A Different Christmas

“God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”
~ 1 John 1:5

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Christmas Eve 2015. I sat by my window in my lonely LOG (loft over garage) watching the snow continue to fall, as it had for days and days. Its pristine beauty and sound softening aesthetics belied the frustration it brought to my spirit. Winter had lain claim to my plans for a Christmas trip home to be with my family for the holiday for the first time in three years. And last year more than any, I needed to embrace the warmth, understanding, and love of my family. To be with my mother and father who had had a difficult year and a brother and sister in-law whom I had not seen enough of in 2.5 years.

For sure, it would not be a traditional Christmas for my family even if I had made it home. My mother, who was seriously ill and hospitalized in a state of confusion and despair would be our point of gathering – we would not be going to Christmas Eve candle-light services before looking at Christmas lights and gathering around a brightly lit Christmas tree at the hearth of our home to open presents, share stories and eat peanut brittle.

I too, found myself navigating a new chapter of my life, quite alone and feeling quite broken.  For sure, my heart was not filled with the joy of recent years. There were no stockings hung in my LOG, no gifts under a tree – I was supposed to be in Billings- and Christmas carols were making me cry. Sadly, I was not alone. Around me a marriage had crumbled, trusts were broken, another’s child sat in jail, suicide had claimed a family’s idea of forever, and others treasured every moment of what would be a last Christmas with a loved one.

The world around me felt distraught – plunged into a darkness where even acts of charity were questioned for their ultimate goal. Hunger, strife, terror, desolation, and frustration tore at our nation’s unique fabric- once bound together by common beliefs and goals – now seemed to be splintered across a dark abyss.

A year later, not much has changed in the world – some would claim it has become even more divided, darker, even doomed. In this darkness, we try to make do.

Christmas brings to a culmination, our humanly efforts to cast away the darkness in the world – engaging in the wonderful merriment of holiday festivities, attempting more perfect lives for this special time of year until our perfect plans and family gatherings go awry and our high expectations for the holidays go unmet.

And yet, despite our quest for perfection in our holiday celebrations- our desires to reflect the storybook Christmas traditions we have grown to expect and claim as our own – Christmas came to be in the most IMPERFECT WAY.

Imagine Mary’s despair, being fully pregnant and having to travel 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Joseph by donkey for a census of all things! Talk about the best laid pregnancy plans going awry! Of course, once there they find no guest rooms available because everyone is in Bethlehem from afar to be counted. And then as if on a very bad cue, Mary’s labor starts and they find shelter in a stable where she gives birth to our Savior and places Him in a manger. A manger of all things!

In the most imperfect and darkest of circumstances a Savior, my Savior, was born. Is there a subtle message for us in that lowly beginning? Jesus’ birth was certainly different than what I am sure Mary had planned! If there were storybook traditions for birth, Jesus’ certainly didn’t follow one.

I am finding less and less truth in the storybook Christmases I remember “having” as a child and those that I perceive others around me having. Yes, the joy and love that comes alive in the hearts of many this time of year is real but the lives that love and joy manifest in are far from perfect. We grasp on to holiday traditions that we carry over year after year in an effort to reclaim that perfection we remember. Straying from those traditions or losing one here and there brings us heartache – as suddenly the Christmas we are celebrating is different from how it is supposed to be.

The Morck family Christmas traditions have been carried on from year to year – decking the halls, arguments over which halls to be decked, lighting the angel chimes, trimming the tree, presents for the dogs, slammed doors on the way to church, gritted teeth in the pews, peaceful and happy moments by the tree as we open presents late into the night on Christmas Eve – fueled by hot chocolate and peanut brittle as the rest of the world slumbered. But the last three  Christmases in my life have been different. Except for last year when life changed for our family, the Morck family traditions were carried out in Billings without me and I found myself trying new ways to celebrate. It wasn’t easy. Christmas wasn’t perfect. Christmas was different and Christmas was beautiful. Yes, you read that right. Beautiful!

“The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”
~ 1 John 2:815250853_1394939560530638_2397082385538831720_o

You see, despite all our broken traditions, turmoil, and testiness; despite our deemed lack of preparedness and perfection; despite the darkness we are trying to cast away CHRIST, OUR SAVIOR COMES! BECAUSE of our broken traditions, turmoil, and testiness; BECAUSE of our deemed lack of preparedness and perfection; BECAUSE of the darkness we are trying to cast away CHRIST, OUR SAVIOR CAME!

Christ came in the most imperfect way to give us LIGHT! Last year, as I faced Christmas alone, He brought light to me as I was longing for home and the traditions that were missing from my life. I found His light as I sat “alone” in church, listening to the Christmas Eve sermon. But I really wasn’t alone – I only made myself out to be. I was surrounded by people experiencing their own Christmases, some equally as different as mine.  I saw tears glistening on cheeks other than mine. I realized I was sitting with people just like me. Each of us imperfect and each of us a masterpiece, made in His image and given newness in Christ Our Savior’s LIGHT.

