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.

 

Grief, Interrupted

IMG_0693

The year after Christian passed away was extremely painful, but thanks to the strength and comfort of God, we made it through a day at a time.  Dave’s job became extremely demanding in the following month after we lost our boy.  He went with the flow for the next several months but by summer, working 14 hour days was not enough for the company, so he had to leave.  The following September, Dave suggested I call the company that I worked at before leaving in 2005 to care for the boys’ increasing needs.  I called them, dropped off my resume, and everything fell into place.  I was terrified because I had been out of the work force for so long but I was also thrilled and very thankful for the opportunity to work for my family again.

About a week into my return to work came the first anniversary of Christian’s passing.  Dave suggested that I go to work because the distraction might be good for me.  I lasted about five minutes.  Over the first few months I experienced a lot of nervousness each morning before I left for work and I started to experience slight anxiety when I performed certain job duties.  I thought nothing of it because all jobs come with stress and anxiety.  By summer, my anxiety increased and depression started to weigh me down.  I started becoming emotional about things that normally would not make me so upset.  I began to worry about the most ridiculous things, which fed my anxiety.

I took the second anniversary of Christian’s passing off along with what would be his 22nd birthday.  I spent the greater part of that fall in a state of sadness as I remembered the days leading up to his passing.  By Christmas my emotional problems worsened and the anxiety led to panic episodes the following spring.  I took a few days off and started seeing a counselor.  This slowly started to help and I really thought I was going to start feeling like myself again.

About two months later, I started to experience tightness in my neck.  I associated it with ergonomics at work and tried carrying things differently, sitting up straighter, etc..  By fall, my neck worsened and the spasms set in.  I kept working hard and doing everything I could to keep up with the workload.  I also started acupuncture and massage therapy.  My condition worsened to such an extent that I was having trouble eating, driving, and putting my makeup on.  I did not receive a diagnosis and treatment until March of this year.  I was confident that the treatment would help and things would go back to normal again.

The first set of injections only made my condition worse and I had to take a month long medical leave.  Before I requested the medical leave I had a major panic episode and my good friend and neighbor stayed with me for a few hours.  Before she dropped me off at home she looked at me and said that “my kettle blew.”  She said that at the botton of the kettle was grief and stacked on top of that was my illness, worry for my son and husband, and the stress of my career.  She said I needed to deal with the loss of my son by joining a grief group and learning about the stages of grief.  It was at that point that I realized that I hadn’t been grieving since I returned to work.  The fear, anxiety, and massive change I went through interruped the grieving process.  I ended up leaving my job shortly after my medical leave.

It is easy to associate depression with loss – losing a child is devastating and I experienced days and moments of sadness that I thought would crush me.  Ongoing depression that does not let up, however, is a sign that a person is not grieving in a healthy way.  I had days that were harder – the pain felt more raw and I would cry, but I really thought I was moving forward and healing from the loss.  There was so much going on in my life, so much change, that the grief and pain ended up buried underneath of it all.  Unfortunately, it took an illness to open my eyes and see that I still have some grief work to do.  Perhaps this blog post is a way of moving forward.

It may seem easier at the time to run away from the pain, bury it by keeping busy, or to tell everyone we are fine, but in the long run it can have devastating effects on our emotional, physical and spiritual health.  I encourage you to reach out to friends, family, your pastor, grief counselors, or write it all down in a journal.  Don’t bury your pain.  Go through it so the pain doesn’t end up being wasted.  Perhaps making it to the other side of difficulties makes us stronger so we can in turn help others who are hurting.  Christian was my son, friend, and my teacher.  I love him too much to waste the pain of losing him.

IMG_0254
April from Kalispell drew this photo

 

Goodbye Old Cottonwood

When I  went to visit Mom last month she asked me, “Did you see out back yet?”  I said no and asked her why.  “They finally cut that tree down,” she stated.

“What tree?” I asked as a feeling of dread began to bloom in my chest.

