Serenity in Defeat.

First off, I’m sorry that I’ve been so terrible about updating this. Obviously life happens and being a Daddy and “real life” comes first so I’m sure you can all both relate and understand that. That said, there has been a lot happen in Bentley and I’s lives as of late and I have been really needing to update the blog to catch everyone up to speed on where we are in life!

Last time I wrote a post, Bentley was one week shy of turning 5 months old. That seems insane to me! He’ll turn 8 months old in just over two weeks (16 days) which makes me so happy and proud but also so sad to see him growing up so fast! We’ve had so many different milestones that have happened in the past 3 months that it’ll be hard to both remember and then write them all but I’ll do my best. Bentley has been a fast learner his entire life and seems to get the hang of things after only a few short assisted “attempts” before he exercises the independence that he definitely got from his Mama. Lindsay was very independent, to the point of being stubborn and Bentley fell right next to the damn tree trunk on that one! Haha Anyways, he usually only needs to be shown things a handful of times before he seems to really grasp it and run with it, with the exception of crawling. I think this kid will be a walker before he crawls! Since January 15th (my last post) a few milestone-type things that I know he’s accomplished: his dexterity is awesome, he loves grabbing EVERYTHING he can see, especially if it’s bright! He is sitting up unassisted and has recently really started to enjoy looking at books or toys and you can see on his face that he’s trying to ‘figure them out’, which is heartwarming! He’s cut 1 tooth and has a few more working their way through now. His facial expressions, personality and attitude are in FULL effect. He definitely is his mother and I’s baby boy, we both had/have big personalities and he is definitely cut from the same cloth! He loves to explore around the house, preferring to either walk his own way around while holding onto Daddy’s hands or by facing outward while holding him. He spins around like a mad man, wanting to see everything that is in the opposite direction he is in. My Dad, his Pawpaw Wayne, has given him the endearing nickname of “Taz”, short for Tasmanian devil because he’s always on the go. During  my short vacation last weekend he stayed with my parents and my Dad spent a lot of time with him and he definitely “kicked my ass up and down” as my Dad so lovingly put it, hence the nickname!

Bentley is an always-on-the-go, full of smiles, undeniably happy, independent, healthy, smart, funny, stubborn, cuddly, handsome and growing baby boy. He makes me proud each day to be his Daddy and I can’t wait to see what our future holds together!

So since my last post a lot has happened in my life as well. I’m sure many of you follow me on Facebook so you have probably followed along for most of it but if not, I’ll give a quick update now. Back in the early stages of February I applied to a job with State Farm so I could move from a contracted TEKsystems employee to an internal employee. Those who aren’t familiar with State Farm may not understand the significance but basically getting internal means more stability, better benefits and more room for growth. That said, TEKsystems is seriously the best company that I’ve worked for in my somewhat short professional career. The employees, support staff, love, prayers and support that were extended my way during my time with them will never be forgotten and I will always recommend them as a place of employment to anyone asking. They were phenomenal and I am and will always be proud to have worked for them! However, Lindsay and I had worked SO very hard to make the move to an internal employee for the obvious reasons that I had mentioned before. Moving internal meant more stability for our family, an opportunity for me to grow professionally, and a start to a great and hopefully very long career with a great company. The second part of this move, one that was known to basically no one but Lindsay and I was that Lindsay would ultimately be able to quit her work altogether and focus all her time and energy towards being a stay-at-home Mom and homemaker. We had planned on 2-3 kids total and it was important to the both of us that they got nothing but the best care which meant that Lindsay was our answer; no one was better or more qualified to watch, nurture and grow our children than she was. (This would later be proven false by my current provider, Cara, but that was our plan) So after my interview for this job, I had to wait a few weeks for the posting to close and the management team to make their decision on whom they would like to hire. It was a very long and anxious few weeks but I finally heard back that they would like to extend me an offer!

