Category Archives: inspiration

Would YOU Remember Being Spit on by a Llama?

 

I reported last week that my teenage writing career was jumpstarted by interviewing my nearest neighbor, a local Langdon, ND farmer who bought two llamas. Yea, that was big news for a weekly newspaper in a town so small the gossip about you arrived home before you did. While reviewing my old newspaper article, I kept getting this strange sensation to call the farmer’s daughter and ask, “Hey Liz Anne, do you remember when your Dad’s llama spit on you?" 

But that’s kinda’ lame.

After all, being spit on by a llama isn’t really big news, except in Langdon.  I bet the farmers that visit the bakery each morning to talk about crops, weather, and local news gossip are still talking about the Quam’s llamas as they roll dice to see who pays for the morning’s coffee and donuts.

Llama Spit

I double-dog dared myself so I wouldn’t chicken out.

It was easy enough to find Liz Anne after all these years. I didn’t  make a long-distance call  to information (555-1212)  or call someone from Langdon. I used a search engine, found Liz Anne, and learned she’d lost both her parents. My resolve to call grew from curious to personal.

I poked out her number on my cell phone and pushed send. Her spunky voice and friendliness transported me back 33 years in time. We chatted easily, catching up on the decades concerning schooling, marriage, kids, and careers. We both went through cancer. We’re both still writing, except she’s smarter – she’s a Professor at Moorhead State University in Moorhead teaching Public Relations Writing. In other words, she probably doesn’t stay in her jammies most of the day.

When I expressed my sympathies about losing her parents she said, “They were "an astounding couple not to be matched." Her admiration and love for her parents increased the grief I felt for her loss.  We reminisced about her parents, and she said, "Did you know my Mom shot at my Dad?”

 

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(A country road near the Little Pembina Ranch, typical North Dakota summer scene)

I hadn’t heard that story, or I would have written another article for the newspaper.  Being shot at is way more exciting than being spit on.

Liz explained that as newlyweds, her parents, Don and Geneva, had moved to her family farm, the Little Pembina Ranch. The two college-educated people were a little bored living alone on the prairie farm so close to Canada. One day Don came home after working in the field and found Geneva sitting on the front porch with a loaded .22 lying across her lap.  She was known to be a good shot, so Don wasn’t initially surprised.

Until Geneva lifted the gun and said, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot.”

Don laughed, but didn’t dance.

Geneva shot. She warned again, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot!”

She shot again, “I’m going to shoot until I run out of bullets."

Don danced until the gun was empty.

Life on the farm was never boring for the Quams after that, it was filled with hard work, laughter, family, pranks, friends, love, community service, and neighborly deeds.

Liz and I caught up to the point of the call, the sheep and llama adventure.  She said her parents ventured into sheep, in addition to the grain, because they had been a money-making venture for farmers for a few years. She took off the spring quarter of college to help, arriving home to a herd of sheep and the two llamas.

 

Two Llamas

 

"Those llamas were perfectly worthless as far as predator control, because they were no good at keeping coyotes away," she said. The strategy was to have one llama on each end of the field, but the llamas always stayed together.

The llamas a failure and so were the sheep. Soon after Don and Geneva ventured into sheep, the market tanked and the Quams eventually lost their family farm. When generations have lived and farmed the land, losing the family farm is more than losing a business. It’s losing your heritage. Sometimes settlers were born and  buried on their land. It’s a tie that goes deeper than mere tradition.

But, happily-ever-afters aren’t just for fairy tales, they sometimes happen for farmers. An aunt died and left money to Don and Geneva, and they bought the farm back. Even though I heard the news years later, I rejoiced with Liz.  We both know too many families who permanently lost their farms.

Liz’s kids grew up spending the summers on the farm learning skills city life doesn’t quite teach you, and spending the time with the crazy Grandpa who once went 140 miles per hour with a college-age grandson in his little Mercedes because "someone was trying to pass me." She lost her mom, Geneva, to Alzheimer’s, and cared for Don in her home for his final four years.

She inherited the farm after she lost her parents.  With the tenacity of her ancestors, she decided to farm. A city-dwelling professor during the school year and a country-living farmer by summer, she  manages the baby farm of 500 acres of the original family farm. She hires someone to do the planting, and dreams of adding an orchard to the blank spot of canvas in North Dakota that’s hers.

And for the finale you’ve all been waiting for, yes, 33 years later she did remember the spitting incident and said, “It was vile!” She hadn’t provoked the animal, she only walked up to it, but went down in Langdon history as the only person spit on a llama.

After catching up,  I think she’s wrong thinking her parents are “not to be matched.” I see the spunk, brains, and beauty of her mother, and the work ethic and humor of her father. 

She’s Don and Geneva, minus the llamas.

Gone to My Happy Place, Be Back Soon!

I’ve adapted my own concept of a Happy Place. Leaving out the Zen, enlightened, and mystical schools of thought, I think of it as a place you visit in person and revisit in your mind to create tranquility in body, soul, and spirit.

