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A Walk and A Blessing

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It always comes back to the walk—the journey and the path we choose. 

I have missed our walks. 

They are grounding and healing.

They connect me to everything and mainly to God.

There is a huge blessing when I can get in a walk or hike outside rather than on my treadmill.

The first time I came to this trail, our hidden path, many months ago, life was very unpredictable, and the air was so cold I could see my breath. 

I dug deep and pushed hard. 

When we stumbled upon this place, we were desperate to return to our walks. The first time we came here, we just sat in the car and stared at the magnificent setting sun across the field.

Before coming here, our last walk was the night before surgery in September. I felt a strong nudge by the Holy Spirit to take that walk just hours after learning that we couldn’t wait on having surgery there was rapid growth of a recurring tumor thanks to aggressive brain cancer. Don’t get me started on how it outsmarts the chemo and therapies. You can do your own research on that. 

Let me remind you, it cannot outsmart God. 

Because here we are. 

I am convinced it is all the prayers and prayer warriors near and far.

I have no doubt it is because of those prayers we could get back to walking.

I needed that walk, and so did Jon. 

Jon’s walk was just not going to be as it was before—before the stroke, before the surgeon removed a second tumor, and before the loss of the use of his right side and some speech challenges. But that was mostly temporary.

We were told there could be complications. Since brain cancer entered our world, we have been told many possibilities that could occur over time. The risks of brain cancer—include stroke, seizure, weakness, loss of speech, loss of hair (thank you, radiation), and loss of many things.

We were aware of all of those things.  But we know a God.

We sometimes ponder all of those things. We don’t stay there long, though.

We just chose to spend the time healing and living, not sitting in fear and the what-ifs.

Losing the ability to walk was possible, but it would never be the final answer/outcome. We had months of therapy ahead of us. Months of adapting to this new life. When Jon was unstoppable and never stopped moving, the life we knew before was brought to a screeching halt. 

Today Jon remains unstoppable, just in a new way, and we have supported the choice to live that way all along. Ask my kids about pushing him in the wheelchair into the movies, on road trips, and in places, one may have never considered before. Right now I am recalling a late evening trip through Longwood gardens to avoid crowds and the C-vid. We had to live and still protect Jon who was on chemo.

This past year could have gone a few different ways. Together Jon and I chose how we wanted this to go, and we let God lead the way.

It has made all the difference.

Jon wanted to live as best he could while resuming activities in the way he could, with safety at the forefront of our minds.

When he wanted to cook, the kids or I would do the parts he couldn’t do. Sometimes he may have even tried to do the things he couldn’t or shouldn’t. One time he was walking across the kitchen with the heavy mixer in one arm, using the same arm he should have had on his cane. Whne I caught him, he said, “Ooops!” and then laughed uncontrollably. So did I. So did the kids. We took the mixer out of his arms. I wish I had a picture of it, but you get the point.

That man always makes me laugh and makes me so proud to be his wife.

He wanted to get outside and weed, so days after he was discharged from rehab last fall, I carefully walked him across the yard to the garden. I sat him in a chair, and he pulled weeds and helped me clean the garden. Our garden was a mess. It made us very happy to clear out that mess together and the many others over this past year.

During the spring, I bought him a weeding tool he could use while standing. The best is that he can sit and pull those weeds. We spent a lot of time outside over our 18 summers in this house working on our vegetable and flower gardens. It means the world to both of us he could get back to some of those tasks.

I got him knives, cutting boards, and other adaptive equipment he could use with one hand. We set up cooking stations to reduce spills and burns and allowed Jon freedom to do what he loved. 

Just as I needed to return to the things I loved to do, like taking long walks.

So I gathered my guy and got him in the chair, wrapped him in blankets, and gave him his cane (if he wanted to take a step or two). Then we/I walked. 

I pushed a chair with my love on board as far as my legs could take me. I just wanted to walk, and so did Jon. Jon was patient with his limitations as he got stronger over time. 

