Compassionate Critters

I went to Gibson Park today to go for a short walk.  The breeze was blowing constantly, as it always does in Great Falls, but it felt invigorating.  As I walked on the oval path around the park, I heard baby chickadees above me as I passed under a tree, saw several squirrels prancing across the grass, and I heard yellow warblers and an American goldfinch.

Afterward, I took a seat on a bench on one of the docks over the pond and watched the waves ripple across the water and the geese and ducks gently float past.  After a few minutes, I noticed movement in my peripheral vision.  First I saw a tiny head and then the neck and body of a Canadian goose.  It was comical because it was like he was peering around a corner to see if I would notice him.  Even after he realized that I did not have any food, he stood next to me to look out over the pond.  He was so close to me that I could see his brown pupils and the softness of his elongated neck.  Occasionally, he would turn around and peacefully observe me.  I found this to be very comforting because up until I arrived at the park, I was having a difficult day.  I truly believe that animals just get it – they know when we need comfort.  I am not just referring to dogs – this is the reason why they are “man’s best friend.”  I also mean birds, horses, rabbits, and many other furry critters.

Christian had a zebra finch named Kiwi for several years.  Kiwi was a ornery, wild, little fella and Christian would park his wheelchair next to his cage every evening before we covered his cage up with his blanket.  He referred to Kiwi as his best friend because he was always there.  I think that Kiwi waited to die until the year following Christian’s passing because it would have broken his heart.  It was a comfort having Kiwi around after our boy passed away because it gave us a tangible connection to Christian.  A few days before Kiwi passed away, he kept hopping to the front of his cage and he would park right under the door and wait for us to come in and pet him.  It was so strange because Kiwi was always very wild and didn’t want us to get too close to him.  I think it was his way of giving us comfort before he died.

In the months following Christian’s passing, several rabbits hopped onto our back deck and they would sit right in front of the sliding glass door, sometimes looking inside.  A few days before Christian passed away, there were close to 20 Eurasian collared doves on our back sidewalk.  I have experienced a great amount of comfort from God’s critters over the last few years.

At Christian’s graveside service, we released doves.  Our youngest son was able to hold one of the white doves, Sirius, before he released her.  He was then able to open the lid on the basket so the rest of the doves could fly out.  I first read about the doves in a newspaper article about the funeral services of Deputy Joe Dunn, who was killed in the line of duty.  They released doves at his graveside service and he is buried just down the slope from our boy.

God gave us animals for comfort and companionship.  Whether it is a cat, dog, parakeet, or birds at our feeder, if we take notice we will see that they really do care about us.

img_0268

Drew holding Sirius a few days after the funeral.

 

Beautiful Hands

My grandmother of 92 years is in hospice care.  I drove over to see her last week and was taken aback by how frail she looked.  As I sat next to her and talked to her, I kept looking at her hands.  I thought of everything her hands accomplished during her life – raising three boys; taking care of a home; breeding and raising beagles; growing, picking, and canning massive amounts of vegetables every year; shooting and processing deer every year; raising and caring for rabbits; boarding dogs; creating art and building things; and living a full life.  Her hands became still on her blanket as she slept, and I watched her hands raising up and down to match her breathing as I thought of everything they accomplished during her life.

July 19, 1980
Some of my fondest memories are being in grandma’s backyard or in her garden.

Grandma only said what needed to be said and she said it with truth and boldness.  I honestly cannot remember her ever making small talk.  The funniest thing I remember hearing her say to date was about a woman sitting in the waiting room with her as she waited for the eye doctor:  “She talked and talked for 30 minutes and didn’t say a thing.”  Grandma listened and I know this because she always had a remedy or an idea for just about anything.  When Dave had to go into the hospital for a stomach ulcer, her advice was to have him eat some lamb.  When I wrote to her about our finches and the eggs that were being laid, she gave me tips on caring for a female that was having a hard time passing the eggs.  I told grandma once how much I enjoyed hearing chickadees and she told me that she always knew when a deer was around because the chickadees would start chirping.  I am thankful for every moment I have had with her and I will always try to follow her example in many areas of my life.

Equally amazing is my sister and our good friend, both of whom are caring for my grandma.  The sacrifices they are making, the dedication, and the love they are pouring out for her truly humbles me beyond words.

bryant-mcgill-time-service-others-4f8h

We are not here on this earth just to exist, waiting for Friday every week and dreading Mondays.  We are here to love, create, serve, worship, lift others up, and bless one another.  One of the greatest gifts God gives us is the opportunity to care for others – whether it is hands on caregiving, offering a smile to a stranger or encouragement to a co-worker, donating our time or resources to people in need or simply being who God created us to be with no fear holding us back – only holy boldness and beautiful hands.