My heart started racing, I was in my bedroom putting away laundry on my lunch hour when I got the call and I laid back on my bed as I answered the phone. The recruiter on the other end said what he had to say, congratulated me and then hung up as I laid there, taking everything in. I could feel so many things pouring over me and my mind was racing just as fast, if not faster than my heart.

I did it. I had finally accomplished something professionally that had been in my sights for the better part of 2 years! My heart began to swell with pride of my accomplishment but then it happened.

I was beaming, grinning from ear to ear and tears of happiness began to well in my eyes. I was so proud that I’d finally accomplished something that I had been trying to accomplish for over 2 years. Then it happened. I picked up my phone, went to my phone book, scrolled down to Lindsay’s name and hit her name to dial and even put my phone up to my ear before everything came crashing down. I. LOST. MY. SHIT. I literally lost my mind. How could I be so stupid to do that? How could I let myself think for a second that I was able to call her and tell her my news? It was vividly clear each night and each morning that she was no longer with me here on Earth but in that moment I was so excited, so happy and so proud that I immediately went to call my best friend to tell her how proud she was going to be of me and it all came crumbling down around me. My reality came back and smacked me between the eyes and the rest of that day and probably the next few days were incredibly hard. I was having a hard time even feeling excited about the job because I realized that the person that I wanted it for the most, the person that helped me get my confidence back and reminded me daily of what I can do if I put my mind to it wasn’t there to share it with me. Sure, my family and her family were over the moon for me, as was I for myself and Bentley but it didn’t take the hurt away. It didn’t make it any easier to not be able to text her and say “You’d be so proud babe…” or “Guess what?”, baiting her into delivering the great news. I know what she’d say to me, I know she’d be so proud and I know that we’d both be so happy and comforted, knowing that she would be able to be the stay-at-home Mommy of my and her kids’ dreams but it was just that; things that I KNEW, not things that I EXPERIENCED.

That’s kind of how this entire grieving process has gone. It’s a daily occurrence than I can hear her talking to me like she were right next to me. I hear her “advice” when making decisions, when playing or working with Bentley on things, when I sit down at night, when I lay down in bed, when I am driving, when I’m getting dressed. Basically if I let it happen, I can hear her talking to me all the time. We were so close and I knew her so well that I could almost tell you word for word what she would say to virtually any situation and that simultaneously makes me happy and depressed.

All this said, I know she would be so proud of me and so happy for our family. I had to keep quiet on my news with all my friends (only the closest knew) and coworkers because nothing was “official” until the background check was completed with State Farm. Long story short, I got the call late February that I was going to get the job and my background check literally just cleared today, almost 40 days later. This isn’t typical but due to my military school being backed up on requests, I waited for 32 days for them to get the information to State Farm. Obviously that’s incredibly frustrating and I felt horrible that I couldn’t tell my coworker’s to give them a head’s up, but my hands were tied. Along with this delay, my tentative start date with State Farm was for April 11th but that has since been pushed back to April 25th now so I’ve got a mini-vacation if I want to look at it in a positive light. I’ll start as an Information Security Specialist on the Business Application Security team with State Farm on April 25th!

Due to the timing of the background check and having to plan in advance to give TEKsystems 3 weeks notice, I made my last day with them March 31st. The plan was to take from the 31st to the 11th off to give myself time to take a vacation overseas and then come back to have a few days with Bentley before starting my next journey. I started out by thinking I’d go to Australia and started my trip planning. Long story short, due to the time lost while travelling (25+ hours flying) and short window of travel I had, coupled with the expensive nature of the trip, I decided it didn’t make sense to take that trip at this time. I want to do it when I can truly enjoy it and not feel stressed due to time. Therefore I made the decision that I would do a hiking trip!

Hiking was one of my passions during my time in California in the Navy and I have always missed that passion and wanted to experience it again. I have rarely felt as much at peace in life as I do while in the woods, alone or with some friends and that’s most of the reason I was doing this trip.

