Personal Challenges and Opportunities

With LiaBraaten’s permission, the following life challenges – some would say trials and tribulations – are assembled to depict some of the tragedies this native Iron Ranger has overcome in his life.

While in Louisiana LiaBraaten was evacuated from his ground floor apartment when a tropical storm brought six feet of water into his residence.  LiaBraaten was saved by an armored vehicle, but his precious Baldwin grand piano, his family photos and mementos of the past, and brand new Sears appliances were all a total loss.  LiaBraaten still had to pay full price to Sears for a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave that were a total loss. FEMA arrived and spent hours with him documenting all his loss, and giving LiaBraaten hope.  However, the end result was that LiaBraaten received only four things as compensation: a mop and broom to clean up, and a towel and washcloth to bathe.  But LiaBraaten’s resilient nature showed in the way he joyfully picked up the pieces.

In 2002, after seeking help from doctors on the Iron Range, LiaBraaten was diagnosed at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth MN by Dr. Dalton and Dr. Nikcevich with a 75 pound lymphoma tumor. The watermelon-sized tumor plus the fluid it had created weighted more than 75 pounds. Because it was attached to internal organs, the decision was made not to surgically remove it but to burn it out with chemotherapy.  Gallons of chemo and six months in the hospital was his fate.

During treatment LiaBraaten experienced numerous contraindications, complications and set-backs, including multiple blood transfusions, Shingles, numerous blood clots and pneumonia. Throughout recovery, LiaBraaten trusted the doctors and his faith. After six months being in the hospital and on numerous prayer chains across the Iron Range, LiaBraaten completely recovered.  When given a PET scan – which locates even microscopic vestiges of cancer – LiaBraaten was found to be in complete remission, and has remained in remission for fifteen years. “A miracle” according to Iron Range news outlets Hibbing Daily Tribune and Mesabi Daily News, after which he celebrated by recording a “swing” album titled “Swinging Into Shape” – and all the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society.  LiaBraaten’s response to tragedy was to give to others.

The death of LiaBraaten’s two closest friends and confidantes Russ Avikainen (Ely MN) and Helen Sedey (Eveleth MN) has left a deep void personally for the artist.  But Rev. LiaBraaten joked with a reporter: “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me” [sic “And He Walks With Me, And He Talks With Me”].  Meaning Jesus is LiaBraaten’s best friend.

LiaBraaten recently recounted another trusted friend of many years had made the unfortunate choice to take advantage of LiaBraaten – to promise to pay him for musical performances but then pocket all the proceeds, to mock the reverend’s devotion to Bible study – and also – like Job’s friends did – to curse this devoted believer to his face.  A positive person by nature, LiaBraaten is drawn to other positive people, and repels bullies; so this superficial relationship ended by choice.  According to the Reverend, scripture says: “A true brother is born for adversity; and there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” As LiaBraaten paraphrased it: “Be kind to all, and forgive all, but pick your closest friends wisely”.

Healed by faith and medicine from follicular lymphoma, LiaBraaten – who currently lives in Hibbing MN – has been more recently been diagnosed with other painful symptoms.  This latest 2016-2017 health crisis is due to internal scar tissue from lymphoma, and other recent complications that include a heart condition and newly-discovered diabetes. LiaBraaten told a reporter recently that these new symptoms are not setbacks, but rather “opportunities for growth and self-assessment”.

Further evidence there may be “a roaring lion who roams about seeking whom he may devour”:  Tragically Rev. LiaBraaten’s soul mate and wife of 21 years – Leah LiaBraaten nee Leah Marie Koskela – who had accompanied the man through lengthy cancer treatments, suddenly abandoned her wedding vows to devote time to other pursuits and other people.  As a devoted Christian husband, LiaBraaten was hurt, but immediately forgave his estranged wife and made numerous attempts to reconcile, as he recently stated: “not to judge, but to rise above the blame, to communicate, to understand the problem and take whatever steps necessary to fix it”.

LiaBraaten’s mentor advised “it is okay to let go”, because it takes both parties to agree to rebuild a broken union, and that scripture says “if the unbelieving depart – let them”.

Thankfully the couple’s divorce in 2015 was swift and amicable.  At first LiaBraaten called this tragedy “a fate worse than cancer” as the rejection took a severe toll on LiaBraaten’s physical health.  But by embracing and employing a growth mindset, LiaBraaten recently told an interviewer: “I have forgiven her, learned a lot about myself and relationships, and wish her well.”

LiaBraaten – as anyone can plainly see – is an overcomer, not just a survivor but a “thriver”.  All his life, time after time, when tragedy has struck, he long ago determined never to have a so-called “pity party”.  Instead each time this native Iron Ranger has made the unassuming decision to devote his time, talent, and treasure to “others”.

To quote a recent interview:  “People like my mother and father, my close family, the kids at the youth center, my talented students and proteges, my employees and clients; and my ex – whom I told every day for 21 years ‘you are the most beautiful woman in the world’; and my in-laws – for whom I was honored to share my God-given inner peace and heartfelt music at their family funerals – all these people made deposits in my life and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to help them, honor them and bless them”.

News sources from the Iron Range to the Twin Cities acknowledge LiaBraaten’s circle of blessings includes:  veterans and their families, adults with disabilities, fellow musicians and artists, the elderly, non-profits, colleges, schools, ministries, food shelves, the less fortunate in the community – even perhaps you who read this inspiring message here.

Currently in 2017 LiaBraaten is fearlessly facing new challenges and opportunities with an open mind, an unwavering positivity, an abiding and enduring faith, a humble self-assurance, and with the support of friends and colleagues, both old and new.