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.

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.

Remembering God’s Grace

Fall had always been my favorite season.  The beauty of the changing leaves and the flight of the starlings amazed me.  Since losing my son however, the arrival of Fall has brought with it a sense of dread.  Now, seeing the flowers wilt and the branches become bare make my heart ache.  This Thursday will be 2 years since we lost Christian.  As the yellow and orange leaves scattered my front lawn, I remembered going outside to take his photo on his last birthday.

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When they came to pick up the signs we rented for Christian’s birthday, I felt an ache in my heart and I didn’t know why.  The fact that we would lose him 15 days later was the furthest thing from my mind.

As the 27th approaches, I want to remember God’s grace.  I want to remember the kind things people did and said after Christian passed away.  Sure, the pain will be there but God’s grace can be in my heart too.  We literally had a roomful of flowers and a stack of sympathy cards – some from people I had never met such as a woman in Lewistown who gave us $100.  I remember my friends, Tracy and Amanda, coming over to the house and offering to help with the food after the services.  A woman from Kalispell who lost her son to the same disease just weeks prior drew me a picture of Christian.  My dad drew a picture and my mother helped as much as she could.  Another woman who lost her son to Duchenne MD flew in from Columbia Falls to attend the services.  Sara from Infinity Lofts set up a dove release for us at the graveside and let my son Andrew hold and release the first dove.  My good friend Michelle drove up from Lewistown and brought me something vegan to eat.  Our friends Mike and Monica brought us our groceries for a couple of months until I was ready to go to the store myself.  We received care packages from friends in Wyoming and Hawaii as well as family in Montana.

 

 

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We went back up to the cemetery a few days later to release more doves.  Drew was able to hold and release Sirius again.

The pain was unimaginable but God’s grace kept us from completely breaking.  Remembering the love and kindness of others makes the pain a little more bearable and gives me comfort even today.

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!