Camping – Community Style

Convict Lake

2019 marks the13th year of our group of friends camping together. We’ve been to Patrick’s Point, Big Sur, Salt Point, Morro Bay, Huntington Lake, Union Reservoir, Running Springs, Dark Canyon and a few others scattered in there. This year about 40 people joined us at Mammoth Lakes, including three new families, as every year we have a different combination of people who can join us. Our philosophy – the more people, the better conversations, the crazier the campfire stories, the more chances to be able to outrun individuals in the occasion of a bear attack while hiking, and the higher possibility of being able to enjoy a campground game. Another benefit – we love new talent. This year, magical margaritas from the closet bartender and newcomer “campee,” Aimee Churchill, were a celebrated addition.

Panorama Dome

As much fun as we have – hiking, playing games, making S’mores, and whatever creative endeavor comes up, we have significant people who are no longer camping and we miss them. We’ve had two cancer deaths in our community. This is the second year without Danielle, the fifth without Amy. Danielle loved the Sierras, a legacy passed on from her father who frequented often during D’s life. We camped here in honor of her though when it went on the camping list back in 2017, I had imagined camping with her, not in honor of her. But her body couldn’t beat back the aggressive breast cancer in her body and she lived only six days in 2018, about 14 months from her diagnosis.

Lakeside activities included mainly skipping rocks and warming on the rocks since fish weren’t biting from shore

Her spirit was alive to us though deeply missed by us all, robbing us all of pure enjoyment because we had the certainty that this isn’t the way it should be. D should have been there as Matteo, her son, blew out his birthday candles – 11 years old and when the rest of the family took him to Starbucks (benefits of camping close to town) for his favorite drink, a hot chocolate and he demanded a Venti rather than the usual tall size. We could all rightly declare this isn’t the way it ought to be – this unending longing for her presence that will be unfulfilled this side of heaven.

There are many things to miss about D but what was unique between her and I was the hike and event planning. She was my comrade and took full responsibility to investigate hikes and local attractions along with me. She would’ve walked with Mary and me to the Welcome Center to discuss hiking options. She would’ve been with us when we sought shelter in an empty bear box due to a downpour, hail included, dumped on us as we made our way back to camp. True confession (which feels shameful to this country girl who prides herself on having an internal GPS) our trip back to camp wasn’t exactly a direct route because we turned left instead of going straight so we ended up on the wrong camping loop – and the country girl in me was determined to “find our way” going across country rather than backtracking down the road from which we came.

Bear Boxing It
The Scene at the Foot of the Bear Box Once Wave One of the Storm Passed

The other person missed, Amy, was always a willing camper but she needed her amenities. She would’ve been the first person to have crafts and activities for the kids, a role Laura filled this year with markers, paint (which was used as make-up by the younger girls painting the older girls’ face) and white paper. Amy would’ve color coordinated our table cloths and possibly rented a RV for her family so she could sleep – an important activity to her and one not done best on her blow up mattress and sleeping bag. She might have had the latest padded camping chairs, especially the rockers found at REI. And she definitely would’ve brought cloth napkins (possibly ones she’d made) with napkin holders to set the ambiance for dinner.

Running Springs – 2007: Our First Community Camping Trip
The Summer Following Amy’s First Brain Cancer Treatment and Surgery

Present time, an event I think Danielle spearheaded from heaven was our junior ranger program. She always found the local programs and would get us special group presentations so I swear she was in the planning of our Devil’s Postpile Monument hike because we got off the shuttle and without even knowing it, picked the stop that had the ranger station and the booklet for all the kids. I was a miserable substitute because I didn’t actively engage with the displays of stuffed animals (via taxidermy) inside the forest station. Instead, my competitive state of mind kicked in as I saw forty people in the next shuttle bus start filing off, so I grabbed my backpack and began walking down the trail, yelling behind me, “I’ll see you at Devil’s postpile.” I’m certain Danielle, in her calm and collected way, would’ve rounded up the kids to look at the objects and thought absolutely nothing about the hikers getting ahead of us while we listened to the presentations. Later, she would’ve also loved the clever answers and interpretations from our group as the kids filled out the booklet — placing dog’s paws on a page for signatures of fellow hikers or circling phones and televisions as hiking necessities while asking, “will we get a badge with these type of answers?”

Our Junior Ranger Adventure — Devil’s Postpile
Naturally Formed Stones
Rainbow Falls – In Devil’s Postpile Monument

My mind can picture both D and Amy with us at different junctions. I know Amy would’ve been so proud of her almost-six-year-old son, Nathan’s, completing a 3.5 miles hike with the last mile a doozy – all uphill. D would’ve meandered, enjoying the present moment of being together and in nature, and would’ve taken turns with her husband, Mynor, with their dog, Juneau.

Juneau, the Dog

What I’ve learned about death is it’s honoring to family members to share grief, stories, and longings to let the family know they aren’t alone in their longings and sorrow. So we talked about D and how she would’ve loved taking the kids fishing or going on walks with the dogs and eating the edible cookie dough from the Schat’s bakery in Bishop. We also wondered how Amy would’ve felt about the wind and what she’d even think about camping now that two of her kids are old enough to drive. As a community we make an effort not to hide our feelings, having learned that there is comfort and goodness in sharing our grief. For certain, it doesn’t take away the longing for the other but it somehow makes it less lonely in the ache of the hurt.


