CHAPTER ONE

Welcome to

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

In the LORD I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain…?!”

Psalm 11:1

CHAPTER ONE


MAY 13, 2016

9:00AM

I have agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike May 31 through June 4.

Sounds simple enough: take long walks, camp overnight, repeat 4-5 times, then go home. How hard could that be? 

But I am 44 years old, overweight, stressed out because life is not going as I planned, hoped, or dreamed. AND, I have never gone pee or poo in the woods. 

Never. Not once. 

I am in research mode to prepare for the hike. So far, I read that an Appalachian Trail hiker carries 30-40 pounds of equipment on their back. I already have that much extra in fat that I carry around my waist and hips every single day. Is it possible that I can carry more than my own fat for nearly a week in the woods?

Neither friends nor family would describe me as an outdoor person. Once upon a time I was a Cub Scout Den Mom for 8 years for our two sons. I did not lead the outdoor activities. I outsourced what I did not want to do or what I had no clue how to do. 

I asked other outdoorsy type parents to lead lessons that involved sweat. Or trails. Or fires. Or bugs, fishing, snakes…yeah, pretty much anything having to do with outside was outsourced. I was great at sending emails, keeping a schedule, carpooling, and leading a craft or two. I rocked soap carving and enjoyed taking 6-10 young kids to new places. Guess it is my turn to take a field trip. Yet this is exactly the kind of field trip I would have avoided as a Den Mom.

Cub Scout days are long gone. I hold onto contact information and scout files as if we could start back up at any time. I have a plastic bin filled with Pinewood Derby Car race supplies. Each year I think I will donate them to some younger mother but have not gotten around to it. There are extra car decals, paint, weights, glue, officially licensed Boy Scout of America wheels, a scale and graphite powder which I am not sure is legal in the BSA rules, but everyone used it on race day anyway.

Our children are on the cusp of being grown physically. I am 5’10. In the last year both sons have become over 6 feet tall. Somehow, I am now the shortest person in family pictures.

Jacob turned 18 years old a couple weeks ago. He graduated high school last summer at 17 because he was determined to serve as soon as possible in the United States Air Force. He wanted to clear his path to depart months ago, but the wait game has been challenging. We have taken no less than 5 trips to a Military Entrance Processing Station two hours away from our home. For months I have run back and forth to schools and doctors getting letters and documents together. Jacob finally has a date for Basic Military Training coming up May 24. 

I feel sick and stressed inside. Is Jacob ready to be an adult? He is by far the child I have worked the hardest to support and coach along the way. My shy boy is becoming an adventurous man. What scares me most is his propensity to learn the hard way as a rule. When he was little the moment after I told him not to touch the hot stove, he proceeded to lay his hand flat on a burner. I am shocked by his no fear and eagerness to leave so soon. Older and wiser friends who have already been through this say I should be proud that he has the confidence to go. I try. 

Last month Jacob had an emergency appendectomy. When he was recovering post-surgery, I considered it a privilege to stay overnight in the hospital with him. I stared at his sleeping face as the rain poured outside and the parking lot lights gently shone into his room. What a bookend moment it was. I thought about how the same month 18 years prior I stared at him for hours overnight in a plastic crib after he was born in the same hospital. Now he is departing soon for Texas and who-knows-where in the world after that. He is brave.

Then there is Ben-Just-Ben. He is our youngest, 14 years old. His real name is Benjamin, but he announced after coming home from kindergarten years ago that he is no longer the full name of Benjamin. With a small hand cutting motion he stated, “I am Ben just Ben from now on.” This guy, once the cuddliest child ever, is close to 6’2 tall and begins high school this year. High School?! Wow. One minute you are trying to keep the calendar straight for school age children. The next minute you grieve them leaving home.

I am a risk taker of sorts, but now it is our kids turn to take risks. No matter that them leaving is completely normal and healthy, it hurts. Down deep in my stomach and soul there is a grinding and twisting that I feel these days. I must figure out how to work through the tears of this life transition. 

It does not help that other parts of my life are unstable. I run a tiny non-profit with 7 staff members. We teach positive coping and life skills to children in grades K through 12, and for parents of preschoolers.  Being a small organization means I wear lots of hats. The pay is not great and sometimes the boss, aka me, simply does not get paid. 

My reward is seeing children who once struggled in the classroom then learn new strategies and succeed. It is hard to imagine doing anything else because I love what we do so much. With new skills and knowledge people can make better choices and, in some cases, break negative cycles that have been passed down for generations.

