My Lenten Journey

As a child, I remember the purple banners hanging up in the church in the weeks before Easter and people giving up bad habits for Lent.  I would watch Jesus of Nazareth every year without fully comprehending what was unfolding on the screen.  I squirmed as Jesus was whipped and nailed to the cross.  As I became older, I had a difficult time with the violence and stopped watching movies based on His crucifixion.  Today, my devotionals have led me to the crucifixion in God’s Word and what it means in my life.  Admittedly, I become emotional when I read of His grief leading up to His arrest, the flogging and how the soldiers cast lots over His garments.  It took the loss of my oldest son to fully comprehend the impact of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord on our lives today.

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Jesus died so we could live.  He took the guilt and sin of the world upon His shoulders because He loved us deeply and so we can enjoy eternal life with Him after we die.  Until recently, I didn’t fully know the power and significance of His resurrection because I have been stuck on the crucifixion – not only His but my own.  I have focused on the negative, on my mistakes and my past.  I have resisted healing from my loss out of fear of forgetting Christian – the sound of his voice, his strength, kindness and how he made me laugh.

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Christian at the Lewistown Fair

I began my Lenten journey with a booklet with a dragonfly on the front.  It stated Be Ye Transformed on the front.  I have learned that Lent isn’t just a waiting period from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  It is a period of metamorphosis – of letting go of negativity and false beliefs so we can receive the Truth and fully come to know the love of God.

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

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When we went to the cemetery to visit our boy today, it was sunny and we could hear western meadowlarks in the distance.  A chickadee, which happened to be one of Christian’s favorite birds, landed in the tree next to us and sang a bit.  As the sun warmed my face, I thought of Christian in heaven, with his favorite animals by his side, sitting in a mountain meadow surrounded by mountains surpassing any of ours in beauty and size.  I didn’t shed any tears until a woman drove up to visit a grave across from ours.  The age of the young man buried there isn’t far off from Christians.  I cried as I watched her approach the headstone and kneel in front of it.  “I know” I thought as we drove away, leaving her some privacy.

One of my favorite scriptures is John 10:10, when Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  What does it mean to have a full life?  It means greeting each day with gratitude and ending our “I AM” with powerful, positive words.  It means fully accepting and enjoying ourselves, opening our hearts to God’s abundance and never giving up.

The Small Things

When I was a youngster, Thanksgiving meant Ritz crackers and cheese, mince meat and pumpkin pie made from scratch by my grandma, cranberry sauce, yams, turkey, rolls, olives and movie marathons.  I always looked forward to my grandpa stopping by to drop off the pies and chatting with my mom over a cup of coffee.  We never had any large family get togethers but it always included mom, dad, myself and my two younger sisters.

Over the years, as my nieces and nephews have grown and my sisters have moved away, we have had a few big gatherings.  We would have a houseful – people sleeping in the spare bedroom, on the couch, air mattress and the floor.  These were Christian’s favorite Thanksgivings.

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The boys’ favorite Thanksgivings were spent with their cousins.
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Not even a month after he lost his older brother, Drew found comfort in spending time with his cousins during Thanksgiving.

For the last 2 years, the three of us have had a quiet meal while the fourth chair remains empty.  We will visit the cemetery tomorrow morning and do our best to enjoy another Thanksgiving without our boy.  Christian always loved and appreciated his Thanksgiving meal.  He also remained thankful for the smallest of things until his last breath.

Every time I see something beautiful, I wonder if Christian is showing me what he always appreciated while he was on this earth.

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I am thankful each and every day that I was able to take care of Christian for 21 years.  I am thankful for the conversations we had while I cared for him, the things he did to make me smile and for the strength I had to care for my boys with little to no help.  I am thankful for everything Christian taught me and for the things I continue to learn as I care for Andrew.  When you care for someone who cannot leave the house because of their failing health, you learn just what we should truly be thankful for – a dove on the sidewalk, the warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, a short visit from a dear friend, music, hugs, a birdsong, the smell of fresh coffee, a clean house or hearing the sound of the warm air flowing through the vents on a chilly winter night.  The more I become thankful for, the more reasons I find to praise God.  Praising God for the small miracles opens our hearts to the bigger gifts.  Our lives become filled with peace and unexplainable joy as we carry Thankgiving into our everyday lives.

