Crying is good for you

I’ve had a lot of tears the past month, seemingly out of the blue.

I cry every time I watch the moms on The Voice. They’re either clutching their hands or someone else’s and you can just tell they’re holding their kid’s whole heart in theirs and wishing every good thing for them. And when they cry tears of proud joy when their kid gets a judge to turn around? Then I’m officially a goner. Oh, and Grey’s Anatomy- I’m a season behind, watching it on Netflix, but shaeeessh- can we just talk about Maggie’s mom? In short, I’ve probably cried a few times a week for the past 4 or 5 weeks. And that is frequent for me.

A co-worker who knows me well and saw me falling apart asked if it was the anniversary of my brother’s death. I said, nope, just a random day! But I was missing my brother. And it’s weird to me how some days I don’t even think of my brother, and some days I think about him all day long. I feel guilty when I realize it’s been a few days since I consciously thought of him. Especially when other people, decades further along in their grief say they think of their loved one (brother, spouse, etc.) every day.

I have to imagine if I had died and my brother had lived, he would have some days where he didn’t think of me and I would know that didn’t mean he loved me any less. Maybe he just was going forward in his life. I hope that’s what I’m doing.

I had two really big sobbing fits over missing my brother in the past month, no three. One was on my birthday when I realized he wasn’t there to give me a hard time for celebrating my birthday for too long. He called it Missika, an 8 day festival of lights. Another was just a day I was thinking about how much I was enjoying our niece Charlotte and how wonderful she is, and I was sad he wasn’t here for each minute. Then most recently I just missed him so I scrolled through his facebook and at first I was smiling and happy to see his face, watch his videos, and hear his voice. But by the time Andy found me I was a puddle of tears and I physically ached with how much I wished he was still here.

So I tell myself the same thing I tell my friends when they apologize for crying; tears are healing.

There are studies that found chemicals released in tears actually help humans heal. Our tears can reduce pain, lower stress, remove toxins from our body and help us to self-soothe faster than an anti-depressant. It’s actually pretty cool. Especially for someone who’s become a professional crier over the past 4 years. I like knowing there are benefits to feeling like you’re falling apart.

My mom says I never cried so easily until I came home from Kenya. Apparently, Africa broke my heart for the first time. But my brother’s death broke my heart wide open and left it raw and bleeding. It feels pretty stitched up these days. Just a leak every now and then.

This back and forth thing with grief is so unpredictable. I’m feeling mostly fine most of the time with plenty of joy, happiness and silliness sprinkled in like any other normal life. And then SURPRISE the rug is pulled out and I’m flat on my face weeping like the grief is fresh and new again.

Most grief moments still catch me totally off guard. And I still find myself grateful to have known Justin, to have loved him and to still be missing him so much, two years later. All the grief is worth it, for all the time I got to call him my brother.

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Touch the hem of His robe

Today in church we read Matthew 14. The message honed in on the story of Peter getting out of the boat to walk on water. I was caught up by what happened just after that when Jesus got to the other side.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

When my brother was sick I was praying all. the. time. Little bits of bible verses would come to mind and I would pray them for my brother. This passage reminded me of a similar story of the woman who had been bleeding for years. It’s found in Matthew 9, Luke 8 and Mark 5 where we get the longest account.

The story tells that crowds of people were pushing around Jesus and this woman thought to herself, if I can just touch his robe, I’ll get well. She got herself through the crowd and touched Jesus’ clothes. Instantly she felt the blood dry up (message version) and knew she had been healed completely. Jesus knew something had happened to and asked who touched him. The disciples were like, um… we’re in a crowd. Literally, everyone is touching you.

31 His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”

Jesus is persistent and says he felt power go out of him. The woman knows she has to fess up so she tells her whole story while she kneels at his feet.

And this is the best part. When Jesus responds he tells her “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.” (Matthew 5:34)

Often when I would pray for my brother to be healed I would reference this story in my prayers. I would tell/ask God, hey— just let him touch the hem of your robe and be healed. Just a tiny piece of your power. Could you direct it to his body and heal him?

Going back to the verses we read today from Matthew 14.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Reading it brought to mind all those prayers I had prayed. That were left unanswered for who knows why. Or maybe they were answered and my brother lived much longer than was originally intended. I have no idea, but I like that possibility.