Into my very different and dark Christmas, my Lord and Savior shined His light on the people that have crossed my path and made a difference in my life and at once I felt at peace, felt heart aching joy, and I no longer felt alone! Looking back, I realize that my “different” Christmas was the greatest gift I could receive at that difficult time of my life. I had been set free from the chains of tradition that made my heart ache in their absence and found the most beautiful peace in my “different” Christmas. And this year I am making a different Christmas my new tradition.

Christmas will be very different for me and my family this year and I am okay with that. My mother has gone ahead of us to celebrate Jesus’s birth with Him and shine her light in the stars above. Once again, I will find myself away from family but I will not feel or be alone. My life is full of the Light of Christmas and filled with awe inspiring, imperfect people making their way through life and through their own Christmases.

I thank my Lord for each of you, for in some way, my Lord is working through you to impact my life and I pray that in some way, I have been a light in yours. I wish for you the beauty of a different Christmas this year. I pray that you find His peace and His glory, that you feel His presence in your heart, that His power guides you through your journey, and that His love and light shines brightly on you even in the most different of circumstances.

May this Christmas have a special significance for all of us— imperfect people in need of a Savior, who comes to us just as we are in many different ways and walks.

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!

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A Different Christmas Morning – 2015

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

20161109_081044The mind feels a bit foggy, but my thoughts and emotions are clear this morning. A  new day has dawned, just as it did yesterday. I awoke every bit the person I was when I went to sleep last night, but different. You see, with each new day we grow richer in experience – sometimes through  the most mundane of activities and sometimes through historic moments that will influence our character from  that point forward.

The people have spoken. This is liberty. Some will say the outcome of this election is an unbearable price to pay for freedom. Others will rejoice that their voice prevailed and bells extolling freedom will ring triumphantly until we do this all again.   I pray that the best of our character as one nation shines through, and not the worst. We truly are stronger together – a wonderful combination of diversity, kindness, love, and respect.

Congratulations are due to those who sought to lead and those who prevailed. I am betting on America and her great people. This is where her greatness lays – in the hearts and minds, in the courage and convictions, in the acts and aspirations of her wonderfully diverse citizenry. Our differences make us stronger. Opposing thoughts are what make us uniquely human and humanity is at its greatest when it is challenged and when it is free.

Our humanity is not dependent upon the powers of an omnipotent figurehead.   Our humanity depends on the courage of our character – as individuals and in communion with one another.

America has always been an experiment in greatness. The results of that continuous experiment brought us to this day. Let us move forward in grace as we grow in character.

Join me in carrying forth the experiment in greatness and accepting the responsibilities that are inherent of this freedom we all enjoy, no matter who is chosen to  lead us.Don’t run away. Don’t despair. Don’t disparage your neighbor. Rather, let your light shine so brightly that nothing can extinguish the hope and the opportunities for good that meet us with each new day.

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Clearing the Gloom- Rejoicing in Light

But as for me, I will sing about your power.
Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
a place of safety when I am in distress.
~ Psalm 59:16

dscn6501I love Sunday. Especially sunny Sundays after 20 straight days of rain. It is the day each week my strength is restored, my thoughts gain perspective, my heart is filled, and my soul rests, in Him.

Sunday- when my Lord deconstructs the chaos and reconstructs my life.

Escaping life. I don’t desire that anymore. There were times in my life that I looked for that secret door that would take me to a better place, but I look no longer.
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When I turn to my Lord instead of running away, I have the strength to find the good in the moment – even when it seems this moment is all I can see. When I call on Him to shine His light in my life, I can be a light in the lives of others. When I am weak, when I have lost heart, He picks me up and restores my spirit.
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Where do I find Him? Surely in the quiet of morning, even before the light of day springs forth, and certainly in the majesty of the mountains he formed, but my true relationship with my Lord is found and made complete and solidified when I share in His Light, His Love, and His Amazing Grace in the company of others.
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There is no better place than a sanctuary on Sunday mornings followed by God’s grandest sanctuary – his natural world, especially when He has been busy painting.

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Let Your Light So Shine.

How Much More, Lord, How Much More?