The cliff notes of what camping with this community means to me. I have learned most of what I know about doing life well from these people. A number of them I’ve known since my early twenties, more than half my life. They’ve loved me when I had more rough edges. They’ve loved me through my own devastating loss of a our middle child in 2006. They’ve loved me when I haven’t loved my husband, who they like, well. They’ve loved me so I can be brave and take risks. They’ve filled the gaps when my children needed a second mother, a ride, a safe place and I couldn’t be there due to my work. I’m grateful to know them and their children – even the ones I’m just getting to know.

Ice Warm Water
Can you see the goosebumps?
Hanging at Convict Lake

At the end of the day, what I love about communing in the woods as campers, is that for five days out of the year, I live communally -sharing meals, washing dishes, listening to snores or night talkers. And it’s here in this ordinary life where I know I never want to live permanently with these people the best of life is found in the mundane and the ordinary – the conversations around the water spigot, on the hiking trail or at the brewery (because when your walking-close to the local brewery it would be sinful NOT to go).

Mammoth Brewery Company: Huddled by the Heater – Dancing
Warmth First. Style – Irrelevant in the Mountains

What is reconfirmed year after year around the campfire is that one doesn’t need to travel around the world to find extraordinary beauty. It’s usually at our fingertips when we are in the company of those we enjoy and take delight in.

Upper Falls at Twin Lakes
Hot Creek Geo Site
Boiling, Bubbling Water

Bye, Mammoth! Until ski season when you just may see us again.

Year of Jubilee – the Halfway Point

Getty Museum this April

My 49th birthday on February 20th at roughly 4:30 pm, officially started my jubilee year in my bedroom with hot soup, tissues and a heating pad for anywhere that would get me thinking about the goodness of warmth and not on how miserable I felt. Lucky for me, my rock star husband had asked close friends and family members to write descriptive words about me so I read these sunflower colored laminated book markers as I rocked and sucked my thumb tried to make the most of a miserable feeling day. The most surprising was my son described me as “wild” (he has no idea) and my niece, whose birthday is two days before me and born the same year as my son, described me as “zen.” Ying and yang – it seemed this might be a good year after all. Turns out, I’d recover in about two weeks and then a month later get the flu on a business trip, which may or may not have included holding my head, praying, and rocking on the airplane while trying not to moan or taste my breakfast a second time. The later happened as I waved at my daughter sitting with a friend who commented, “Hi Mom! Oh wow. You don’t look so good.” I didn’t and it would be about four days before I emerged to crawl to work and crawl home which became a routine for about three weeks. My weekends in between were filled with wild amounts of activity – sleep, sleep and a bit more sleep with a variety of chicken broth, chicken noodle soup or any soup that was given to me.

Fragile health has been something I’ve grown accustomed to in my 40s, not to say that this was “fragile” but I can’t remember a time I’ve been sick for so long. Over the past five years, I’ve walked with several friends in their cancer journey and have said good-bye, see you on the other side of the veil, to three of them locally and within the last three months – two more distantly. For family, I’m no longer making memories with my father-in-law – his death several years ago. My wellness checks have occasionally yielded “abnormal results” or “come back for more tests” and I too have fleeting concerns about the C word – get sick for six out of ten weeks when you have an exercise habit and eat a diet that’s about 90% gluten, sugar, and dairy free you’ll be wondering if there is something depressing your immune system besides the flu. Turns out, I have lead poisoning with high amounts of mercury and two airborne chemicals, likely from my living environment in LA in the vicinity of oil pumping. Not sure how long I’ve had it but for the last two months when I’m in town, I drive 30 miles for treatment once or twice a week, which includes sitting in a treatment area recliner, IV connected, for two hours with moments of nauseousness, headaches or stinging and if it’s not too uncomfortable, a good book (currently Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage though I’m trying to enjoy her writing and not think about the fact that this marriage didn’t work out for her either), my journal (as long as my right hand is free to write), and for transparency sake at least two or three other items “just in case” (I.e. The Sun magazine, another book – The Climate of Monastic Prayer by Thomas Merton, or my laptop which is difficult to use since one arm is hosting the IV). My commitment to myself during this year has been to stop “pushing through” health issues thinking they will just be resolved. It took over two years to finally discover this “metal problem” which is why my body wasn’t absorbing certain vitamins – mainly antioxidants and why my stress levels weren’t going down despite a regular practice of meditation, work adjustments, and a month worth of vacations.