Okay, back to these verses ^^

I love that all the surrounding areas were like, “Hey- Jesus is in town, bring all the sick to be healed!” And I imagined what it would be like if Jesus’ time on earth coincided with my little life right now. Jesus being in town, or just getting to the other side of a lake would be big news. I would have bought two airline tickets so fast to get my brother to wherever Jesus was. Just to push him through the crowds to touch the edge of His clothes so he could be healed.

When my brother died two years ago I yelled/prayed to God to remind Him that I was asking for my brother to be healed HERE, not in heaven!

So what do I even do with these thoughts now that I know that Justin could be sitting with Jesus this moment? Heck, maybe he has touched the hem of His robe!

Image courtesy of: Hem of his garment, "Faith that Touches" sermon at http://icdpentecostal.org

The truth is- I don’t know what to do with these thoughts. And to be honest they don’t come with as much frequency as they used to. So when they do, I just write them down to make note of them. To remember.

The only thing I can think to say is what my dad said just the other day. “It’s weird that he’s not here.”

Six short words. But it sums up all my feelings too.

 

What I’m reading

My most recent read was a book about the Enneagram (a personality-ish scale that helps reveal blind spots from a Christian perspective) called, “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Susan Stabile. At a girls night a couple months ago, my friend Heather mentioned this book and said she bet she could guess my number (vs letters in the Myers-Briggs). I held up my hand to stop her and told her I had the book reserved at the library and wanted to read it first before I got pegged. A friend at church had recommended it and I’m kind of a junkie for things that help with self-awareness and reveal an opportunity for growth.

I read this on a recent trip with my Dad who is a Myers-Briggs fan thinking I could read aloud sections and we could dissect it together, which we did. It was interesting and I found myself nodding along as it said things like, “this person tends to do this in stress” and “their motivation for doing this is ___” and “if they can try this instead, this could be helpful.” All in all, a good read if you’re into nosing around and getting to know yourself a little better, even the unpleasant parts.

I also read a little Richard Rohr, my first time reading his work, with the book, “Simplicity.” He’s a Franciscan priest and I enjoyed his direct and simple writing that resonated with me. One thing I really liked was when he talked about talking with God and reminded us that God is already in us through the Holy Spirit so really, all we need to do is quiet ourselves enough to hear Him speak. He said it’s so simple that it’s actually hard for people to understand. Last year at church we talked about the whisper of God’s voice and I have found that to be true in my own life. The times I hear most from God is when I’m quiet. Not when I’m like, “Hey God, can you tell me what to do?” (right now, please?). But when my thoughts have run out and I’m just sitting in silence. Sometimes then I can hear a little stirring. His book comes falls in line with things I’ve been interested in lately, like slowing things down to be able to hear from God.

Last month I read “Present over Perfect” which I loved by Shauna Niequist. Such short chapters packed with lessons on dialing back and determining and then focusing on what’s important. I probably liked it because it confirmed a lot of what Andy and I have been working on the past 18 months-2 years or so. Paring down responsibilities so we can see what needs attention. Stepping away from good things, good organizations, and doing the hard work of putting time and energy and lots of communication into our marriage. That’s been a big focus and I’m things are getting better.

I also read, “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult. My first fiction book of the year, though it was inspired by a true story. I loved this book and parts of it were downright painful to read. I remember stopping reading to squirm a little bit. It takes place in current time and is about current events regarding racism. It is helpful in pointing out white privilege and is something I am working on understanding more. I definitely recommend this book.

Next, I read “Chasing Slow” by Erin Loechner. Sensing a theme after Present over Perfect? Yeah, I like to learn from others on things I’m currently working out in my own life. It’s easy to read, encouraging and well written. She’s an engaging story teller and I felt like I was sitting in her living room just having a real conversation about life- which is pretty much my favorite thing on the planet.

Oh, and in April, I read another Anne Lamott book, “Small Victories.” I can’t get enough of her self-deprecating, refreshing honesty about spirituality, life, and relationships. And it definitely helps that she’s hilarious. I plan to get through all of her books eventually.

That’s what I’ve been reading– how about you? Read anything lately that you really enjoyed? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

Shifting Memories

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

The way I talk about my brother’s death has changed over the months and years. When people ask if his death was sudden I used to say yes. Then somewhere along the way, I said, well, others probably saw it coming but it was a surprise to me. Later I added an explanation, “I was too close to see it coming. I didn’t want to accept the possibility, so it was sudden to me.”

Then this morning, facebook showed me a reminder that 2 years ago on this date, 2 weeks before my brother died, we were looking into PCAs to help during the day and my brother was eating more than he had been. We were planning for his strength to increase.