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(My favorite t-shirt  EVER bought by dear friend, Kirsti)

During hard times, you borrow from  past happy  to face present unhappy using

  • Memories
    • Pictures
    • Souvenirs
    • Scents
    • Tastes
    • Sounds

These things evoke a time and/or place  we felt loved, secure, and peaceful. It reminds us that life isn’t always hard, painful, and grievous. You soothe your heart and mind with what soothes you  best. It doesn’t take long, either. You look at a few pictures, listen to a song, or rub a smooth stone between your fingers.

My Happy Places are usually outside places.

Any place in Montana is a Happy Place. A sagebrush, Prickly Pear cactus, or a Ponderosa pine tree brings back the contentment and joy of a wonderful childhood. Because I was happy in Montana, Montana makes me happy.

Any crick (that’s "creek" to you non-Montanans) I can stick my feet in, no matter how quickly my toes freeze from the melted snow, is a Happy Place. Actually any place with water is a Happy Place. Let me clarify, outside water, not a flooding toilet or broken pipe,  kinda’ water.

Any place with rocks to pick can be a Happy Place. Not picking rocks out of fields like the farmers in North Dakota, but the "Look! I found an agate!" kinda’ rock picking.

My house is scattered with rocks, branches, sea glass, shells, and driftwood I’ve collected from waterside visits.

may31 421My daily Happy Place is my Jeep. In fact, that’s her name. When Scott and I celebrated our 20th anniversary I’d just finished my first year of thyroid cancer treatment, (surgery, radioactive iodine, and Hyper-Hell) and had suffered a miscarriage. He surprised me and bought my dream vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler.  I wasn’t thrilled because of the dream-come-true vehicle,  I was thrilled because I was married to a man who made my dreams come true.  He loved me and supported me through the hardest year of my life.  Climbing into my Jeep is like climbing into his love.  It surrounds me.  It keeps me safe. 

But, more than Montana, a mountain stream,  a beach full of agates, and more than my Jeep, there’s a more beloved place.

The Lord invited Moses up the mountain to talk with Him. Moses couldn’t look directly on Lord’s face, but Moses could hear His voice and be in His presence. The Lord told Moses,  “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

It was holy because the Lord was there. I’m in awe that today we can still enter into the Lord’s presence.  We don’t have to follow any ceremonies, climb a mountain in sandals,  or enter a special building. Our faith in His Son gives us full access to the holy, mighty, Heavenly Father, anytime, anyplace.

I can be in His presence when I’m in Montana, wading in a mountain stream, picking rocks on a beach, or driving in my Jeep. 

I pray, He listens. 

I ask, He answers. 

I confess, He forgives. 

I weep, He comforts.

My Happiest Place is when I am in His presence.

Where are your physical, spiritual, and/or emotional Happy Places

 

Who’s YOUR 12th MAN?

 

I’m not a football fan.  A  Midwest transplant to the  Seattle area, I gradually acclimated to the rains, but not the Seahawks. They never sparked my interest.

Until lately.

It wasn’t the Super Bowl Win! that changed my mind.

It was the  #12.

I saw it everywhere and assumed it was a favorite player’s number. Ya’ know, some guy who made millions of dollars for running past the line at the end of the field while still clutching the football in his hands? 

I never heard a name associated with the #12,

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I  just saw the #12 flags.

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Empty buildings and

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business buildings,

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boldly fly the flag.

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You see the flag at downtown Seattle intersections

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and upscale restaurants.

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People walk the talk.

I finally had to ask someone, “What IS #12?”

I think I was the last person in Seattle in on the secret.

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The #12 symbolizes undying loyalty, but not the fans’ loyalty.

EVERY FAN is the 12th MAN.

The   #12 personifies the Seattle Seahawks’  loyalty to their fans. They know they put 11 men on the field, but they never play alone. 

It’s the first time I’ve noticed a professional team publically testify it isn’t all about them. After all, if the fans didn’t buy the tickets and sports paraphernalia, they wouldn’t have a paycheck.

The Seahawk’s loyalty to their fans results in crazy loyalty to the team.

I mean loud and crazy loyalty. Louder than a Boeing 747 and Guinness Book of World Records kinda’ crazy. Seriously, I thought my six kids were loud, but the Seahawks fans are the loudest in history, and have a record to prove it.  Let’s just say that at a record of 137.6 decibels, they’re only 12.4 decibels away from shattering ear drums.  Ears can be damaged at 90 decibels.

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(click on this box to bring you to the Seahawk’s Website)

The inspiration of the 12th MAN made me a quiet Seahawks fan.  I probably won’t watch all the games, I probably won’t buy a jersey,  but they sparked admiration in my heart.

The Seahawks understand more than football, they understand life.  We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone; personal talents and opportunities aren’t the only contributors to any success.

We all need people in our lives that give unconditional love and devotion.  We need people to appreciate our gifts, yet correct our mistakes without breaking our spirits.  We need someone to wear our colors, to proudly associate with our name, and to speak highly of us through the highs and the lows.  After all, the true fans are the ones that are devoted even when the team loses.

In honor of the SEAHAWKS the SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS and the 12th MAN, I asked Seattle area authors, who also happen to be avid loud and crazy Seahawks fans, Who is your 12th MAN?”

