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

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

– Dr. Seuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ from Isaiah 43

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Reformation, of Sorts…

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Philippians 3: 12-14

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In the Autumn of Life

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

Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Crowning Glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My family on my moving away day. 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keep Steadfast in Your Faith

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

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The words came at me like a cleaver, blunt yet cutting, slowly digging into my very core. We were in the middle of a conversation about life, direction, purpose, and personal responsibility.  Was I perhaps too reliant on the Lord in the course of my life?

For as long as I have conceived of morning and night my faith has been a central part of my life. Yes, there was a time I veered away from the concept of church, but the Lord redeemed me during a time of complete brokenness and it was then that I moved beyond just practicing my faith to having a deep relationship with Him.  But every relationship has a dynamic, and not all dynamics are positive. When those words were spoken to me, I was caught off guard. Was my faith simply a crutch to lean on during difficult times?

Later, pondering deeply as I walked alone, I found myself questioning my relationship with the Lord. Had I become too dependent on Him as I made my way through life? This question haunted me for days and weeks!  I felt at odds not only with the person who had brought this idea to light but at odds with my Lord!

20150407_184743Then I began to feel at odds with myself, ashamed for my lack of spiritual integrity. I felt weak in my faith, me of all people, the one who encourages others to look to the Lord for strength, rest, and resurrection, the one who considered going to seminary and still contemplates the possibility of a theological vocation from time to time!  What sort of hypocrite had I become? I should have defended the Lord but instead, like Peter who denied Him, I questioned Him in the face of ridicule. Needing to be identified as the strong woman I am, not someone who was insecure and unsure of my steps or weak and reliant on others (not even my Lord),  I did not defend the One who has been grace-filled and just in my life.

About this time, I was fortunate to cross paths with a man who makes a point of actively living his faith in his life during a conference at 100Fold Studio, a servant-focused architectural firm based in Lakeside, MT.  The firm offers architecture students and graduates a six-week studio internship in which they explore how Christian principles can inform a career in architecture. Speakers from around the country with expertise in design, business, and world missions focused on faith and vocation through lectures, small groups, and one on one mentorship.

Dr. Kenneth Elzinga, the Robert C. Taylor Chair of Economics at the University of Virginia was the main speaker and the one who caught me with his message. While he certainly had insight on how these future architects and designers might finance their careers, he shared a far greater message of living out your faith in your daily work and interactions. He encouraged us, as the Apostle Paul did to the Romans, to not be ashamed of the Gospel or the role your faith has in your life.

“You have worth in Christ,” was his opening comment, and because of that, he makes no secret of his faith in the workplace, which for him is the staunchly secular arena of academia.

Listening to Dr. Elzinga speak of his courageously open faith in an atmosphere where such open religiosity raised the ire of department chairs reminded me that while God does not need defending by the likes of me, He does ask me to recognize His place in my life and not be ashamed of it. Dr. Elzinga shared a story of his early years at the University. He had placed a Bible on his office desk and when one of his fellow professors saw it he told him he would never gain tenure with a Bible on his desk. Dr. Elzinga certainly had moments of doubt and career consternation, but his inner certainty of his faith withstood intimidation. He continued to be open about his faith and while he never blatantly proselytized he welcomed discussions on faith. When students came to him with troubles, he listened and guided with love. Often, upon seeing his Bible on his desk students would ask him to pray with them. Soon he began asking the students if he could pray for them. Most of them said yes. In time, even his colleagues turned to him for spiritual support in times of need.

Despite, if not because of, his open faithfulness, not only did he gain tenure but he is now a distinguished chair of the University, regularly leads campus Bible studies and serves on the board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He admits it was not always easy being unashamed of the Gospel and at times faced harassment, felt threatened in his career, and even felt as if he had failed in his efforts to quietly and gently share the Gospel through his actions, not just words. Yet, looking at his career and record from my standpoint, he certainly came out the winner with his Lord by his side.

Dr. Elzinga spoke about our human tendency to want to control everything in our lives. It is a natural state. It is not easy to go forth in faith – especially for young graduates who have the whole world ahead of them. We like to trust in our own abilities. Because we know our limits and can expect a certain outcome, we place our trust in ourselves and things of a concrete nature. We take pride in accomplishing things on our own.  It is when we find ourselves facing difficulties that we begin to look elsewhere for support. Dr. Elzinga proposed that difficulties in our course of life are God’s way of getting our attention. If we don’t have difficulties in life we start to walk on our own. Many would counter that it is good to walk on our own – that independence is a sign of strength. There was a time in my own life that I felt pretty sure of myself and pretty sure that God did not have His eye on me, nor did I need Him to. I was strong in my own right and thought I had everything under control in check. No need to let anyone into my world. No need to ask for help when I in truth I needed it.

20150724_083737Alas, the Lord understands our prideful natures, and will occasionally take steps to knock us off our high horse to remind us who is in control. I don’t know about my self- assured friends, but I know I have been bucked off my stallion a few times in the crazy course of my life. Surprisingly, I was able to get up, dust myself off, and walk with my head held high shining in my Lord’s light. Sure my knees were a little skinned and my pride shaken in front of more than a few onlookers, but I did not doubt for one moment my worth in Christ. That is the amazing thing about Christ. He doesn’t ask for much but His gifts are gracious. If we open our hearts to Him and accept Him into our life, He will lead us down right paths and love us just as we are.

So how do I affirm and defend the Lord’s positive role in my wayward life in the face of those who have attained, seemingly on their own, certainty in the direction of their own? How can I not question my trust in Him?

As Dr. Elzinga pointed out in his remarks on being broken and redeemed, we can find the answer written in His Word. Perhaps I should spend more time with the original self-help anthology and less time trying to appear strong and self-reliant. The Lord sees and knows all my strengths and weaknesses. Placing my trust in Him will ensure a steadfast spirit within me.

 But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”   ~2 Corinthians 12:9

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