Thoughts on Today ~ August 14, 2018

Saying goodbye.

There was no spectacular sunrise to mark this momentous morning – rather I ran under a smoke muted sky with no overwhelming sense that today would be any different from yesterday – in fact, I almost forgot this anniversary, and yet I felt a spark of something, perhaps a reminiscent twitch of anticipation for the events of this day exactly five years ago. The actual activities of August 14, 2013 were rather commonplace in our shared human story: packing up one’s belongings and striking out for somewhere new. For me however, that day and the ensuing days of settling in were the opening sentence of the first chapter of my new life.

Looking back, it seems like ages ago and yet just yesterday, when I stood still in the soft morning light of an Eastern Montana sunrise and breathed a weary sigh as I surveyed the pared down contents of 42-years of life stuffed into a trailer and the back of my Santa Fe. Saying good-bye seemed surreal; the actions felt imagined, my throat constricted with a twinge of guilt, and my stomach was a flutter with nerves.

As I pulled out of Billings bound for the far northwest corner of Montana, a heavy silence enveloped me despite my planned departure soundtrack of Neil Diamond tunes keeping my tears at bay. Gone was the chaotic din that was constant in my life for the past month of job leaving, possession packing, possession discarding, panic attacks, and the social commitments that came with saying good-bye.

So, this is it! Here I am world, I thought at the time. I felt emotionally exhausted and amazingly free. I had no idea what awaited me in the year and years to come. Yes, I expected change but nothing as dramatic as the changes to the entire dynamic of my life that would unfold. Little did I know that those last moments with my family in the early dawn light would be one of the last times we were all together and filled with happiness and hope.

Had my life so far prepared me for that moment of independence? Oh, YES! All at once, I was alone, truly and wonderfully alone for the first time in my life. I at once marveled and trembled at what was transpiring. I was leaving behind a life that was full of responsibility and friends. People of all walks in my community recognized me. I was leaving a well-paying job for what I hoped would be a career that used my talents and challenged me. I was leaving my history behind. Now I was free to be me.

Naturally, I am not the same woman today that I was that mid-August morning five years ago. I realize now that I am a very independent spirit with a heart that longs to be shared. My treks into the mountains seeking ever-higher peaks and grander vistas reflected the journey I was taking personally. After years of living a regimented work-a-day life, I discovered this crazy, wonderful, selfish desire to play! I still panic with realization that time slips away quickly and I wasted a lot of it in the past doing every-day, comfortable, and safe tasks rather than challenging myself, taking a few risks, and having fun. While I refused to be fenced in as I grew into this new sense of self, I desired boundary lines I could grasp onto from time to time, seeking direction and support.

In the five years since that moment of independence was celebrated, I have come to know the joys and sorrows of self-discovery. The things I once valued in life have been tested. I have come to know the depths of grief and heart break and had to navigate the roughest waters of my life on my own. I questioned my direction, my reason for being, the quality of my character, and the choices I made. In the wake of more loss than I had ever known in my life, the light that had always filled me was put out in the storm. I walked in darkness but fought for the light. I never doubted that God had a plan and purpose for this proving period of self-examination and self-revelation.

Eventually, I found my way again – led by a light that was so much brighter than the darkness that had enshrouded me. I learned to accept the compassion of others and as my spirit healed my horizons brightened and expanded.

Today, I walk stronger and surer of who I am – a child of God, a woman of faith, and journeyer of the heart. I am pursuing my passions and callings with a confidence  acquired through the fires of life.  Learning to share my heart again is where I am now. The independence I embraced 5 years ago bears little resemblance to the freedom to be, to love, and to grow that I live everyday now. Relationships matter so much more to me than the need for boundary lines and control. Each day presents an opportunity to enrich a life and mine in doing so. Yes, I get caught up in the chaos of life – one that is more wonderfully chaotic than I could ever have imagined it being when I pulled out of the driveway on that morning five years ago – yes, I can be overwhelmed by responsibilities and challenged by my choices – but the essence and outcome of both are positive growth and deepening commitment.

I am forever thanking God for the friendships that have crossed the miles with me and sustain me, my Flathead friends, who are more like family, who gathered around me as I learned to live again after deaths of my parents, and for my brother and sister-in-law who remind me of where I am from and what I am made of.

While I have known times of great loneliness in this adventure of independence,  today, I rejoice in the wonder of love and such happiness and belonging that I pinch myself. Life is certainly an interesting roller-coaster ride of emotions! I thank God for every tear and fit of laughter as each enrich my life with colors of the heart and make me feel alive.

The melancholy moments of longing for what was and the joyous highs of the adventures that lay before me can exhaust a person at times. I gather that is why life reveals itself to me on an as needed basis, a situation that reveals my lack of patience when it comes to my personal soul searching. Nevertheless, each day I awake with renewed vigor in my quest. What a book I will have to write before it all ends (I am obviously extending the publication date by years!)