(To read more about each author, click on their name.)

Lynnette Bonner,  “The readers who post reviews, and come back for more of my stories each time I release one. They encourage me so much. My critique group has been wonderful and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, but I look at them more as coaches and fellow players.”

Lesley Ann McDaniel, “My critique group, and the other members of Northwest Christian Writers Association who understand and encourage me.”

Diana Savage, “For 30 years my critique group has provided "12th woman" support for me and for my writing. During that time the various members who’ve come and gone have prayed me through crises while teaching me the finer points of clear, concise, and excruciatingly correct writing that touches readers’ emotions and honors God. If I ever win a Super Bowl for writers, my critique group will be the driving force behind my touchscreen success.”

Gigi Murfitt,  “My 12th man is my fellow NCWA members, my critique groups I have been part of, and my friends and family who pray with me and encourage me to write. My friend Cheryl is my biggest cheerleader. She really helped me edit both books. When I think of 12, I think of the disciples and how they sacrificed, supported and encouraged Jesus along the way. What a model for our twelfth man.”

Marilyn Gray, “12th man and their love and support has been so inspirational! The stories of all the Seahawk players and how they have overcome so many obstacles touched my heart! Why not me? Why not now? I want to live like that 24 hours, 7 days a week!”

Kathleen Freeman, “So many on my team! Without the efforts of many, my writing would be mediocre at best.”"

Judy Bodmer, “My 12th man is first, husband, who has encouraged me from the first to follow my dream, then my writing teacher Bette Hagman who took me to writing conferences, critiqued my first attempts, and said I had a gift, and last, my writing group. I wouldn’t quit a long time ago if it weren’t for people like Peggy King Anderson, Janet Lee Carey, Dawn Knight, Katherine Grace Bond, Roberta Kehle, Thorn Ford, just to name a few.”

Dennis Brooke, “My wife, Laurie, is my first 12th. Fellow writers James Rubart, Mick Silva, Kathleen Freeman, Loree Cameron, and Austin Boyd have also been big parts of my game. Not to mention many other NCWA members.”

My 12th MAN?  My husband, Scott, is my first fan, whether he supports me as a mother or a writer, he convinces me this world is a better place because I am in it.  Sometimes, I actually believe him.

My kids, who have filled my heart with their presence and their love notes through the years, “You are the best mommy in the whole world.”

As a blogger who’s been attached to her keyboard for over five years, my readers are also a huge part of that team.  I am so grateful for anyone who takes time out of their day to read what’s on my heart. 

In your life, who is your 12th MAN?

 

Kari’s Smile Lives On

This is the final post in tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.


To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

The Dreaded and Inevitable End
(goodbye to Kari was hello to grief)

 

Losing a friend at the young age of 36 was one of the hardest things I’ve lived through. For at least six months, I cried every day.  I’d never lost anybody close to me and I had no idea grief could become a part of your personality. I viewed life through grief-colored glasses.

During this time of emotional fog, a friend visited.  She sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, tucked her feet under her, and chatted to catch up.  I loved this friend, but she hadn’t read or answered my emails about Kari and was out of touch with my life.  I didn’t want to relive the pain to catch her up. Her words bounced around the room and for the first time in our relationship, I felt disconnected from her. My grief was a chasm between us.

After about 30 minutes, I excused myself, went into the back yard and called a close friend, Kirsti.  I sobbed about how hard it was to talk to people who didn’t know the story and didn’t understand how my life had stopped.

“I just can’t get over Kari,” I cried.

“Mindy, you don’t have to,”  she said.  She gave me permission to grieve and removed the burden that something was wrong with me. I also came away from that conversation understanding that if my visitor didn’t know or understand my grief, and that was OK, too. She was still a good friend.  I walked back into the living room and finished our visit.  The  coping skills I learned through that conversation with Kirsti have carried  me for 14 years, and I have shared her wisdom to others frozen with grief.

I actually remember the first day I didn’t cry for Kari.  It was at least six months after the funeral.  I was cleaning  the house and thoughts of her came, but not the tears. I cherished a few good memories, then continued cleaning.  Eventually, I went an entire week without crying, then a month.  I never stopped grieving,  I learned to live with my grief.

The year after Kari’s funeral, I tried to stay in touch with her kids through phone calls, email, and letters.  Then, they moved.  I had a baby. Email addresses changed. Two of her kids  graduated and moved out on their own.  I moved. Her family moved again.  My family of eight moved to Washington. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Then I moved one final time. My cancer came back.  

When I joined Facebook and starting “finding” people, I was thrilled to touch base with Kari’s daughter, Holly.  I was even more thrilled to learn she was very happily married with adorable kids and lived in Washington – one hour away.

The first time we met up, our relationship took up where Kari’s and mine left off.  It was a natural friendship we both felt.  We caught up on the missing years.  Her love story was so much like her parents’, it astounded me.  Love at first sight and married within a few months. She had her mother’s exuberant personality and the ability to light up a room with her smile. Our relationship filled a gap we’d both felt for years.