20160716_060207“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

How much more, Lord, how much more? It was a question I found myself asking as I said goodbye to my Dad following our nightly phone conversation as I walked away the cares of the day. I had called to tell him about my latest auto-mechanic adventure and the unexpected bill I was facing to replace wheel bearings and rotors. Expecting him to commiserate with me, I was instead stopped dead in my tracks as I heard him wearily exclaim, “well, I think I can top that.” Curious as to why his brand new sizzling red GMC Terrain – the first brand new car he has bought since I was in first grade- would be causing problems- I could not believe the words I heard next. “I wrecked…”

My dear old Dad was finally on his way to Costco to begin the process of getting hearing aids – something my brother and I have been trying to get him to do for years – when in the middle of a lane change on the busiest street in Billings he somehow collided with an unknown number of cars, flipped and rolled his own – landing upside down, surrounded by airbags and trapped. To say I was aghast is an understatement. The fact that he was home and talking to me after the fact is even more startling. After emergency responders cut him from the vehicle he was taken to the ER for treatment of severe cuts and bruises and to be assessed for any damage to his defibrillator that keeps his ticker ticking.

After assuring me he was alright, he said an early good night and I broke down in tears – tears of relief, of emotional exhaustion and absent daughter guilt, and finally tears of defeat because I knew I would never get my Dad to get his hearing checked again. My thoughts then turned to my brother who has borne the weight of the family crises this year much more so than I have. He too must be exhausted – walking through my Mom’s end of life deterioration and death, followed by my Dad’s lymphatic cancer diagnosis and the multiple trips to the hospital this entailed, and now this- getting a call from a police officer while at work informing him that his father was taken to the ER following a serious car wreck – the same wild wreck his colleagues were talking about seeing when they came back from lunch.

How much more, Lord, how much more? If the cliché- ridden statement that the Lord will never give us more than we can bear holds any truth, I am not sure how much more of the Lord’s whims I can sanely handle.13177480_1208998692458060_8651611342329675533_nMeanwhile, the world around us seems to be growing darker and darker as international terrorists wage war on our sense of security and humanity, homegrown hate and division is running rampant through our cities, towns, and social media pages – spurring on acts of violence on par with the atrocities committed by the terrorists who threaten us from “afar.” Even our political candidates seem to be washed in a dirty gray hue of filth rather than the red, white, and blue shades of greatness and hope characterized by past election years.

How much more, Lord, how much more? Locally, my community has been rocked by the closure of a manufacturing plant leading to the loss of hundreds of good paying jobs and destabilizing the lives of numerous families; and the tragic deaths of two vibrant young men – pillars of the community and incredible models of goodness gone before their work on earth was done.

How much more, Lord, how much more? Within my own circle of friends, I know of family trauma and betrayal, as well as families enduring battles similar to my own against the ravages of cancer, dementia, addiction, or simply struggling to make ends meet.

Even the weather has been unduly harsh across the board-  battering communities with hail, tornadoes, floods, and fire. Indeed, it feels like a very heavy dark cloud is hovering over all of humanity – raining darkness on our parade of life. Weariness seems to be a common trait shared by those who go through the motions of living, but have become numb to news of the latest unrest of the day.

Sadly, for some, too battle weary with no end in sight, keeping-on doesn’t seem possible.  The struggle between darkness and light ends in the silence of a never-ending night; leaving others behind to pick up the pieces in the chaos and darkness, to keep on keeping on – amid shattered lives.

How much more, Lord, how much more?

God has yet to answer my persistent questioning of how much more. I wish He would. I like to be prepared for the adventures I go on in life; but lately, He has managed to seriously alter the courses of my travels with little thought to my need for a sense of control or even a schedule. Heck, He hasn’t even let me escape to the mountains once this hiking season without drenching me in “blessed” water and hail from above.

Frankly, all this darkness has made me a bit cranky and recently I have become aware of negativity seeping into my nature, a quality that for most of my life – despite my trials – has been absent. I wonder if others sense this, and I am ashamed if they do. And yet, the fact that I am aware of it gives me hope – yes, hope that this is not what God wants for me to know – this darkness that seems to have permeated our daily life.

Rather, He wants me to grow in confidence born from the keeping on of keeping on each day – growing through the struggles and pain so that I find myself and those walking a similar path still standing but changed – matured, sharpened, softened, more inclined to His will, rather than mine. He wants us to see the garden instead of the weeds. With each day of growth, He makes more apparent the blossoms of goodness growing around us in the company of each other rather than the thorns of a turbulent world that we have no control over and that tear our hearts.

How do I know this? While I may not know How much more, Lord, how much more, I can see His promise in each new dawn – even those clouded over with rain. In each new morning that I wake to keep on keeping on He shines a little brighter and I feel a little stronger, even through the clouds. He reminds me of goodness in the morning melodies of our tiniest neighbors from on high – bird songs overcoming the night, and in the friendly waves of other early morning meanderers, who like me are just keeping on keeping on as best they know how – a shared continuity of struggle and growth that comes with the living of each day.

