A Life in Full Circle

Growing up, Mom would fill my head with stories about her summer days as a young woman spent at Whitefish and Flathead Lakes. Her stories were filled with the wild escapades of a college girl serving as Dean of Women at Flathead Lutheran Bible camp ( Lutherans can get a little crazy, ya know) and the life of a nanny for a doctor and his wife’s little girl at Camp Carefree – where luxurious homes and Whitefish Lake Lodge now sit. These stories served to educate me on the “ways of the world” and what I certainly “must never, ever do!” but secretly, I cherished those glimpses of the woman who would become my mom. I wish I had known her back then. Perhaps she was a bit like I am today, trusting, a tad naive, full of dreams, with a playful side burning to be set free. When she told me these stories I never dreamed that I would one day be living on the stage where all these adventures and life lessons played out. 

Last night I stood gazing into the placid waters of the lake she so loved. I wondered if her thoughts might have mirrored mine. Did the quiet lapping of the water slow her heart and quiet the frenzy of life? I wondered if she could really see me now, her daughter, living out adventures and learning lessons in life in the same place she found her independence. Fortunately for me, the lessons I am learning are ones that my life will be built upon. Lessons of perseverance, patience, and promise. Lessons of storm, sorrow, and strength. Lessons of a life filled with love. 

Oh Mom, I wish I could share these days of my life with you. I wish I could see your smile and yes, even your jaw clench with worry again. I wish I could tell you MY stories and the lessons I am learning from them. I wish we could have, if only once, walked along these lakes that so captured both of our hearts. I would give anything to sit next to you in silent appreciation of the grandeur of God and wonder at the sweetness of life. 

Thank you for most of the lessons you taught me. I really did listen and now I appreciate them for what they were and are – your love for me and your hopes for the best for me. You can rest assured, your hopes have come to fruition. I miss you, Mom, and I love you more than words can say.

Fuel Your Faith

 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”    Matthew 25:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father!

August 14, 2016 dawned a perfect, bluebird sky morning. It was the day I would meet heaven on earth!   Not just any heaven mind you, but the most anticipated, dreamed about, read about, prayed about, planned for, trained for, stayed up late waiting to get on the much-prized waiting list for –  journey across the infamous Floral Park Traverse in the back country of Glacier National Park. 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. After enduring a year of emotional trials with the death of my mom and my dad’s illness I was ready for a challenge of a completely different sort. And finally, the day had come when my wanton wanderlust would be fulfilled!

You have to plan and train for an excursion of this magnitude –  proper equipment is essential: pack, poles, good boots, water, food, clothing for all seasons, and for climbers like me – camera gear and back up batteries. This route is not for the lazy or inexperienced hiker. With 4000 ft of elevation gained and a 7000 ft descent over 21 miles and 14 hours of trail time you must be prepared physically and mentally. As a distance runner and hiker with plenty of 20+ mile excursions in my trail journal I was certain I could handle the mileage and having a few mountain summits under my belt I was pretty sure the elevations would not get to me either.

I felt sure and strong as we hit the trail at the crack of dawn. I was in my element with a great group of friends. Although I had never ventured across a landscape as challenging as what we were about to embark on I felt safe knowing that most of my crew were more experienced than I. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was in the mid stage of a serious medical condition. My red blood cells – the ones that carry oxygen through your body and basically keep you alive were quietly disappearing. As a result, I found myself struggling to keep up with a crew I usually had the lead on. By mile 17, I had fallen so many times in water crossings and on scree slopes that my hands couldn’t bleed anymore, and my body was shutting down. Thankfully my crew had an incredible leader who was not only prepared for her hike but my crisis – giving me electrolyte shots, Advil and caffeine boosts – she helped me get over the last 4 miles and through a wicked thunderstorm to the journey’s end alive where we enjoyed a fabulous tail gate party. But I was shaken. I was not prepared for the long haul or the hurdles I faced that day – just the wonderful experience I had anticipated for so long – and as a result I put someone else in the position of saving me.

