The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Challenges (page 2 of 6)

BEWARE! Steep Roller Coaster Ahead…

Are you a roller coaster lover? Or are you like me—terrified of those torture devices? It doesn’t matter which kind of roller coaster it is, from kiddie ride to mega-coaster, I hate them all the same!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, there is a 13.5 mile section called the Roller Coaster. This series of a dozen short steep hills comes with a “warning” sign at each end. We reached this area a few weeks into our first backpacking trip on the AT. It was intimidating, but we survived.

In the past few weeks, I have been on a different type of Roller Coaster. There has been an unending path of steep emotional ups and downs: bittersweet memories while sorting family photos, my parents first anniversary after my dad died last year, approaching the 10th anniversary of our son’s death (how in the world has it been that long?!), the upcoming first anniversary of my dad’s death, my dad’s birthday, my birthday that I share with my son…plus family gatherings, a daughter graduating from Pharmacy school, a son graduating with a bachelor’s degree, both kids and their spouses moving to new locations, a cross-country road trip and more. So many mixed up emotions hitting me all at once!

I know I’m not the only one walking a challenging path right now. Daughter and I conquered the AT Roller Coaster. Here are some lessons we learned that can help me (and you?!) more easily navigate other times of turmoil in our lives…

RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING: It is much easier to handle difficult times when we anticipate the struggles. We can give ourselves grace, not expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of steep ups and downs. At the same time, we can make preparations to (somewhat) ease the challenges of grief and stress. The warning signs in the guidebooks and on the AT itself were daunting. But these warnings helped set our expectations. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

LIGHTEN the LOAD: When chaos hits, it’s time to take a look at what we are carrying and lighten the load wherever possible. Eliminating unnecessary things allows us to have more energy to deal with the burden(s) we can’t avoid carrying. Which things can be rearranged in our schedules? Which chores and responsibilities can be left for later or delegated to others? This is a never-ending quest in backpacking—determining actual *NEEDS* versus heavy *shoulds* or little luxuries that quickly add up to draining burdens.

SET YOUR OWN PACE: Don’t compare yourself to others walking a similar path. Don’t let others dictate what (they think) you should do. Some folks best deal with challenges by keeping busy, not wallowing in messy emotions. Others need to step back and plan for times to rest, allowing themselves space to ponder what is happening. In the case of the AT Roller Coaster, we chose to stop in the middle at a pretty campsite and get good rest to finish the ups and downs the next day.

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: In the middle of the Roller Coaster it sometimes feels like things are out of our control and the upheaval will never end. It helps to step back and realize this turbulence is temporary…it will not last forever. And even in the chaos, we can find moments of beauty and rest. It was helpful when we were weary of endless ups and downs to stop at an overlook for a few minutes. Rest, a beautiful view, and some nutritious snacks gave us energy to continue down the trail.

LET OTHERS HELP: When we feel overwhelmed, there are often people around us who want to encourage us. We have to be willing to talk with them and accept their offers of assistance. Stubborn independence makes our own burdens heavier and prevents others from experiencing the joy of helping someone else. Often little things become huge encouragements! A simple granola bar offered by one day hiker, a brief conversation with some young kids walking with their dad, and the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit handed to us  gave us energy to keep going until we finished the Roller Coaster. (Thanks, Trail Angels!)

I still hate roller coasters, but looking back at our successful hike through the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail reminds me that I can also successfully navigate the turbulent ups and downs  of grief and stress I’m experiencing right now. I’m off to listen to some soothing music while re-reading a favorite book. I can face these challenges again tomorrow…

(You can read more about my “adventures” with grief HERE and HERE.)

It’s About TIME!

This week we changed our clocks in the US. Every spring and fall this seems like such a useless, random practice. I’ve been thinking about “time” this week. We waste time, make time, spend time. Our language makes it sound like we are in control of our time. But is that really true? What is our actual relationship with time?