And perhaps, there you have the answer to the question of “How much more, Lord, how much more?” Until the day when we can look at each other with eyes softened by darkness and only see the wonder of His light.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;  and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”                           ~ James 1: 2-4

Let your light so shine.

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Called by Grace

10711062_861264793898120_7417205138361937001_n Grace and Peace to you!

I recently had the honor of writing and giving a sermon for my congregation while our pastor was away. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to “test the waters” as I ponder just what on earth I am here for. I am sharing with you a revised version that has been edited only to remove the names of local people I refer to so I can share without exposing them to my “vast” readership!

What on earth am I here for? It’s a question that earned Pastor Rick Warren a spot on the best seller list for 90 weeks with his book, The Purpose Driven Life. If you Google the word calling, or its synonym “vocation” you are going to be overwhelmed with sources for self- improvement and spiritual journeys. As individuals we are a hungry people, hungry for meaning in our lives, hungry for purpose, and hungry for finding the perfect combination of purpose and meaning that makes us feel we have made a difference.

Some are lucky to find such fulfillment in their professional life be it as the doctor who heals the sick, the teacher who grows minds, the fireman who saves lives, the pastor who shepherds souls, the missionary that serves the vulnerable, the counselor who listens, the social worker who tends to the destitute, or the activist who rights wrongs. But for many of us, finding, following, and fulfilling our calling is not a clear path.

If you think this is a relatively new aspect of the human condition, think again. The search for purpose spawned the great philosophers, it flows through religions of every sect from ancient times to present day. For Christians, while the path to fulfilling our calling may still be discreet, there should be no question as to where to turn for guidance. Of all the books written about finding purpose and meaning for our life, the Bible is the greatest source of inspiration and encouragement. If you are searching for your calling in life, you might even recognize yourself in some of the dominant characters! Most of the Biblical heroes and followers of Jesus did not know what their calling was or where their often difficult paths would take them, yet they followed God’s call to journey with Him rather than follow the ways of the world.

There are many stories in the Bible about Jesus healing the afflicted, raising the dead, and tending to the widows and orphans. What does healing have to do with finding our calling you ask, especially if you are not the one performing the act?

As the Apostle Paul states in his letter to the Galatians, “God has called me through His grace.” It is through God’s grace that we who are sick, broken, vulnerable, weary, or destitute are healed. Who better to minister to those in need than someone who has been in their shoes and experienced the healing power of God?

More often than not, your calling will not come with a paycheck. Your calling will come through your personal experiences and the extent to which you use those experiences to help others. Those times when you needed God the most in your life will be the experiences he calls you to draw upon to help others.

Survived the ravages of cancer?  Perhaps God will lead you to walk alongside a newly diagnosed patient.

Know the pain of divorce? Perhaps God is calling you to support a newly married couple in prayer.

Walked the lonely road of depression? Find someone with whom you could share the 20160422_181414fight and share your light.

Landed a great job after returning to school for a new career? Someone equally as motivated could use your mentorship.

While researching the topic of “calling”, I stumbled upon one pastor’s words that really hit home with me: Quoting Jesus he wrote “In this world you will have trouble.” He continues:  “If you’re called to something, expect trouble. If the Son of God didn’t get a free pass from trouble, then why do we think we should? A lot of people view trouble as a sign of something wrong in their lives, but it’s usually a good sign you’re headed in the right direction. To the degree you are willing to endure pain; will be to the degree that God can use you. The greatest people used by God in the Bible endured great amounts of pain. Pain seems to be the price to be paid for a life of significance.”

As Christians, we are baptized in Christ and called to be His servants, vulnerable to one another, and to the world, for Christ’s sake. We are to seek out and serve, not just the comfortable and the familiar, but the stranger and the alien, the least and the last, the lost, and the most vulnerable.  This is God’s call to us in our baptism and one that Martin Luther, a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation believed was central to the faith.

Martin Luther’s teaching regarding your calling centered on the belief that all God’s people are called to respond to God’s grace by serving our neighbors within our own particular places in society. Luther’s teaching liberated God’s hands here on earth from the papacy and gave new stature to the laity to do God’s work.

You may not feel particularly gifted or worthy of being God’s light in the world, but then look at the Apostle Paul!  Paul shares with the Galatians (Galatians 1:11-24) that he was a fanatical Jew—one who sought to destroy people whom he believed to be opposed to the ways of God – UNTIL the scales were shed from his eyes and he was called by God’s grace. Knowing about the Apostle Pauls’ background, no one would likely conceive that he would become the greatest advancer of Christianity aside from Jesus himself. Indeed, sometimes God uses the most broken among us to be His light in the world.

