Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Enjoying small boys

It's been a while since I put up a 'Gammy' post.  There are a few delightful (to me) things we've done in the last week that I thought would be fun to add here.

A couple of weeks ago Luke and Aaron and I enjoyed exploring the small pasture next to our place.  It was windy, as you can see by Aaron's hair in the picture below.

Luke found some grass that had gone to seed.  The seed head was soft and fluffy.  Unfortunately the wind was so strong that he had his eyes closed.

On another day the boys enjoyed the process of putting up the Christmas tree.

Luke had arranged the Nativity set along with some small bells we've collected, so the next day when Charlie came, he discovered the Nativity and the bells.

On yet another day Luke asked to take a squirt bottle outside.  He found a spot in the yard where there was plenty of fine dust.   We located some sticks for stirring and an hour flew by making mud.

At one point Chuck came out to see what he was doing.  Chuck asked if he was making mud pies and Luke said he was.  Chuck then asked if we would be eating them for lunch.  Luke gave him a scathing look and said, "They are mud!  You can't eat mud!"

While he worked on his mud, Aaron explored.  I got this picture of him standing on Chuck's mini tramp, wearing his new 'Angry Birds' hat.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Missing faces around the table

So many have lost loved ones this year, as has our family.  This isn't great writing but I wrote it years ago while watching another family face Christmas without their loved one.  It seems appropriate today as well.

How to celebrate your birth
       with empty places
               round the table,
missing eyes that once met mine.

Christmas is the family holiday.

Every song, treat, smell, candle
           reminds me…
All the things to be done,
           gifts to buy,
           decorations to put up
                     emphasize the loss…
                     the ragged hole
                     left by my loved one

Why must I celebrate?

Because Christmas is for me.

You, Holy Father,
             must have felt the aching loneliness I feel
                                    when he left.
Yet You lit the skies with stars
              and music beyond any I can imagine.

Jesus, Holy Child,
              must have known my lostness
              when you exchanged your oneness with the Father
                          for a long distance relationship.

So I’ll light my candle with you,
              Holy Spirit,
                           here with me
               waiting for Christmas
                           celebrated in completeness
                                         with the Holy Trinity
                                         my loved ones
                eternally surrounded
    by the music and the stars
                                         I missed out on so long ago.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm Thankful for...

Today was a 'Luke and Aaron' day at our house, which means that they arrived soon after 7am and spent the day with me.
Aaron with me
We did many things, including building with blocks, sweeping, vacuuming, burning trash, playing in the sand, riding trikes, reading stories, dancing to rap music, taking naps, and we baked a pumpkin.
At lunch, after I fixed the boys their sandwiches and they began to eat, we remembered to pray.  Luke's favorite prayer is "Thank You For the World So Sweet".  We have to sing it at every meal.  It will be a sad day when Aaron decides that he wants a different song.

After we sang our prayer, I said something to Luke about how it's good to remember to thank God for the good things He gives us.  He looked a bit confused.  I told him, "That is what we just did.  We were singing thank you to God for things we like.  How about we say more things we are thankful for?"

So the rest of our lunch was filled with taking turns saying things we were thankful for.  It was fun and full of laughter, especially when I would say something I was thankful for (like Papa---Chuck) that Luke was just ready to say himself.  Most sentences began with, "I'm glad God made..." and then we'd say the next thing we were glad for.  Of course, with kids there is less distinction between what God made and what is man made, so we were glad God made clocks and sandwiches and bread and cheese and pickles and marshmallows and many other things.  We were also glad for sunshine, and Osage Nature Trail, and pumpkins, and hugs, and especially all the people we love.

The pumpkin was done baking and I took it out of the oven just before the boys had their naptime routines.  By the time they were both down, it was cool enough for me to work with.  I began scraping the flesh from the rinds and thinking about what this pumpkin would become.

I thought it would be such fun for Luke to be able to eat something made from the pumpkin he'd helped prepare, so I got to work making some Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins. 
While I was working on them I decided that pumpkin for supper would be a good thing too, so I got out some sausage and began to thaw it.

When Luke woke up, he was pretty excited to see the muffins.  He wakes slowly so he was glad to sprawl out on the rocking chair while we waited for them to cool.  By the time they were cool Aaron had also gotten up and we had a muffin break.

