The Jesus Tribe

A sermon based on Mark 9:38-50

The words were flying like bullets. I had shared what I thought was a well thought out, reasoned article on faith in today’s politically polarized environment on my Facebook page – then without a second thought headed out for a walk. When I returned I found a message waiting for me from one of my high school friends apologizing for the messy tirade she had made of my post. I had no idea what she was talking about but when I looked at my Facebook page – holy moly! While I was out enjoying God’s magnificent creation, a few words had turned into a violent verbal battle between two friends of mine who did not know each other but shared me as their common, well-meaning opiner. I had missed most of the volleys thrown my way – the writer had deleted her words before I could read the vitriol – but I was filled in on their content later.  Words that went along the lines of because of who I did or didn’t support as president (which I did not divulge, to begin with) I could not possibly be a true Christian. ME! Of all people!! My high school friend, someone who is also strong in her faith, had met with the fiery tongue of yet another strong believer who just happened to be of very different political stripes and unfortunately, the two did not see eye to eye. Needless to say, my high school friend felt bad about airing her views while the other posit-er blocked me and would not respond to my attempts to temper the discussion – deleting all of it instead. Not that I had anything to say that could change such polarized minds. In the end, all parties involved retreated to our safety zones – our respective tribes – the place where we belonged, where we found camaraderie, loyalty, and protection for our differing views on what it means to do life and what it means to be a Christian.

In ancient times, tribes provided the social, economic, and religious structure along with the necessary physical protection that we humans needed for survival. We humans were and still are ill-equipped to survive on our own. I like to think and am pretty sure that God had a hand in that piece of our evolution.

A recent Google search returned page after page of insight on modern-day tribalism. There are tribes designed for sports enthusiasts and business influencers. There are tribes for hobbyists and travelers, tribes for political junkies and naturalists. Musicians, parents, adventurists, holistics, yogis, the list goes on. There are “find your tribe” memes, inspirational tribal quotes, and tribal gurus ready to help you find your special tribe. Companies build advertising campaigns appealing to our tribes. Tribes are apparently good for business and obviously, finding yours has become an important quest in today’s world and for good reason. Tribes at their best nurture an environment for generating new ideas for work and life and create a sense of community which is vital for a healthy productive life. Our tribe provides us with a sense of purpose, a reason to interact with others and, if developed to its highest purpose even provides health and wellbeing benefits.

According to management consultant and TED Talk presenter David Logan who has researched and written on tribal development in modern society, there are millions of different tribes in the world but they all fall into one of five categories determined by their stage of cultural development. Those consist of the undermining stage which is often seen in prisons and gangs who share the belief that life sucks and you are coming down with me,  next are those in the apathetic victim stage who share the view that “my life is hopeless, your life is better” which in turn breeds resentment among the tribe members with a kind of ‘lose/win’ mentality, next are those in the lone warrior stage who say  “I’m great and you’re not” which creates a ‘win/lose’ mentality within the tribe and sets members up for disappointment in their fellow tribe members. Those in the tribal pride stage belong to a group that is united around a set of values and form the view that “we are great, they are not” – it is still a ‘win/lose’ approach, but one where the ‘win’ is based around the group rather than an individual. The final stage is the innocent wonderment stage; the stage of highest purpose and not surprisingly – the least likely level in tribalism to achieve. It is also the most enlightened stage of tribalism, where life really is great and a healthy ‘win/win’ mentality forms. The group is in competition with what’s possible, not with each other or another tribe.

According to Logan, most of us find ourselves in tribes characterized by the middle three categories: apathetic victims, lone warriors, and tribal pride. All three of these tribal development categories share a win/lose or an us versus them worldview.

Worldviews set on human things like judgment and greatness. Views built around fear, anger, resentment, envy, and acquisition. Views set on perfectionism, our need for approval and to be liked, or in control. Views that harbor prejudice, indifference, or apathy. These tribes nurture and advance our stumbling blocks rather than help us overcome them, and in the eyes of God – do nothing to advance His kingdom on earth.

Not that this form of “belonging” or joining together is anything new. This sort of tribalism began in the Garden of Eden and follows through all human history. It confounded Moses, it inspired David’s Psalms, and it provided plenty of teaching material for Jesus. Today, this win/lose, us versus them, I am right and you are wrong vision permeates our politics, defines our dogma, and has crept into our churches. Even with our increasingly pluralistic society, perhaps because of it, we hold tightly to our doctrines and orthodoxy – certain that our tribe has all the answers, knows the ways and will of God. We take ownership of and want to control what God’s work in the world will look like, even to the point of deciding who can witness to it and experience it. We, of course, are foolhardy in doing so as God can never be owned, can never be controlled. But we sure try!

