It has been six very long and very short years since I last heard Dad say my name. After the longest, fastest drive of my life across this great big state that held his heart, he knew, for a moment at least, that I had made it home. And with that his journey home began.
I will never forget the sound of his voice when I walked into the austere hospital room where he lay – at the edge of life. It jarred me so. It was not the voice I wanted to remember Dad by. But that aural memory of my father that I want to hold on to oh so badly – is slipping away into the ocean of noise created by THIS world.
And yet the things I do remember – I hold so dear – like the bit of scruff on his cheeks brushing mine and that all-encompassing hug. He could hug the high desert Wyoming cold right of me.
There are times now I know he is doing the same – hugging this cold hard world right out of me – and reminding me that no matter my present state – I am Neil and Evelyn’s daughter and I am loved.
Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t usually celebrate my birthday. I’m not one for parties and am uncomfortable being feted. It’s just me and the dog at home and the best part about that is every day is a birthday party for him!!! I’m his end all and be all unless he spots a squirrel. He is a good reminder that I matter when the days and nights all blur together into a dense fog. And so, as the day dawned – I gave thanks for waking up yet again and went about my day. I worked out, walked the dog, shoveled snow – yet again – and raced to work and worked all day straight through. I did not feel celebratory at all but others did and they remembered me and I am humbled by their blessings of words and gifts of love.
Those mighty words remind me how blessed I am to have crossed paths with, done the good and hard parts of life with, and made it through every day with some really wonderful people! No wonder it is hard to believe I am 52 – time flies when you are in the company of good friends and loving family.
My 51st year was a transformational one for me in mind, body – especially body- and spirit. I feel 10 years younger than I did at this time last year – thanks to a wonderful surgeon and the support of a great PT and love from friends and family seeing me through a major life event!! I feel so much freer now – free from pain and free from so many oppressive, life and light suppressing thoughts. I did the hard work – physically and mentally – for the last year to get to this point. What started out as one of my most miserable years – in recent history at least – ended with fun and a peace in my heart I have honestly never known.
I have to admit to being a bit teary eyed as I went to bed last night. But then, no one who knows me well is surprised by that!! I was thinking about all that transpired in this last year and how much has changed inside of me. It is daunting and exciting to think about what could be next! Year 52 – I am ready for you!!!
What a journey we are ALL on. Never knowing what tomorrow will bring – but still keeping on – knowing that we share the journey – each one uniquely our own – and yet traveling as one under this great big sky and God of ours! Life isn’t easy but it is so worthwhile! Every day is a new opportunity to launch anew, breathe in a fresh start, let go, and to be and to receive a blessing or two. So, here’s to another 18,980 days to do just that!!! I hope you will join me!
“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divining, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
I have certainly endured my share of sadness in the last 6 years – but – as Rilke so exquisitely writes – in those same moments – something new was taking form within me. Who I am now was watered by my tears. On my journey, I became strong. I have grown into life with a greater certainty of my God and who I am. And oh what joy this brings.
“People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre’ Gide
In the waning hours of 2021, I could not have fathomed what awaited me in the year to come. I was so caught up in myself and giving my life over to pain that I could not see much past tomorrow. I could not imagine that the words of a stranger but fellow sufferer would bolster me on a journey that would change my life and change my way of being in the world.
“Right now, your pain has no purpose and will only get worse.
After surgery, your pain will have purpose and you’ll only get better.”
Those words were shared with me in a Facebook support group by a fellow runner and now fellow hippie-sis just a few days before I became bionic and was having second thoughts and way too much fear for the seeming unknown.
While her words were meant to encourage me as I faced down total hip replacement surgery – they rang true for the place in life I had been residing since my annulment and the back-to-back deaths of my parents. For 6 years I had been living in physical pain – popping enough Advil to earn me a blood transfusion but it was my mental anguish that kept me running – running through life and running away from life. I was lost; I was heartbroken; and I had failed in life – in a spectacular way. I couldn’t face myself because I didn’t know who I was anymore -beyond the pain and beyond my failures.