While the boys munched on muffins and drank milk, I worked on the supper. I mixed the rest of the pumpkin with a pound of browned sausage, about 3-4 cups of cooked brown rice, and lots of grated cheddar cheese.  I added salt and pepper to taste.  It turned out to be enough for us and for Laura and Greg, so it was hot and ready to go when Laura came to pick up the boys.

It's not a beautiful casserole, but the home grown sausage mixed with pumpkin is a good hearty fall meal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scarcity and Being Enough

I recently read the book, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown.

 There is a lot in this book.  The title comes from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

 It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. 
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly . . .”

That quote alone is what motivated me to read the book.
I have read the other two books written by Brene Brown and really enjoyed them, but that quote....     that quote provided a small measure of healing for me.

I remember already in high school knowing that I wanted a faith that did not shrink from hard tasks.  I wanted my faith to be more than personal.  I wanted it to increase the God's kingdom of love and justice and truth and mercy and compassion on earth.

During college I had a great (and humbling) time of teaching Sunday School to Jr. High girls.  After we got married we became youth sponsors...again, great and humbling.  Then we read an article about Sabbatical as a Christian practice, a sort of Jubilee.  The suggestion was that every seven years Christians could try to practice a form of Sabbath year.  It could be doing a year of service, or it could mean trying to live on a service budget and donating more to support a service worker, or it could mean trying to do some kind of special service in your home town.  The possibilities were only limited by your imagination.

We just happened to be at a point in our lives where leaving our farm for a year was possible, so we did.  We took our 3 year old and our 1 year old and moved to a city in Illinois.  Chuck worked in housing rehab, and we were both unit leaders for a group of around 10 VSers.  It was a great year, and it gave us space to see things in new ways.

One of those new thoughts was how much easier it is to go into VS and do service than it is to incorporate service into your everyday life at home.  In VS your assignment and your support community are given to you, and your living expenses are provided.  What would it look like to live a life of service in our home community?

After we returned home we began to pray about a way of being in service where we lived.  We wanted something that would be a joint effort, and something that would not take us away from our kids too much.  Eventually we settled on foster parenting.

Foster parenting led to adoption, and by birth and adoption our family increased until we had 7 children.

And that is where the quote that inspired the book gets me.  

I'd assumed that there was an implied promise from God that if we were doing something for God, we would be saved from making mistakes, from bad choices, from decisions that hurt ourselves or our children.  That was a false assumption.

We tried to do things that were hard, and sometimes we did them well, and sometimes we did them badly.  Sometimes we got good advice and followed it, and sometimes we got bad advice and followed it.  And usually I'm OK with how that works out in life, but I struggle with it mightily when others get hurt by my mistakes.  I want my mistakes to only hurt me.  Not others.  Especially not children.  And especially not children who have already seen too much hurt.

So now that all our children are gone I spend too much time reviewing what I could have done differently, repeating to myself what I should have known, berating myself for not knowing those things, wishing I could have been more, or better, or stronger.

The book, Daring Greatly, talks a lot about what it takes to be able to dare it takes being willing to be vulnerable, to show weakness, to lack perfection in our everyday lives.

Brene also talks about what gets in the way of daring greatly.  One of those things is an attitude of scarcity.  Scarcity, according to Brene,  is waking up in the morning and your first two thoughts are: "I haven't had enough sleep" and "I don't have enough time to do everything I need to do today".

Does she listen to my thoughts?  How does she know that I wish I had been more, or better, or stronger?  Or that I still wish to be more and better and stronger?

Scarcity is big in my life.

According to Brene, people who are able to pull themselves out of scarcity thinking do it through gratitude.  I'm already working on gratitude.  I started being more intentional about that when I read Ann Voscamp's book, 1000 Gifts.  I noticed changes, but I still woke up in the morning thinking about not being enough.
During the time I read Brene's book, my Psalm of the week was Psalm 103.  I had begun to memorize this psalm a couple of years ago but never really nailed it.  That week I realized that this Psalm might be a good waking ritual, so I memorized it again.  

Now I repeat this Psalm every morning.  I know it by heart but soon I will know it so well that I don't have to pause to remember the next line.  It is full, completely full of reasons to be grateful.

who forgives all your sins,
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

From everlasting to everlasting
the Lord's love is with those who fear him.

