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My flight home from Hawaii had a layover in Phoenix. Flying home from Phoenix, we unexpectedly flew over the Grand Canyon & Bryce Canyon. It felt surreal knowing I had driven through there a few months before- that was the start of the trip, this was the end. The Grand Canyon looks different close up and yet the bird’s eye view gives a completely different perspective that encompasses all the things you didn’t see while traveling on the ground. There are a lot of parts I didn’t see (and maybe never will) during my 50 states of grief roadtrip and yet the bird’s eye view shows a beautiful journey of grieving, healing and engaging life. Traveling home felt bittersweet on many levels and as I have been slowly settling back into life at home and a new season, my definition of home has shifted.

IMG_0886Today marks two years since my mom died. It is hard to imagine that two years have already passed because my memories and life still feel steeped with her and yet the last two years have also felt like a gaping hole without her presence in my life. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night, I wish I was again sleeping on the floor next to my mom’s hospital bed in the living room, enjoying a late night chat when we both should have been sleeping. When I head to my own home, I wish I was going to hers to sit on the couch next to her. When I’m away from home, I miss sending her texts and calling her to to share pictures and stories with her.

IMG_1349In society, there seems to be this pressure that after the two year mark of someone’s death, you should be “over it”. Of course I don’t agree with this, but I feel pressured by it nonetheless. Thankfully grieving isn’t as constant or as intense as it once was, but there are moments when I am surprised at its intensity and the things that trigger it. Grief is lifelong and although you never know when it might rear its head, the hard days where grief hits become more spread out. However, there are moments when I don’t want to heal because I would rather just have her back and I resist moving farther away from her memory.

IMG_0785So, as I return home and transition out of a season of intense grieving into a new season, I am reflecting on home. While my mom held home on many levels for me, I can hold her memory in many ways in my own home. My heart aches at times to be in my heavenly home but there is beauty, joy, love and life to be experienced and enjoyed here. I love this quote that a friend gave me before I headed out on my roadtrip:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of knowing people in more than one place.” -Miriam Adeney

IMG_1978After this trip, I am reminded that my home is scattered across Canada and the States and other parts of the world with people I love dearly and have been privileged to meet and get to know, even if just for a moment. As I have settled back in at my physical home, I realize more deeply that my friends and family around me hold a piece of home for me in the richness of our relationships and the memories and friendship we share. My brother Leon, my dad, my mom and grandparents also hold part of my heart and my sense of home even though they have passed from this earth. In all this, I cling to the hope of heaven and life eternal. And my ultimate home rests in God who has always been faithful and present with me, even when I have failed to see it. In each moment, God beckons me and invites me to rest in him, to surrender to my belovedness as his child and to be still.

IMG_1054Home has grown to be so much greater than where I live or where I rest my head at night. Home goes with me wherever I go: it is filled with memories, tears, and laughter. As others carry my stories and I carry theirs, we hold each others’ hearts and provide home for one another. I am reminded of the old expression, “Home is where the heart is.” This explains why sometimes I feel scattered and fragmented because my heart is in many different places. And yet we recognize this, life becomes much fuller and richer.

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Home is where love abides and where memories are made, held and cherished. Even though my mom is no longer with me, I am thankful she is still part of my ‘home’ wherever I go. I leave you with one last quote on home:

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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50/50: Hawaii

IMG_5747Hawaii, the 50th state, the culmination of my three month journey to all 50 states. Landing there felt a bit surreal knowing that I had completed the journey I had set out on. Hawaii is a pretty great state to end on- lush vegetation, clear blue waters, majestic waterfalls, pristine sand. It was beautiful and surreal all at once. Driving from the airport to our hotel, I felt giddy in being in a place so beautiful and being at the end of my trip.

Choosing when to go on this trip and which island to go to was a difficult decision. In fact, I think I had made plans for about ten different trips before I picked these dates and this island. I settled on the island of Kauai because I have never been there, and out of all of the Hawaiian island, it was my mom’s favourite. Seemed fitting then to end my 50 states of grief trip there.

