What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas…or does it?

They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But if you are a fan of Donny and Marie Osmond, you know otherwise. Fans of the brother and sister singing duo love to spread the news about their Osmond adventures, especially on one of the Osmond Facebook groups like Anything Osmond or The D&M Fan Page.

Images of Donny and Marie tower over Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) at the Flamingo Hotel, where they have performed for 11 years.

I was lucky enough to make a trip to Las Vegas last month to see the Donny and Marie show for a bucket list trip to celebrate my 60th birthday. I have a bit of Osmond history and had hoped to attend the Meet and Greet after the show, but there were no tickets available. (For more background on the significance of the Osmonds to me and of this trip, read I’m Leaving it all up to you, Donny. This post is a follow up to that post.)

My friend Cheryl and me arriving in Las Vegas on October 4, 2019 to celebrate my birthday. Let the adventure begin…

While my friend Cheryl and I were in Vegas, Donny and Marie were inducted into the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. The induction ceremony was another chance for me (and probably my last chance) to meet them in person (and fulfill a childhood dream). Humor me as I share about my Donny adventure in Vegas (and for the fans who couldn’t be there).

A Bucket List Trip to Las Vegas

We arrived in Vegas a few hours before the Walk of Stars induction ceremony. We checked in early to our room at the Paris Hotel and had a wonderful outdoor lunch at Mon Ami Gabi with a wide open view of the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and down the Strip. It was a great way to start our weekend adventure.

The view from our table at Mon Ami Gabi Restaurant, Paris Hotel, Las Vegas.

The induction ceremony was a few blocks away at the Flamingo Hotel on the sidewalk near the main entrance to the casino on the Strip. After lunch we walked to the location of the ceremony that was scheduled to start at 3:00. I heard that fans wouldn’t be allowed to show up until 2:30 to prevent people from blocking the sidewalk.

Our view for the Walk of Stars ceremony.

When we walked up to the site at 1:45, there was already a crowd of fans 1 row deep. A stage with a backdrop printed with ‘Donny & Marie’ on it was set up blocking one of the entrance doors. A chest-high barricade was also set up to keep the crowd a short distance from the stage. Security guards were also visible at the site.

Cheryl and I scoped out a place to stand and wait on the Strip side of the barricades. A red piece of fabric and cushions (like kneeling pads) in a square shape surrounded and covered the pavement block where the Star was imbedded into the sidewalk.

Although it was early October, the temperature was in the mid-80s and the Vegas sun was still hot on our backs. Being fair skinned, I put sun screen on my back before we left the hotel. However, some people behind me told me that the back of my neck was getting red. Some nice fans offered to help me cover my neck. The sun intensified the wait, and oh my aching feet!

Pre-Ceremony Activities

To pass the time, I periodically checked some of the Osmond Facebook groups that I belong to. I hoped to meet other Osmond fans from the group. As luck would have it, I noticed a post 1 minute earlier from someone who posted a photo that had the same camera angle that we did. I asked if anyone was ‘Cindy’. The lady in front of me turned around with a surprised look on her face. “I’m Cindy,” she said. (She is a big fan and regularly posts on the Osmond Facebook groups.)

As the time passed, people would stop and ask us what was going on. We’d tell them about the induction ceremony for Donny and Marie. A few tourists stopped to wait, but more so as the time neared 3:00.

Also while waiting, we got to see the framed ‘Walk of Stars’ plaque that Donny and Marie would both receive (similar to how they received Gold Records years ago). The plaques were being displayed by someone on the Flamingo staff (and his wife and son). They walked the plaques around to show the waiting fans.

Half an hour before the ceremony started, the media showed up. They came in with their big cameras, video equipment and tripods. They were closer to the stage (and the Star). Unfortunately, they were now blocking our direct line of vision for the Star’s unveiling.

A Surprise Guest

Shortly after the media arrived, the fans were surprised by the arrival of Alan Osmond, one of Donny and Marie’s older brothers. Alan was the oldest member of the original Osmond Brothers group. He is 70 and has Multiple Sclerosis.

Alan Osmond greets the fans.

We later learned that he wasn’t aware of his sibling’s induction ceremony. Alan and his wife Susan were there to host a prince and princess of Ethiopia for Donny and Marie’s show that night. The fans were thrilled to see Alan in person. He graciously rode his motorized wheelchair along the barricades and shook our hands (including mine).

Of course, as we stood outside waiting in the heat, I took lots of photos and video on my phone. At one point, my camera was so hot, it started to overheat. I had to shut it down. Fortunately, I was double loaded for shooting pictures and also had my large SLR camera with me.

Fifteen minutes before the ceremony started, Donny and Marie’s music was piped through the outdoor PA system. The excitement was definitely building at this point. Some people were singing along, but maybe it was just me.

Introductory comments by Robert Alexander, VP of the Las Vegas Walk of Stars and Damian Costa, vice president of entertainment operations for Caesars Entertainment.

A few minutes before 3:00, the ceremony began with some remarks from Robert Alexander, VP of the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. (Wayne Newton was the first recipient of a star back in 2004.) That speaker was followed by Damian Costa, vice president of entertainment operations for Caesars Entertainment, representing the Flamingo.

Marie, center left, (in her stiletto heels) greets the fans.

Donny & Marie Take Center Stage

The fans cheered and screamed at the introduction of Donny and Marie. They entered from the right of where we were standing. They entered from E. Flamingo Road and walked through an aisle of barricaded fans. Marie surfaced into the center of the area first. They announced Donny’s name several times before he finally emerged from the crowd. He stopped to shake people’s hands, sign autographs, and take photos. (All the while I was hoping he would come our way.)

Donny (center) greets the fans.

When Donny and Marie took the stage, they thanked their fans and spoke about their residency at the Flamingo. Did you know that Donny and Marie have performed more shows in Vegas than Celine Dion and Elvis Presley combined? They included some of their good-natured ribbing in typical Donny and Marie fashion. Donny joked that since they already had the key to the City, he was going to run for Mayor of Las Vegas. Marie countered by saying she would run for President. Fans cheered even louder in response.

Donny and Marie at the Las Vegas Walk of Stars ceremony, October 4, 2019.

A Star is Born

That was followed by the unveiling of their new Star on the Vegas Walk of Stars. My cell phone was working again by this time but our view was partially obstructed by the media. Even with my big zoom lens, I couldn’t get a good photo of the unveiling. But I snapped away regardless.

From Marie Osmond’s social media post on Instagram.

The unveiling of the star was followed by lots of media attention. Donny and Marie posed with the dignitaries, and others including their brother Alan. Cheryl and I (along with the fans) patiently stood waiting and hoping for our chance to meet Donny and Marie. I didn’t know what to expect next. I hadn’t really thought any of this through in advance. I only knew that I had traveled from Washington State hoping to meet him.

Donny, Marie, Alan and Susan Osmond, and a prince and princess of Ethiopia.

My Chance to Meet Donny

I wanted to get that long lost photo with Donny in person. So when it seemed like Donny was leaving (on the opposite side of the barricaded area), I tried to get his attention by yelling his name. I think that other fans followed suit, because he turned around and headed in our direction. Now I was nervous. What next? What would I say? Would I get a moment of his time to talk? Would he remember that day on the set of Northwest Afternoon?

He walked along the barricade heading towards me while shaking people’s hands. My heart started racing. The main thing that ran through my mind was getting a photo with Donny. But how? Cheryl and I were separated by a few people. The memory from the last time I met Donny 20 years ago was fresh in my mind. I was reliving it all over again (when no one volunteered to take our photo together). I was juggling cameras and trying to take photos—all the while trying to keep my wits about me. And here he came…

My moment was gone in an instant. Donny wasn’t stopping for anyone. He quickly shook his fans’ hands and went to the next person. He DID shake my hand and…more than that, I don’t know what got into me…I kissed Donny’s hand. If you are an Osmond fan, you’ll understand why and what happened inside of me. (I’ve read similar reactions and experiences from others in the Osmond Facebook groups). As crazy as it may seem, I felt like a teenager again—swept away off my feet–like A Teenager in Love.