Scars Strengthen Us

I read a story about four seeds in a book by Rev J. Martin called God’s Grace Is On The Way:  Let go, embrace love.  To sum it up, four seeds were taken up by the wind and dropped into a clearing in the jungle.  Their dream was to grow to be beautiful trees, towering over the jungle.  Three monkeys also lived in the clearing that liked to amuse themselves by throwing bananas at any plant that tried to grow.  This made it very difficult for the seeds to take root.  The seeds agreed that it would be better to wait for the group of monkeys to move on before they attempted to grow.

Weeks passed and one seed thought she should at least attempt it.  When she tried to grow, the monkeys pelted her with bananas.  She tried and tried, even after the other seeds asked her to stop trying.  She didn’t give up but kept trying harder and harder as the monkeys continued to attack the plant.

Then, one day, the monkeys hit her with bananas but none made her stoop over.  The little tree had taken so many blows that she was now full of hard knots and scars.  Her slim trunk had gotten thicker and more resistant and could now withstand the impact of a banana.  The monkeys were unable to uproot her.  She grew until she became the most majestic tree in the jungle.

When we are dealt a bad hand in life or end up facing all sorts of difficulties, it is easy to give up on our dreams and goals.  It could be bad news from the doctor, the loss of a loved one or financial difficulty that puts us in the middle of one of life’s storms.  The storms can be so bad that it is difficult to see the other side of the lake and we wonder how we will ever make it across to the other side.

Inspirational-Quotes-Of-the-Day-No-Storm-Can-Last-Forever-Your-Life

After recently being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue my dreams any longer.  I thought about the loss of my son, Christian, his brother, Andrew,  who continues to fight his muscular dystrophy and my husband who lives with a heart condition.  After being pelted with several bunches of bananas I set my dreams aside.

When we make it to the other side of life’s storms we become more resilient and strong.  God can use us in amazing ways when we let Him give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life gets hard.  We can then be an inspiration to others who are dealing with their own difficulties.

We are all given gifts from God to make the world a better place.  Some of us sing, play instruments, serve, sew, write or draw.  Some of us are given the gift of inspiration.  It is amazing what a kind word or a little encouragement can do for the spirit of another.  No matter what difficulties come our way, we must never give up on the gifts that God graces us with.  He knows how important our gifts are so He will give us the strength we need to make it through life’s storms.

600788_600226389996858_885965816_n

 

365 New Beginnings

As I look out the window at the last day of 2017, I am thankful for the beauty and perfection on display.  The snow is deep and smooth and it covers everything in a graceful blanket of white.  The sky is a soft blue with whispy clouds and the birds gently eat at the feeders.

Like many, I am ready to say goodbye to this year and hello to 2018.  I have never been one for resolutions or crash diets, but I do look forward to a new beginning.  I am ready to leave the difficulties of this year behind and carry with me the lessons learned and the things God has blessed me with into 2018.  God has blessed me with His strength and mercy every single morning that I opened my eyes.  His Word has given me guidance through difficulties and challenges and has given me comfort on my most painful days.  He has given me a loving, supportive husband and a wonderful son.  I was a bride’s maid in my niece’s wedding this past summer, and my husband and I were able to take a long overdue vacation to sunny California.  God has given me His comfort when I missed my son the most – if I would wake up dreaming that Christian is still with us or if I dreamt of losing him again.  I have learned the importance of balance and rest of the mind, body and soul and how loving ourselves is the foundation to everything in our lives.  By loving ourselves, we become more open to receiving the love of God.  God pours His love into our hearts until they overflow so we can in turn love others.

What are my intentions for the new year?

To love even more…

IMG_0783

To thank God for each new day and for the miracles He so graciously bestows upon us…

IMG_1886

To invest in the gifts God has given me so I can bless others with them…

IMG_2224

 

To serve others more…

bryant-mcgill-time-service-others-4f8h

To do more to brighten another’s day, whether it’s a smile, holding open the door, letting a vehicle go ahead of me in traffic or sending a greeting card or letter…

ea6864e5ab97610468c76c1056072142

To keep my thoughts centered on the good things in life while letting go of the rest…

Each day is a new beginning, a chance to enjoy God’s mercy and love while experiencing His goodness which He promises us in His Word.  I wish all of you a peaceful, blessed 2018 and that all your hopes and dreams come to life while love flourishes in your hearts and daily lives.

 

 

A Year of Blessings

 

In the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am on gift number 548.  I started writing down God’s gifts last fall.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I haven’t reached 1000.  I admit that over the last year I have had a tendency to complain instead of offering praise to the Lord for His many gifts.

I did not fully understand the meaning of bittersweet until we lost our boy.  He suffered for the last year of his life and I felt relief (for him) mixed with profound heartache (for me) when he passed away.  Christian spent the last year of his life tilted back in his wheelchair to relieve his chronic pain.  He was able to read books on his iPhone because it was so lightweight and he played video games for limited amounts of time every day.  He lost the ability to play video games the night before he passed away.  He drove into the kitchen, held up his hands and said “Mom, my hands are not working.”  He didn’t want to be resuscitated or to live with a breathing tube and he hated hospitals.  Christian told me weeks before his passing that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed with his bird, Kiwi, in the room.

