That time my Mom got stage 4 cancer

Stage 4 kidney cancer. What does that even mean? It’s a question I ask over and over and over. I could quote things from cancer websites or pamphlets from the hospital. But the answer I’m looking for isn’t in the booklets. No, the answer I’m looking for is kept some where deep inside. Some where no PhD can answer. I always knew no one leaves this life alive however to know something intellectually and experience it first hand, any one can see the difference.

What stage 4 cancer means in my life was not what I was expecting at all! Although things rarely happen the way I expect them, that’s why God invented therapy.

Stage 4 kidney cancer:

It means everything, yet It also means nothing.

It means everything because now I know. Now I know to call more, stay a little longer and forgive a little quicker.

It means nothing because life is running on its own time. My death date is what it is. We all die. The feeling of powerless over the out come opens up room to just relax and live one day at a time. Gods on the job.

It means There will be times when the phone rings and the other end is full of tears. I listen. Don’t make it better. Don’t fill the silence with “well at least you caught it” or “at least it wasn’t 20 years ago” I just try say “thank you for sharing your pain, let me share with you mine…”

It means I bring my babies over to see her. Let them be kids around her. It will be healing for them and me and her. Some times the normal sounds of laughter or cries or the tiny feet on the stairs is all that is needed to balance the scales.

It means if my 4 year old asks me to sit next them with a cup of hot chocolate I try to take the time and be grateful when i can and ditch the guilt when i can’t.

It means that thing I have been putting off saying to whom ever it is I haven’t been saying it to, say it. An extra I appreciate you can go a long long way.

It means get comfortable with feeling completely powerless over all results and circumstances. It pisses me off. It’s important to let it. Anger is a normal human emotion. It’s there to help guide me to know when something isnt right, stage 4 cancer isn’t right! I feel it, talk about it and until it can be let it go, I keep working at it.

It means hug a few seconds longer. Hugging actually produces all kinds of helpful things in our brains and bodies. Aside from the fact that it helps to feel like a being in the presence of another being. Connection chases off all loneliness.

It means to keep a sense of humor. We affectionately refer to my moms gigantic tumor as her change of life alien baby boy. It was big enough to be a baby. My moms nickname now with me is Sigourney Weaver, inspired by the movie Alien. Always enjoy the laughs. Ditch the guilt or shame that just because someone is dealing with something so serious that I can’t enjoy life with them.

It means to text or email that funny kid story or video. In the dark of night those moments, to be able to replay, will get them to the next hour until the sun begins to rise.

It means this cancer isn’t mine. It’s hers. Give room for dignity in the suffering. To allow room for my family. To still travel as intended or family days as intended. To look my partner in the eye and see them. Because when the hard days of my own suffering comes, and they will come, I am going to need them. I can’t give support I don’t have my self.

Stage 4 cancer can mean 100 different things for 100 different people. In the art of medicine every case is so different. The answers I’m looking for aren’t found in consultations or CT scans. The answers I’m looking for are right in front of me, things I have been striving to do all along.

Love hard!

Dig deep!

Trust the process!

Connect to the Creator.

As I find a way though my journey, leave room for others to find their way through theirs.

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Part Three: life after loss

Preschool is out and I’m driving away from yet again with a 4 year old in a complete melt down because he doesn’t have time to put his belt on before we have to pull away from the pick up line.

My nerve endings are fried. My head hurts. I have no creative solutions for this. My fear of change is being complicated by the fact that my son is not understanding my need for my happy car comfort zone. See he has no idea one of my accusers is there picking up his daughter. Gods sense of humor or maybe divine intervention Either way David and his cousin are in the same preschool class and I had no clue I was about to be thwarted in to an awareness of beauty that would be born from this moment. However this moment deserves a look back in time to last summer because many times in my life history repeats it self and one more time the safety net is set before I know I’m falling.

A friend of mine used to say often “if you can’t identify the problem, you have no need for the solution”. Well I had no idea the panic attacks were a problem, in fact I was completely unaware that I was even having them, a short memory works well for many things. All the while they were getting worse.

One day I think I just ran out of justification in my tool box. I used it all up. I picked up the phone and called a friend. She is a therapist at an all womens treatment center, she knew how to talk me back to reality.  When she said to me, “often anxiety can come from unresolved feelings or perhaps our bodies store memories, did anything happen today that might be coming back?” I look at the calendar, the date was August 20th.

I said yeah something happened on this date, Danica died.

I couldn’t deny anymore that the pipeline of processing her loss was clogged. I knew it was time to dig deeper and look at when my process became damned up.

I found a therapist and she was perfect fit for me. I sat down with her and shared some of my journeling. We talked at length about the reason for pain and the connection between pain and growth. She introduced me to a process of living that I was out of practice with: the prcatice of living a life of vulnerability and living without the protection of emotional armor.

My armor became something that was so comfortable I didn’t even realize I had it on. It wasn’t until this season of self reflection did I begin to see that I was slowing killing my self from the inside. Cutting my self off from the connection of others and from God. I was so afraid of getting hurt again that I couldn’t see a way to take it off. But if I was to move forward as my God was asking me to, I needed to hang up the shield and the chest plate and take the risk.

I began to see how many things had stopped. I had stopped writing, stopped being creative, stopped being a creative parent and partner and I had stopped connecting. A lot of times I would beat my self up over this. I would get critical and harsh towards my self, yet I failed to realize that sometimes being under the protection of armor can give me the chance to regroup. The fight or flight instinct is inside for a reason. It became painfully obvious that like a relative that has over stayed there welcome, it was time to move on. With the help of therapy and step working I began to see the fatal situation I was in.

Upon completing a 5th step with my sponsor I got to see my part. The part where my rage and despair was cutting me off from being the Mom and wife I wanted to be. My part where I’m looking at someone else’s behavior and thinking I know what’s right. Truth is I hardly know what’s right for me most of the time. So I needed to get back on my side of the street and get my own house in order because the fact remains that the longer I continue to hold on to this toxic anger the more likely I am at one point to pick up the drink that awaits me.

I continue to dig and find tools I didn’t know I had and freedom begins to start. I begin to see how much I wanted to be loved by my family and how much I ignored the pain I felt inside. I didn’t see the problem. I didn’t see the constant division that was being created between them and me. I would hear the harmful and harsh words spoke about my husband in gossip. The critical words about my boys. My own father would say my kids were to much for him. The solution became clear, it was time to find some space from them. I needed to let go of this old idea that I was going to have the picture perfect family and the holiday table would be full of people who fought for each other and loved each other and stick by each other.

I began to grieve my loss. Not because anyone died. I began to grieve the agreement I made years before in the treatment center that I was going to be a great daughter and sister and I was going to have a dad and brothers that would love and respect me the way I strived to love and respect them.

The part that these kinds of ideas didn’t account for is “the other person factor” and the fact that they have minds of there own. My mental picture never changed with time. It never accounted for change, life experience or personal growth. I started to clearly see my problems: the armor was hindering me from moving on, these old ideas of family were just that …old and I was uncertain of what would happen if I stopped hanging on. When my problem begins to come in to focus I can now see my solution: the armors work was coming to an end, I needed to up date my idea of family and let go.

Therapy helped me with the armor. It gave me the tools to install the hook and hang up my security shield. The rest would move on in Gods time. Slowly one right choice or wrong choice at a time. I was not perfect at this. I made mistakes, still do. One thing remains though, I felt better.

