With signs promising an ocean view, we walked through the pedestrian walkway under US 1 along the coast of California, just south of Big Sur.
We weren't disappointed. A short walk further, then this . . .
the breath-taking, make-you-want-to-cry beauty of McWay Falls
inaccessible except by kayak.
Even now, 12 years later I remember
the catch in my breath
the beautiful ache in my heart.
I couldn’t stop looking at it.
“Refuge” is what I saw and I knew that day, this would be my image of a place of refuge.
I had no way of knowing in eleven days I would be desperately in need of a refuge. That was when word came my brother Gordon, had died after being lost in the Montana wilderness mountains for 36 hours, found too late to reverse the effects of hypoglycemia.
During the overwhelming grief that followed, the refuge of God’s love and others looked a lot like McWay Falls. It continues today for bittersweet times when I remember, like today on my brother’s birthday how God gave a little girl a baby brother in answer to her earnest prayers so many years ago. That little girl grew up and knows God doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but he did then and I am forever grateful.
Psalm 62:5-8 Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Other birthday posts: HERE and HERE)
Mt. Hood, Oregon
Walking a block out to the end of 118th Street
from my son’s house,looking east on a clear day,
I see the mountain in all her majesty
rising high above the horizon.
“The mountain is out today,”
I happily report to the family as I return from my short walk.
What did I think she did – hide herself yesterday
when I couldn’t see her because of the clouds?
Yet I do it every time I am here at my son’s home.
And I smile and remind myself how little sense it makes.
Of course the mountain is always there.
On cloudy, rainy days which easily outnumber the clear days here in Portland, the mountain remains, majestic on the horizon even though I can’t see her.
?? Mt. Hood, Oregon ??
And every time I am reminded of the God who is present in all things, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
I remember sitting in my counselor’s office a couple years ago, telling him God seemed so far away, even though I knew he had not gone anywhere. He listened and reassured me, “It’s the grief and the fear talking. It’s like when the clouds hide the stars night. They are still there even though you can’t see them.”
He didn’t give me scripture verses to memorize about God’s presence.
He knew I could probably quote them myself.
He didn’t tell me I needed more faith.
It felt like he held it for me.
Over the weeks that followed, he walked with me through the fear and grief lurking beneath the surface since my little brother’s death so many years ago and the loss of my baby sister nine months earlier. I cried tears I didn’t know I had, gave voice to the fears I had stored away. And the day came when I realized I had begun to “see” the God who had been there all along.
- God is present with me in the pain, even when circumstances seem to hide his face.
- Sometimes God uses others to help me see him when I can’t see him myself.
How grateful I am God’s presence does not depend on seeing or feeling.
Yes, I know it’s Monday, not Sunday and by the time some of you read this it will be Tuesday. But sometimes Monday is the new Sunday around here. Sometimes I’m just not ready to post on a schedule and then on some days, I am not sure I believe what I thought I was going to write — and then God meets me and I remember I do believe. That’s why I call this “Remember & Celebrate on Sunday” (or sometimes Monday). This view in the photo below led to a dialogue between God and me earlier this month.
You want me to go where?
You mean keep walking forward?
I can’t see.
What if there is a big drop-off out there?
An unscalable mountain range?
A bear? A lion?
What if I am all alone?
I didn’t tell you to go any further
than you can see.
There’s enough for the next step.
Do you remember, last night you saw this same area from a different perspective.
You even saw a path leading into those tall rushes.
You can see enough to get to the path and start walking on it.
I know what’s ahead.
I know what you need
to keep going where I am
You can’t see but I can.
Just because you can’t see the path as far ahead as
you would like to see,
doesn’t mean you can’t start walking on the path
you can see.
I am really scared.
So many things can happen – have already happened. Things have been pretty upside down this past number of years. I can’t keep up with the changes.
I know. I know.
You get to be scared and it’s OK if you question. I understand.
All I ask is you keep walking as long as you can see enough to take the
I am with you. I’ve got you.
And you have a lot of people in your life to remind you of these things when you start to doubt.
You are not alone on any level.
What if I do get to a place where I really can not see the next step?
if you can’t see, then just rest for a bit.
You’ll see the next step when you need it.
How about this picture now? I’ve added these words.