Thank you, Lord for sustaining me through this journey, for filling me with the bread of life, and giving me wonderful hope in tomorrow. I cannot wait for the next chapter to begin!

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” Psalm 143-7-12

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

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

“So, I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15

Let your light so shine!

Reflecting On Life through Death and Learning to Dance Again

“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.” – Isaiah 43: 16-19

We will all eventually die. Learning how to live in this mortal truth has transformed me from my soul to my song.

I have known death from a young age as I watched grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and yes, dogs – die. And, for a long long time – even though my faith was strong –  I was so very afraid of death –  not so much the thought of me dying – for my faith was and is strong –  but the thought of the living on after that must follow when those we love leave us. That inescapable truth was made resoundingly clear in my life this year. Fear and love are forever intertwined – life teaches us this, death makes it real.

It is not an easy truth to grasp – even for those who have watched loved ones die. When my mother died last year, I was not with her. Her death seemed surreal to me – still does at times. One moment she was there –  as I knew she always would be – and the next – I was on the other end of a phone call no one wants to make. Her death journey during Holy Week made it even more, how shall I say it, awe-some? That our ever-loving God would call home his sweet sparrow on the first day of Spring – Palm Sunday, that we would memorialize her on Good Friday, and celebrate her new life with Jesus on Easter Sunday seemed so fitting -and yet her death and our journey through it is one I still have difficulty grasping. Perhaps because we didn’t have the chance to mourn.

I was with father when he died, just over one year later. His death remains very much alive in me – almost as much as his life continues on in I me. I was there for his last breath, I saw the light leave his eyes, and felt the life leave his body. It is a feeling that has accompanied me to bed at night, in the pews at church, but mostly when I am out walking. That my Dad would die after a hard-fought battle with cancer and the rages of sudden onset Alzheimer’s left me numb and yet completely aware of every whisper of his life. The greatest man I had ever known was gone. With his death, I was awakened to the reality of life.

It is in death when our full humanity comes to life. In truth, life is about learning to live through death. We experience death more often than we – at least on the surface – realize. When we graduate high school and college that season of our lives dies as we enter the next stage of adulthood. When we marry our life as individuals ceases. When a relationship ends – a part of us dies – the part we had given to that other person. When we leave a job, that part of our daily life ends. And yet, with each of these deaths we are given the opportunity for new life; they allow us to let go, they cut away the ties from our past, and lead us to discover a new direction in life.

Indeed, in this year I have experienced many deaths. It has been the most sorrow-filled time of my entire life. I have never been one who could let go of people or things –  I am loyal and committed to the end – sometimes to my detriment. Saying good-bye does not come easy for me –  and I have had to say goodbye so many times to so many people and things this year (good grief I even sobbed when I closed the door on my apartment for the last time!) but sometimes we have to say good-bye to live again.

During my journey through grief this year I stumbled upon a gem of a book: “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” by Henri Nouwen. The title strikes me tonight, this eve of a New Year and the end of year that has left my heart ravaged and my life unfamiliar, because I have found myself dancing, yes DANCING this year away!  I am dancing once again as I reflect on a year of fear and love and the new life borne of them.

As I mourned my mother and father, I made peace with who I am now –  I can be no other than the daughter and woman God created through them 46 years ago. They raised me to shine a light in this world and shine it in honor and love for them I will!  This year, I found my voice and my place. Never have I felt so fulfilled and so right then when I am sharing God’s love and the Good News through Word and Sacrament.

Committing myself to doing more than simply following in Christ’s footsteps but going to wherever He leads me, has transformed my faith from one of rigor to one of complete awe, trust, and love.

As I said goodbye to my family home of 25 years in Billings and my little nest of 4 years in Whitefish, I embarked on a journey of independence and responsibility I hadn’t yet known – proud Columbia Falls home ownership – all in one month!

As I let go of one I was holding on to because I do not fail at love –  I discovered what self-love is all about –  the door to giving and receiving more love to others.

As I struggled with despair and loneliness, I was humbled before God and found that life is far richer when shared with others and that meant letting go of my need to control and my fear of failing and not just share my life with others but give my life to others.

And most of all, I learned yet again that sometimes with great sacrifice comes great reward –  that life is more than great running times and a good night’s sleep –  that puppies are worth lost mileage and every sleepless moment. That out of the ashes of life and death comes new light, new life, and great love. The Ember of my heart.

So yes, as another year passes, as another season of life dies away – I am carried into the new year by the melodies of new life showing me how good it is to dance once again.

Thank you, dear Lord for the lessons of death and the light of new life –  there for us each and every day.

May God bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you with mercy and grace and give you peace, joy, and new life in the New Year!