We’ve shared tears and  laughs. She told stories I hadn’t heard or remembered and I shared stories of high school. Kari was as honest with her kids as she was with me, and often shared her mistakes and regrets.  She never tried to make herself look perfect in their eyes, she was real.

My conversations with Holly remind me of the afternoons Kari and I spent together, baring heart and soul.  One day, Holly and I  were reliving the final days of Kari’s life.

Holly sat in the antique rocking chair that has soothed generations in my family, and started crying.  She finally choked out she’d always worried and wondered about her mom going to Heaven, and if she was ready.  

It was time to tell her the story.

I  confessed I almost killed her Mom driving drunk in high school, then explained how I came to know Christ as my Savior in college and experienced a radical life change.  I relived  meeting Kari in the thrift store in Helena and our subsequent afternoon visits. But, when I repeated the verses Kari and I  discussed about salvation and Heaven, I saw visible relief in Holly.  The same marvel that Kari and I often shared, that the Lord spared me from causing  Kari’s death to be there when she was facing death, wrapped around Holly’s heart. More of God’s purposes had been revealed.

 

BB and Hatfields 358At the park that afternoon, a tears came when I was pushing this little tiger in the swing.  Kari’s grandson was laughing and giggling and probably wondering why the crazy ol’ lady was crying. Tears came because Kari never pushed him in a swing, then tears came because I could. I chose to rejoice for what I gained, not grieve for what I lost.

BB and Hatfields 344This little Princess looks like her mommy and her Gramma.

BB and Hatfields 364This little guy snuggles all worries out of your life.

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Holly and I cherishing a final moment together before she and her family moved out of state. Her friendship has been a comfort and a joy. 

This woman is LOVED!Kari would be so proud children and her grandkids.

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Goodbye, but not forever.

Kari’s smile lives on.

The Dreaded and Inevitable End

 

This is the fourth part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.
To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

Still hoping for a miracle cure for brain cancer, Kari and Tony traveled to Seattle, Washington,  to try their final option available, the Gamma Knife. 

Hello from Washington Kari 003

They enjoyed  picking sand dollars at the Pacific Ocean and cruising in a boat through the Puget Sound. When Kari sent this picture through email,  I printed it on plain paper and tacked it up on my sewing cupboard door, where it’s been ever since. I love that smile.

October 6, 2000, she sent out this email to friends and family members.

Kari's letter

She began going downhill. During a phone call she was telling an animated story about one of her kids in a minor fender bender.  She just stopped talking. At first I thought she’d pulled the phone away from her ear and was talking to someone else in the room, ya’ know how kids always interrupt, but there was no other conversation or sound.

I called her name. Over and over, louder each time, until I was yelling. She finally put the phone to her ear again, and I could hear rustling sounds,  but her mind was blank. When she did speak, she was fuzzy and confused. She couldn’t finish her story and couldn’t answer my questions.  I tried several times, then kindly told her I had to go and told her to hang up the phone. I repeated my instructions until I heard a click on the other end.

Conversations and emails stopped after that. In November her husband called to say hospice was there and invited me out for a final visit. I drove 828 miles with five kids and deep sorrow.

The family was gracious enough to allow me into their personal space by visiting daily in the afternoons.

The hospital bed was in the living room, and Kari was there with a hospice nurse. The kids went to school, came in jumped on the bed for a hug, talked about school, ran off to basketball practice, school activities, and outings with friends. She would ask “How was school?”  or “How are you doing?”  Mostly, she just held tightly to the hand of who was nearest the bed, and said, “I love you.”

In my ignorance, I asked Kari’s husband why they weren’t all spending more time with her, why they were still going to activities when she could die any moment. He was so gracious to answer my question without offense. “Kari and I decided from the beginning that cancer wouldn’t rule our lives. We wanted the kids to live as normally as possible for as long as possible.” Routine was part of their coping. It was a great decision they’d made together ahead of time and made so much sense.  Kari didn’t want her kids to sit around and watch her die, she wanted them to live.

A fighter, Kari hung on for two weeks after I’d arrived. I  read to her from the Bible, often Romans 5,  or would sing a hymn.  I’d heard that even though people lose their ability to speak, they can still hear and understand.  I chatted randomly and  my voice filled up the empty spaces.

In the very end, we were just silent.  She couldn’t speak and I was speechless.  I would just climb into the bed next to her and we’d lay there.  She’d turn to look at me, staring into my heart, and she’d smile.

When we knew death was hours away, I panicked. I didn’t want to stay and actually see her die, but I didn’t want to leave. I knew I would be driving back for the funeral with a classmate, so made the agonizing decision to leave.

I had driven as far as Valley City, North Dakota, my birthplace, when I received a phone call from Tony. Kari had died.

  Kari's Funeral Brochure

A few days later I drove back to Montana with Janet, another high school classmate. 

Life and death are always circular. 

Kari's Address

The address she gave me when our paths first crossed?  It’s still her address.

 

Kari's grave

She’s buried right across the street in a large cemetery.