For millennia, humans informally followed the passage of time as measured by natural events. Their lives were ordered by the movements of the sun, moon and stars and by the changing seasons. They understood the normal ebb and flow of NATURE’S TIME. Life was hard, often living at a survival level, but it was not a stress-filled, guilt-producing, never-ending quest for efficiency and productivity.

Following the rhythms of Nature’s Time changed in the past few centuries. “Progress” was the order of the day. Leaders in government and business felt a need to order time, measure time, and control time. They looked for ways to make workers more efficient. They sought to unify divergent regions of their countries into more-controllable homogenous groups. Accurate time keeping allowed sailors to more safely explore new places without getting lost; small businesses were consolidated into large industrial factories; mass transportation more quickly moved people and ideas across nations. Progress was exciting and new. But with it, the tyranny of CLOCK TIME had arrived.

Humans measure something to control it. (We do this with land ownership, recipe amounts for cooking, and time, among other things.) We are told to carefully manage our days, hours, and even minutes . We place a high value on being productive, on finding more time in our day. This feeling of CONTROLLING TIME makes us feel in charge of our lives. Too often, we fail to notice that we have actually become slaves to our planners and our to-do lists. Even worse is what happens when institutions control time—eventually, masters control workers and teachers control students. When we become drones, following schedules and expectations set by others, life becomes a plodding, joyless drudgery. And the cycle continues as we try to more tightly control our schedules to find more time for elusive pleasure in our days.

We must fight back. It is time to recognize and change the deadening effects of being controlled by our planners or by the institutions we live under. Let’s regain control of our daily lives by focusing on PERSONAL RHYTHMS based on balancing individual needs with the work that must be completed. When we follow natural rhythms, allowing an ebb and flow to our activities, we are actually more creative and more productive.

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”  — Richard Louv

ASSIGNMENT: Look at your calendar and choose a day to experience Nature’s Time: eat when you are hungry, work hard at tasks, take short breaks to walk around or rest before going back to work, talk with others, spend a few minutes alone, alternate work with your hands and brain-intensive work. Steeped in a culture of Clock Time, it is important to regularly reset our expectations of how we use our time. It is possible to follow Personal Rhythms in our workplaces. It is easier to find these rhythms when we are outdoors, surrounded by Nature’s Time.

Isn’t it ABOUT TIME to let go of controlling every moment of our days?! Let’s choose to live in Nature’s Time!

(I’m excited to be starting training and certification as a Forest Therapy Guide this fall. A large part of this practice is helping others get free from Clock Time and experience Nature’s Time, at least for an hour or two. Read more about this opportunity HERE and learn how YOU can help me reach this goal!)

Robotics–a Different Kind of Adventure

Daughter Anna just finished a hectic two months of Robotics. There was a steep learning curve; there were tears; there was exhaustion; there was excitement and a cliff-hanger final match at regional competition. But…did this qualify as an “adventure?”

Contrary to common definitions of adventure, joining a robotics team does not involve being outdoors or traveling to exotic locations. It is not particularly physical or hazardous (even when requiring safety glasses). It tends to gather the brainy “nerds” or “geeks”…not super-fit “jocks” or members of the “in-crowd.”

Here on my website I define a “Big Epic” as something larger-than-life that I’m pursuing.  It might be physical but it also includes facing unexpected challenges in life. (Find more explanations and examples HERE) With more research and pondering, I propose the following elements are needed to make an enjoyable activity become an Adventure:

  • Personally stretching
  • Big enough to require planning, finding mentors, and learning
  • Extensive hard work
  • Perseverance (Never Quit on a Bad Day)
  • Uncertain Outcome
  • Makes a good story later!

Let’s take a look at how well participating in Robotics with the local “Red Plague” team fits these criteria:

Personally stretching: Check! Anna had personally never done anything like this before. No one else in our family has any experience with Robotics, so this was uncharted territory for all of us.

