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.

Double Rainbow

My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday.  When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges.  The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”

Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces.  As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger.  It was by Mantovani.  At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private.  I wish I would have kept it.  The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister.  Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors.  She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair.  She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.

The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance.  I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest.  The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.

At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her.  There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers.  I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.

Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family.  They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker.  My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face.  Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.

That evening a storm rolled in.  When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house.  Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike.  The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun.  The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.

The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.”  Well said son, I thought.  I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life.  You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life.  Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Lift Up your Eyes

“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had left him, Lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are.” -Genesis 13:14

Lot and Abram had to separate because the land was not big enough to sustain all of their herds, helpers and goods.  Abram gave Lot the first choice on whether to choose the better land in the Jordan Valley or the less desirable land of Canaan.  Lot chose the Jordan Valley.

This story has great meaning in my life today.  It is far too easy to become discouraged because my sons were born with a life threatening disease without a cure.  God doesn’t want us to focus on everything we have lost.  He wants us to lift up our eyes and trust that He will lead us into a bright future filled with possibilities and joy.  It is impossible to notice His blessings and miracles when our eyes are focused on the ground or when our hearts and minds are stuck in the past.  God wants us to lift up our eyes and focus on everything we have, not on what we do not have.  When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will see that He has plans to bless us.

Only when we lift up our eyes can we see the blueness of the sky, the way the white clouds effortlessly float past the window, the bird on the branch, or the flower on the windowsill. When we thank the Lord for a new day the minute we open our eyes each morning, we invite His blessings into our daily lives.

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Looking up can bring us out of a state of depression and discouragement, and even help us to feel confident.  Today, I encourage you to believe that no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, God wants to bless you and prosper you.

Don’t Give Up

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I have a dream of writing a book that will inspire and guide families living with the daily battle of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  I also have simpler dreams.  I think that many of us do without realizing it.  A simple dream can be to wake up each and every day filled with gratitude for another glorious day of life and going to bed each night feeling fulfilled and knowing that we loved and learned something knew.

The key to reaching our dreams and goals, despite the bumps in the road, is to never give up and to keep moving forward even when we feel afraid.  I have heard it said over and over that courage is feeling fear but moving ahead anyway.  Courage is overcoming our past and our imperfections and believing in ourselves no matter how many times we may fall and skin our knees.

When I think of courage and determination, I think of Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Steve Jobs, my mother who raised all three of us girls with little to no help, my grandmother who came to a new country and raised her children on her own, my sisters and my boys.  I think of parents who put a smile on their faces and do the best they can for their families even though they feel afraid of a life threatening diagnoses.

No dream is ever too small because we are all part of a greater whole.  Our contributions may be as small as bringing a smile to someone’s face, holding the door open for the person behind you or as big as inspiring millions like Martin Luther King, Jr.  During his life, Christian was not able to join the football team or shovel the neighbor’s driveway (he had such a kind heart that I know he would have if he was physically capable) but he brought a smile to my face when I was most afraid.  He inspired teachers and fellow students by going to class every day and completing his homework.  No matter how much fear he felt he always smiled, loved and showed kindness.

I encourage you to never give up on your dreams.  If enough of us do something every day that will make a positive impact on the life of another, we will truly change the world.