Let me give you fair warning – the mountains are NOT the place to discover your weaknesses – at least not your physical ones. While I thought I was prepared for everything my mind could conceive of happening, I clearly was not prepared for a physical crisis of my own. Those things simply didn’t happen to me.  Like the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel, I had brought my lamp with the usual amount of oil in it, but I did not bring the right kind or enough oil to keep my lamp burning through the unexpected and the revealing judgment of the mountains.

Thoughts of heaven can be spurred by joyous mountainous adventures, the grief of death close to home, or tragedies like those we recently witnessed in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs that strip away our comfort and complacency and bring to mind the question:  what awaits us at the end of our earthly journey? Is it a festive feast from a tailgate like the group I hike with has at the end of every adventure? After a long day in the mountains, we know that we have earned our celebration with plenty of dust on our boots to prove it. It is heaven in a parking lot or highway pullout.

Jesus tells His Disciples that the kingdom of heaven will be like a wonderful wedding banquet. As believers we believe that we have all been invited to this most wondrous occasion. It is a comforting thought, isn’t it – especially after enduring life here on earth.

But in today’s Gospel, Jesus takes that comfort and does a pretty good job of dispelling it, doesn’t He?  It would seem that our end-times expectations may not be so cut and dry.

We meet ten bridesmaids awaiting a bridegroom’s return for his bride, but he is delayed.  Five of the bridesmaids are described as “wise” for they were prepared for the unexpected by bringing along extra oil for their lamps; the other five are described as “foolish” because they did not bring along extra oil to keep their lamps burning. When the foolish realize they have run out of oil they ask their wise cohorts to share some of theirs but are told to go get their own. The foolish five abandon their posts in search of oil to buy. In their absence the bridegroom arrives, the wedding banquet begins, and upon their return, the foolish bridesmaids find themselves not only shut out of the festivities but denied by the bridegroom.

Matthew shares Jesus’ words as instruction to a community dealing with several issues: a destroyed temple and people questioning what it was to be and judging who could be a Christian. The delay in the promised return of Christ – their Messiah – was causing a flagging vigilance to His teachings. They were weary of crisis after crisis occurring without any sign of deliverance. They were becoming too worldly giving into their desires and straying from God’s while also being overly spiritual – relying on God as a magician who would perform acts at their request and alleviate their troubles.

In those days, people lived with the belief that the end-times were near. There were many apocalyptic teachers and Jesus was one of them. With this story, Jesus sought to clarify what it meant to truly be ready for his return and how to live until that time.

But what are we to make of a bridegroom, that by all accords represents Jesus, who denies entry to the kingdom which we thought was open to all believers? What do we make of a bridegroom that offers welcome to bridesmaids who don’t share and denies it to a few who were simply unprepared?

This Gospel story raises a lot of questions for those of us who follow Jesus.  Just last week we heard Jesus give the Beatitudes –  comforting words that turn our worldly assumptions upside down — that in the brokenness and injustices of this world we find those who are blessed in His eyes. We could dwell on that scripture for quite some time and never tire of it. Today’s Gospel also turns our assumptions upside down, but this is one we are likely to read and then move on from, quickly.

Yet while stern, they are the words of Jesus. Given as direction to his followers. To you and me. As much as I would have liked to preach on the Psalm today, we need to spend some time listening to Jesus.

As Bible commentator Richard Bruner writes, “If we teach only Jesus’ mercies but not his judgements we disfigure the Gospel.”

And boy does this gospel lend itself to me standing up here and scaring you straight – with a fire and brimstone sermon of judgement on who will and won’t be celebrating with me and Jesus in heaven!  But our heavenly fate is not for me, or any human to judge.  Who God choses to know at the hour of His choosing is His judgment alone.

We don’t like to think about the judgment factor as part of the Christian life, as humans both saints and sinners, we never have.  Yet just about every week we profess our belief that Jesus died, descended to the dead, and on the third day rose again and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father and will come again to JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.

After much blood, sweat and self-condemning tears while trying to discern the Good News in this text, I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t any!!

