Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Montana. The Big Sky Country. The Last Best Place*. My home. You may think it strange that I would call a place I haven’t lived in for almost 40 years “home” but those who have lived there understand. Montana is in my bones, in my very soul. It is part and parcel of who I am. I wasn't born there, but I was formed there. Let me tell you about it.

I was actually born in Pueblo, Colorado, but I remember nothing of that place, since we moved to Montana when I was a year old. My father was born in Montana, however, and lived there until he joined the army for WWII. His DNA was forged in Montana, and he passed on that DNA to me!

In 1958 we moved to Great Falls, Montana, on the Missouri river. (The ‘great falls’ were named as such by Lewis and Clark on their journey. There were 5 waterfalls along that stretch of river – I say ‘were’ because they are all dammed now – but they are still beautiful.) The mountains of Montana were literally life-giving to me: I grew up drinking the (purified) water of the Missouri, water fed by mountain streams. I drank the unfiltered water of Giant Springs – a large spring just outside of town that flows into the river. Its waters seep from the mountains hundreds of miles away, taking decades to reach the cracks in the earth’s crust to bubble to the surface. We would ride our bikes down to the springs and fill our canteens (these were the days before water bottles!) and spend the day hiking around the area, maybe catching tadpoles in the springtime.

Just as the waters fed me, the landscape helped form me, as well. None of our relatives lived in Great Falls, so family trips were a common occurrence, as we drove to visit grandparents or cousins. I spent the long hours in the car looking out the window at a vast panorama: leaving town we’d see large buttes carved by wind and water, and on the horizon, looming ever larger, the Rocky Mountains, with their snow-peaked caps jutting from the plains like a serrated knife. As we drove these roads, I would imagine times past, with buffalo herds as far as the eye could see, and native tribes camped near rivers. With few signs of modern humanity along these roads, it was easy to let my imagination roam. I am sure that the very patterns of my brain were influenced by these vistas, both real and imagined.

Flathead Lake was another formative Montana feature for me – every summer from 4th grade onward I would spend 2 weeks at our church camp at the south end of the lake. I spent many an afternoon exploring the rocky shore, clambering over granite outcroppings, wading in the shallow pools captured by rock hollows. At night, the quiet susurrations of the waves on the shore were my lullaby. And I’m sure I drank more than a few swallows of lake water as we played in the swimming area!

Above all this was the sky – a huge expanse of blue, with a multitude of different cloud formations. It really does look BIG! (Don’t believe me? Take a trip to Montana and see for yourself!) And it was a piercing blue – especially in winter. I remember walking to school on winter mornings, with the sun glistening on the snow practically blinding me, ice crystals dancing in the air, and the bluest blue sky you can imagine. (As we slog through another gray, rainy Spokane winter, how I long for those cold, crisp CLEAR winter days!)

This combination of water, earth and sky shaped my childhood, and as such, shaped who I am today. I am a child of wide open spaces, of majestic mountains, of a sky greater than any cathedral built by mere mortals. I grew up living in, breathing in, and drinking in the absolute beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. How can this not have shaped me?

Even today, almost 40 years since I left Montana for Spokane, I still feel like I’m home when I cross that border from Idaho. It just feels right. Even when I’m on a road we never traveled when I was growing up, the landscape seems familiar. The windswept plains, the river gullies, the mountains – they embrace me as their own. And surely I am.

*The Last Best Place is the name of an anthology of Montana stories, essays and poems. You can find a copy here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

God With Us

All Christians are familiar with Hebrews 13:5 which ends with for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Psalm 46:1 is quite similar: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. These verses, and many others that are similar*, declare a very important fact about God’s nature: His steadfast faithfulness to us – no matter where we find ourselves and no matter what we've done (or not done). This characteristic is as intrinsic to who God is as is our own eye color. It is not just what God does, it is what he IS. After all, one of his names is Emmanuel - God with us.

And like most Christians, I knew these verses. I could recite them back to you (though, in all honesty, I didn't always know the book and verse – but I knew the words!) And I thought I understood the truth of them, and could apply them to my own life. But I came to discover that my understanding of these verses was like the tip of an iceberg: it was mostly ‘head knowledge.’ While I absolutely believed the truth behind them, the REALITY of that truth was lacking. Let me tell you how I came to know the reality of these verses, to the very depths of my soul.

As most of you reading this know, in December of 2003 I was stricken with a mystery disease which has gradually robbed me of my strength and endurance. Prior to my illness I was an amateur athlete, and very active in all aspects of my life. Because I was so fit when I first became ill, it took several years for the illness to progress. I had to give up training right away, but I gradually had to give up many other things, as well. By 2011, I had given up every other extracurricular activity, just so I had the strength to go to work. 2011 was also the year that I lost my mom, my best friend and my mother-in-law. Needless to say, that was a very rough year. In addition to all the deaths, I was despairing of ever getting better (or even getting a diagnosis) and I was just so TIRED. Of everything.

