Tag Archive - Struggle

Unmercenary….

He asks, “Mom, how do you fill your days now that we are all nearly grown and don’t really need you all the time?”

And I wonder…..

Does it matter? All this scrubbing of floors? All this cooking of meals? Dishes? Laundry? Homework? Preparation for auditions? The chauffeuring to this and that? The listening? To dreams? To fears? The long conversations?

I wonder…

Does it matter? This changing of diapers? This giving of baths? The feeding? The playing with blocks? The reading of books? The explore? Baby birds, ducks on the pond, playgrounds, flowers? If nobody notices, is it still real?

I wonder…

Does it matter? Dreams deferred? Put on hold. For now. For them? If they do not see? Why am i doing this? Really?

On Sunday, we commemorated the unmercenary healers. Medicine men who did not ply their skills for profit. I have struggled with this. I am an unmercenary. But, not by choice. Every day I do invisible deeds. No one says thank you. No one imagines what life would be like without them. I do not give this gift freely. Always. Sometimes I want desperately to be noticed. I am vain. I would like someone to say, “Thank you for washing my clothes. Thank you for supper. For a clean home.” It rarely happens.

And sometimes I think it would be better to be out in the world doing something that would last more than a few minutes. Something that might bring a salary. Something dignified and honorable.

Instead, I get up every day and do invisible deeds to launch my beloveds upon the world. And I wonder, does it matter?

Do I matter?

Do I?

 

Afterward Many are Strong…

“You might break your arm again, but you’ll never break it there.”

It happened on the last day of Mike’s ski trip with Jake. Toward the end of the day, Mike took a tumble and landed on his wrist. Broken. They patched him up temporarily at the resort clinic, gave him some good drugs, and told him to see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as he got home.

A rod and several screws later, he was good as new. Better, in fact, according to Dr. Cook. The only joint in his body that was invincible.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~Ernest Hemingway

I know people like that. I’ll bet you do too. Heroes who have walked through hell, and come out the other side with souvenirs of grace. Stronger. More radiant. Gentle dispensers of the mercy they themselves have received.

A friend whose marriage, like ours, should have gone down in flames. But she and her husband slogged through the breathtaking pain of it, the humiliating and generous WORK of forgiveness, and are building a family that vibrates with the glory of God.

A friend who has seen the bowels of depression. Who knows what it is to be so lost and desperate you can’t even see the road out any more. This friend is now in school to be a counselor. To extend to others the help that was given to her. Beauty for ashes. The oil of gladness for mourning. A garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair.*

I have also seen those who define themselves by the great tragedy in their lives. Who refuse to  forgive. Who wear their woundedness like a badge of honor. Who play forever the role of victim or villain, unwilling that things should ever be other than they are.

What makes the difference?

I am no psychologist, counselor, or priest, but I have had my own experiences with brokenness, and I have walked it with friends. Here are some of the things I have observed.

1. Own the truth. Healing begins with recognizing my culpability in the situation. Blaming others, excusing my behavior, lying to myself are all barriers to my healing. I must invite people who know me to speak into my life. Even if I don’t like what they say. Perhaps, especially if I don’t like what they say. They are likely to see things more clearly than I can. If I cut off everyone who disagrees with me, I am cutting off my lifeline. Whether I realize it or not.

2. Ask for help. If my mind or my body betray me (ie. depression or illness)…if through no fault of my own tragedy befalls me (death or sickness of a child or spouse, job loss, bankruptcy…fill in the blank…), the problem is obviously bigger than me. Much bigger. I need friends to pray when I forget how. To get me to a hospital. To feed my family. To sit with me and share my grief. And to help me know when it is time to move forward.

3. What does this make possible? My friend Gail has asked me this question more than once. Nothing is wasted in life. But I must be willing to offer it with open hands.  There are people who need to hear my story (and yours). Maybe not everyone. But I usually seem to know. Sometimes the loss of one dream is a clean slate to dream new dreams. Like it or not, this is my new reality. What can I see/give/be/do from here that would have been impossible before?