I didn’t make up my surprise. I don’t need to justify the timing of events. It was sudden.

There was a big shift in a short period of time from– okay- this is the next step to get some strength to- oh shit- there is nothing else to do.

I read that post this morning and then I got out of bed. I walked to my closet, held onto the door for support, and I wept.

Sometimes a memory brings all the weight of the loss right to the surface. And there’s nowhere for the love to go but through my eyes.

Prayer & Death

This is something I wrote for our church recently.

The Story Project

At the start of a new year I decided I wanted to learn to pray better. Eight months into that year my brother was told he had germ cell cancer with two tumors in his chest. I cried and I prayed.

His chemo treatments started and I relaxed. There was a plan. So many of us prayed for his total healing, and by Christmas he was cancer-free. The cancer was stubborn and returned multiple times to his brain and spine with different treatments to remove it each time. A year later my brother went through a stem cell treatment out of state. He received a great report, there were lots of tears and praising God for his healing. And then the cancer returned.

My stomach dropped at each new diagnosis and relaxed at each new treatment. It was a twenty month roller coaster ride that ended abruptly. When the doctors…

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Visiting Arizona

While we were still in CA with friends, we mapped out our next 7 days on the road, which was the most we had ever planned in advance on this trip. We wanted to visit the slot canyons (Antelope Canyon) in Arizona. They’re found in Page, AZ at the very top of the state just south of Utah.

We ended up scoring a ridiculously cheap (and kind of terrible) camping spot next to a busy road, but they had a pool and laundry facilities so we considered this spot a huge win with temps in the upper 90s in September.

We went to Horseshoe Bend one night at sunset where the Colorado river makes a big u-turn. It is an easy walk to get there and apparently a huge tourist attraction. We took pictures of the river and the sunset, but this one is my favorite.

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When Andy found himself stuck inside a selfie

We also visited Antelope Canyon. The land is owned by a reservation and you can only visit the slot canyons by booking a tour with a guide. It is INCREDIBLY crowded, but if you look up most of the time you can’t see any of the other heads all around you!

We waited outside, then inside, then outside again to walk down stairs to get inside the slot canyon. Our guide was fantastic, kind patient, not pushy, and shared lots of history with us.

This is one of those times where the pictures don’t do it justice. The landscape was breathtaking and awe inspiring.

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Antelope Canyon

 

The picture on the right above shows the chief’s face that the guide pointed out to us. It was so peaceful looking up and seeing these beautiful colors and curves. I could have stayed down there a lot longer, though our tour time was sufficient to see it all since we kind of huddled through it with our groups.

At one point some sand started to fall and that was pretty once it stopped and I realized we weren’t about to be buried alive.

If you’re anywhere near Page, Arizona I wholeheartedly recommend stopping to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

Utah National Parks

We drove east from California after a wonderful visit with friends and spent three days camped outside Zion National Park in Utah. The campground shared a space with a local hotel and we were unexpectedly able to use the pool too! We met people from Kentucky and the Netherlands and laughed that the pool was full of campers rather than people from the hotel. The temps were in the upper nineties the second week of September, we all knew a good thing when we found it!

We got into Zion around 4 pm the first day and I’d like to thank Andy’s tattoo for getting us some good info from the get-go. At the visitor center a Park Ranger recognized Andy’s tattoo, they talked about Big Sky, Montana (where the mountain range on his arm is from, and wouldn’t you know the guy used to work there). And he said, “Okay, I’m going to give you all the cool spots- let’s see, what time is it, okay, you can see this and this tonight and then take the walk back at sunset to have a full view of the Watchman (big mountain) with the sun setting on it.”

Zion park has become so popular (nearly 4 million visitors last year) that there isn’t enough parking for everyone within the park limits. So they have a shuttle service that runs people back and forth to set destinations in the park and then you can hike, climb, wander from there.

This was a really nice treat for us since we had been in our car for 2 months at this point and now we could BOTH stare out the windows in awe as we listened to the narration through the park.

One thing I noticed right away was it seemed that everyone had the same awe and appreciation for what we were seeing. The shuttle was packed but when the guide started talking everyone fell silent and listened while looking at the tall red rocks just outside the windows.

For our first night in the park, we followed the Ranger’s recommendations from the visitor center and he was spot on which gave us a great start and welcome to Zion. The walk he mentioned was about 2 miles and we only saw about 10 other people on the trail at sunset with most of the time we were alone with the vast park all around- it was surreal and stunning.