Just kidding… I have come to the conclusion that this parable is not all about God’s judgement – even though it is our sinful nature to immediately start looking around and pegging who will and won’t be joining us in heaven all the while wrestling with our own failings.

We like to think that we are wise in most contexts, but we secretly admit to being foolish in others. What if that moment of foolishness is the judgment factor? Who are in the insiders and outsiders? The true believers? What is the distinguishing factor of those for whom the door is open?

The Good News is that God frees us from these fears of judgment by giving us His Son and a better way to live. Just like a parent warns a child out of love, so too does Jesus. Jesus loves us too much to leave us as we are or leave us left out. The Gospel today is all about that better way to live. Prepared – like my crew leader was – with plenty of lamp oil, awake, alert and full of anticipation to get you through the waiting time for the wedding banquet and me down the mountain to the tail gate party.

Lamp Oil? Yes, it is all about the lamp oil – your faith.

Last Sunday, we recognized the saints who have gone before us and guided us in our faith journeys.  I dare say they had plenty of lamp oil. They tended it well and brought you along on their journey with plenty of light. But they didn’t get that lamp oil at the last minute – well maybe they did, but it is likely they had been nurturing their faith for a lifetime.  We are reminded today that our relationship with Jesus, though nurtured by many, must be our own. Our faith is a gift from God but he gives us the reigns to maintain the condition of it; tending to it must be a part of our daily life, not just at special times like baptism, confirmation, Easter and Christmas, or the death of a loved one. Our faith cannot be bought or borrowed at the last minute. Martin Luther thought the condition of our faith was so important he gave us the Small Catechism to nurture the formation of it daily.

Fuel your faith by putting Christ first in your life, being obedient to his word, abiding in Christ and letting the Holy Spirit work in you and through you, acting in love towards others, and sharing your faith, the Good News, with the world. You might be saying “but Erika, hold on there –  we are Lutherans! We are saved by grace, not by our practices.” Being prepared, tending to the oil, keeping the faith is not about works righteousness – we cannot earn our way into Gods favor or His kingdom.  But we can live in a way that frees us from the tension of waiting for an unknown end.

A fueled faith is an engaged faith – one that is found through prayer, trust, and gratitude.  Let God nurture a relationship with you before you have an emergency and you will find that you have enough faith to get you through those dark nights of the soul and the unexpected.

The thrill of being baptized into new life and attending praise services with awesome music that leave you feeling charged for God are a wonderful part of the Christian experience, but true faith means abiding and trusting in Him in the day to day busyness of life, sometimes in drudgery with little of the ecstatic flair of worship. It means having enough oil for God to use you as a light in the lives of others. It means living the kind of Christian life that allows you to go to sleep at night with a good conscience, not proud of the good works you have done or the desires you didn’t give into but knowing that you have honestly prepared and tended to the condition of your faith. God offers a special wisdom to those who belong to Jesus. We await the kingdom with eager readiness because we know that Jesus turns all the demands of God’s law–our lives spent in judgement — into pure grace and mercy.

My last LPA (Lay Pastoral Associate) training retreat in October focused on the art of writing the sermon. We were introduced to the concept of discerning the text through a trouble in the Bible –  trouble in the world –grace in the Bible – grace in the world format. Sounds pretty straightforward until one is faced with a text like today’s. My Floral Park adventure was less of a challenge than this!

““Truly I tell you I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore for you do not know the day or the hour.”  I ask you, where is the grace???

Believe it or not, the grace was there from the beginning.  ALL were invited to the wedding banquet and the door to the party is still open for you. The Lord is still coming – and you have been invited to greatest wedding banquet ever held. Now don’t panic because you forgot to fill up the oil this morning. We are living in the grace period and you happen to be in a pretty fancy filling station where all the pumping is done for you. So what are you waiting for? Open your heart, open your life, and say, “YES!” I want some of that oil. Now, live in the light of Jesus and await His kingdom with joy.


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.


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!



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.


I hate scree.


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.



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.


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.


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!



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.


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


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….


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!


We “enjoyed” miles of this….


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.


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.


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.


The End….