I sometimes walk for exercise.  I've learned to play podcasts or Spanish lessons on my mp3 player to make the time pass and to occupy my mind for the thirty minutes it takes me to go there and back again (as it seems on barren country roads).  On days when I walk with no input, my mind gravitates to hard things, times I've been less than I wanted to be, hard things that I'm responsible for.  Yesterday as I walked, with only Rich Mullins singing on my mp3 player, the tears rolled with memories of hard things playing themselves out in my mind.

Then I thought about how God would be seeing this and remembered my Psalm.  I had the sensation of God taking my face in his hands, looking into my eyes, and repeating, "You are forgiven.  You are forgiven."  I am forgiven.  I am enough.

I did dare greatly.  Only time will show what was good in in our fostering and adopting, but I do know that it was something worth trying hard for, something worth even failure.  What if no one dared to do that?  What if no one felt called to try? I feel honored to know families who are choosing to dare in this way and are doing such a good job of it.  It gives me hope and joy.  I feel honored to know people who are daring greatly in many other ways in their lives as well.

I hope I can continue to dare greatly, knowing that I will fail at times, but knowing also that it is worth the struggle.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I wanted to write a bit about new directions that God has been leading, now that our nest is more or less empty.

Earlier this year, our Pastor, Anita Kehr, did a series on hospitality.  She encouraged us to be looking for ways to give and receive hospitality.  The timing was good for me.

This year has been one of receiving a lot of gracious hospitality.  One of those "peak experiences"  I wrote about in the last post included a trip to see Tim last January.  Tim's host family welcomed us and made sure we were comfortable and our needs were met.  They provided countless meals and much conversation over terere, and transportation when it didn't work for us to take the bus.  They made Tim a part of their family for ten months, and are currently  hosting another Radical Journey participant.
We learned from them a little bit of how to set our agenda aside for the purpose of connecting with people and making them welcome.

One of the other host families also set aside an evening to spend with us and the whole Radical Journey team.  We enjoyed wonderful homemade pizza and pop as we got to know the team.

Andrew's host family

A former classmate of mine and his wife carved out some time on a Sunday filled with other commitments so that we could share our hearts and pray together.
Paul and Hildi Amstutz

So many relatives also changed their schedules and made space for us in their lives.  There were wonderful meals and meaningful conversations with all of them.

David, Chuck's cousin, and his wife Judy are the founders of Alto Refugio, the Christian organization that offers hospitality and support and so much more to those touched by HIV/AIDS.  Their schedules are unbelievable, and their phones are constantly ringing with more questions and needs, but they cleared an evening to spend with us.
David and Judy Schmidt
 Their daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Sammy, were our hosts at the hotel run by Alto Refugio.  The hotel provides funding to support the ministry.  Wendy and Sammy were in the process of moving in during our stay there, and still found ways to take time with us and make us welcome.
Sammy and Wendy Avalos

Both doctors, Wes and Ester Schmidt squeezed us in between checking on sick patients, and urgent phone calls to help patients find resources to pay for their care, to show us the retreat they are building for the spiritual renewal of pastors.
Felipe and Claudia Schmidt put together a delicious asado on very little notice, making for a wonderful evening of getting reacquainted in their back yard.
Then, this summer, after Tim had returned home, we decided to take a quick trip to Colorado (another peak experience).  Abby joined us and we contacted Riley, Tim's Radical Journey teammate, to see if we could meet up.  Riley told us we were welcome to stay with his grandmother, Faye Brenneman.  She had been out of town and arrived back home the same day we came, blowing us away with her relaxed and calm hospitality.
taken near one of Faye's wildflower beds, and showing their beautiful view
So we have begun making hospitality more of a priority now.  One Sunday morning in August, there was a request in our Sunday School class for lodging  for a pastor from Bolivia.  We offered our home.

It turned out that this pastor would have been closely relating to Tim, had their team been able to go to Bolivia instead of Paraguay.  As it was, he met them at the airport in Santa Cruz and took them home to meet his family during their long layover there.  Tim already knew him!  He was in town to visit sister churches, and to bring his daughter to a local college.