It all happened so quickly, but it wasn’t over yet. Marie came over to our area as well. She was more deliberate with her fans, shaking hands and stopping for photos. I wasn’t able to get a photo with her, but I did shake her hand. Of course, I took photos as best as I could along the way too.

Marie stops for a photo with a fan.

I was giddy with delight and in somewhat of a state of shock for the next few hours. Back at our hotel room, we unwound from the afternoon’s events over a drink and watched the story on the local TV news station.

The Donny and Marie afterglow…

Life is Just What You Make It

While our tickets to the show weren’t until the next night, this event was really the highlight of my Donny weekend. (And it wasn’t even announced until after we had our tickets to Vegas that weekend). I didn’t get any other chances to personally meet him. So maybe I’ll never get that elusive photo with Donny Osmond. If I ever get another chance, and if I want it bad enough, I know that you have to not be shy in ASKING and trying to get his attention.

I can’t imagine what life would be like in the stoplight like that. It’s all that Donny and Marie have ever known though. I’ve heard that Donny thrives on it. So maybe someday, after the Donny and Marie show comes to an end (in a few days) and he goes on his world tour, I’ll get another chance. For now, I’m content with the memories, and my A Million to One shot at meeting Donny Osmond in Las Vegas.

We were here! (What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas!)

Thank you Donny and Marie for such great musical and whimsical memories throughout my life and your millions of devoted worldwide fans.

Donny Osmond Facebook post after the Walk of Stars ceremony.

I’m Leaving It All Up To You, Donny

If you are a Donny or Marie Osmond fan, you will immediately recognize the reference in the above blog post title to a famous song they sang, I’m Leaving It All Up To You. This weekend, I’m placing my fate, the chance to meet Donny, in his hands. And maybe with a little help from Above, it will happen. And here’s why…

Bucket List Weekend in Vegas

This weekend I am traveling to Las Vegas with my friend Cheryl to celebrate my 60th birthday. This is sort of a bucket list event for me. We’ve been planning this for several months with one purpose in mind—to see the Donny and Marie show. Next month, Donny and Marie will be ending their 11-year run at the Flamingo Hotel.

Donny’s announcement of their star from his Facebook page.

While it was my heart’s desire to attend one of the nightly Meet and Greet events they hold after the show, we were not able to get those coveted tickets. Shortly after we booked our flights and bought tickets for the show, we heard that Donny and Marie were being inducted into the Las Vegas Walk of Stars on October 4 (the day we arrive).

Maybe my chances are increasing to meet him. At the very least, this weekend will definitely have an Osmond theme to it. My friend Cheryl and I will be in teeny-bopper heaven—like A Teenager in Love! (That’s a Donny song from 1972.)

Yes, I’m just like millions of other crazed women of my generation who dreamed of meeting Donny.  Humor me as I share some of the background for why this trip is so significant to me. I’ve got A Million to One shot of meeting him. (Yes, that’s another Donny song.)

My Osmond History

I’ll start by sharing something I wrote in my scrapbook when I last met Donny 20 years ago. Yes it was a dream come true—almost perfect—as you’ll see—almost.

Wednesday, June 30, 1999 is what I affectionately call ‘Donny Day.’ It was a day in my life when many of my teenage dreams came true.

Back in junior high school when I was about 12-13 years old, I was a huge fan of the Osmond Brothers music group and especially the lead singer Donny. I had my room plastered with posters. I had all of their albums (and probably 45’s too). I read all the teen magazines. I dreamt so much about them that I even wrote a story about them. Much to my disappointment, I never got to see them in concert.

As an adult I continued to carry a fascination with the Osmonds and followed their lives through the media. In 1989, Donny was doing a national tour including a stop in Seattle. Much to my amazement, my husband agreed to take me to the concert. Donny was promoting his Soldier of Love album/CD. My husband and I loved the concert. I had turned my husband into a Donny Osmond fan!

Autographed Soldier of Love CD

After the show, we waited outside the theater by Donny’s bus. I was hoping to meet him, but I was not alone. The bus was surrounded by fans. Donny came out to the bus and pushed his way through the crowd shaking hands along the way. As luck would have it, I got to shake his hand. What a thrill for me. It had finally happened!

Almost ten years later in the fall of 1998, Donny and Marie got their own talk show. Now I could get my fill of Donny on a daily basis. In spring of 1999, I saw Donny being interviewed on the Today show. He was promoting his new autobiography, Life Is Just What You Make It: My life So Far. I knew I would have to get his book. (I’m reading it again now to get pumped for our trip.)

Not much later after seeing that interview, I woke up one morning to hear the DJ on my husband’s radio alarm talking about Donny coming to town. I excitedly started researching when and where he would be locally. I expected he would be promoting his book and doing book signings. I came up empty-handed though. I tried the radio station. They didn’t know where—just the date he would be in town—June 30—2 days away!!!

I called KOMO TV (a local television station in Seattle) to see if Donny would be on Northwest Afternoon. SUCCESS! Yes, he would and they still had seats available. I booked 2 seats—not knowing who I would get to go with me. (After all I was a closet Donny Osmond fan.)

On the set of NW Afternoon (one page from my scrapbook)

I had to simultaneously find a friend to attend with me and a babysitter for my kids. As a backup plan, I would take my oldest son, who was 6 years old at the time. I thought he would enjoy seeing the filming of a live TV show from behind the scenes. I was thrilled to find a friend, Kris, who was also a big Donny fan, but she couldn’t make the babysitter connections for her kids. So I took my son. Kris watched from home.

Once I knew I was going, I bought Donny’s new book—maybe I could get it autographed! The day of the show I was a nervous wreck. It was going to be a busy day trying to juggle my kid’s commitments and still make it to downtown Seattle in time for the show. Before I left the house, I made sure to set the VCR to record the show.

That’s as far as I wrote back then. I’m sure life got in the way and I never came back to finish that scrapbooking page. But the photos are on the pages, and I will never forget what happened. So I’ll pick up the story after we arrived at the studio.

Donny Osmond Day on Northwest Afternoon

It seemed like a small studio audience, less than 100 people, but it was totally filled with Osmond fans. Before the show, we told there would be a “Q & A” segment and to have questions ready to ask Donny. I was so nervous that I wrote down my question on a checking deposit slip, the only paper I could find in my purse. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget: “How does he juggle the new show, book tour and family?”

On the set of NW Afternoon

It was very surreal to be there—so close to someone I had idolized as a teen and admired as an adult. I was able to ask my question. I was so nervous!! Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was put on a split screen view with Donny while I asked the question on TV. (I was pleasantly surprised to see this later on the video tape.)

Sharing the screen with Donny while I ask my question.

The best part of the program was actually during the commercial breaks. Donny would rush out to the audience, shake hands, autograph items and have pictures taken with his fans. Of course, I raised my hand to have Donny come our way. He signed a CD and his autobiography for me: “To Ardis, Love Donny Osmond”.

In the audience signing autographs

My Donny Moment

I asked Donny for a photo and of course, he was happy to oblige. I came prepared with my SLR 35mm film camera. (That was back before cell phones.) The problem was that my 6-year-old son couldn’t use it to take my photo. I asked if someone would take our photo, but no one volunteered.

Then the co-host of the show, Kent Phillips, offered to do it for us. The commercial break was coming to an end and Donny grabbed my hand and whisked me away to the set. (He didn’t really whisk me away, but hey, it’s my dream.)

Having my photo taken by co-host Kent Phillips.

Kent had my camera in his hands and was taking my photo on the set with Donny when the show was on-air again. Kent made some comments about returning from the commercials and that he was taking our photo. It was truly a special moment.

On the set with Donny and back from the commercial break.

Kent then directed me back to my seat in the audience. As he handed me the camera, he whispered in my ear, “I didn’t hear anything. I don’t know if it took any photos.”

