If we want to embrace the possibilities in life, we sometimes have to endure the pain.
It is that lesson which author Anne Jolles imparted to 14 military couples who attended our Spring Couples Retreat at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis last month. “Our purpose today is to determine how we can access hope, courage and grace to build resilience to connect with ourselves and with others more frequently and more effectively,” she said.
For Jolles, that journey starts with the Grace Trail which she discovered in 2000 at the lowest point in her life. Within a short timeframe, she had lost her two parents and her home life was falling apart. “I lost my bounce,” she admitted. “I could not find my way.”
She needed to step into a state of grace, saying that “when I looked at the word it consisted of gratitude, release, acceptance, challenge, and embrace. Those are the words of recovery. I said to myself, ‘Wow, even though life really sucks right now, what can I be grateful for? What do I need to release, to move forward? What do I need to get through the muck?”
Get through the muck – it’s a metaphor that Jolles used repeatedly during our retreat to help military couples know there is a way through the toughest challenges life throws our way.
The Grace Trail is born
Jolles has been able to do this through the Grace Trail which she eventually created in 2012 after her son Rob was deployed to Afghanistan. “I had lost my bounce again,” she said, noting that at the time, “I had read an article about the Appalachian Mountain Trail and who walks the trail. This guy was talking about this town that is really built up to support whoever is walking it and it is a whole lot of veterans walking off their war.
“I thought to myself, ‘Where do I go to walk off my war? I’ve got my own war going on here. Where do I go?’” she continued. “I decided I need to make my own trail. I said to my husband Jon, ‘I think I’ll make a Grace Trail.”
This was shortly after she and her husband Jon had moved to Plymouth. As she walked a seaside trail in her newly adopted town, she wrote “gratitude” on a rock and placed it there. And that is how the trail was born.
Soon she hung up maps and started placing more rocks, emblazoned with the words found within grace. She expected her makeshift trail to be removed by the town.
Finding answers through questions
But a funny thing happened. People started to hear about the trail and came to walk it. They began asking themselves the very same questions Jolles had been asking herself and her husband during their routine walks: what are you grateful for? What do you need to release in your life? What are you ready to accept? What challenges do you want to take on? And finally, are you ready to embrace the possibilities that life has to offer.
“Twenty years ago, I didn’t say I need to create this path to resiliency to save everyone in the world,” Jolles said. “I was trying to save my own neck. I was trying to save Jon’s neck. We were very sad.”
It was in nature where Jolles was able to not only find solace, but many of the answers she was looking for.
While the Grace Trail she created nine years ago in Plymouth remains, it’s a journey anyone can take wherever they are. And it’s one that 14 military couples were able to take last month at our spring retreat.
“It is a five-step resiliency model that begins with resiliency and ends with hope,” Jolles said. “The Grace Trail meets you right where you are in life with no judgement, no criticism or advice. These are powerful questions you talk through within yourself. If you bring the curiosity, compassion, and courage to answer these questions, it will give you the courage to walk through the muck.”
She encouraged the couples to ask themselves the questions posed by the Grace Trail, especially for those who may feel lost. “The more I learn about grace, the less I know,” she said. “That is the mystery and beauty of grace.”
Focus on the positive
It starts with gratitude.
“Focus on what is positive in your life,” she stressed. “I’ve worked with hundreds of cancer survivors. I’m a cancer survivor. Jon is a cancer survivor. People have been wheeled in to talk to me and I start off, ‘What are you grateful for?’… They all find something to be grateful for and from the bottom start to push up above the line.”
Acceptance, she said, is another powerful step on the trail; on one end of the spectrum is denial and on the other end is peace. “True acceptance is peace,” she said.
She concluded her presentation with a story about her stepdaughter’s baby. Together, they were walking the Grace Trail in Plymouth when the young girl connected with a baby bunny. “I shut up and said nothing. She was having a moment with the bunny and after a while it jumped into the grass,” Jolles recalled. “I asked her, ‘What was that about?’ and she said, ‘I speak bunny.’ …We all used to speak bunny when we were kids until they kicked it out of you. You all know how to speak bunny. You can again with your head, heart and soul if you just listen.”
She encouraged the couples at our retreat to return to that time when the impossible was possible. “You are getting messages frequently and ignoring them,” she said. “It is available to you too. …Ask the universe. Ask others. Believe you’re worth it. Believe it can happen.”
Afterwards, Jolles spoke about the importance of organizations like ours in assisting service members, veterans, and their loved ones. “In some ways it makes me sad that our troops aren’t more supported by our government,” she said. “In other ways, it’s a message of hope that Heroes In Transition is providing these services that are so needed.”
It’s why she jumped at the chance to participate in last month’s retreat. “I want to give back,” she said. “I know this is a population that is struggling tremendously and I know the Grace Trail fits really well into what they’re facing. …This is an ongoing tool they can pull out and use over and over again as they walk on their own trail.”