The pain we endured during the weeks and months that followed was unimaginable.  How was it possible that I experienced joy when I looked at the sky as it turned red and orange at sunset?  Why did everything look so much more beautiful after I lost my son?  It was like a layer was peeled away from my soul and everything that looked beautiful before now brought tears to my eyes.

Being thankful makes the pain more bearable – the pain of losing a loved one, of the violence in the world, the constant stream of negativity in the media – the pain of living in a broken world.  God gives us little presents each and every day and if we open our hearts and our eyes we will find them:  the chitter of a chickadee, the glint of sunlight on a soapy plate, steam rising from a hot cup of tea or an unexpected call from a loved one.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am making more of an effort to focus on blessings instead of burdens.  The Lord has given me strength to put one foot in front of the other on days when the loss feels fresh, He has blessed me with a loving husband and son, with an accessible home for Drew, a wonderful job, and a long awaited trip to California this past summer (thanks to my sister who came up from Wyoming to care for Drew).  God continues to bless us with His love, grace and healing.  He blesses me with the guidance and strength contained in His Word each and every morning.  As we thank the Lord for His goodness we become lights in a dark world and we give hope to those who are suffering.

img_1886.jpg

 

 

The Beauty of the Lord

On the evening before Christian passed away he told me that all he wanted was to be able to look at things without being in pain.  He wanted to watch his finch, Kiwi, hop around or relax in his cage.  He wanted to gaze at birds at the feeder, beautiful sunsets, and stars in the night sky.  Little did I know these were some of the last words he would say to me.

Tomorrow marks three years since Christian left this world to be with the Lord.  Many think that with time it gets easier, but in some ways that is not so.  It adds on another year since I have heard his voice and seen his sweet face.  The ache in my heart feels stronger at moments and I remember things I would rather forget.

A few days ago I came across Psalm 27:4  “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and require:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.”  Even though I have read and meditated on this verse before, it moved me to tears.  I remembered what Christian said and I wondered if he knew he was going to die.

This scripture, among others, moved me to make more of an effort to gaze at the beauty of God’s creation and capture it in photographs.  I find beauty in seeing the dark outline of tree branches against an autumn sunset, a patch of light on the tract books at work, a house finch resting on the shepherd’s hook, flowers on my table, squirrels playing around a tree at the park and Canadian geese lying down in the grass.  In honor of my son I encourage you to take a photo of something beautiful and post it on social media.  Noticing God’s abundant blessings and sharing them encourages others to focus on the goodness of God and also spreads more joy.

Goodbye Summer

Fall is by far my favorite season.  It brings golden leaves, bluer skies, and cool breezes.  After a summer dominated by smoke and fire, it was a great relief to see two days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I looked out the window and noticed something different along with seeing a blue sky – the trees were swaying.  It took me a while to realize that we barely had any wind since the heat and drought set in late June.  The wind usually blows so much that we practically fall over when it doesn’t, so welcome back wind!  I will try not to complain when you blow my hair all over the place!

With summer coming to a close and fall approaching fast, I wanted to share the highlights of my summer in photos.  I went for a visit to Lewistown in June and enjoyed taking Mom to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.  I enjoyed several walks with my family, before the smoke rolled in, on the River’s Edge Trail.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to San Jose and San Francisco.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and it was exhilarating.  Finally, in August I was thrilled to see Drew in a tuxedo for the first time for my niece’s wedding.

I admit that the smokey skies made their way into my spirit.  I forgot that the smallest of gifts are the most important:  a mourning dove perched outside of the dining room window, the chatter of chickadees on my way back to the office, golden spots of sun on the floor, ceramic pigs strategically placed around my house by my neighbor for me to find, time with my husband on the couch watching Suits, and a smile from a coworker.

IMG_2036

I came across the quote in the picture above during one of my morning meditation sessions.  When we live in our heads, our lives can pass by unnoticed.  We miss the bird placed on a branch in the perfect place for us to look up and see him.  We miss the cloud in the sky shaped like a heart or the uplifting lyrics of a song.  It’s better to let our fearful thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky than to end up underneath them for months, even years.  Remember the cartoons when a character had a raining cloud over his head wherever he went?  That is exactly what it is like to live in our heads.  This is something I am guilty of and I have realized that life is far too precious to go by unnoticed for even a moment.

Next month will be three years since Christian passed away.  The turning leaves take me back to the months before his passing and it can be very painful – like it just happened.  As the day approaches I want to see the world as I would want Christian to see it – a miracle in process, given to us by a God who loves us.