The world breaks everyone. We have no choice about that. But we can choose to yield ourselves to the healing work that will make us stronger in the broken places.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~John 16:33

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. ~Isaiah 43:19

*Isaiah 61:3

23

Wedding

Twenty-three years ago two children promised to love “until death…”  It was folly, really.  They were babies.  He was 22.  She was 20.  They had known one another 9 months.  What were they thinking? They had no idea what they were getting themselves into…

Twenty-three years.  Three babies.  Better or worse. Eight homes.  Thousands of miles traveled.  Richer or poorer. Hundreds of acquaintances.  A precious handful of really close friends.  Sickness and Health. Six dogs.  One cat.  An infinity of memories and moments…

I was the wide-eyed, innocent girl.  And that naively optimistic boy has loved me better than I deserve.  I owe him a thousand ‘thank you’s.  But today, I will offer him twenty-three.  Twenty-three thank yous for twenty three years.

1.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what.  I know it hasn’t been easy.  And I don’t pretend to understand it.  But I am grateful, all the same.

2.  Thank you for being a fellow gypsy.  I have so many beautiful memories of our family, and of the two of us, in remarkable locales all over the world.  Thank you for watching all those Rick Steves videos with me and listening to me wag on incessantly about mind-numbing minutia.  You are a very good sport.

3.  Thank you for being the sane one.  I have never been qualified for the role.  It has been nice to know that while I flit about erratically, experiencing my ecstatic highs and my abysmal lows, that somewhere there is a tether of sanity that will never let me be completely lost.

4.  Thank you for providing for our family.  I don’t say it enough.  How do I tell you what it has meant to be home with our little ones as they grew up?  To witness the little miracles and discoveries.  To teach them.  To open the world for them.  To read and play.  I could never have done that without you.  It means more than I can say.

5.  Thank you for surrendering your suspicious nature with regard to food.  Does this sound familiar? “I don’t like that.”  “Really, how have you had it prepared?”  Oh, I’ve never eaten it, but I don’t like it.”  Or this?  “I just can’t eat squash.  I don’t like the name.”  🙂  Thank you for triumphing over your fear to become a fellow culinary explorer.  And thank you for understanding how much it means to me to eat artfully prepared food in a beautiful place.

6.  Thank you for being god of all things technological at our house.  Thank you for providing me the opportunity to remain blissfully ignorant and still have computers, phones, iPods, etc… that work.  🙂

7.  Thank you for our beautiful piano.  Thank you for buying it when we were so poor.  When we had nothing, you knew I needed a piano in my home.  So many hours of pleasure and therapy it has given me.  And, of course, as each of our children has grown up playing, the joy continues to multiply…exponentially.

8.  Thank you for being a godly man.  You haven’t done it for me.  But it does matter to me.  I respect and admire your integrity and your piety.

9.  Thank you for every art museum you have traipsed through with me.  I know sometimes you did it entirely as a gift to me.  But it seems to me that over the years you have developed your own affinity for them.  Sort of.  😉

10.  Thank you for all the made up words you sing to songs.  I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at first.  Being a neurotic first born who needs things to be right, and who happens to remember every lyric she has ever heard, I cringed at your inaccuracies.  But over the years, I have come to prefer your…ahem…creative take on things.  You make me laugh.

11.  Thanks for Pikes Peak.  I know you thought I was crazy at first.  But you were unwilling to let me be crazy all by myself.  Thanks for all those trail runs at the Warner Parks as we prepared.  For slanting rays of sunlight, wild flowers, chipmunks, deer, squirrels.  Those still comprise some of my very favorite running memories.

12.  Thank you for indulging my passion for books.  I am a pretty thrifty shopper with my Goodwill/clearance rack wardrobe, but I do go a little crazy with books.  Thank you for understanding how important they are to me and for not cutting up my credit card or exiling me from Amazon.

13.  Thank you for spending New Years Eve in Times Square with Kelsey.  What a glorious memory that will always be for her.  I know your bladder will probably never be the same, but thank you for giving her that gift.

