Living & GrowingThe gift of the wilderness

I might not be here when you get back!” Tanya announced when we told her we were going to Hawaii without her. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and FASD, we could not take her. We needed respite and left her with competent caregivers with this instruction: “Don’t call us unless it is life or death!”

The last day the call came: “Tanya OD’d. They are working on her now.” An impulsive act to make us come home, as soon as she OD’d, she called for help!

Six weeks later, I went to visit my dad, alone. Upon telling Tanya I was leaving, she announced, “I might not be here when you get back!” I firmly replied, “You need to know, if you try to commit suicide while I am gone, I am not coming back. And if you succeed, I still will not come back, and I will tell them to put your body on ICE!” Stunned, she replied, “Really?! I won’t do it mommy!”

At the same time, our son with FASD was in crisis. Larry was unhappy about being left alone with the kids. However, we planned to meet in Anchorage upon my return for a retreat. The moment we reunited, we realized how much we needed to be alone, together, away from the chaos of caregiving. We pledged to never talk about the kids while on retreat and focus only on our love and relationship. We needed to retreat into the wilderness for our own physical, emotional and spiritual health, to face our thoughts and emotions with God’s loving presence. We returned home transformed and strengthened with renewed perspective, energy and balance. From then on, we intentionally went into the wilderness several times a year, leaving the world behind, placing ourselves at God’s disposal.

Fifteen months ago, I entered into an unwanted wilderness of grief and sorrow when Larry died. It is a wild journey within me: lonely, uncomfortable, inescapable and further complicated by my overwhelming responsibilities of caring for loved ones with FASD—without Larry. Yet, twice daily I intentionally leave the world behind and follow the spiritual and meaningful path the gift of grief and sorrow has given me, to discover my identity without Larry, and reflect upon and discern my future. God is cradling me with his loving presence and compassion, giving me hope.

We all end up in a wilderness at some point in our lives; sometimes willingly to face difficult truths about ourselves: but often without choice through illness, death, divorce, pandemic, etc.

Lent begins in the wilderness — Jesus’ and our own. Jesus’ temptation gave him the opportunity to inquire deeper into his own identity and reflect upon and clarify his calling.

Lent gives us our opportunity to experience the wilderness by turning toward God and look at ourselves deeply and honestly. It is a time to go inward and open our hearts and minds as we search ourselves within, both good and bad, and acknowledge where our faith has been lacking. God goes with us, guiding and nurturing us through our inner world.

When you find yourself in the wilderness times of your life, be assured that God meets you there, in your solitude. Be open when you encounter God in your wilderness and let your life be transformed into a new understanding of life and yourself.

• Laura Rorem is a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church. Her new purpose is to honor Pastor Larry Rorem’s legacy of love, compassion and understanding for all humankind, especially the most vulnerable. Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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