1000 Miracles

Two years ago today, we laid our son to rest.  We witnessed the love and support of many – our loving family, friends we hadn’t seen in years, and friends who traveled over mountain passes to say goodbye to our boy.  A bouquet of flowers sits on my kitchen table – an array of orange roses along with white, orange and purple flowers I cannot name.  When I awoke and walked into the dining room, the scent of the flowers made a picture of Christian’s room filled with flowers after the funeral flash into my mind.  I felt the hollowness and the ache of my boy being away from this earth.

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I took on a challenge of sorts and decided to begin this last Thursday – the day our boy passed away.  I am writing down at least 10 things a day that I am thankful for along with reading and reflecting on a devotional by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts.  After 3 days, I have learned more than I have in months, maybe even years.

I learned why my mind darkened and my heart closed to God’s grace.

My husband and I went through some old photographs – pictures of my sons when they could walk and stand.  Swimming, vacations to Disneyworld and Las Vegas, horseback riding and spending time doing so many fun, simple things in Lewistown with my parents, sisters, brother-in-law and cousins.  Those were the days when my heart was full of light.  I felt, witnessed and lived God’s grace.

As the boys lost the ability to walk, brush their teeth or even feed themselves, my heart slowing darkened.  When I needed God’s grace the most I closed myself off from it.  I didn’t realize at the time why it became harder for me to notice the miracles I always noticed before Christian’s health really started to decline.

Yesterday, I read these verses:

“For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain to their inner consciousness…For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made.  So men are without excuse…they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks…and their senseless minds were darkened.” -Romans 1:19-21

My heart began to hollow out when I stopped expressing my thankfulness to God for His gifts big and small.  He gave us so much to praise Him for and continues to each and every day.  When we notice and confess the goodness He so readily gives to us, our eyes open to His divinity which surrounds us all of the time.  I know now why I began to see an extra layer to life after Christian passed away.  I began to notice things that made my heart want to burst – colors in the sky I hadn’t noticed before, sunlight on a sparrow’s face as he enjoyed seeds from my feeder, the sounds of the wind blowing autumn leaves still attached to a cottonwood.

I went on a walk yesterday and noticed things I had not noticed weeks ago.  I am sure I looked funny because I stared in amazement at the Missouri River and the way the moving lines in the water reminded me of an orchestra, the golden leaves gently fluttering on the trees, and dogs with happy faces running in the dog park.

The more thankful I become, the more I see, feel and live God’s grace.

Light at the end of the Tunnel

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I went for a walk this morning on the River’s Edge Trail, which runs along the bank of the Missouri River.  The leaves were glowing a brilliant yellow and several birds flew ahead of me along the way – a magpie, a robin and a chickadee.  The way the sun hit the trees on top of the hill and how it caused the foilage at the side of the trail to glow took my breath away.  I am almost overwhelmed at times with the beauty of God’s creation.  Since losing my son in 2014, I see things with different eyes.  I went on a walk with a friend who also lost a son, and we agreed that it’s almost like layers have been peeled away and everything we see is blindingly beautiful compared to how we saw it before.

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There have been many days over the last year, however, when I have been engulfed in darkness.  I have experienced the dark night of the soul and experienced pain so intense that I just couldn’t stand being me.  During the first year after losing Christian, I did what one of my grief books recommended, which was to lean into the grief.  This meant that I cried the tears I needed to cry and felt what I needed to feel.  I leaned on God constantly, read His word more than once a day for a while, and prayed often.  He has done a great healing in me that I will never forget.