But your calling doesn’t necessarily have to dwell in the dark places of this world or your life, although it is there that we often find ourselves drawing closer to God, seeking His compassion and forgiveness the most. As Father Fr Frederick Buechner states “the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.” Imagine finding your purpose, your passion, your greatest sense of call in what was once your most difficult journey!

Jesus heals us. We are called to do the same.

Throughout the Bible we are witness to the healing power of Jesus.  Jesus raises a young man from the dead but then focuses on the young man’s mother who has also lost her husband. He has compassion for her and he tells her not to weep. Jesus has compassion, and gives her back her son. Jesus restored purpose and meaning to this woman’s life.  Not many widows could fathom as much.

Recently, at the Montana Synod Assembly for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a widow was lifted up and celebrated as she fulfilled God’s call to her. This woman, a widow, was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. I am not certain how much you know about the process of becoming a pastor, but the formation of pastors in the Lutheran church  is a long, thorough, multi-faceted process.  Some people graduate high school, go to college, then on to seminary, live on campus, do their internships, finish up, and get ordained.  Some people wait a year or two, or a decade or two.  Some do much of their academic work online, or in periodic visits to seminary, accompanied by intensive study and practical work in between sessions.

This woman did not follow the traditional route to ordination as her predecessors did. She married, had children, did a variety of things, and went to a variety of churches. Rather, she served as a legislator, and worked as a drama teacher.  She was a Lay Pastoral Associate (non-ordained clergy), and a widow.  And slowly, gradually, throughout her life experiences she began to hear God’s call. Ultimately, she saw a way forward to answer that call. This courageous woman’s journey through life was transformed by Christ’s love into a calling to minister to others.

God calls a variety of people in a variety of ways. He healed me when I was very sick, has helped me through many life-altering trials, lead me on a journey of discovery and blessed me gifts that I am still uncovering – gifts I hope to use as He calls me to pursue ministry through the Lay Pastoral Associate program.

Did you ever think that God might be calling you, or someone you know? Look within you and around you. Consider how God has been at work in and called others in their own lives. Undoubtedly, some stories of call will be dramatic, life-altering experiences, while others will be much more mundane. Have you seen lives or has your life been transformed? Changed direction?  How might God be calling you?

I know God has plans for me. He has called me through His extraordinary grace. I expect He plans to use my personal struggles and my greatest triumphs for something far greater than the pain, questioning, and jubilation I have experienced on this journey.  If you find yourself asking “What on Earth am I here for?”, listen for where God is calling you to. You may find that perfect combination of purpose and meaning, your greatest sense of call, in what was once your most difficult journey!

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

If you listen with an open mind and eager heart, you might just hear God’s call for you.

Let your light so shine.

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I Got By with a Little Help from my Friends

“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

– Albert Camus

13147272_1204040166287246_6929792025810359721_oWe are meant to live in companionship with others. Nothing brings that truth to light more clearly than when we lose someone important to us, whether through death or the parting of ways.

After the initial shock and ensuing chaos in the days following my mother’s passing began to subside, my life took a serious turn into darkness. Not only was I dealing with the grief over losing my mother, I also had to come to terms with the ending of another relationship, and the loneliness that comes with losses such as these. At times, it felt as though my light had been permanently extinguished – the darkness reigned so heavily inside me I nearly suffocated from it weight. When life takes a downturn, it often seems like troubles just don’t stop coming and I certainly met with a few of them. In exasperation, I asked God if He was there and just what was He trying to prove?

13177480_1208998692458060_8651611342329675533_nThen came the flickers. Flickers of light began to reveal themselves to me, in moments when hope seemed impossible.

While I hate to think that God dabbles on Facebook, one Sunday morning a post appeared that hit me square between the eyes, it even used Snoopy as the messenger – my lifetime friend and companion. Charlie Brown thoughtfully tells Snoopy that “someday we will all die” and Snoopy replies “True but on all the other days we will not.”

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As I headed out for my Sunday morning run I reflected on Snoopy’s message. I fought the heavy loneliness in my heart as I continued with my own thoughts, “And those who haven’t died are left to wander in the world just a little more alone by those who have gone before us.” That heart aching feeling of being alone had hung on my spirit for weeks and I had not been able to break free from it – despite my unwavering faith. Faith is great but it is sometimes quite the battle when pitted against the stark realities of life. But Snoopy was telling me to snap out of it – to get out and start living again.

As if on cue, my pastor’s sermon that morning reminded me that though I may feel alone, the Holy Spirit abides with me and in Him I can find peace. I so desperately wanted that! He reminded us that when two or three are gathered in His name, that is where we will find God. We will find the Holy Spirit alive in the lives of those around us. He works through the hands and hearts of those we walk among. As one who likes to believe that I can do this life thing on my own – I was starting to come to the humbling realization that no, I could not. And believe it or not, I am not expected to and neither are you!