I was aghast. Was the camera off? That was my biggest fear. But I wouldn’t know for sure until I developed the film. I tried to take my mind off of that possibility.

After the show I hung out by the TV station entrance and took photos of Donny as he left. It was a dreamy fairy tale like day! As I mentioned Kris watched the show from home. It was fun to virtually share the experience with her. I also remember hearing from a family member who saw me on TV, but didn’t know I was at the show.

Donny leaving KOMO television station after the show.

Once I came back to reality and had my film developed, I was devastated to learn that my worst fear came true—there were no pictures of Donny and me on the film. Fortunately, all was not lost. I took the video tape to a recording company who created some photos from the video tape. The photos were pretty blurry, just like a paused show on the TV screen. And remember this was 20 years ago.

While digging through my scrapbook, I also found another piece of fun Donny memorabilia. It was an email from a friend sent a few years later.

Hi Ardis, Just had to let you know I was watching NW Afternoon today and they were showing that Donny Osmond was going to be tomorrow’s guest and they showed an excerpt from the show he was on last time he was here and it showed the clip of Kent taking your picture with Donny Osmond on the set. It was fun to see. Just had to let you know.

Anticipating Donny Day 2019

So that was my Donny moment. As I said it was “Donny Day” for me. Now I’m expanding it into “Donny Weekend”. Will I be able to get a real photo with Donny and meet him again? Would he even remember that show? It was so special to me and thankfully is immortalized in my scrapbook to cherish forever.

So Donny, I’m leaving it all up to you, and the Lord above. Maybe we’ll meet again in Las Vegas! What are the odds? A million to one?

Update 11/12/2019: I had a million to one moment with Donny and Marie on my Donny weekend in Vegas. You can read all about it in What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas…or does it?.

The Fire at Notre Dame ~ A Prophetic Call to Worship

I was at work when I heard about the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15th. I quickly searched the internet to watch and read the headlines. It was a surprising detour in my workday.

The emotions that followed caught me off-guard me as tears started to well up around my eyes. I wanted to cry—to really cry—but I was at work. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would the fire at a historic landmark across the world have this sort of impact on me?

Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames, April 15, 2019. (Photo credit: mhznetworks.com)

It felt like a dagger to my heart as my mind was flooded with memories of my trip to France in 2014.

An Unexpected Missional Call

I was traveling alone on a church mission to Grenoble, France and then on to Madrid to spread the word about Celebrate Recovery, a biblical 12-step recovery program. My mission partner lived in Grenoble and invited me to share my testimony at his church there.

Notre Dame, the 14th century gothic cathedral in the heart of Paris, attracts 12 million visitors annually. September, 2014

As I made my travel arrangements to France, I sensed a prompting by the Holy Spirit to plan a layover in Paris. This wasn’t a typical layover though. I was given a prayer assignment at Notre Dame Cathedral in downtown Paris.

It seemed like a crazy idea—leave Charles De Gaulle Airport in the suburbs of Paris, attend Mass at Notre Dame and return to the airport for my next flight.

It WAS a crazy idea! I had to make sure it wasn’t MY crazy idea though. I prayed about it and followed where I felt led—to Notre Dame—accepting along the way that if God wanted me there, He was going to have to put all the pieces in place.

Not A Tourist at Notre-Dame

I ended up with a short layover in Paris—only 4 hours! It was against all odds, including an Air France strike, that I was placed at the facade of Notre Dame five minutes before Mass. Although it was noon in Paris, my internal clock was very much aware of the 9-hour time difference. To me it was 3 AM.

There were long lines of tourists waiting to get into Notre Dame. I snuck into the line and was relieved when no one questioned my cutting in. Once inside I quickly realized the line was for paid tours of the Cathedral. I was able to make my way beyond the tourist area into the roped off section of the church to attend Mass.

Relieved again and a bit disoriented, I tried to follow the service in French—which I had no knowledge of. I prayed silently—in English—and followed the lead of others in attendance—sitting, standing, kneeling and communion. After the Mass was over, I stayed to pray a while longer and thank God for bringing me to this place and time—in Notre Dame, by myself, on mission for God!! God’s ‘crazy’ and wonderous idea—definitely not mine!

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral while on mission for God, September 2014.

As much as I wanted to tour the Cathedral and especially to go to the roof and see the gargoyles, I didn’t have the time. I had instructions to rendezvous with Pierre, my non-English speaking cab driver and friend of my missionary partners, in 90 minutes outside the Cathedral.

With camera in hand, I quickly got a few photos inside Notre Dame and bought some religious souvenirs. My remaining time was spent taking in the sights around the outside of the Cathedral. My mind shifted back and forth between the excitement of being in Paris and trying to prayer-walk around the Cathedral—not an easy task with a sleep deprived body and jet lag setting in.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t even time for lunch at a Paris café. My time in Paris ended with a quick stop at the Eiffel Tower for a selfie—then off to catch a train to Grenoble. (I was thankful for the Air France strike because it worked in my favor to take the train instead, and extended my brief time in Paris.)

Prayers Going up in Smoke

In preparing for my prayer assignment at Notre Dame, I researched religious history in France. In light of the religious wars and the bloodshed in the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit’s prompting to pray in Notre Dame made sense to me.

He was calling me to pray at an icon of faith in a city that had lost its spiritual roots.

Paris was the site of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, a religiously fueled Catholic mob violence targeted toward Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants). Over the centuries, the religious climate led to animosity being handed down from generation to generation between Catholics and Protestants in France and an apathy towards organized religion and God.

My prayer assignment was focused on a call to renewal and an awakening in the people of France—to return to Christ and His church. My prayers were for healing and unity in France.

Notre Dame engulfed in flames and smoke as the spire collapses, April 15, 2019. (Photo credit: Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP / Getty Images)

So in light of my call to pray at Notre Dame in 2014, when I saw the first news stories and videos of the Cathedral on fire, I had a dreadful sense that MY prayers were also going up in smoke too. This was the sadness that carried me back to my memories of Notre Dame. My heart was breaking because for me, Notre Dame was a symbol of hope for unity and revival for God’s people in France. It was a sacred place of worship.

Out of the Ashes

On Monday night, April 15th, the night of the blaze, the news reported that church officials, citizens and firefighters formed a human chain to save artwork and relics from the church. They rescued the Holy Crown (believed to be from the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head), a fragment of the Wood of the Cross (believed to be from the cross that Jesus was crucified on) and one of the nails (believed to be used by the Romans to crucify Christ).

When I went to bed that night, the Cathedral was still engulfed in flames. The 300-foot wooden spire atop the roof had already collapsed. It seemed like there was no hope for the survival of Notre Dame.

The next morning out of the ashes hope was restored: Notre Dame had survived the fire. Parts of the roof were destroyed, but the two bell towers and much of the interior structure and ceilings were spared. Pictures surfaced on the internet showing the survival of the altar, the crucifix, and the 18th century Pietà sculpture. The majestic rose window was also spared.

Inside Notre-Dame after the fire, April 16, 2019. (Photo credit: Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA / Shutterstock)

This was surely answered prayer to the countless people worldwide praying for the Cathedral to not be destroyed. Word came later that day from French President Emmanuel Macron that he would launch an international fundraising campaign to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A Prophetic Call to Worship

I was relieved to hear that Notre Dame was spared. As I reflected on this tragic event and prayed, I was reminded of the downfall of the nations of Israel and Judah in Old Testament times. The split kingdoms were ruled by godly and ungodly kings since the end of Solomon’s rule in around 931 BC. The books of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles are filled with the history of God’s chosen people and the downward spriral of godlessness.

2 Kings Chapters 22-23, describes King Josiah’s desperate attempt to turn the nation of Judah back to God. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” 2 Kings 22:2, NIV (David was not literally his father, but Josiah was from the lineage of King David.)

King Josiah found the Book of the Covenant and instituted sweeping reforms. He destroyed the pagan idols, altars, shrines, and even their priests. He led the nation of Judah back to the Lord averting disaster in his lifetime. But the sinfulness of Judah returned. Eventually Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and the people were taken away in captivity to Babylon.