I started going to meetings in a different area. I began to realize my motive to continue to go to the old meetings was i constantly wanted to prove to my self these family members were wrong and I was right but over time it started to feel like I was going to a bar and not drinking to keep my self strong, it just didn’t make sense for me.

Slowly one meeting at a time, I began feeling like me again. I began to feel creative and hopeful and helpful. Generosity was moving in my soul. Kindness and compassion was moving again. The damn was breaking and my soul was draining out this old stuck energy and the bomb that blew it to smithereens? Came in a package about 3 1/2 feet tall screaming from my back seat. Flash forward and I’m leaving the pick up line.

The reckoning began like two cowboys standing hands to their sides and guns in the holsters… waiting for the clock to strike high noon, I was either going to continue to the end and have a nervous break down or find a creative way to help my son.

I began to see that up until now I had been putting my needs in front of his. I didn’t want to get out of the car. I didn’t want to be any where near this family member. I would pray on my way to the school to stay in my body. I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t do something I regret but clearly gods reply was

“get out of the damn car kid…”

And I did. And all kind of remarkable things followed.

For my son the fast paced transition of the pick up line was to much to process and my stress level was not helping. I knew what I had to do and I didn’t want to. But it was the most instantaneous change ever! I wish it would happen like that in other areas too. The ride home was no longer filled with tears or screaming and that was just from me…let alone the shift in my son. The damn was broke wide open.

The sideways gifts started to happen. I smiled when I would see the picture of the first time Abram and I took the boys to see the spot we poured Danica’s ashes out and I felt her spirit with us standing between the boys smiling.

I would being to say the words with ease “we lost my daughter” instead of “we lost a baby”. Owning my story was unexpected and I had no idea I wasn’t doing it.

I began to think of Danica and how butterflies always reminded me of her. I was standing in a gift shop and saw butterfly earrings. My heart skipped a beat and a warm comfort filled my heart. I bought those earrings and wear them when I think of her. I share about her in meetings sometimes now. Her memory isn’t tainted with such pain and heart break. She is a part of my story.

A tradition we have done for years is we buy Christmas tree ornaments from every trip we go on. Abram and I spent 20 minuets searching for the perfect butterfly ornament for Danica. This was the first one we bought specifically for her to hang on the Christmas tree..

I had no idea that the betrayal of my heart had damned up the my loss of my daughter so much. I needed to move and break free from the armor that blocked me. Her life though short continues to contribute so much to me.

I had to let go of everything I think I know to make room for something knew. The comfort i hear often from god when I am pleading with him about not wanting to let go of something I know so well, even though the thing I’m squeezing to so tight is covered with thorns and I’m bleeding to death, in the quiet moments I hear his words like the wind in the trees

“baby, you do the work I set

in front of you,

I’ll worry about the outcome”.

One step at a time, one moment at a time, the Work gets done, fast or slow, it’s all happening in Gods time, the natural pace of the flow in the river.

When I try to hurry the river in my life I begin to drown, when I resist I tire and falter. When I relax and lay my head back, let my arms drift from my side and float to surface I see the heavens and I know that I’ll get there when I get there. Perhaps as I float down I’ll see Danica standing beside her bear waving as I go by.

Part two: life after loss

In this next part of life after loss I will attempt to recapture the events that have lead me to my most current events of freedom. Which will come in the conclusion of the series but in order to do that I believe it’s vital to talk about the time in between.

Spending Davids first year of his life in a sense of survivors guilt and also protection of him to not look at him and say things like “this is what Danica would have been doing”. I was being tortured by that thought and using as much energy as I could muster to not say to much out loud. I didn’t know how to talk about having lost a baby and then having one, I often felt like most of the time people were done hearing about her death and the struggle to move on.

Then Nathan was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. See not only was I in the grips of postpartum depression at the time i had no idea I was struggling as bad a I was. I was not well people. I cringe still at the thought of the time my dearest friend and sponsor came to bring me a coffee and I physically couldn’t get up off the couch. I heard the knock and I was frozen. Struggling to find the words about my oldest son hitting me and having horrific melt downs for things I just couldn’t understand. Some noises were to loud, some things were to quiet. I had no idea what was going on. I felt Satan him self had moved into my house and I was going to be straggled by the struggle of living life one day at a time.

I reached out and tried my best to talk about the darkness I was feeling. Then David turned one. Maybe there was going to be hope that life was going to be better. He was getting older after all.

We threw him a party. A party where everybody was invited. Aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends. A declaration of accomplishment that life was moving on.

The next part of the story has dominated my world for the last 4 years. At times I felt free and other times I have felt completely held prisoner. This is my attempt at telling what happened and how it affected me and recap a series of events that were the second punch in a double punch combo life hit me with.

Being in this 12 step program I am encouraged to reach out and talk about hard times, seek support and talk about the darkness so the power of voicing scary times will keep us from a drink. You see in recovery up to that point I have never had someone in my inner circle of support break my heart. Sure I’ve had disagreements, been plagued by wrong choices I’ve made and flat out walked away from relationships but always in time we all would realize that everyone was attempting to keep the best intentions for each other and at the end of the day we are here to be sober and we need each other to do that.

So when a family member, who was a part of my inner circle for support, and there partner accused Abram of being abusive, implying Nathan’s behavior with his SPD was learned and claiming to have seen things that didn’t happen was more then my heart could bear. A heart that had already been broken in half by the loss of my daughter and first home was attempting to swim through a new baby and a deep dark postpartum depression as well as a life tilting diagnosis with my older son.

Still Abram and I had made attempts to understand following a suggestion by people whom he and I trusted in the program and meet in a third party situation with these two people, in an effort to address these awful accusations head on only to be met with two individuals who were convinced they were right and we were wrong. I walked out of that room with my jaw on the floor and a heart in pieces.

Abram and I went straight to a friends house and sat in there room for an hour asking questions like “are we missing something” “tell us the truth” and they did, that we were great parents, though imperfect at times we were certainly not abusive in any way.

I remember sitting on my sponsors couch and having honest talks about my sense of betrayal and struggle to find peace. Family isn’t supposed to turn on each other I would say. After a while I realized I can either stay a victim or I can find a way to move on and learn to live with the death of someone who is still alive and lives 15 mins away. I have been told the loss of a long term marriage is similar.

So as all things do, life goes on and I did 4th step inventory’s and praying for them over and over and over. I started to get a sense of freedom. I realized over lots of conversation and personal inventory that I’m not to much different then them. I have judged people harshly only to find out I’m wrong. I have changed some language I used to use to describe my relationship that was giving the wrong impression. I gained a large quantity of compassion for my fellow travelers and less judgment.

For a time I could breath easy. I stopped checking parking lots for their cars and trusted no matter what happened next I was protected and cared for by a loving and caring God. I went to meetings with an idea that we talk about in the program all the time which is “what other people think of me is none of my business.”

At the same time a dear friend had recognized the darkness I was processing through and gave me the money to join a mops group because at the time Abram was unable to work because of a broken leg. I was placed at a table with trouble makers and it was perfect for me. The kind of moms I needed to be around. The ones that not only loved being moms but also enjoyed being women. We cussed and cried. We had hot cups of coffee and it was a continuation of my healing into a life of having two kids and one in heaven. The women I was sitting with were selected by God. It wasn’t that the stories were life altering it was just having something to look forward to and a place where the joys and struggles of motherhood were shared.

