Our world lost an amazing woman yesterday.
And today a blizzard came to Alaska.
The blizzard would be pretty unremarkable -this is Alaska- unless it wasn’t March and we weren’t all feeling the pull of spring.
And the world losing an amazing woman could be pretty unremarkable too except that it’s not, and cancer comes and shocks us with the surprise of death every time.
Just when we’re all feeling the pull of life.
We’re supposed to LIVE and this cancer is a scourge and it takes too many, and even losing one is too many so when the blizzard comes and we see cars in the ditch, -so many we stop counting- my teen driver says as only teen boys can…
The car in the other lane slid like a Matchbox up the little plastic flexi-ramp of our 70s track and it just left the road and came down in the ditch, -the kind of ditch Alaska is so famous for; deep, steep, and hidden- and it lands like a cotton ball on a powder puff, complete with the powder cloud of snow puffing up all around it.
And we can almost get so busy we forget when the world loses a precious soul, but when I hopped out to make sure the car’s occupants were okay, she is still on my mind.
The car’s occupants were precious souls too, and it turns out they knew me (I so love a small town). I have my man-boy pull our truck off the dangerous curve and get us going on the way to Algebra class while I call the next-door fire department to come check on them as they wait for the tow truck I tracked down, and I call the road department for sand all before we’re five miles down the road.
So when it comes on the radio and I think of her again -so many times in these past twenty-four hours…
what’s it like when we get to where we’re going?
When we see our Maker’s face?
When we shed the sins and struggles?
When we cry only happy tears?
When we stand forever in the light of His amazing grace?
And last week we said good-bye to Billy and the world still rocks from our loss and Heaven’s gain. He was such a big name behind that big heart and big legacy, but on my little messy road, on the path through my blizzard…
…how many times has my little-name self landed in the ditch?
And how many times has someone stopped to pull me out?
When I was young, a pup yet, she took me under her arm, -her arm that was small but willed by her strong drive and strong love to make it work even when it was born not wanting to- and she saw who I was to become and she loved me like I already was where I was going.
And because she did, I got there.
So many others did too.
Love like that, laughter like that -even in the messy- it pushes us and grows us and fuels us even when the road is sloppy and the ditches are deep.
After Brad and Dolly sang, I had a minute to think while my boy drove us on, and I had a smile at the thought of her laughing her way right on up to the One who gave her that laugh, that sound of pure joy.
And then I marveled at how life works because how, on this very same day, could another friend celebrate healing after finishing her last treatment? How could joy and praise mingle up with loss, all at the same time, all from the same disease?
I didn’t get to marvel too long because then Alan came on and it wasn’t Chattahoochee -that song that will forever and always bring her and the old jukebox in the break room to my mind and my heart- but it was Neon Rainbow or Itty Bitty or one of his lesser-known-but equally-beloved songs and I can hear her say
I’m restless. Let’s take a break.
And I see her toe tap and her pant leg sways over the curve of her dressy flats, and then she’s throwing her head back and laughing at something the guys on the forklifts say while Alan gives way to Randy and then Trisha and they come on all tinny and familiar and fill all the minutes and all these years.
I haven’t heard that laugh in over a decade, but I will never forget it all my days because there are so many who will miss it all their days.
She taught me so much and she formed me so much and this world won’t ever be the same.
And later that night, I text the driver of the car in the ditch to see if they made it home. We talked and talked and she wouldn’t have been able to get up out of that ditch had we not come by.
Sometimes a ditch can be so steep.
Sometimes we just need a friend to come along and help us up.
And sometimes those friends line the curved and twisted road of our heart and we won’t ever forget them because if it weren’t for them, we would never have gotten to where we were going.
The blizzard slowed and our new friends got home safely and the day calmed and I still can’t imagine a world without her in it.
But I can hear her say I’m restless. Let’s take a break…
then throw her head back and laugh while she taps her toe.
That sound of pure love and warmth…
And I can’t wait to see her when I get where I’m going.
In memory of Chuck (Sharla) Mitchell. The best boss I ever had; cherished wife, mother, grandmother, sister. Friend to many. And to me.