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I went with a friend of mine and we did a mix of exploring the island (each day we chose a different area to explore), enjoying the beaches, eating tasty food, trying to have shave ice at every single shave ice place and relaxing at our hotel. It is a small island and easy to navigate around. It is less commercialized than some of the others I have been to and I appreciated that most of the beaches simply had dirt patches where you park under a grove of trees to get there. And there are chickens EVERYWHERE. Before we even got to our hotel, we pulled over at a viewoint and were suddenly surrounded by chickens milling about. It added to the casual island feel and was fun to see them at every stop.

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Normally it is a good idea to go to Hawaii when it is cold at home. I considered this idea but I mostly wanted to go and wrap up my trip. So we went in August. This meant some days were over 40 degrees. I am not a huge fan of heat and so it meant taking it a bit slower and easier in order not to get too overheated. For an island that is supposed to get the most rain out of all of them, I think it rained once for an hour during our time there. One of our favourite beaches we visited was in Polihale state park. It is on a side of the island that is not very inhabited, right next to an army base. It is described as an isolated beach with white sand and cliff views. And it was absolutely breathtaking. The sand was incredible soft. The waters were clear blue. The cliffs stretched out along the coast in their green lushness. There were barely any people there and the water provided refreshing from the lovely sun.

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Of course, I’ve painted a lovely picture of this beach, and truly is was lovely and one of my favourites. But ironically, Brooke and I nicknamed it Killer Beach. First of all, due to its remote location, you have to drive along a rocky road with potholes for quite a few kilometres. Then you get to the portion where you are driving through very soft and fine sand, wondering if your vehicle will get stuck. But finally, after this treacherous drive, we made it to the beach. The anticipation was high because it was indeed beautiful. Within minutes of walking on the sand, we were dripping in sweat because it was so hot- the kind of heat that drains every ounce of energy you had left to move your legs. I took off my sandals as I do at beaches, but within seconds my feet were on fire. It felt like I would get blisters on the bottom of my feet because the sand was so hot. So I put my sandals back on as I walked toward the water. The sand is so soft though that when you walk on it, you sink in and the sand ends up on top of your flip flop, underneath your feet and still manages to burn your feet. And then you reach the reprieve of the water- so refreshing, but the waves are super strong and there are tidal warnings because it’s not a great place to swim. But it’s beautiful. But we’ve also named it Killer Beach.

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When we decided to head back to the car, I stood by the water and could see the car in the distance and wondered how in the world I would get there. It felt miserable trudging back through the burning hot sand while dripping in sweat and feeling exhausted. And yet I was still surrounded by such beauty as I trudged back. Well, we did in fact make it back to the car with minimal damage. I look back to our time at Killer Beach with fondness because it was so beautiful. In my head I think “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” It was worth it. I see it as quite comical and I do recognize I’m complaining about a trek onto a beach in the middle of paradise, but it was a good reminder for me. We experience a depth of beauty in life as we trudge through the hard and painful stuff. If we are willing to walk through it, there is a richness and deep joy to be experienced that was not there before. This journey of grief has been really hard and it still continues to be at some points. And yet I have a deeper appreciation for the world around me, for people, for children, for the beauty & majesty of God reflected in creation, for being present to each moment. Grief and pain seem to carve a deeper capacity within to be filled with deep joy, love and gratitude. Just as grief is felt deeply, so the celebration of life can be held deeply.

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On another day we took a catamaran to the Na Pali Cost which is only accessible by boat. The boat trip was wonderful. We passed a few different pods of dolphins that swam along our boat, the coastline is absolutely breathtaking and then we had the opportunity to go to a smaller Hawaiian private island and snorkel alongside it. There was a seal in the water with us as we snorkeled. It was a wonderful day. Except for the moment when I was throwing up off the back of the boat and for the trip back to the harbour when I felt like throwing up as the boat leaped over the waves and we became airbourne while clinging to the railing of the boat. Once again though, it was beautiful and I look back on the day with great memories. It reminds me of the times when I was really sick while traveling with my mom. Even now, I don’t really remember the sickness, but I know I made the most of it still and enjoyed the different aspects. In these moments, I realize it means a bit more grace for myself in slowing down and taking necessary precautions to feel better, but there was still much to be enjoyed.