I had always thought that our meeting, that divine appointment in the thrift store,  was for Kari. The Lord wanted to bring me back into her life for her death. But, I’ve been a slow student. In her death, Kari taught me how to live. She taught me to forgive and to smile through my pain. She taught me how to fight my own ten year battle with thyroid cancer.

And that smile I love so much? 

It lives on.

To be continued…

The Beginning of the End

My blogging was interrupted by a death in the family and the holidays, so joy and sorrow continue to hold hands through my life.

This is the third part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief. To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

 

Not only did Kari force me to go to my class reunion, she forced me to look at the way I viewed my life. My bad memories that were nothing compared to hers, but she always found something to smile about. We’d survived high school and became better people because of the adversity. In traveling back to the reunion,  we reconnected with some wonderful people.

The next year Kari fought cancer round-by-round, submitting to  traditional and experimental treatments and medications.  She talked like a doctor, educating and advocating her diagnosis and treatment. She vomited, lost her appetite, weight, and her hair. She shook, couldn’t sleep, and suffered mood swings. At times she was so weak she used a wheelchair. She tried anything and everything because she wanted to attend her children’s graduations, weddings, and meet her grandkids.

At some point, my husband coined the theme of our renewed friendship as “No regrets.” Kari was getting sicker and he knew I’d be devastated if she died. We talked on the phone several times each week, exchanged frequent emails, and I made several trips to Helena and stayed with my parents. I’d homeschool four kids and love on a toddler all morning, then spend the afternoons with Kari. I’m so thankful for the loving support of my family and parents during this time.

More than her cancer, Kari talked about her kids. Her kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She loved her kids with a momma bear passion. She’d go through each of the  four and list their recent accomplishments. I heard play-by-play of basketball games, concerts, and Scout projects.   It wasn’t an innocent “my kids are so perfect” kinda’ blind love, but an honest love that could watch her kids grow, struggle, make mistakes.  She still proudly loved them and always believed they’d be successful and accomplished adults.The trials of her own upbringing became nothing compared to her joy of being the mother of the best kids in the world.

I especially remember a time when one of her kids was struggling in school. He was academically capable, but the school sent home disparaging reports. She clamped on her floppy hat and marched to the school. She drove in a car, but in my mind, she still marched. She got things done. She met with the teacher and listened to her complaints. Then Kari asked for the dates and time periods of the behavior issues. She shook her chemo schedule in the teacher’s face. (That’s how I picture it, anyway.) The dates matched. Perfectly. The teacher knew Kari had cancer, but she didn’t get it. Kari didn’t want her cancer to be the excuse her kids used to misbehave, but she did want it to be the reason the school was more compassionate and understanding.  She felt the pain of her cancer, along with the pain her cancer caused her children.

After her kids, we talked about mine. To Kari,  my kids were the smartest, most gifted, athletic, musical kids in the world. She praised them so much, sometimes I saw them differently through her eyes. She talked the same about her sister, nieces and nephews. She knew I took down prayer requests and freely gave me names and needs from their extended family. They had gone through many devastating events, and Kari was concerned about everyone.

When I visited Helena, the afternoons we had alone without our nine kids were made for talking. Not catching up, or bragging-about-our-kids talk, but serious heart and soul girlfriend secret-sharing conversations, of mistakes made and how we overcame those mistakes.

And, we spoke of death. It was the third wheel we couldn’t shake. I tentatively broached the subject and asked her if she minded us talking about everything, even her death. I told her I’d been looking up Bible verses about Heaven.

“Are you kidding? Yeah, I want to talk about it. Nobody wants to talk about death, it makes them uncomfortable.  But, I’m dying.” She said it so matter-of-factly, I stared at her. She was thankful for the many phone calls, cards, emails and the outpouring of support, but said if she tried to talk openly about dying, people often changed the subject. She knew her desire to beat cancer wasn’t enough to win the battle.  Sometimes,  cancer won.

At that point, nothing was off-limits in our conversations, and we fully understood why the Lord had kept me from causing her death years before.  Now, as a Christian who believed the Bible, I had found some answers we’d both been seeking. I’d still be a part of her death, but I wouldn’t be the cause of it. We often rejoiced that He cared enough about our personal lives to cross our paths at the thrift store at a time when we needed each other.

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This is a scene shot out the window on my way to Kari’s, with one of the verses we discussed many times. Salvation is a gift given by faith,  not something we earn or deserve.   It’s not a faith placed in our own spiritual thoughts and ideas, but a faith placed in Christ, the author of salvation. 

Kari told me once she wanted to die in peace, and had taken on the mental exercise of forgiving those who had wronged her, even if they hadn’t asked for it. Another next step in peace-making is making peace with God. With this in mind, Romans 5 became another passage we discussed.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Interwoven in all our conversations was the desire to make peace with our past, have peace in the present circumstances, and face the future (eternity)  with peace.

Kari made friends wherever she went. People noticed her when she walked into a room, not because she demanded attention, but because she gave attention. Even though they had just moved to Helena when she was stricken with cancer, she’d invested in her community and they invested in her. There were meals, and help with rides, and a fund raiser. Those of us watching from afar were thankful for this input.  Kari received cards and phone calls and was blessed by the outpouring of friends old and new.