This piece is dedicated to the people of Lousiville. From Chef, who made the thick and hearty chicken broth on my first day of sickness…to Ms. Vickie who loves me and all my babies, and gave them all sweet nicknames and taught us how to shine our boots the southern way…to my sweet cousin I hadn’t seen in decades and who drove and gave up her weeknight just to spend an hour with us… and all the folks in between: you have all taught this band of northerners what the phrase “Southern Hospitality” means. Even though most of my time was spent in my hotel room, it was a beautiful trip because of you. Thank you.
So I took my kids -my own kids and my 4-H kids- South for their big competition and it was all they ever wanted and all they had been looking forward to, and two days after we got there, I got sick.
Now, you have to understand somethin’ bout this Mama. If I ever tell you I got sick, I got sick. Having a mind that tends toward worst-case-scenarios, I’m in the business of intentally down playing any illness that may strike me. I constantly talk myself out of being sick so that I don’t end up seeming sicker that I really am. Plus, other than the wonky thyroid, I’m very seldom sick. I had to go back and look up the last time I was sick, because that was the time I was so sick I had to write a blog piece about it.
I was SICK y’all.
And now, this time, I was that sick again. Except this time, I was 5,000 miles from home, I was trip coach to my team and chaperones who were on their dream journey to a national competition, I didn’t have a car, I was bunking up with my two teenagers, and I was stuck in a hotel room with windows that DON’T OPEN.
It was sheer pain, hell, and knarliness for six straight days and the worst of it was, I wanted to TALK! I got to be coach for the first Alaska team of our type to EVER grace these competitions and I had coaches to meet and new friends to make! Nope, by Day 3, once the fevers, chills, and body aches had subsided, so had my voice.
By the time my second kiddo fell, I was tired and feeble enough from the long days of illness to have several quiet spells of crying at the unfairness of traveling all this way just for my big boy to not be able to attend the banquet that would tell him how he and his team did, or to only get to do half of the fun tours we had planned that would show us around this huge city most of my team had never seen.
By the time I had the hotel shuttle man, Eddie the Awesome hustle our hineys over to the Kroger -did you know you can see a nurse at the Kroger now?- where I spent $400 for a nice man in scrubs to tickle our nostrils and tell me the kids were still showing for Influenza while my boogies were clean and that really the best thing for us was just to rest up in our hotel room, (if I’d had a voice I would have laughed hysterically, as it was, he just got a deadpan stare.) I was a mad mess of mama coach mixed in with irritation, surrender, and resolve when we left. No more tears, we just needed to get through the rest of the trip and infect the least amount of people we could and try not to take any souvenirs of the Influenza Type A type home.
My team moms took the reins and 3/4 of the team still got to see the sights. My kids all rocked it and worked through the sickness (one started to fall on the day of the last competition, bringing the team sickness ratio to 2:3) and they celebrated that, as the contest’s obvious Underdog, they succeeded in NOT taking the title of last place. We all laughed at the differences between livestock people and chicken people. We made a group decision to skip out on the official dinner in order to go gather round the tables that had become so familiar at the hotel restaurant so we could be homey and enjoy our last meal in Kentucky together just us, as a team. They leaned in to my whisper voice and I smiled at their accomplishments and the good that comes even when things go much much differently than you’d anticipated.
And then, on the way home, our week flown much, much too fast and yet dreadfully slow at the same time, my team girls were strewn all about the airport chairs, legs akimbo and having conversations teens have when they talk as if they are the only ones in the whole world, and one said to the other as they laughed over junk food….
man that’s so sick.
And they just laughed and laughed and glowed the glow of youth when they’re just happy and perfect and content and everything is perfect and cool -sick- in their world.
We took our sickness south.
We didn’t win by any means. Not even close. Heck, out of 19 teams, we didn’t even place in the top ten. Second-to-last is farrr from winning.
And on a scale of one to ten, with one being Small Fry Farms and ten being Big Ag, we learned that here in Alaska, we’re barely on the paper.
I had folks tell me that all the big states had qualifiers to even go to their state competition and that by the time their kids got to Nationals, they’d been competing at the national skill level for years.
We had folks tell us that Alaska would lose.
But we didn’t lose and do you know why?
Because we went.
We put our little Ag big state on the map of national livestock contests and we showed them that we want to be part of things too.
We met people over the course of our six days that’d we’ll remember forever and we gave out smiles and we gave out hugs to folks who won’t soon forget us.
We took all of the love of our community, and all the well wishes and financial support of our sponsors, and we put it in our pockets and we put it on our shirts and we put it in our hearts and my kids were brave and they went.