At the end of the day however I was still held hostage by this insufferable pain and I wouldn’t make the connection of the cause for another 2 years. You see when I got sober at 17 I was sitting in the basement of a treatment center and made a decision that I was going to give my parents a daughter they deserved and I was going to be the best sister I could be. I also found a community of people that I felt safe with. A place that I never really had to think twice about. I just belonged and I was so comfortable. You remember the family members I told you about? Well they were apart of this community too and stories, especially juicy ones like abuse travel fast. All of a sudden that safe community didn’t feel protective any more. Being able to process the grief and loss of Danica no longer felt safe to process any more, at least not in meetings. I had had people check my kids for marks and heard things through the grapevine I never thought I would hear in reference to me.

So here I was with this new baby, loss of a daughter, a massive fracture in my own family and now the community that I got sober in was harder to be simply me in. Still I pressed on. Went to meetings any way, constantly getting questions or looks or just people flat out stop talking to me. Long term friends no longer there. The other person in the “divorce” I guess. So I did what any respective human being would do and armored up. But here’s the trouble with armor, sure it blocks me from getting hurt again, which was a welcomed comfort but what I didn’t realize is it also blocks things from being let go.

All along this step by step process I would try to let go of this pain I was feeling about Danica or my family or struggles in parenting and I would experience a short reprieve and then it would return with a vengeance. Over and over and over because what I didn’t realize is I would let it go and it would ricochet off the inside of the armor and come right back.

The day came, as it always does, I couldn’t ignore the panic attacks any more. I would be moving along and all of a sudden I would be on the floor grabbing my chest and not quite understanding what was wrong. I ended up in therapy in an effort to find some outside help around all this grief and loss. I came away with some really amazing tools to process my anxiety and tools that serve my family to this day.

I discovered some things in therapy that helped me remove my armor and discover some areas of freedom I didn’t know were trapped. Thanks to a caring a loving God moving on has been possible. The next part is all about what happens when the armor is taken off.

Life after loss part one

Life after loss

Its taken me over 4 years to be in a place to finish telling you this story. What happened after Abe and I left the hospital when Danica was born.

The drive home from the hospital was a long and somber drive. Being wheeled out to truck in a wheel chair was a lonely trip. Getting into the truck and leaving the hospital with an empty car seat was an unexpected devastation that neither Abe or I had words for.

Danica had a rare chromosome disorder called triploidy. It’s where a baby is born with a full extra set of chromosomes. We found out at 18 weeks gestation. Believing that God can always pull out a miracle and knowing that for us God is in charge of giving and taking life, Abram and I decided that letting the pregnancy develop as it would, we committed for how ever this was going to play out.

I laid in bed after returning from the hospital that night with a disturbing sense of relief that the waiting was over and that Danica Grace was finally at peace. That for the first time during the whole process of my pregnancy with her I knew exactly what was happening. She was gone. As her Doctor said “She had gone to be with God”.

Her passing most likely happened a few days before while Abram was gone on a backpacking trip. He didn’t know at the time but while he was watching the sunset a crossed the ridge top she was making her trip to heaven leaving behind a sense of peace that sunsets often bring saying to her Dad on the way home, “Rest and be in peace”.

I fell asleep only to be awoken by a panic that someone was going to steal Nathan out his window. Thinking I was foolish I got up and checked on him any way. This went on for days.

The next morning I was alone with out anyone around me for the first time in what felt like months. I stood in the shower, alone, completely and utterly alone. I no longer had someone to comfort or sing to in side me. No one to nurture. To hope for. To be able to imagine what she might look like if by some miracle she is healed. Out of no where I get this unbearable pain in my chest, my body doesn’t know she’s gone. My milk starts to come in. And I began to sob uncontrollably.

I closed my eyes and Danica stood before me, with a glow around her standing at about 8 years old. Long soft hair flowing like the wind. She walked closer and closer until she was close enough that I could reach her. There was no words. She turned a ran away leaving word on my heart “im ok, I am with God now”. When she left I had a peace that ran through my veins that comforted me to know that between her and I, we were good.

I opened my eyes and the reality of what was to come was heavy. I was spared nothing from my pregnancy with Danica. It took 4-5 painful days to wait for the milk to go away. The cramps of my uterus to go back to a normal size still happened. All that was different was I had no baby to validate the pain. This I was not prepared for. Or the phantom baby kicks in my uterus for weeks after and wondering if I was actually feeling her move at all the whole time or was it just muscle twitches. I’ll never know for sure.

I sat and searched for the words to say them. To share what was going on in side me. I felt as though I was being sucked in to a black hole. I had a handful of women around me that kept the rope tight, that no matter how deep I went I could always pull my way back up. Some of the women lived multiple states away but no matter what I knew I was surrounded.

While I was pregnant with Danica, Abram and I were in the process of loosing our home due to the recession. This was our first home. The yard was something we worked hard on. Labored in meticulously. I had a cut flower garden that was like no other. It was a cut flower garden I would spend time picking flowers for friends who were sick or needed cheering up. I would pray for them as I was cutting the flowers. Asking for wisdom or guidance or healing, with ever snip I would be covering them in prayer. I would cut bouquet after bouquet for my kitchen table. The last bouquet I cut was for Danica’s basket she was to be cremated in. Abram and I spent a very long time in the garden that morning cutting flowers and herbs to rival burials of the kings of old. We arrived at the funeral home with a cooler full of flowers and as we lay each bloom down a beauty rose from the pain. The funeral assistant said he had never seen anything like it and I thought, “I am doing something right” because there is no handbook for processing the loss of a child. No step by step process. Just one foot in front of the other trying to do the next right thing. So when the validation comes from someone who deals in deaths process I took comfort in that.

Her ashes rested inside an angel shaped urn for another few weeks. Abram as a Dad wanted so badly to finish her room, set up her crib and bring her home from the hospital. We had her crib set up and the walls were painted in a theme of lavender and green. Butterflies were to be the delicate touches of the furniture and bedding. When we left the hospital with an empty carseat a heaviness set upon us and her room was empty. I couldn’t bring my self to add the butterflies. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I was at peace enough to allow the image of a butterfly back into my heart.

Abram and I knew that Danica had touched more then just us. We lived out loud as best we could with the people around us. Through social media people lifted us in prayer all over the place. People at my father in laws trucks stops, people at my moms work and at churches all around our area. So in an effort to honor other peoples process we set up a table with her urn and a picture in her room with a chair. A place to give others a chance to say there good bye to a grand daughter they will never take for coffee or a niece they wont get to see graduate college. One by one over a few weeks they would enter our home with a goodbye they wanted to say in there own ways and leave with another step taken in there own process of grief. Simple thank yous for giving then a place to come was all that was needed to be said.

We had her service at the local funeral home. Over 150 people came. There was standing room only. Our midwife Toni came. She was battling ALS and could hardly walk but she came. Abram and I were surrounded by so much love that day. Jonah Abrams brother officiated the service. Not because he was comfortable speaking in front of a room full of people but because his brother asked him to.