Let your light so shine!

Of Relics and Roots

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:7-9

I have been doing a lot of thinking about roots lately. And while, the lengths of the roots on the weeds I have been pulling out of my garden beds are pretty impressive and have been occupying much of my time, the roots filling my thoughts while I am busy pulling those weeds go much deeper.

I am blessed to have grown up in a family whose ties were strong between parent and child as well as past and present. There are times I wish I knew as much about my future (or even tomorrow) as I know about the past “pre-Erika” times. I was not fortunate to know any of my grandparents well. My grandfathers had long passed away before I was born. My mom’s mother died when I was in second grade and I had only a yearly visit from her to form any sort of relationship.  My dad’s mother died when I was in the fifth grade but I only saw her one time – when I was in kindergarten – as she had suffered from Alzheimer’s for nearly 10 years, was in a nursing home, and we lived out of state. At that time, children didn’t visit people with Alzheimer’s. Nonetheless, my parents did a good job of connecting me and my brother with our heritage – both ancestral and cultural. Scandinavia was very much alive and well in our household and in our upbringing. They also ensured, that no matter where we were or what circumstances we faced, that we had a firm foundation in our faith.

We were a rather nomadic family, moving on average every 3 or 4 years with my dad’s government job. My hometown of Rock Springs, WY was only home from my birth to 8 years of age. After that home was where we made it for however long my dad’s career allowed. We saw a variety of the country and I am a better person for it, but for me, being rooted meant being rooted in relationship – not place. My parents knew that too – all said, my parents had moved 23 times in their marriage before they finally retired to Billings and made that their final home. It was there that we finally planted roots of place and established a place we called “home.” Indeed, it was the one place (except for my brother who moved there after we did) that we had all lived for the longest period of our lives. For a family who was used to the transitory lifestyle, we quickly planted roots – deep ones – and for the first time in my life I felt the certainty of place.

I relished that certainty of place for 24 years. As you might imagine, moving to the Flathead 4 years ago, leaving my family and friends behind, was a pretty bold and daunting endeavor for me. However, I can honestly say I have grown more in heart, mind, and character in the last 4 years than I did in the entire 42 leading up to my move here.  I had secured a good job before coming (thanks Joe!) so I had some form of security when I arrived, but not much else.  I worked hard to integrate myself into the community and make new friends here. My little nest of an apartment kept me safe (although not always warm) and saw me through a lot of life – more than I ever expected to live through when I arrived. Times of sadness with the deaths of my dog and both of my parents, times of heart break, and times of frustrating illness along with times of immense mountaintop triumphs and the joys that come with living life fully, discovering my sense of self, and finding “my place” in this world.

I don’t think it is a coincidence at all, that I as I closed the door to my little nest of an apartment (it was a lofty 600 sf!) one last time – a place so full of personal discovery – that I would at the same time be forever severing the physical ties to my home of 24 years back in Billings. The belongings of my family’s past were sold in an estate sale last weekend and my “home” is now where I choose to make it – right here in the Flathead – which I did with the recent purchase of my first home.

The last time I stood in my home of over 24 years I had just laid my dad to rest 2 days prior. Despite the emptiness that surrounded me then, I found consolation in the familiar accessories and necessities that had followed my family from place to place – treasures from before I was even born.  There was a sense of normalcy seeing Dad’s executive desk strewn with various medical bills and memorial preparations; his beloved Ivan Doig books, Golf magazines, and Bibles that helped occupy his time still scattered about; dusty duck decoys; family portraits; treasured artwork; shoes tossed to the side; Dad’s walker propped against the wall; the living room furniture that held us through the best and worst of times – it was in the heart of our home where all our celebrations came to an end and as that week of sorrow came to a close, served as a sentimental time capsule of comfort – a collection of our very good life lived as a family and the last days of Dad’s life at home.  The older-than-my-dad grandfather clock which had withstood the flames of a barn fire and Morck family formation still ticked away the day and our Baldwin upright beckoned me to play one more song, though time would not allow. I had glanced around making sure I hadn’t left any of my belongings from the “week of death” behind, closed the front door, and hit the road. I didn’t know that it would be the last time I would ever see our home as home. I didn’t know that time capsule of comfort would only be saved to memory by a fleeting glance as I rushed to be on my way. I presumed I would be back for at least one last visit, one more living room session of sentiment, but as fate would have it, that wasn’t to be.

Seeing the house again, this time prepped for the estate sale with the contents of our family’s past marked at fair market value, was jarring to say the least. Treasures from my childhood, treasures I hadn’t seen in years were now on display – staged for effective sale in ways they were never meant to be. Gone was our homey kitchen and table that had served up so many family suppers and arguments. Gone was the cozy living room where Dad and I had that last cherished father-daughter talk late into the night on Thanksgiving. As fast as our lives fell apart in the ensuing months of illness and death, this place had always been a haven, a sanctuary of sentiment. Now it was just a stage from which the contents of our life would be sold.