Despite hearing the words, I still battled a bit of shame perhaps? That I really needed to talk to someone- and yet I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues. And yet people were there for me. I had seen them in action and had proof for my psyche in the numerous thank you’s I had written. I had collected quite a list of people whose kindnesses eased the pain of my mother’s death and frankly the numbers were daunting.

As I pondered the goodness of others the heaviness of sorrow began to lift. In turn, I realized how important it is to reach out to others when they are facing sorrow or are in pain. I am eternally grateful for those who took a small amount of time to reach out to me – as their seemingly small (to them) gesture brought glimmers of light into my life again.

I re-read the sympathy cards and marveled at how wonderful the written word is at touching our hearts. Even those that said they didn’t know what to say spoke volumes as they shared a story about my Mom.

Getting back into the daily rigors of life illuminated the good things surrounding me and I found myself appreciating if not standing in awe of even the simplest things – a sunrise, a friendly smile at the post office, a great song on the radio, a turtle following my path. People I thought of as just acquaintances revealed themselves as bearers of hope with a phone call, a coffee shared together, an unexpected hug.

I realized that although I surround myself with people by singing in multiple choirs, attending church functions, volunteering for the symphonies and venturing into the mountains with like-minded mountain goats, I wasn’t very good at letting people into my life – allowing myself to be vulnerable. There were plenty of people out there that wanted into my life – if only I would let them in.

Then the flicker flamed.

On a particular difficult evening, I found myself walking with tears being my steady companion. I had a question for a fellow choir member and decided to send her a text message. By accident I hit the call button and to my horror the phone began to ring and she answered it! I was caught live in a moment of despair. I couldn’t hang up on her so I gulped and actually talked to her… apologizing for interrupting her evening. I was astounded when she replied that no I wasn’t interrupting her. Actually, she was dealing with severe pain of her own and really needed to talk to someone too.

90- some minutes later we were both laughing… a huge weight had been lifted from both of our spirits. I thanked her for sharing her time with me and she thanked me for helping her get through a rough evening and she actually felt like getting up and taking a walk! We had borne each other’s burdens for a while and my goodness it felt good to rest! Rest in the caring arms of someone else. We both felt so much better having opened up to each other.

“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.”

-Joseph Addison

Doctors realize this too. Numerous studies have been done over the last few decades that show social support and good health are connected. One study of cancer patients showed that those who had a good network of social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive cancers which made their chemotherapy treatments more effective. Other cancer patient studies show that those with a good support group live longer and feel less pain than those lacking a social network. The Mayo Clinic identifies maintaining friendships as a key component of wellness. Friendships increase your sense of belonging and purpose; boost your happiness and reduce your stress; improve your self-confidence and self-worth; help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one; and provide encouragement to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Making friends and maintaining those friendships is not always easy. It requires work and sacrifice from both parties but the payoffs are huge.

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I know that by leaning on others during the past few weeks I have regained my strength. I know that by helping others carry their burdens, my own seem lighter. My world seems less small and I feel a greater sense of responsibility to live well and help others do the same.

I won’t say that darkness has been completely obliterated from my life by a bonfire of buddies, but those buddies have become flickers of brilliant light when I am having a hard time finding my way. I feel less alone, even on days spent on my own and I feel much more alive when I have been able share a friend’s burden.

Yes, we are meant to be in companionship with others. If you need a spark, a flicker, or a flame in your life, shine the light of friendship into someone else’s darkness and you just might find yourself dancing in the light again.

Let your light so shine.

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One final lesson in life… Memories of my Mother

It is hard to believe four Sundays have come and gone since my life and perception of it changed forever. Sundays have always been a special day for me, but now they hold an even greater significance. Now I will cherish and reflect on the promise each Sunday brings even if my heart aches….

DSCN6033To celebrate the last day of winter I embarked on a farewell-to-my-winter-of-discontent journey to the top of Mount Brown in Glacier Park. It was a bluebird day and as I hiked through the woods I could hear the promise of Spring- of new life abounding – in the songs of the birds which turned my thoughts to my Mom. My mother loved to watch the birds and the squirrels, and of course our four-legged family members; the little joys the Lord gave us to make our lives richer, more wonderful here on Earth. These blessings made her life sweeter and more joyful these last several years of her life; our conversations always included a synopsis of Tucker the dog, squirrel, and bird activity of late.

As we entered Holy week, a time when we look to the promise of resurrection and life everlasting with our Lord, Jesus Christ and rejoice in His conquering of death so that we may all live free from its bonds through Him, I took comfort in knowing that my beautiful mother conquered her earthly bonds and journeyed home to live free with her Lord and Savior on Palm Sunday, the first day of Spring!  Her spirit left us quite unexpectedly but peacefully that morning, through an open window, perhaps following the song of a bird calling her home.