See they spent a season in the woods under the trees trying to find words for the stories being written in their lives. And also to go where the trees don’t ask questions. The trees don’t judge. The trees listen in a comforting silence. Where you can scream and some how they absorb the aloneness they both felt and filled the holes inside with connection to each other and to God. Jonah is not comfortable in front of a crowd but he did it any way because that’s what brothers do.

After the service was over, all the thank yous were done and the hugs were pass out and the gratitude of being surrounded by the people in and out of the recovery groups the people who were there at the beginning of this journey, who walked our dogs when we couldn’t, people who brought us food, answered the phone, shared happy stories from there daily lives, people who when the wind was taken out of our chests where there to fill them back up were there at the end too. Standing in the funeral home feeling the same things we were, “I cant believe we are here, but theres no one id rather be standing with then you”.

We went to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant in town and they gave us the basement. Surrounded by brothers and sisters and both sets of parents, we laughed and cried and laughed some more. Healing began in the basement of a Mexican restaurant that night. We stayed until the parents went home and it was just the siblings left. Surrounded by history. History at the time felt like it could never be broken. A feeling of if we can make it through this we can make it through anything. We were strong and connected. It was a sweet sweet moment I will never forget as if the world stood still and time stopped. In a movie that would be the end, the credits would begin to roll. But this is real life and the credits didn’t roll. Time took its toll on that group of people. Some marriages ended. Some of us don’t talk any more. Some of them went back out to the life of drugs and alcohol. All the pain of life doesn’t erase that at one time, things were good.

But life goes on doesn’t it. The next part is where things get hard. A small family griped with grief is ripped a part by darkness and well intentions.

Part 4: Mission Accomplished

Through much of this journey there is a behind the scenes aspect that I have had yet to mention. Nathan has an invisible gift. Nathan has Sensory Processing Disorder. I share this not as a hinderance but as an offer of hope to families who have kids with high needs, any thing is possible. Nathan has demonstrated again and again the tenacity and grit it takes to push through the odds.

 

S.P.D. is a part of the brain that processes sensory input ie: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. For sensory kids the signs show up in a variety of ways, for Nathan his shows up today mostly in the auditory processing part of his brain and he can become easily overwhelmed, big crowds are very hard for him to stay in his body and bright flashing lights are really challenging for him to stay focused. Among other things. Think a Jack-In-The box character, only the Jack-In-The box character has confetti that pops out, with silly string, strobe lights and its head expands to twice the size of the box that becomes almost impossible to put back in once its pops. That is Nathans brain when he has a sensory melt down.

 

Often a dark quiet room for “alone time” or some play time out side where Nathan has complete control over his environment is what helps him be able to bring his brain back to center or is able to “put Jack back in the box”. Depending on the day the triggers vary from just about anything one day to the next. The book “The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz is a really informative book on sensory and how it works.

 

Over the years with the help of occupational therapy and a stout commitment to accept that there are things that work for our family and things that don’t, through much trial and error on our part I might add, we have found our way.  It’s not all melt downs and life changes however it also means a lot of really amazing things like his attention to detail, given the proper amount of time he can build some elaborate legos or block buildings. He has a passion for reading. He also has a very strong ability to feel deeply for something or someone. He is absolutely a loyal and faithful friend.

We travel, we go to places, we go to movies, we go to the mountains. We challenge him on many levels because that’s life after all and S.P.D. isn’t going to stop us from living an adventure filled life. Everyone finds what works for them and that’s the most important part. For us we have found joy in the mountains and on adventures.

 

However there is one aspect to S.P.D. that can make life very challenging when failure is a part of the story its what they call “hyper-focused” and its quite hard to over come. It can be a task uncompleted, it could be the tick of road noise in the car is to loud or an idea he didn’t feel he could fully express. It becomes challenging to help him process through and move on because that specific experience can end up as a broken record in his brain. Sometimes it has resulted in me or Abram carrying him out of places and a two hour melt down about the blanket that he decided was a must have.

Then there is times where he will have his time to process his feelings and its done, never to mention it again. It’s certainly not all or nothing or a one size fits all. We just never know which time is going to be, let go and move on or will it be held on to like a set of cat claws.

 

So for us when it came to training for his dream and not making it to the top of Observation Rock, there was a lot of anxiety about which direction he would go when we tried for Muir. He was quiet upset about not making it. There was much conversation about just because one experience had one out come, doesn’t mean the next one will be the same.

So we acted as if. Abram and I also have to work on ourselves. To remind our selves that no matter the out come we show up any way and see what happens.

 

So the packs are packed, the food is ready and the alarm beeps at 3 AM. We roll out of bed and off we go. Nathan is giddy which is helpful because Abram and I slept about 3 to 4 hours the night before summit day and Nathans energy is contagious. So far the only “hyper-focused” is his push for the top.

 

We hit the trail with the clap of thunder off in the distance. We knew the chance of thunder showers loomed in the morning so with a watchful eye on the sky we pushed on. We were just short Pebble Creek and a huge clap of thunder roared over head and then echoed off the mountain, it was hands down the coolest sound I have ever heard. One of natures surprises though, she wasn’t going to make the push for the top an easy one for us. Lighting struck a couple ridges over so we dropped our trekking polls about 15 feet away, found a place to spread out to wait for the thunder storm to pass.

Nathan was worried and stuck on the fact that we could die. He was right. Lighting in the mountains is something to be respected for sure. Thankfully this was not our first time being in the mountains in the weather and I reminded him that he survived a thunder storm in Glacier National Park a few years back which had done the trick to calm him down. Drawing on past experiences of success helps us all doesn’t it? Getting up and down the mountain safely is our primary job. No matter how bad we want to victory, safety is the first rule.

 

No sooner did the storm pass did the snow field start. The long, slow, push for Camp Muir began. There was a cluster of folks we walked with, most of which would pass on one liners of encouragement to Nathan that he seemed to gobble up. Abram continued giving him encouragement and reminding him that he’s strong enough, that he has what it takes. Hearing a father’s voice that reinforces the truth has such power for a kid. I could see the change in Nathans face every time he would hear Abram say in about 100 different ways “you have what it takes”.

 

Nathan learned that there was a shelter at the top. He wanted to see it. He marched up, faster then us at times. The sky opened up and he could see the crevasses and glaciers on the mountain. It blew his mind how big they were and how blue they were. He kept pushing to see more and more of the mountain. He just couldn’t believe that such large quantities of ice could exist! After a few breaks, one step at a time.

We arrived at Camp Muir.

 

I imagine it’s the same feeling a parent feels when there child wins a football championship or a baseball championship or seeing your child graduate from school. Reflecting on all the steps it took to get to that moment in time. Something only experience can help someone to know the amount of emotion that washes over you.

 

Nothing prepared me for that moment. I sat and looked at my boy. All the life experiences that led to this moment and it was his moment, not mine or Abrams. He made it. He sat and ate cookies. He was so proud. 7 years old, S.P.D. in his back packet and he made it. He pushed through fear of not having what it takes. He pushed through his fear of the thunder. He was half way up the mountain on his own two feet. He was so tired and overwhelmed he almost threw up right there on the platform where every one sits.

 

Abram and I sat together and took in the moment. A sense of relief and joy came over both of us. A sounds of silence loomed in the air. We both know what it took for us to get here. We both also knew that this wasn’t our moment. This moment was Nathans!