It was hard work, but it was worth every ache and muscle cramp to see how far we could go. 

I inhaled slow, deep breaths and sometimes fought back the tears that stung my eyes. They were tears of joy and grief; I live on that precipice every day of my life. 

I exhaled slowly, trying to catch and control my breath.

My legs were strong, and my breath and heart were trying to keep up. My shoulders and arms ached from pushing and pulling a grown man in a heavy wheelchair on a long windy path. But make no mistake, I was NOT going to give in to this pain. 

Let’s say I slept very well that first night. It may have been the workout of my life. 

I knew it would be healing to step outside with Jon no matter the circumstances, how short the distance, and how much it would take or ache.

The farther I journeyed on this walk, the more I wondered if I could make it back once I got so far. And to be honest, having never been on this path before, I was not even sure where the path would take us. 

“What if we get so far, I cant get us back?” I asked Jon. He said, “keep going, you’ll be fine.”

We chose faith and trust. And we kept going.

What a metaphor for the journey we found ourselves on in life. 

That wheelchair and I became friends too. It was the only way I knew I could get around and include Jon in the life we once knew. We lived a moving and grooving life—if you know what I mean.

We kept ourselves busy in this life. No brain cancer, recurring tumor, or stroke would change that if we had anything to say about it. One time, a parking attendant asked if I needed help loading the chair into the car, and then he laughed and said, “Oh you are done; you make it look effortless.”  

Don’t’ sweat the small stuff, I always say.

That wheelchair is and was small stuff.

My arms and legs got strong as I learned to lift the chair and run behind it to push it up the steep hills and hold it back to keep from losing control and flying away from me down those hills. I may have joked once and run alongside Jon while he was in the wheelchair until he was headed for the weeds. That was not a great choice on my part. But we laughed as we froze our buns off on the cold winter afternoon.

It was the only way. 

We needed to walk. 

I needed to walk. Jon needed to get back outside. His rigorous therapy schedule was one thing, but living as we did before was crucial to his healing.

Watching the sun go down on many days here with some breathtaking masterpieces painted across the sky was healing and good for our souls. I have shared many of those moments in pictures this past year. Go check out my Instagram page or Facebook Writer page where I share more frequent short reflections.

We watched the most brilliant sunsets illuminate the darkness that tried to cast shadows on our days. Love and light would win. 

Changing seasons.

We watched the winter chill descend upon us as we followed the hills and valley, twists and turns of this path sometimes covered in jackets and blankets as the winter turned grass to brown. We may have seen stormy skies roll in.

Seasons changed rapidly this year, as the seeds were stashed and scattered during the autumn—we may have “missed” fall altogether. The chill of winter defrosted into spring.

As seasons changed once again, flowers began to bloom. The earth was waking up—life was being renewed in us too.

Over time, we would take a few more steps together. I would walk alongside—encouraging more and pushing (the chair) less. 

Jon continued building strength, skill, and confidence.

Our walks became only a few steps before we turned around to head back to the car.

We could only take so much of the cold winter days.

I held it in my heart that we would soon get around this path. 

I held hope we would get to walk together again. Not just pushing a wheelchair.

I reminded Jon on every single walk to not lose hope, “Look how far you have come. You will get there.”  

He never gave up. 

We would continue to come back and take baby steps between pushing the chair.

Jon’s final homework assignment (before he took a summer break from therapy) from the physical therapist was to take a long walk. It was a great gift to be given permission to go as far as possible. This was more of a celebration and far from a homework assignment.

We left the chair in the car to take this walk. 

Maybe it was the warm air, perhaps it was the excitement of trying to go too far, maybe it was trying to squeeze in the walk before the kids got home, we knew we couldn’t get all the way around the longer path, so we chose to retreat to a slightly different route closer to home to take that walk.

We quickly made our way to a favorite sacred place to take this walk without wheels nearby

It was a triumphant moment where we were both made holy and whole for that moment in time. 