The darkness set in during the second year.  Taking care of my youngest son, Andrew, although difficult to do while processing the tragedy of losing Christian, gave me purpose and something to focus on.  I still felt important and needed.  When I returned to work after over 10 years, everything I had ever believed about myself was dramatically changed. All of a sudden my husband was taking care of Drew, cooking meals and cleaning the house – things I have done since we married in 1992.  Suddenly I had no idea who I was.

Rather than turning to God in prayer and to His Word and reaching out to supportive friends, I turned inward and started defining myself by how the world viewed me and by what I did each day.  I felt unimportant and lost.  I stopped blogging because of the fear of what people would think if they knew I was in so much pain.  I didn’t want to be a downer by writing about the darkness and sadness.

The truth is that without darkness, we are unable to learn what needs to be brought into the light and healed.  The pain and difficulty we endure becomes life experience, and although we would rather aviod it, we can use it to help others.  Sharing my broken heart can actually help someone else who is going through their own personal tragedy.

As much as I want to be done grieving, I am not.  As Marianne Williamson states in Tears to Triumph, “it (grief) is a process – not an event- best served when we surrender to it fully.  Grief allows us to process incrementally what might be too shocking to the system to have to process all at once.”  Tears are nothing to be ashamed of, especially when they are for someone we cherished and loved so much who is not longer with us.  They wash away layers from the heart and help us to see everything with new eyes.  As I continue to cross this vast sea of grief, I will share the lessons learned and the things that God wants to show me in hopes that I can help others know that no matter how deep the sadness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

My Camino

A few months ago, my husband asked me to watch a movie with him called The Way starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez.  In the wake of the loss of his son, Thomas Avery decides to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 776 km pilgrimage across Spain also known as The Way of St. James.  The images in the movie were stunning and breathtaking.  After having lost my oldest son in 2014, I really connected to the movie.  Each person takes a stone with them that symbolizes their burdens.  Along their pilgrimage they are able to lay the stones in an area to symbolize leaving their burdens behind.

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The burdens people release have much to do with their reasons for walking the Camino.  It may be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or overcoming a physical challenge.
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The images online and in the movie are numerous.  I encourage you to follow a Camino page on Instagram or search online.  I experience peace from many of the images.

The journey ends for most at the Praza Obradoiro Cathedral.  The images of the Cathedral brought tears to our eyes.

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One of the most memorable parts of the movie was seeing the massive incense burners swaying to and fro across the Cathedral. 

The journey takes at least a month and many walk all the way to the ocean.  Some start further into France before reaching Spain.  There are numerous documentaries and one we enjoyed is called Walking the Camino.  This movie affirmed my decision to add this pilgrimage to my bucket list.

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It may be years until I am physically able to complete this journey let alone getting the time off of work, but I decided to start my journey now.  I am not able to actually fly to the beginning of the Camino at St. Jean Pied De Port, but I can walk daily to overcome the physical discomforts of muscular dystrophy, lessen the depression and anxiety of daily life and loss, and strengthen my mind and body for something great which I hope to achieve.  Here are pictures of my Camino:

I walk to the courthouse at least twice a day and always encounter beauty, whether it’s a sparrow in the grass or patterns on the sidewalk.  The flower garden in Gibson Park is full of color.  The River’s Edge Trail by Rainbow Dam is so peaceful and is also my favorite place to walk.

 

My sister and I walked the M trail behind the University of Missoula (go Griz!) and she inspired and encouraged me to keep walking and improving.  Thanks Sis!  I will always be thankful that my husband introduced me to the Camino de Santiago and we both hope to make the journey together one day.  Check out the movie on Netflix and see if you can walk away without being inspired.  Much hugs and love to you all!

Angie

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Angie sent me many photos over the years

Angie and I met at college in Rapid City, SD.  She and her roommate were just down the hall from me.  At the time, I was a huge Slaughter fan – if you listened to hard rock before Nirvana changed it all you know who I am talking about.  Angie also enjoyed listening to them.  We became good friends and she ended up inviting me to go with her to visit her dad in Iowa.  We had a great trip – lots of loud singing and Diet Coke on the road.  We played pool and her dad let us smoke in the basement.  We jammed the Wayne’s World soundtrack and roasted marshmallows in her backyard to the Dream a Little Dream soundtrack.  We also practiced doing the Electric Slide in her dad’s driveway.  I remember us finding out we both made straight A’s and her dad taking us out to dinner.  We also drove to Ames to watch Wayne’s World again.