 

With the sound of rock and ice falling off the Nisqually head wall we started our long walk down. The only thing pushing Nathan to do the last half of the trip is glissading. Its one of the nice things about a huge snowfield, you can slide down on your bottom!

 

A quick lesson on how to go down safely and a few boundaries gone over, he learned how to glissade.  Shoot after shoot. He made his way down. Sometimes facing frontwards, sometimes facing backwards, sometimes sideways.  Sometimes he needed to skip one to be reminded that safety was the way to ensure the fun continues. But one thing was present at all times a laser focus and smile from ear to ear. The people walking by had smiles too. We had the biggest ones of course. Abram and I watched our boy grow a little more into to a man that day.

 

A younger gentlemen was coming down behind us and was beyond impressed by seeing a 7 year old at Camp Muir to which his reply was “after seeing him up there it made me really question some decisions I have been making in my life”. Nathan offered inspiration to others by simply doing what he loves.

 

No one will ever know for sure the amount of grit and perseverance it took for him to get him self “Half Way To The Top” but him and him alone. As we made the long, tireless trek down to our car. Feet hurting. Legs worn out and ready fall off Nathan was passing on encouraging one liners to tiered hikers along the trail, you have to give it away to keep it after all.

 

A sense of amazement hung in the air during the car ride home. He made it. HE DID IT! MISSION COMPLETE! Per usual, there was nothing to worry about. He found his way. Against the odds, he made it Half way up Mount Rainer!

With a smile on his face and a look of accomplishment beyond recall, he says from the backseat

“I did it”

A few days had passed. Nathan was ready to blow up his volcano. Nathan sprayed lava every where out the top complete with sound effects and cheers.

Abram sat down with Nathan to talk about his dream. He reminded him that this is not the end of the path. That you making the summit isn’t the end of dreaming. I listened to him share with Nathan the wisdom of not settling and continuing to strive for dreams no matter how big or small.

Life is about the journey not a destination. So Abram left Nathan with one question

What’s next?

For in the words of John Muir

“Between every two pines

Is a doorway in to another world”

This is just the beginning of many many adventures to come…

Part Three: Where failure is part of success

While walking the trails in life often brings many lessons to the surface. For Nathan it was finding the drive to go forward even though he wouldn’t make it. Try again! Always do your best! Leave nothing off the table! He spent weeks talking and processing loss of the summit. It was hard to not make it better for him. It would be a struggle to not find a way to give him a "participation trophy". Watching my son struggle was hard! I could have sat in the cheap seats throwing feel good one liners at him but instead I sat next him and said “me to." I talked about all the times I failed and his dad did the same thing and so did his uncle Jonah, we all sat next to him as in the speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:

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.”

This was the trip he failed. Where he walked out the very things Teddy spoke about over 100 years ago that is apart of the human spirit that is the same over the span of time no matter what because humans are a part of the story and we really haven’t changed much, thank God.

Observation Rock was the final training mission. It was a 13 mile and 3500 of elevation gain. Intended to be harder then Camp Muir. It would be the hardest thing Nathan has ever done. However he was strong enough, it was safe enough and he was mentally ready to take on the challenge.

Abram and Nathan started up early in the morning. He and Abram had done everything right however sometimes things still go wrong.

At home, having no idea what was happening on the trail it turned out that almost half way into the hike the UV was high and Nathan had been drinking his water at least it looked like he had. Nathan was having a ball. He had his Dad all to him self. They were trekking a crossed all kinds of mountain man terrain. However one thing with kids is they often don’t pay as close attention to their body’s as adults do until it’s to late.

After an hour or two Nathan was starting to struggle more then normal. Abram opened Nathan’s pack to take some of his weight to find out Nathan hadn’t drank very much of his water at all, Abrams heart sank and he realized that if Nathan didn’t drink quickly this was going to become dangerous. In fact Nathan was already severely dehydrated and Abram had no idea. When you’re up in the mountains in the wind and with the UV high it literally sucks the moisture right out of your skin. So drinking lots of fluids is the best way to avoid heat exhaustion. The males in Abrams family are extremely susceptible to the heat and dehydrate quickly.

 

At one point a short text came through saying something like, “it’s hard but we are ok”. What I didn’t know was Nathan had gotten sick at 8000 feet. They were 300 feet from the top and turned around. Resting every 50 feet it took them 2 ½ hours to travel down. Abram had enough training to know the number one rule in an emergency situation in the mountains was to not make it worse. So he sat down to eat his lunch and Nathan collapsed next to a rock. It was then that out of no where his phone got coverage and his last text of “Nathan is not good, he’s in trouble” had come through on my phone even though he had tried to send it many times from hours earlier. It was as if God him self took Abrams shoulders and sat him down on that very rock on the side of the trail. When he stood up his coverage went away when he sat down he had full service. If he had kept walking the chance of not having help at all would have been very high. God’s kind reminder’s that surrender and be still is often when help arrives.

 

Once the text came through I tried to call and miraculously the call connected. I spoke with Abram for some time and I realized that he needed help him self. I have never in my life heard my husband say, “I don’t know what to do”. He is the mountain man, the trail guide; he knows what to do at all times. Except this time it was HIS son, he was a Dad first and a mountain man second. So we ran though a few scenarios. All of which included me calling people and sending help, through many transfers I got a hold of a lovely lady named Tabby in the Mount Rainer rangers office. She gave me a list of questions, almost all of which I was able to answer. And a rescue was set in motion.

 

I called Abrams brother Jonah. We spoke at length about what was happening all the while he is packing his pack and walking out the door. Abram and Jonah had been hiking partners for YEARS! And Jonah was the best person to go! He knows Abram with out either of them even really needing to speak. They can be in the woods and know what needs to happen next intuitively. With Jonah's wife in the drivers seat so he can hydrate and fuel up with food she drove him at high speeds up to the trail head they made it in record time and Jonah hit the trail. While he is on his way the ranger calls me back, she discovered that two rangers who just happened to be on the very same trail that day, after Tabby spoke with them it was then that Jim and Peggy turned around and headed back up the trail to see how they could help Abram and Nathan.

 

No sooner did Abram and Nathan set foot on the main trail did they walk right in to Peggy and Jim. A layer of relief had washed over Abram even though he had been doing what every parent does when there kid starts projectile vomit except this time he was 5 miles in on the side of a mountain! Turns out the solutions are the same, rest, small amounts of fluids and bland bready food. He was relived that he didn’t have to do this alone. Truth be told so was I.

 

A short time after Jonah showed up, a whopping 45 minutes from trail head to his brother yet again another layer of stress and worry fell off Abrams shoulders. Nathan also relaxed and was so happy to be walking with his uncle and his Dad. The rangers followed along as well after a very long walk everyone made it out safely.

 

After 14 hours on the trail Abram and Nathan were D O N E! Heat exhaustion subsided with tired and sore bodies one thing hung in the clouds above Nathan’s head, He didn’t make it! He was 300 feet short. It was his last training mission and he didn’t make it. He had finished on every other mission he set out to do. We have a saying in our house; Failure is a part of success based mainly off the quote at the beginning. When the kids trip on the trail or make a mistake or we as parents blow it big time we often talk about failing. Abram and I have taught our boys about failure and it is an important part of the journey through hiking and through life. Arguably one of the best baseball players of all time, Babe Ruth struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs. Surly if he had given up we would be deprived of watching an amazing player pave a path in history.

