Burning brakes and fall fun

Last week I set aside this day to take the kiddos on a fall color drive and hike. We set out this morning with no real plan in mind other than starting at Reddish Knob, a high mountain lookout I frequented in my youth.

After enjoying some time on top of the mountain, we decided to try a road I thought would take us to Sugar Grove, WV.

This will be fun, I thought, no rules for the day except to have fun. No GPS. I can always get us “un-lost.”

What I didn’t anticipate was cooking the brakes on our aged van. We laughed at chipmunks running across the road, marveled at the reds, oranges, yellows, rusts, and greens, enjoyed the deer and a moss-covered rock, but as we continued down the steep winding road, I started smelling the brakes. Then I noticed they weren’t responding much when I applied pressure.

Make this out to be NO BIG DEAL for the sake of the children, I thought as I stopped in the middle of the road sandwiched between two blind curves. There wasn’t a place to pull off.

I turned on the hazard lights and told the kids the van needed to rest. By this time the whole interior smelled of burning rubber. I allowed them to get out and play by the side of the road. I tried calling my husband, but there was no cell service. I wanted to be sure if I let them rest I would be safe to continue. After about a half hour of not being able to reach him and no one driving by, I decided we would try again.

I geared down this time, and we inched our way around a few more corners. I assured them if we had to drive into the ditch to stop, we would still be okay because we were going so slowly. I saw a pull off and decided to give the brakes a longer rest. We spread a blanket on the ground and had some lunch.

I heard a vehicle coming up the mountain and flagged down the pickup truck. The young man said we were down the steepest part. Just one more switchback, a few sharp curves, and the road would level out.

I got the kids and the dogs back in the van, feeling confident we could navigate without incident. Thanks be to God, we did.

We found the Trading Post in Sugar Grove, and the elderly gentleman behind the counter welcomed the children with a smile and a cow tail candy. We visited a while. His son is postmaster at the other end of the building. His daughter lives and works within six miles of our house. I asked if they had a restroom.

No, he said, but see that church across the street. The basement door’s open. Go in and turn right. You’ll find what you need there.

To the delight of our daughters, the church was “glittery!” It was covered in pieces of broken glass. I marveled at the metaphor of brokenness shining in the light of the sun.

We drove another twenty miles to hike the Confederate Breastworks Trail, knowing it was manageable for all levels of dogs and children while also getting us closer home.

After the hike, we decided to surprise Dad at work. He kept wondering why he hadn’t heard a peep from us, he said. I was glad I couldn’t reach him when I tried and that I was able to guide us through the brake debacle without alarming (and especially without harming!) the children.

Besides a lovely day enjoying the majesty of an Allegheny autumn, I felt my lately-crumbling confidence grow ever so slightly from working through a scary situation without help nearby. Well, except the most important help.

More Interruptions

I had no idea when I posted last about life’s interruptions how greatly our life was about to be interrupted. Death, a most unwelcome intruder, visited our family once again with the unexpected passing of my father-in-law, Edward Lyle Harlow. He died of an apparent heart attack April 30.

I was going by to drop Elsie off for a few hours so I could paint at my office. I was pulling into the driveway when my mother-in-law found him collapsed on the kitchen floor.

The next few hours were a blur. As we sat around the kitchen table, steam still rising from his coffee cup on the warmer, I was reminded again of how our lives had been interrupted.

I was angry. I hurt for my husband, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, myself and our children. I was not at all ready for this interruption.

While are hearts are still broken, our eyes still weeping, the memories too fresh, we have found comfort in the gifts our dear daddy/husband/grandpa left behind.

An avid gardener and lover of flowers, trees, plants and landscapes, it was almost like our dear Ed knew what was about to unfold. Nearly every day since his death two and a half weeks ago, plants he ordered have arrived in the mail, one of which is called “Widow’s Tears.” A fancy honeysuckle showed up that he intentioned to plant along our chain link fence as well as wave petunias, dahlias, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and other plants. He had a sense of humor that was always present even among the most magnificent garden displays as shown in these photos.

Although we have had many moments of intense sadness, these “gifts” have evoked smiles through the tears. Although Eli and Elsie have had many questions and have cried many tears for grandpa, we are taking time as a family to care for his plants and remember him in a beautiful way. There is something so powerful and unifying in watering and tending flowers together as we rehearse stories and laugh about cherished memories of our precious loved one.