Santa Fe Beauty in February

Friendships have been adjusting as the reality that some of my deepest friendships have lacked regular contact. I was in a group for 16 years, The Graces, but with the death of Amy five years ago and the moving of Shannon a year later, a group that had been meeting once a month has now limped along with the three of us left in Southern California – though in June Shannon visited and we met at an early bird 6:30 am for breakfast to catch up. This year would’ve marked 20 years together. On a positive note, a group of long time friends merged what were two groups ten years ago into one so we can support one another during the parenting adolescents, widowhood, divorce, “rubber meeting the road” marriages and whatever else comes up during our once a month meetings. Also, a professional book club, which has been meeting quarterly for about six years has been incredibly supportive. As well, my own marriage during this half year has needed some composting and soil aerating. Dennis and I also had a difficult year personally. Our criticism/ defensiveness cycle reemerged after going on a hiatus for a number of years and we needed to change some things before it became chronic so we’ve been back in couple’s therapy. Thankfully, it’s been incredibly healing but a lot of emotional work.

Upaya in Santa Fe, late February

Some highlights – Since last July, I’ve been enrolled in a year long intensive writing program in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder, which has been life giving on so many levels — getting me out of the LA craziness, writing, deepening my meditation practice and meeting some great people. I’m hopeful that this experience will help me reprioritize some things professionally –creating more space for writing and creative projects. As well, I’ve never had a better year professionally. It is a wonderful experience to see all the time and effort I’ve spent learning and doing has translated into a more confident place of being. It feels so refreshing to be past “am I doing what I ought to be doing” and instead, know who I am so I can more easily make decisions about what’s important professionally. My new challenge is owning my creativity and doing more in that arena like blogging (last blog seven months ago), podcasts, more on the YouTube channel and finish my darn book, which is happily in the editing phase. I also led a workshop on meditation for a women’s retreat, which fed my soul. I’ll also be facilitating a women’s retreat in Spokane, WA later this year for a group of women who have been meeting together for several years.

Year-long Intensive Group Members
Santa Fe Beauty in May
Santa Fe Art. Beyond.
A close look revels snow — in May

For those of you who have either followed this blog for a while or know me, likely remember that I celebrate my birthday with adventures or outings. See last year’s post on my canyoneering trip and photography workshop in Utah with National Geographic photographer in April. (2020-the big 50 already in the planning stages for Ireland, Scotland and London along with mystery country not yet selected). To start my year of jubilee, I decided for a “fly to” concert experience since few things bring me more joy than music. Predictably, I couldn’t decide on only one I went with two. Lauren Daigle in Albuquerque and Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Full disclosure – LA tickets for Lauren Daigle were three times the amount of Albuquerque, where I was conveniently scheduled for my writing intensive the next day so Albuquerque won over LA. I bought VIP tickets for full engagement. However, as it would happen, my flight was delayed long enough for me to possibly miss the entire concert so using LAX’s busyness to my advantage, I jumped from my flight to another which routed me to a different city before going to ABQ which looked like I could at least get in to make the latter part of the concert. While waiting at the airport, I shared my sadness, anxiety, angst with a number of friends who all rallied around and were with me in all the suckiness of missing out on my well-planned trip. My friend, Shannon, aka Graces member, maid of honor and college roommate, text to me in a group chat, “One thing I will say about you entering year 49 this way, is that you navigating difficult choices (which flight to take?), weathering disappointment, reaching out in friendship, willingness to ‘come as you are’ to the concert [I had no luggage or time to check in to hotel – all carry-ons needed to be taken to concert including TWO coats because of course I brought a “concert coat” since I can rarely wear coats in LA even in winter] has borne fruit of hope, hope-fulfilled and blessing (concert, with-ness)…and I pray THAT will be multiplied more and more all year through…” Not a bad way to start my year of jubilee – a blessing, companionship, and music! Concert made about two songs in to opener with the unfortunate experience of walking past the entire center section with my carry-on bags and two coats while the sitting audience listened but couldn’t help but see me (confirmed by not one but two women commenting in the hotel elevator after the concert about my fashionable coat that they admired while I walked past them). In my 20s, the possibility of embarrassment would have caused me to miss the opener in order to ditch my luggage at the hotel but I LOVED the opener, AHI, who I would have completely missed to avoid embarrassment. As it was, I sought assurance from the people that matter most to me that even if I was seen as the “bag lady” from the concert I’d be okay. That saying about “sticks and stones will break my bones…” ignores the reality that we all want to belong and words deeply cut us which is why we need to have “our people.”

Lauren Daigle
My concert coat aka non-practical one
This picture doesn’t quite capture the height nor depth of this pile of second coat, and two carry ons

Celine Dion was another destination concert scheduled in May. I’m no dummy so this time I drove instead of flew – taking advantage of car time to talk about visions and dreams with Dennis as well as answer some love map questions from Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” I also took advantage of being the birthday girl by requesting we stop off the freeway to take in the art installation, “Seven Magic Mountains” by Ugo Rondinone, a request which had been shot down by my family on previous visits.

Celine
Seven Magic Mountains
So I may have also snuck in a “non-birthday concert” in April — Pink!

