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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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

The Third Day of Advent

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courtesy: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Happy 3rd Day of Advent. I was baptized as a child of Christ at Trinity Lutheran Church in March 1971 while living in Rock Springs, WY. As a month old child I had no say in such matters of faith but I am grateful to my parents for giving me to God when they did. As I grew into my own, my church and my faith  evolved in the years since.Trinity. From Atonement Lutheran, Lord of Life Lutheran, Lutheran Church of the Master, Holy Shepherd Lutheran, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, All Saints Episcopal, to where I worship now at Our Saviors Lutheran, each change brought me closer to God, more sure of His promise, and instilled in me the importance of having a community of faith. I don’t know where I would be in this world today without the support and love I found in all of my church families at every stage of my life. Through their examples of faith I witnessed God at work during good and bad times. I saw trust where trust would not be found without God. God worked through the special people He brought into my life to help me along my wayward path in life.

Let your light so shine  – just as His light shines in the darkness.

The Quiet Veteran of the Coldest War, My Dad

My Dad went to war to escape the bitter boring cold of Plentywood, MT.  Ironically, he became a veteran of what today is known as The Coldest War for the brutal cold our soldiers endured and the Forgotten War, as it silently slips into the back of our minds as a mere conflict. The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when Soviet-backed communist North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the pro-Western Republic of South Korea. It was the first military conflict of the Cold War, pitting communist ideology against the Western ideals of freedom. American troops were engaged in battle by July 5th and my father enlisted that autumn.

Leaving the frigid plains of Plentywood, MT for something better if not warmer, my Dad traveled to Great Falls for Thanksgiving dinner with a buddy and his brother who was serving in the U.S. Air Force at that time. The food was so good that my Dad was convinced the Air Force was a better fit for his appetite than the Navy! Signed up and headed for Basic Training in Biloxi, MS, my Dad’s first taste of military life came at the hands of a bunch of Jersey boys with heavy street accents and character to match.  This agrarian Montana boy found himself feeling like a stranger in a strange land and had a hard time accepting these coarse, street-smart, smart-alecks as fellow Americans and comrades in the fight.

Next, he was off to Japan, where he was assured of a counter-cultural experience. His ship docked in Yokohama and his troop was put right on a train to the north, a region that reminded him of the heavily timbered lands of Western Montana. Misawa was the destination, about 500 miles north of Tokyo. As this redheaded, buck-toothed cowboy strode through the train station, he soaked in his surroundings as home-grown strains of “Bury Me Not on the Lonesome Prairie” played on loudspeakers. Exiting the depot, deep in the heart of northern Japan, my Dad looked up the street and was once again reminded of home, as a big yellow and black sign beckoned him to come shop at J.C. Penney and Company!

My Dad served with 3 squadrons that were the first to fly F-84’s in air-to-air refueling combat missions over North Korea. He never saw ground battle first hand but he did experience some mighty earthquakes. His final mission was spent at the atomic testing grounds of Las Vegas, and as he likes to say, that is a whole other story. My dad didn’t talk much about his “war-days” nor did he frequent the American Legion. His medals aren’t framed or on display – they are simply secured in an envelope inside a fire safe. He proudly saluted our flag, served his community, and raised his kids to fervently love their country.

The Korean War never really ended. Much like the Vietnam war, there was no grand victory parade when our soldiers returned. On July 27, 1953, a truce was signed creating a 2-mile-wide demilitarized zone between the North and the South. Communism was not defeated, only kept from spreading. Yet 54,426 American lives were lost and 100,000 were wounded in battle. A devastating 5 million people lost their lives in this three-year war – more war casualties than in WWII or Vietnam.

To all our Veterans, living and dead, whether you came home to ticker-tape parades or alone on a plane, I give you my deepest gratitude. Thank you for your service to our country. And for those who never came home, may your legacy inspire us all to serve and remind us that our freedoms are and never were free.

Thank you, Dad. Though you are now flying high and free, your legacy will forever live on quietly in me.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

~John 15:13

Creating a Community of Friends

11264833_996639880360610_5782448778154457006_n“ I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” ~ Romans 1:11-12

I arrived in the Flathead almost two years ago and have spent the time since finding my place in this beautiful corner of the world after leaving Billings, a community I had lived in for 24 years. Naturally, I am not the same woman today that I was that mid-August morning two years ago just as I was not the same young woman who arrived in Billings 24 years prior.  I left behind a life that was full of responsibility, friends, and community. In Billings, people of all walks knew me and more importantly, I knew them.