With smiles on our faces, a new brace on Jon’s leg, and a snazzy walking stick, there was freedom to walk without wheels nearby.

We left the wheelchair in the car for the first time when taking a walk.

This was a huge accomplishment.

That was in May and just before the kids came home from school. 

We completed a nice walk stretching our legs, just not quite as far as the trail we loved to visit and where we watched the sunset.

Not yet, anyway.

More time, strength, and confidence were needed before we could go that distance.

We took the summer to rest and build all of that was needed.

Since then, we have taken several more practical walks.

Some long, some short, 

Some to and from the beach.

Some on the beach, 

Some to and from appointments (it was a significant accomplishment to leave the wheelchair in the car for the last several appointments this summer.)

Some even in a few other states.

Some on a treadmill we bought for such a time as this.

We just did not get back to our hidden walking path, where we would watch the sunset as we rounded the bends.

We wanted to get back here where I watched Jon learn to become strong again and where I learned I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. 

We hadn’t been in this place for months as our summer schedule was packed with many things—appointments, summer classes, respite very far from home and with far too many hot days to make the trek. 

But we finally made it back as I hoped and knew we would.

The girls, the pups, and Jon and I hopped in the car on Friday to take that walk and see how far we could go. 

We knew it was time. Jon and I were both ready and longing for this. 

We had had many goals tucked in our hearts since last September when that unexpected surgery and stroke were another chapter added to our story.

I miss my long walks with Jon, but I had no doubt we would get back here. I was just not sure how far we would go. If you know me, I am a fast walker, yet I have found patience works best for these kinds of walks.

It did not matter how long it took to make our way around—our goal was to walk the entire trail without a chair, without taking a break or to rest.

I couldn’t stop looking up in awe of the beauty around us. The temperature was just right. There was a breeze, a hint of fall in the air. The girls and the dogs were laughing and trotting along joyfully in front of us.

God was all around us. 

The sun was setting on the day, it is true. It also set on a season. We were not sure we could ever walk together in this way again. 

But we had hope.

There are so many things I want to say about this year. So many things have been discovered, healed, reconciled, and let go in this season.

In time I will process this journey more deeply and share how a journey like this can sanctify us, Verso L’Alto, if we allow it.

For a moment, I thought I wanted to stand atop the highest peak, shout out into the world below, and say, “I believe in miracles. And you should too.” 

Yet again, the veil was lifted for a moment, and we had a glimpse into heaven. I know we are only here on this earth for a short time, each of us passing through, and someday, we will get more walks and many more magnificent sunsets than we can imagine.

Two Heathers

As we turned the corner and I thought about standing on the peak. Then we felt a presence walking behind us. I turned to the person coming toward us. We exchanged smiles and then realized we were familiar.

She is a faith-filled, spiritual friend of a good friend of mine. She said she felt called to pray for our family as she watched us walk. 

It’s interesting; God is always in the details. This friend’s friend, who happens to also be Heather, whom we encountered on our walk, is founder of a ministry called Peak Encounter. How is that for standing atop the highest peak and shouting God’s goodness at this moment? God gave us someone along our path to witness this walk, the girls running in front of us, with the dogs in tow. It was our Peak Encounter to remind us we are never alone on this journey.  

Today is a miracle.

Finishing the entire walk was a miracle, even if it was the longest mile or two in the history of walking. Though it really wasn’t. We took it step-by-step, turn by turn, as the sunlight fell on our path.

Seeing all that has unfolded in the last (almost) year is a miracle. It’s hard to believe what has transpired in the last 11 months.

The walk we took on Friday was a really big deal.

There really is no fancy weaving of eloquent words necessary to say it any other way—the walk we took was a really big deal, and so is/was the walk of this entire year. 

As I first typed this, tears streamed down my face thinking about all we have endured. The same tears I held in many times as I smiled through pushing that heavy wheelchair, carrying the heavy cross I would carry all over again and continue to carry for and with Jon as he lives with brain cancer. 