The fall of Jerusalem, 586 BC.

Fast forward over 2 centuries… Is history doomed to repeat itself or is God sending a prophetic message to the people of France (and our world in general)? Notre Dame has been spared. The people of France and His Church have a second chance to repent and return to Him. He is calling them to rebuild not only the physical church but to rebuild the spiritual church, the Body of Christ.

THAT is the answer to my prayer. It felt extremely profound and prophetic that this fire happened at Notre Dame, on holy ground where I prayed (and at the start of Holy Week). Notre Dame can once again become a true house of worship and not just a medieval monument. Out of the ashes His Church will be rebuilt.

Just like Old Testament times, and the prayers of King Josiah, God hears our prayers. Let’s pray for spiritual renewal to spread throughout France—healing the people and their land.

Parisians brought to their knees praying outside Notre Dame Cathedral, April 15, 2019. (Photo credit: Eric Feferberg / AFP / Getty Images)

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV

Observations of a Father’s Love

I wish I could say this post is about my father, but it’s not. It’s about another man I know. He’s my Uncle Pete. With the recent passing of his wife, my Aunt Mary, I’ve spent more time with him and come to appreciate his dedication to his son.

Sacrifice Versus Abandonment

My uncle retired from his job over 25 years ago to help his wife care for their disabled son Mark (who was in high school at the time). They have been his primary caregivers ever since.

Because of Mark’s condition, he doesn’t get out of the home much or have contact with many people. My recent trips back home to help them relocate and grieve the loss of their wife and mother have given me a chance to connect with them both.

Visiting Aunt Mary’s gravesite.

What I’ve observed is the toll caregiving has on the family–in this case my uncle. I’ve taken on a bit of the emotional toll myself–the love and longing to help combined with the periodic sense of helplessness.

Since my last trip was near Father’s Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on the sacrifice my uncle has made for his son. It is in stark contrast to the fathering I received.

My father was married 6 times. My mom was wife number 4. Some might say he had a pattern of abandonment. As a recipient of that abandonment, I can’t argue with it. I’m sensitive to the hole in one’s heart due to the absence of a father’s love and attachment.

The Sacrificial Love of a Parent

My Uncle Pete has weathered the storms in his marriage, maintained faithfulness and provided through thick and thin, or until death us do part. He has been a devoted husband and father all these years.

When life’s challenges hit us, we can either rise to the occasion or shrink in defeat. My uncle has been the steady foundation for his family. I admire that in him.

As parents we unconditionally love our kids just like our heavenly Father loves us. How much more difficult that is when our kids are less than perfect or do not live up to our standards. Whether it’s through the trials of drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, illegal activity or physical or mental disabilities–we love them and pray for them. Sometimes we have to use tough love and other times we learn to let go.

I can’t fathom the pain and suffering my uncle has endured through the years as he clung to hope for his son’s healing.

So I dedicate this post to my Uncle Pete and all the fathers who chose to selflessly devote their lives to become caregivers to their disabled children. You are extraordinary fathers. Your children are blessed to have you under their care and protection.

May the Lord give you the courage, faith, hope and strength to pour into your children on Father’s Day and beyond.

A Caregiver’s Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Help me better understand and believe I can do what you ask me to do.

Forgive me for the times when I question your judgment.

Lighten my burden, answer my prayer, and give me the strength to do what so often seems impossible.

Give me a quiet place to rest when I need it and a quieting of my anxieties when I’m there.

Change my attitude from a tired, frustrated and angry caregiver to the loving and compassionate one I want to be.

Remain my constant companion as I face the challenges of caregiving and when my job is through and it’s time for me to let go, help me remember my dear one is leaving my loving arms to enter your eternal embrace.

Amen.

Friends of St. John the Caregiver (www.FSJC.org)

In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

There was another passing of a loved one in my family recently. It was my Aunt Mary, my mother’s younger sister, and last of the siblings in their family. My aunt was included in my published story, “Walking My Mother Home,” in Journeys to Mother Love. She loved my writing. It served to bring us closer together. So I thought it would be fitting to write a piece in her memory.

The 5 siblings: JoAnn (Mom), Mary, Henry, Helen and Ginny, 1974.

Déjà Vu

After my Aunt Mary passed away, I devoted two weeks of my life back home in the St. Louis area with her family. Previous to that, I was unaware that her health had been declining. When I heard of her condition and that she was put on hospice, I immediately called her husband, my Uncle Pete. I felt that all too familiar pull to be there—to be by her bedside, to pray with her and for her—and to help in any way I could.

My initial help was limited to calls to the funeral home and cemetery. When I talked with my uncle, I could tell that my aunt’s time was extremely limited. I wanted to jump on a plane and be there. I began the online search for flights and other travel arrangements. It felt like déjà vu—not knowing when to leave or how long to stay—just like when my mother passed.

I waited and prayed for two days.

Then I got the news that my aunt would probably pass in the next 24 hours. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time so we prayed together. Again, just like when my mother died, my uncle put the phone on speaker. I asked my Uncle Pete and his son Mark, my cousin, to lay their hands on and over my aunt.

We communicated our love to her and asked the Lord to release her from her pain. My Aunt Mary had been unresponsive just prior to our prayer. But then Mark said she squeezed his hand while I prayed. It comforted us to know that she heard our prayer. My Aunt Mary died a few hours later.

I took the red-eye flight to St. Louis that night. The next few days were a blur of appointments and decisions related to the funeral. Both of my parents were cremated, so I hadn’t been down the road of a full-blown funeral and burial before. God was with us as all the pieces fell into place in three days.

One of the things I offered to do was buy the clothes that my aunt would be buried in. She was a very petite woman, much different than myself, but I knew she had a flare for fashion like me and my mother. There were so many cute options for a size 4! I was thrilled to find just the right outfit to bring her back to life, so to speak—in a vibrant coral dress and sweater combination with matching jewelry.

Another Eulogy

When the funeral home found out I was a writer, they asked me to write her obituary. I kindly agreed. I also created her funeral program and offered to do her eulogy. I stayed up late the night before the funeral prayerfully writing it. (More déjà vu and preparation from my mother’s passing.)

I’m honored to stand here today and share a few words about my Aunt Mary–something I never saw myself doing. I didn’t have the benefit of getting to spend my youth living near her and my Uncle Pete. So I didn’t know her well back then.

I have more childhood memories with her sisters, my Aunt Helen and Aunt Ginny. However, I did have the sense as a child that my mother JoAnn and Mary were closer to each other than to their other sisters. That could be because they were closer in age. But as I reflected about who Mary was to me and my memories of her, I realized she was very much like my mother.

Mary was a vibrant attractive woman. Like my mother, she had a flare for fashion and other feminine things like cosmetics. (I say this because I’ve never been like that, but I noticed.) I have this vision of her as a blond bombshell, sort of like Marilyn Monroe. You can see it in some of the early pictures of Mary and Pete. She was a beautiful woman.

Her beauty didn’t go unnoticed by my Uncle Pete either. A few days ago, he told me a cute story about how he met his wife. He said he met Mary at a night club at Scott Air Force Base over 50 years ago. She was out with friends. He saw her walk by him and he knew he wanted to dance with her. So Pete got up the nerve to ask her to dance to a slow song. She agreed. He said he knew then that she was the one.  There was no one else for him.

I only met my aunt and uncle a few times when I was young. When my Uncle Pete was stationed in Alaska my aunt and uncle visited us in Portland, Oregon on their drive to their new home in Anchorage. I think the next time I saw them was after my parents divorced. My mom and us kids were living back in Illinois. I was in high school. They made the rounds visiting family with their young son Mark. A few years later, they were permanently transferred back to Illinois. Unfortunately, I went away to college the same year, so our paths didn’t cross much when Mark was growing up.