As 2022 dawned I was resigned to more of the same until one day in February I could not walk. My right hip had had enough of me pushing through. I went to my physical therapist who worked me over and got me walking again but something inside me knew this was a turning point. When I finally got in to see an orthopedist and heard the words “never run again and hip replacement” and left with a prescription for Oxycodone (which I never filled) I felt like the earth had stopped but I was still spinning away.
I spent a few weeks on the DeNile River in the Land of Woe but it got me nowhere. My pain – physical and mental- served no purpose and the longer I let it control my life it would only get worse.
It was then that I started to catch glimpses of my former self – the one who could do hard things – who had lived through hard things before – even faced down death. The fighter who smiled and laughed and knew joy and had purpose. Where had she gone?
I decided to find her and embarked on what would be a significant year-long transformation.
With a surgery date on the calendar – I began a training regimen with my physical therapist. I was determined to go into the surgery strong so I would come out strong. This gave me purpose. I am a determined woman. Occasionally my determination is mis-guided – but not this time. I succeeded!
As my strength came back, I was determined to find – not my former self again – but who she became and can still be.
It was hell.
Thank goodness part of my recovery plan was walking because I took a lot of long soul-searching walks and spent time doing some serious internal excavation – digging up long rooted and now rotted ideas of myself and replacing them with good soil in which healthier ideas and ways of being can grow.
We don’t always end up where we intended in life. Long before reaching our final destination, life happens, and we are forced to change course. My naive college vision board at 18 and the “seasoned” 26-year-old me’s long-range plans seem foreign to me now. I’ve always admired those who had a dream at a young age, made it happen and then kept realizing it and living it. In truth, that happens to only a very lucky few.
A BBC article discussing the topic of identity says that some people “struggle to imagine their future self as a continuation of the person they are today… It’s almost as if they see their future self as a separate person that has little connection to their present identity.”
While I struggle with seeing my future life as a continuation of today or seeing it at all for that matter –given how this year unfolded – I don’t see that as a negative thing and I certainly don’t envision myself being a stranger to who I am today. On the contrary, it is because my future seems – at least right now – “unrevealed” – that gives me hope and something to look forward to discovering!
But creating a vision for the second half of life is not as easy as it would seem.
The questions of “Who am I” “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, and “How am I going to get there?” have leveled up a critical notch to Who have I become?” and “What have I done with my life?’ and “What do I do now?”
When the future was a long way away, the answers seemed so easy. Heck, we could be anything we wanted anywhere we wanted (for the most part.) Dream away! But when we have less of a future ahead of us than we have behind us, there is far more at stake – or so we tell ourselves. Having lost a dear friend to cancer this year – who had so much life ahead of her and had lived her life so fully – really made me stop and think about those questions again.
“Who have I become?” “What have I done with my life?’ “What do I do now?”
But here’s the thing that brings me so much joy on the cusp of a new year. I am actually excited by these questions again!!
That I have been given the opportunity to make a course correction and say yes to life is positively thrilling and a bit daunting.
As I close this annual tradition of reflection and evaluation of where life has brought me and who and how I want to be, I am grateful for those purposeful words of encouragement that helped me accept the challenge before me, make the most of.it and emerge better for it!
I am grateful for the doctors who made my walking, hiking and yes even running again possible. I am grateful for my family and dear friends who walked with me in every sense of the word.
As this “unfathomable year” draws to a close I can honestly say I am so much better because of it! I feel wonderful, healthy, and strong. I feel like Erika again!
I am at peace with life – my life. That is so freeing!
I am finding awe in the present and joy in sharing life with others, in place of pain, regret, and darkness – my old friends. .
Having said that, I am so thankful for the journey that has brought me here today – to who I am! In the journey, I became strong.
There is much to look forward to. What that is – who knows? But I am ready to meet tomorrow with open arms, a smile, a skip in my step, and a warm embrace.