The desire to build the non-profit began in 2005. I thought I heard clearly from God that this was what I was supposed to do. I was confident that if God put the dream in my heart that He would provide. Yet as some of my students say about other things: the struggle is real.

I adore my staff. I am so proud of the work they do. Most of them have spouses who are the main breadwinners. They do not seem to feel the same pain that I do trying to cover the mortgage and decide whether to buy groceries or pay the gas & electric bill. 

My husband, Paul, is a loving, caring spouse and father, but striving to make a good salary has never been an actionable priority for him. We have been married 23 years. He agreed that he would seek a better job or salary when I left the corporate world and took on the non-profit, but to date the steps necessary to improve his pay have not happened.

No matter how much I say I believe in him, he will not believe in himself. He is an intelligent person. I admire his brain, but he is plagued by self-doubt, a touch of OCD and depression—in my unprofessional opinion. Basically, I am married to Eeyore. Loyal and loveable, lack of growth mindset, Eeyore.

Worse, his body is failing him. He is tired all the time. I am not the type of spouse that would say, “Get off the couch!”, but I am thinking it.

Especially due to finances, something must give. I am not sure what. 

In addition to non-profit workshops, marketing, administrative duties, taxes, payroll, school activities, orthodontist appointments, plays, proms, sports, home duties like cleaning, oil changes, laundry, grocery shopping, etc., I also have a side retail job. I wish the retail money helped more than it does. I barely notice the tiny additional funds, but I do notice how much my feet hurt. My brain feels squeezed. Too much. This is all too much.

FLASHBACK:  APRIL 5, 2016

I am in-between school day workshops and an evening parent workshop. I receive a text:

JoAnn–WOULD YOU LIKE TO MEET AT THE PUB RESTAURANT? I HAVE A LITTLE TIME BEFORE A GIG NEARBY.

Heck yes, I do! I love JoAnn. She is one of my favorite people on the planet. JoAnn is a high school social worker. We collaborate from time to time on projects and how best to serve students. 

JoAnn is 5’2 tall. She is 17 years older than me, but in much better shape. She runs marathons and any 5K event she wants to around the city.

We connect well spiritually, and we laugh every time we are together. In the last few years, we call each other “soul sis”. Like me, she grew up in an environment with a functioning alcoholic father and hard-working mother. I sense we both work in the Urban Appalachian town where we do because it is a lot like coming home for both of us. The culture is familiar. We “get” the unwritten rules. 

I arrive at The Pub. JoAnn has already portioned out half of her pot roast and mashed potatoes dinner onto a side plate for me. One, yum. Two, this is a good habit I have seen her do with food. She is a half eater. I am an eat the whole plate and may I have some more eater. 

I ask, “What’s your gig tonight?”

“A compass reading class over at REI.”

That does not sound like social work continuing education to me.

“Tell me more,” I smile.

“I’m starting my AT adventure this summer,” she announces proudly.

I have no idea what REI is either, but start with, “What does AT stand for?”

“Appalachian Trail,” she says. “Oh, I love to hike.”

I have never heard of the AT, “How long is it?”

“The whole AT goes from Maine to Georgia.”

“Wow-“ How in the world?

She reads my face. “Oh honey, I’m not hiking the whole thing this year,” she laughs. “I’m doing a section hike as a recon mission to see if I can handle it. Then I might do more sections each year until I complete it. I have been planning and plotting this adventure since September. I have taken several classes to prepare too.”

Is there anything JoAnn can’t handle? Seriously.

“Who is going with you?”

Then I ask, “When are you going?” And more questions all the while thinking that maybe she should ask me if I want to go.

I do not dare interject that idea. Clearly, this is her thing. She has a plan.

Look at me. I feel the pinch of my too tight pants. I would not be a good hiking partner. I would literally weigh her down.

But…the thought of going sounds amazing. 

My mind wanders. This could be the escape I need to be me-just-me for a week. I could be challenged away from my normal struggles. Lately I feel an ugly angry inside. On the outside most people may think all is well with our family, but the reality is painful. We live in a nice house that we no longer can afford. Our slow pay credit score makes me feel trapped. Moving is expensive. We have old cars that break down constantly. We are blessed with two amazing kids who each wear one pair of shoes for a year straight. Our water has been turned off a couple times and the boys knew when I rushed to scramble to get it turned back on.

JoAnn interrupts my thoughts, “Would you ever be interested in hiking sometime?”

I look at her. My head tilts, “Yes. If the opportunity comes up. Maybe after your recon mission success, then we can plan a different section hike sometime. Let me know how it goes.”