Looking ahead to the next six months, I’m really hopeful that I’ll be done with all the edits for my memoir, which I’ve been giving birth to for the last eight years. It’s been a laborious process – one I hope to end and move into infancy where I can attempt to get it published. As well, my daughter, Eden, and I are starting a new mental health platform for adolescents and young adults. We’ve called it scars.together – and will be addressing the issues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide that can be overwhelming when an individual doesn’t know how to navigate it. Our vision is to be with others on social media platforms to come along side and help others deal with anxiety, anger, loneliness, self-doubt, etc. when they feel overwhelming and disorienting. Adolescents have big feelings by way of the neurological development happening in their brain, mainly their “thinking brain” isn’t fully developed until 24 or 25. The digital culture, without guidance, has the ability to wire pathways in their brain that lead to isolation rather than connection – which we know is a main “staying power” for launching into adulthood. Essentially, I’ve already “won” so there is no risk involved as we plow ahead because to develop content, I’m spending meaningful time with Eden who only has two years left at home before I kick her out.

The intention behind this year was to slow down in my busyness so in February I began taking a day off from my private practice to write and work on retreat projects. This has been rejuvenating for me. I also practice a Sabbath once a week where we change it up with church, hikes, meals with others, games, or anything else that feels rejuvenating. I take more breaks in the day by walking around my building or walking to lunch. I engage in meditation and a writing practice which slows me down from being on the production hamster wheel. I’m hoping the next six months will be more of the same.

Relaxing at Sunset in our community pool

What I’ve come to realize with age is I had no idea how much I lacked the ability to hold onto complexities in the human condition and with situations in general. For example, cancer isn’t reserved for unhealthy or stressed out people, in fact how many people do you know who lived a long life but would never be described as healthy. To think that it’s your healthy lifestyle that frees you from this potentially devastating illness is a myth and really gives you a subtle “superior” posture when trying to comfort or be with those fighting against it. To truly be a comfort to those with chronic illness or illness not yet in remission requires an individual to recognize their own physical frailty and to interact out of that place.

Laguna Beach in June

Bad things do indeed happen to good people and seeking the lesson to be learned from the experience robs you of allowing your healing to direct what is gained. Whether it be greater capacity to empathize with others, greater capacity to capture the present moment, an ability to receive comfort from others – these examples are not lessons – they are new ways of being. And allowing a bad thing to change your character or capacity to feel or relate is much much harder than learning a lesson.

An O’Keeffe – her shading makes me weep

I’m grateful to be alive and have friends and family who have woven a net of safety beneath me so that I fear not what the future might bring. I know that I will never endure a trial or tribulation alone, no matter how big or small. I feel as rich as a queen – well, maybe this is because I recently spent an evening with wonderful people who are renting a home on Balboa Island. See pics…

No words needed
Is my envy apparent, yet?
Such a gorgeous home and location!
Lessons learned from my son’s cat – Snuggly: If you find yourself not fitting into the box you want to be in, make the most of it.

The Good Life

And yes…I flipped.
Partner on Left: Shannon W.
Rockin’ It
And getting in conversation before he becomes a teen – 18 months from now

Thank you for journeying with me. May wherever you find yourself be full of life and connection – majoring in the majors and keeping those things that are minor, minor.

Peace be with you.

Seizing the Moment – Lessons from Nature and Cancer

Last year in California, we had a superbloom spring – where the flowers open in abundance when rain hits in winter or fall after a considerable drought.  For us in Southern California, we’d had five years of drought before we welcomed last year’s superbloom that brought millions of visitors to witness the hillsides and deserts in all their glory. With this year being a superbloom fail; instead, year one of drought, I’m grateful I trekked to the hills to witness the blooms.  It’s easy to disregard the urgency of such moments.  When I’m juggling all my aspects of doing life (self-employment, mothering two active kids, volunteer work, church, friendships, family, etc) it can be easy to tell myself, “I’ll catch it next year.” Or, “It’s not that big of a deal, it can wait.”  With my words I ignore a reality that is undoubtedly true – “seize the moment because it will pass.”   And with things of nature, this is doubly true.  The moment won’t come around in exactly the same way -ever.  And just like going to the gym and working out, I don’t think there has ever been a time where I’ve regretted missing sleep to catch an eclipse or sunrise or time at home over traveling all day to witness canyons and rock formations.  Adding to my sense of urgency is the reality that loss of life happens.  In the past five years, I have lost three good friends to cancer.  These were friends who spoke into my life, knew me over a decade – some two, and were significant encouragers in my personal and professional growth.  What they taught me, no matter how long they lived with cancer, is that there isn’t a guarantee for tomorrow and even if it seems tomorrow will come, there isn’t a guarantee for how much or how little pain there will be.  So if you can do it, and have the opportunity, better do it now before the window has passed.

I think this sense of urgency is one of the gifts these women left me with.  I’m trying to live now with a, “Don’t wait.  Do it now while you can.” These pictures from last year’s superbloom remind me that I didn’t wait.  We got up before the sun, drove the 1.5 hours and beat the weekend crowds in order to witness and enjoy these poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.  I find mentally marking these type of remembrances, when I did something well and didn’t let the moment pass, encourages me to look for the present moments when I want to skip over something that needs to be savored, or taken in, or leaned into so the “it’s too much effort” belief doesn’t win out.  This year, I’ve created space to “take in” – a canyoneering trip, a trip to Italy, a 30 year class reunion, a writing retreat in New Mexico – twice, and our yearly camping trip with 40 other friends.  And yet, I want to make sure I’m not forgetting that each mundane, every day moment calls out to be “taken in” because if I wait until these “big events” – well, I’m missing a lot of life.  And as I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death during these past five years, I know that each day is truly a gift and I hope I can do it justice by living well.  In the name of Beth, Amy and Danielle, I want to honor the gift they weren’t given – more time.