“People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre’ Gide
It’s been 10 years since I celebrated Christmas with my family. I had no idea that December 24th and 25th of 2012 would be our last Christmas together but I remember it as one of our best. There were the usual ruffled feathers over Christmas decorating and getting to church on time for the multiple candlelight services we helped with and of course – the very quick supper of Swedish meatballs and potatoes. That was a step up from our supper the year before – when we slurped Campbells New England Clam Chowder with a can of potato soup added to make it “a little more special” before dashing off to church. I intentionally use the word “supper” as dinner would falsely elevate the nature of our Christmas “feasts.”
Once home for the night, I played Christmas carols on the piano for my dad as we awaited my brother Fred and his wife Kathie’s arrival and my mom to finally come down from her last-minute Christmas efforts to join us around the tree. The peanut brittle and nuts, eggnog and hot cocoa were ready to see us through a Christmas Eve that would last until the wee hours of the morning. Long past our dog Tucker’s bedtime – but even he managed to stay alert for anything that just might taste good.
Most of my family Christmas’s had a – let me just say – high emotional content – sometimes hair-trigger level – but not that last one. For once, there was nothing but warmth and love and even laughter. I will treasure that last family Christmas forever.
I’ve had a decade of Christmases since: Christmases spent with an Irish Catholic family three times the size of mine (something I had always dreamed of after watching too many Hallmark Christmas movies), Christmases spent pining for home when I couldn’t get home, Christmases spent with dear friends and their extended families, a first Christmas without Mom followed by a first Christmas without Dad but with a new puppy, a newly-wed Christmas followed by a newly-annulled Christmas, a COVID solitary Christmas, a Christmas spent hiking to a mountain lake by myself, Christmas’s spent with special cousins, and finally this Christmas.
This is the first Christmas I have spent in the present! No, not hiding in a miraculously wrapped package under the tree- but in the here and wonderful now!
The past few years I have lived in the foregone certainty of my past while running through and from my life. The past, you see, really was an idyllic setting. Time and distance do wonders for the past. It’s amazing how good it looks and feels with age! It was a time and place that didn’t know immense grief, betrayal, and most of all constant pain. A place where I had control of life – before things went haywire.
I spent most of the summer recovering from surgery and learning to walk again. As I think about it now, I was also learning how to live again. Being forced to rest and “deal” with my life rather than running through and from it, finally put me on a positive path. I have a whole new appreciation for who I am, and who I can be. I spent time examining my failures and made peace with them. They will no longer control the direction of my life. Period!
That my life isn’t what it used to be or how I had once imagined it would be or what I or what others think (or I think that they think) it should be – makes it no less worthy of living and no less worthy of joy!
This is the first Christmas I am looking back on all those Christmases past filled – not with sadness and melancholy – but with joy and gratitude and awe. Joy for the love planted and still grows within me, gratitude for the good, sad, hard, and lonely times that shaped me, and awe at this ever-surprising gift of life we get to journey through. This is the first Christmas I feel truly content – at peace with who I am and how life is and how I am celebrating the birth of the Light that has always lived in me – shining through it all.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. I am living proof!
May the light of Christ shine as brightly in your life as it is mine – that is my Christmas prayer for you. And a reminder to cherish every moment of life.
I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come?
So begins the Song of Ascents, Psalm 121, and a question that may be familiar to you – or not. Surely, you have looked to the horizon in search of answers at some point in your life.
I have been asked to include this Psalm in funeral services I have presided over and people of the Jewish and Christian faith often read it at the beginning of a variety of journeys – as a form of assurance in the face of uncertainty, grief, longing, and anxiety that come on the road of life. It is often found framed in the delivery rooms of Jewish hospitals where newborns begin the daunting journey of life. In times of economic and political instability when we all want to make a run for the hills – perhaps it would suit us better to take a deep breath and dwell on these words.