Requires planning, mentors, and learning: Check! Everyone one the team was involved in brainstorming designs and planning how to build their robot to be both sturdy and able to complete required tasks. Mentors patiently helped Anna learn the basics of programming the robot. YouTube and I helped her design the team “avatar” (used at the competition and on badges).

Extensive hard work: Check! Anna was at the shop almost every time it was open for work. More than 130 hours were logged by the team during the 6 week build schedule, and the week leading up to regional competition. Anna received a “workhorse” award for jumping in and doing whatever work needed done.

Perseverance: Check! Toward the end of the grueling two months, Anna wanted to quit a number of times. Even at the competition itself (3 long days in a city across the state from home), she wanted to go home a few times. Each time, she and I talked about the lessons she has learned while hiking the AT—choose your attitude, focus on good things not on pain, never quit on a bad day. In addition, she learned the importance of considering what her team needed from her, not just individual desires. (At the competition, Anna was the “Safety Officer” – spending most of her time down in their team “pit,” making sure team members were following safety rules and ready to pull out the safety spill kit or the first aid kit, if needed. This is not a visible glory-job, but is an important team position.)

Uncertain Outcome: Check! There were 61 teams at this regional competition. Many of these teams had far more members and exorbitantly deep-pocketed sponsors. At this first competition of the season, no team had prior experience with the obstacles, equipment, and tasks on the field. Alliances had to be made—guessing which other teams would best complement her team’s strengths and weaknesses. The “Red Plague” participated in 9 matches during the qualifying rounds, reached 4th place overall, and made it to the semi-final round.

Makes a good story later: Check! Ask my daughter about her team’s cliff-hanger final round. It included an alliance robot which wouldn’t run (arghhh!), a time out to try to help fix that robot, a last moment reprieve and being able to run the match with all three alliance robots after all (whew!). Then part way into the round, “Red Plague’s” robot froze (ARRGGGHHH!) The other two teams/robots in the alliance pulled the match to a tie in the preliminary score… (woohoo!) But then they lost by a handful of points in the official scoring. (oh noooooo!) Now THAT’s an emotional finish!

Looks like joining a team for a season of Robotics meets all the criteria for a “Big Epic.” Yes, it IS a different kind of true Adventure!

One Gray Week_Two Stories (Part 2)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. You can read the first story HERE. Today, I share the second story…)

On Monday, my hubby and daughter were out of town for the day. I had the house to myself. It was a great opportunity to do things just for me, things I somehow never get around to doing. Perhaps get ahead on writing blog posts. Or teach myself how to make videos to share. Or go out to lunch at a real restaurant (rather than getting McTaco fast food). But, with nothing on my schedule that HAD to be done and with no daughter needing oversight for her work, I couldn’t find motivation to do anything. I sat on the couch, nursed a mug of yet another coffee and mindlessly filled in crossword puzzles.

Finally, I got myself off that couch and out the door into the drizzly, gray day. When I got to the forest walking trail in a local park, I felt somewhat lost. No-one was with me to turn my grumpy attitude around with a song, no-one to enjoy the surprising beauty of dead flowers with me. Hmmm…usually I enjoy time to myself!

And, then I took that oopsy-daisy sliding fall on the slick leaves, flowing water, hilly trail. Getting covered with mud made me laugh! But…I realized I also missed my daughter who would have given me a hand up, laughed with me, and teased me the rest of the day…

As I explained in the previous story, I got to travel with middle daughter to Virginia for a few days. While she went to interviews, I found my happy place in a quiet, beautiful, peaceful cave. And I ended up in tears…no-one to enjoy the beauty with me, no-one for me to point out little details I noticed. Ugh… “empty nest” hits with a vengeance—even before the youngest “birdie” actually leaves!

