Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movie and Mountain Moments

For whatever reason, I’ve begun to think a lot about resolve lately.

I’m picturing those movie moments: when Maverick threw Goose’s dog tags out to sea in Top Gun, when Rose let go of Jack while floating on the driftwood and called for the lifeboat to “come back” in Titanic, when Carl lightened the load so his house could float over the mountain range in the animated film Up. These moments represented a turning point of some sort when loss turned into strength and motivation.

Of course Hollywood has to make all of this happen at one point in the movie. In real life, I think it happens as a thousand points that stack up.

I’m embarrassed by some things I haven’t finished or done (still working on a headstone; still working on thank you notes) and grateful for (and surprised by) some things I have done (kept indoor plants from the funeral days looking good; commandeered Dane’s iPod Nano, which was a sacred lifeboat in chemo days; now using the full bed, especially since Pud has joined me for the fall season).

There will be a point when I will draw strength from memories and my and Dana’s relationship. I’ve already had the strangest sensations of processing things the way Dana would: asking the pointed questions of friends, seeing the bottom line on things quicker than usual (Dane was the queen of cutting to the chase). There really is a process of absorption that occurs, and that’s a nice surprise.

While I’m a long way from the “movie moment,” I guess it’s a good sign that I’m at least thinking about resolve. Of course as I say that, I think that this past Monday, for whatever reason, was a record-setting day of missing Dane. And I guess that’s what this whole journey is about: recovering from loss while navigating the huge hole in your life.

On my recent trip to Montana (Glacier National Park), I set out to make it a trip of resolve…to begin the process of drawing strength from this experience, trying to build channels that help emotions flow from valleys of heartache to vistas of resolve. Mountain hiking seemed to be a good place to do that. But here’s what I learned. You can’t force this. Maybe I was just too distracted by the physical valleys and vistas before my eyes to worry about the valleys and vistas in my heart. If so, that’s fine. Snow-covered peaks and mountain streams have their own restorative power. So I didn’t have that legal pad session I was looking for when bullet points of resolve were flowing as fast as I could write. But I did have this happen.

My last hike of the trip was actually an after-thought. I was on my way out of the park, but noticed the clouds were breaking (it had been raining). I saw a trailhead for a trail I had had my eye on all week, so I pulled off and hiked. About 30 minutes into the trail I noticed something: silence. The other trails that week either had fellow hikers or rustling leaves from the wind. I was now on a desolate, moss-covered, fern-covered, old-growth forest trail. There was absolutely no breeze. All was still. And so I decided to stop and have about a 5-minute silent retreat.

In those few moments I realized something rather monumental: my mind is noisy. It’s busy. It moves from one thing to the next. I long ago diagnosed myself with ADD/ADHD (I became an ADD authority as a youth pastor). The grief process has taken the ADD to nuclear levels. Maybe it’s the mind’s default defense mechanism, which can be good. But in those moments of silence I heard the mental noise that I’ve been tuned into every minute of every day for the past many months. So while the noise might be protective, it’s also been keeping me from hearing, from processing, and probably worst of all, from praying.

And so, I made a commitment—a point of resolve if you will—that I will work to clear my mind of busy, noisy thinking, and try to make room for God to get a word in, at least edgewise.

That micro silent retreat was a nice gift. I’m not throwing dog tags into the sea, but I’m grateful for the slightest point of resolve, even if it’s just clearing the smallest space in a cluttered mind. Thankfully, God works with small things; a mustard seed comes to mind. And one thing I have definitely learned so far: if I’m to get to any point of resolve or strength, it will have to come from whatever God speaks into my heart and mind.

Speaking of being “tuned in,” I’ve been listening a lot lately to country music. Those folks know pain. Dana and I had connected on and with country music in our dating days (Travis Tritt was the gateway), and so I find some comfort in that music. And there are some GREAT songs out right now! Maybe this has contributed to my noisy mind. But as a funny twist, I leave you with the photo below, a picture of the radio station call name for the country station I listened to in Montana.

Thank you for your prayers, thoughts, and support.