From my dining room window, I can lift my eyes upon Columbia Mountain and gaze for hours and ask that very question- ‘From where will my help come?”
Just four short months ago I was doing just that – along with the questions: Just how long is it going to be; what is going to happen to me; what if this isn’t the right choice? What if things don’t go as planned? What if something goes wrong? What if I am not as strong as I need to be? What if I am not who I think I am? What if You, God, are not who I believe you are? Yes, even THAT question!
At the time, I was preparing for a significant “life-event” you might call it. Total Hip Replacement. Just saying the words seemed so unreal. I was too young for that sort of thing! I didn’t have room in my life for that kind of disruption! While I was thankful I could prepare for the surgery rather than have it suddenly forced upon me, the whole process raised significant questions, unsettledness, and apprehension within me. For someone who boldly professed her conviction in the things unseen and her hope for things to come – the state of unknowingness I found myself in had me completely untethered. My life felt suspended and I wondered if I would ever feel grounded again. Uncertainty reigned within me – me, the consummate control freak.
What if the things to come are not what I intended? (As if we have any control over that!) What if my choice was wrong? What if this changed me – what if I changed – CHANGED (gasp!!) forever?
Such questions are natural — whether one is contemplating a geographic journey through dangerous territory, a journey through the many ups and downs of a lifetime, or a spiritual journey seeking one’s true self and/or a reunion with God.
It’s dangerous out there – outside of our well protected selves. It can be dangerous within our overly protected selves too! Disease, injury, accidents, war, or illness threaten our bodies. Natural disasters, recessions, depressions, unemployment, outsourcing, downsizing, insolvency, debt, and theft rock our foundations. Doubt, sin, evil, corruption, fundamentalism, extremism, and outright untruths vie for our allegiance.
The big what ifs that accompany so much of life – what do we do with questions like that? What do we do amid the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty???
The rest of the Psalm provides the answer – if we are so inclined not to just listen but also hear.
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Not from escaping to the mountains and hiking away my troubles and anxieties as I so frequently do. In the weeks following my surgery – weeks that seemed like eons – I could only dream of hiking in the hills, forests and mountains again – but I rested in the arms of their Creator and help did come. The metaphoric mountains of life by their very existence bear witness to the hand of our Creator. It is often in the steepest of climbs and darkest of valleys – our most challenging times – that we grasp for a higher power and His existence is revealed.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
As I slowly gained my freedom I was met with new anxieties – what if I fall, will my strength ever come back, will I ever sleep again? I stumbled and I fell – figuratively and literally. As my life began to return to “normal,” I found myself repeating old habits that I had eschewed in light of my diagnosis and prescribed remedy. But I was able to overcome them and step forward in new directions. Revealing again that God is a keeper. God protects, shields, watches over, guards, and keeps like a Watchman keeping guard over a city or a bird shielding its young in the shelter of Her wings.
God kept watch over me when I wasn’t watching out for myself. I remember one evening midway through my recovery when I realized I had pushed my limits too far and walked much further than I should have. I was starting to panic as my legs got weak and I was 2.5 miles from home. Of course, I would not call for help – but as if on cue to my prayers of consternation – a friend pulled up beside me on the road and said “Hey there – you look a little tired. Want a ride?“
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
These words of promise by no means imply that those who walk in the shelter of God will not face harm or that nothing ill will come their way. On the contrary, the writer knows all too well the nature of this world we live in is not for the faint of heart – that we will meet with opposition and evil – not at every turn – but enough for us to grow weary and wary.
If my faith were as certain as my hindsight – I would have no trouble in life. But I’ve lived enough and long enough to know that the very essence of this life is why I/we need this psalm – these words of promise – to get us through the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty.
Since my surgery four “short” months ago, I have returned to the mountains with a passion and with a new appreciation for the mountains of life. Not only have I successfully and blissfully crossed physical boundary lines, but I have let go of a few mental ones too.