14.  Thank you for snow boarding with Jake, and for dozens of cub scout camping trips with both of the boys.  Thank you for teaching them how to be men.

15.  Thank you for taking care of all things financial on behalf of our family.  Thank you that I never have to worry my pretty little head about that.  I trust you. I have complete confidence in your ability and your judgment.  That is a wonderful feeling.

16.  Thank you for opening your heart to Orthodoxy.  I know that each of us has walked our own road to the Orthodox faith, and that it means something distinctly different to each of us.  But I am delighted that we were able to go there together.  I look forward to uncovering the riches of our faith over years and years to come.

17.  Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you that, even when we had nothing, we gave to others.  I remember the first budget you drew up for us.  I remember that the first line item was our tithe.  It was never open for negotiation.  I also remember that it was your goal for us to increase, not just the amount of our giving to others, but the percentage of our giving each year.  This we have done.  I believe God has honored that, and I highly esteem you for it.

18.  Thank you for loving my family.  Thank you that I have never had to choose between them and you.

19.  Thank you for Bill Cosby, Himself.  I love the DVD.  But I have always loved watching you watch it even more.  When you start laughing so hard you can hardly breathe, it doesn’t really matter any more what he is saying.  It’s funny.

20  Thanks for being my partner in the delightful, magical, terrifying, difficult, bewildering, wonderful adventure of parenting.  It has been (and continues to be) the most challenging and most rewarding experience of my life.  You have been a worthy partner in crime.

21.  Thank you for forgiveness.  Seventy times seventy times seventy times seven times.  I wish I didn’t require it so often.  I hope there is still more where that came from.

22.  Thank you for memories.  Thanks for jokes only our family knows.  Thanks for the stories and experiences that have become so much a part of the warp and weft of who we are we don’t know where they begin and end.

23.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what. I know I already said that.  But it is the most important thing.  You have astounded me with your relentless love for me.  I have fought it sometimes.  Sometimes I didn’t even want it.  And I know I don’t deserve it.  “And this is love, not that we loved God, but that He first loved us…” Thanks for showing me what that looks like.

I love you…always.

Family2

*Photo at the bottom of the post copyright Angela Davis.

Return…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Psalm 137: 1, 4-6

The Lenten season is one of the great good gifts of the Church….though it might not always feel like it. It is not punishment for all the bad things we have done the rest of the year. It is not an opportunity for us to prove our piety to God, or to one another. It is, more than anything, a return. A return to first things. To our most essential selves. A return home.

The way each of us go about getting there varies. Here is how it will look for me.

The Fast:

We do not fast because there is anything itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift…We fast…so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift–so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver. ~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

For Orthodox, the fast is prescribed. We will not eat meat, eggs, or dairy again until we celebrate the Resurrection. Wine, oil and fish are permitted only on Weekends. It will make me crotchety at times. It will reveal how accustomed I am to having what I want and indulging my cravings. I do not always like my fasting self. But it is important to bring that detritus to the surface. So it can be dealt with. It is important to learn to discipline my passions. It is much bigger than the food.

The Services:

I am grateful to spend much of this journey with my brothers and sisters. We need one another. It is impossible to do this alone. We began with Forgiveness vespers, one of the most powerful services of the whole year. It is important to begin this journey clean, unencumbered. This week the Canon of St. Andrew invites confession and looking inward. Each week we will receive sustenance from an extra liturgy on Wednesday. There are lots of prostrations. I can not tell you how powerful it is to wear your faith in your body. Hungry. Face to the floor. And during Holy Week, we will be there every day, sometimes twice, as the final week of Christ on this earth is re-membered in our presence.

The Books:

Don’t even act surprised. I am always reading. But during this season, I am especially purposeful in choosing literature that challenges, provokes, inspires, and nourishes. Here are some of the voices I have am inviting into my journey:

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Father Alexander Schmemann
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
The Lenten Triodion by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos Ware
The Golden Key by George MacDonald

The Beauty:

As the natural world around me springs back to life, it is filled with reminders that what looks like death may only be a time of gathering strength…that if I am willing to surrender my striving and just be still, God will adorn me with beauty for ashes. He will work Resurrection in me.