When I got married and had kids of my own, Mary and I grew closer, although we were still separated by a great distance because my husband and I lived in the Seattle area. I started the family tradition of sending out an annual Christmas letter and having a family portrait done. Every year she would send me a Christmas card, write a personal note and send some gift money for the kids.

I brought those Christmas cards with me and would like to give you a glimpse into her heart–the heart of a mother, a sister, an aunt.

I tearfully read a few years’ worth of her annual notes to me. My aunt and I both shared a love for Major League Baseball and her notes often included talk about the St. Louis Cardinals or the Seattle Mariners. Some of her notes even mentioned people who were in attendance at the funeral.

Then as I re-entered my mother’s life before she passed 7 years ago, I grew closer to Aunt Mary. You can also tell that from her notes to me. We kept writing at Christmas, but when my writing and publishing started to take off, I would send her paper copies of my writings. She played a big part in healing my relationship with my mother, most notably responding to my plea to go see her in the hospital after her stroke in July 2009. Mary came back with a good report of my mother’s condition. She also prayed over her. I believe God answered her prayer and kept my mother alive long enough for me and my siblings to see her again and to reconcile.

My aunt’s Christmas notes during that time often referenced my mother and my visits back home to see my mom or Mary herself. Reading those annual notes from her was like reliving those visits again. As painful as it was to share those experiences again, it helped me to face going through the same situation with my aunt’s passing.

My aunt praying for my mother.

It felt so familiar to me, yet so different. The events and the decisions on this trip were much more complicated than my mother’s death. Although I wasn’t solely responsible for these decisions, I was helping my uncle and cousin carry the burden.

What was familiar was how God showed up in so many ways. I felt lifted up, confident and equipped to walk with them through their grief and to look at another layer of my own inner healing work.

I think Mary sort of came to adopt me like a daughter to some degree. I never really had a mother-daughter relationship due to my own mother’s mental illness. I did welcome the rare occasions when Mary and I would talk. And I regret not being more available to her as the years passed.

I guess that leads me to why I came. Mary held a special place in my heart. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I was not around her. We could talk about things at a deeper level. As I got my own emotional and spiritual healing, I was able to more fully understand the complexity of her life and the sacrifice she made for her family. It gave me compassion and empathy for her.

So when I heard of the decline in her health, I couldn’t help but come. I wanted to be able to give back one last time to Mary and for Mary, in a meaningful way. She deserves that. I wanted her to finish well.

I was scheduled to fly back home the day after the funeral, but couldn’t bear to leave. I stayed another week with my family to help them as they started the transition to a new season of their lives without their wife and mother.

For Mary and for God

I’m back home now, but my memories of that trip and time spent with my family linger in my mind. At 88 years old, my uncle relied heavily on me. We had several bittersweet conversations. My aunt and uncle were married for almost 51 years. Along with their special needs son, the three were pretty inseparable.

Visiting my mother’s gravesite on her 87th birthday.

When I was with them, I felt a special bond to them and had the confidence and strength to pour into their lives. I couldn’t stop to think about all the work, the decisions, and the seemingly impossible task ahead.

We often prayed together during the trip. I openly shared about God and comforted them in their grief. There were times when I felt Mary’s presence or could hear her voice saying my name, “Ardis Ann.” At one point my Uncle Pete told me that I was sent by his wife and by God. Together we wept. These are the memories I cling to now.

I don’t fully understand why God wired or equipped me to come alongside my uncle and cousin like he did (and continues to do). I trust it is the next step of my own healing process as well as theirs. The Lord seemed to confirm that by burying my aunt just a few spaces away from where my mother and other family are buried (and it was not prearranged).

I cannot urge you enough that if you haven’t done so, please make your burial and end of life wishes known to your family. Prearrange as much as you can, especially if you want to have a full funeral with a visitation, burial, etc. The decisions and costs are huge. It is a big burden to the family to address this in their time of grief.

I am grateful that I could do this for my uncle and cousin, and ultimately for Mary. Just like my mother, my Aunt Mary is a part of me. I look forward to seeing her again soon. With the Hope of Christ and the Resurrection Power of Easter, I know this is true.

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

My Big Mouth

I’m sure when I was growing up that one of my brothers must’ve told me I had a big mouth. You know, it’s the sort of things that kids say when they tattle on each other (like confessing to your parent that your sibling broke something). Well, all these years later, I have proof–not that I was a tattle-tale, but that I literally have a big mouth. I became painfully aware of it this week, and here’s how…

Dental Hell

The story starts back when I was in junior high. We’ve all suffered through this awkward time of life–adjusting to peer-pressure and hormonal havoc with our emotional state and physical body. I had an overbite and a noticeable gap between my front teeth. It was at this time that I was told I had to get a full set of braces. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also told I had to have 4 permanent teeth (my canines near the front) removed. I don’t know if this was a common practice back then, but I was told it was to make room for my wisdom teeth.

The removal of my permanent teeth was a rather traumatic experience for me. I was given Novocain and had the extraction done on two separate appointments. That started my fear and near hatred of dentists. My regular appointments to the orthodontist just added to the inner anger and contempt I held for any physician who ‘cared’ for my teeth. Every time I left the orthodontist’s office my mouth was in pain for days. There was such intense pulling on my teeth and gums to shift everything forward and fill the gaps left by the pulled canine teeth. I wore old-fashioned all-metal braces for 3 years.

Once is Not Enough

Twenty years later, I found myself in the same situation, starring into the bright light above my head in a dentist’s office and being told I needed braces–again! Apparently, I was told years earlier that I would have to wear my retainers for the rest of my life. I have no idea when I stopped wearing them–probably sometime in college because I have no recollection of having them when I got married. My teeth had shifted back and were causing a gap in the front teeth.

So I endured a second set of braces at the same time I was in my second pregnancy. It was not a pretty picture–literally. Imagine this…a pregnant woman in all her ‘splendor’ with a mouthful of hardware on her teeth. Needless to say, there were not many pictures taken of me during this pregnancy. After these braces were removed, shortly before giving birth, I was given a new set of retainers that I have faithfully worn ever since.

Both of my kids also had braces. Thankfully they didn’t have to have any permanent teeth removed. And luckily for them, they also don’t have any wisdom teeth. (Why are they called wisdom teeth? It’s because these teeth–the 3rd molars–erupt between the ages of 17-25, when a person enters adulthood and at an age of more maturity or wisdom.)

Not Such Wise Advice

And so I thought all was well with my teeth. I’ve been warned by my dentist to diligently keep my wisdom teeth clean. (It seems having wisdom teeth as an adult is not such good advice.) When I went in a few weeks ago to have a filling restored on one of my wisdom teeth, I was told that they couldn’t fill the tooth and I needed to have it removed.

Oh the fear that shot through my body. I walked out of the dentist office in total shock with a referral to an oral surgeon. It was not a good day.

I made an appointment right away to see the oral surgeon. The news just got worse. He recommended extracting 2 wisdom teeth (since the upper tooth would now have nothing to bite against). He went over all the procedural options and had me sign off on every possible bad outcome or risk that could result from the recommended extraction.

My childhood trauma was triggered leaving me in a state of shock, disillusionment, and fear.

Testing My Faith

As silly as it may sound, in the days that followed that appointment, my faith was put to the test. Because of my history with chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, I was concerned about possible adverse reactions to the anesthetic and a prolonged recovery. That wasn’t even on the oral surgeon’s list of risks.

We were leaving for Spain in 10 weeks. Some of my friends and family were suggesting that I put off the procedure until after the trip. I had a lot of inner conflict about the decision.

It wasn’t until I devoted some quality time in prayer that I started to get some peace. That was followed by the pieces falling into place and confirmation to have the surgery performed as soon as possible under anesthetic.

What God revealed to me in the process, was how distracting this situation was for me. It turned my focus away from Him and let Satan feed into my fears. I had to trust that the Lord was going to see me through it–calming my fears and healing my mouth.

