Miriam and Todd are some of my oldest friends. I almost typed “our” but that doesn’t apply anymore. Kraig and I attended college with Todd and he was a friend on the edges of our main circle. After college we reconnected and met his wife, Miriam, when I was pregnant with Ryan, our second, and they had two little ones. They were the friends we could always hang out with. We’d pool resources for dinner and play cards while our toddlers and babies frolicked.
At Kraig’s funeral, I included a song by Andrew Peterson called Dancing in the Minefields about the beautiful ups and downs of marriage. Miriam, during the open mic time, thanked me that Kraig and I had danced with them through their minefields. We’d stuck by them through some rocky seasons. These are friends with history, with deep roots.
This week I was overwhelmed to see the good and plentiful place God brought them to. I was honored to reconnect with this woman. Have you ever known someone who has struggled and then see the joyful outcome when they persevere and are blessed beyond imagining? This is the joy I felt. My friends are blessed and they are in turn blessing others with extravagant generosity—like their widowed friend and her four kids. They have worked hard and are reaping the rewards of that work. They now own two Kid 2 Kid stores in the area that Todd proudly showed off to me. I just kept hugging Miriam I was so happy for them! Her home is beautiful, her family also grown to four kids, and she has always been an amazing hostess.
After my exciting arrival that first night, we prepped the next day for the first adventure she had planned: hiking the Rockies. Ryan had this as a must on our to-do list and Miriam picked hiking at over 10,000 feet to St. Mary’s Glacier. It was a short hike however I got a lesson in high-altitude exercise. Short is relative uphill at that height. Probably wasn’t the best choice the day after ending up in the ER but Miriam was patient with lots of breaks and encouragement to drink water.
The view was stunning and worth every wheezy step. I had a moment when I thought this was kind of like my last year. Grief was hard and required lots of breaks and intentional times of taking care of myself to keep going. But I know the joy of pushing through will be worth it. I had one moment fighting tears as we came upon the glacial lake and I thought, See Kraig? I promised I’d keep taking them on adventures. But this was not a time for tears.
The air was crystal and the water freezing. We explored the water’s edge and rested as each needed it, eating our packed lunches. At one point, Max, Gioia (pronounced Joy-a), and Lucy wanted to simply toss rocks into the lake so I enjoyed the break and watching the “littles” while Miriam took the big ones to see about climbing a glacier. Kati’s eyes were alight with accomplishment when she came back down. The boys were thrilled.
We headed down the mountain for the exciting next stop—Build-a-Bear. Lucy had birthday money to burn and I just decided to bless Kati. We don’t have a Build-a-Bear in Rapid City and the joy of the experience was truly magical. The boys meandered to the Lego shop for a few treats and Jarod even found a new bowler hat in the mall to add to his collection.
We finished the day at a Denver landmark that Kraig had long talked about taking the kids to—Casa Bonita. This Mexican restaurant has been around since the ‘70s. To say “restaurant” does not do it justice. It has more levels than I could count and more rooms tucked away with things for the kids to do. You do not go for the food (and many friends warned Montezuma may or may not pay me a visit after). You go for the experience. Holy cow was it an experience! From cliff divers into the central pool to arcades and magic shows, the kids were hooked. The food had no effect on my kids, probably a testament to the iron-clad stomachs my cooking has developed in them and the prayers I was saying. Kraig would have been happy to know I finally took them.
Day 3 was our Water World extravaganza (see Pt 1) and early that morning I was “discovered” on Facebook to be in Denver by more friends with roots. Bob and Nita Buchanan had been our pastors in college. Their daughter was visiting from Maryland. I know several people in and around the Denver area but knew that Miriam had been wanting to really show us the sites so I had tried to keep our trip a little low-key online. But after Water World, we discovered we could meet for some coffee. Miriam graciously said she’d get the kids in bed and I should go.
Bob had been the pastor who married Kraig and I. He and Nita had been our mentors. They had provided a place where our circle of friends could come and talk and ask questions and wrestle with our faith in a safe place. Nita had been a place I could turn for advice over my years as a pastor’s wife when ministry left me wounded. Seeing them was fantastic. It had been ten years.
They laughed with me through my pistachio story. We each shared where life and ministry was taking us. They follow my blog and said they were praying for my conference later this month. We laughed through old stories and enjoyed hot chocolate. And all too soon, we needed to head our separate ways. It was a wonderful side trip on this vacation that ended with reminders I know more people in Denver who have a home waiting to host us in the future.
Day 4 was Independence Day and we jumped into it with more plans starting with IKEA. Oh how I love IKEA. My kids hadn’t been and with a new home in our future, there were a few things I thought IKEA could help me with. The girls decided a furniture store didn’t sound fun despite my assurances to Kati that she’d love it. But we decided to leave Todd and Miriam’s oldest daughter to babysit the littles and Kati while we took the boys to find some pieces for their new rooms.
Again God had provided. Before the trip I received an unexpected blessing in the mail and so I felt I could look for a few nice things. We’d figure out how to get them and the kids home from Denver later.
Jarod and Ryan were impressed. And because it was July 4th, IKEA was offering free lunch with purchase—for all of us! So I got to bless my friends who had not let me buy anything except Water World. Free Swedish meatballs—yippee! We found pieces for the new house for the boys’ rooms and my living room and a few of those extra things IKEA always sucks you in with. (Seriously, when it’s that cheap, how can it add up that fast?!)
After IKEA was another gift—Todd treated us all to a movie. We decided on How to Train Your Dragon 2. SPOILER ALERT: Not a good movie if your children are recovering from the death of their father since they kill off the dad. Gulp. Seriously? Ryan left for the bathroom during that scene, most likely an act of God. Lucy ended up sobbing but still wanting to finish. It hit Jarod hardest.
Todd was feeling protective of my kids and feeling the absence of Kraig. As I’ve walked the journey of parenting them through this, I’ve said repeatedly that there’s no manual for this. You have to pray and figure it out as you go. Todd realized I was struggling with how to help my man-child and took him for a walk to talk. It helped. I was thankful.
He also gave Lucy a gift that brought me to tears when he offered. Todd took Lucy on her first motorcycle ride. It was just around the block on our last day but she was thrilled. My heart struggled to keep my smile in place. It was the simplest gift but so big.
We watched fireworks from on top of their roof. It was the best display the kids had ever seen. After we got over the repeated pleas to sit down and be safe, it truly was an experience they will cherish.
And then our trip was up. After getting the grand tour and some shopping in at their newest store, we were off. We did have to hit up Chick-fil-A first. I mean, it’s a crime there’s not one in Rapid City so we really had no choice. Yum.
Returning home with a van packed in like sardines and tired kids was a long drive. The stop in Wheatland for gas was full of jokes about how quickly we could leave town this time. The miles passed slowly when I started considering I was coming home to a whirlwind July that included packing an entire house with four kids and heading to the most exciting conference I can think of. So I’m glad we took the intentional time to have amazing adventures before I had to really buckle down and make the kids help with it all.
God keeps providing for ways we can work through this journey of grief. This week He used friends with history. I pray they receive blessings tenfold for the way they helped me through what was Kraig’s favorite holiday weekend. It could have been so full of what was missing. This was the perfect way to spend it. Perfect.
SHAMELESS PLUG: If you will be in the Aurora or Arvada areas of Denver’s suburbs and you have kids or grandkids, might I recommend the Kid 2 Kid stores? They are stocked with quality, gently used items and belong to the dear friends who blessed my socks off this weekend!