 

There was huge red rock all around us in the park, the Virgin River was green and breathtaking, and we were just two small people walking beside it. I was wowed from the first moment I saw the park.

 

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Zion Park walking path that meets up with the Virgin River

 

This walk made me think of the Animaniacs song where Yakko sings, “It’s a great big universe, and we’re all really puny, we’re just tiny little specs about the size of Mickey Rooney.” So maybe I was humming that as we walked along.

Our campground was just outside the park but this was my view while I did the dishes at the campsite each night.

 

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Sunset at the campground overlooking Zion

 

The next day we visited Bryce Canyon National Park which is known for their amphitheater and huge hoodoo rock spires. I found this lone tree and used one of the roots  (below my right arm in the pic) as a seat to look out over the spires while Andy went exploring for a while. It was one of my favorite spots in the park.

 

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Bryce Canyon 

 

We didn’t do any long or crazy hikes in this part of the trip since Andy had sprained his ankle on a bouncy house slide when we were visiting our friends in CA. But we did hike down a bit to see what it looked like from underneath. I kept saying wow on repeat.

We met some kind retirees on a bus tour who took the time to tell us about their lives. One guy had met Michael Jackson and had designed some of our childhood toys. Some asked us questions and encouraged us to keep traveling and taking trips like this.

 

Our last day in Zion we did more hikes, saw some beautiful waterfalls and a rock climber who was stuck with not enough rope (he got help).

These are two parks I would go back to again with no hesitation.

West to southwest

The next part of our road trip/sabbatical took us on a loop of visiting some of our favorite people.

In Washington state we saw family and lots of friends, some I hadn’t seen in 18 years! Portland and Bend gave us more friends and their families and we got to visit our own family in Eugene, Oregon. From there, we took ourselves wine tasting in California before driving south to stay with friends on the Central Coast. On the first full day of our visit Andy went down a bouncy house slide and landed smack on his ankle. It swelled with impressive hues of purple and laid him up for the next few days and we both got sick for the first time on the trip. We were staying with wonderful friends who made us homemade chicken noodle soup and took us on new adventures together at the pier, coffee and thrift shops and bubblegum alley.

We went to church with our friends and the pastor talked about our spirits being like a cup and the Holy Spirit our unlimited refills. He said some of us are full, some are empty and others are somewhere in between. If we’re full, we don’t need to keep consuming more and more (church, messages, etc.) we can pour out so we can be refilled again.

I really liked that message and kept turning it over in my mind. There have been times where I was running on empty and other times in my life that I kept taking in more information instead of pouring out what I had been given to others. I looked at our trip, 9 weeks or so on the road at that point, and I realized I had been slowly getting refilled as we moved along the road. My first big fill up was with our friends in Vancouver, BC. We were still getting our travel legs under us and they gave us love in time and generosity that caught me by surprise. More fill ups happened with friends and family in Washington, Oregon, and now California.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying having good friends are better than Jesus. I’m saying God used our family and friends to fill me back up. He was speaking through them, to my soul that had become a bit dry and crusty. Some spoke difficult truth in love, others gave kindness and hope when I was discouraged. One friend said she noticed a different gentleness in the way we spoke to each other since the last time she had seen us. I was glad she took the time to see it and tell me, it was encouraging.

I left California refreshed and optimistic about what was next for us. Andy drove us through 4 states that day, California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Next up was the beautiful landscape of more National Parks and another week of camping, our last long stretch of it! More of Utah in the next post.

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Our trusty steed

WA camping and God on the beach

In between visits with family and friends we’ve had some good camping nights just the two of us. Our night in La Push, WA was especially fun because we weren’t even planning to go to Olympic National Park, but then, we did. And once we were over there, we needed to find a place to camp. There was a campsite in the woods not far from First Beach, but it was full. We drove past a place on the ocean that had cabins but it said no vacancy. Getting a campsite/room has often become my responsibility with Andy parking the car and saying, “go do your thing.”

I walked in and spoke to the woman at the counter. I mentioned I saw the no vacancy sign, but wondered if she knew anywhere we could tent camp. She brightened and said, “Tent camp? We have two spots left on the beach if you want to see them!” We did and we happily took one. The Native American reservation we were on limits spots on the beach due a big fire that happened there years ago.

The beach was beautiful and quiet with not to many other campers, and the roar of the ocean was loud. Andy walked up and down the beach first. He came back with some rocks he wanted to bring home to my step-dad who loves all kinds of rocks. Later, I walked up and down the beach and found one rock I thought was pretty cool. I put it next to Andy’s outside our tent (which was on the little rocks) near our tent pole so we could find them in the morning.