After the cave tour, I wandered the trail beside a peaceful river. I sat on a rock and pondered this second story. Yes, Nature is healing. Yes, I love to be outdoors, soaking up the beauty and the peace. BUT…the sense of loss I was feeling on these solo adventures reminded me how much I also enjoy helping others make their own connections with Nature and find their own healing and peace.

Thinking about both of these stories, affirms for me that training to become a Forest Therapy Guide is the perfect next step for me. It will allow me to continue helping others in ways I have been practicing with my own children for decades!

(Please check out my go-fund-me campaign and consider how YOU can help me get to training to become a Forest Therapy Guide! You can read about different ways to help me HERE. You will be helping me find purpose out of upcoming “empty nest” and, at the same time, help me help so many others find peace in stressful daily living.)

(elephant photo from Strange Travel dot Com)

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

I Need YOUR Help!

As many of you know, I was accepted into the training program to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. This training begins in September with a week-long intensive experience in NW Ohio, followed by six months of weekly mentoring calls and practical experience. By next spring I will complete my certification and will begin offering Forest Therapy sessions as a coaching business. (You can read more about this in the Nature Therapy tab on this website…)

I Need YOUR Help to get to this training. Will you CHEER ME ON? Will you DONATE? Will you SHARE my story with others?

Normally, our family figures out ways to personally pay for whatever projects we decide to take on. In this case, I have a one-time opportunity to complete training in my own state, rather than paying significantly higher transportation costs for a program in Northern California (or overseas!) at a later date. Unfortunately, this means we can’t just save money for a year or two to be able to cover the costs with cash up front. In addition, one son is finishing his final year of college plus hubby was unemployed last year. The time feels right to jump into this business opportunity that fits my passions…but the personal finances just aren’t available.

Thank You for your support!

The direct link to my Go-Fund-Me campaign is https://www.gofundme.com/ForestTherapyJill  From that page you can read a summary of my story (and find links back to this website and blog). You can make donations there and see the list of unique perks I am offering for donors. To share with friends, you can email them this direct link or you can click the fb button on my campaign page to share via Facebook.

Don’t miss the really awesome perks for DONORS. Check out the list HERE (or directly on the fundraising campaign page above). I know many of us are very tight financially right now. THAT’S OKAY! I also need folks to SHARE my campaign with their own friends who might be interested in helping me. And this “putting myself out there” to ask for support is an uncomfortable stretch for me. I need folks to CHEER ME ON (in comments, Facebook responses, and emails) as I start this new adventure! Please consider how you might best support me.

Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give me!

Become a Warrior Woman

My daughter, Andowen, spends much of her time as a Warrior. At first glance, folks might think she is just a quirky teen. If they bother to spend time talking with her, they discover this is more than childish costume play. Here are some of the reasons that each one of us should be like her and choose to become a Warrior (Man or Woman) this year.

We have always had a big box of dress-ups around our house. Some of our kids rarely used them, others spent years wearing costumes. As a mid-teen, Andowen still loves imagination play accompanied by appropriate outfits and accessories. We figured out a few years ago that spending time in costume helps Andowen lower crippling anxiety levels. As she explains, “when I’m in my own world, I choose the rules, I always know how to respond, and no one picks on me.” Even when she and I take long backpacking trips (which also lessens anxiety), she still wants time most days to retreat into her imagination. The woods are a fabulous setting to make her pretend worlds feel more real!

Recently, she and I had a deeper discussion about what she gains by becoming a Warrior Woman. She described how acting as a particular character helps her practice the positive traits they have. In many ways, those imaginary humans, elves, and time-jumpers have become her mentors for how to handle real-life. Andowen described the following characteristics of a true Hero-Warrior:

A Warrior Woman must be STRONG, physically and mentally. It is good to be physically fit. But when you aren’t, it is even more important to become strong in your thinking and decision-making. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming who you want to be! Andowen spends time making weapons out of sticks and string, then becoming an “expert” by using them in imaginary battle and hunting scenarios. She practices being focused, ignoring any outside distractions.