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All in all, Hawaii was lovely and wonderful. We went to Waimea Canyon as well which they call the Grand Canyon of the Pacific Ocean. We became acquainted with the chickens outside of our hotel room, we ate great food (mmm shave ice) and enjoyed downtime and rest in the midst of exploring. This entire 50 states trip has marked a huge transition in my life. It has been a profound experience of exploring and also creating space to feel and continue to process. I believe that God works within us in ways we are not even aware and I trust that the process of this trip has been transformative for me. I did not always see the transformation taking place and yet as I have completed it, I see where deeper healing has taken place and where there have been shifts in my perspective and understanding. Of course this does not mean life is magically wonderful and perfect but I feel more whole than I have in a long time. I celebrate this and the beginning of a new day and season, knowing that as I continue this next leg of the journey, God loves me and is faithful as he has been all along and will journey ahead of me and with me.

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“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” -Lamentations 3:21-26

49/50: Alaska

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My mom and I went on a lot of cruises together, so it seemed fitting that one of my states should be visited via cruise in honour of her and in memory of our travels. So, after a few days at home, I picked up my friend Anne from the airport and we headed to Vancouver to board a ship that would take us to Alaska. After living out of the trunk of my car for 71 days, it was amazing to unpack and sleep in the same room and bed for seven days straight!

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IMG_4861For much of the cruise you could see land. There was lush landscape, beautiful sunsets (I’m sure the sunrises were nice too but I didn’t get up for those), lots of wildlife (whales, eagles and a Mama Grizzly and her two cubs) and calving glaciers. We did three stops in Alaska and some cruising through Glacier Bay. In each stop we did something fun and got to see beautiful new areas. We even went to the Yukon and northern BC one day.

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IMG_2656_2I wouldn’t go on a cruise for every trip, but I do love them for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that you get to meet a lot of wonderful people and travel with them for a period of time. This cruise did not disappoint in this area. We had a wonderful group of people at our dinner table ach night that we got to know over the course of the week. We also were part of the best trivia team (well, we only won on the final night, but we were the best because we were fun and our team kept growing with new people!).

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On one of our excursions to the misty fjords, our group stayed outside the entire boat ride (it was freezing and windy at points) and I’m pretty sure we laughed the entire time. I love moments like this where you connect with people in a way that allows you to have deep joy, raucous laughter and pure fun. I’m thankful that in the midst of life, one of the things we get to experience is those overwhelmingly wonderful moments with others. Moments that bring a smile to your face when you remember them. Moments that make you chuckle as you look at pictures and videos you took that day. We all have had hard things in life and although we may not know the entirety of one another’s stories, we can celebrate life together by living and loving deeply and fully. We celebrate by fully engaging and enjoying one another and our surroundings. These moments are ones that speak deep, unshakeable hope because they point toward God, toward life and meaning.

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The boat we were cruising on was the exact same boat my mom and I went on a couple cruises on. I’m continually struck by the fact that our bodies remember places we’ve been. It’s strange being on a trip where floods of memory come at each turn as you remember previous trips. A lot of these moments on cruises with my mom were also filled with laughter, love, life and celebration and so the remembering brings the mix of sadness and happiness. I’m still learning how to hold those two things together. I often swing from one end to the other and don’t know how to express or unpack it for myself. Emotions are overwhelming. And yet as I give myself time to ponder, reflect and remember, I become better at holding them together, of smiling and laughing through the tears and cherishing old memories while creating new ones.

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And I have a lot of wonderful people in my life. Those who will travel with me on a whim, those I have met randomly on trips and kept in touch with. Those who have been friends for years. I’m thankful that they hold precious memories and moments along with me. Thankful for those with whom I can weep and laugh, grieve and celebrate and simply be present with. And as the writing of my trip slowly comes to an end on my blog, I also am so thankful for each reader. Thank you for your faithfulness in having journeyed with me. Thank you for cheering me on and affirming me in my journey. Thank you for taking the time to listen. It has been an incredible gift. You have been part of this journey in more ways than you even know.