The more we talked, in our broken Spanish and his limited English and with help from our friend, Linda, and from Tim, the more we learned.  Another student at Bethel, where Tim was living, had also lived with this pastor for 3 weeks.  We decided to invite her to join us, the pastor, his daughter, Linda, and Tim and his roommate for a dinner together.

Since then there have been many more opportunities...just this week there were three meals with others in our home, and one coffee date in town.

It's exciting to see where this will lead.

I know already that I want to learn to be more prepared with some easy, tasty meals either frozen ahead or ready to prepare quickly.

I want to be able to be able to set aside my pride about whether the house is wonderful or not.  Hopefully I will get better at keeping it at a level where a 15 minute pick up is enough to get by.

I'd also like to remember that a warm welcome and meaningful conversation is more important than gourmet food made from scratch, or a house that could come from the pages of an Ikea catalog. 

There are days when I fall far short of that goal, but I'm having fun trying to get closer.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moving On

As we have moved into the empty nest time of our lives, I've been hoping for new callings to make themselves evident.  That has been happening slowly, but first maybe I will write a bit about the transition.

Although I won't give details, some parts of emptying the nest were traumatic for everyone involved.  I posted about some of the lessons we were learning in the early part of that time here.  More than a year ago I did my annual review...reading through all my journal entries for the last year to see where I had been and what I had learned.  I was reviewing more than a year's worth of entries, however, because it was more than a year since things had turned rough, and I'd skipped some of my regular review points.  I usually review on my birthday and at the beginning of the year, but I was behind in that process.

Things had been rough in more ways than just with our immediate family.  Other parts of my life and my relationships had gone out of control.  My journal was very difficult to read.  It vividly brought up all the anger and grief I had experienced.  I ended the reading time furious, almost enraged, tied up in knots, feeling like a failure, hyper aware of all the ways I had not been the person I want to be. 

Usually my annual review is an uplifting time full of gratitude.  I'm reminded of all the ways God has been faithful and all the holy moments I have experienced.  Fortunately I had taken the unusual (for me) step of setting aside two days as a spiritual retreat for this annual review.  I took the second day to read the journal again.  Seems counter-intuitive, right?

The second reading was full of grace.  I still saw my failures and my pain, but this time I could also see how hard I had tried, how much I wanted to be on the healing side of the picture.  I could also see God in the picture.  I can't say how thankful I am for the hard Psalms, the not-so-joyful ones.

Psalm 90 in particular really resonated with me during that time period.  It is a tough Psalm recounting a sense of the futility of life.  It ends with a plea:

"Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble...
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us---
yes, establish the work of our hands."

That last verse especially was a cry from my own heart, and probably still is.  It seemed that the things I had worked for had failed...partly because of my own mistakes...but also because of how life just seems to happen.  The things I had wanted for the people I love were good things, things I still want for them, for me.  I hope that those things will be established.  But it's not so much in my hands anymore.

Reading through all of that stuff a year ago seems to have been a turning point for me.  It was less like walking through a doorway into a new and brighter room, and more like driving to Colorado.  In the year since that retreat, the landscape has changed.  We got to higher ground without realizing we were climbing.  The hard parts got easier, and other joys took over.  There have even been some peak experiences.

At the end of the two day retreat, the Psalm that I read was Psalm 71, which, coincidentally, is the Psalm of the week for me this week.  It is a psalm the recognizes the hard times but has so much more hope and resolve in it. 

As for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.

Gradually, that is the space I have moved into.  I'm still pretty aware of the hard parts, and of my role in those hard parts.  I'm also aware of God's deep deep love.  And I'm getting involved in things that I love, things that I seem to be made for.  Last week's Psalm was 103, which I've decided to memorize.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west, 
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

My role has shifted now from active parenting and living through crises of both parenting and of other life issues.  Now I'm more of a cheerleader/sounding board/background prayer provider.  As that has happened, new possibilities are opening up. I'm looking forward to seeing where they lead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September morning walk

I have a long list today.  So many things I want to do.  So many other things I should do...

Taking a walk was on the 'should' list.  It's on the 'should' list because even though I usually enjoy my walk and am glad I went, I almost never look forward to going.  But women of a certain age gain weight easily and exercise helps that.  It also keeps us mentally sharp.  And who can argue with walking on a morning that has bright sunshine, a gentle breeze, and temperatures between 60 and 70?