It is 12:32am November 8th as I write this. In just 6 1/2 hours it will be twelve years since I heard the words, “He’s gone” after waiting and hoping and praying for 32 hours my brother would be found – missing in the Montana mountains on a hunting trip. (I wrote about it HERE: “Before and After, Day 3: Lost, Found and Gone”)
It has taken a long time, but I have come to see grief as an uninvited guest – one who continues to show up. Sometimes I expect her. Other times she comes when least expected. She’s not someone to get rid of. We have become friends. After all, she is here, because the one who is missing was deeply loved
It is apparent we are meant to be lifelong friends until we arrive at the time and place where tears are wiped away and there is no more death or dying. Those I have grieved will be with me. Grief’s work will be done, for the missing and the grieving is for those I have lost and now found.
I will joyfully release her to befriend another who needs her. It will take a while for them to be friends. I wish I could tell them they will find her patient and kind, even though she will insist they pay attention to her, for embracing her is the way to peace in the losing.
(written February 2017)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Yes. Loss is always with us. Sometimes more than others. I live with it comfortably most of the time, and long for what might have been when these days roll around.”
(Laura Landgraf – childhood trauma survivor, author, speaker and writer/blogger)\
This is one of those days.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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This week’s post is Part Two of a three-part series written by me to my children and is a continuation from last week.
Go HERE to read “Family Matters: Matters is a Verb, Part 1” if you missed it last week.
Family Reunions were the best part of “going home” when we made our trips “back home”
Our families genuinely enjoyed being together. I remember a Christmas gathering at Grandma Hertzler’s farm (colored photo below) probably in the early 1950’s. Most our trips were made in the summer. We grew in numbers! I had 20 cousins on your Grandma’s (Hertzler) side and 28 cousins on your Grandpa’s (Longenecker) side. With that many, we often picnicked in the meadow of one of my uncle’s farms or a state park.
A favorite memory is three days at my Aunt Esther, Grandpa’s older sister, and Uncle Andy’s farm (black and white photo below). A stream meandered through the meadow from one end to the other. We cousins built dams across across that not-so-big (little) stream – believing we could create a small pond for swimming, or at least big enough for wading.
Annual trips “back home” to see my cousins became my “normal” during my growing up years. Our family made close friends (who become our “family”) in places far away from “back home” in Pennsylvania – in Dixie AL and Morton IL. As a pastor/missionary kid it became my “normal.” Inevitably, we cousins lost regular contact with each other in our college and adult years raising our families.
I’m glad you children got to know your Hiestand PA cousins when we lived there in the late 1970’s. But when we visited my parents in Montana your Longenecker cousins were small children. By the time they grew up, you were establishing your own families. I wish we had helped you keep contact with them. It was easy to forget how much Family Matters.
When we (you kids and us) moved to Chicago, our immediate families were hundreds of miles away. We realized that your families might live far away as well. Gerald, you and Jill moved to Nebraska and started your family before you returned to Illinois. Todd, you and Melanie created your home in Pennsylvania and now Oregon. Scott, you brought Jill to the Chicago area. For each family who would want their kids living close to them, there is likely another family wishing the same thing. Besides not being a fair expectation on our part, it would be unreasonable in the mobile society in which we live.
In short, we embrace your “home” where ever it is.
In March 2009, your great Aunt Lois (the one who called all of us her favorites) and Uncle Elmer, invited the girl cousins to their condo in Long Boat Key in Florida for a weekend. We came from Texas, Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania to spend time in one place for the first time in years. We spent a laughter-filled 2 1/2 glorious days together. That Saturday we laughed and told stories all morning.
After lunch we laughed and told more stories. Aunt Lois was certain they would be evicted from their condo from all the laughter and noise.
That weekend in March re-connected us in ways we didn’t know we needed. That September your Grandma Longenecker died and several of them came to the funeral to be with me. We cousins committed to getting together again. And we made it happen a couple years later.
The Longenecker Cousins’ Reunion July of 2011.
There’s your Grandpa Longenecker between his sister Lois (the one who called us her favorites) and Uncle Elmer, right in the front. Your dad and I are over on the right hand side (me in purple, dad in gray.) This was the “fun picture.” If you look closely, you see Uncle Elmer giving your Grandpa bunny ears. I guess some kids never grow up!
Through Facebook, I reconnected with some Hertzler cousins and in the spring of 2013, suggested we get together again. It had been many years since I had been with most of them.