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Our Lord, Jesus Christ led me and my family on a new resurrection journey that week. Not once did he waiver in holding us in His embrace. From the moment I learned of my mother’s death on Palm Sunday, I was comforted in faith – knowing her Easter journey had begun. Still, it was the longest, most exhausting week of my life as we bore the cross of death – enduring feelings of such immense sorrow, heart-aching emptiness, and regret over things left unsaid, time not spent, preparing to say a final good-bye. Yet as we laid her to rest on Good Friday, an unexpected strength and desire to celebrate her life rather than grieve her death came over me.

As we sang her favorite hymns I sang out clearly, I sang my best- willing the throat gripping tears away, knowing these were her sending songs. And as we placed her earthly remains in the cold, wet ground and shivered in the cold wind and rain saying our final good-byes, I knew she was safe and warm in the arms of our Lord and Savior. Her life on earth finished. Her story finished… for now.

When Sunday morning dawned. we celebrated the promise of Easter anew, with assurance that her story will live on. She danced in heaven as the trumpets sounded that He Is Risen! And yes, so had my Mom! Risen, Indeed! While she has a new life with Jesus, her earthly story will live on through each of us who carry her in our hearts. I will honor her life through mine and be happy, as that is all she wanted me to be.

I have shared with you in the past about my relationship with my mother and the regrets I have experienced in these last months over the state of our relationship. Unfortunately, so much was left unsaid, a truth that I will forever live with.  In what may be a selfish attempt to find peace, I felt a need to not only write the final chapter but profess to my mother before God and those that loved her, the feelings deep with in my heart.  What follows is my eulogy for my beloved mother, Evelyn Morck.

(Following on the heels of my brother’s wonderful synopsis of the richness our mother brought to his life.)

Memories of my Mother

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I have always been a bit envious of my big brother as with his advanced age he got to enjoy more fully, our Mom in her best years. Alas my fondest memories are found in my childhood…

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Being the child of a former schoolteacher my life was one big lesson. Back to school time was a golden time of year. My mother filled me with excitement and anticipation as I returned to the classroom with new school supplies and a new Snoopy lunch box, packed with a PB&J or turkey sandwich, Cheetos, and grapes. She never got tired of making the same thing over and over again, and I never got tired of the wonderful notes she always included inside… something to make me feel good about that day. 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.  I never bought hot-lunch, not because of the length of time standing in line took away from my playground activities (as I espoused), but because then I wouldn’t get to read her notes.

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During her best years, my Mom dressed to the nines in classics that made her look exquisite. She was confounded by my aversion to shopping and preference for flannel shirts and jeans, but always managed to sew me some very nice outfits, even into my high school years. She even sewed my high school graduation suit – a pale pink sheath and jacket. That was the last time I wore a pink dress as I haven’t found any as appealing as that classic style. Yet despite her classiness, she loved to comment on farts and the art of passing gas… going as far as to explain methods she learned in college to relieve it to anyone willing to listen.

My mom was involved in much of my brother’s and my youth activities. She was a terrific Brownie leader, stepping in when no one else would to keep our troop going after our leader was in a car accident. I remember the Halloween party we had for the Brownies at our house one year – she went all out recruiting my brother to make haunted house sounds at just the right time and boy was he successful! She gracefully put up with hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies inundating our home and under her leadership, my Brownie troop made headlines in the Rock Springs Rocket Miner numerous times… much to my delight. To this day I support the neighborhood Brownies and Girl Scouts in their endeavors.

My mother helped with Confirmation, and she was the school volunteer extraordinaire – spending countless hours in the library, more often than not keeping rabble-rousing Junior High students in line (much to my horror).

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 or more of us crowded around the table for open faced cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate along with 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 eye-shot of my mother.

My Mom was a great Mom to travel with, at least when I was five on our Bicentennial trip across America. She sewed the two of us matching outfits in fun yet stunning styles and I felt like a queen. She was my back seat buddy and sang along to the eight-track tapes that came with our brand new 1976 Buick Regal. Those songs became the sound-track to some of my happiest child-hood memories (Rollerball, Free Spirit, Almost Heaven West Virginia, Country Boy….)

