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.”


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.


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.


Learning Opportunities

“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

lightTime waits for no one. Indeed, nothing brings that message home more than the marking of another birthday or if you have been “on” Facebook for any length of time, receiving a “Because We Care” photo flashback of your life a year or longer ago.  I was recently treated to a photo of me standing between my healthy Mom and Dad beaming happiness from the steps of our front porch in Billings, five years ago.  Sometimes it feels like you are just slogging through your days, like nothing ever changes and weeks creep by then POOF! five years have passed and life isn’t even remotely the same.

Mom and Dad I turn another year older today and find myself once again scratching my head in wonder at where the time went. For the last few months, my life has been full of what a positive spin-meister would call “learning – opportunities.” I, on the other hand would prefer to think I have garnered enough wisdom for the time being, thank you very much! Nonetheless, as I have made my way through these “learning- opportunities” I have acquired an unsettling sense of urgency to go to the head of the class in realizing some sort of significance or purpose for my life.

On a recent trip home to help with transitioning my Mom to a nursing home and be of some kind of support to my Dad, I ventured into the crawl space beneath our family home of 27 years and stood at a loss. I was there to survey the “stuff.” Stuff that once held significance now coated in another year’s layer of dust. In no particular order other than “this looks like a good place” sat boxes of land management text books going back to my Dad’s college days, news-clippings, awards, and photo albums chronicling my dad’s career, Montana magazines, slide reels documenting the Morck family’s life going back to the 50’s. Class-room odds and ends from my Mom’s days as a teacher 60 some years ago, military mementos, a classy collection of LP’s, empty picture frames, paintings without frames, porcelain figurines, board games, candle holders, broken baskets, furniture pieces that never never knew the thrill of being Craig’s-listed, lamp bases whose shades didn’t survive a move, an old dog crate now filled with fabric, dressers filled with more fabric and sewing patterns for clothing for every stage of life, Christmas decorations galore, not to mention the seemingly endless items here and there that should have been tossed decades ago rather than moved from one town to the next – still bearing moving stickers, sometimes more than one move’s worth, congregating in piles or leaning against the wall. Oh where to begin?

And there in a corner sat the toy box my dad built to hold all my childhood play. The naughty emptiness of that toy-box almost kept Santa from coming to this one-time messy little girl’s house. Opening it now the memories contained inside seem so long ago and yet just yesterday. Beside it stood the bookcase that once held prominence in my many bedrooms over the years but was now hidden below ground, still housing my collection of the entire set of original Nancy Drew mysteries, along with my love affair with Laura Ingalls- Wilder. Items that seemed so everyday way back when – now serve as significant contributors to the ache in the back of my throat.

As I stood there looking at the forgotten “stuff” of life, I realized that while it may have been the stuff of everyday life at one time to us and may now just be junk to anyone else, this stuff has significance today, at least to the 5 members of the Morck family. It serves as a chronicle of a family that made do with what we had, enjoyed the simple pleasures of hand me downs from clothes to games to suitcases, and valued our family’s history as much as our future.  Well, ok maybe all the empty, dusty jars that would be filled with chokecherry syrup someday really don’t have much significance, but the memories of that sweet dark red syrup poured over pancakes on Sunday mornings sure do!


Perhaps in my quest to find significance in my life I should pause and remember where I have been. As humans we tend to only see the here and now in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. In our urgent desires to get things done, to be somebody – darn it, we become blinded to what we already have done and who we have become. If I take a moment to look back on the “learning opportunities” I have survived in the past, I can see that while the route seemed like a very long dark tunnel, I did find the light at the end. Standing in the clear light of hindsight today I would not trade any of those past “learning opportunity tunnels” for a different route.

Perhaps I wasn’t meant to help head a family or be the next Steve Jobs but in some way that I can’t quite see right now, God has used me and will use me for His greater plan. There must be some purpose in the path I have already taken and the journey that lay ahead. I’ll likely never know the impact I have made on others or the mark I have left on this world until I read my own obituary in the Heavenly Herald.  For now, I will have to accept that only God knows the number of our days and time waits for no one.  Even Moses found himself praying to the Lord for direction and purpose. Our job is to seek hearts of wisdom, sing for joy, and be glad in all our days.



A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tools for Climbing the Mountains of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



January 1, 2016 Choosing to Dance in the Light

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

~ Martin Luther

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

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

~ Proverbs 16:9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Proverbs 19:21

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

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

~ C.S. Lewis

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

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

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

~ Jeremiah 6:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Great Expectations of Joy -The Eighth Day of Advent

Erika Stereo (002)


I love Christmas, have from my earliest memory. I readily admit to getting wrapped up (pun intended) in the spirit of the season, merry-making galore.Erika Christmas 1

Before moving to the Flathead, during the months of November and December I would spend days adorning my parent’s house with lights, so much so that when I flipped the switch the rest of the neighborhood dimmed.382117_512993682058568_1687365558_n

From there I moved indoors adding more lights to the pre-lit Christmas tree and dressing our mantels and banisters and doorways with pre-lit garlands. I truly believe we are God’s light in this world and this was my most visible way to shine that message brightly.


