sound of two alarms can raise me from my slumber. I will work towards finding a positive healthy balance between work, play, exercise, nutrition, and rest in 2015. I will learn to listen to my body’s signals of distress and heed them.

In the area of Relationships, I need to remember my relationship with myself and respect it. I need to spend as much time maintaining my personal connection and not lose sight of my own goals and objectives as I do focused on making new connections and maintaining the relationships I hold dear.

I have let my Intellectual Pursuits fall to the wayside… I let the tenets of relationship, spiritual, and financial health overwhelm my time. Sure Toastmasters is a skill-developing activity that I can proudly say I have focused on in 2014, but I let other pursuits dominate time I used to spend engrossed in a book. For 2015, I am going to allot at least 2 hours per week to time spent in a book, simple as that. Not surfing my Facebook news feed, or using the newspaper as my excuse for reading material. No, I am going to get back to my love of reading and curl up with a good book!

Financially, I have always been conservative and lived within my means, saving when I could. Yes, this has allowed me to maintain the status quo in terms of day-to-day living but it has done nothing to advance my prosperity. I carry no debt so my focus for 2015 is going to be building my nest egg and acquiring a level of financial security that allows me to see past this year and actually have a plan for moving up, maybe into the next tax bracket!

Do any of these focus points resonate with you? Perhaps, seeing one of my thoughts on paper will help you formulate the positive steps you would like to take in your journey through life in 2015.  I can certainly make a Why Not statement out of all of them without any hesitation. Let’s take them on together! I would love to cheer you on along the way, and would welcome your feedback. Feel free to connect and join me.

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A Reformation, of Sorts…

October 31, 2015. The sky is a dark shade of gray.  I lay in bed listening to the rain pattering on the metal roof above my head, a continuous rhythm that lulls me in and out of late morning sleep. Yes, late morning sleep. Completely out of my “up every 20151031_195249day at 4:30 a.m.” character, I lay here in a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion. I have been sidelined from my ritualistic morning running and/or walking by an acute case of Achilles tendinitis and sentenced to a state of inactivity. To say that I am addicted to this form of adrenalin producing, serotonin boosting start to my day is an understatement. But today, my cranky ankle and the dreariness outside have given me permission to rest, something I obviously have not done fully in a very long time.

As I rotate my ankle, flexing and relaxing my foot and calf, longing for signs of improvement, my mind begins its own spinning exercise. A circle of emotions begin to make their rounds. The mixed up thoughts and feelings that have churned inside of me the last couple of months didn’t have their morning run talking-to and found a cozy place to settle. When life is busy, as I like mine to be, I don’t have time to deal with mind matters of this nature so I find ways to push them aside.  Distant If Only’s: If only I hadn’t gotten sick; If only I’d pursued that other degree in college. If only I had tried harder. Recent regrets over opportunities missed or ridiculous arguments had. The loss of my dog (for me, my best friend through thick and thin), my mother’s illness, relationship rollercoaster rides, questions of purpose and future, financial stresses, the casual annoyances of life… all usually get pounded into the pavement on a daily basis.  But, this morning I have nowhere to push them to.

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lutherOctober 31, 1517 was a pivotal day for Martin Luther, an Augustine monk who was disturbed by the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences as a means to attain God’s grace. On this day nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his disputations of this and other church practices that have become known as the 95 Theses, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He believed our sins were forgiven on the cross and not by our paying of indulgences to the church. Without going into a complete history lesson of the day and the repercussions that followed, let me summarize it as the day that began the Protestant movement in the Christian faith and the birth of the Lutheran church. Today, Reformation Day is a jubilant, celebratory day in the life of the Lutheran Church as well as other protestant denominations. So that it coincides with our Sunday worship services, we now observe Reformation Day on the last Sunday in October.

***

This morning, the message preached last Sunday on Reformation Day 2015 floods over me as I lay here dissecting my heart, mind, and life to the patter of the rain. Far from being a celebratory sermon on the great vision of Martin Luther, the message on the power of regret hit deep into my core as I sat listening in the pew wearing my traditional Reformation Day red.