FLASH FORWARD:  MAY 03, 2016

7:00AM

I’m driving to work. The cell phone rings. It’s JoAnn. I put her on speaker.

She says, “Crazy idea. Do NOT feel like you have to answer right now. Sleep on it at least one night….”

“I’m listening.”

“My friend who was supposed to go on the AT hike with me hurt her back. There is no way she can carry the backpack required so she can’t go.” 

There is something about the way JoAnn lovingly pronounces “AT” that I admire.

She continues, “Would you like to go on the trip?  I have a mini camp stove and a bear bag already. I can text you a pic of our hiking plan so you know where we’ll be going….” She trails off. Pun intended.

Meanwhile, I am thinking, What in the world is a Bear Bag?


If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version, click here for my podcast chapters.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back March 28, 2021 for Chapter Two.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

Accept Help

Things are better for our family today than they were one year ago.

Or, today compared with the last seven years, seven years that got progressively worse until I thought my brain and heart might implode.

I felt fear typing the word “better”, but it is true.

Thank God.

And, thank people.

A key thing I learned especially the last three years was that help comes from the most unexpected places: complete strangers, acquaintances, neighbors, some friends, some family. There was a time when I would have refused help or tried to do it all my own.

I stopped being embarrassed of our mess and started saying yes.

Someone I trusted but did not know well sorted my jewelry and personal items. A team of painters from a church different from our own church came to our house for over a week, most that I did not know. Someone I barely knew out of town paid our electric at just the right time when I was debating the order and deadlines of bills. Grocery gift cards arrived. Encouragement came in the mail from both sisters (by blood and marriage) at just the right time every time. Someone ran a marathon to fundraise so that Hubby could get a mobile scooter. A friend spent 36 hours removing stubborn wallpaper at the condominium. One room had four layers! Eight women over 60 years old showed up to pack their cars with Rubbermaid containers to transport from garage to garage so that we could save time and money on moving day. This paragraph could be much longer with stories of miracle people showing up, but you get the idea.

One thing that rolled around in my head was that people do what they can when they can. I did not expect anyone to help. I think it is dangerous and mean to expect people to be there for you. For example, I am not a fan of Facebook chain posts that end with “and I think I know who will respond.” Yeah, no, at any given time, you do not know what someone is really experiencing or what they can make time for this minute or in this season of their life.

If you are going through a tough time, just be open without judgement. Say yes to those who emerge from the clouds. In addition, when you can, make sure you help others too. There are plenty of opportunities to be there for people when you can. Over the years, I have really enjoyed giving quietly when I was able. It was humbling to be on the receiving end. And, it was necessary to accept help. We would not have made it otherwise. Thank you to many.

When we have frustrating days now, I observe how quickly my mind thinks, “Thank You for my problems.” Right now involves acceptable water treading with a little space and capacity to roll with the waves. I feel the physical and mental stretch daily but nothing like recent years.

Last summer I was fortunate to visit Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The building is constructed with glass walls that provide a sanctuary in the woods.

While there, I thought about its openness to nature. I considered my openness to surrender.

Surrender means saying yes to God through the stress. Surrender says, “Sure you can sort these items in my bedroom. Seems like a personal place, but let’s go for it.” Surrender says, “Thank you for adopting my son to celebrate his high school graduation in ways that I would not have been able at that time to provide.” Surrender says, “Yes, please interview and find us the best realtor for our situation.”

Surrender is also the word that came to mind back in 2016 when I was out of shape and said yes to a near week long hike on the Appalachian Trail with a team of women.

I knew the ground was sliding under our family’s footing. Something was wrong. I thought I was losing my mind over our oldest son going to the military at 17 years old. Maybe if I ran away to hike and sleep outside, then I could get alone with God to work out my mixed up feelings.

However, there was more.

And, God was preparing me.

“Surrender on the Trail” became the title of the manuscript I wrote about our wild experience in the woods. Imagine four women committed to staying outside to maneuver rocks and mountains for 35 miles. Imagine getting lost in the rain at nightfall. Imagine tears and flies buzzing with an incredible 4,050 feet view above sea level.

I am thinking about publishing one chapter a week here on the blog. What do you think?

The manuscript has been complete and edited for a long time. Something in my heart does not feel like continuing to query publishers or literary agents right now. What if I make it available here?

People from 34 countries read this blog last year. What if I simply share?

If you have comments or ideas about this idea, please let me know.