Always alive in me was the real reason for the season, the coming celebration of the birth of my Lord and Savior. My parents made sure that Christ was in CHRISTmas long before that became a popular seasonal saying. The merriment of the season however just reinforced the goodness that was to come. As a child, Santa always had a special place in our family – and he still does. I will never forget the time Santa (supposedly, a co-worker of my Dad’s) stopped by our house when I was about four. Somehow he knew about the temper tantrum I had thrown over not picking up my building blocks. From that night on I made certain my room was always clean (still do!)

Erika Santa 2

My family has a strong Scandinavian heritage and I learned at a very young age the art and technique of making lefse and krumkake, traditional holiday food offerings found in any Norwegian home. I was rolling perfect rounds of lefse by the time I was five and have been eating it with delight ever since – a fact of which my grandmother would be immensely proud.

Our home was always filled with music,piano, guitar, and good old fashioned records! I started Christmas caroling and singing in choirs in my teenage years -I loved bringing the message of good news in song to the hearts of people I would never otherwise know. Never much of a party thrower or goer, my Christmas goodwill was focused on spreading cheer to those far and near, through gifts, acts, words, and music.

Erika Barn

I can remember being ever so excited when the Sears and Roebuck’s Christmas catalog arrived in the mail.As youngster living in the high and wild town of Rock Springs , WY the nearest department store of any magnitude was in Salt Lake City – a good days drive away. Catalogs were king!  I would spend hours dreaming over Lego playsets, race car tracks (I was a bit of a tom-boy),  the Fisher Price  barn that mooed when the doors opened, the house, and the city parking garage with car elevator which when added to my barn set up made no sense then or now but was sure cool! The latest board games like Candy Land and Life (I never did get Connect Four or Battleship) and the first electronic games –  Lite Brite, Merlin, the Simon Memory game, and who can forget Superfection, all came to life in the catalog! I rarely received most of what I asked Santa for, and when I did get something like those games, their impact would have to suffice for two or three Christmases. While I delight in a bit of nostalgia as I look at these games from 30 plus years ago, these relics of my childhood Christmas wish lists are not what I remember most fondly.

Picture2In truth, what I savor most are memories of sitting in the quiet by the fire with just the Christmas tree lights on after Christmas Eve services; the Life Saver Sweet Story book that Santa placed in my stocking every year along with an apple, an orange, and a note telling me what a good girl I had been and how proud he was of my hard work in school; the old fashioned cinnamon striped ribbon candy and Brach’s Royal  candies that sparkled in the candy dish; lighting the angel chime canErika Stereo (002)dles before every dinner; and my delight in putting out the Nativity scene on top of the console stereo while singing along with Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Christmas records.

I remember sitting  at the kitchen counter on the gold upholstered barstool coloring in my Santa and Friends coloring book or cutting snowflakes while Christmas carols were sung by Lawrence Welk as Mom cooked dinner. I remember sitting by the fire cracking mixed nuts with Dad. I have a treasured collection of Snoopy Christmas ornaments for every year of my life since they started making them. It is an entertaining walk down memory lane as I hang the 40 some ornaments on the tree each year. I remember every red or green or red and green velvet Christmas dress and the ordeal my Mom went through in sewing or later buying them for me. I knew I was grown up when I finally got to wear black velvet on Christmas Eve and I still feel that way to this day!

My dogs  were always a source of Christmas calamity and hilarity – from eating the pre-lit Christmas tree to getting more gifts from my co-workers one year than I did!


Looking back, I long for what now seems like such a simple but wonderful way of celebrating the holidays. I long for my childhood wonder and acceptance of the way we did things, because that is how we did things. I don’t recall my parents being as stressed out around the holidays as we allow ourselves to become today.

These days we have become a very expectant society when it comes to celebrating the holiday’s. Social media posts of families gathering to beam at the camera remind us that this is a happy time of year; of dressed up snowmen in front yards reminding us of how old we have gotten; of sumptuous recipe after recipe appearing in our friend’s Pinterest lineups making our Pillsbury sugar cookies, green bean casserole, and sage stuffing look positively blah; of group shopping parties and kitchens a bustle with cookie baking fests.

Advertisements tell us we are going to “Win the holiday” by patronizing such and such retailer; “You got this!” they exclaim as a family stands back and admires perfection personified in Christmas lights. Who doesn’t want to “win the holiday” but in reality, who can?  For the longest time, I tried but I always ended up feeling defeated and depleted.