Below is the result;
Hertzler Cousins Reunion May 2013 at Slate Hill Mennonite Church where Grandma Longenecker grew up and where she and Grandpa Longenecker got married April 5, 1947. Now there is a standing yearly cousins reunion over Memorial Day weekend “back home.”
Right there in the middle in the second row from the bottom is Grandma’s sister Janet (in the gray sweater) and her brother Maurice – the only two siblings left in Grandma’s family – out of nine 9 living children. (One died when she was 18 months old) . I am in the pink top, right in the middle. Your Dad stayed home and took care of Grandpa Longenecker so I could go. (Not all men would be that helpful in caring for his elderly father-in-law. Your dad was an example of a man with a servant’s heart.)
And I learned something:
These reunions changed the distance between us
not the miles, but the connection.
We had grown up and changed
yet in many ways we hadn’t changed at all,
more like an older version of the kids we used to be;
only we now had kids and grandkids of our own.
We were still “us.”
And soon I would be with my cousins again at your Grandpa’s memorial and I didn’t want to miss it – the love, the family, especially having no siblings of my own anymore.
Hence the text to my friends, asking them to pray for me to be present and receive love from my family. (See “Family Matters Part 1″ to make the connection)
And it turned out to be more meaningful for me than I could have known.
(to be continued . . . . .)
Did you know a drop of water reflects and turns an image upside down and backward. It changes the perspective of the light, the image, and the color. So does this clear glass ball which is a part of the lobby window treatment at our favorite Chicago hotel where we were celebrating our 46th anniversary.
(December 21, 2016)
I’ve been sitting here in this quiet lobby, staring at this window treatment this morning, intrigued by the striking images. I notice how the top of the building and blue sky are reflected in the three larger glass globes on the left side.
I first noticed this phenomenon in the droplets of water clinging to tree branches after an earlier rain one morning at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.
Now here it is again.
Through the hotel window: an ordinary street, on an ordinary day, in an ordinary city and a bright new perspective.
In reality, nothing changed – just perspective transformed by the crystal ornaments!
I wrote about perspective several weeks ago. My granddaugher captured the truth about it in these words:
God sees all perspectives.
And he is with us in ours.
Read about it HERE
Sometimes the perspective is disorienting like these images, yet in the disorientation, there is beauty.
I pray you catch a glimpse of this beauty in the upsidedown-ness/backward-ness of your life.
I enjoy hearing from you in the comments below.
This week I am doing something a bit different here on the blog – the first of a three-part series of what I shared with my grown sons and their families about how I was re-reminded a few years ago that Family Matters.
I am grateful for my sons and their families who love each other and us. It’s not that we all agree on everything, or we are our own little echo chamber. Not at all. We love and respect each other.
Please note: “Grandpa” in this story is my dad, their grandfather.
* * * * *
My Aunt Lois is our favorite and calls all of us cousins her “favorites.” She is Grandpa’s only surviving sibling, four years younger. The two of them were inseparable coming ten years after the four older siblings. He dearly loved his nieces and nephews who dearly loved him in return. At the time of his death, there were also a few in-laws still living.
In 1952 he became the first missionary supported by his home church, Congregational Bible Church (Marietta, PA). From then on he rarely saw his Pennsylvania family and relatives more than once a year.
So it helps explain why your Great Aunt Lois, emailed me: “Dear Carol, “Would you consider having a Memorial service back here in Pennsylvania? So many people know your Dad. Even if they are not personally acquainted with him, they have heard of him from a parent or relative, I feel sure. Also, it would be a good time for our family and your mom’s family. Just an idea, my dear. Aunt Lois”
How could I not consider her request? It wasn’t going to work for her to come to the memorial service here in Illinois. Other relatives tried to make it work, but none of them were able to come either for Grandpa’s memorial service.
But, the more we thought about it, the more we knew this was a good idea. We needed to do this for them.
So there we were late June 2014, a month after Grandpa died, driving across Interstate 80 through the Allegheny Mountains the day before to a memorial service in PA. I sent this text to a few friends: “I am aware I am not emotionally connecting with this (memorial) event and I want to be in a place to genuinely receive love from my family members who will be there. Please pray for me.”
And I did.
Little did I know how much I needed to do it for me.