How about you? What will the Lenten journey look like in your life?

*The idea of Lent as return is not original with me. Father Stephen has been talking to us about it for several weeks. Alexander Schmemann also speaks of it in Great Lent. For this lovely image, I am in their debt.

On Eating an Elephant…

“How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

~African proverb

I suppose there is a certain wisdom that comes with age. Even without purposeful cultivation. A warfare wisdom born of much folly and error.

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons is the brilliance of  “one bite”.

I fought it when I was younger…and “smarter”…than I am now.

When striving to master a piano piece, I would “warm up” by playing the portion I already knew. Then work for a bit on the despicable part that gave me trouble. Then play the part I knew well again. And again. Then play it all. And predictably train wreck at the difficult part. Then play the part I knew again to re-assure myself. Etc……..ad nauseum.

If I had applied all that time to only the prickly part, I would have mastered it.

But it overwhelmed me.

Most tasks (projects…goals…resolutions…changes…you fill in the blank) overwhelm if we persist in seeing the whole of it in one glance, when it would yield to us if we would only take on one bit at a time.

I see it in my kids:

Piano scales played badly because mediocre and fast somehow seems better than precise and slow (which would eventually become precise AND fast).

Paralysis to clean a room run amok, when tackling one corner…one shelf…just the floor…would, over time, slay the beast.

Every now and then I still see it in me.

A teenager infested house that “refuses” to be put to order.

Chaotic days…a frantic schedule…that seem out of my own control.

An inability to “find time” to write of late. Which makes me uncomfortable and ill tempered.

Today I began learning a new piece of music. An acapella vocal work with unusual harmonies. Almost without thought, I began dividing it into little bits. I rehearsed each til I knew it, then added the next little bit. Remarkable how soon I was making this very difficult work my own. One bite at a time.

It made me eager to take on another project. Just so I could practice dividing it into tiny, conquerable bits.

In this season when many of us have set audacious goals for ourselves–when attendance levels at the gym will tell the story of grand resolutions made and abandoned–when juicers, and pilates videos, and self-help books will fly off the shelves like gang busters (and show up on eBay in a few weeks)–I challenge you to stop intriguing and buying stuff  and plotting how to eat the whole elephant at once. And just make one change.

Take one step.

One bite.

Then take the next.

And the next.

And watch what happens…..

*Drawing at top of post by Sean Gallo. See more of his fine work HERE.

Lonely…

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures…
~Henri Nouwen

This has been a raw, cantankerous, no one will answer my emails, tired, overwhelmed, everybody needs something from me, tears in the dishwater kind of week. I am not sleeping. I have no talent for sleep anyway, so it is usually the first thing to go. That, of course, only makes matters worse. I am frenzied, withered, spent.

I have been here before. And I have come to understand that when it seems as though everyone is conspiring to make me insane, the problem is probably not with “everyone“.

And even though it never works, I begin by trying to eliminate the stresses in my life; by wishing everyone would just do what I need them to do.

It’s kind of like putting perfume on sweat. The first impression might be tolerable, but it doesn’t take long before the stink wins out.

I was awake last night. In the middle of the night. Again. This time, instead of repeatedly calculating exactly how much sleep I will get if I fall asleep right now, or fretting over everything in my life that needs to be done for the next 2 weeks years, or trying to escape by planning our next vacation… I picked up a book…one of the books I began reading at the beginning of Advent…and found the familiar, but forgotten, words above. And I began to understand…

I had made a worthy start to Advent. Finding time for stillness. For peace. Peace that I could carry with me into my days. And give to others, if need be. I’m not sure where things went wrong…

You cannot bring peace to others if you do not have it yourself.
~Fr. Alexander Elchaninov

Today, roughly half way through the season of expectation and longing, I begin again. Pursuing loneliness. For myself. For my family and friends. I will follow the One I love to the lonely place. I will sit with Him. And I will invite Him to set me aright so that I might love as He loves. So that the sweet aroma of Him might linger upon me…

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. ~Mark 1:35

The Way

It is the last place he ever expected to find himself. He comes to St. Jean Pied de Port to claim the dead body of his only son. A son he hardly knew. Who refused to fit his mold. Who left his doctoral program in anthropology to travel the world and live among the people who were just faces in a book.