There was a beautiful sunset- the whole night was like a dream. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves was something I didn’t expect to do on this trip and it was amazing.

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First Beach in La Push, Washington

This was my view when I woke up the next morning!

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Happy Camper! (Insert Jim Gaffigan camping quote here)

See all those rocks on the beach? They all look roughly the same. So when we took down the tent I didn’t think about moving our special hand-picked rocks. I bumped a pile with my shoe and remembered and went back to the corner we had placed them, I found Andy’s but not the rock I had picked.

I know this sounds silly, and it is, but I was particularly fond of that rock. It was mostly grey but had a big white spot on it with some pretty shiny parts going through it and it was-in my humble opinion- a unique rock compared to the others which was why I had picked it up. But that rock was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t with Andy’s rocks.

Andy picked his favorites to bring to my step-dad and helped me look for a little bit and then he headed back down over the creek, and across the logs with most of our stuff to start loading the car. I let him know I was going to look a little longer.

And then I did something even sillier. I prayed about it. I said, “Okay God- I know this is just a rock and I know there are far more pressing things in the world than this rock so I completely understand if you don’t answer this prayer, I just really liked that rock, so if you wanna help me find it- cool, and if not- I totally get it.”

I stood there staring at the same hundreds of rocks, and I slowly started moving piles of them with my shoe back and forth and back and forth. They all looked the same. This went on for several minutes (I was dedicated) and then, all of the sudden, there it was. That same silly rock, mostly grey with shiny white. And how did I respond, like a normal person, perhaps?

I burst into tears.

It was a swell of emotion so abrupt I caught myself off guard. All I could think of was verse after verse in the bible where God talks about knowing every hair on our head, every tear that falls is kept in a bottle, the story Jesus shares about going to look for the one lost sheep or the lost coin, how very, very valuable each human is to God.

And to think that the God of this universe cared enough about me in that moment to remind me that He is with me, listening and loves me enough to let me find a special rock- well… that’s beyond cool. I can’t find the words to describe the feeling.

Side note here: I’m choosing not to read into this any further and wonder about all the hundreds of people that were praying for my brother to live and he died, but God gave me a rock?! I really don’t believe in the phrase “everything happens for a reason” because I don’t think it does. But I do believe “God’s timing is perfect.”

For one example, I look at my sister-in-law’s life now and though I wish my brother was still here- I can’t help to see that God is doing an amazing thing in knitting together her new family, in the way He provides for her, and for her daughter, and I can’t deny that God works through really crappy situations to bring good out of them too (my paraphrase of Romans 8).

Okay- but back to the rock. Honestly– what are the chances I could have found it again? Look at that picture! They all look the same- and maybe from God’s view of the earth all people look the same, but He can pick any of us out of the crowd and say, “Hey you- yes YOU, I see you, I hear you, I know you, I’m with you, I love you. Let’s spend some time together.”

We’re not unknown to Him. He’s with us, loving us and listening to us- even when we don’t (even when I don’t) remember that simple truth.

Crater Lake National Park

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Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Andy wanted to go to Crater Lake and I knew nothing about it, but I like lakes so I was like, let’s do it! He handed me the newspaper that the bigger National Parks hand out at the entrance that talks about the history of the park and intersting facts and I read the whole thing.

The crater was formed when a volcanic mountain erupted. If the ash from that eruption had been spread evenly over the entire state of Oregon, it would have been 8 inches thick! This is the deepest lake in the US with one spot over 1900 feet deep. The deep blue color is because the lake was formed by snow melt and rain over thousands of years. Because of that it’s one of the purest bodies of water in the world because nothing can flow into or out of it.

I mean- crazy cool, right!? I honestly could have stared at it all day. And we mostly did- just from different angles all the way around it. The lake makes up only 10 percent of the park in size, there’s a bunch of cool forests all around too. But there’s no misunderstanding how the lake is the main attraction. I mean….

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It’s almost impossible to get the whole lake in one shot!

I love this last one because if there weren’t pine trees in the picture, the shifting colors at the edge could almost pass for the caribbean sea and a sandy shore.

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Long story short, if you find yourself able to pass through the middle of Oregon, you may want to hit up Crater Lake.

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I’ve heard people talk about the first time they see it as breathtaking, I can vouch for that. I don’t think I spoke for a good few minutes other than, “Wow.”