46, 47 & 48/50: Colorado, Wyoming & Montana

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In Colorado I was able to visit a friend of mine who lives in Greeley. We went to bible school together 14 years ago and it was wonderful to reconnect and to meet her kids. A few friends of mine and I drove down to Colorado for her wedding years ago and it was great to reminisce about that time together as well. It’s cool that connections that are made years ago still last throughout the years even if you don’t keep in touch as much as you would like. Thankful for the moments you get to have to see people again. I think it speaks back to how God weaves people in and out of our journeys and how even a moment together is significant.

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After Colorado I headed to Wyoming. It’s funny because if you’re not in the mountains in Colorado, you are in farm area and it’s fairly flat in some parts (at least the parts that brought me to and out of Greeley). In Wyoming I went to Yellowstone National Park. What I wasn’t expecting along the way was to go to Grand Teton National Park as well. I am not the best researcher for trips and tend to stumble upon some of the places I end up in, so this was a wonderful surprise.

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As I drove into the Grand Teton park, it was pure blue sky and sunny and I had amazing views. Later on as I drove through the park, looking back I noticed the mountains were pretty much completely covered with dark, brooding clouds and you couldn’t see a thing. Timing is a funny thing and I’m thankful for the moments when I hit it right. Although, had I hit the cloudy part, I wouldn’t have even known what I was missing either.

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These stormy moments makes me think of grief and how one moment life can be sunny and pure blue skies and then next suddenly there are dark clouds that have rolled in and cloud your vision. I’m thankful that these moments of dark clouds aren’t as intense or as long as they used to be but I have to give myself grace in the moment and allow myself to grieve rather than wondering why in the world I’m suddenly in this place. Out of all the emotions, grief is the most unpredictable and uncontrollable. Anyway, my trek through the other national parks was lovely as well and I was able to see lots of bison and Old Faithful again.

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Then I headed to Montana where I had lunch with a friend from seminary. Then I drove to Helena where I stayed with my friend Nate & Erin and their kids. It’s moment like these that I am reminded that some of my relationships are very random but I absolutely love it! I met Nate & Erin 7 or 8 years ago. My mom and I were on a cruise in the French Polynesian islands and Nate and Erin were on the same ship for their honeymoon. Anyway, we clicked and hung out a bunch on the ship and on some of our shore days. We have stayed in touch ever since and it was great to see them again and meet their kids. It’s funny too because they’ve been going to a church in Helena and last spring I took a class at seminary in Oregon with one of the pastors there. It’s a small world after all…

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After my night at their place I headed west again through Idaho and Washington. I was on the home stretch. I had two days left in my trip, but my credit card ended up being compromised and I decided I would rather be home sooner, so I switched the musical I was seeing in Seattle to see it a day earlier and pushed through for a really long drive home with an evening stop in Seattle to see a musical. It’s funny once you’re on the home stretch, you just want to be home.

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I drove through the border at about 1AM on June 30th. After being gone 71 days, it felt foreign to be back. As I drove home, I was noticing the grocery store and other places I frequent to run errands. My first thought was “Awe, I used to go for walks here, this was my neighbourhood where I used to live!”  Apparently I was really tired but after some self-talk and convincing myself that I still lived here and my home was down the street, I enjoyed sleeping in my bed for a few nights before embarking on an adventure to my 49th state.

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44 & 45/50: South & North Dakota

IMG_4280I have family in North Dakota which seems pretty random but it’s an interesting story of when my great grandparents immigrated to North America and were split up from my grandma and great aunt who ended up in Canada while they ended up in the US. Anyway, my second cousin was getting married and it happened to be during my road trip and so I was thankful to be able to go celebrate with them and see family I hadn’t seen in a while and also to meet other family. It’s fun to finally be able to put faces to names that I have heard for years. I had visited them in North Dakota years ago when I was moving to Quebec and it was great to be able to visit again.

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Being at a family wedding like this is bittersweet though because it makes me miss my mom a lot. This was a wedding my mom and I should have traveled to together. We would have had some crazy travel antics, explored a bunch, taken pictures with oversized statues of things (like we did last time) and would have laughed a lot. I’m glad I could go as her representative and yet it would have been so much sweeter to have her join the celebrations.