All these images of happy traditions have a way of coloring our own expectations of happiness around the holidays. It is indeed a wonderful time of year in which we focus on making and spreading joy, a time I cherish and look forward to. But I have also experienced the emptiness inside after too much money is spent, all the presents are given, and life just goes on the next day. I have felt my heart break when my high expectations of the perfect family gathering go up in the smoke of a blazing argument or are dampened by the stress of over-extending and over-committing my life to every activity that comes my way. I have felt the cold sting of loneliness at a time when love sparkles in the lives of all those around me. I have felt the let down when my own celebrations don’t measure up to the grand gatherings of friends and acquaintances.

These are the dual realities of the holidays that approach. A time when both joy and sadness, quiet and commotion compete for a presence in our lives. My own experiences with both the light and dark aspects of the holidays have heightened my emotional sensitivities and my empathy for others who struggle at his time of year.

Perhaps that is the truth God wanted me to see after all the years I spent wrapped up in the busy-ness of the season. The true joys of the season are not found under trees or in shopping carts or even along glowing roof-lines. In this joy-filled yet broken world filled with traditions and terror, caring and competition, winning and whining, the joy we seek can only be found in our hearts and the hearts of others. When we share God’s light and love with those of every walk we encounter, be it the hungry at the shelter or the stressed out Mom in line behind us, that is where we find joy. When you hold the door to the post office open for a package laden distressed style maven and they sputter their surprised gratefulness, that is joy. When your landlord offers to pay half your heat bill out of the blue for the months of December and January, that is joy multiplied.  By releasing ourselves from celebration expectations we can find joy in actively and expectantly waiting for the One who is coming whose true light will shine in the darkness and bring peace to our hearts.

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


Courtesy: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



The Sixth Day of Advent


Courtesy : Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

So much peace of mind has come my way while reflecting on these words. I remember the summer I moved to Whitefish I spent weeks searching my soul and trying to divine my future, seeking out God’s will and trying to do what I thought best when it came to turning my settled life on the Eastern Montana plains upside down and heading west to climb mountains and live in paradise. I endured numerous sleepless nights filled with prayer, took countless contemplative walks trying to discern the right course to follow, and queried those I trusted for objective reason in the direction I was taking my life. Finally feeling strong and sure enough in what I was doing I took the leap that had at the time seemed so right, so bold, and so full of faith.

I accepted a job offer and stepped out of the safety nest I had known  for my entire adult life and…..  then I found the bottom of my boldness. I felt like I was choking and my world was spinning out of control. Somehow the decision I made was causing everything in my life to cloud over and I could not understand why. And then the road blocks came. 

The path I had been following in faith suddenly dealt me twists and turns I wasn’t ready for. Instead of feeling excitement for the adventure that lay ahead I felt exhaustion, even dread at what would come next. I was consumed with confusion over the conflicting feelings I was experiencing. Why was this happening? Why was I feeling so anxious and uncertain and why couldn’t I find solace anywhere? It seemed I would be damned if I stayed the course and even more damned if I didn’t. I couldn’t find a place to live. The finances that seemed so clear before weren’t penciling out. I started doubting the strength of the relationship I was moving to grow and my own personal strength.

And then, much faster than it took for the door to my new life to open before me, it slammed shut. Meanwhile, the wonderful happy life I had come to know and take for granted  now seemed to collapse in and smother me.

The utter despair that comes when you think you have life all lined up only to have those nicely laid plans blown away  left me coasting without direction and feeling powerless. I felt I had not only let myself down but those who supported me and cheered me on. I despaired that by somehow not trusting blindly in my faith that everything would turn out alright I had failed in fear. I let fear take away the opportunity to soar as God intended me to. I had disappointed not only my friends and family but God, for not stepping out in faith and taking a risk because of something inside that was telling me to stop what I was doing and stay in place.

It was a feeling I had never felt before. Not only lost but hopeless. I felt trapped by something I did not understand because I could not hear what my mind and my heart were telling me over the din of what I thought I should be doing in my desire to live boldly.

I was lost in this hopeless state of mind until I realized that a state of harmony was revealing itself to my head and heart. Indeed it was a sense of certainty very much unlike the incongruous state I was in as I endeavored to divine my future. I realized that the pain and sadness I initially felt over MY plans not coming to fruition were turning into peace.

“And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

 I accepted that the difficult road I was on was the one God wanted me to take in order that I would have a deeper understanding of who I am and what I needed on this journey of life. Most importantly, I knew that without Him I was nothing and with Him I could do anything that was His will.

2 months later, I ended up following through on my grand adventure. The road blocks that were in my way initially had some construction work done on them and ceased to be a problem. The job offer was extended to me again, a higher salary was negotiated, and I found a wonderful place to live!

I stepped out boldly in faith and haven’t stopped climbing mountains since. I am no longer afraid. I have peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Third Day of Advent


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.

A Reformation, of Sorts…

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Philippians 3: 12-14


In the Autumn of Life

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

Ecclesiastes 3:1


Crowning Glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My family on my moving away day. 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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