Thanks,

Psalm 121:1a ~ I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD….

Gus Deployment Part Two

Before soaring on United Airlines one day in August, two TSA people panicked when I placed a pet carrier on the security conveyor belt.

I said to their reaching hands, “It’s empty. Don’t worry.”

Whew! Their blue shirts relaxed a bit.

“I am heading to get my son’s cat,” I said to more people than probably wanted to know that day.

My mission: Get the cat. Keep my emotions in check. Spend as little money as possible. Stretch granola in backpack.

One thing I’ve learned about being a military mom is that tears are the enemy to be embraced. I can be happy for our son = tears. I can be proud = tears. Saying hello = tears. Saying goodbye = tears.

Fight them and the tears are worse. I attempt to embrace and let them pass. If you’re a military parent, you know this roller coaster.

Son-1 and I strive for what we call “the good good-bye”. He tries to laugh when my face swells. There is something about military life that makes the words “gut wrenching” meaningful as an experience rather than a phrase.

Once in New Mexico, I see in our son right away that he is feeling about his cat a little like what I feel when he and I separate for months at a time. He hugs Gus, plays with Gus, and takes long looks at Gus. I imagine he is burning the memory of Gus into his soul with enough love to last for many months until they reunite.

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Meanwhile on minimal sleep for a 24 hour trip, my mind focuses on how to get a cat across the country without losing him.

“Ok, Mom. You guys have to go now,” Son-1 said about 40 minutes before I planned to leave that morning. He did not want to cry. I understood.

We place a “calming collar” on Gus and put him in the pet carrier.

“Here. I got you these,” Son-1 hands me breakfast. It was thoughtful of him to stop at a gas station for Pepsi and Swedish Fish with me in mind.

I stress-nosh on the red fish when Gus begins to wail in the car. Have I mentioned that Gus and I had to drive 90 miles to the airport?

Son-1 and GF warned me that Gus does not like car rides, but I know his wail is more than a dislike of the car. Gus knew I was taking him from his people.

Gus cried.

I cried.

Hubby called once while I was stopped in the desert by a police blockade. Missiles were being tested nearby. Stopping only made Gus cry louder.

“It will be ok, Gus.” I turn him so he can see me through his net. That didn’t help. I wonder if his claws will rip the carrier netting. Then I remember that I packed a small roll of duct tape. Hopefully I will not need to figure out how to repair or get him back in the carrier if he escapes.

I hyperventilate on the phone to Hubby, “Don’t. Tell Son-1. That. Gus. Is.” Inhale, “Crying.”

“Honey, catch your own breath. It will be ok.”

Sure it will. I am in new territory: alone with a cat, saying good-bye to our son for his first deployment overseas, and driving toward El Paso, Texas which dripped with sadness in the air from recent events.

There are security options with a pet in an airport. I could take the cat out of the carrier and walk through the screening device. No way. Or I could request the private room to take the cat out of the container. Sigh.

In the private room, the TSA agents share horror stories, “One time a cat died right here at this check point.”

What?!

“Yep, the owner overmedicated the cat.”

I feel so glad we did not medicate Gus. I zip him back inside with our new bonding and determination. We can do this, Gussie-boy. G-ma will protect you.

At our layover, I bravely allow Gus to walk around an indoor pet spot.

I pose him for a picture near the airport’s USO. “We are on task, buddy.”

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He and I people watch at airport gates.

Inside the carrier is one of Son-1’s worn t-shirts. I explain to the cat that the shirt is for comfort.

“Don’t worry, Gus, your owners will be back for you.”

The t-shirt also connects the dots of smells for the pets waiting at home. Once back in Greater Cincinnati, there was minimal quarantine time and/or hissing by our welcome wagon pets. They recognized Son-1’s scent. They gave us looks like, “WTH? Meow. Ok, fine.”

Gus settled in with cat toys, scratch pads, and favorite play-sleep spots. He marvels at the new sights through our window: chipmunks, leaves, grass, snow flurries. It’s different here.

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And sometimes Gus hangs out near the door patiently waiting for Son-1 and GF to return.

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Posts about Gus are dedicated to his cat parents who are currently deployed separately in the military. Please pray for the men and women who endure loneliness in the name of freedom during this holiday season.

Let there be peace on earth.

GF, Son-1, Gus, & their promise rings.

Gus the Deployed Cat

Our oldest son, let’s call him Son-1, has been in the military 3 years.

After moving out of an Air Force base dormitory and into an apartment in New Mexico, he began considering pet ownership.