One of my favorite times spent with my mother was during our 3-year stint back east in Virginia. My parents bought a modern 3-story colonial home that backed up to the woods. It got very dark at night and our first winter there my Dad was away for almost a month for work and my brother was away at college. We would walk through the house together each night, making sure every door was locked and all was sound. She would tell me stories of her days as State Champion Majorette, as the Dean Picture1of Women at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, and about her apartments and her adventures with her room-mates and odd land ladies as a teacher in Livingston. Each story always had some moral lesson for me swallow. We would eat supper together in front of the fire on TV trays, and because it was cold and damp she would let me get dressed in front of the oven in the morning before school… even if it meant I missed the bus… she would gladly take me to school. In fact, as a youngster and teen who was subjected to quite a bit of bullying for being the new kid before bullying became a bad word- my Mom did what she could to keep me safe –perhaps going a bit too far at times, but one thing is for sure, she always had my back.

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 one 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.

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 the years wore on and I grew more into my own person, our mother-daughter relationship began to fray. We became more and more opposed in our approaches to and outlook on life.

Indeed, ours was 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 head-strong daughter.  While I often wished we could have a relationship like those my friends enjoyed with their Moms, one filled with lunch dates, laughter, and dreams for tomorrow – I came to accept that those things were not important to my Mom.  Counselors told me I needed to set boundaries in our relationship but how do you set boundaries between yourself and the person that gave life to you? While fences make good neighbors, boundaries do not address the conflicts that created the need for them. However, putting a physical boundary of 400 + miles between my mother and I with my move to Whitefish 2.5 years ago changed the dynamic between us. On visits home we still engaged in rapid fire from time to time but during our phone conversations, rather than constant head-butting, my Mom seemed to relish the fact that though I was living my own life, she could live vicariously through me in her old stomping grounds. Yet by this point in her health and our relationship, our conversations never ventured much past the surface.

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Since my mother became ill, I have learned much about what is important in life and the lesson has been painful. The past conflicts between us that remained a barrier to my heart 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? My hopes are such that the pain and anger we inflicted on one another disappeared into her lost memories as I am not sure she could comprehend the feelings I wanted to express. Part of me feels at peace in the simple sweet conversations that we did 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.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:

“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 was a selfish goal of mine. But how much more powerful and life giving it would have been had I been able to make peace with my mother while she was alive and not as I stand before you today in an attempt to honor her life and role as my mother.  Perhaps it is best and all I can hope for that my Mom and I pursued the springtime memories of our life as we walked through her final winter together.

I last spoke to my mother on my birthday, 18 days before she passed away. It was a conversation I will never forget. Aside from the fact she was upset that I would be celebrating alone and didn’t have a special dinner date (Hey, I had church and choir practice, what’s new?) she just kept saying all she wanted was for me to be happy and would I consider coming home. I kept telling her I was happy but I had too many mountains left to climb to think about coming home –but that didn’t mean I didn’t miss her. I told her I loved her so very much. Her last words to me were:  I love you and I just want you to be happy.

One of her favorite songs was “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy;

I sing because I’m free;

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know He watches me.

I know He is watching her, shine and sing once again. She couldn’t have been called home in a more perfect way. The first day of Spring and the day we began the celebration of Easter.

Mom, I know we had our struggles as a mother and daughter but I will forever carry with me your sweet love of the joys of life, the tender ways you loved me through childhood, and your simple understanding of what is good. I will continue to strive to live the kind of life you so wanted for me – one that is happy and lived for the Lord. I never stopped loving you and I will always hear your voice and feel your love whenever a songbird sings.

And when I do, I will sing because I know you are now happy, and I’ll sing because I know you are free. And I will smile at the sight of every sparrow, because then I’ll know you are still with me.

Let me leave you with my heart… don’t hold on to conflict. Let God’s grace wash it from you and walk in forgiveness and reconciliation with those you love. Open your hearts and your minds to the promise of Easter, of new life, of new beginnings. Let Easter live in your hearts and relationships today and every day.

 

cropped-20150626_060333-001.jpgPeace 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

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!

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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.

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PSALM 90

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.

Shining Light in the Dust

 

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 “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:8-10

Lead me Lord,  and I will shine your light.

I spent the evening reflecting on my mortality, reflecting on my brokenness, and grieving my imperfections. It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40 day journey to the cross; to death in this world; and to life everlasting.

Ashes born from the time before His resurrection mark my forehead. Symbolic of the crosses we bear are born not with shame, but with an acceptance that this yoke upon our shoulders, this struggle we face endure – is a part of our own journey to the cross and to the  dust from where we came. A symbol that our dustiness is only temporary – in faith we one day be made perfect

Our Lord does not want our crosses- our struggles, our burdens, our imperfections – to define us. Rather it is through those very crosses that our Lord’s grace and abiding love shines through.

Indeed, it was through my greatest struggle, one in which I laying dying to life that I found  new life in the Lord. He called me back to Him through my cross and gave me  new life. Now,  He calls me  to shine His light to others as they journey to Him.

For I was dying… and He gave me life.

Lead me Lord,  and I will shine your light.

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