May you also seize the day, capturing the moments of your life by paying attention and finding what there is to enjoy.  As well, may you be encouraged to shift as I’m trying to do, to live more “urgently” with time because we never know what the future holds.

 

 

When I Grow Up, I Want to be Danielle Montiel: A Year of Being.  Together.

 

By way of introduction, Danielle is a good friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, we did Thanksgiving one year at her parent’s house, primarily because she married one of my best friend’s brothers who had invited us along.  Fast forward about five years and we spent two years in a couple’s group with several others, we camped and travelled once or twice a year with our families this last decade, we had a deep appreciation for one another and I felt “goodness” in my soul when I saw her but we weren’t necessarily in weekly or even biweekly contact until this past year.

A few things you should know:

She’s amazing – seriously.  Before cancer, she could do handstands and back flips- leftovers from being a gymnast (yes, in her 40s).  She was a gourmet chef effortlessly, whipping up whatever was in the kitchen and having it taste divine.  She was profound, observant, kind, generous, intelligent and had a combination of laid back and disciplined that few people could pull off.  She was so gracious in how she approached situations and people.  She single-handedly got a new charter school, the joint vision of her brother-in-law, Steve Porter and good friend, Jason Baehr, up and running.  She was a doer and yet she appeared to flow so easily between the doing and being, recognizing that while one does, one needs to be.

This past year, she transformed me spiritually without having a clue she was doing so (I didn’t have a clue in the middle of it).  I’d committed to a year of practicing the spiritual discipline of being and she and I together were engaged in a touch therapy I’d been briefly trained in (a modality I practice with friends, not professionally.).  She showed me the beauty of dependence, of asking for one’s needs, of moving slow together and not rushing to “get somewhere.”  See what was so clear to Danielle, but what I didn’t get (at least initially) was that our time was about being. I wanted results – a better sleep, loosened muscles, coordination improvement after her brain surgery.  But for Danielle we never tried to get somewhere, she let me know she enjoyed the company, the nurturing.

What I gut-achingly miss the most is feeling her body.  I learned her arms, her legs, her back.  Over the months, we grieved, through our acknowledgement of changes, ineffective chemotherapy, which resulted in the cancer stealing her strength because breathing was compromised not to mention the chemotherapy and radiation side effects.  Much later, we grieved the arrival of the breathing machine and what it meant at the same time we rejoiced she could breathe better.  We grieved that the spiritual images given to us during our time together never promised healing.  The last image she spoke about (our last months had very little speaking in them) was a dollhouse with open rooms that she could come and go in without being trapped in one place (possibly a foreshadowing of her visiting us from “behind the veil).”

I confess, I wanted to be miraculous.  I wanted her to heal so we didn’t have to live with worry.  I wasn’t so naive that I declared it to be true – that God was going to heal her through our time together.  While my posture might leave doubters declaring, “No wonder she didn’t heal oh ye of little faith,” I don’t think either one of us felt that way.  We were united in the very core of why we were together – to seek God’s will and to trust that He was with us as we were with each other.

I doubt I’ve done something more important in my life than sit with Danielle – listening. She showed me a part of myself that has rarely shown itself – being while helpless, dependent, powerlessness, with absolutely no power or control to change the outcome, only to impact the process. I needed her to show me our time wasn’t worthless even though I couldn’t heal her.  Even when I couldn’t help her sleep through the night, she gave herself over to the process and showed me what it was like to enjoy one another while being dependent and vulnerable.  I see now, our time together was an intimate pause in our lives.  It grew me.  Facing into death with her – feeling the muscle decrease in her arms, hearing the struggled breath, and shifting movements – going from lying flat, to being propped up by pillows, to sitting in a recliner, to siting straight up in a chair – all of these things we faced together – acknowledging with words and without what this meant for God answering our prayers.  Oh we hoped – we asked for healing for the chance to once again lie on the massage table but we didn’t proclaim false hopes or optimism like, “I can’t wait until you are strong enough to walk Juneau again” or “I can’t wait for this year’s camping trip when you will have enough breath to go on some longer hikes.”  In this, we were steadfast, “God’s will be done and we invite His Presence to be with us.”  The last several months we were together, she slept while I worked though she asked to be woken up each time so she could spend more time with her family after I was done.

I learned from Danielle that my beginner’s training was sufficient for us.  Danielle taught me that I didn’t need any special tricks or powers to pull out of a bag – what I was doing was good enough.  I didn’t believe her at first.  Wasn’t there something I could do to miraculously bring more comfort to her body?  Shouldn’t I know more?  When her body had declined to a place we couldn’t use the massage table I had a perfectionist panic – What if I don’t know what I’m doing and hurt her?  So I said to her, “okay – if things get too hot (my hands combined with the energy in her body creates heat), you let me know and I’ll stop.”  She very gently looked me in the eyes and said, “You’ve never hurt me before.  I doubt it will happen now.”  I met her gaze, nodded and answered with a bit of guilt in my eye for having been trapped once again by my perfectionism and said, “True.  Let’s get you more relaxed.”  See here with Danielle I was finally bearing witness and embodying what I’ve known for decades — being is about the good enough – otherwise what takes the place of being is often an anxiety that is focused on performance and outcome.  Perfectionism or focusing on “doing it perfect” can’t digest the present moment; instead it’s there to eat up the present moment for something obtained in the future.