Interruptions. We cannot avoid them. We cannot prevent them. We cannot expect them to adhere to our schedule. But in time, we can find beauty rising from the ashes of our sorrow. We can find small, seemingly insignificant things that become the most meaningful moments of our day and if we allow it, we can grow from these interruptions. Just as we are tending the plants from daddy and encouraging them to grow, these interruptions can cause us to blossom more fully into the persons we were created to be. Adversity can be the fertilizer that nourishes the most beautiful gardens.

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Anger; a beautiful release

I attended a spiritual retreat this weekend. One might think it was coincidence that a day before this retreat was to take place that a family I know lost their 11-month-old daughter in a tragic accident. I believe God used this tragedy to reveal himself to me in a new and beautiful way. (***I do not believe God causes tragedy, but I do believe he can use it to form and transform us when and if we are ready to allow that.)

Through our time together, with people unrelated to this incident and most of whom were unassociated with my work through The Sadie Rose Foundation, God’s Spirit revealed to me that I was harboring anger, lots of it.

I admit, when I have the faith to believe that God can raise a child out of a sick-bed and he chooses not too or when I feel he could have easily prevented a tragedy, I wrestle with anger. I don’t just wrestle with it, I get downright mad. When I talk with families grieving their precious children gone too soon, I wonder why. Over time, these have snowballed into a jaded feeling that my prayers are ineffective and I have questioned at times whether or not God really cares. Why does he allow these tragedies to happen? Why do innocent children suffer?

At the retreat, we were given a Scripture to meditate on and to ask what God might be saying to us through that passage. Two phrases stood out to me as I read it again and again.

“They know his voice,” and “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:4 and 28)

I contemplated why these two phrases and wrote the following in my journal; answers I believe came from the Holy Spirit of God.

” Those children whom I call, know my voice. They are not afraid. I give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand. I know your pain. I know you feel these children have been snatched out of the hands of their family, but they are not afraid to come to me. They innocently trust and know and are comforted by my voice.

They do not perish. In truth, they never die. They are transitioned from their bars of clay into eternal life in the spirit.

They are held lovingly in my arms and no one, not death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from my love or can snatch them out of my hand.”

Wow… a new perspective for me. I did not get my “why” questions answered, I probably never will this side of eternity, nor do I claim to understand it. I am not disillusioned to think that this will keep me from ever feeling that anger again, but I know that I felt a beautiful release of anger, a letting go, and a new and fresh peace to move forward.

May the Holy Comforter be near to all who mourn this day and may we hear and recognize the voice of the Gentle Shepherd inviting us to trust him.

Interruptions

No less than 20 inches of snow have fallen outside our window throughout the past 16 hours and it is still coming down. The winter wonderland is beautiful, but it has interrupted our lives in that my husband’s flight was cancelled and now he is making the treacherous journey home in a rental car. He has already spent one more night away from us than planned because of this storm.

Thankfully, we use a wood stove for heat and have firewood stockpiled next to the stove, we have a nice cozy house and I planned ahead to make sure our refrigerator and cabinets had plenty of food. So while we wish for Lee to come home safely, the interruption could be much worse.

It seems we’ve had our share of interruptions lately. Unemployment, job changes and a chronically sick child have been some of the larger interruptions, and then there are the small, everyday inconveniences of running late, running behind, and everything in between. The death of our daughter five years ago was a most unwelcome interruption that nearly destroyed me.

Interruptions happen. Life happens. Death happens. Most often I can point to these life-altering interruptions and see that is seems like something terrible is always involved, and indeed, in many cases that is so. But how we respond to the interruptions can destroy us or make us stronger. Obviously, some take a lot more time, practice, and working through than others, but they can all be tools that change and shape us into more loving compassionate and empathetic human beings or can harden our hearts with bitterness and anger.

One of my favorite Scriptures says…

“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

These words have guided me, comforted me and sometimes were the only thing that carried me through my life’s interruptions. When I passed through the waters and felt I would drown in my tears, I was sustained and comforted by this ancient text written by another who knew about life’s interruptions. Although I can’t always see the other side of the river or I feel the heat of the flames consuming my flesh, I find refuge in the Holy One of Israel and know that if I live I live with God and if I die I die with God; either way, I am with God.

In this, I can know that these interruptions have a greater purpose than what my mind can conceive or understand.

If you are experiencing interruptions today, whether they are mere inconveniences or life-altering, I pray that you too experience the comfort of the Holy One of Israel.