I wanted to do a trip to find myself, find God and fix my soul. My heart looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, a big gaping hole running through it, patched up by some cotton balls, popsicle sticks, duct tape and bubble gum. I lost a large part of myself and my soul when my beloved Lindsay passed away and I needed a “reset”, so-to-speak, so I could re-center myself and fix my soul.

After some Google searching I decided upon the Art Loeb Trail, a gorgeous 30.1 mile trail located just outside the small, bustling, touristy town of Brevard, NC. It was called “the mini-Appalachian” due to some hikers thinking it was a good representation of the entire Appalachian Trail in one, short hike. Sounded perfect for what I was looking for so I started my planning around mid-to-early March. I carefully planned my route, detailed my list of gear, carefully decided upon items based upon their reviews and had everything in order just a few short days before I left. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to over-research EVERYTHING, so it took forever to decide on my gear but I was happy with my choices and ready to get on my way. My last day with TEKsystems was March 31st and I left for North Carolina on April 1st with my 100 pound chocolate lab, Pacey. Joey, my 13 pound, very high maintenance maltipoo stayed behind at a friend’s place because  he would’ve made it a mile before he would’ve stopped, sat down and demanded I carry him–that’s not an exaggeration, he has done it many times before on our walks. So we were off, weaving our way towards Brevard.

Any doubt that I had that Lindsay wasn’t with me and Pacey was quickly erased while winding through the Daniel Boone National Forest just south of Lexington, Kentucky, just outside of Mt. Vernon, Kentucky on I-75. Beautiful purple flowering trees speckled the tall and wide rock faces that were carved by the road construction crews so many years earlier. For those of you that don’t know, Lindsay’s favorite color was sparkle….err, purple. If it was purple and sparkly, she would buy it, regardless of how damn hideous it was or the price tag! Haha Anyway, these purple trees quite literally caused me to slow down and roll my windows down. Pacey had her head out the window and I was closing my eyes, letting the air whip through my hair, bringing the smell of nature into my car. (I didn’t close my eyes for very long, calm down Mom…) Those same purple trees went on for miles and miles, taking brief breaks from my view but they continued all the way into Brevard. That’s one of those things that you know that you’re right where you’re supposed to be in life at that moment in time. Pacey and I got to our hotel around 8pm, ordered and ate dinner and then went to bed. We had to be to our shuttle to take us to the north end of the Art Loeb Trail (ALT) at 6:30am.

We got to our shuttle and met our driver Joe around 6:20am and after the other 4 members of our shuttle arrived and got their stuff loaded in the van, we took off. It was an unbelievably gorgeous and winding 80 minute ride through the Pigsah National Forest that ended with arriving at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Campground, marking the north trailhead of the ALT. The four dudes that rode up with Pacey and I were very friendly and invited Pacey and I to hike with them if we wanted but they smartly split the weight of their packs amongst them and the heaviest pack they had was only 24 pounds. My pack weighed in at a way-too-heavy 52.6 pounds and so their pace far outpaced mine so they quickly put a lot of ground between them and myself. I knew the hike would be challenging, gaining around 2600 ft of elevation in less than 6 miles, but it proved to be beyond my wildest dreams. The trail immediately reminded you of how small you were, forcing you to climb small rocks, climb over fallen tree trunks, gain a few hundred feet of elevation in a few hundred feet just to turn the corner and lose all that you had gained. Basically mother nature was saying “I’m going to kick your ass and you’re going to take it” from the very onset of this trail. In my research I knew water was sparse on the trail, the last water source I would encounter until mile 11 was around mile 3. As I was making my way up and down, left and right, slithering my way along the mountainside trails with Pacey I made a few stops to both rest and to also check my map to make sure I was on the right track. The first 3.9 miles of the trail were technically “unmarked” but the path was pretty well-worn and navigation was fairly easy. The craziest part of day 1 was when Pacey came sprinting back from around a trailbend around the 1 mile mark and literally hid behind me, of course she broke her pack that contained around 10 pounds of food and blankets, forcing me to carry her load from there on. I immediately went to the worst possible scenario and thought “Shit, I’m already meeting a bear on this trail!” and pulled out my bear spray, ready to spray the living hell out of this bear. (Bears were on high-alert when I went and it was a park law that overnight campers were required to have bear canisters, scentproof and destruction-proof containers) Much to my surprise I saw two trepidatious hands, holding a pistol, come around the corner followed by a man in his mid-40’s. He immediately holstered his pistol and said “Oh, I’m so sorry man, I thought your dog was a bear at first. I knew it wasn’t after I saw the size but I wasn’t going to play games.” If he had shot Pacey on that trail, while illegally carrying his pistol I think we would’ve found out what Bear Spray and many, many punches do to a man. Haha He was thankfully a really nice guy and we moved past each other, wishing each other well after he continued to apologize. Pacey and I trekked along, Pacey getting 50-75 yards in front of me to blaze the trail. She did awesome, if she lost sight of me or if I called her back, she would turn around and happily trot back to me before returning to her lead position.