I had driven to Billings the night before the estate sale was to start and arrived around midnight. My intent to make a fast perusal of the place to garner any items I may have missed putting aside after my dad’s funeral quickly came to a halt. Thoughts of what I might need or use in my new home suddenly seemed acerbic. The items before me had lost their value to me –  as I realized what made them treasures were the people who treasured them, not the items themselves. Rather than checking off my mental list of necessities I could grab (and save a buck – owning a home is expensive) I stood there and cried as I realized and remembered all I had lost. Aside from a few heirlooms and the prized and once lost Danish plates that the estate sale professionals found in their staging, not much would be coming to my new home with me.

***

I believe God has brought me to a very purposeful chapter in my life. It is time to start anew. Until now, I always had Billings as a fall back, a safety net, the home where I was always welcome. Now it is all up to me. For so long my life has been in two places on separate sides of the state.

It is hard to put down roots when you don’t know where home is. Until now, I was ok with that. Being rooted has consequences; it means you are claiming an identity of place. For four years I have struggled to claim where that place would be. How could I when “home” was still in Billings but I was here?

At some point on this year-long journey of grief book-ended by the deaths of my mother and father, I began to sense that the soil in the Flathead was fertile soil, a good place to plant roots. It is here that I will embrace the life God has called me to and truly live life – not live it in limbo. For too long I have been on an unrelenting quest to reshape my existence but never claiming it as my own. No longer. Now, as Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said: “Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.”

Now with God’s help, I shall find home, and in faith not in relics of the past, plant new roots.

Home

August 9, 2013 ~ Another Door Closes

 

My last day of work at Wyo-Ben, Inc was bittersweet. As anyone who has worked for a family owned business knows, even when there are bad days and grumpy co-workers you find yourself connecting to your work in ways that you wouldn’t working for a large corporation. Not only did I have a sense of ownership in the work I did but a sense of comradeship with my coworkers. You go through life together, personal lives intersecting with work lives, failures, triumphs, death, new life…. your coworkers are by your side through it all. I was blessed to work for a family who valued the whole person in their employees. I was delighted to work in a beautiful place surrounded by wildlife that we were encouraged to enjoy. As I ended this five year stint in my working life and headed to a completely different career in the financial field, I had a sense of fear… I was good at what  I did. There was a comfort in knowing everyday I came to work I could do the job and do it well. But greater things awaited me and if I wanted to grow, I would have to take some chances and step out of my comfort zone. These were my thoughts that day.

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Springtime gosling… an annual rite.

When I first came to work at Wyo-Ben, Inc. 5 years ago I had no idea what to expect. Yes, I knew that I would be working in a beautiful office and I would be shipping rail cars of something called Bentonite that had over 1000 uses to places far and away! I never dreamed I would be conversing with people from all over the world or dealing with overloaded rail cars, or discussing how BIG of a deal the difference in color between a light grey or tan material was for kitty litter — cats really are finicky and apparently so are their owners!! I think I had spoken to a Canadian once or twice in my life before coming to work for Wyo-Ben! Now I do it on a regular basis! I came to realize I was one of the lucky ones who learned the Oil Well business from none other than Harry Funk – a legend whose gruffness masked a very kind and funny soul! Not only did I learn about oil fields and the history of ALL of our customers from Harry, but I was treated to golf stories, and war stories, wife stories and music business stories, and jokes I probably should never have heard! That he worked up until his dying day– 50 plus years at Wyo-Ben – made me feel pretty darn sure I was working for a good company.

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More babies!

What I found at Wyo-Ben was a family– from the Wyoming Wyo-Ben’ers to the Billings Headquarters gang – there was something deeper shared between us than just coming to work each day and doing our jobs. The Brown’s truly cared about each of us. We all cared about each other and we were encouraged to share what is important to us. The longevity of the Wyo-Ben employee – –something I won’t have there – is a testament to the quality of life Wyo-Ben offers it’s employees. Yes there were changes over the years- but all in all, it was a wonderful place to be with wonderful people 8 hours of the day, 5 days a week MOST OF THE TIME!!

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Taking big steps of their own.

I thank my coworkers for your patience when I was new and just learning the ropes and rails. Thank you for the laughter shared despite stressful circumstances with our friends at the rail road. It is hard to leave a place such as this for the unknown but this place and the people in it were purposely placed in my life journey for a reason! If I can handle the rail road – I can handle anything, right? Truth be told, I have grown so much in the time I have spent at Wyo-Ben. Thank you for supporting that growth and encouraging me along the way.
I am going to miss our Christmas Parties, Springtime Gosling Watch, and each and every one of you.