The spring of 2000,  she invited me to her cancer support group. She explained the meeting structure and assured me I’d be welcome.

“Oh, it’s great because we talking about everything,” she said, “and sometimes we have Show and Tell.”

“Show and Tell?” I asked.

“Yea, someone might dig something out of her shirt, wave it around, and say ‘Hey, look at my new boob!’ Another person will unstrap their leg and throw it on the table. It’s pretty cool. We don’t have any secrets,” she explained.

Concerned I’d be out of place, I sat down with a quiet and polite greeting. Kari would have none of that. She introduced me and joked around until I felt connected. Then, they began their meeting. I was horrified by their experiences, but blessed by their camaraderie. At the end, I blurted out, “I wish I could be in a group like this.”

“No, you don’t,” answered one woman. I tried to clarify that I longed for intimate friendships, not cancer, but I gave up. My words were weak compared to truth of the situation. On the way home Kari explained that sometimes they don’t call themselves a Cancer Support Group but a Dying Club.

After that, we both watched the obituaries in the Helena Independent Record, and saw her support group, one by one,  lose their ability to support her.

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We prayed for a miracle cure that would keep her signature from becoming an obituary headline.

 

to be continued…

Time Treads on Steadfast and Silent Feet

Time treads on steadfast feet.  It never changes its pace, but continues on, unchanging and unbending to the world.

It doesn’t speed up through pain, loss, or grief. You can’t fast-forward through circumstances you cannot change and must endure.  You can’t freeze a moment to  embrace the love, joy, and peace.

We learn to use those moments wisely, enduring the pain and storing up the joy as those moments continue to march into an unknown future.

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Time treads on silent feet.  There is little warning of what the next moment will hold.  One moment a loved one is breathing, the next moment they aren’t. Then, we’re appalled that time dares to continue on, when our hearts are frozen with grief.  Moments painfully unfold without the presence of that loved one.

Time treads on supine feet.  It’s neither wise nor foolish, happy nor sad.  It doesn’t cause or heal pain.  How you use your time makes it your friend or foe, it’s a commodity for you to use wisely. 

In 2013, as with many families, we suffered sorrows and joys.  Just before Christmas, we buried my beloved 99 year-old Grandma.  Three months prior, one set of cousins buried their mother, another set buried their father. Even though we gathered with broken hearts, there was joy in being together, in comforting one another, and in renewing relationships.

Everything Has Its Time
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

3 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
8 A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

We’ve been given the gift of time, a new year to face with hope.  What will you do with your gift? Use it wisely, because time treads on silent and steadfast feet.

Good-Bye, 2013!

This morning my husband admitted  he was thankful to say goodbye to 2013.  He’s the stable one in the family, the glass half-full man who walks steadily by faith through the valleys and the mountaintops. If he’s ready to bid the year good-bye, it really was a hard year. 

In fact, that was part of the reason blogging has been so sporadic for me this year, funerals, illnesses, and other heartaches have interfered with my time, my schedule, and my heart many times.

However, sorrow and joy always mingle together, so we try hard to remember the times of joy, and grow in grace through our sorrows. 

To close out the year, I wanted to share the Top Ten Blogs of 2013 my readers enjoyed. 

10.  My Courage Failed

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A look back to a time of discouragement.  I was flying home to a beloved family, but leaving behind an Innocent Man who had been sentenced to jail.

9.  Ten Things to Look for in The Perfect Man

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A challenge to the unmarried and a reminder to the married.  Can your relationship survive The Bed Pan Test?

8.  I Am An Old, Old Mommy

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As a toddler, my 6th child was confused that other mommies looked more like her big sister than her mommy.

7.  Why I Had Kids Not Dogs

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Tongue-in-cheek reasons why a dog never resided in our home, even though I live in an area where there are more dogs per capita than children.

6.  The Sweet Gospel Message -Vacation Bible School Idea

 

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Sweet ideas for sending a treat and the Gospel home with children who attend Vacation Bible School.

5. The World’s Most Famous Teenager

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(postcard from Anne Frank Huis, foto by Frans Dupont, in honor of Anne’s 80th birthday, June, 2009)

What childhood reader didn’t cry through The Diary of Anne Frank?  It was my first exposure to the horrors of World War II.  My husband and I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It wasn’t a tourist destination, it was a life experience.

4.  I’ve Eaten Rattlesnake

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My 7th grade homeroom teacher was a Vietnam Vet who impacted my life in many ways, including my culinary appetite. This blog post was featured on Freshly Pressed by WordPress, an honor that earned this badge below.

It’s kinda’ like a merit badge for bloggers. It was almost as exciting as eating a pet snake.

3. Best Answers to Big Family Questionable Questions

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This was in follow-up to my #1 blog post, “Things I Would Never Say to a Parent of Two Children.” The comments were so hilarious, I featured my readers in this post.

2. When Gramma Lost her Marbles

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Laughter and tears are two reactions to unchangeable circumstances. This post was a visit back through my Grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, when I became known to her as only “The Lady with the Kids.”  I was blessed that this post was shared through Facebook support groups all across the world, and I was able to laugh and cry with others as they shared their personal stories.