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At the rehearsal dinner, my cousin (well, technically first cousin once removed, but I won’t bore you with the details of family trees) was telling me that years ago my aunt, my mom and them were at the very same park hanging out. There was an amusement park next door and he told of a story when they went. That place holds so many memories that I don’t even know about and yet here I was, in a place where my mom once connected with and enjoyed family. My mom has gone before me in so many ways and I’m thankful I can follow in her footsteps and her legacy of love, family and adventure, without always being aware of it.

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After the wedding weekend, I headed down through South Dakota. I saw a picture on Instagram that dear friends from Quebec had posted that made it seem like they were in South Dakota (which was unexpected as I had just visited them in Quebec). They were in fact in South Dakota and I was able to meet them for lunch and spend some more time with them. I might sound like a broken record, but I am so grateful for the relationships we have in life. I love how God weaves people in and out of our lives. Some are just for a season, some are lifelong and some come in and out in different and unexpected ways and it is wonderful to be able to enjoy. I have a deep love and appreciation for Andrew & Lisa and their three boys and was so grateful to be able to spend some more time with them.

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And then I went to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Mount Rushmore is one of those iconic places that you hear a lot about. First off, the nature around there is absolutely stunning. It is in the Black Mountains which I thoroughly enjoyed driving through and stopping in various places. I went to the monument, read some of the information, hiked down below and closer to the sculptures and then back up to the viewing platform. I stood there and was about to leave but then figured I should probably sit there for a longer period of time to actually take it in.

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It’s an amazing feat that these faces have been carved into this mountainside. But how long do you have to stand and look at something to truly appreciate it? I can look at parts of creation for extended periods of time but this felt different. It’s man-made and yet it is pretty cool and interesting. Anyway, I sat there for a while and then when I decided that a sufficient amount of intake time had occurred, I kept going on my journey back to Nebraska.

 

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I wanted to appreciate what I had traveled there to see but there was also more to see. But it left me with many thoughts about how long we should sit with things for us to truly have been present to them. I don’t think there’s a straight answer to that but it’s something I want to be aware of. I don’t merely want to stop somewhere, look at it and take a picture and keep going. I want to be able to be fully present to that moment and everything it has for me. I want to pay attention to how I’m feeling. I want to allow myself to feel awe and wonder at the different places I go. As the end of the roadtrip portion of my trip was drawing near, it was also easier to just keep moving and to not stop and notice. I want to have grace with myself in each moment and I also want to be fully present.

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42 & 43: Kansas & Nebraska

IMG_4243Out of all the states, Kansas & Nebraska probably have the worst reputations (or at least that’s the sense I got when talking to others about the various states). Everyone in Missouri warned me about Kansas. They talked about how they loved visiting Colorado but the only downside was driving through Kansas. I looked up some stats on Kansas and the topography of the state on average was shown to be flatter than a pancake. I kept thinking about this statistic and picturing a bunch of people measuring a pancake the size of Kansas. Nonetheless, Kansas is pretty flat.

IMG_4204Also, fun fact: Kansas City is actually a city both in Kansas and in Missouri (the bigger area is in fact in Missouri). There is a street the divides part of the city, one side of the street lives in Kansas, the other lives in Missouri. Despite the flatness, I still enjoyed the fields and the views as I drove. That being said, I drove south to north through Kansas rather than east to west, so I think I missed the stretch that might have been most tedious to journey through.

IMG_4346Nebraska is also pretty flat. Lots of fields and you can see the horizon for miles. This brought up this interesting question posed by Kyle (who I visited in Nebraska): if you suddenly woke up from a coma in a hospital room and looked out the window, in that moment, how would you be able to tell if it was a sunset or sunrise- what are the actual differences? After much discussion and “research”, we discovered that there is in fact no discernible difference (except for the direction the sun in headed). We looked at a series of sunrise/sunset photos and voted on whether it was a sunrise or sunset and the fact that we were right only about 50% of the time confirmed this. Anyway, I digress…