He has worked incredibly hard, never giving up, keeping his eyes on the next step, not looking too far ahead, and only taking it One Joyful Day at a Time.  

We walked the entire path with all the twists and turns, hills and valleys, not just on the trail but the entire journey of these last 11 months. 

We made it—legs (and sometimes arms) burning, hearts shining, eyes fixed above while humming a favorite tune.

There are blessings all around you.

“Sunlight fell and reminded me that life can be
So gracious sometimes
And I felt like everything around me
Was connected somehow
At night I hear the rhythm of the ocean
As it breaks on the shore
And I think about all the things that
I am grateful for
And they say, hold on to the ones you love
Keep ’em close to you
And they say, hold on to this time we have
And let the light shine through
Sometimes I get a little bit emotional when
I see love unfold
Two hearts bound by reflections of the memories
They’ll forever hold
And they say, hold on to the ones you love
Keep ’em close to you
And they say, hold on to this time we have
And let the light shine through
There are blessings all around you
Open up your eyes
Feel the sunlight fall upon you
Let it free your mind
There are blessings all around you
Take a step outside
Let your heart shine in a new light
See it come alive
And they say, hold on to the ones you love
Keep ’em close to you
And they say, hold on to this time we have
And let the light shine through.”—Blessings, Hollow Cove.

+ + +

The simple moments matter.

Step Outside.

Slow down.

Take a walk.

Watch the sunset.

Smell the flowers.

Look up.

Laugh out loud.

Hold on to the time you have.

It’s all a blessing.

And since today is St Augustine’s Feast Day. I will leave you with two favorite quotes, one from St. Augustine and one from his mother’s, St Monica’s. May they bless you as they have blessed me and my life. 

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Saint Augustine

Please don’t stop wondering.

Today is all we have.

St. Monica said, “Nothing is far from God,” including our suffering. While the suffering we endure on this side of heaven does not make sense, if you let God into the trials you face, you will find blessings in it.

+ + +

As with every post I write and share, I seek affirmation from God that I am sharing something that would be pleasing to Him.

Today after mass, I chatted with our Deacon for a few minutes. He pulled me aside and shared a few things with me privately that affirmed some big things on my heart that I prayed about this past week.

He came out to talk to Jon, the girls, and me by the car. He shared about a talk he recently gave on facing trials. He gave us each a card he used at the “talk.” A copy of a song called “Blessings” by Laura Story was on the card.

I immediately found it interesting the song was called Blessings. While not the same song, it is the name of the music I hummed while on our Friday walk.

A blessing or a God Wink. I like to think this is God telling me that I am on the right/write path, sharing my version of the Blessings in my life, taking this walk, and some of the parts of our story where being a caregiver and a cheerleader for Jon has been my journey. 

As God would have it. I have often listened to the song Blessings by Laura Story (the one mentioned by the Deacon) in the past few years. I did not know that Laura Story lived a similar journey with her husband also having brain cancer and the challenge and blessings of his disabilities that came with it. Her journey is far too familiar.  

She found faith in the most challenging part of her story as she had to redefine her life as a caregiver and a wife. Here is a beautiful article here. 

Here is her song. 

Along with the private loving words the Deacon shared with me, I will take him sharing the Laura Story song and the photo of Jesus, Man of Sorrows, as another affirmation along the way to share the words God has placed on my heart to share with you.

Everything is connected somehow. 

Everything is a blessing, even something as simple as taking a walk.

Here are a few outtakes from our walks.

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Emily Wood
Emily Wood
1 month ago

Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing your story and journey. 🙂 Continued prayers for you all. <3

Dawn
Dawn
28 days ago

I used to walk outside daily in good weather, but since COVID, I’ve taken to exercising indoors. However, I have the opportunity to work in another country for 2-6 months. I plan to walk more while I’m there to soak up as much of the local community and scenery as possible.