How can I celebrate and call myself reformed if I let my past regrets, losses, troubles, broken relationships, bad decisions, good decisions that went awry, sins and self-doubts keep me from living in the light of God in the present? I am so focused on making self-improvements, making amends, being there for others, and gaining in life for a better tomorrow that I overlook the importance of being great at what I am today. How can I be great at who I am today and move forward in life if I continue to allow the past to hold on to and stifle the life I am living now?

I know I am not the only one who struggles with the tenacious grip of the past on our present. A friend of mine recently posted this quote by Karen Salmansohn on Facebook:

“Don’t let the darkness of your past, block the light of joy in your present. What happened is done. Stop giving time to things that no longer exist when there is so much joy to be found in the here and now.”  

Right away my friend had several replies on her post: “my struggle”, etc.

Why do we allow the sins, regrets, and other darkness’s of our past lay such a claim on our lives? In addition why do we let others hold us in that darkness? Certainly, I am not saying that we are not responsible for the lives we have lived. Our actions have consequences. But how do we move beyond our pasts in order to be fruitful in the present and why do we struggle so in the process?

Perhaps because the past is familiar, and thus comfortable despite the pain it causes. Goodness only knows what is waiting for us in the light of a fresh new day.  When we allow God to shine His light in our lives, it’s bound to turn up things we need to clean up, dust off, or kick to the curb. The enlightened life He wants us to live holds far more possibilities for us then the stifling darkness of the past. But moving into the light doesn’t just happen because we say so or write eloquently about it Facebook. It requires faith, trust, perseverance, and acceptance that we are all sinners, not perfect and yet worthy – worthy of perfecting for the possibilities that lay before us.

As I laid in bed listening to the incessant rain, (like I said, it was a very late morning sleep-in!) thinking about my current state – from my cranky ankle to my wayward, regret-filled condition in life, I decided I want to be happier, now, in the present! God has been shining His light in my life for long enough that I know the possibilities that await and I am well aware of the chains that currently hold me back.

So, just as Martin Luther did with his pent up frustrations with the church 500 years ago, on this rainy actual Reformation Day I came up with a few theses of my own to reform and rejoice in life – just not 95 of them!

  • Make peace with myself. Yes I have screwed up, many, many times and by doing so I have complicated a few other lives as well. But we lived to tell about it and apparently God still loves me and them even more.
  • Be authentic to who I am. My past life made me who I am today – the adversity and the triumphs- I must own it, learn from it, and try not to regret it.
  • Turn that past adversity into opportunity. God still has some work to do in me but eventually he will use that adversity for something.
  • Stop playing the role of “victim.” No more, why me, God? Its life, and despite this being the most over used self-help cliché ever – no one ever said it would be easy. Life is not “my fault” or someone else’s. Life is just that. Life.
  • Embrace change. Who knows, maybe my cranky ankle and exhausted mind is telling me something. I won’t give up what I love, but I won’t let it enslave me either. Busy-ness is good but a busy body needs rest.
  • Continue making every day count. Yep, even days like this where all I do is think and write and don’t even go outside. I always thought I did this – after having a brush with death how could I not – but in reality, I have been too busy worrying about what was or will be to really live for the day.
  • Remember the words of my Dad, “I matter!” I might not be extraordinary or have a scholarly resume, or find a cure for cancer, but my life in all its simplicity and complexity, still matters.
  • Let go. This is the one area that will take the most faith, hope and trust in God. I don’t let go easily. I do not quit.
  • Get a dog. Nothing makes life more joy-filled and in the present (wake up, now it’s time for me) than the responsibility for and the companionship and loyal love of a dog. In my humble opinion.

While the rain outside continues to fall, I am up and out of bed, ready to truly live a life in the light of God. God has far more power over my life than regret. I have far more strength than “if only’s” ever will. I refuse to be a slave to the past, that which was forgiven on the cross of Jesus. In Him, I can be free to strive toward the possibilities he has waiting for me, to become more like Him, trusting in Him to guide and love me along the way. If you struggle to let go of the past and live in the light, I hope you see that you are not alone and that one or two of my personal reformations will help you along the path to freedom too.

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

~ Philippians 3: 12-14

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In the Autumn of Life

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Crowning Glory.