(And the picture at the top was taken moments after my micro silent-retreat hike--Lake MacDonald at the Apgar Village, Glacier National Park.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Plans B, and imitating a tree

Yes, I took the moon picture, on a trip to Montana this past July. It was shot from my perch at the fire tower through a hunter’s spotter scope, using a camera with a broken viewfinder (another entry in the long list of “nothing is easy”). I was guessing on the camera aim. The trees in the foreground are on top of a ridge of mountains about 5-10 miles away. Now imagine watching the moon set in about 60 seconds with this view. I was watching trees overtake craters in one of the most graphic real-time experiences with the rotation of the earth I’ve ever had. Other than the fact that it was taken in Montana, this picture has nothing to do with the subject of this post. Simply, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen.

When I was packing for this Montana trip I grabbed two books, one that I was reading as part of the recovery journey, (Plan B: What To Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would by Pete Wilson, a really good book; more on that down the road) and the other by one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott. I was reading Wilson’s Plan B on my flight to Montana and at about the half-way point in the book, and probably somewhere over North Dakota, Wilson quoted Anne Lamott from one of her books. Curious to see if that was the book I brought, I shuffled through my carry-on bag to find that it wasn’t the same book. But the book I did bring startled me. It was also hauntingly, coincidentally, maybe divinely, entitled Plan B (with the subtitle, Further Thoughts on Faith.). So here I was heading to Montana for some grief recovery and restoration, and I have two unrelated books entitled “Plan B.” God, You are funny.

And then, on my flight into Missoula I was sitting beside a retired gentleman whose wife was seated across the aisle. About 20 minutes before landing she handed him a stack of papers. I wasn’t trying to be the voyeur seat mate (although I think we all have that tendency deep down inside, at least I hope we do and it’s not just me) but I noticed the words “Glacier National Park” at the top of the top page. Those words always jump out at me like my own birth date. Dana and I had loved Glacier. We hiked there about four years ago when my family (mom, dad, Beck, Rick, KatieMaggieandMiles) celebrated my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary in that park. It was on that trip that Dana and I decided we needed more of Glacier in our lives. We were diagnosed with her recurrence that next month. We did, thankfully, get to return to Glacier last year for a wonderful, special trip. In fact, the header photo for this blog is from a hike on that trip.

So I asked my seat mate if they were heading to Glacier. He said, “Yes, we’re going there for 10 days. We’ve never been.” Through moist eyes I assured him he will love it. Then I turned to my window to let the tears flow. And that’s when it struck me: Here I was lugging two books entitled Plan B, and this gentleman was living my Plan A. I had one of the strongest tinges yet of unfairness come over me.

It’s possible that God was simply softening the ground for a couple things He wanted to show me while I was in Montana. The previous blog post “Lesson Learned along the Trail...and Journey” contained one of those things. Here was another.

I was able to take some wonderful, beautiful hikes through the Bitterroot Mountains. Around my third day of hiking, and probably my fourth hike, I realized that every trail wound through areas that had experienced some kind of fire. Some fires were long ago (15 years or more). Some were recent (one of my favorites, the Kootenai Creek Trail, had a huge fire even since we had hiked it within the past five years). And all were widespread.

It wasn’t long then before I was making the connection between these trails and my philosophy on this journey: I will run toward the fire [see post: Running Toward the Fire]. I began to feel that I was now doing this philosophy literally as I passed charred and fallen trees.

As devastating as these fires were, there are beautiful phenomena that happen after fire has swept through a forest. One of the trail heads had a permanent info board that explained the ecological miracles that take place, enabling a forest to regenerate. In fact, people hiking these trails today are seeing things they would not have been able to see without the fire. God built in many regenerative tripwires that are triggered only through fire.

The analogy speaks for itself. Yes, I would rather not have experienced the raging fire and still be on my Plan A. But I’m not. And so, as I navigate the Plan B that has been dealt to me, I will look for, anticipate, and embrace any tripwire I can find: eternal perspective, God-given strength, God stamps—experiences and lessons I would not have experienced without this painful journey. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done. But at least it’s now in writing. For me, that’s a start.

On one of the hikes I noticed a huge cedar tree that was very charred yet appeared strong and healthy. I simply told myself, “I want to be like that tree.”

By the way, I am writing this post on the eve of my second trip to Montana this year. This time, back to Glacier National Park. Let the looking, anticipating and embracing begin. I think.