When I got married, Angie drove all the way from Florida to be in my wedding.  We stayed in touch – writing letters and talking on the phone occasionally.  Over the years our communications became less seldom but I still thought of her often.  One February morning, her husband called me.  I had never spoken to him before so I knew something wasn’t right.  Regrettably, I was not able to pay the same favor back to her by driving down to Florida to be in her wedding.  Scott said that he received my card but in a thick voice, he informed me that Angie had passed away from a massive heart attack the year past.  He cried and told me how strong their girls were trying to be for him and the last things they said to each other.  Angie lost her father not too long before she passed away from a heart condition she inherited.  She was one of the best people I have ever known – a deacon for her church, loving mother and wife, faithful friend, caring daughter and sister.  She was at her father’s side when he took his last breath.

I only have a handful of pictures of her and several handwritten letters.  Angie is part of the reason why I write letters and mail greeting cards.  I can see her handwriting and the little smiley faces she made.  I can hear her voice and her laugh in the loops and curves of her cursive letters.  In the age of social media, letters from a friend who I loved and cared for are priceless.  I encourage you to write a letter a week to a family member or a friend.  It is so much more exciting to receive snail mail from a loved one than a bill.  Have a lovely Memorial weekend everyone and be safe!

The rose or the thorns?

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We celebrated Drew’s 21st birthday at the Allegra in the Wynn.  Chris Myers was eating dinner there and he wished Drew a happy birthday!

Yesterday, Drew had his 6 month checkup with the heart and lung doctors.  Drew has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a life-threatening form of MD that attacks muscles all over the body, including vital muscles like the heart and muscles that help us breathe.  When we took Drew to see the doctors about 7 months ago, his numbers went down, so naturally we were nervous and afraid.  To our surprise, the doctor came in the room, smiled, and asked me what I am giving Drew because his heart strength went up significantly.  It was a blessing and a relief.

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When the boys were young, they participated in Eaglemount, therapeutic recreation for disabled kids & adults.  Christian wasn’t afraid of the horses.

Not too long after receiving the good news, I kept wanting to ask about Christian.  Why did he have to suffer so much?  Why was his heart so much weaker?  WHAT DID I DO WRONG?  WEREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION?   Most of the time, as I have been reluctant to accept, we will never fully understand or even know exactly what happened until we see our loved ones again in heaven.  I believe we will experience so much peace and joy in God’s presence that it will not matter.  Even when things go well and life gives me roses, I still want to hold onto the thorns.  What will happen if I stop being so sad?  Will I forget his voice, his smile or his strong spirit?

Part of healing is being thankful for each day and living each day as I know Christian would want me to live.  I have had my pity parties and it’s normal when we are grieving, but after a while they actually do more harm than good.  Complaining and being negative keep us from being all God created us to be and all Christian would want me to be.  There were so many things Christian was not able to do and he accepted it most of the time.  So many things that are mundane or even grievous to the rest of us were all Christian ever wanted.  He wanted to work, run track and do the same classwork as the rest of the students.  He wrote letters until he could not tolerate sitting up at his computer anymore.  He tried reading the bible from front to back until his pain started and he had to spend most of the day tilted back in his chair.  He did everything he could until his last breath that chilly October morning, which feels like it was yesterday and like it was ages ago at the same time.

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I will focus on the roses in life and not hold onto the thorns.  I will honor my son’s life by thanking God for the new day when my alarm goes off.  I will be thankful that I can work and that I have my health.  I will be thankful for clouds as well as sunshine, Mondays as well as Fridays, unpleasant people and sweet people, sour and sweet.  I will live.