Danielle also spoke into me about an identity I hadn’t claimed in myself.  So casually she shared with me a story about a Christian healer she’d gone to hear speak and was greeted by a member of our congregation via a handshake.  Danielle said to her, “You have warm hands like Kimber, you must be a healer.”  The gal had laughed and said, “I’m a massage therapist.”  I haven’t experienced my hands the same since.  See I do talk therapy professionally, I only do touch therapy as a hobby, yet here she was calling something into being for me.  “I’m a healer.”  I wear this declaration now as true.

My deepest regret is I didn’t share this with her because I didn’t know it until she’d died.  See I feel as if I’ve lost a patient who was a dear friend.  But it’s my hands that miss her the most.  They long to be with her, to touch her feet and create energy shifts up her body, to feel warmth, not the inability to create warmth as I experienced as she passed from this world when my hand was on her leg and I felt only coldness.  It was then that I knew what I’d miss the very most – being.  Together.

My year of being has made its way into my bones.  I have a category, a new way of existing.  I’m grateful.

Danielle, if your reading this now — I miss our times together.  You’ve marked me, changed me for good.  I love you, friend and please visit me – with Amy.  And my son.

Community Camping – Big Sur

40 of us banned together to once again make our community camping trip happen.  I believe we’ve been camping together (a combination of us, at least) since 2004.  This year did not disappoint.  We booked a year ago for Big Sur and as fate (or God) would have it, three mudslides later we pretty much had the highway to ourselves.  There’s only one way in and out so cars are sparse.  A few of us took advantage – napped on the road (maybe an exaggeration though we did lie down), walked six miles, biked (7 miles until the first car was passed), and enjoyed the sound of the waves during the night rather than car and motorcycle motors.

Yes – that is the world famous highway 1 we are walking by…

We saw sea otters wrap themselves in kelp.

Otters in Kelp

Played Games.

Hiked.

Explored.

Saw whales from the road. In many ways magical.

And yet, we surround a family fighting for health as their Mama has stage 4 breast cancer.  The unspoken was, maybe is, will Danielle be able to join us next year?  I continue to hold hope with her without ignorance to the ongoing battle.  Her latest markers are down.  We pray specifically to buy time until we can find a treatment that works because thus far, her aggressive cancer marches on.

(A picture from last year because somehow adults just aren’t as cute as the kids according to my picture selection…)

In her honor, as well as in memory of my dear friend and mentor, Beth Brokaw, who I swear showed up in the form of a heron that landed about 5 yards away from me on my morning walk (it held specific meaning to the longevity in which she lived with her stage 4 cancer), I’m doing the Avon 39 walk in 17 days.  This is a 39 mile walk in 2 days.

I still need to raise about $750.  Please consider donating today.  This organization gives millions of dollars for cancer research.  All donations are tax-deductible.

Here’s my link:

http://info.avon39.org/site/TR/Walk/LosAngeles?px=8227757&pg=personal&fr_id=2515

Thank you for sharing with me in both the adventures and the pains life brings.

Warmly,

Kimber

Unexpected Gifts

“Habit and self-complacency are almost always a sign of spiritual stagnation.  The complacent no longer feel in themselves any real indigence, any urgent need for God.  Their meditations are comfortable, reassuring and inconclusive.  Their mental prayer quickly degenerates into day dreaming…For this real reason trials and tribulations can prove a real blessing in the life of prayer, simply because they force us to pray.  It is when we begin to find our real need for God that we first learn to make a real meditation.”

— p. 72, Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction

In my mid-thirties, I unknowingly hit a patch of habit and self-complacency.  Married eight years, pregnant with our second child and gaining post-doctoral hours in clinical psychology for licensure, I would’ve said life was good.  I went to church every Sunday.  I believed God existed and knew He cared about me.  I was known by others; friends knew me intimately.  I thought I was living a meaningful life, even one filled with sanctification (God’s characterological growth process to holiness).

Then, June 29, 2006, my son died at 34 weeks in utero.  My world turned upside down and I leaned into God and my community for stability.  I questioned God’s love for me, my family.  I questioned whether I’d done everything I could to keep my baby alive.  I was woken up to my “go with the flow” life and realized my marriage was almost dead, my faith was based in service rather than an active prayer life and I hadn’t experienced joy in a really long time.  I grieved not only my son’s death but also my habit of being distracted by looking ahead, which kept me from thoroughly enjoying the time he lived in my womb.  I hadn’t known that was all the time we had together.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that it would take six years before the cloud of grief would lift.  It would take eight years before my marriage would emerge out of being an emotional desert.  The gift of being aware in the present moment has stayed.  It is the surprise that emerged out of this horrific trial.  As well, the habits of my marriage died with my son and from these deaths, a new kind of marriage emerged that required a gestational period much longer than 10 months.