We moved south to Dixie, Alabama from Pennsylvania, in March of 1952, leaving our families behind when I was four years old. Here we are, probably all dressed up for church on a Sunday morning, a couple miles down the road, in front of our four room house along the edge of the forest with spacious front and back porches. (I wonder if the porches were as spacious I remember them. The house has since fallen over and has been over-taken by the woods, I have been told.) Oh, and no indoor plumbing. Queenie, our dog, was part of the family too. I can’t remember where we got her, but she moved to Illinois with us, 6 years later.
Yes, there is such a place as Dixie, Alabama. You may not find it on the map, but it’s there, 20.9 miles west of the square in Andalusia on Route 29/15, just 25 miles north of the Florida state line. The little church where he preached was open and having services when we visited this past April.
Your Grandpa and Grandma made sure we made that long trip from South Alabama to PA – often “driving straight through” to save money. Later they drove “back home” to Pennsylvania from Illinois and even from Montana, to see family at once a year.
And because of their commitment, I learned: Family matters. . . continued HERE
The Changing of Seasons; of Geese, Flying South.
It happens each year about now. They take a respite on Lake Opeka on their way south. It’s not that I love geese so much. In fact, I’d much rather they stay up in the air, flying wherever they fly, instead of hanging around “my” lake and messing up the place!
Yet they always come, stirring my memory of past fall seasons: times of trial, heartache, and challenge. And in the midst of the memories, I remember God’s presence made real through people who came along side me.
As surely as seasons change, so do life’s challenges. In it all God is ever-present. Whether flying north or south, the geese are my constant reminder of God’s faithfulness..
I don’t want to forget. So I took a photo today – to help me REMEMBER and then CELEBRATE the moment when others join here in remembering God present with us.
While the earth remains,
seed time and harvest,
and cold and heat,
and summer and winter,
and day and night
shall not cease.
It’s sunset time here at the Lake. Your Creation, Lord, does its work. (I talked about that HERE last weekend.) The chatter in my head fades away. And in the silence, my friend, Sadness, cautiously peeks out to see if it’s safe. I’ve been ignoring her - much of today spent in what I now recognize as aimless activity, all the while hoping I’ll get something “useful” done. It didn’t really work. It never does. As I sit with Sadness, I am aware of November 8th approaching, the 12th anniversary of my brother’s death. death, accompanied by So. Many. Losses. shaking of my faith times when I wondered what was true what wasn’t true questions about prayer and why I should even bother feeling weak because I can’t be strong like my mom and dad fear of being too much with too much grief for much too long. loneliness while surrounded by love of family yet they cannot replace the ones I’ve lost. emergence of long-denied grief over previous losses exhaustion that comes with mourning healing scabs form pull loose healing until it’s mostly scabs, until Fall comes leading to November some days - feeling I’ll grieve like this forever - all the while knowing it won’t feel this way every day all day and it never does anymore Sadness, now a friend comes more often in the Fall when I’m quiet in a place as this right now in the quiet setting of the sun tears come unhindered for I have learned to shut them off is denying what is true better to let them come * * * Folding up my lawn chair I gaze again at the setting sun and return to my life a life which brings me much joy. The movie “Inside Out” had it right. Joy and Sorrow can co-exist. It’s best to embrace them both.
I’m taking time to notice these days. As I notice, I find ways to remember and celebrate by sharing here with you on Sundays.
For years we have been coming here to The Dells, driving through town, out into the country where we “get away.” We’ve seen the advertisements about the boat tour. Galen was here with his college geology class years ago. This area, noted for it’s sheer beauty and the unique geological formations went mostly unseen by us until this week. We took the tour.
Mostly I remember
a sense of contentment
breath deepening, slowing down
muscles softening and lengthening
Joy, and . . . peace.
Is it any wonder?
being in a place that shouts of God’s creation
fashioned for his pleasure and for ours.
I was reading today about “Nature Deficit.” A quick research of the subject led to research showing there are beneficial changes in our brains when we spend time in nature. It makes sense.
It’s more than the what I see.
It’s the shouting I hear.
A lovely paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-2 says it this way in “The Jesus Bible Storybook”:
The Heavens are singing
about how great God is;
and the skies are shouting it out,
“See what God has made!”
Day after day… Night after night…
They are speaking to us.
I pray you will notice the “shouting” today and on into the days to come.