How many times had Daniel begged him to join him? To be part of his world?

It had seemed so reckless. So irresponsible.

He sifts through Daniel’s belongings. Bits and pieces of a life. Photographs from far flung places. Of a young man fully alive. A young man worth knowing.

Tom decides he will accompany Daniel on his final journey.  The one he had only just begun. A pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He will carry Daniel’s ashes, leaving them all along the way.

“I’m doing it for Daniel,” he says to the gendarme.

“You do not walk the Camino for another,” he replies. “You walk it for yourself.”

It will ask more of him than he can imagine. He will come to know his son. He will come to know himself. He will not be alone in this. There will be a motley assemblage of comrades. Who find one another. Who need one another. More than any of them realize.

Yorick “from Amsterdam” is here to lose weight for a wedding. This, despite the fact that he seems to know the culinary specialty of every region through which they pass, and insists upon sampling it. But there is another hunger in Yorick. A sorrow. One that can only be shared with those who have walked long and lived deep with one another.

Deborah is bitter, belligerent, and guarded. She walks the Way to stop smoking. She says. But she too is fleeing dark demons. She has forgotten how to trust, to be safe with others…how to forgive…how to forgive herself.

Irish writer, James, is brash and loud. He has some serious problems with the Church, who has been the cause of much bloodshed in his homeland. He has writer’s block. He is here to find a story. The story will find him.

The Way is an artfully made film from Emilio Estevez. The story is compelling and rich, with characters who get inside your heart. The cinematography is stunning. And the invitation…to slow down, to breathe deep, to open ourselves to God and to others…is for all of us.

I implore you to see the film. It will be gift to you. You will laugh. You will cry. You might dare to dream big dreams. And with your ticket, you will cast a vote for the beautiful and the true.

Buen Camino!

To the Field of Stars

…if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows….

Thin places, they have been called. Geographic points on the earth where the space between God and man lessens, and the Presence is a breathable, touchable reality. Often these bear some connection to a holy person or persons who lived there once, or whose bones lie there still.

And so, the pilgrimage. One walks across one’s threshold and keeps walking…for weeks, even months…until he comes to the sacred place. Here he prays. But not here only. For every step along the way becomes prayer. And the journey is a shaping of the soul. A readying for the Presence. And perhaps, if there were no journey, the Presence would be indiscernible. It is the journey, the trouble and pain, the giving of oneself to others along the way, that prepares the soul to pray. To receive. Without demand. With only gladness. And humility. And joy.

In July 2003, Father Kevin Codd begins his own pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He tells the story of this journey artfully and vulnerably in To the Field of Stars. I am captivated from the first page. And I sob my way through the last couple of chapters, feeling almost as though I, myself, am entering Compostela with these dear friends who have loved well and shared so much of themselves along the way.

I leave you to discover the story of Compostela, the third most traversed pilgrimage in all Christendom (after only Jerusalem and Rome). Herein I propose, instead, to give you a taste of this marvelous story and why you want to read it. My choices are strictly subjective.

Of the commencement of a pilgrimage: The author confesses the motivation only reveals itself clearly along the way. However, most begin as a longing for something other. Something transcendent and bigger. Something that matters.

We want to see there one little sign that there is more to us than just us…We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, into our sky, into us.

Of walking as prayer and the earth as sanctuary: Father Codd begins the day with morning prayers. The rhythm of the prayer becomes the rhythm of his feet and he finds that walking becomes prayer. And the slowness, the earthiness of feet against soil makes him a citizen of earth, keenly aware of its mysteries. And God is there.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present…

The heat of the morning makes the pitch in those pine trees give off a strong scent; this is the stuff of which incense is made. I inhale its aroma and remember as I did the day before that out here, too, I am in church.