My fear of falling and failing that has held me back since my surgery and, quite honestly, throughout my life, has started to diminish and been replaced by a sense of freedom and confidence even amid the uncertainty of life.
I am who I am – not just who I think I am.
I am strong – by a standard much different than my idea of strength.
And, I am assured, not by what God promises to do but what God does. What God does for those who rely on Him when life turns upside down and your light is turned to dark, when the journey ahead is not the one you mapped out, when nothing makes sense in the moment, when uncertainty reigns within you.
God guards you as you go on your journey of life and as you return home. As you go out and come in. As you face the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty forevermore.
I had no idea it took so much energy to post something coherent!!
Alas, here I am at the close of day 6 since my hip replacement surgery. Since then, I have had some good moments and some awfully bad eons (not a typo) but the good ones are definitely starting to outweigh the bad. Mind you, those good ones seem to be quickly followed by a bad one just to keep everything – especially me – in check.
My body is a fighter. That’s a good thing! But it likes to fight with me when I need it to fight for me. I have learned I do not tolerate opioids well – and that is a very good thing! I do not see how anyone could become addicted to them given my experience with them. My physical aversion to them has also made for long days and longer nights trying to adjust to and then come off of them because of the side effects.
I have never slept so much or been so sleepless in my life than in the past 6 days. I have longed to read my book, the back of a cereal box, the latest political junk – anything – but have not been able to focus my eyes. I have fallen asleep in the middle of texting people… it is so frustrating. My patience for being a patient is wearing thin.
Whoever said hip replacement was a piece of cake has never had one or was far more drugged up than I have been. I had such BIG plans, I tell you! I was going to get so much “trivial” stuff done around the house! How naïve of me.
I did have a good report from my wonderful physical therapist who came for a home visit yesterday. She was super impressed by my range of motion – I can march in place!! I can lift my heels for 30 seconds!! I can hold my leg in the air!!
Ember was incredibly helpful during our session – insisting on helping her massage the swelling out of my IT band and providing resistance on my leg lifts. He then proceeded to roll on his back alongside me and attempt to get a tummy rub out of it. He makes a fine nurse.
My long afternoons – when the depression hits and the day just won’t end and I feel lonely and washed up and like I will never ever be the same – have been lifted by my dear friend Wendy who has gone out of her way to walk with me every day since Sunday, bring me fresh eggs and dinner, and keep me company. I am overwhelmed by the meals from friends delivered with love, and flowers that have brightened the inside of my house and me. I am so grateful for the errands ran and phone calls and texts from Jann, and the check-in calls with medical advice and understanding from Misty, and the rounds of encouragement from all of you.
I am blessed and technically stronger than before – so not the same – just not yet better. Getting there though! One moment at a time!
It dawned on me this morning – May 31st – that 28 years ago today I was stepping off a plane in Phoenix, AZ en route to my first steps of new life. It is not lost to me how incredible that is – given my parents were told there wasn’t much hope for me. Prior to that I spent 6 months in the hospital. I should have died. Who survives at 45 pounds after 3 cardiac arrests? I was literally a case study.
Well, I did survive and showed the world how tough and stubborn I am and what an amazing God we have.
Tomorrow I will have to learn how to walk – again – with a new perspective. I am ready. I am strong. I am willful, stubborn, and I am committed to honoring the body I have. God’s creation is going to run again. Stronger than ever.
The fastest race we will ever run is the race of life. Our time is fleeting, the most important facets of life become mere flickers of memory as days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. And yet what do we have to show for it? Certainly not a trophy – this race isn’t winnable and yet we keep running it – chasing after the prize just beyond our reach. Certain that with every mile of must do’s, every mile of minutiae, every mile of saying yes – we will garner a prized position on the roster of life. When in truth, in the end, all that is left is the etching of our name and the numerical bookends of our life onto a slate grey stone. Some trophy.