Around the 2.6 mile mark there was a small campsite just off the trail that offered unbelievable views of the surrounding valley and mountain ranges.  I took my pack off and sat down with Pacey, drinking water and taking in nature. I’m not sure how long I sat there but it was so incredibly peaceful and the sounds of nature were almost deafening. I could hear twigs breaking, birds singing, creeks flowing in the valley below, wind whistling through the trees at my back and Pacey panting happily next to me. Time slowed way down in that moment and I remember looking up toward the sky, letting the morning sun warm my cheeks and talking to Lindsay. I knew that this trip would be special at that moment and my soul was feasting on the sun and freedom. After I sat for a while and enjoyed just “being”, I adjusted the weight distribution on my pack, threw it back on and continued my ascent to the base of Cold Mountain, around 5000 ft. I could hear the creek bed that was just around the 3 mile mark flowing as I cam around a bend and I mentally made the note that I was going to have to fill up every water container at the next water source after that, as it was the last water source for almost 6 miles.

As Pacey was crossing the smaller creek bed, I made note to stop and watch her because the trail was fairly challenging at that point. She slipped and fell when she was climbing a small rock face on the other side of the creek bed from me and so I started to cross to help her get over the hump, so-to-speak. I then made a very silly mistake, I wasn’t paying attention to my footing because I was focused on her. I don’t know if I mis-stepped or I stepped on a rock that was loose but the rock or my right foot went out from under me and I went crashing down on my left knee and then on my left side. The creek’s frigid, crystal clear creek water was running over my clothes and starting to soak into my pack before I was able to somehow swing the pack awkwardly back onto my back and safely out of the water. I immediately knew something was wrong with my knee, I felt a strong pinching/stabbing sensation in my knee and when I was able to make my way back out of the creek and onto a smaller bed of peat moss I was able to pull up my pants and reveal my damage. My left kneecap was pushed slightly to the right side of my knee, mildly dislocated. There were so many emotions in that moment, the strongest being “Well F$%&, I’m going to have to re-set this myself and that’s really gonna suck.”

I sucked it up and pushed it back into place. Despite it sounding painful, it was actually a fairly quick and uneventful process and the discomfort pretty quickly subsided but when I stood up I went right back down because my knee felt loose. I unbuckled my pack and tossed it to the side in disgust and laid back on the moss and started to cry. The ensuing 30 minutes actually culminated in giving me everything I was looking for in my trip. God and Lindsay decided they only needed less than 30 minutes to teach me what I was investing 125+ hours into.

I lay there on that rock, completely broken. I want you to appreciate that pun for a second–ok, moving on. I lay there mentally and physically broken. I was at an all-time low for a few reasons. One, Pacey’s pack had broken and I was facing carrying her load on my chest strap. Two, my load balancing issues and overall pack weight was incredibly frustrating. Three, my knee was in a good amount of pain. Four, I knew the possibility of me completing my hike was very grim.