So I went, with Rich Mullins music on my mp3 player to set my pace.

My birthday is this month and I'm grateful for a September birthday because the wild sunflowers are at their peak in September.  I caught myself feeling sorry this morning for people who have the misfortune to be born in any other month.  The sunflowers seemed like a gift just for me.  Alongside them were lower clusters of pale lavender clover plants.

It was too beautiful for the music so I walked with just the sound of my feet and the wind.

As I walked I thought about the Richard Rohr tapes I've been listening to.  He speaks of prayer as being full surrender of the self to God.  Our culture is so much about 'me'.  We want to have formulas for prayer, even, so that WE can do it right and MAKE God show up for prayer.  Could I be more in tune with this moment, with God, and less aware of myself?

I smiled as I remembered my so recent thoughts about the sunflowers seeming like a gift for me.  Of course they are---but no more a gift for me than for anyone else who happens to really see them.  It's not about me.  It is about so much more than me.  And that is a relief and a blessing.

Does God create this beauty for us?  Maybe.  Or maybe it is like when I push my hands into the dough of my bread.  He just loves making things that are good.  Or maybe it is so many things...a beautiful package for bird food, perhaps?

At any rate, the sunflowers are there.  God is there.  And I was in a place physically, emotionally, and spiritually where I could enjoy both.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Conventions Are Over

In the interest of full disclosure, I lean heavily toward the Democratic Party.  That said, this is not a post about my candidate.  It is an admission of weakness.

In the last election, more than any other previously, I had a vision for where this country could go if Barak Obama would be elected president.  I thought that if the person I believed in would win, that the country would change for the better.  I'm not going to talk about why that vision has become sadder and wiser, except for this one thing.

We cannot put hope in people when our hope is in God.

The world will not be saved by the promises of any politician.

We the people of this country are the ones who determine what it is made of, and we...I...still have a lot to do.

We are more deeply divided politically than I can remember in this country.  Our deep divides between left and right are fueled by our choices to surround ourselves with people who agree with us, news sources that report what we want to hear, and a mentality of us vs. them.  Then we vote for people based on the misguided mentality that this kind of seclusion fosters.  And those people we vote for see that what we want is politicians who won't give in on anything, won't compromise, won't listen to other viewpoints.  They see that, because that is what we are doing, and that is what we are demanding from them.

A friends who works at the homeless shelter meets volunteers from all political stripes.  Christians from all along the spectrum, who are working together, following the command to serve those who have fallen on hard times.  There is something about working together that allows people to lay aside some of their prejudices.  People may not agree on political solutions, but they do agree to do whatever they can to make a difference.  They gain respect for each other.

I have opinions about the policies of the political parties, and which party is more likely to help those who struggle.  So I am free to vote those opinions.  But more important than my vote is my action.  Jesus warned that it is how we treat others that determines how we treat Jesus.  That is a daily exercise.

I'm listening to talks by Richard Rohr right now, who says that we cherry pick the words of Jesus.  We only obey about 25% or less of what Jesus said, and we rationalize away the rest of it.  What if the Christians of this world took Jesus seriously?  How would this world be different?  How would our politics be different?  If we every day people were talking with each other, respecting each other, working together, maybe our politicians would be able to do the same.  One thing Richard Rohr suggested was that one good reason to love our enemies is that it is our enemies who can most clearly see our faults.  If we want to become better people, loving those who see our weaknesses might be a good idea.

I read a story in Sojourners the other day.  Sojourners might be considered to be a liberal Christian magazine.  The story was about joining with religious persons from all across the spectrum for an issue that Christians could agree is important.  Sojourners alongside Focus on the Family!  Within a week after these people joined together and issued a statement and spoke with political leaders, a huge change was made in the immigration policy of our country.   You can read about it here:

Our leaders, whomever they are, take their mandates from us.  It is time for us to stop waiting for our leaders to work together to heal our country.  It is time for us to stop believing in political candidates for salvation and healing.  It is time for us to stop isolating ourselves to only those people who agree with us.  It is time for us to listen to and practice all of what Jesus said.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Enjoying the season

With a summer as dry and as populated with rabbits as ours has been, the existence of fresh vegetables in our garden is a bit of a miracle.  But we have chard...beautiful abundance.  We've enjoyed making up new recipes to include this vitamin filled vegetable in our meals.