 

If we had insulated Nathan from the feeling of loosing he may not have wanted to try for the next goal. He may have given up. Because lets face it, when loosing happens it sucks! It hurts, it’s humbling and it can linger. Living where participation trophies are apart of our world we don’t talk about failure enough I think. As parents we isolate our selves in our homes not talking about the mistakes that happen when we screw it up with our kids or our spouses. Or the promotion someone deserves is over looked. Or the scale once again is back where we started and to talk about it hurts or we face the critical voices of our peers.

 

Learning how to fail is the key. Walking with people who are fighting in the same arenas are the only voices that count but instead the voice of the critic; the person with no kids, the CEO who has no more ladder to climb or the skinny supermodel on yet another magazine voices ring out loud and shaming.

 

For Nathan, the gift of failing was a good one. Supported by people in the same fight as him, we gave him the support to walk through the struggle, not get lost in the despair of failing. He learned the true meaning of something I heard a guy say once,

“Life is not always about getting to the top, it’s about being happy on the side of the mountain where you are.”

Not to say that striving for the top isn’t important because it is, but to know that sometimes we don’t always make it and that has to be ok. The time after we fail is where it counts the most.

What happened next was worth every recount of failure I have ever walked through. It was something that no parenting class or Internet article can ever describe. Watching Nathan put his boots back on and walk in the face of the very real chance he would fail again and yet he did it any way was something I was not prepared for. He knew he wasn't alone. He knew that fail or succeed he was a winner no matter what. Because winning some times is in the showing up as I heard in a parenting CD by Brene Brown.

Stay tuned for the Fourth and final chapter of the journey.

 

Part Two: The Climbers Code

Part Two: The Code

 

In spending time talking about Nathans dream to go “half way to the top” on our 14 hour drive home from So. Cal. We came up with what was to be called “Nathan’s training missions”. It was a series of 7 trips each one progressively harder then the next. Picked with a specific skill or experience in mind he would need to be able to accomplish his dream. Some designed for just sheer accomplishment others for learning to travel on rock or walking on snow and others still for distance or elevation gain.

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I drew out a chart on a big poster board with a thermostat gauge in the middle he was able to fill in with red marker he later determined was the lava rising to burst from the top when he made it “half way up”. It hung in our kitchen as a constant reminder of what he was working towards.

The first was where things were set in motion. A local peak named Mt peak was the first attainable easy mission. It’s a simple 3 mile 1000ft of gain local hill people hike all the time. It was certainly not Nathans first time up it, in fact his first trip up it was in a baby pack at 6 weeks old on Abrams chest. This time though they came home with more then just something to mark off the chart. They came home with a code. “The code” It was the code they were going to operate by.

It was made up of 5 points to guide them through this journey together to train not just the body but also the mind. Half the battle of climbing sometimes is the mental fortitude it takes to will your self to the destination. Each climbing code was born from trail and route experience when things went very wrong and also went very right. It’s also a code that applies to more then hiking. It applies to all areas really. Which is why it’s stuck around this whole time. What ever your path, there is always mountains to climb.

The Climbers Code

 

1. Get up and Down the Mountain Safe

 

2. Protect and Respect Nature

 

3   Always be Prepared

 

4   Find God

 

5   Have Fun

1 Get up and Down the Mountain Safe

Even when you do everything right things still go wrong because its nature and there is always something out of your control. If you were to know Abram at all you would know that he is someone who likes to take on a challenge, the harder the better. So it would come at no surprise that he was on a route, in February to climb Mt Rainer. Abram and his climbing partner at the time David were on the Kautz Glacier route. They had done everything right, checked avalanche reports, planed the route they would take and brought all the necessary things to Get up and Down safely.

After digging “pits” to check the snow quality along the route everything looked ok. But just because one spot was ok is not always a guarantee the next spot isn’t and that also means of course there are places you just can’t dig,  a steep, narrow gully on a mountainside that can be full of snow or full of loose rock is one of those places and they are typically crossed as fast and safely as possible.

It was here that Abram and David were caught in the avalanche.  Abram attempted to ice ax arrest and was knocked on to his back. Head over heals he tumbled for what could have been 3 seconds or 15 seconds either way his ice ax ripped his shoulder apart inside and all he could do was swim and hope to reach the surface before the snow stopped moving. When an avalanche slides it not only slides at a high rate of speed it also turns to an almost liquid and then compress into something similar to cement where it is incredibly hard to move. The decision to swim was probably the thing that saved his life.

When the slide stopped he was up right. Abram was buried to his waste, glacier glasses no longer on his head and he had a helmet full of snow. His climbing partner was down slop a bit but also up right and had a badly injured ankle. They walked off the mountain from a starting point of 12,500 feet. Eventually making it to safety. They had used things from there packs they carried every time they went out  in the mountains and never needed until that moment. Applying the skills they had learned for years and never needed is what got them down with some badly injured limbs and one hell of a story to tell.

Sometimes from start to finish we don’t always have the best in-betweens but if properly prepared, we finish Getting up and down the Mountain safely.

2. Protect and Respect Nature

There is a hike out of sunrise in Mount Rainer called Fremont fire look out. As a family, all four of us trudged up this trail with about 500 or more of our closest friends. Nathan was 5 at the time and very clear about where the trail is and what to do and what not to do. After spending about an hour on the top we headed down.

We ran in to a ranger who spoke with Nathan at great length about trail etiquette. Not because he was doing any thing wrong but because he knew so much about the subject. He gave Nathan a badge that said something about protecting nature. It was his “trail badge” to set right any one whom he saw was making a wrong choice. Sure enough about 5 mins later there was someone walking off trail and he set them straight. He informed them that they needed to protect nature and that it was important so that other little kids after him could have a chance to see the flowers and forest.

Guilt trip over and we went about our day. From that day on he has been the nature protector, badge and all. He has learned about tacked and what true leadership is as a result of taking ownership of his badge to Protect and respect nature.

In order to be sure that mountains stay alive and well his purpose is to be sure he leaves things better then when he found them and that means “Protect and respect nature”

IMG_2845(Burrows Loop, Mount Rainer National Park)

3. Always be Prepared

The 10 essentials list. It’s a list of 10 things to ALWAYS bring when you head in to the outdoors. Countless times we have watched people put them selves in harms way because they neglect to bring the essentials.

Classic Ten Essentials

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Fire starter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

People always think its not going to happen to them, until it does. Thankfully we haven’t had more then bumps and scraps with the kids, however for Abram and I we have need items from the list more then a few times to make it back safely. One story comes to mind before we had kids. Abram and I had been out on a 4 day backpacking trip east of Seattle. We had taken a short day hike out of camp and on the way down Abram slipped on some rocks and dislocated his shoulder. We were at least 12 miles and 6500 feet of elevation away from our car and it was 2 in the afternoon.

Abram go out his first aid kit and pulled out his sling bandage. He had carried that sling for at least 12 years every hiking trip he had ever been on and never needed it until that moment but it was the only thing that enabled him to walk out. These items are not for the 100 times you don’t need them they are for the one time you do. And it may not even be for your self. Many times Abram or I have had to use everything in our packs to be able to get out of the trail safely either for our selves or something we walk up on the trail.