1. Things I Would Never Say to a Parent with Two Kids

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I wanted to recap what it was like to be the mother of six children, highlighting all the inappropriate comments that were made in front of my children.  I took the opposite of things I heard frequently and wrote a post.  I was astounded at the reaction. To date, I’ve had 43,119 visits to this blog post.

What I’m most grateful for with this post isn’t the number of visitors, it’s what I learned from the reactions to this post.  As beautiful women poured out their hearts in the comment section about their lives, I learned that women in all circumstances have to deal with rude and painful comments from others, just as I have done. 

Above all, I was blessed that women would so openly share their hearts.  Whether they agreed with me or not, they entrusted me with their experiences and their pain.

As I evaluate these top ten posts from 2013, I see the representation of all the things that are dear to me, the Lord Jesus, marriage, mothering, extended family, and my upbringing. And I was reminded of the many joys I experienced through the year.

I was also struck with the encouragement my readers have provided through this year.  Your comments, prayers, and private emails have blessed me and upheld me during the hardest times when each keystroke in telling the story has been a dagger of pain.  Several times I even wondered if I should quit writing, and one of your dear readers would send just the perfect encouragement to help me press on in my calling. I am incredibly thankful for each of you, you are my support, my strength, and my friends.

May this coming year bless you with joy unspeakable and the ability to find joy in all your sorrows.

Happy New Year!

 

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds

This is the second part of a tribute to my friend, Kari. It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished.  It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.  If you didn’t read part one, please go back and read:

And I almost killed her once.

Kari and I were thrilled to find each other again!  We later joked what others  thought to see two cars pull up to the thrift store, four people politely chatter as they merged toward the door, then two women suddenly bear hug.

Kari and Tony

She proved her hat wasn’t an adaptation to Montana fashion, where people aren’t  in style or out of style, you’re free to wear your own style. Standing on the sidewalk, she removed it and proudly showed me her scar where a brain tumor had been recently removed.

And she smiled while she told me about her cancer.

Her big “I can take on the whole world” smile. The “I have enough joy for the rest of you” smile.

We moved into the store, talking, laughing and sometimes shopping.   When it was time to part ways, we did what people did before cell phones. 

Kari's Address

I handed her the tiny black binder in my purse to write down her address.  I had no idea how precious this scrap of paper would become.

Our families spent a day at my parents’ cabin, swimming, snacking, climbing trees and enjoying Montana’s scenery. Kari and I talked non-stop.

We were in the same crowd in high school,  but each had our own closest friends. We filled in the gaps of the years. College years. Falling in love and staying in love. Becoming mothers; she had four kids, I had five at the time. I shared how I’d trusted Christ as my Savior. In all our conversations, intermingled our marvel at the Lord’s timing. The reason He’d spared our lives in high school was beginning to unfold.  It was for such a time as this.

Inevitably, we talked about high school. Regrets. Broken hearts. Tormenters. Friends.  Accomplishments.  She shared heartaches that made me admire her strength and joy anew. I regretted  not knowing or helping, worried she’d shouldered life alone. She assured me her best friends in high school had upheld her. The strength of their love and loyalty graced the rest of her life.

I shared my pain of moving from Helena and relived the stir I’d caused on the first day of 8th grade.  During registration, I’d walked across the gym, our entire class watching from the bleachers,  straight to the Industrial Arts table to sign up for shop. Since I already sewed my own clothes, did laundry, babysat and cooked meals for my family of eight, I didn’t need Home-Ec. I’d already had one year of woodworking at Helena Junior High, and was excited to move onto bigger projects. Following school policy, the teacher refused admission. When I was politely adamant and explained my reasons, he called in the principal and the superintendent for support. At that moment, I knew my career at that high school wasn’t going to be stellar.

“I remember what you were wearing,” said Kari. Her smile overcame the  chemo hair standing in tufts on her head.

“What?” I was consumed with my tale of discrimination and moving into the Dark Ages and she was consumed with my clothes.

She recounted my walk across the gym floor from her admiring point of view. “You were wearing gauchos and a yellow t-shirt with your name on. After that, I begged my Mom to drive me to Grand Forks to buy gauchos.”

When the summer of 1999 approached, Kari asked me to go to our 18th class reunion/ all school reunion with her. I said no. Actually I said, “NO WAY! WHY WOULD I DO THAT?”

High school wasn’t good to me.  For five years I was teased, my locker ransacked, books knocked out of my arms in the hallway. Lies were spread until I wondered who to trust. I got in trouble for things I deserved; I took the punishment for things I didn’t deserve.

Several teachers used me as their verbal punching bags, to a point where one student pulled me aside in the hallway and advised, “I think you should get a lawyer.” I thought movie caricatures of tormented high school kids could have been based on my life. Miserable, I tried to graduate early. The guidance counselor refused. I stuck out my entire senior year.

That same guidance counselor called me into his office that spring and asked me to give a graduation speech. I refused with the clichéd  laugh in his face. He was surprised because nobody had refused this “honor” before.

I had nothing to say and nothing to prove. I only wanted out.