Below is a stack of four leaves of chard.

 To use chard, I cut out the center rib and slice it thinly as you would celery.  The rest of the leaves get cut into small pieces as you would spinach.  Below is the same chard ready for cooking.
 For this particular dish we kept it pretty simple.  I diced a slightly frozen skinless chicken thigh and sauteed it in oil with salt and pepper.  Then I removed it from the pan and sauteed the sliced ribs from the chard leaves, again salting lightly.  When they were transluscent, I added the cut leaves and lightly salted them, stirring and frying until they were deep green and tender.  Then the chicken went back in along with a large handful of sliced almonds.  The cooking time is a total of 10-15 minutes, if you don't count the time it took to pick, wash and chop.  Here is the result.
I was a bit worried about whether Chuck would like it, but his assessment was, "This is really really good!"

Since then we made another sauteed skillet meal with chard.  It included sliced onions, chopped up leftover French fries from Five Guys, a small amount of diced ham, the chard, and eight beaten eggs, added in that order.  When the eggs were cooked through we added grated cheese to the top, put the lid on and let it melt.  With only two of us at home, and both of us light eaters, that was enough for two meals.  We will fix that again, although we will have to find a substitute for the Five Guys French fries.

It's just a bit early for sunflowers, but this has been the summer for things to be early.  We enjoyed these sunflowers picked from the ditch mixed with salvia from the plants my parents gave me.
I didn't really title this post about gratitude, but noticing and enjoying flavors and colors is a big part of gratitude for me!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

a gratitude journal

I bought a tiny composition book, about 3"X3", if my estimation is right.  It is a place to write down the things I love.  I'm finding that I love this book, because it is helping me to notice the good things around me.

Today's list includes these things:

While teaching Sunday School to a lively bunch of 5th-6th graders who were brimming over with conversation, I loved the sudden and completely reverent silence as they heard me read from Isaiah 2: 3-5..."Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.'  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  Come, house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord."

As we worshiped, I realized how much I love the grace of Joan, who has offered her gifts and frailties so humbly in her ministry with us.

I love the swell of many voices raised in praise to God---"and Holy is your name to all generations..."

I loved the mix of Spanish and English around the table this evening while pastors from Kansas and Bolivia visited with Tim and Linda and with us over pizza in our home.

The taste of freshly sliced peaches sweetened and heaped over vanilla ice cream.

The blooms of blue salvia that continue through the entire summer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Hike, and what it taught me

Ever since we were dating, Chuck has told me about Ouray, Colorado.  He vacationed there with his family when he was young, and he loved the area.  It is nicknamed 'Switzerland of America'.

the mountains above Ouray

Whenever he told me about Ouray, he included a description of a hike that he loved to the Chief Ouray gold mine.  The trail was beautiful, but there was this place where the narrow and slanting trail was midway up a steep mountain face, with a sheer drop below and a steep climb above.  Whenever Chuck described this trail to me, I pretty much knew it was something I would not be able to do with my fear of heights.

This year we went to Ouray.  I had hopes that since hiking is such a popular activity, the trail would have been widened and made much safer since his childhood.  The trail to the mine was on our list of priorities for our five days in Ouray.

Our start on the trail was good.  In all of Chuck's descriptions, he had always remembered only one narrow scary place, so my assumption was that the trail I was on was the good part.  There were a lot of eroded places, and Chuck often commented that the trail was not nearly as well cared for as he remembered.  Parts of the trail had washed out a bit.  I had to step gingerly along those parts.

I really wanted to be brave, to not hold Chuck or the kids back, and so I tried very hard not to think frightened thoughts.  At narrow spots where the trail was more daunting, I quickly learned that if I only looked at the three feet in front of my feet, it was easier to keep going without freezing up out of fear.

So I kept going.

There were 13 switchbacks up the face of the mountain.  On our way up, we did not know how many there were.  Around the time that we were getting to the last switchback (which we didn't know was the last switchback) Chuck said, "You are doing really good, Bev, but are you going to be able to make it back down?"

Chuck was being kind.  He wanted me to be free to stop when I wanted to, without feeling forced to go beyond my comfort zone.  But the effect of his words was exactly the opposite of his intent.