And everywhere we’d go, out of all the teams, it was Alaska that got the biggest applause.
Not because we won, but because we showed up.
Because it’s pretty dang cool that a little band of everyday Joes from a land so far away that it’s barely on the map would drive three hours to take three different planes for a whole day of flying to go to a land to play on a playground with kids who are so used to the playground equipment it feels like their backyard tree fort, while the faraway kids are just seeing the playground for the first time.
That’s what the clapping said. That’s what the questions asked and what the smiles spoke. And everywhere we went in our new southern city, we were bombarded with questions like Alaskans always are when they go Outside, but at the end of it, after all the questions and all the learning, what my kids heard from their peers, these kids who grow up Ag, was
We’re glad you came. It’s good that you’re here.
Half of us missed the events and tours we had scheduled.
I became more familiar with a hotel room that I ever want to be again.
I wish our group would’ve been able to spend more time together.
We weren’t 100%.
But as we came home, I realized that the magnitude and the excitement of what we had done hadn’t been changed just because we got influenza or even because we hadn’t won.
Nothing had changed at all.
We still put Alaska on the map.
We showed folks that we care enough to show up.
We saw so much.
We learned SO MUCH.
Team, you smiled at your accomplishments instead of seeing your lack of winning as losing.
You were the Underdog but you were brave.
You were brave.
And that, my kids, is SO sick.
Don’t you dare think that because you were hurt in the quiet you should ever stay quiet.
Don’t you dare think you’re alone.
Don’t you dare think that it’s your fault.
Don’t you dare.
And I won’t even pretend to know what it’s like to be a super star, but I do know what it’s like to be hurt by someone you thought you could trust and I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t tell anyone.
You feel like don’t you dare, and there rings that word you hate.
Your see your strong self splayed out, and the shame and the embarrassment and the self-doubt and the anger all splay out right next to the raw and naked redness that rises on your face and penetrates straight through your soul.
And you won’t ever look a man straight in the eye again all your days.
You’ll carry your hurt and you’ll carry your scars and when the scab heals…years, many years later…you’ll be strong in places where you once were weak, but there will always be a tender spot you hide from the world, and that spot on your heart and that bruise on your soul won’t ever be what it was before the hurting time.
Days and years of good love from a good and tender man will soften your spirit and soften the sting and then Oh! When the one with the stripes on His back one day shows you His scars, you’ll fall at His feet, tremble with fear, and you’ll tell Him the whole truth and you’ll give up your scars in the hopes He’ll just soothe them with His, but then He’ll say Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering, and your ashes will slowly…sweetly…become beauty, and He’ll work it all for a purpose like He did so long ago with that first prisoner, way back when He showed us how He works His good straight on through all the bad.
And then one day the scars will be as tough as you think they’re going to be and you’ll stand straight and you’ll stop feeling like a victim.
Because you’ve been given VICTORY.
So don’t you dare feel shamed to say it, – even if it’s just a whisper- don’t be afraid to say Me Too, because I need to hear it and your neighbor might need to hear it, and who cares if it’s trendy if it’s true?
At the end of the day we can clasp hands and comfort one another as we glance back briefly on the long path of evil that brought us to this victory.
It takes time.
But we’ll be reminded that we didn’t walk alone and we’ll strengthen one another for the battle to make it better for our daughters. For our sons.
We’ll be reminded that we were never really alone.
You don’t have to be quiet.
Tell your girls.
Tell our boys.
Raise strong daughters who are tender and raise tender sons who are strong,
and let us raise them all to do what is right, and to say what is right.
We can make it better.
For them. For us.
We can give Him our tears…our pain…our hurts.
You can be healed.
And me too.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. ~Isaiah 61: 1-3
And nothing formed against me shall stand. You hold the whole world in your hands. I’m holding on to your promises…You are faithful. You are faithful.
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side.
The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine, the God of angel armies is always by my side.
When a disease moves in, the whole household is rearranged.
And a tough girl will fight it and push it and kick at it and work hard to keep it outside on the front porch where she can keep the door closed and hit the deadbolt when the intruder gets too unruly.
But diseases don’t have house manners, so Hashimoto’s has moved right in and brought her friend hypothyroidism with her, and they’ve taken up residence and settled into their own wing, and after almost a year of Delores the Thyroid paying her rent in mood swings and thinning hair, we might maybe just now be getting used to this new ugly roommate.