I humbly asked for prayer for the surgery. I prayed with my husband before my appointment. He held my hand until I went under the anesthetic. My husband and son cared for my health needs following the surgery. I had an amazingly quick and pain-reduced recovery which I know is a combination of answered prayer and thanks to a homeopathic remedy to detox my body of the anesthesia.

My Big Mouth?

So do I really have a big mouth? I’ll let you decide.

A full set of teeth is 32 including the 4 wisdom teeth. Most people I talked to over the course of my decision making process told me they had their wisdom teeth taken out when they were young or they didn’t have any. My situation is less common.

The fact that I still have my wisdom teeth I think is proof that I do have a big mouth. And if that isn’t enough proof for you, just spend some time perusing my blog. I definitely have a big mouth for Jesus. It would take more than the removal of 2 wisdom teeth to silence my voice on His behalf.

Saying Goodbye to my Mother

This week marks the 7th anniversary of the passing of my mother. Sadly, those precious memories that forever changed my life are fading. I don’t want to forget them, so I’m writing once again to remember–to keep my loved one’s memories alive–and to honor her.

An Unexpected Call

It was a cold wintery night seven years ago this month that I got the phone call I’d been dreading for years.  Maybe you’ve had one like it too.  It’s the type of call that rocks your world with bad news.

I had just finished attending a weekly support group meeting and was looking forward to visiting my friend Linda afterwards.

As I waited for my car to warm up, I checked my cell phone for messages.  I immediately recognized the phone number captured on the caller ID for a missed call.  It was the nursing home where my mother lived across the country.

I had received several calls from the nursing staff since mom’s stroke 18 months earlier.  At this stage of her health care, my siblings and I had agreed to no more ‘heroic’ measures.  It was the compassionate thing to do—just make her comfortable and as pain-free as possible.

This call—this message—sounded dramatically different.  The message was very sobering: “Your mother’s health is declining.”

My heart sank and my anxiety rose in dramatic proportions as I mustered up the courage to call the nursing home back.

And then Reality Strikes

The nurse’s words hit me like a ton of bricks: “Your mother is not going to make it through the night.”

There were no health care decisions to make.  There was nothing that could be done.  My mother’s body was shutting down.  She was having her last breaths.

When I arrived at the doorstep of Linda’s house, I burst into tears and tried to calmly explain the situation to her.  “My mother’s dying!” I cried.

Linda immediately offered to help and comforted me with her prayers.

Her Spirit filled words cut through the shock, the confusion, and the agony of being separated from my mother by thousands of miles.  It gave me strength to help my mother to finish well.

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

While I was on the phone, Linda made arrangements for me to travel back home to the Midwest on the first available flight in the morning.

By this time, my brother Glen and his wife Betty, who lived locally, had arrived at the nursing home and were at my mother’s bedside.  We spoke through our joint tears.  As the reality of my mother’s state sank in, I turned to prayer to help me calm down and focus on what my mother and brother needed at the moment.  I asked Glen to put his cell phone on the speaker setting, so I could talk to mom and pray over her.

After all these years I don’t remember what was said. But I do remember having a sense that the Lord was speaking through me.  It was a holy moment. Somehow He gave me just the right words to show honor, gratitude and love to my mother in her final hours.

“I love you Mom.  I’ll be there soon.” Those were some of my last words to her.

I longed to be there with her and petitioned the Lord to get back to the Midwest in time.

Finishing Well

I hurried home to pack for my flight.  It was as if time stood still during those late night hours up to her death. I was still awake and packing when my brother called back to tell me that our mother had died.

I was numb.

For months I’d been praying for the Lord to release my mother from her suffering. In the rawness of the news, it didn’t feel like answered prayer. It was more like a dagger had just ripped through my heart, and I was bleeding all over.

“What now? What am I doing?” were the thoughts running through my mind. The urgency of my trip and purpose seemed to have radically shifted in an instant. I wasn’t going to see her alive again. “How would I move forward?”

The purpose of my trip became one of service and honor to my mother.

It was ironic. I hadn’t been there for her over the years. There were so many times she reached out to me and I would barely talk to her or worse yet, I flat out rejected her call. Now I was the one God prompted to step up and allow her to finish well.

My mother had no formal final requests, no will, and no material items of any value. My brothers and I made some decisions for her remains during a previous trip back home. I knew what had to physically be done, so I carried out that plan. However, we had never talked about any sort of service. So when it came to planning a memorial I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. All the pieces effortlessly and miraculously it seemed to me, fell into place: an intimate foot-washing ceremony at the funeral home, a eulogy given at the nursing home memorial service, and a gravesite ceremony–all within 3 days.

Those few days were some of the most painful days in my life, but they were also the most beautiful. I was carried through it by the prayers of friends and family and the love of our heavenly Father.As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the events of that week led to some radical identity revelations. I accepted the uniqueness that God gifted me with and started seeing the world through the new lens of healing and with hope for the future.

Gone was the fear that I was mentally ill like my mother.  It was replaced with the most amazing love for myself, for others and for God. I was filled with gratitude, joy, and peace.

Making Peace with Our Parents

Over the years since my mother’s passing, I’ve become an advocate for supporting our parents to finish well. I’ve encouraged others to make peace with the past and to work through the pain of forgiveness before it’s too late.

Some people step in to care for an aging parent or to handle their final estate. Others enter into the therapeutic process to help with their grief. Or they may physically move to be closer to an aging parent.

Because I’ve been down this road myself I can empathize with their pain and have a bigger heart for their burden. I’ve been given a spiritual perspective that goes beyond their current circumstances.

I’ve been blessed to comfort, support and pray for them as they walk through this season of life–rewriting their story and that of their parent’s along the way.

So today I write to not only honor the memory of my mother, but to also honor my friends who have lost a parent in recent years.

You did well by your parent and allowed them to finish well. You did well for yourself and are reaping the fruit of obedience. Well done, good and faithful servant.

If you are separated from your parent by bitterness or unforgiveness, I urge you to pray for the Lord to give you a new heart. He will give you the courage and the love to help your parent finish well and to turn your healing into hope.

Returning to Spain, Again

Spain has been on my mind a lot these days (mucho todos los días). With the passing of another day, my internal clock tells me it’s time to officially write about it. I’m returning to Spain! This time I will be in the company of my husband.

The last time I was in Spain was on the Celebrate Recovery mission in the fall of 2014. When I said my goodbyes to my Spanish family, I set a goal to return in five years. At the time that seemed like forever and that it would take a miracle. So I began praying and believing in faith.

Taking the Metro (subway) to Barajas Airport with Rosa, October 2014.

A Missed Opportunity

A few years later in April 2016, there was a wonderful opportunity to return to Spain for an international Christian women’s conference. It was held at the same church, Comunidad Cristiana Luz y Vida, where I spoke on the CR mission, in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid . The women’s conference was followed by a guided prayer journey to Southern Spain, the same trip that I was to attend as part of the 2014 CR mission. The prayer journey in 2014 was cancelled, but funds remained from that mission for a future trip.

I prayed and prayed to return to Spain for the conference and prayer journey in 2016. It was at the same time that I returned to full-time work at my husband’s clinic. What was initially a temporary assignment to convert to a new computer system unexpectedly turned into a permanent position. (And still is.) How I grieved not being able to go. My heart and prayers were with the other attendees every day of their trip.

Sightseeing during the CR mission, Segovia, Spain, October 2014.

A Difficult Decision

Around the same time, I learned of an American couple, the Hernandez’s, who were called to a missionary assignment in Spain. Much to my amazement, they had attended a similar prayer journey led by Pastor Fajardo, my mission partner in Rivas, a few years before the CR mission to Spain. Hearing of the Hernandez’s missionary call to Spain felt like answered prayer to me for all of the miles and footsteps I prayer-walked through Spain in the summer of 2013. I immediately felt a connection and spiritually aligned with their mission.

