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.”

The People Part!

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Andy on the ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes in Washington

After visiting the North Cascades we went back up into Canada, but this time to see friends. Our number 2 reason to take this trip was to spend time with people we love that we rarely get to see. We started calculating our vacation time versus the distance and cost to travel to see people and how many years it would take to see them all, and it would have been years upon years. So when we started kicking around the idea of this trip, dropping in with friends and family along the way made great sense! We couldn’t think of any better way to maintain those relationships than to spend time together- so we did.

We lived and laughed with everyone we connected with and our time together was heart and soul filling. Often our friends shared how God has been working in their lives recently and we stepped away encouraged. It would be a ridiculously long list if I mentioned each person individually and shared how much we enjoyed our visit so I’m going to summarize and please know that we LOVED our time with you and are so grateful we were able to visit!!

From BC, Washington, Oregon and California we visited 48 friends and family! (Not counting Montana and Alberta there were another 19.) Huh, it really didn’t feel like a lot until I counted them all! See– this would have taken years to pull off with annual vacation weeks!

The big chunk of visiting took place over a month, with camping and a hotel night in between. It was definitely what Andy affectionately calls, “The people part of the trip.” He said if we were going to move somewhere we should pick the Pacific Northwest because we’d have some built in support to build community out here. All I have to say is tempting… because everyone we’ve spent time with is wonderful. And then I think of the people that call us Auntie and Uncle and I want to point the car east and head toward home.

But not yet. We have a month to go (roughly- as I’m writing this) and I’m doing my best to enjoy these moments as I’m in them. I’m thankful for this time that Andy and I have together and am so grateful for the kind people in our lives that we’ve been able to reconnect with on this trip.

Thanks for inviting us into your lives, homes, vacations, breakfasts, lunch meet ups, sailboat, football stadium, beach bonfire and ice cream shops. We love you all.

And come to Minnesota, will ya?

North Cascades National Park

This park gets its own entry because we stumbled upon a beautiful place here. Andy and I bought the annual national park pass for this trip, but it turns out, you don’t need it for this park. There is no fee station at the entrance, but there was a visitor center just before the park. Since Andy and I have always learned something new and helpful at visitor centers, we don’t pass these up. A kind volunteer gave us a slew of options for places to see and we were on our way!

As is custom for our trip, Andy was driving and I was staring aimlessly and happily out the passenger side window when suddenly something caught my eye, I yelled, STOP! PULL OVER! I have to give Andy credit for this part, and maybe it’s because I hadn’t done this before, but he pulled over at the next pull out all while subtly questioning me at the same time with “are you serious?” All I could think to say was, I saw something pretty.

He parked and followed me back to what can only be described as a scene out of a fairy tale. Everything was lush, green, squishy and beautiful. There was a smallish waterfall with down trees all over and moss and old man’s beard was growing everywhere- on the big rocks, on the bark of the fallen trees across the water stream, on the ground. In a word, it was breathtaking. Once we arrived Andy said, “Oh wow.”

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by green things in nature and water in the form of lakes, oceans, waterfalls, brooks, streams, rivers- but I love it all. I was pretty happy in this place and was pretty content to gently explore around it. There were a zillion shades of green under a canopy of extremely tall trees.

There was no one else there, so we took our time in climbing and looking at everything from different views. It was so peaceful. The further I climbed the more little mounds I could see on the upper left side- it looked like a hobbit could come bounding out of one at any moment. I’ve tried my best to describe it with words, here are some pics that don’t nearly do the place justice. Probably because sunlight was streaming in making the place all the more magical and it was midday, or maybe just because I was just stepping around in awe, trying to capture with my little phone what my mind could hardly contain.

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My attempt to capture a storybook scene

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Doesn’t this look like a great place for a hobbit to live?

 

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What I saw out the window that made us stop

We came about this place from the west entrance of the park and it’s near a sign that says “Pyramid Lake” in case anyone wants to scope it out. I don’t know if someone else would think it’s as cool as we did. I am, self admittedly, easily amused. But this stop makes my “favorite places” list of things we’ve seen so far on this trip.

 

Homebody as a Nomad

We have a road trip tradition of stopping at A&W for a root beer. For this trip, our first A&W stop was in BC on a 96 degree day. It was notable because we had been in the mountains for the past three weeks and the highest temps we had were in the low 80s. We had our lunch in the cooler so we pulled into the A&W parking lot and Andy suggested we make the sandwiches in the shade of the car. He stood on one side, I on the other. I handed him the cutting board and knife and he passed the bread and mustard to me. He sliced the cheese and I layered the turkey and I handed his completed sandwich back.

We moved to the front seats with the car windows down and in between bites Andy said, “Nomading is weird.”

I laughed thinking back on the scene that had just unfolded and how far it was from our normal day to day life at home. After a few moments of silence I said, “Yeah, I don’t think I could do this long term.” Andy’s response was immediate- “You couldn’t! You’re a homebody.” I thought for a moment before agreeing– I am a homebody.

I like being in one place or at least having a place to come home to. 

We’ve been traveling now for 60 some days and we have just under a month left. We’ve stayed in countless tent spots across ND, MT, WY, Alberta, BC, WA, (friends and family in OR) and CA. We’ve had a couple nights in the car (one when our tent pole broke) and two hotel nights. It’s two more than I thought we’d have, but they’ve both been a refreshing break when we needed them.

And the best has been the days and nights we stayed with friends and family. Twice I’ve stayed up past 2am talking to different friends in their living room, catching up on life, sharing thoughts and ideas, discussing how we’re learning to be better adults and all sorts of real, honest things.  

For a self identified homebody the repeated changing environments have been an adjustment. I’ve had to find a new way to feel, “at home” on the road. And here’s the surprising part I discovered: Home is where the tent is

I was totally shocked by this. I didn’t even realize it until after staying with friends and family for a bit. But when we set it up after a few days without it, I crawled in, and I’m not sure if I said it aloud, but I certainly felt my heart say, “hello, old friend.”

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Andy making breakfast north of Jasper National Park, Alberta

At night I bring in my tiny bag (about the size of my hand) that holds medicine, earplugs, (I never know who we’ll be camping next to) and my headlamp. I usually grab whatever book I’m reading and my journal in an effort to stay caught up on our daily events.

And here’s something I never thought I’d say….I looovvve our tent. My 20 year old (not exaggerating) sleeping bag, teeny thermarest and inflatable pillow have become my creature comforts. Even with those things, it’s really not that comfortable. If given the option to climb into a tent or not at home, I’d never hop inside. But somehow, this tent has become my my safe place.

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Andy with our tent in California

This tent was our first joint purchase while we were dating, 11 years ago. It seemed a little roomier then!

Even if it’s cozy, it’s nice to have a home away from home on the road.