In the wilderness or in life we never receive warning that these things we are prepared for are going to happen, they just do. Unless of course it comes in the form of a 600LB grizzly bear, then at least you have a 30 second heads up that things are about to get really different and to just brace for impact. None the less, Always be Prepared because one day you may not know you need what you have, until its right in front of you.

4. Find God

This one is kind of self-explanatory. It’s hard to deny the presence of a higher power when you stand on top of the places we have stood and the silence is deafening. Spiritual experiences are things that are common for me in the woods.

Reminds me of a quote by John Muir:

“Id rather be in the Mountains thinking of God

then in church thinking of Mountains.”

Walking among the trees through deep valleys or high peaks has been places that produce healing and perspective. Many times I have left feeling better then when I came, not because I made my destination or because I saw something out of the ordinary but simply because I cleared the cob webs out of my brain and the wild caged animal inside was quiet once again.

Take for instance the time Abram hiked up to a place called “Hidden Lake” in Glacier National Park. He didn’t go there on crutches because he wanted to see the destination. He went up that 3 miles boardwalk on crutches because he was crazy inside and a piece of him was dying and the wilderness called his name. For me I have vertigo and big open slopes are something that my brain hates very much and I almost pass out often but I figured out ways to go, not because I like dry-heaving on the side of mountains or because I enjoy feeling dizzy, but because that is where I find God. The Doctors say “people who have what you have don’t do what you do” to which I reply “well Doc I guess I will be sick a little bit because this is what I love” most of them are hikers so they get it. I usually am given some kind of reminder talk about don’t put your team in jeopardy and I usually agree.

What ever the destination a high peak, lake shore or just a walk under the canopy of the trees Finding God is about finding something bigger then one self to know we are not alone out here in what ever wilderness we choose.

5. Have Fun!

When hiking with kids its really easy to get disturbed by the whining, crying, sniveling and declarations of defeat and that’s just the first mile! So as parents we had to get creative on how to get them to move without fully realizing what was happening.

GAMES! Peanut M&Ms are dino eggs on the trail, hide and seek if we aren’t in grizzly country, guessing who lives where we are going, the bump game where the kids try to bump us off the trail and so many more. Its been an ebb and flow of learning how to not get so focused on getting somewhere at a certain rate that the destination comes at the cost of fun.

Finding ways to have fun has been born from many mistakes we have made. Realizing that hiking isn’t always about destination, it’s the journey along the way that makes the destination worth it. Having fun is what fuels a 4 and a 7 year old to walk 10 miles and not realize it. There is nothing more motivating then hearing the giggles and laughter that happens when the boy’s will hide and try to jump out a scare us, they are getting better at it so sometimes the fright is genuine which makes them want to do it more, however what they don’t know is they are running for a ¼ mile at a time to hide in front of us which means they have no idea that they are covering ground faster then some adults. It’s a win-win, which again is always the goal for us.

So of course Have Fun is apart of the Code, after all if it wasn’t fun then what’s the dang point any way?

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(Lamar River Canyon, Yellowstone National Park)

The Code, its vital for this family to operate by in life and on the trail. Its built from life’s journeys of successes and failure, hardship and abundance. It was built when we weren’t even looking. But what happens when failure is the end result? Where despite everything, you still don’t make it?

Watch out for part 3 where success is all about failure.

Part one: Preparing the way, a young mans journey of awakening in the wild…. awakens another.

 

 

It was winter time in Yosemite National Park. Our Christmas vacation that year was to head south. A winter storm hit and dropped several inches of snow in the valley. The trail was covered in ice and snow so in order to not trip each other we split up. Nathan and his dad were ahead of his brother and I. Nathan looked at his dad and said, “I want to climb mount Rainer Dad.” Shocked, his dad figured it was much like that time he wanted to ride a rocket into space. He listened with amusement however later in our trip, on a curvy road in central California his dad and I were talking stories of his times of climbing Mount Rainer and how he wanted to climb the mountain again in 2017. Our son, who is 7 brought the climb back up in conversation.

 

He was admit, I WANT TO GO TO THE TOP DAD!

 

Mount Rainer is not just any mountain; it’s 14,411 feet high! It’s one people train on to climb Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. The conditions can change so fast that it can be sunny and beautiful one hour and socked in cloudy with massive winds in the next. There are towers of ice hundred’s of feet tall.  That is a huge tower of ice! There are often ladders that you must walk to cross crevasses that you can't see the bottom of. As his father he knew that he just didn’t have the reasoning to navigate that kind of terrain at 7 years old. So he compromised, because isn’t that what parenting is all about, finding ways to say yes?

 

He agreed to take him half way to the top.

 

Camp Muir is an 9 Mile round trip, 4640 of elevation gain and most of it is on snow. It sits at the 10,188-foot mark on the side of this massive volcano. Its one of the base camps to summit the mountain. But it’s a solid benchmark, its half way to the top. We all agreed that this would be a man quest. He requested his two uncles be apart of his journey. His little brother and I were allowed to join him on some of his training missions but not on actual summit day.

 

His dad and I talked, schemed, investigated to be sure this was something he really wanted to do and decided this was more then just a hike. It represented something more then that. It was a boys coming of age journey. It was a measure of a man. It was a trek on a path of hard work, tenacity and grit. To find out if he had what it takes. And it would take all of us to support him in finding out.

 

As any climber, backpacker, hiker knows it takes a massive amount of experience and preparation for quests of this magnitude. Not because Camp Muir is so hard, or because its so dangerous but because to a boy, half way to the top is something worth investing the time in to! In order to know the significance of this quest, its important to start at the beginning of the story.

 

This is the story that started years before our son was born. Before his dad and I even knew each other’s name. It began on a summer day at Glacier Basin in Mount Rainer National park.

It was an average season. A young man hit the trail that day, steps to begin his own coming of age journey. On a trail, not knowing where it went, how long it was or if he could even do it, he began to walk. He stopped a man a mile in or so and asked the question most newbies to hiking ask “where does this go and how far is it?” as if he put on his “I have no idea what I’m doing” sign the man replied kindly, “well you can take this trail all the way to the top”. He pushed on with far to heavy of pack, perhaps we would have chuckled at his ill preparedness if we had seen him on the trail today. This young man had been looking for something in side to settle his soul and not even knowing what he was looking for.

 

He emerged from the trees both figuratively and actually to see what was the most beautiful, mind blowing expanse of ice and rock ever! He saw the mountain. From this vantage you can see the way to the top. With his blood pumping and his heart racing and all the excitement a young man can muster he saw what that man told him about. The stranger on the trail could have ignored him, blown him off or even mislead him to believing the trail wasn’t worth walking. Yet he didn’t, he planted a seed that day that would begin to sprout in the high alpine meadow, where the mountain reached the sky. Where the ice crumbles and roars down the glaciers. Where the pikas run and scurry and the marmots whistle.

A place where as John Muir said

“in every walk with nature

one receives far more then he seeks”

 

He went home that day and bought a map. He studied. Explored. Threw caned food in a old backpack with no hip belt, no weight adjustments, just two strips of nylon and a zipper compartment and he began to fill the life experience he would need to walk along side his son one day.