The financial need was great for these new missionaries. I felt prompted to release the remaining mission funds to the Hernandez’s mission. Being prompted by the Spirit doesn’t naturally mean that it was an easy decision though. It was accompanied by an internal struggle–a human and spiritual struggle. On the one hand, I knew that the funds would be used for God’s Kingdom in Spain. On the other hand, it seemed like I was giving up my dreams to return myself–especially in a ministry capacity. The funds were released and sent to the Hernandez’s mission in October 2016. It gives me much pleasure and peace to continue financially and prayerfully supporting them and their work in Spain. (And you can too!)

The Hernandez’s with Pastor Fajardo, Toledo, Spain.

Still Waiting

Then, miraculously (to me), on Christmas Eve 2016, my prayers were answered. I was surprised with the gift of a trip to Spain. The last present we opened was a card from my husband with a note to attend Pedro’s university graduation in June 2017. Not knowing what the card said, my sons were alarmed by my tearful reaction. They were tears of joy and gratitude–not just for my husband, but to God for answering my heartfelt prayers. Months later we made the difficult decision to delay our trip and not attend Pedro’s graduation. As much as it broke my heart to not be there for this milestone in Pedro’s life (more letting go), it was all for the best.

Pedro, right, and his friends at the university graduation, June 2017.

When I was invited to another Spanish prayer journey in April of this year, I was naturally excited to consider attending that. More internal struggle prevailed, accompanied by more prayer. I let go of my personal wants so that my husband can experience Spain on his terms. After all, he has never been to Europe.  As we approach our 35th wedding anniversary, it seems fitting that we experience Spain together from a different perspective.

Not Just a Tourist Destination

To me, Spain is not just a tourist destination. It is a second home and a place of great spiritual and emotional significance. I know there will be many God encounters on our trip. I can’t step on Spanish soil without praying into the nation, the Church, and the people. I will visit churches and cathedrals once again. I hope to personally meet the Hernandez’s and reconnect with other ministry colleagues.

I’ve often considered myself a self-appointed ambassador to Spain–sharing about Spain on social media, on my blog and whenever the opportunity arises in face to face conversations. (Did you hear that Spain surpassed the United States as the second most popular tourist destination in the world? I think I did my part!)

In downtown Madrid, National Day parade, October 12, 2014

Last fall when the turmoil in Catalonia was at its peak, a patient from Spain sought treatment at our office. We naturally connected about the political situation and her homeland in general. I delighted in helping her to understand how insurance coverage works in America. (Not that I agree with how it works, but it was necessary to explain it. Just imagine how that seems to someone from a country with socialized medicine.) The patient has offered help with our Spanish and brought us souvenirs from Spain after visiting family over the holidays.

I also routinely chat with Pedro and various members of his family. I look forward to seeing them again soon. (Hopefully I’ll be more prepared to personally communicate with them as I ramp up my Spanish to the next level.)

With my Spanish family on my final night in Spain, summer 2013.

Let the Countdown Begin

The countdown officially started the day we bought our tickets in November 2017. But I’ve been preparing for the day I would step on Spanish soil again in my heart and in prayer ever since my goodbye to my Spanish family in October 2014.

So today I am officially publishing the countdown (on right sidebar) to the day we both embark on a journey to Spain (April 28th). There will be tears upon our arrival at Barajas Airport in Madrid–seeing my Spanish family again after nearly five years–and when my husband meets Pedro’s parents face to face for the first time since he arrived in our home in July 2010.

The waiting is almost over. There is a mountain of work to do in the meantime–secular work. I’ll keep praying for Spain and preparing my heart for the next leg of this journey.

Toasting my return to Madrid with Rosa, October 2014.

I know this is God’s timing for us to go and for me to return. Because when the dates finally started to materialize in our calendars, I realized that I would be spending Mother’s Day with Rosa. That was confirmation to me–no prayer journey–this trip is about family. Rosa and I have been uniquely linked in spiritual and emotional ways through the passing of our mothers (as I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love).

So isn’t it fitting that the Lord would return me to Spain for Mother’s Day (el día de las madres) with Rosa? It will be a reunion of heavenly proportions.

A Reformation Day Call for Unity in the Church

Ecumenism…have you heard of that word before? If you serve in Christian ministry, you are probably aware of this philosophy.  Ecumenism is the aim or principle of promoting unity in the world’s Christian churches. I’ve become very familiar with it in recent years, not so much by conscious choice, but by the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Gratefully, my journey into ecumenism has radically changed my faith and broken through years of religious bias.  Unfortunately though, bitterness is still frequently harbored between denominations throughout the world.

Photo credit: lutheranreformation.org

The Split in the Church

How did this disharmony and division start in the Church?  What caused the divide between Catholic and Protestant denominations?

It started 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  His controversial proposals disagreed with the practice of selling indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.  This practice took advantage of the poor, promising them the absolution of sin and hope of eternal salvation.

Martin Luther also contradicted the Church by claiming:

  • the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and
  • salvation is based on grace, not by deeds.

Luther’s writings were declared heretical in 1520, and he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church the following year. Luther went on to translate the New Testament into German while in exile in 1522. In 1534, Luther and his colleagues translated the entire Bible into German, making scripture accessible to common people and not just the highly educated and leaders of the church.

The ’95 Theses’ is commonly referred to as the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.  Although his assertions and those of other reformers made important changes to the universal church, it did not come without a significant cost. The split of the church into Catholicism and Protestantism led to religious wars and persecution in countries across Europe for hundreds of years, saturating the soil with the blood of the martyrs. Pope John Paul II even made an unprecedented apology for the sins of the Church in March 2000.

Drawn to Catholicism

It’s not surprising to me that growing up in a Catholic family, I never heard about the Protestant Reformation.  At 17, I converted to Protestantism, but still didn’t know anything about the Reformation. It wasn’t until I met Protestant missionaries from France in 2011, that I was enlightened about the Reformation and its impact in Europe.  I learned that the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain and that Protestants were considered a cult compared to the over 90% Catholic population.

That came as a total shock to me. In my conversations with Pedro and Rosa, practicing Catholics from Spain, our religious differences never surfaced.  In fact, our shared belief in Jesus gave us a strong family and spiritual bond.  With the passing of my mother, a practicing Catholic, in 2011, I was drawn back to the mysteries of the Catholic Church.  I started attending weekday mass and devoted hours there in prayer.

My first encounters with the Catholic women were very warm and inviting. Some in their zeal for Catholicism tried to convert me. It led to some interesting conversations.

My Protestant friends were mostly encouraging me–to listen to the Spirit and not be boxed in by religious rules or what ‘church’ is supposed to look like.  They’ve called me a bridge-builder and a catalyst for change.

Others were biased against Catholics, mostly claiming they didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus–a commonly misconstrued belief by Protestants.

By the time I was making travel plans to visit Spain in 2013, the Lord was already working on me and preparing me to pray for the Church in Spain and for unity in the Body of Christ.  That trip, my personal pilgrimage to Spain, and my prayers, led to another prayer assignment the following year–the Celebrate Recovery mission to France and Spain.

San Jerónimo de Real Church, Madrid, Spain

A Holy Shift

Since the completion of that prayer assignment in 2014, the Lord revealed to me my unique wiring: Catholic by birth, Protestant by choice, and then opening my eyes to the genesis of Catholicism again as an adult. My spiritual heritage, and affinity and openness to both denominations gave me a great desire and calling to pray for healing of the wounds of the past, and for renewal and unity in the Church.

I never stopped believing that the Lord was leading me and that He was calling me to be a voice for unity and healing in the Church, to be ecumenical.

My faith journey across denominational lines has given me insights into how both Catholic and Protestants show up on Sundays and how they do community during the week.  I’ve witnessed major shifts in the Catholic Church that are creating a more engaged environment, and not one where parishioners just come on Sunday to fulfill their weekly obligation and warm the pews.

Catholics are being encouraged to read and study the Bible, to attend Alpha groups, to serve from their strengths (Gallup StrengthsFinder) and to grow spiritually.  I’ve seen the hunger and openness that is being fostered from the leadership of the church.  I’ve heard salvation through grace being preached in homilies. I’ve witnessed the charismatic renewal that the Holy Spirit is pouring on the Church.