This June we will celebrate 20 years of marriage, the day before my son’s death anniversary of 11 years – only God and His unfathomable ways could create a web of death and life being so closely connected.  I believe if my son wouldn’t have died, my marriage likely would have due to our self-complacency and our lack of awareness of how much we needed one another.

These days, I can’t get around the reality that we all need one another as much as we need God.  I call myself lucky to know what it means to be naked and in need in order that I may be an “other” for those whose life situation stripped them of all their proverbial clothing.

Today, tears can run freely down my cheeks with no need to wipe them off.  Today, I can come to God in protest that a college freshman should be able to break down on the freeway without getting killed by a 24 year old driving too fast as well as a mother of three young children who has lived a life serving Him should be able to find a successful breast cancer treatment without facing the news that the cancer has spread.  I can no longer go back to a life of self-complacency because God showed up in the form of community, both divinely and humanly orchestrated, when I was devastated.  Now, knitted in my bones is the reality that even if I don’t have an urgent need, I’m part of His Kingdom here on Earth, which makes another’s urgent need my own.

So I’d best get praying:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[

 

For Danielle, Part Two

Lamentations: A Protest

You created her in her mother’s womb.
You know every hair on her head.  Every thought before she thinks it.
Nowhere can she go where your Spirit isn’t with her.
And yet, you’ve turned your back.
You haven’t spoken.
You’ve said nothing.
Where do you hide?
Under a rock?
In a sea volcano?
On Pluto?
Where have you gone?
Let yourself be found, damn it!
You haven’t been found in the chemotherapy – growth continued.
You weren’t found in surgery because the cancer had already spread to her
lungs.
At every turn she has gotten your back.
Why do you hide?

You’ve changed her children’s laughter into tears and worse,
Instilled fear.
You’ve stolen their childhood.
Making slime is no longer just making slime.
It now holds the possibility of being the last time to make slime, to pour
the borax with my mother.
You have them wondering, will this be the last?  Will she die?
Do not leave them motherless.

Her enemy surrounds her.  She cannot fight.
But you, great God, you make the Earth revolve around the sun, year after
year.
You raise the sun in the east and set it in the west.  Daily.
Surely a glance from you and she would be healed.
Do not disappoint.
Do not leave us broken-hearted.
Allow us to feast on fondue and smores over an open fire.
Allow us to make a toast in Big Sur shouting of your goodness and grace
for more life.
Show your face.
Heal her your servant, your daughter.

March 2017

First Fake Catch

For Danielle

In Uncertain Times

Praise be to the Father who created me in my mother’s womb.

Praise be to the Father who created her in her mother’s womb.

Praise be to the God of all creation – the eucalyptus with its smooth body, the skunk with its smell

To Him be praised, all glory and might.

The whole universe belongs to you, Lord.

From the gaseous core of the Earth to the galaxy yet discovered,

You know it all.

You reign overall.

You, Lord, are gracious and righteous, full of compassion.

Be compassionate to us now.

Give us time.

Give us healing.

She loves you.

She sits on a rock, fishing pole in hand, delighting in the fish, the water, the waiting.

She serves you, with smiles, with joy, with graciousness to others and kindness knit in her being.

She loves her husband well.

She raises her children to fear you, to love you.

Do not bring about their doubt.  Do not give them reason for apathy.

Answer the cries of our heart.

Answer the needs of her body.

Only you, O Lord, have the power to do this work.

Only you can stop the progression of disease.

Extend your hand.  Extend your sovereign grace.

Do not turn your back.

Shine your face upon us,

her,

her community,

Your people.

May we sing your praises of healing.

May we rejoice in your miracle.

You brought your people from slavery, out of Egypt.  You parted seas.  You raised the dead.

You are a good and gracious God, communing with us through Your Spirit.

Show your face.

Give us time with her on Earth, Lord.

Give her kids time.

All glory and honor and praise.

To the God of Israel who created me, who created her, in our mother’s womb –

Shine your face upon us.

Give us reason to praise You with our lips, our hearts.

Dry our tears.

Soothe our anxieties.

Take this iniquity.

Cure us from our apathy, our feeling that you don’t care.

You alone, God, are good and holy.

In sickness, in health, in joy and in pain, You reign.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

From Earth to Behind the Veil — A Birthday Remembrance to Amy Jensen

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Palm Springs – Graces Retreat

Dear Amy,

How has the world traveled around the sun three times since we were last standing together in a circle of women, champagne in hands, raised as we sang “Happy Birthday” with a gusto that wasn’t quite felt in our eyes.  Together, our lips pushed into a semi-smile we hoped looked real when you rang out, “And many more.”  It made me want to weep, your sincerity.

I didn’t disagree.  I hoped along with you for a miracle recovery but reality was setting in.  You now needed assistance walking up steps and uneven ground but this was before your left arm stopped working.  The later happened around Valentine’s Day, four months before I threw a pink rose onto your casket saying my last visual good-bye.