 

The words, “all the way to the top” had taken that young man to some pretty high parts of the Pacific North west. That young man joined mountain climbing clubs, tracked countless miles of trail. He acquired all the gear he needed to climb what ever suited him. Even to the side of Denali, the highest mountain in North America, a staggering 20,310 feet high. Only to be turned around by illness and bad weather. Those words took him to the tops of peaks for years and years and years. They carried him through injury, heartbreak, life and death, pain and triumph. “All the way to top” was only a few short words that meant much more.

 

The words again from John Muir never rang so true for this young man from that day until this,

“I go to woods

to loose my mind,

and find my soul”

 

That young man, Nathans father Abram had no idea that his path through the forest was going to some day be a set of foot steps his own son would want to follow. No idea that the tracks he would leave behind would set inspiration in the mind of a son he had no idea was awaiting him at the trail head of fatherhood. All he knew was it was a path worth following, destination unknown, for the journey was the entire destination needed for him. Abrams paths lead him right up to the moment sitting in a car driving in central California breathing life in to a dream that will perhaps bring another man to the tops of mountains, where those summits touch the sky.

At the time he had no idea that he would be in the same shoes as that man, only to speak similar words to his own son,

“I will take you all the way to the top some day son, but for now, we go half way, for after all you have training to do and experiences to be had first.”

Nathan's final training hike, observation rock.

 

A desire, A pledge, A dream come true

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The setting could not be more perfect… The sun on my face, Pacific Ocean in front of me, the smell of a distant camp fire and my husband an two boys are searching for sea creatures in tide pools screaming with delight that they found yet another crab. The sound of joy never gets old. As I sit here, 15 years sober, I am reminded that I never wanted a life like this. Honestly, the only reason I didn’t is because I never believed it would come true. Dream safely is what I always thought, don’t get your hopes up because you could be let down, dream small, dream manageable, dream attainable and if it doesn’t come true, no one will notice the failure because they were not big enough to matter.

The moment came when the whispering started. It was 6 and a half years ago in the middle of the night, Nathan was born and so was a dream. A dream that felt so out of range that I couldn’t even talk about it. But I sat there in the quiet looking at this tiny human and a dream of walking the trails with my family, getting lost in the back country for days at a time…surviving with only what we can carry on our backs…witnessing the beauty of Gods creation…a dream was born in the dark of night. As with most dreams they need confirmation. Mine came in Glacier National Park, Nathan was only about two years old or so when I sat on the side of the trail, while feeding him, a family walked by. Backpacks for all of them and smiles, cheerfully remembering when they used to be us and it was confirmed, I wanted to be them.

As with most dreams I had preparation to do. The husband and I had to convert all our back country gear to ultra light weight gear. My husband and I had some immanence lessons in patience and tolerance to learn through many…and I mean MANY opportunities of correcting our poor behavior. Which is a whole other blog post. And I would probably argue that the most important preparation would be to listen to still quiet whispers from the dream creator Him self.

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Listening to the whisper of God is challenging for me because often the voice of the critic is louder. It takes practice and I am not even close to perfect at it, however I must of done something correct because I’m sitting here 3 miles away from civilization with nothing but the stuff my husband and I carried on our backs. I sit here and think about the intimate process with God and I have walked through to get here. Waves of pain and set back rise away like the tide of the Pacific and suddenly I become a little more free along the way. I have a little bit more willingness to go further. I become a little more vulnerable. And suddenly my dream gets a little bigger. And now it has a title. To backpack with my family in the woods for days. To raise men on rugged trails. To live a life out loud that demonstrates the power and healing of God. And the dream gets fanned and fed. And the rush of accomplishment floods in.

As a Christ centered wife and mother the image of my self used to look very small and insignificant. Today my call looks bigger. It looks riskier. A bit more daring and scandalous. Going out and having an adventure to live. One with real risk like being mauled by a bear (a scenario I play through all the time) or getting lost in the woods. When we are out in the back country we rely on each other to survive. To give shelter and food. To give first aid if something is broken. I have a part deep inside my heart that craves connection and there is no deeper connection then knowing if we don’t work together we don’t eat or stay warm at night or stay safe from giant MOM eating bears.

My call today is saying to my boys

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“You have an adventure to live and by my example of living mine you will know how to live yours. By my choice to silence the critics you will learn how to silence yours. I will show you how to push through fear. I will show you what not giving up looks like. I will live out a life that listens to a call and the dreams given by God. I will show you what pushing through set back looks like. I will show up after I fail over and over because you can’t know how to succeed unless you fail, you can’t have one with out the other. We as a family, a true connected family, knit together by the Creator, we will show others how to do the same. We will pass people on the trail, in the woods and in life, and inspire them to believe that the impossible is possible. That if we can do it, so can they. By our living as a godly family will teach you that surrendering to the call of God, that following the lead of God will take us through the valleys and over the mountains. We are playing the background and the dream of God flows through our family like a river through the forest”

In each of us is a spirit that connects us to the Higher power. In our hearts, I believe that we have a place deep inside that God speaks.  A place that is filled with the pleasure of God and the dreams He gives us. When I am on the trail with my family, I feel the pleasure of God. This is what I believe God wants for me. I feel the ever connection of a true sense of Joy, of Happiness and of Freedom. Trusting the process. Knowing that every painful experience is for my ultimate good.

I’m answering my call and adventure awaits…

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Connection unites us all

The mighty Redwoods stand tall and powerful. What most people don’t know is that they have a very small root system. The branch canopy of the tree is drastically smaller in  relation to the height of the tree. Some would go so far to say its roots are not big enough to hold its self up. Standing alone, yes it would probably topple over at the first big wind storm it encounters because the tree is incredibly top heavy. So then how can these trees be old enough to live since Christ walked the earth? A saying I have heard a 1000 times seem fitting, “we can do together what we can not do alone.” See the trees work together to hold each other up.  These trees are able to live the length of 2000+ years because they rely on each other to survive. The root system of these massive trees is shallow and not very big and the tree roots over lap each other to form a mat of interwoven support for one another. Holding each other up. Instinctually relying on the tree next to it to stay standing. They don’t ask for permission. They lean into each other because they know that is what they were created to do. 
This is how humanity was intended to survive. We were created to lay roots next to each other for our own bond and survival.
As I walk through a forest of these amazing Giants I am reminded that sometimes in nature I see the reminders of what creation could look like based on God instinct with out the influence of the human fear. I looked up and I see a canopy of 5 or 6 trees over lapping each other. What struck me was that what i was looking up at was also under my feet. A system of support and a bond for survival. 
Through the highs and lows of this journey of mine I have over lapped my self with others in order to stay standing. Years of practice to stay connected and in touch has enabled me to build a system of support in order to survive the storms of a harsh times in life. I find connection to God in the woods the most. I have since I was little. Always left in awe at the incredible vastness of my Creator. My heart races to think of all the things I have yet to learn from this amazing school yard of mine.
Today as I reflect on the moment standing underneath such power, strength, protection, solid ground… I thank God for the people who are in my circle of support, the people who are praying and the people who have no idea what is happening… they treat me as just another face in the crowd. 

I see a forest of beating hearts and over lapping connections. So now more then ever I look to my God who shows up through people and say ” Thank you for places like this in my life even though its not my plan, for the people in my life and to think I could have missed it all. Thanks for not letting me.” I rest today in the presence of a mighty God whom i do not understand and yet He is my Refuge….. my Rock… my Strong Tower….. my Deliverer.