Of his journey with the Church: Not the least of Father Codd’s wrestlings along the way have to do with the Church. He answers the questions of intelligent young people who feel the Church has lost touch with them. He winces at liturgies perfunctorily performed in some of the tiny towns through which they pass. He also sits in the sweet coolness of a Romanesque chapel and contemplates the Savior. He meets hospitality poured out in Jesus’ name. He watches an old priest drop his briefcase to dance with young people around the zero kilometer marker in Compostela. He sees the Bride of Christ as she is…

…grace made flesh, but flesh it still is: soft and hard, young and old, new and worn, all at the same time. It is so close to God, yet so far from God, yet so close to God.

To the Field of Stars is a pilgrim story, told honestly, with humble grace and great good humor, and a fair measure of poetry. It is laughter. And silence. It is community. And solitude. It is invocation. Contemplation. And invitation….to a life that is…more.

In Deep Nights…

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

There has never been a time in my life when God was not a principle character in the story of me. I have spent much of my life attempting to apprehend Him. To know Him.

And He has eluded me.

I came to a place where I very nearly hated Him. I felt He had made a promise to me. To all of creation, for that matter. That we might know Him. Intimately. As close as breathing. Yet, I had nearly killed myself trying to be good enough. Trying to prove my worth to Him. Volunteering for everything. Practically living at the church.

Somehow, He remained untouchable. So very far away. And I had these cavernous empty places. Since He would not fill them, I began to grasp at other things. Trying to make it not hurt.

And sometimes they helped.

For a while.

But the empty did not go away. And now there was guilt and regret piled on top of the empty. And I was angry. Angry at God. Angry at all the people in my life who did not love me well enough. I needed someone to blame. Someone to be responsible for my pain.

Then God gave me a gift. Unexpected. Unwanted. He taught me to die. It was a bloody, excruciating experience. I had to let go of all the things that I thought made me me. Everything I was proud of. My gifts. The service I provided others. My striving and digging.

And stand before Him.

Empty.

Naked.

Alone.

It was terrifying. I felt as though I were melting. Like the wicked witch, you know. In The Wizard of Oz.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was the beginning of healing.

Once I stopped blaming others, and defending myself…once I was willing to be nothing…then…we could begin.

And grace became that soft rain, falling. And I had to do nothing, but receive.

I am done hating, and blaming. Mostly. I am learning to revel in being nothing. Because in this place…where I bring none of my striving, or digging, or proving myself, or being right…God is. And all I must do is fall into Him. Receive the rain of grace He pours freely over me.

He is still far away. Above me. Outside me.

AND

He is as close as breathing. A reality I taste when I approach the Cup. I breathe Him in the incense. I hear Him in baby girl’s laughter. I feel Him, soft, in the wind.

And the empty places are not so empty any more.

I am wordy. It is too much. Rilke said it best. And Job. We are, the three of us, of the same cloth. We have known the death…that yields life.

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  ~Job 42:5

The Road Less Traveled

Dawn is painting the sky with a soft wash of rose as we begin. Laughter belies the fact that we have a daunting task ahead of us. Some will push ourselves to limits yet untried; finding answers to questions we never thought to ask. It will be a rigorous journey. And extraordinarily beautiful.

The path up Fred’s Mountain snakes back and forth amid alpine blossoms. Trees along the path appear as silhouettes against the warming sky. I stop here and there to attempt to capture the stark beauty of it in a photograph. I fail at this.

The lodge where we commenced becomes a child’s building block as we climb higher and higher. Beneath us lies a patchwork of fields stretching ever further into the distance. Suddenly we reach the eastern border of our mountain, and we get our first glimpse of them: The glorious Tetons. Just there. Almost close enough to touch. Almost. Now I know why the sun is so long in coming. She must climb over these. I feel her pain.