You loved roses.  You loved holidays.  We haven’t resurrected your cookie exchange.  We made a gallant effort that first year but found it’s in fact you who made it…well, our annual cookie exchange.  With your strict rules, your festive dress, your organizational genius that created the hype, the commitment, and the extra details in our presentation that moved us to hope for one of your coveted prizes.  (Material prize, irrelevant.  Bragging rights, priceless.)

Your kids are adjusting; Jeff is so committed to helping them.  He hosts dozens of gatherings at your house – yes, it still feels like yours – bringing so much life and laughter (and angst over Seahawk’s play calling) to make your absence manageable.  He’s still a writing machine, working on multiple creative projects (as to be expected).  Jeff has grown in his organizational skills.  You left a huge hole.  However, he and the kids continue to search for and hang the perfect yearly calendar that holds everyone’s events and appointments.  Last year, he and Lauren chose an outhouse-theme.  Maybe you could check with Freud on the interpretation of this choice.

There are a few things I want you to know.  Those tears and worry over Ben, that he would be a harsh and mean brother, that you weren’t able to stop being triggered by him so that your words came across harsh and mean – well he’s thriving.  He’s gentle and kind.  He’s finding himself behind the camera.  Whether video or digital, he’s working on perspective and angle.  He creates and directs, YouTubes and has a whole set up in the den. He even set up Elisha’s YouTube channel after I failed.  This to say, he’s an amazing older friend to the boys in our community as well as an older brother.  He’s loving – doesn’t complain about sharing a room with Nathan.  You would be proud.  I’m proud.  He’s coming out of the darkness from living much of his childhood with the knowledge that his Mom had brain cancer.

Lauren is coming out of her own darkness.  She laughs for real now – not with sadness beneath it.  She looks just like you.  She’s no longer comforting with food so you don’t need to feel guilty for causing her to cope with an unthinkable stress – a mother’s cancer diagnosis.  She too is an amazing creator.  You would love the room she and Tisa created.  (Tisa was sent directly to your family from God.  He is good.  She has so many skills you loved and hoped to pass on to your kids.)  Tisa took your old fabric from Baby Bubbles and made a valence and quilt.  They created her desk with fun organizers for all her necessary tools – pens, colored pencils, paper, lip gloss and her current favorite- candles.  I swear you directed it from heaven.  I think you would have done it the same.  That first year was hard, for everyone, but it showed most visually with her.  It was hard to walk through her room.  Piles.  Clutter.  You would’ve had a fit but this was fitting for her.  She needed to express her grief by holding onto things.  She needed this time, this expression.  After all, it’s impossible to say good-bye to a mother but somehow we make it through and she has, and does.

Nathan.  Nathan still doesn’t quite understand where you’ve gone.  His five year old self just can’t process good-byes where his mother doesn’t come back.  He loves Godzilla and I’m not sure I could write that if you were still alive. I suspect you would have censored this decision of Jeff’s, said it wasn’t age appropriate.  You may have been right but for Nathan it’s been splendid.  His imagination is vivid.  When he’s interested in something, he roots himself in that world, just like a tree.  I can’t keep track of all the names, places, or relationships in this Godzilla world. Luckily, he’s patient and sets me straight when I confess my ignorance to him again and again.  He’s a great cuddler.  You would’ve loved holding him while he shares his stories.

I don’t think I saw your family so clearly before.  I would’ve described it as your business/ organizational talents undergirding Jeff’s creative genius.  But I had it wrong then.  My perspective was stilted.  I underplayed your creative self as I underplayed Jeff’s energizer-bunny self.  Yet, I see it so clearly in your children.  They are products of a creative powerhouse couple, they lean into their grief that will never leave them (after all, no one forgets their mother no matter how much time has passed) with boundless creative energy.  Whether it’s making videos or taking photos, designing clothes or drawing comics, and whether it’s holding up the latest droid family member from Godzilla whose story is told, your giftings are present in your children.  As an aside, I wish we were working out our daughter’s “best friend drama” that occasionally creeps in to their relationship.

I also want you to know I’ve forgiven you.  I’ve forgiven you for the isolation, at times the neglect, and the depression that stole your life while you were still breathing.  I hope you’ve forgiven me for the judgment and anger that must have come across at times in our rawest moments together — me wanting you to live in connection and you wanting it all to go away.  I realize now, what I didn’t know then, that while I was eager to help, to be with you, I wasn’t eager to lay with you in your bed during the times you just couldn’t make yourself get up.  I didn’t know how to live in your world – as an individual with a terminal condition.  Death’s door – warp speed ahead.  I like to think I’d do it better this time.  I’d like to think I would be a little more like Mary, a little less Martha.  At least I’m trying to have my life reflect that now – a gift you’ve given me through your death.

I carry you inside of me: your confidence that I can write this darn book, your loyalty that no matter what circumstance I find myself in, you’d have my back, your love for tea and doing things proper, right.  I carry you with me in the hole left behind once our memories together stopped.  You, my friend, are remembered.

And so, I raise my glass and salute you, “For eternity, my friend.  Until we see each other again in the land of many more.  Happy Birthday.”

I love you.

Kimber

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