He talked the idea over with us and his girlfriend (GF) for several months. Son-1 and GF landed on a cat being the best option for them. “But,” he asked me. “If I have to deploy, Mom, would you come get the cat?”

Would I come get the cat?! The words stuck with me for a while. I convinced myself that Oh, it will be a while before that could happen. And Oh, maybe if he deploys, then the timing will work out that his girlfriend or someone else can care for the animal. I won’t really be needed.

We are the type of family that stick with a pet for life. Ultimately I am glad Son-1 got that memo. Pet care is a serious commitment. He’s turning out to be a responsible guy. I think surely my son won’t need me in this way, but if he does, I said, “Yes. I’ll be there.”

I pause here to mention that when our first pet, an insane nearly untrainable and somewhat aggressive 10 lb. dog passed away, then it was a full 9 years before we were willing to have a pet again.

And–once upon a time, I was not a cat person at all. I harbored years of judgement against cats. What I saw and smelled at various homes growing up was not something I wanted in my life. But then one day in 2010 I fell for the tiniest little kitten in Jackson County. I remember our young boys whispered to Hubby, “Mom. Picked. Up. A. Cat.” And Hubby whispered, “Yeah, something’s going down here. She never does that.”

We brought that sweet baby home.

I bought good cat litter. We established twice per day scoop policies. The next year we gave her a friend. Two cats. Clearly I lost my mind.

Fast forward back to last year, Son-1 and GF chose a cat named Gus from a shelter. He had been left behind by other people once or twice. Gus would be left behind no more.

“He is cross-eyed, Mom,” Son-1 said over the phone. “The vet doesn’t think he’ll do well if he is out in the wild.” So Indoor Gus began a sweet life with his new mom and dad.

And Hubby and I felt somewhat like distant cat grandparents.

The first time I met Gus I observed that because of his eye situation he tilts his head back to see when you walk into a room. It looks like he says, “Whaz up?” every time.

Gus out of NM Window

For several months we enjoyed pics and texts about their life with Gus. They were a happy little pet inclusive family.

Then GF received notice of deployment. She had several months to prepare. The couple thought they’d cuddle with their cat until she left. Then we were all surprised when Son-1 received notice that he also would deploy but with only 3 weeks notice. Eek! Gus moved up on the extended family priority list. I had made the promise, so you know what happened next.

We rapidly picked the 24 hours that I would fly alone 3200 miles round trip on a tight budget to get Gus. Hubby and I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to get our grandchild-cat.

G-ma is coming!

[End of part one. Stay tuned for part two.]

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Gus downward pose
*The story of Gus is posted with permission of his 21 year old active duty military parents.

Military Mom

20190717_120253Of my many jobs and titles in life, one I didn’t anticipate began about three years ago when our son joined the Air Force. Or I could say four years ago if I count the year of paperwork and appointments that led up to him swearing in officially.

Since 1% of young people choose to be in the military that means there’s only about 1% of us momas inside the tornado of being a military mom also. The tornado involves support, concern, pride, and wondering how your child could be this brave, among other things.

There are private social media groups where I see posts from moms all over the USA updating the “club” with needs and requests. I find myself praying daily for someone somewhere.  A parent or grandparent is sick or a funeral is happening. A baby or a relationship needs divine intervention. The strained hearts over a countless number of miles is endless.

I am struck by how isolating it can be to be in the military and even in my small role as a military mom.

Our family figures out how to visit our son on a tiny budget. Some families never figure out the cost of travel to see a loved one.  We are blessed that our son has adapted well.  But for some in the service, they may struggle to adjust or to make friends and then lose those friends to deployment or a new duty station.

People say “that’s what they signed up for.” And of course they did, but no one really knows what it fully means until they live the life.

On our last visit, I saw several ferral cats that reminded me of the isolation. My heart hurt thinking of the lonely metaphor parallels.

 

The suicide rate is high in the military. It is easy to forget that when any service member is lost for any reason there is a ripple effect which impacts other people and families.

Whether in the military or not, much needs to be done in our nation as a whole to help people get help before it’s too late.

Would you pray with me for the mental health needs of both citizens and service members? Please encourage people in your life to seek support.

* It is ok to not be ok.

* Talking to a professional when you feel blue is a healthy choice.

* Offering to go with someone to an appointment (without judgement) can be helpful.

* Don’t ignore anything serious. Get help when you need it in order to help someone else or to help yourself.

* Don’t ignore gut feelings. Ask the hard questions so you know if someone is safe.

Signature GSE