Columbine and wild geranium give way to stone fields as we near the crest. I feel like a mountain goat picking my way between stones as we climb along the spine. Light is playing in the valley below, spotlighting one thing at a time. I can’t stop looking at it. Except, I must stop looking at it. Every step matters along this treacherous precipice.

Summiting is exhilarating! I drink in the view while one of the generous volunteers refills my bottle. I grab a quick snack and am off. Just around the bend, I am astonished by another intimate view of the glorious Grand Teton, and his friends. Then the path carries us away from them and back to the base.

The next leg of our run meanders for a bit through grassy fields before plunging us into a fairy forest. Deep, dark and lush. And mythical. Only the most persistent shafts of light manage to penetrate. My feet are happy to be running on soft soil and pine needles. The burble of a creek flirts with us, until we finally reach the bottom of the valley and cross it. The forest occasionally yields to a clearing of wildflowers and sunlight, before pulling us back in.

What goes down must come up. We climb for 3 miles along the road before returning to the forest. I tell Mike I am glad we are doing this together; long doesn’t seem so long with him. We are now seventeen miles in, and fatigued legs protest the brutal, relentless uphill.

When next we enter base we are two thirds of the way through. But Mike’s stomach is betraying him. He decides to stay and rest, and sends me on ahead. We will finish the race alone…

Have you ever seen a rag quilt? My grandmother made them of tiny scraps of floral calico and feed sacking. There would be hundreds of strips; a marvelous cacophony of color! Imagine spreading that out over acres and acres of rolling hillside. Then imagine that you can step inside it, winding your way between the strips. A patchwork of wildflowers nodding and swaying all around you. This is Rick’s Basin.

Two or three miles in, the path winds into a grove of Aspens. Clean white trunks thrust their silver leaves against an azure sky. Birds play in the branches. Tiny animals rustle through the undergrowth, unseen.

Openings in the trees give me glimpses of Fred’s Mountain. Impossibly far away. And I keep moving further away. I wonder if I’m lost. But the trail markings tell me to keep going. Eventually the path bends back into the field of flowers, and before I know it I’m back to base.

I am now five and a half miles from finishing my first ultra marathon. But those five and a half miles will be a return trip to Fred’s Mountain. Alone. But not really alone. I cue up Gungor’s new album, Ghosts Upon the Earth. Good friends have put it into my hands for this trip. It sings the story of the people of God, from Creation all the way to God’s relentless pursuit of His wayward lover in the minor prophets. It will sing me up the mountain; intensifying…if that is possible…the glory around me.

Chris, a volunteer, meets me several yards below the aid station with the best Coke I have ever tasted. He tells me I am doing great and that it’s all down hill from here. I joke with the volunteers at the top, knowing at this point that I will finish. Even if I have to roll down the mountain. 🙂 I scarf down a turkey and cheese roll up, savoring each delectable bite. I drain my coke, grab my full water bottle, and begin the descent.

My heart is full. Full of beauty. Full of the glory of God, which is so very evident in this place. Full of gratitude, for life and health and strength.

This day has been prayer, from beginning to end. Sometimes with words. Sometimes with song. But mostly the walking, the breathing, the every moment. A ceaseless inward prayer of awareness, of Presence, of joy.

I run through the finish with my hands in the air. Jay, Lisa, and all the kind volunteers cheer me on. They have been gift this day. I am thrilled when Lisa puts the medal around my neck. And even more thrilled when, only a few minutes later, Mike follows me through the shoot. We did it! We did not get et up by the grizzlies. 😉 We finished alive.

Thanks be to God!!

Two roads diverged in a wood and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost

*My profound gratitude goes to Jay and Lisa, and their fabulous team of volunteers for the most beautiful event I have ever been part of. The organization and support were extraordinary. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!

**Particulars: Grand Teton Trail Ultra. We ran the 50k (31 miles). Roughly 8,000 feet vertical (gain and loss). Altitude: between 6,500 and 10,000 feet.

***All photos are from the first trip up Fred’s Mountain. I regret there are no photos of the rest, though they would have been inadequate (as are these). I had to put the phone away. Had I not, I would be there still……

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