With those enlivening words, I bid you a Happy New Year! As I glance over my shoulder at the year that is now 2 and half weeks in the past, I keep asking myself, wait, what happened to 2021? How is it that another year has passed? How did I manage to run through that year so fast? And how is it that I have run through fifty such turnings of a year?
Actually, I didn’t run all that much. In fact, 2021 taught me that while I may have miraculously made it to 50, I am not invincible. One would think I would only have to learn that lesson once, but alas, 2021 also revealed a hint of obstinance within me. 2021 will go down in my book as the year that knocked me off my feet – more times than I care to count and instead of getting right back up and finishing the race, this time I was forced to limp to the sidelines – if you will allow me to continue the race of life metaphor. Turning 50 reminded me I likely have more years behind me than I do ahead; precious time I do not have to take for granted.
If 2021 had been my bookend year, how would it be remembered? Well, on the bright side, those nefarious maladies forced me to slow down and re-examine the course I have been running for longer than I can remember and instilled in me a hunger for life – real life – not the “settled for instead” life I have for too long allowed to dominate my existence.
Such wisdom only comes with the walk, and I have walked more than ran many miles this year. As I reflect on the year that was and the year to come, I realize I spent most of 2021 reacting to my circumstances instead of navigating them. After the initial shock to my system brought on by relationship upheaval, the pandemic, sudden injury, and illness subsided, instead of thinking about what these instances might be telling me I began figuring out how I was going to keep on doing life like I have always done it – racing through it and avoiding obstacles that might slow me down. Which is how I arrived at the beginning of the New Year feeling ragged rather than refreshed, resigned rather than renewed. How indeed does one satisfy that hunger for really living life instead of enduring the settled for life?
To run a race and finish well you have to be intentional with your training and intentional with your run during the race. Cognizant of those around you and any obstacles you might encounter, in touch with how your body is performing the tasks you are asking it to do, and keeping your focus not just on the finish line but on every step you take – lest you trip on a rock or stumble on a pothole- which I am infamous for!
The race of life is no different. It must be run with intention if you want to finish well and not just settle for having run it.
Living intentionally is not easy especially when faced with the unpredictable, impermanent, and unknowingness of life. We have to be intentional when living in sustained uncertainty, living without knowing, embracing the mystery, and keeping the possibilities that arise from this state of ambiguity open. I don’t rest well with uncertainty as this time of pandemic has so graciously revealed. Rather, this state of uncertainty impels me to rush with urgency toward an answer – any answer. A life of restlessness is not what I am after, after all, but my ways of relieving that restlessness have simply prolonged it.
Too often, in my quest for a reason for being I have let others define it – or worse – accept what I think others want to define as my reason for being.
Too often, my reason for being is simply a daily reaction to what is happening around me or a rush to get somewhere. I settle into the complacent comfort of taking each day as it comes rather than shaping each day for what it could be. Too often of late when contemplating what tomorrow will bring or what I want my future – even just a year from now – to hold – I find myself responding with “I just don’t know. I just don’t know anymore. “
In the end, my urgency to define my life has instead only confined it. I’ve settled for not knowing – and as time has worn me out – not caring – or living as if I don’t. And this is not how I want to be – and I don’t think how any of you want to be in this world either. I know God doesn’t want that for me or you.
But, here’s the thing, none of us truly know what our future holds. There is nothing guaranteed about tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. The last two years have made this irritatingly clear. No wonder my ponderings of late didn’t get me anywhere. No wonder they all end the same way. No wonder I don’t know. None of us know our destination until we arrive – and sometimes we don’t even realize we HAVE arrived!
To live with intention and to live intentionally in this ever-present state of uncertainty requires a compass and the patience to use one in the urgency of life. A compass requires you to be still in order to orient yourself to the direction you want to go. A compass that embodies all the points that provide meaning and direction to life. A compass provides the way.
Emily Dickinson wrote: “The sailor cannot see the North, but knows the needle can.”
Martin Luther wrote: “I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my guide.”
