Under pressure….

Apprehension builds.  I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker, the lid’s on tight, it has sealed, and the heat is on.  I’ve put all of this on myself, so I have no one else to blame.  In typical Nancy fashion, I have thought way too hard and way too long about our upcoming Kansas Thanksgiving trip. 

You see, I’ve purchased hunting licenses for both A.J. and myself.  For the first time since losing Mark, we will step out on our land, with Maggie leading the way, to hunt for pheasant and quail.  I’ve never hunted for pheasant and quail in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve walked with Mark dozens of times, carrying a camera.  But this time is different.  HE should be the parent taking our son out for the first time.  It’s a time honored generational passage from father to son.  Unfortunately for this family, daddy’s not around in the physical sense anymore.  And mama is feeling like a poor substitute, at best. 

A.J. is stoked.  Major.  I can’t decide who is more revved up about this trip, he or the dog.  A few days ago, I grabbed my unloaded 12 gauge shotgun, put the whistle around my neck, and walked out into the backyard.  The dog did a double-take.  She’s given up looking for Mark, although I still see her eyes, squinting through the seam in the gate everytime I pull up driving his truck.  I think there’s still a little part of her that wishes it would be his tall lanky frame that exits the vehicle instead of mine.  That may be the last remnant of her wishing for him, at least to my limited knowledge. 

But I digress.  She stops dead in her tracks.  It’s like she cannot believe that I, the female she once tried to oust from the “pack,” have a gun in my hands.  I blow one short tweet on the whistle, and she bounds toward me.  I really believe she would’ve rubbed her eyes in disbelief if she could have.  She gave me one more cursory glance of unsurety until I pumped the gun.  Reassured, she put her nose to the ground, beginning to work our half acre smack dab inside Wichita Falls’ city limits. 

Maybe she will obey me.  But I’ll bring along the training collar just for backup.  There’s also a doggy GPS, I’ll get the techno-minded 9 year old to read up on its operation during the 6 hour drive to the beautiful land with our names on it.

Am I good enough to stand in his place?  Do I have the common sense to walk the land?  Mark could’ve walked it in his sleep, the hundreds of acres that have been in his family for over a century–me, I sometimes have trouble discerning north from south, east from west.  Heck, maybe I’m the one that needs the GPS, not Maggie. 

It’s been a difficult week.  Sunday during worship, the tears begin welling up inside of me.  They began to spill out on the drive home.  My boys talked me through the drive thru of Arby’s, then insisted it was their turn to take care of me, and made me go to bed Sunday afternoon.  I know that this Thanksgiving has to be better than last year’s, our “first” without him.  But this is another “first”….hunting without him.  And I think that’s where all of my emotions are coming from. 

I may be doing well generally, but I need extra prayers this week as I try my darndest to continue to make Mark Howell proud of me.  I also need to relax and remember that I can’t make our trip perfect.–but that God can make it special, regardless of what happens. 

And whether or not we bring back birds is a big deal to A.J….but to me, the big deal will be walking the bluestem-filled prairie, alongside Mark’s little image, behind his bird dog. 

We will be comforted, regardless, as I share the words of Isaiah with both boys before our trip tomorrow:

Surely you know,
Surely you have heard.
The Lord is the God who lives forever,
who created all the world.
He does not become tired or need to rest,
No one can understand how great his wisdom is.
He gives strength to those who are tired
and more power to those who are weak.
Even children become tired and need to rest, and young people trip and fall.
But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.
They will rise up as an eagle in the sky;
they will run and not need rest;
they will walk and not become tired.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (NCV)
I need to work on trusting God completely–whenever I’m depressed, bawling my eyes out on a Sunday afternoon–or whenever I’m at the top of my game, feeling as good as I have in months.  My problems come when I forget that, or think I am doing fine, and I venture out a bit too far from God’s grasp.  As long as I stay within arm’s reach, I can make it. 
Thank You God, for loving me, even whenever I am so bull-headed that I think I can make it on my own.  Thank You for the gentle reminders that I need You, every second of every day, regardless of my mood.  Thank You, also, for the tears, because tears are healing my heart.  I am so grateful for the man You brought into my life 27 years ago because he changed me for the better. And he gave me the two most beautiful loving sons that I cannot fathom life without.  He taught me to love that Kansas land as he did.  Help me pass that love of land and family heritage on to our sons.  Amen.

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