I became afraid.  I thought, "Chuck knows me better than anyone, and if he has doubts about whether I can make it back down, I probably can't.  I'm going to be terrified the whole way, and what if I get stuck and can't go any farther?"

That repeated itself in my head while I continued force my feet to walk on the narrow trail.  My fear increased with every step until my legs were tense enough to make my sense of balance a little bit off.  I started to feel a bit dizzy, especially when looking out across vast expanses of deep valleys.

We came to a wider area with large rocks and places where we could sit down and rest.  I thought that maybe if I stopped and rested a bit I could get control of my fears and be my brave self again...but the scared part of me kept saying "you can't do this, you can't do this, you can't do this"...

My wide spot on the trail

I decided to send the others on without me.  They were hesitant, but I was in a safe spot.  I had cell phone coverage, believe it or not.  I had some snacks and my camera.  They would come back and have lunch with me after they were done.

They went on their way.

I gingerly moved myself around for the most comfortable seat that still felt safe.  It was not hard to get comfortable.  It WAS hard to feel safe.  It wasn't even rational anymore because the trail was wide and flat where I was, there were trees nearby below me that could stop me from being hurt even if I happened to slip.  But I wasn't going to slip.  I was sitting still.  So why was I scared?

But when I looked out across the valley at the peaks all around me, my stomach would get tight and I would feel dizzy, the fearful thoughts still repeating themselves in my head.

I remembered one of the books I'd brought along on the trip, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voscamp.  The author writes that the act of looking for things we are grateful for changes our destructive patterns of thinking.  I began to name things I loved.  I forced myself to see the beauty of the peaks around me.

my view

I warmly remembered things we had done and seen so far on this vacation.  I pictured faces of family and friends.

My stomach muscles loosened and I realized that it was OK not to have reached the end of the hike.  The view from where I sat was more than enough.  It was more than amazing.

Then my phone rang with the ring that is unique to Tim's cell phone number.  I answered it.


"I'm coming to get you"

He had no doubt in his voice.  No judgement.  Just confidence.

"You are?"

"Yes.  The rest of the way is easy, with only one tiny hard part.  You can do it."


By this time the naming of things I am grateful for had done its work, and my stomach had relaxed, the dizziness was gone.  Tim quickly appeared and I led the way up the trail, asking him not to tell me where the hard part was until I had passed it.  There was a small area of the trail that gave me pause, but I remembered to only look at the ground immediately ahead of me, and I crossed it without much trouble.  Then Tim told me I was past the worst.

The trail widened out, and the climb leveled to an easy walk as we rounded the mountain we had been on and came to the side that was greener and beautiful.  It was great.

Wider, greener, more level trail ahead

And there was a waterfall.

Upper Cascade Falls

Tim hadn't told me about the waterfall, so it was a complete surprise, and such a reward.

Tim and Abby hiked beyond the waterfall to the building where miners had once been housed.  When they got back, we ate our bagels and dried fruit next to the waterfall.

what a beautiful place to eat lunch

The waterfall continues down the mountain, falling again beyond our picnic spot

the canyon cut by the river beyond the waterfall, as seen from our picnic spot, miner's cabin in the distance on the right

On the way down, I was not as scared as I'd anticipated.

The next day I did a lot of thinking and journaling and came up with some lessons learned.

  •  Sometimes in life we want to see farther ahead, and there is this saying about how God only gives us enough light for the next step.  I always hate those trite little sayings.  But this one was true for me.  Chuck and Tim and Abby had no trouble with seeing the big picture and not being afraid.  I needed to limit my view to just the next step whenever I felt fear overtaking me.  It was pretty cool really.  I'd look just ahead of my feet and realize, "I can step there."  and then, "There's a good place for the next step".    One step was achievable.  A whole five miles of steep drop offs was not.
  • Gratitude does change things.  Listing things I love was not just something to changed me.  It helped me back into reality and calm.
  • After the hike I was reading from Romans 8, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  Our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory.  My fear of the hike does not measure up to my awe of the beauty of the waterfall, or my gratitude for the love of my husband and son who helped me to see it.  How much more so in the Kingdom of God!  How little my suffering would matter if it meant that others' suffering could cease---their glimpse of God could become a clear vision, their joining the kingdom could be without reservation!
  • Chuck, Tim, and Abby decided that Tim should come back and get me.  They wanted me to see what they were seeing.  They were ready to walk together with me through the hard parts, and they knew that I would agree it was worth it, but they did not force me or shame me in any way.  That is a great analogy for how we should treat each other.
  • It would have been OK to stay where I was.  I would not have seen the waterfall, but I still would have experienced the great views of the mountains, and the change that gratitude made in my level of fear.  The waterfall was great, but it was a bonus.  Wherever I am there are lessons and beauty to be had if only I can stop and notice them.