He wanted to know why. “I don’t have anything to say to anybody,” was my answer based on my mom’s advice,  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  My friend Chris, who had always dreamed of giving a graduation speech, was elated to be given the honor.

Kari wouldn’t give up. She wanted to go, but didn’t want to go alone. My selfish hoarding of bad memories was only broken when she finally said, “Mindy, I won’t make it to our 20th.”

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(Kari is far left, middle row, in pink t-shirt)

Kari arranged for some of the class of ‘82  to meet at a home with spouses and kids. Later we joined the rest of the class downtown.

I was stunned when my greatest tormenter was the first to greet me with a hug. Three people said, “Oh, you graduated with us?” My impact on some of my classmates wasn’t as great as the impact they’d made on me.

With each conversation and renewed acquaintance, I replaced a bitter memory with a better memory.  I counted my tormenters to be fewer than my friends, they had only talked louder and made more of an impact. No, I had allowed them to make more of an impact. I also learned that those who inflicted the most pain probably hadn’t meant to. We all were suffering and surviving the halls of high school.

Over a pizza later, I admitted she was right to make me attend our class reunion. I thanked her for pushing me.

She smiled her Kari smile.  She knew all along she was right, and I was finally admitting it.

For me, the reunion was the beginning of a new beginning.  For Kari, it was the beginning of the end.

to be continued… 

 

 

Defying the Enemy Called Death

 

We have some interesting sayings in America when someone dies before they’re old.

He died too young.”

Only the good die young.”

She went before her time.”

We have this unspoken expectation that everyone should live a long, healthy life.  That’s the ideal we long for, but it doesn’t take long on earth to realize it doesn’t work that way.

Check tombstones.  Some live one year, some live a hundred years. Death is not a stranger to any soul.

All people live.

All people die.

Yet, no matter how much we know this, we’re never prepared.  We recover, but don’t stop grieving.  We never fully understand. Death is a shock, an enemy, a divider.

 

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This picture was taken May, 2011, when I visited the grave site of high school classmate and friend, Kari Onerheim Etherington. If you knew Kari you knew her smile.  What many of us didn’t know was the cost of that smile.  Without airing her family laundry, Kari had struggles at home that many of us didn’t know until she was an adult.

She walked around the halls of LHS as if she were the happiest teenager on earth, and she wasn’t faking it.  She CHOSE it.

 

Kari's High School Picture

She bore her struggles with quiet strength and a smile.  She was contagious.

And I almost killed her once.

I wasn’t a Christian in high school and was on a road trip in Canada with some friends, including Kari.  We had crossed from North Dakota into Canada where the drinking age was only 18 and had been in the pub for hours celebrating senioritis.  When we left, I was driving, but shouldn’t have been.

We missed one border crossing and were looking for another one that stayed open longer. We knew we had to just keep driving east, but nothing was familiar and we didn’t have a map.

I was jolted out of my stupor when the car bounced over rocks, obviously off-road.  I slammed on the breaks, the car lurched and tottered, but stayed put in park.  I got out of the car and looked down a very steep embankment.  In the darkness of the night and my alcohol-stunned mind I never  knew if it was a valley or a river below.  It was very steep, very deep, and very black.

A man was standing next to the car.  I assumed at the time he was an RCMP, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer.  He was kind, kinder than I deserved.  He didn’t issue a ticket, only instructed how to get back to the road we needed to be on. I was stumbling, woozy and out of control.  He urged me to drive more carefully.

As I looked down that embankment, then back into his kind face, I was overcome with a Sense that wasn’t attributed to my drunkenness.

I knew at that moment that God had saved me for a purpose.  He had spared my life and the lives of my friends.  It was the first of many instances that year that proved to me the God of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, was personally interested in my life and was concerned about my body and soul.

Somehow we made it home that night, and though we giggled as teenagers do over the evening, it was mostly to cover up the uneasiness I’d felt over the Presence and the near death experience.

That fall I was a freshman at the University of North Dakota and began reading the Bible.  I understood by faith that those things in my life were actually called sin by a Holy God who demanded perfection.  Since there wasn’t sinless perfection in my life, His Son had died in my place.  I accepted that by faith and experienced a serious life change.  I was born-again by faith.

During the early 80’s, few of us had computers, there were no cell phones and long-distance phone calls were expensive, unless you called after 11pm.  It was too easy to lose track of friends when you went to different colleges, got married, and had children. After I married, I moved to Kansas and was in touch with very few of my high school friends, but thought of them often and prayed for them. We eventually moved back to North Dakota, but I hadn’t reconnected with everybody yet.

In the summer of 1998  I was visiting my mom in Helena, MT, and we were in town shopping.  We pulled up in front of the Salvation Army at the same time another couple was parking and exiting the car.  We chatted politely as the woman wearing a floppy hat tried to tease me into buying a teddy bear in front of the store.

When we made eye-contact, we were both stunned. 

 

It was Kari and her husband, Tony. 

 

Kari and TonyThey’d been living in my parents’ hometown for several years. 

The reason the Lord had graciously spared our lives was about to unfold.

 

To be continued…