One day I was going in for one of my regularly scheduled massages, and I was feeling especially down. As I lay face-down in the softly-lit room, I was thinking all these sad thoughts: of people I'd lost, of the life I had lost, and I just felt hopeless. Then, the massage therapist began the session, starting at my feet, as usual. And the most amazing thing happened: I realized it was not the therapist who was massaging me. It was Jesus! I was sure that if I were to open my eyes and look around, I would see him there at the massage table! I could feel his strong, loving hands, gently stroking my feet and legs, and I felt such love! Such peace! He knew how much I was hurting, and he was ministering to me! I was flabbergasted, to say the least. Tears came to my eyes as I lay there, feeling the God of the universe physically touch me. He was there the whole session, tenderly ministering to my body – and my spirit. It was the most REAL spiritual thing I have ever experienced. At that moment, I knew – really KNEW – that God was with me, that he would never leave me to face this battle alone.

Afterward, I didn't tell the massage therapist, because I just couldn't put it into words, yet. Several months later, I finally told her, because I knew that she prayed while she massaged, and I wanted her to know how God had used her hands that day. Of course, she was moved by my revelation, and we both teared up. I've never felt that in a session since then, but the memory of it is something that I’ll treasure, always.

So, I am here to tell you this: God is with you, he will never leave you! He truly is “ever-present” in the midst of our troubles! No matter what battle you are facing, no matter the trial, the God of all creation is there for you, holding your hand, catching your tears as they fall. Sometimes God delivers us out of troubles, and sometimes he is simply there for us in the midst of them. And I think the latter is almost more miraculous. Think of it: God, the Master of the Universe, is tender and loving and THERE for us, when we most need him. I know this in my heart of hearts.

*A small sampling:
Deuteronomy 31:8 [ESV]

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Joshua 1:9 [ESV]
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Isaiah 41:10 [ESV]
Fear not, for I am with you.
Matthew 28:20 [ESV]
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! It’s 2015 – I can hardly believe it. Looking at the numbers, the year seems so futuristic. I can remember when we were all a-twitter over the turn of the century. Now, 2000 seems like another lifetime away. And it was, really, for me. In 2000 I was still able-bodied: racing mountain bikes, lifting weights, cutting and stacking firewood. Today, just getting showered and dressed is a major accomplishment. In 2000, I couldn't imagine that I would become so disabled. I had my future planned, and in that future, in the year 2015 I’d still be racing bikes.

Nevertheless, 2015 is going to be a good year for me. 2014 was one of my hardest years (notwithstanding 2011, when I lost 3 of the most important women in my life). It was hard, because I was in my 2nd year of not being able to work, and in my 10th year of illness, with still no diagnosis. By the spring of 2014, I had lapsed into major depression. I was not suicidal, but life seemed to overwhelm me. If I weren't married, I probably would have never taken a shower, never gotten dressed – I would have been curled up in a little ball on the couch, staring at the wall. But, I forced myself to shower and dress each day, for Randy’s sake.

I recognized that I needed help, and spoke to my neurologist about starting an antidepressant. He agreed, and gave me a prescription. (Side note: my neurologist is Dr. David Greeley of Northwest Neurological. If you or a loved one has MS, Parkinson’s disease or other tremors, I cannot recommend Dr. Greeley enough! Because he is not part of a managed care provider, he is able to take the time to really treat the whole patient. He is the most kind and caring doctor I have ever seen, and believe me, I've seen too many doctors in this ordeal of illness!) In addition to starting an antidepressant, I started seeing a psychologist, too. Early on in my illness, when I was first trying to cope with it all, I had seen Dr. Michelle Estelle at Cornerstone Psychologists. She had been a great help, then, so I began seeing her, in my attempt to beat the depression. And, once again, she has been instrumental in helping me cope. In fact, you can thank her that you are reading this! She helped me find the motivation to start writing. And writing has become my new passion. Writing every day gives me the sense of accomplishment and achievement that I had been missing without sports or work. And while I can’t write for very long, I manage to write something every day, at least 20 minutes. (Another side note: Another recommendation – Michelle is AWESOME! I cannot thank her enough for how she had helped me! If you need counseling, for whatever reason, give her a call!!)

So, 2014 was a pretty dark year to begin with, but it has ended on a very high note. I have 3 short stories to submit to science fiction magazines, one short story I’m submitting for a contest, one “complete” novel (complete in that the story is finished – I still have a lot of work on it), and I’m in the middle of another novel. I have submitted posts to our church website, and I had to start this blog, because I had too much to say! Oh, and I’m also a reviewer at Tangent Online. Of course, I haven’t made any money off of any of this writing – yet – but I still find great fulfillment in simply writing and expressing myself.

So, 2015 is going to be a year of writing. I will be submitting my short stories (which I’m confident will be published somewhere), and working to finish my first novel, and get it ready for publication. I will continue to write for this blog, as well as for my church website. In 2014, I discovered that I am a writer. And in 2015, I will have my first publication – I’m sure of it.

One final reason that I think 2015 will be a good year: I have another appointment at the Cleveland Clinic – this time with a specialist in mitochondrial disease. The tests I've had have shown lots of irregularities, but nothing that definitively pointed to a diagnosis. However, the doctor I saw there in October showed my records to this specialist, and he has agreed to see me. This specialist only treats “a select few adults” (mitochondrial disease is most often a birth defect, seen in infants and children), so the fact that he wants to see me gives me hope that he has seen a pattern in my test results and thinks he can help me. BUT, I know now that even if he cannot help me, I have a future as a writer. I would love to become able-bodied once again, but I know that even if I never get healed, I can write. That is a gift from God, and in 2015 I will be developing that gift. Join me in the journey!