To become a true LEADER, it is not enough for a Warrior Woman to be brave or to step out in front of her companions. She must also know how to encourage others. She finds ways to bring out their best in both actions and attitudes. She leads by example.

Andowen is learning how to be SMART as a Warrior Woman. This includes knowledge—learning the wood-lore and skills needed for survival. But it goes beyond facts. Being truly smart means knowing how to choose your battles. As she says, “you must know when to do what, and what to do when!” Because Andowen sometimes struggles with navigating human culture and relationships, it helps her to practice being an elf. Because this lessens her anxiety, she better remembers expected behavior and responses!

As always, becoming the expert at something takes PERSEVERANCE. Andowen has learned this on long distance hiking adventures—never give up on a bad day. She also practices this trait when making “weapons.” Sometimes she creates the look she envisions. Other times she has to try over and over until she gets it “just right.” At home she uses cardboard, duct tape, wood, and cut-up clothes. (As seen in this year’s Halloween costume when she dressed up as Link from her favorite video game.) While on the AT, Andowen practiced how to safely use a pocket knife to smooth and shape sticks into desired “weapons.”

A real Warrior Woman moves through her world with CONFIDENCE. She knows what she needs to do and knows she has the skills capable of fulfilling her responsibilities. She faces new situations with courage. She builds on her strengths and past successes, knowing she can conquer any challenges that come against her. (Andowen was quite excited to meet a thru-hiker who was carrying a “real” sword! She claims owning a similar one would give her even more confidence…..)

Apparently an effective Warrior Woman is never surprised. She KEEPS CALM and thinks clearly no matter what she encounters. She studies each character she meets to determine if it might become an ally or if it is an enemy to be vanquished. In addition to regularly dressing up as a Warrior character, Andowen sometimes uses her creativity to experience life as other imaginary creatures. She decided it is awkward having a huge weighty horn on one’s head as a unicorn! Haha!

At the start of this New Year, as we set intentions and make resolutions for positive change, perhaps more of us need to consider how we would benefit from becoming Warrior (Men and Women)! Let’s listen to my quirky, costumed teen…and choose to pursue becoming better people.

Here’s to the WARRIORS—may we see them, may we raise them, may we be them!

Blessed to be a Blessing

Like everyone, we have had many challenges in life. Through counseling, comfort from God, and encouragement from others, we have learned how to walk through difficult things. It is always inspiring when we can pass these blessings on to others we meet who are struggling.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others who are also suffering.  — 2 Corinthians 1:4

As I’ve mentioned previously, our most recent AT adventure was very hard emotionally. Both daughter and I wanted to quit multiple times. Looking back, I realize we would have missed opportunities to bless others and to receive blessings if we had given in to those negative emotions and left the trail early. Here are stories of blessings which occurred after our breakdown moments:

Daughter Andowen has worked with a therapist for many years to gain coping skills to deal with severe anxiety and suicidal ideation. A key technique is “reframing” negative thoughts. One afternoon at a shelter, Elizabeth* shared her struggles with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Before I could say anything, Andowen jumped in and talked about how significant reframing has been for her. She explained the process step by step. It was exciting for me to see my teen daughter teach her hard-earned coping skills to an older adult.

Another day, some first time backpackers showed up at a shelter we were at for a night. They were tired and discouraged. They were baffled as they tried to set up their new tent and use their fancy stove—things they had neglected to practice before leaving for the trail. Andowen went over to introduce herself, and then proceeded to calmly teach them how to use their gear. When I wandered over a little later, they raved about how helpful Andowen was, how wonderful it was that she was so skilled in the woods, and how grateful they were. Because of her encouragement, they said they plan to return to the trail for more adventures in the future. Way to go, Andowen!