It has been awhile since I sat down and poured out my thoughts. Writers block confounded by the events of late dammed up any creative wisp of thought I had inside of me. But finally the river of words began to flow again. My focus –  the changing seasons and seasons of life. I turned to Ecclesiastes 3 for inspiration. You know the words if not the verses from the famous Byrd’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I did not realize at the time that my family would be entering into an autumn of life as we know it and that scripture from deeper into Solomon’s works in Ecclesiastes 11-12 would have more meaning to me than the words I initially sought.  His words written about youth, age, treasure, work, and life reflect the season of life my family is experiencing right now. Ancient words that remain timeless, relevant, and alive in my life today.

“Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.”

Autumn has always been my favorite season, especially in the Flathead when it brings less congestion and colors that would delight even heaven’s photographer. However, initially I have a hard time letting go of the long sun-filled days of summer. My mountain climbing adventures are still beautiful but are constrained by the shortening days. I still have too many adventures on my summer bucket list for the season to end– adventures that may have to wait for next year.  Likewise, I am having a hard time accepting the changes my family faces as we enter a new season of life, a season coming much more rapidly than the gradual color festival and fall of leaves we are experiencing here  as autumn arrives in the Flathead. I am not ready for what is to come. I have too many things left unfinished. Unlike the adventures  left on this year’s summer bucket list, I fear I won’t have next year to accomplish them and my biggest to do remains undone filling me with deep regret, a feeling I fear will be with me the rest of my life.

“You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

As a child, this golden time of year was a time of excitement and anticipation as I returned to the classroom with new school supplies and a new Peanuts lunch box, packed with a PB&J or turkey sandwich, Cheetos, grapes, and yes, a note from my Mom (at least for as long as she packed my lunch!) I always took my lunch, as hot-lunch was never hot enough for me. Besides, hot lunch meant waiting in line, which took precious time away from the playground and tetherball court. I loved getting notes from my Mom in my lunch box, especially when I was once again the new girl in town and bullies made sure I felt like the ugly duckling. Mom’s notes always chased those feelings away, at least for a little while.

Ah yes, the memories of childhood and grade school, a time in my life when things really did seem golden, for the most part. Certainly, there was childhood angst and family kerfuffles, especially when my Dad was gone on too many business trips for my Mom’s liking or we were moving once again.  We were your typical 1970’s -1980’s middle class family except that no matter where we lived, my parents had the distinction of being the oldest parents on the block, by 15 years at least.

“Remember your Creator  in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”

Me, Mom and my brother Fred. Mother's Day 2013

Me, Mom and my brother Fred. Mother’s Day 2013

My mom was involved in much of my brother’s and my youth activities: Cub Scouts, Brownies, Confirmation, and she was the school volunteer extraordinaire. As the only Mom that didn’t work outside the home, she was also the neighborhood  mom for all the kids whose parents weren’t home, often having 8 kids crowded around the lunch table for snacks and supervision after sledding or playing war in the woods until parents came home from work. Our home was the neighborhood haven even into junior high when we were supposedly too cool to have parental supervision—everyone still happily congregated at our home within ear and eyeshot of my mother.

Those were the good days, days and the memories of which, I took for granted for far too long. Alas, life has a way of challenging us and my family was not immune to challenges, especially the kind that make emotions raw. For some, those challenges become too much.

As a little girl and into my teens, my Mom always had my back, but as I grew into adulthood, her desire to “have my back” went a little towards the extreme. As the years passed and my brother and I became adults, bitterness became the essence of my mother.  Unfortunate health problems plagued her in later years, issues she dealt with by drawing in and casting blame rather than working to resolve.

“before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop.”

As the years wore on our mother-daughter relationship began to fray and we became more and more opposed in our approaches to and outlook on life.

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My family on my moving away day. 2013.

Indeed, ours is a difficult relationship, but then, the things that matter most in life are not always easy.
Nonetheless, I know she loved me as deep as any mother could love a feisty and stubborn daughter.  While I often wished we could have a relationship like those my friends shared with their Moms, one filled with lunches, laughter, and dreams for tomorrow I just could not let my walls of defense down and kept the depth of our relationship at a safe surface level.  Counselors told me I needed to set boundaries and as I matured, I was finally able to set them. Unfortunately, boundaries do not address the conflicts that created the need for them.  My move to Whitefish 2 years ago put a physical boundary of 400 + miles between my mother and I and seemed to mellow the dynamic between us but it only buffered the tension.