By what means are you orienting your life for living rather than settling in?
Who or what is the compass that will lead you through all the unknowns of 2022 and beyond?
What are the values and qualities that will direct and guide your life;
Whose advice and counsel will you seek and trust;
To what principles and standards will you hold yourself accountable;
What tenets will help you put shape and form to your life;
What deep longings or callings will energize and move you forward;
By what practices will you maintain your integrity and authenticity?
And where will you find the stillness and solitude to quiet your mind and orient yourself along these points of life direction?
These are the questions I have tasked myself to ponder at the start of this new year and in this present stillness of my life. I can’t tell you where my life is going but by truly reflecting on what matters most – my compass points – I can trust the way.
What about you? By what way do you want to go? What are your intentions for the race you are running? Go and find stillness – welcome it into your life and finish the race well.
“This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.” – Martin Luther
As my 50th Thanksgiving dawns and the second, in my life at least, amid a pandemic, I find myself in a very reflective mood. Ah ha! Did I just catch you counting back in your mind to when this all started and how many months have passed?? I had to double-check the dates myself after I wrote that as it seems to me like it should be our third or fourth… but I digress.
Last year at this time, as the initial pandemic panic and ensuing lockdowns subsided, I was preparing for a long wintery drive home to Billings to spend the holiday with my family. The drive was intense in both directions – but just as intense was the need to be with my brother and his wife again. Isolation was getting to me, and family roots were the only thing that felt grounded as the rest of our lives had become one big question mark. This year I am staying home in the Flathead – opting to avoid the bad roads that have plagued every Thanksgiving trip to Billings since time immemorial. The urgency to be together has subsided – a bit – thanks to a couple of trips home this summer and more in-person contact with the human race as a whole has returned. Perhaps it is also a sign of lightening hearts – even as the pandemic continues to impact lives all around us – we have confidence in tomorrow.
I have been very busy of late – all of which I am thankful for – and I am looking forward to the pause Thanksgiving will bring this year. I feel very grateful for that privilege. I know that others will not have that same luxury.
It is curious that this “very busy” state of mine was actually the norm that used to be my life before the pandemic brought most everything to a halt. Now, I find myself being much more selective in what I introduce “back” into my life. Yes, I still tend to overcommit, but I am finding it easier to say no to some things that will distract from, or diminish my involvement in, performance of, and/or commitment to the activities and obligations I have already said yes to.
If any good has come of this awful virus invading our lives, perhaps it is the recognition that none of us are superhuman, and time spent in solitude, contemplation, and rest – is never a bad thing; that less is almost always plenty; and balance is truly beautiful.
But about this busyness – I don’t think I am just speaking for myself here – it seems the world around me is suddenly very busy again – almost frenetic, and I sense an unsettling tension setting in. A quote from a book I read a few years ago, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown resonates with me here as I consider the current state of our collective being: “Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”
There seems to be an urge to acquire and be and do things at an intensity I haven’t recognized before, just as the acquiring of things has suddenly grown more difficult due to “supply chain” issues and human shortages. At the same time, after so much isolation – yes- even here in Montana (ironically in order to protect one another) I think the collective “we” has forgotten how to be together. The media and our representatives in government have done a wonderful job of dividing rather than uniting us under the guise of freedom.
Our default has been reset to interpret events in a self-centered manner, expecting that the actions of others align with our own narrow interests. How often do we genuinely try to look at the world from ‘someone else’s shoes’ anymore? Do we make an honest attempt to empathize and understand things from their unique point of view? Instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, can we be earnest in our attempt to give our transgressors an empathic interpretation of events?
I must confess that a trip to the grocery store, a scroll through social media, a passing read of the local paper’s op-ed section, or even visiting the various community “help and info” media pages now require me to put my judgmentalism in check. Our collective sense of what freedom means seems to be highly diversified.