One night another hiker and I stayed up late, talking about some of the profound challenges our kids face. David* shared his heartbreak that his young adult son was often in self-inflicted crisis. As is often the case, the anonymity of sitting with a stranger around a campfire allowed deep sharing. I mostly listened, occasionally encouraging David with stories from our family’s life. The next morning, I grabbed a private moment to explain what I’ve learned about grief. We can’t help others or dream of new things until we recognize and acknowledge challenges, and then grieve losses and disappointments. This process allows us to truly accept present realities even as we hope for change. Sharing these things with David reminded me of the progress we have made in our family…and sent him on his way, pondering how these ideas could begin to heal his own broken heart.

Twice on this trip, we were able to attend local church services. Both times, we were accepted, prayed for, and encouraged. Both times, it felt like some of the teachings were exactly the words we needed to hear. God used the people in those little churches to bless us as we headed further down the trail. At the same time, in both settings, the congregations were facing challenges that we have had experience with. I was able to privately encourage leaders by telling stories about what God has done in our own lives in similar situations. Warren Wiersbe, a noted theologian says, “True worship should lead to…the kind of spiritual strength that helps the believer carry the burdens and fight the battles of life.” In these little small town churches, we experienced the mutual blessing of true worship!

Sometimes being blessed and blessing others takes far less effort. Small words can echo for days: “I love spending time with your daughter.” “You have the most beautiful eyes, so full of life.” “You are doing a good job, mama. Keep it up!” Simple actions can encourage: “I picked up two wild apples, would you like one?” “I’ve got some extra water, do you need it?” “This is a tough spot. I waited to give you a hand, if you want…” When we stopped for rest-breaks, I often found myself remembering these little kindnesses.

Occasionally I am reminded of the importance of bravely sharing the lessons we learn as we walk through dark places. We never know where those bits of light might shine. After writing a blog post about “Hard Days” (you can read it HERE), a friend across the country told me the following story: Stephanie* volunteers monthly at an outreach for homeless people in her town. She found herself listening as one man poured out his desperation, telling her of his plans to kill himself after he left the park, too discouraged to reach out again for help that never changed anything. Stephanie grew more and more upset as she struggled to find any words to respond. Suddenly she remembered the closing words from my blog post that morning. When she told the man “Never quit on a bad day,” he burst into tears, and then allowed her to get him to a psychiatric emergency room where he checked himself in for treatment. Wow!

As we in American have just finished Thanksgiving Day, it is a good time for all of us to ponder:  How have I been helped in my own life, especially as I have walked through hard things? But let’s not just stop with gratitude for ways we have been blessed. Let’s start a chain of encouragement as we pass those blessings on to others!

*These stories really happened, but names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Don’t Know What to Say (to a grieving friend)

The Holiday Season is looming. For those of us who are missing a loved one, this time of year can feel like being flattened by a runaway truck. Everywhere we look, there are stories and images of (mythical) happy families celebrating together. In the midst of grief, this can increase feelings of isolation and despair. So…what can you say or do to support a grieving friend? Here are some things to remember, whether their loved one died last week or last decade:

“Showing up, in whatever way you can is what really matters most.” – Jodi Whitsitt

You probably don’t know what to say. That’s okay. There really are NO “proper” words for dealing with death. Simple acknowledgement of that fact is helpful. I recently discovered a CD about grief by Olivia Newton John and others. They perform a song about this uncomfortable lack of words. You can listen to it HERE. (The rest of the songs are excellent reflections on grief, as well.) Just BE with your friend. After our son died, I have a special memory of a dear friend who came over a few weeks later and just sat in silence with me on my couch, both of us curled up under cozy blankets, drinking mugs of hot tea.

It might make YOU feel better to spout platitudes: “he’s in a better place;” “God works everything for good;” “she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Don’t do it! Find ways to make yourself feel better on your own time. When you are with your grieving friend, it is better to say something like this: “I have no words to say” or “I’m so sorry.” It might feel inadequate…but you really can’t “fix it” so don’t try! I have forgotten what most friends said after my son died…but I always remember the co-worker when I finally got back to work who said “there are no words” then gave me a long hug.