And do you know what happens when you have an unruly house guest who won’t go away and who doesn’t want to follow the rules?
You finally get tired of being polite and trying to figure out how to deal with their behaviors in a quiet and civilized manner, and you get assertive and you learn how to stick up for yourself and the people you live with and love with, and after enough time goes by and your guest is still being uncooperative, one day you take your life back and you tell her that you’re not going to put up with her shit any longer.
So all this summer I’ve worked hard at keeping Delores in her room until she learns to behave, and on those rare days she kicks down her door and comes to interrupt our days, I’ve learned that the best way to handle her is to sit around cozy and comfortable and curled up with my people while we laugh at her antics.
Ten months ago I could barely drag out of bed and couldn’t wait to get back to it at night.
Ten months ago I had so much anger in my heart I hardly knew myself.
Ten months ago my joints hurt so bad I could barely lift my arms or bend my fingers or my knees.
Ten months ago I had no joy, no care, no understanding of what was the matter with me or any idea of how long it had been going on.
My houseguest had crept in without me even knowing, and all I could do was just keep pushing, keep doing what needed to be done, and keep focusing only on the absolute essentials.
Today, I can focus on the good.
I can see the the beautiful.
I can find the peace.
Today, I still sometimes drag out of bed, but I can face the days. I am no longer slugging through, but actually beginning to EMBRACE the moments. I am starting to look forward to things again instead of just dreading.
Today, the anger is replaced by patience, and when irritation does rear its ugly head, it is short lived and doesn’t possess my whole being like it once did.
Today when my joints hurt I know it’s because it’s time for a med adjustment or because I’ve eaten something that does not agree with my disease. I don’t hurt all the time anymore.
I still have hurts.
But every day they are less, and I’ve hiked three whole times this summer and I’ve been able to ditch the 3 pm thyroid nap and I’ve listened to my body, and as I keep working toward kicking Delores out for good –or at least banishing her to the outhouse– I can see the beauty and the good and I can keep my focus on peace.
So today I hopped in a canoe and I paddled. And when the kids bickered from their own little boat I told them to quit ruining the moment and I picked a spot on the horizon that was beautiful and I hunkered down against the wind of the day and I prayed and I headed toward the peace…
and I was paddling.
When my muscles warmed I was so happy that I was able to use them without feeling stabbing pain.
And when the wind blew me sideways I was so thankful to have the strength and the focus to put my canoe right.
And when my calves wanted to cramp, I was so tickled to realize my awkward body was in a position I had yearned to try in yoga class not too long ago.
Today, I realized that I’ve gained some things since battling hypothyroidism, and not just extra weight.
I’ve gained confidence.
The ability to laugh at myself.
Patience for others.
I realized that life…our faith…is just like my canoe ride today.
Choppy. Awkward. Full of cramps.
But so beautiful.
Intertwined with the Creator.
So I kept paddling.
And every day as I battle this new season of life…or you fight struggles or job loss or pain or a nasty new roommate of your own…remember we have the power to not let it ruin our moment here…and we’ll pick a spot on the horizon that is beautiful, and we’ll hunker down against the wind of our day…
And we’ll keep paddling toward peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
It’s been a year already since he laid his big strong body down and how do 365 days go by seeming like it’s been both just a week and a lifetime?
I started a list on my iPhone of all the things that went haywire beginning with the day my old truck quit running.
It was going to be the list that reminded me how strong our family was and how gracefully we overcame adversity.
Then the pony died that spring Monday morning, and I realized that life can sometimes knock a gal out at the knees and that keeping track of adversity wasn’t as important as I thought it was.
That gracefulness comes quietly in the fight and isn’t something that can be measured.
Because it all just kept coming and since the Garden, isn’t that what life really is anyway?
One big adversity?
One long, unmeasurable struggle.
Those you thought were your friends betray you.
Those you know are your friends face death straight in the face.
Your body quits working as it should and life as you know it is altered by silent sickness.
Neighbors are not neighborly.
The peaceful plans you dream of and hope for and pray over are riddled with twists and turns and paths that keep you pining for the flatter trail that doesn’t trip you up.
The news brings heartache daily til the day it all seems the same.
A planet aching.
The day last month that my big little horse started limping, I did what I’ve done every time one of the minis has gotten any little ailment these past twelve months.