A trip home over Labor Day was already rife with emotion as I intended to scatter the ashes of my beloved Tucker (see my post from June).  As expected, my mother and I had heated words my second night home, which set the tone for the rest of the weekend.  Again, we are not perfect, but this time I felt even less so as I resorted to my usual modus operandi of graceless defense.

When I hugged them and waved goodbye that Monday morning, Mom was there to watch me drive away, something she does not usually do.  I felt my heart soften and an ache set in the back of my throat.  My Dad received my usual call home to let them know I had arrived back home in Whitefish safely. Shortly after my departure, my Mom took a fall in the bedroom and wrenched her back. She was resting and he would tell her I called.

I was out on my usual walk the following evening, thinking about my parents, the fight I had with my Mom, and wishing I had more grace and patience. My call home went unanswered. A call to my brother also went unanswered. A knot formed in my stomach. For some reason, I started thinking about my grandmother’s death when I was in second grade. My mom was about the same age as I am now when her mother died. Bleh… where did those thoughts come from?

Later that night I got the call from my Dad. Sounding very tired, he asked, “Was I at choir practice?” “No Dad, it’s almost 10pm.” “Your mother is in the hospital. We almost lost her last night.”

“But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.”

Dad sounded at a loss and exhausted. I was distressed. “Should I come home? Do you want me home?”  Apparently, her dementia and depression created a crisis in communication and made her combative towards my family and her medical team. For fear that I would just become the target of her ire, my presence was not desired. After all the years I wrapped myself in the drama of my family, suddenly I found myself on the outside looking in.

My September filled with golden days of bliss instantly became one tinged with regret. My Mom was hospitalized for the remainder of the month, suffering from a host of ailments: severe anemia, internal bleeding, a heart attack, a stomach infection…  Gradually she relented to care.  Test results were slow in coming and just created more questions. She received an abundance of prayers as did my family and we felt God intervene.

Phone calls to my Mom in the hospital filled me with heartache. She did not recall being in the hospital for more than the last day and had several different reasons for why she was there.  Yet, she could sure recall the romance she had with my father and her days teaching school before they were married 57 years ago.  She had many questions about the weather in Whitefish and the state of my heart…. because “all (she) wanted was for me to be happy.”  I would hang up and sob. Here we were having the conversations I had always wished for, and yet they are conversations I know she will not remember having.

“So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.”

My Mom is home now, trying to go about life in limited fashion. My dad is selflessly devoted to her care, worthy of my Mom’s romantic memories of the “man she would one day marry.” We are trying to iron out plans for visiting nurses to come in but are grappling with worries about costs, insurance coverage, and scheduling. Their once valued independence of living in their own home with the joys of yard work and visiting wildlife is now a burden, a memory that belongs to another season of life. In the not so distant future, the relics of our family life will be boxed up or sold along with the house and a new season of life will begin for them in a new place more conducive to the winter ahead.

I have learned much about what is important in life in these few but wretched weeks and the lesson has been painful. The conflicts inside of me have raked my heart. The fact that my mother and I could not realize a reconciliation of any meaningful depth fills me with deep regret. Why had I not pursued this with my Mom sooner? I am not sure she could comprehend the feelings I want to express, yet part of me feels at peace in the simple sweet conversations that we do share.  Perhaps that is God’s grace reigning over my ineptitude. I have learned that life is finite. Its seasons far too short for anger, guilt, pride, and selfishness to linger in our relationships. Storms will come and we do not know when or how they will end.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Solomon was wise.  Life is meaningless if we do not tend to what truly matters. All the fun, work, accolades, and treasures of life we collect along the way are meaningless. What matters are the relationships we have; that our hearts are right with God; that we resolve conflicts with those we love; that they know they matter to us; and how very much we do indeed love them.

Reconciliation with my mother now may be a selfish goal of mine. Perhaps it is best and all I can hope for that my Mom and I pursue the springtime memories of our life as we walk through her winter together.

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