In fact, some might even say that reformation is occurring in the Catholic Church.

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Granada, Spain

A Call for Unity

When God orchestrated my journey down this unusual ecumenical path, I was ignorant about the Reformation and uneducated about the spiritual climate in Europe. Having experienced the darkness and witnessed the divide there, I believe the Church needs to undergo a holy shift toward healing and unity.  We are joint heirs to the Kingdom and called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-18, NIV)

500 years after the Protestant Reformation, on this Reformation Day 2017, let’s join together across denominations, in prayer, calling heaven to earth and uniting His people as we prepare for a Holy Shift in the Body of Christ.

Spain: The Deepening Divide of a Nation

As a self-appointed ambassador to Spain, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to not share my thoughts about what is going on in Spain these past few weeks.  I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do have some personal knowledge, experience, and multiple contacts with others who consider Spain their home. So I submit this post for the benefit of my friends and family who aren’t following the Spanish news and to make a plea to turn our prayers to Spain.

The Catalan government claims it has a mandate to secede from Spain.

My Spanish Education

Prior to participating in the EF exchange program in the summer of 2010, and meeting our host son Pedro, I was very ignorant in European news and knew relatively little about Spain.  My relationship with Pedro and his family changed all that, and over the years led to my two visits to Spain.  My last trip was three years ago around this time and so those memories are very much at the forefront of my mind as well.

It wasn’t long into our time hosting Pedro that we learned of the divide between Spain and Catalonia, the region that desires independence from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous Spanish communities. My first recollection of those discussions revolved around Catalonia’s vote to outlaw bullfighting. Within days after Pedro returned back home in July 2010, that ban was passed.

A few years later when it came time to plan my trip to Spain, discussions came up about visiting Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, along with a multitude of other major tourist areas. Barcelona was ruled out mostly due to its distance; however, I also had the sense that my hosts didn’t feel as comfortable taking me there.

Bullfighting, a centuries old tradition in Spain, is now banned in Barcelona.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched from afar as Catalonia made other attempts toward an independence vote including the election of a pro-independence majority in their parliament.  The independence referendum on October 1 was the most visible and controversial in Catalonia’s attempt to become a separate country.

A History of Oppression

The root of the quest for independence goes back hundreds of years and is not unique to the Catalan region of Spain. Spain has a history of being subject to foreign control by various other imperialist powers—the Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, the French, and the Moors to name a few.  Each of these conquerors made their mark on the country and the culture as well.

In recent history, under the dictatorship and rule of Francisco Franco from 1939 until his death in 1975, the Catalan region and culture suffered greatly (along with the Basque Country and Galicia).  For instance, the languages in these regions were officially banned outside of the home. General Franco reinstated Castilian (European Spanish) as the only official language of the State and education, leading to near extinction of the Catalan language, and further loss of their Catalan identity.

In 1975, shortly before Franco’s death, Spain returned to a monarchy under King Juan Carlos I.  Juan Carlos discontinued many of Franco’s policies and restored democracy throughout the country.  Over the past 40 years, Catalonia has gained more political and cultural autonomy and has greatly prospered, becoming one of Spain’s wealthiest regions.  Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output and more than a quarter of exports.

The Catalan flag

For a more in-depth look at Catalonia’s history and current climate, check out “Catalunya at a Crossroad” by Rev. Jose and Ada Hernandez, missionaries to Spain.

A Push for Independence

Days before the October 1 referendum, I talked with Pedro about the pending vote. He was not concerned and told me not to be as well, stating that the vote was illegal.  He advised me to not believe the media reports and that the majority of Catalans didn’t support independence. (His comments reminded me of the media bias in America and conversations I had with him during the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.)

I was relieved to hear Pedro’s perspective.  After all, Pedro is Spanish and has lived in Spain his entire life.  Then came the disturbing news reports from Catalonia on Sunday, October 1. Families even staged overnight events at school polling locations to ensure the vote would not be blocked.  However, the national police used force to hinder citizens from voting and confiscated ballot boxes.

I was shocked to see and hear about the ensuing violence, as was Pedro. Nearly 900 people were injured leading to international condemnation of the crackdown. Several days later Madrid issued a formal apology.

Of the 43% of the voting electorate, 90% (2.3 million) favored Catalonia’s independence from Spain. However, most of those opposed to the referendum boycotted the controversial and illegal vote.  Catalan officials immediately declared the referendum results valid, claiming a mandate from the people, and began planning the next steps for Catalan independence, plunging Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

In the days that followed, uncertainty loomed over the citizens of Spain.

  • In Barcelona, hundreds of thousands of citizens protested in the streets against the police violence that took place during the voting process.
  • King Felipe VI (the son of Juan Carlos I) gave a rare televised address to the nation with calls for unity and condemning the Catalan officials for holding the illegal referendum.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens participated in unity rallies in Madrid and Barcelona. (Pedro and Rosa both attended the rally at Colon Plaza in Madrid.)
  • In Barcelona, people waved Spanish and Catalan flags. They carried banners expressing unity: “Together we are better” and “Catalonia is Spain.”
  • Banks and other large companies in Catalonia announced plans to move their headquarters to other parts of the country.
  • The international community sided with Spain and won’t intervene, saying this is an internal issue.
  • The European Union announced it would not recognize Catalonia as part of the E.U.

Declaring Independence or Not?

Earlier this week I found myself at home on my knees praying for this country that is so near and dear to my heart.  I was praying for peace; I was praying for unity; I was praying for level-headedness to prevail. But most of all I was praying for the people of Catalonia to seek healing for the deep wounds of the past—the suffering at the hands of other nations, the loss of their culture and language under General Franco’s rule, and the injustices that they endured.  I prayed for forgiveness on both sides of the divide—Spain and Catalonia.

The nation was awaiting word from the Catalan parliament meeting where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to officially declare independence from Spain. In his address to Catalan citizens in Barcelona, he declared independence but also announced the delay of implementing it—to give dialogue a chance with the central government.

October 10: Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs declaration of independence.

While I was relieved to hear this, it was very short lived.  The next morning I awoke to the response from Madrid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wrote to President Puigdemont telling him to cease “grave actions contrary to the general interest of Spain.” Prime Minister Rajoy’s response is considered a first step toward invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy and take over the region.  The deadline for Catalan leaders to respond is Monday, October, 16.

Did they declare independence or not? Will Madrid take over control of Catalonia? It is a war of words.

October 11: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responds to Catalan’s declaration of independence.

A Call for Prayer

Given time to reflect on the seriousness of these events, I can’t help but compare it to our country’s history with the Civil War–North against South–and the deep divide it caused.  Although the U.S. remained intact, there are still prejudices that linger in parts of the country, handed down from generation to generation.  Centuries later, a new debate has given rise to removal of Confederate statues in the South and protests during the national anthem at NFL games.  Like Spain, we are not immune to the harboring of ill will and letting bitterness take root.

The author of Hebrews tells us: Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NLT)

Will Spain and Catalan set aside their differences and remain united for the greater good of the Spanish Kingdom?

Let’s pray that this war of words doesn’t lead to further deterioration and disunity of the nation of Spain. Let’s pray for harmony and peace to prevail. Let’s pray for forgiveness of the sins of the past and to remove the bitter root that has led to this point in history. Let’s pray for God’s intervention and for a heavenly resolution to this earthly problem.

Will you join me?

UPDATE 11/3/2017: The situation in Spain has been changing daily since Oct. 14. After two weeks of political maneuvering and threats, President Puigdemont and the Catalan government officially declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27. Within hours, Prime Minister Rajoy and the Spanish Senate enacted Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. They peacefully took control of the Catalan government. Rajoy announced plans for a regional Catalan election on Dec. 21 to replace the ousted government. Puigdemont and other officials fed to Brussels, while 8 other government officials are in prison awaiting their trial on charges of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. Prayers are being heard…as peace continues to prevail throughout the conflict.

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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