I worried and I fret and I flashed back to the cold nights in the barn when we willed our big boy to keep standing and keep fighting in those hours before we knew he’d given us his all and had to finally lie down and leave us.
It’s a year later and the same time of the month that he got sick when our mini starts to slow down and look uncomfortable. It must be the season. It must be something about our farm in the spring.
It must be something I’m doing wrong and I worry as I go to a boring meeting and remember the boring meeting I was sitting in last year when my daughter called to get me coming home to her and her very sick pony.
He was a horse not a person but I will always grieve the loss of him like I would a best friend or a member of this family.
Because he was.
It was our first time losing a horse and the pain of it was enough to make me think of letting my other two go to another farm so we’d never have to deal with that kind of loss ever again.
That thought was short-lived because I know they belong with us and they belong together, but as I watch my mini’s coat dull and I take the weight tape to her and see she’s dropped fifteen pounds, it makes me choke back a sob as I think of our big pony standing noble and quiet in the barn last year with his dull coat and thin neck.
A whole year feels like yesterday when I start calling the people I know to call and text video clips of my little horse limping, and as soon as he’s back in town, my farrier is here to trim up her feet and he reminds me yet again that I shouldn’t worry so, that this horse came to us with a condition that will always cause her to have troublesome feet in cold weather and the changing of seasons.
He reminds me that I’ll always have to watch her sugar intake and that the good nourishment I was giving her to help her weight and her coat might be too much, and that cutting back just a little will tell me for sure.
And he reminds me gently that this horse isn’t the same horse as the horse we lost.
That every ailment isn’t worst case scenario.
That even though my mind and my heart go back to the loss, this horse won’t die from sore feet.
That the love on our farm is big and goes a long way toward keeping our animals healthy and me and the kids learning.
He reminds me how much we love.
Struggles will come but love covers a multitude, and it is patient and it is kind, and it protects and trusts and hopes, and it always, always perseveres.
I quit making a list this year and instead made myself persevere.
Made myself love.
God knows my faith has been quiet but that it is strong and it is persevering.
Have you been quiet in your faith?
Have you had doubts? Struggles? Adversity?
He knows when our love is true and trusting and even though it may not be loud, He knows when it is there.
A trauma, a loss, a year of battles one after another can knock out strong knees, but on our knees is best because He so loved the world, He so loved me and He so loved you, and love will.never.fail.
The disappointments of yesterday melt in the face of the love that dwells in the rough-hewn wood of this strong house.
The crushing weight of sorrow for friends fighting a too-hard war lightens as they raise their hands to glory and love all they touch.
The unending pain of the planet and her people are held, because in Him all things hold together.
My little horse began to move smoother after her foot trim, and as the sun came out and spring moved onto our farm, I’d see her napping on all fours instead of lying down to get off her feet.
Her head would bob and her top lip quiver as she soaked up the fresh air and healing rays of sunshine after our long cold winter.
She wasn’t going to die like our pony did.
And today, the exact day he left us last year, I pulled my little gal out and marveled at how much better she was looking.
I smiled at her yellow-white mane and tail as she walked across the yard, a happy sparkle in her eye as she tried to find just one green blade of grass.
I thought of how much I love these little horses and how much we’ve gone through on the farm this year.
How much those close to us have endured.
How much our world has changed.
How much we are loved in the midst of it all.
And as I was watching her walk beside my daughter, my girl who said goodbye to her best equine friend too soon exactly one year ago, a peace washed over me that assured me that not only was my little horse going to be fine but so was everything else.
Those things I can control…those things I can’t…those battles friends fight…those injustices that plague so many…
Because He said it…because He loves…
We are assured that even in the evils and the sadness and the pain He will never leave us.
He will take the quiet faith, the wavering faith, the tentative faith, and He will grow it louder and steadier and surer, whether through sunny seasons or through sorrow seasons.
My peace grew strong and I thought of our pony gone a year, and I tucked up his memory into my heart once again where it now always lives, and I watch my girl walk my big mini back toward the pen.
And just before she got there, our little red pony hopped a little hop on her once-sore feet and she kicked up her heels and she tossed her mane…
And then she started to trot.
In memory of all the ponies and all the horses who have left this earth too soon. Your trust and service and faithfulness are twisted up into the hearts of the many who have loved you and will miss you all the days of their lives.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:8-10