IMG_4220On the way to the Dakotas, I drove up the eastern side of Nebraska. I had seen a picture someone posted of a cool looking church, so I decided to try and find it. It is called the Holy Family Shrine and is located in Gretna, Nebraska. After an hour of driving on random dirt roads and around a few detours, I finally found it and it was lovely. This church was on a hill and is made of glass. The architecture of it is pretty amazing and the light inside is phenomenal. There’s a little stream that goes into the church from the outside and the sound of water added to the serenity of the place. After traveling dirt roads and through endless fields, it was a lovely sanctuary where I could stop and rest. It was not something I would have expected to find in Nebraska, but nonetheless, there it was, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

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IMG_4368After visiting the Dakotas (see next post), I drove back south through the western end of Nebraska and visited my friend Kyle and his family. We spent a lovely day at a nearby lake. Ironically, I wasn’t expecting to go to a lake in Nebraska. It’s funny the impressions we have of places and that it often stops us from recognizing all the things that are in a place. Nebraska is much more than fields. We also visited the “igloos” near Sydney. There are 801 of them on 19,700 acres and were used for 25 years through 3 wars for storage for ammunition. They were decommissioned in the 60’s and now people rent them for their personal storage. It’s funny because they are in the middle of nowhere and are a large series of little grassy knolls along the field. Also not something I expected to see in Nebraska.

IMG_4228It would be easy to simply conclude that states like Kansas and Nebraska are merely flat and that’s it. I realize that sometimes I simplify life in this way. I do it with my understanding of God, my perceptions of others and my interpretation of my own experience. Grief is one of these things that is easy to reduce to a simple line, forgetting about all the complexities of it. My understanding of God through grief and through life might also be simplified to a one sentence statement that will later be tested. However, as you continue to journey, you realize there is so much more depth, complexity, and richness to it all. While Kansas and Nebraska may be flat, they also have a lot of interesting history. They have beautiful sunrises and sunsets. They have stunning big blue skies and different clouds. They have various fields. They have a panoply of different personalities in the people that live there. They have random churches in the middle of fields.

IMG_4263Sometimes I make some really strong statements that lead me to places where it is hard to cling to hope and life. I have to continually re-frame and make room for the new things I will discover, for broader perspectives. Life, grief, myself, others, and God are so much more complex than I could have ever imagined. How amazing that we are able to embark on the adventure of discovery and growth as we recognize there is more than we originally thought. Life goes beyond our immediate circumstances. There is more to life than grief, loss and pain, although there are moments when I get stuck there because the pain switches between feeling like a bottomless pit and like suffocating. In these moments I can cling to the hope of more and remind myself that this too shall pass. Thankful for each step in the journey that leads me to new places, discovery and healing.

40 & 41/50: Iowa & Missouri

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Iowa is a state that doesn’t get much notice. In conversations with people, I find they often mistake Idaho for Iowa. I didn’t see potatoes in Idaho and I also didn’t see them in Iowa (then again, I might have, but let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be able to tell a potato plant apart from… any other plant). There are however a lot of cornfields. Most of the corn is for animal consumption but it still makes for some beautiful fields in contrast with the sky.

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If you want a small town feel, Iowa is a good place to go. I visited friends in Jefferson, Iowa and loved the chance to see where they lived and to enjoy going to the town swimming pool, to go golfing and drive through the countryside (okay, the entire state is countryside, but lovely nonetheless). I even came close to hitting a passing train while golfing. It was carrying gigantic windmill arms.

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Previous to this trip, I had been to Missouri once before. I had visited a friend in St. Louis and had driven there from Chicago. From that drive I learned that there is not a lot outside the major cities except for farmland and small towns. It was interesting to drive through a visit a different part and to see a friend from school. I have mentioned this before, but it has been great to visit people that I’ve gone to school with for the last four years and to meet their families and see their places of ministry.

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Sometimes when I’m in a small town, I have a longing to find a small town near me and move there and just live a quiet life. Of course I’m sure there would be different challenges with this, but this is my idealistic side. I’m realizing though that I can create a “small-town” feel with people in my neighborhood, I can find a smaller church where I know everyone and I can slow down and not fill my schedule so full. Thankful for my small town visits and for the beautiful scenery along the way!

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