if you look just beyond the trees you can see the road that goes through Ouray

Sunday, July 08, 2012

To the girls at the pool

July 2 was our 35th anniversary.  We decided to celebrate by going for a swim before eating supper at a restaurant.  I'd finished my swim and shower and was beginning to dress in the women's dressing area at the pool when I heard you coming.

I turned to the corner to be as modest as possible, but even so, you screamed, and exclaimed about the ugliness of my body as you ran from the dressing room.  I continued to hurry, hoping I would be alone until I finished, but you came back.  I heard you talking.  I thought you were talking to each other at first, perhaps teasing each other.  "Come on, flash us!  Show us some skin!"  Then I realized you were talking to me.

I was surprised.  I wondered if this could really be happening. I did not look at you.

You kept on until I finished, making fun of my older woman's body, making fun of the way I look, daring me to turn around.  You were foul, and rude, and abusive.  When I was done, I reached for my bag and you ran out without being seen.

As I left the office area I could hear your voices, laughing and talking about me.  I held my head high, looked straight at you and smiled.

It wasn't a friendly smile.  It was defiant, angry, and in your face.  I wanted to dare you to say those things in front of a crowd to a strong independent woman.  Would it be as easy as saying them in the dressing room to a woman who was alone and undressed?

I'm not proud of that smile.  Maybe you are not proud of your words.

My husband suggested reporting you.  I said no.  They are kids.  Any one of them alone would never have said those things.  They did it because they were in a group and needed to impress their friends.

I remember being your age and seeing an older woman in a swimming pool dressing room, so I understand your reactions.  I was surprised at what time can do to a body.  Some part of me wanted her to hide herself from the rest of us so we would not be confronted with that reality.  Now I am that woman.

I dislike large open dressing areas.  I had been glad the room was empty, and tried to stay as modest as possible.  I didn't want to use a bathroom stall because there is no clean dry place to lay my clothes.

* * * * *

I work with kids.  I have seen kids I love bully each other.  What I know about them is they are good kids.  I know when they make cutting comments, on some level they don't realize they are hurting another person.  I've heard them say it is OK because it made other kids laugh.  I know these same kids would be very ready to stand up for someone who is being bullied, if they could only recognize it.

So this is what I believe about you.  I believe each of you is a good person, and what happened Monday was not part of your best self.  I believe if we met under other circumstances, we would like each other.  I believe someday you will remember this night and feel embarrassed, and wish you could take it back.

I don't go to the pool very often, so I don't know if I will see you again.  If I did, I don't know if I would recognize you...there are too many emotions wrapped up in my memory of the evening.  However, if you saw me at the pool, and came up and talked to me, I think I'd enjoy meeting you.  I'd want to know about your school, your favorite classes, the things that are important to you.  I think you might even like me, since other young women your age are good friends of mine.

I think the hardest part of what happened was believing there was nothing I could do then to change the interaction positively.   When you were in your group, my saying anything would have made it important for you to save face in front of your friends.  I couldn't know who you really were.  You couldn't know me. 

Now, the next day, I wish I would have looked at you, made eye contact, let you see my humanity.  I'm not glad to have let you control the interaction.

I'm also not glad to have given you that angry smile.  I don't want that reaction to define me any more than the bullying should define you.  When I smile, I want it to be genuine and to offer friendship.  I apologize.

This morning, these are my hopes.

I hope this event is a one time thing that changes you to be more fully the strong and loving women you want to be.

I hope I can help young people I know to understand bullying, so when they are in a group, they can be strong enough to walk away, or even stop the activity.

I hope I can learn to be my best self even when I'm feeling vulnerable and hurt.

I hope when you are old and your body sags, you will somehow still feel beautiful, as I do.