Then came all of the feels, as they say. Followed by all of the things I was looking for. I had invested 11+ hours of driving, plenty of money and energy just to get to this trail and now I was just 3 miles into my hike, not quite 10% done, and I had already been broken by nature. I lay back on that bed of moss, burying my face into my hands and cried. I screamed and yelled, threw all the rocks that were within my reach before finally calming down and letting the lessons come. Pacey sat nearby, probably thinking “There is no way in hell I’m going near my crazy owner’s angry ass right now” before cautiously making her way over to me and licking me on the cheek before she, too, climbed onto this bed of moss and laid her head down on my lap. Her presence definitely calmed me and as I began to pet her, it hit me.

It took me 668 miles, 104 days, 3 miles of difficult hiking, a mildly dislocated kneecap, a broken heart and soul to learn one of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned.

As I ran my fingers through Pacey’s coat, my mind raced. I couldn’t stop thinking about Bentley, my family, home, Joey, my friends and Lindsay. How could I have been so blind to it the entire time? How could I go on for 104 days and not see what I was seeing with so much clarity in that moment? I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I felt and how silly the answer was.

I never lost myself. I’m a father to Bentley, a son to Colleen, Wayne, RB and Deb, a brother to Logan and Abby, Jon and Becky and an uncle to 3 crazy Freed boys. I’m a loyal friend to the greatest group of friends that God could put in someone’s life. I’m a dedicated, hardworking, smart, funny, caring, selfless, open and honest, accomplished, hopeless romantic kind of guy. I’ve gone through a shitty year, been faced with things that most people never have to experience but most of all, in that moment, I was ALIVE.

You don’t “find” God. God isn’t someone you just go out in the woods and bump into while on the trail. “Oh, hey God, I’m Cody…err…I guess you knew that, huh?” You don’t get “saved by Jesus” or “find God”, you just simply make the choice to put Him at the forefront of your life. Jesus died on a cross thousands of years ago for your sins already. You’ve already been saved by Him, all you have to do is acknowledge that and put Him at the forefront of your life. Again, laying on a rock/bed of moss was the last place that I envisioned that I would make this revelation and decide to rededicate my involvement in actively pursuing my Faith…but God works in mysterious ways, right? 🙂

My soul was never in need of “fixing”. Was/is my soul and heart-broken? Sure. Could I realistically “fix” that? Absolutely not. Going through the fast and furious storm of dating, engagement, marriage and becoming a father made my heart swell from one side of my ribcage to the other. Cancer and the battle that we went through shot a hole right through my heart and made it retract to a less-than-superhero state that was unfamiliar to me. That hole is something that cannot be fixed. However, it can, and will heal. The only thing that can help that heal is time and love. Trying to force that or trying to find a recipe to fix that would have been futile and seeing that somehow made dealing with the hole that was left behind in my heart, easier.

Lastly but perhaps most importantly, friends and family are everything in life. I went to the woods to try to find answers that were literally right in front of me and had been all along. My family and friends have been so incredibly supportive, loving and encouraging throughout all of this experience that I think I began to take it for granted. As I lay on that mountainside, broken and mentally worn-out, I had nothing but homesickness hit me. I had started to think “oh I can push through this and keep hiking” before realizing that I still had 1850 feet to climb. That was quickly followed by “I have Bentley at home and he needs me, I can’t be stupid about this” and it made the decision to turn back an easy one. My family and friends’ love and prayers will help heal my broken heart and soul, their encouragement and relationships will never let me lose sight of who I am and their guidance and support will help me put my relationship with God at the forefront of my life.

I went all that way, through all these struggles and had to hit absolute rock-bottom to realize that I had already had what I was looking for all along. I went into the woods to lose my mind and find my soul but what I found was so, so much more. I’m in such a better place now, mentally, after my trip and I’m ready to move forward again, one step at a time!

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