“The big one in the alley,” she replied, after which I went out the door to the backyard and all I could do was stare into the empty space of sky that was occupied by a massive cottonwood that towered over the houses at the top of the hill.

One of my favorite things about visiting Mom, along with talking with her over coffee of course, was listening the wind rustle the leaves of the cottonwood tree out back.  I would sleep with the window open in the back room so I could wake up to the sound in the morning.  If you do not have cottonwood trees in your area you may be able to find sound bits on YouTube of the wind fluttering the thick, sturdy leaves of the cottonwood tree.

Mom was relieved, along with her neighbors, to not have to clean up the leaves anymore.  Being as hardy as they are, the leaves of a cottonwood do not curl up and fall apart like other leaves in the fall.  They become flexible from moisture but do not disappear as easily as other leaves.  I understand her decision when it came to the mess, but what about the shade it provided?  Many trees still remain in her neighborhood but I did enjoy listening to the chickadees as they hopped from branch to branch overhead.  “Doesn’t the beauty and shade of the tree outweigh the fall mess?”  I thought.

Over the years, many trees have disappeared from our neighborhood.  I do not judge however, because I have no idea how it is to be a senior and having to deal with the mess.  I can be disappointed in the trees being gone, however.  I went out front to sip on my coffee on the front steps and the sun blasted my face with it’s heat.  A massive pine tree next door used to cover that area.  This pine tree was so large and full of birds that my dad called it the “Bird Hotel.”  Sparrows, finches, chickadees, robins, and doves lived there along with a few squirrels.  Our neighbors were kind enough to wait until the fledglings were gone before they had the tree removed.  The tree was gone in less than an hour.  I was furious of course – not at my neighbors but at how short of a period of time something so massive could be destroyed.

We planted three trees in our yard in the summer of 2014.  I am happy to say that they are growing quickly and we have a robin’s nest in one of them.  We are able to enjoy the scent and beauty of the blooms every spring and the birds enjoy perching in them.  With the summers becoming increasingly hotter I wanted to grow some shade for our home and provide a place for my feathered friends.

 

I don’t think we can ever plant too many trees.  They are beautiful to look at and give us a place to sit under on sunny days.  I am not a treehugger but I am thankful for God’s creation and the comfort and joy it provides man and bird alike.

Could Have Been Me

Today’s song of the day is Could Have Been Me by The Struts.  When I listened to the lyrics, I wanted to jump up and shout the lyrics along with the song.

Don’t wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you
I’ll live now cause the bad die last
Dodging bullets with your broken past
I can’t hear you, I don’t fear you now

Wrapped in your regret
What a waste of blood and sweat
Oh oh oh

I wanna taste love and pain
Wanna feel pride and shame
I don’t wanna take my time
Don’t wanna waste one line
I wanna live better days
Never look back and say
Could have been me
It could have been me
Yeah

Don’t wanna live as an unsung melody
I’d rather listen to the silence telling me
I can’t hear you, I won’t fear you
Don’t wanna wake up on Monday morning
The thought of work’s getting my skin crawling
I can’t fear you, I don’t hear you now

We all have songs that speak to our hearts.  This particular song has since the first time I heard it.  I think that three of the worst phrases along with “I can’t” are phrases that include the words coulda, woulda and shoulda.  I use these words far more than I ought to and I want to say them less.  If I live to be an old woman, I want to look back and know that I lived the best days I could in service and love.  I hope to be able to look back and know that I changed the world in some way, even by encouraging and uplifting others.

We all have a song in our hearts and many of us are afraid to live out the melodies that God places in us.  Fear can only keep us from living with purpose and without regret if we allow it to.  Our pasts cannot keep us from having an excellent finish.  When we refuse to allow fear and mistakes of our past to keep us from pursuing our dreams and showing up each and every day as our best selves, then we will not have to say “It could have been me.”

images-3
WordPress.com

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