September 9th was Rally Sunday. It was a kind of unusual one for us this year with Pastor Pete on sabbatical. Rally Sunday is usually full of excitement – everyone is back from their summertime doings – Sunday school kicks off – new programs are introduced, new liturgies are sung, and the pews are filled with all ages again. This year we struggled to get Sunday school teachers – and we are still searching for a Sunday School Director by the way – we were singing the same tired liturgical verses we had sung all summer long – and our pews were certainly not full. As a member of the congregation’s leadership, I notice these things. I was also very aware of the big deal happening down the street and around the corner from us. The grand opening of a “mega-church’s” Columbia Falls satellite congregation with their praise band and worship team all set to put on weekly concerts for God lovers. Their parking lot was reportedly full – for all three services mind you – and I couldn’t help but wonder… We have competition! If all those people were so hungry for God – why not just join us??  We obviously had plenty of room – and maybe we could even find a few more Sunday School teachers! My tribal pride was aroused – feelings of envy, frustration, fear that we might lose members to the next big thing to hit Columbia Falls swirled inside me. What do they have that we don’t? God should be working through us!

Now I admit, I am not proud of my reaction. But I know I am not alone with thoughts like this. Heck, even Jesus’ earliest followers went wayward in their discipleship, quite often in fact, as we have seen lately throughout the gospel of Mark.

In today’s gospel reading, John zealously informs Jesus of someone performing acts in His name, but the disciples stopped the exorcist because he was not one of them – not a part of the “in” group. We don’t know much about this outsider – perhaps he didn’t speak, think, act, or look like them but we do know this – he was not part of their Jesus Tribe – and the disciples saw him as getting in the way of their faith and ministry. And when they could not stop him they told on him.

One can only imagine the thrill it gave John to tattle on the outsider given that the disciples themselves had just recently failed at what this outsider was succeeding at – driving out demons. They were also still puzzling over the comeuppance Jesus gave them when they were arguing over who among them was the best. This act of loyalty would surely please the teacher. Apparently, to the disciples it was not enough to be a follower of Jesus; you have to be a certain kind of follower – one of them (or one of us?)

But Jesus sees through John’s self-righteous glee. In Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, The Message, Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. (Jesus says) No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why,  anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice. On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.”

Once again, the disciples find themselves on the receiving end of a whole new way of thinking. I imagine they were a little disappointed in Jesus’ response. Not only does Jesus not support the disciples in their action, but he also does not criticize or condemn the outsider.  As Duane Priebe, Professor Emeritus at Wartburg Seminary, says, “every time you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you’ll find Jesus on the other side.”  Not only have the disciples drawn a line between who is in and who is out, it seems the disciples have crossed a line – the line between protecting the faith and claiming ownership of the faith.

It is a line each of us has to negotiate as we encounter the others in our lives, as we encounter differences of opinion, as we encounter different practices and understanding. Is our zeal for our particular view of the gospel – or maybe it has nothing to with the gospel but rather – our fear of those who are different from us – is that zeal or fear placing a stumbling block before others that makes it harder for them to see and feel the love of God in Christ?

Do we stay within our win/lose us versus them tribal safety zones or do we strive for an enlightened response – do we dare contemplate the possible (because with God anything is possible)? Can we step up to the next level of wonderment described by David Logan or the kind of discipleship we are freed in Christ to live?

Only if we surrender the tribal patterns of life we have created for ourselves or to which we allow others to perpetuate in us. Only if we surrender the ways of seeing, thinking, and acting that blind us to who we, our neighbors and God really are.

The choice is ours, but it is a heavy choice. As Fr. Michael Marsh, an Episcopal priest writes, “Every time we stumble or cause another to stumble we have denied life – our own or another’s. We have diminished the kingdom of God and ultimately destroyed love.”

The goal of faith is not winning, unlike that of our tribalistic culture. Those of us in the Jesus Tribe need to remember that the goal of believing is not who can be better – whatever “better” means. We need to remember that being a Christian is not about comparison but individual expression, as individual as the incarnation of Christ is in us. The new satellite church is not Our Saviors and we will never be like them. But together we will express the love of God in ways that reach people who may not be able to hear it as they or we might express it. Just think how boring it would be if we all believed and worshipped the same way. Not even our Scriptures propose that. If we truly believe what we confess, that the Holy Spirit lives in each of us – then we should rejoice in and encourage that expression of God through us in its beautiful particularity.

In this time of pluralism and polarization, we need the community and support of a tribe. A tribe that reframes how we think about our lives, our commitments, our identity, and our vision of what constitutes authentic Christian community. Let’s ensure the Jesus Tribe is one in which we do see Jesus – one that is open to all who seek to know his grace, his forgiveness, his amazing love. One in which life really is great – for everyone – because in it we see God. Our God is there.

Amen.

 

Overwhelmed by Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your light so shine!

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

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

– Dr. Seuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ from Isaiah 43

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Getting to the Heart of What Really Matters

Family. I wish I knew mine better.

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

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

erika-mom-and-grandma-dyrud

Me, Mom and Grandma Dyrud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family. The Heart of What Really Matters

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

An Adventure to Remember

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

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Such a serene beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I hate scree.

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The scree slopes from a safe distance.

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

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

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

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Super-zoomed…

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

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

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Sheer drop to Avalanche Lake

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

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

 

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The floral in Floral Park…

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

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

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And that snow is where we head up to again!

 

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

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

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

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We “enjoyed” miles of this….

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Melt pond.

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

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Rather other-worldly don’t you think?

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

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The storm.

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

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

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

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

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The End….

 

 

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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