As the late writer David Foster Wallace reminds us in his iconic commencement speech This is Water, we always have the freedom of choosing alternative ways of making meaning from events. This requires us to cultivate self-awareness and the capacity to think critically and question our automatic judgments. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. …The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.” (emphasis added)
One recent morning as the sun slowly made its way up and over Columbia Mountain, I spent some precious time contemplating the journey I have been on and thanking God for the life He has blessed me with. What an unexpected life!! It has not been an easy wander through the years, but one that has been filled with experiences I would not trade for anything – including the past 18 months. In retrospect, my life has meaning as a direct result of my search for meaning along the way – I am grateful for the freedom to pursue it.
I am grateful for my parents who gave me life 50 years ago and loved me through 47 more. They raised me with a faith that has been my beacon throughout life – even when I have been terribly lost. They raised me to be hopeful and have courage by letting me experience disappointment, deal with conflict, and learn how to assert myself. They gave me plenty of opportunities to fail and encouraged me to succeed. They listened to my angst, sometimes sided with my critics, and assured me that they never stopped loving me, no matter what. In the end, being loved and knowing how to love is all that matters anyway. I thank God for my big brother and best friend back home, who has loved me through it all even when I was his biggest bother!
I am thankful that my parents had the foresight to add dogs to our family. I have known the unconditional love of a dog for most of my life and am blessed to share my life with the joyful energy of my Brittany Ember now, number six in the Morck family line of the greatest dogs on earth.
25 years ago, God gave me a second chance at life. I thank God for the skilled minds and dedicated and compassionate hearts found in Dr’s. Merchant and Hemmer, and their incredible staff in the ICU wing of the Billings Clinic. They kept fighting for my life when I could not. I thank God for Remuda Ranch, where I found a new way of living and reason for being. I would not be here today were it not for any one of these individuals. I am thankful God turns death into life – and that I am living proof of this!
I thank God for my church family in Billings that remains steadfast in my life even after being away for 8 years. It was there, in their presence, I came to truly know for myself God’s grace, abiding love, and steadying guidance. Not just through the Word as preached but through the deep friendships I formed with those who gathered with me. It was there that I realized that God truly had a purpose for me. Through their confidence in me, I realized I could lead. Through their acts of love and acceptance, I found a place of welcome and peace.
I thank God for my church family here in the Flathead, who embraced this fledgling lay pastor as I learned how to preach and minister with grace. Without their encouragement I’m not sure I would be continuing in God’s calling on my life. I thank God for standing with me in challenging times. The heartbreaks, losses, and joys I have experienced have made me more authentic and more empathic in sharing the Good News and God’s grace upon grace.
I am thankful for this northwest adventure I embarked on 8 years ago – changing the course of my life, leading me to discover a challenging and fulfilling career I have come to love, and allowing me to work with exceptional people who are more like family than colleagues and yet incredibly professional and passionate about what they do.
I thank God, for every smile that has greeted me and warmed my heart – even more so these days.
I thank God for friendships that cross the miles, for friends that have walked this journey with me, sometimes walking beside me and lending an empathetic ear, sometimes walking behind me pushing me forward through my doubts and fears, sometimes walking in front of me and inspiring me to keep going and growing. I am blessed to know some of the bravest, smartest, most inspired and humble people on earth.
I thank God for new friends in new places, that bring shared joys, fresh perspectives, common conundrums, and a sense of belonging that cures a homesick heart.
I thank God for the wonderful gift of music he has flavored my life with. A gift that provides solace and joy to my weary and wild heart.
I thank God for His majestic mountains and vast open prairies that speak to my soul and call me by name. There I find tranquility and know no boundaries. I am grateful for this Last Best Place I call home.
I thank God, for every tomorrow and the opportunity to start anew each day. His grace is amazing and knows no end.
Wishing you a Thanksgiving rich with the love of family and friends and abundant light in your heart. Give thanks for this beautiful and broken world we share and remember that it is in darkness when your light and the light of others shine the brightest. Share yours today.