Wanna help in practical ways? Please do not make the vague statement, “if there’s anything I can do…” Folks who are grieving have foggy brains. They have no idea what they need help with! Pick a specific task that fits that friend, then do it. THIS ARTICLE tells a story of the significance of polishing shoes. For me, the friends who took turns picking up my younger kids for playdates were an invaluable help. Bringing a meal for the family is traditional…and helpful. But one friend thought of something others hadn’t. She brought us bags of useful paper products: TP, Kleenex, and paper plates/napkins.

THIS ARTICLE makes suggestions for 13 practical ways to help a grieving friend. As she says, “Just Show Up!” Awkward is better than disappearing. Remember to continue reaching out to help in the months and years after the funeral. More than just asking how we are doing (which at least acknowledges that we are not forgotten), give opportunities for us to talk about our loved one. We long to know they are not forgotten. I treasure the occasional photo or anecdote about my son that my friends continue to share with me (like this one, posted on fb eight years after his death).

There aren’t many resources for using art and words to process grief. From my experience, I have written a few online classes. Consider sharing this information with a grieving friend—or check it out for yourself! The first class I wrote is relevant right now: “Hope for the Holidays.” You can find a link HERE including a description and a code for free access for the first month.

As I have written in previous blog posts (HEREHERE and HERE) death and grief are perhaps the greatest (unwanted) adventure. Please reach out and encourage others who are in the midst of a life-changing grief-journey, especially now as the holidays approach.

Challenges on the AT–Tiny-Me Version

Every hiker faces challenges during a long-distance backpacking trip. It’s much easier to get by with a little help from some friends. In some cases, we have to help the Tiny-Mes. In other cases, the Tiny-Mes help us!

Non-hikers can’t imagine going potty in the woods. Tiny size means it’s really no challenge at all. After all, Tiny-Mes aren’t much bigger than caterpillars and no one hears caterpillars stressing about where to do their business.  Tinies have no worries about someone seeing them. (If anything, Tiny A and Tiny S have to be careful no one steps on them!)

Peeing in the woods is not really a problem for any size hiker. When it’s time for pooping, human hikers hope to be near a shelter. It’s much easier to sit in an outhouse than to dig a hole and squat in the woods. If needed, however, the Tiny-Mes help choose an out-of-the-way spot for our smelly business. Don’t forget to pack out the wipes!

On the other hand, rainy days would be hazardous for our tiny hiking pals. When the trail turns into a river of rain flowing downhill on the easiest path, we merely get our feet wet. Tiny A and Tiny S would be swept away by the run-off. Fortunately, the few rain storms we experienced on this trip were at night. As the rain drummed on the metal roof, we curled up in our cozy sleeping bags to read while the Tiny-Mes watched the storm from the front of the shelter.

The Appalachian Trail is not a level, smooth walking path in the woods. It has steep ascents and descents as it makes its way over every possible mountain. The footing can be treacherous for humans and for Tiny-Mes. Fallen leaves hide rocks and holes and get slippery when wet. Roots seem to jump up and grab boots or unexpectedly slide feet out from under hikers. Jumbled rocks are either exhausting to climb over or twist and tilt to dump hikers. “Watch out!” cry the hikers in the lead.

Luckily for Tiny-Mes, they are so lightweight they don’t have to worry about foot and leg injuries. (Those stiff Lego extremities come in handy sometimes!) Tiny A and Tiny S know, however, that if we get hurt, their adventure on the AT is also over. So they remind me (Story Seeker) to take my preventative medicine—joint meds, nightly tea for joint comfort, and “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen against inflammation). They also help both Andowen and me wrap our feet—with cloth tape or duct tape to prevent blisters and with K-Tape to support joints and prevent rolled ankles, sore knees, and inflamed Achilles tendonitis.

It’s always good to have friendly helpers when faced with challenges—big or small!

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