Despite my familiarity with the people in my old stomping grounds, I always thought of myself as a bit of a loner. Moving around every 4 years or so growing up tends to make you that way. Making new friends and saying goodbye over and over again taught me how to be comfortable being alone and on my own. As a youngster I made fast friendships… it was easy to find a community just by strapping on my roller skates (yes, I had strap-ons) and gliding up and down the sidewalk with the rest of the neighborhood kids or joining the kickball game down the street, wowing the team with my off the field kicks (there was usually an adult around who recognized the need to let a new kid on the block join in). Before long, I was one of the gang. However, as I got older, joining in as the new girl in town wasn’t so easy.  Over time, I grew to think that I was just fine on my own and became more and more content being everybody’s friend rather than feeling as if I belonged to a specific group. As I got older, being on my own was easier than facing rejection from long-established cliques.

In all honesty, for most of my life I did not feel like I fit in anywhere, that is until I left Billings.  After 24 years in one place one tends to belong, whether you realize it or not. In my case, while I definitely had firmly planted roots in Billings (you need those to remain upright there) and my church was more like a very large family, it took me moving away to realize what I had lost in the leaving. In fact, the sense of loss that came over me as I settled into this very new locale was so overwhelming that I went through a period of grieving for the community I left behind.

Moments of panic would mix with this sadness, as there were times I felt so alone. My new neighborhood seemed so foreign, unlike my neighborhood in Billings where evening walks usually turned into neighborhood meet and greets. Looking back at what I had left I realized that in the years I had lived in Billings I had developed a new sense of who I was. I was not the proud loner I made myself out to be in high school and continued to play in college and young adulthood. Rather, I had grown into a woman who valued connection and thrived on meeting and welcoming people into her life all the while growing richer from their influence. By seeking community, I became more giving of myself and in turn influenced others as much as they influenced me.choir

As Paul writes in Romans, he was called to share his spiritual gifts with others so that they would be strengthened in their faith. However, the connection did not stop there. Through their relationships, they were mutually encouraged and strengthened by each other, each giving support and encouragement as they received the same from each other.

Rather than waiting for others to invite me to play kickball like I did in the third grade, I have made a concerted effort to find my own community of friends here in the Flathead and have been richly rewarded. I started waving at my neighbors as I walked by and guess what! Most of them waved back! Pretty soon those waves turned into “hellos” or “boy it’s a cold/hot out today” (depending on season) and while that may seem small or commonplace to those who have lived here a long time, the fact that people recognized me as a part of their neighborhood is a big deal for someone who is new. Through my involvement with choirs, church, clubs, and hiking groups as well as investing time with people who have reached out to me in welcome, I have created a community of friends that not only supports me but also allows me to support them.

Oftentimes I think I am alone on this journey fraught with struggles that I must keep to myself. Yet as my community of friends expands, I realize that my burdens are much lighter. There is an old saying “a joy shared is doubled… a sorry shared is halved.” This is most certainly true!  In my community of friends I have found those whose struggles mirror mine or who have walked a similar path. We end up bearing one another’s burdens and helping one another move forward, ministering to each other with empathy and understanding.

hike 2I don’t seek out community with others solely for support and encouragement, however. I also seek out a community of friends that will challenge me. As iron sharpens iron, my community of friends includes people who have gifts, talents, and characteristics that I aspire to. By making myself vulnerable and sharing my goals for improvement in my life, my community of friends keeps me accountable in my quest for change. They set good examples of living for me and hold me accountable while I provide the same model and accountability for them.

With the prevalence of social media and the constant presence of people online, one would think that the need for community is vanishing. However, I found that I am not alone in my quest for community. Most of the people who are involved in the various organizations that I am share the same desire to connect and share with others.

I recently read an article about a couple who moved to Colorado Springs, CO. After living there for 6 years and still not finding their place in the “community”, they decided to create their own.  Once a month they opened their home to virtually anyone and everyone for cocktails and conversation about The Things That Matter. They started by inviting acquaintances from work or neighbors in passing and encouraged them to invite others. Sometimes they had as many as 30 people come, sometimes as few as five, and sometimes none would show, but they did not give up. Eventually, they were surrounded by people who enjoyed each other’s company, who had good conversation on a regular basis, and who found common ground with those they may not otherwise have shared thoughts with. They looked forward to this monthly Happy Hour as a time to come together and the people that came were thirsty for the same cocktail of community.

Just as I am creating my own community of friends, by reaching out and making themselves vulnerable and available, this couple created a community on their own. One not defined by homeowners associations, neighborhood engineers, city planners, or careers but rather, a common thirst for connection.

Lord help me to see beyond my fears of rejection and be a light of welcome and support to others into a community of friends.hike

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but en courage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:24-25