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: lutheranregormation.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.

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.

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.

Red Carpet Event Held to Honor Tempting Fate

It was in the summer of 2015 that Tempting Fate, the movie that includes soundtrack music by Pedro González Arbona, was released in theaters across Africa.  Ever since that time, I waited and watched as the movie traveled its course through the normal film industry outlets, and hopefully to American theaters.

Click on image to view movie trailer and sample Pedro’s music.

Although Tempting Fate was a big success in theaters throughout the African continent, the only release of the movie in America was via Amazon and other streaming types of services in 2016.

Gone were my hopes of sitting in an American cinema again and watching the movie on the big screen like I did with Pedro at the 2014 VIP screening in Houston.   Thankfully, it didn’t totally dash my hopes of sharing the movie with my friends—which lead to a recent private viewing party at my home.  But first…

Tempting Fate Background & Success

Why is Tempting Fate so significant to me?  I’ve been connected to the movie since the summer of 2013 when Pedro was hired to compose the movie soundtrack.  I was privileged to read the movie script while on holiday in Spain with Pedro and his family.  I was already praying for Pedro’s music to be used to glorify God.  So knowing his music would be used on this Christian movie felt like answered prayer to me.

My prayers ramped up over the course of the production of the movie and during Pedro’s intensive composing process.  Then Pedro and I attended the VIP screening in Houston in July 2014.  It was a monumental day in my life and a dream come true for Pedro to see his music come to life on the big screen.

Pedro’s red carpet interview in Houston, July 2014.

A year later, Tempting Fate premiered in Lagos, Nigeria, during an all-star red carpet event.  It ended up being one of the top 10 Nollywood movies of 2015. (Nollywood is the Nigerian movie industry, based in Lagos.)  The movie is one of the top 25 movies of all time in the Nollywood film industry.

Thanks to Kevin Kwankwor, the Nigerian born writer, producer and director of Tempting Fate, the movie was one of the first Hollywood/Nollywood movie collaborations.  Tempting Fate stars Nollywood movie icon Ramsey Nouah and Hollywood actors Dan Davies, Andrew Onochie, Tiffany Denise Turner and John J. Vogel.

At the Lagos premiere, July 2015.

A Red Carpet Invitation

I would have loved to rent out a theater and host a real gala event to celebrate the success of Tempting Fate and share it in style with my friends.  Since that wasn’t an option for me, I held a private viewing party at my home instead.

It was an elaborate party with the look and feel of a real Hollywood premiere.  Invited guests were informed of the formal nature of the party and to come dressed to meet the paparazzi.

Upon their arrival, they were literally given the red carpet treatment.  The main hallway of my home, once lined with scenic photographs, was transformed into a gallery of photographs from the VIP screening Pedro and I attended in Houston. My honored guests (celebrities) slowly walked the red carpet as the paparazzi clicked away on real cameras (not cell phones) to capture the celebrity’s entrance.

Each guest was assigned the identity of a celebrity and wore a name tag pinned on their back.  They played along, not knowing their own identity, but knowing who the other celebrities at the party were.

A Surprise Guest Appearance

After a paella dinner and a toast to the movie’s success, we got comfortable for the main event.  As a preview to the movie, I presented a video from the VIP screening in Houston. That followed a surprise video appearance by Dan Davies, one of the actors from Tempting Fate.

Dan Davies at Lagos premiere.

Dan played Scorpion, gangster and leader of the bank robbery/drug gang, a central figure in the movie.  We met at the VIP screening in July 2014 and occasionally connect via social media.  (Read my interview with Dan, A Behind the Scenes Look at Tempting Fate with Actor Dan Davies, for more information and background on the movie.)

Dan graciously sent a video to greet my guests and to introduce the movie.  That very night in Accra, Ghana, Dan won the African Golden Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Role.  Dan’s nomination was for his portrayal of Michael Rice in A Trip to Jamaica, the top Nollywood movie of 2016.

Dan recorded our Tempting Fate introductory video a few days in advance of the awards, so it was a nice surprise to me and my guests to hear of his win later.   Dan was the first American to win this prestigious African award.  Congratulations Dan!!

Watching Tempting Fate

The movie viewing followed.  By this time, I had already seen the theatrical version of Tempting Fate several times.  The movie went through more editing after the screening in Houston.  Most notably to me was the change in some of the music.  Another composer was added to the soundtrack and some of Pedro’s music was dropped, a common occurrence in movie production.  I gave occasional commentary while watching the movie, mostly in reference to the music.

Click on image to rent or buy the movie on Amazon.

Watching the movie this time around was easier for me—to remove myself from my personal involvement and attachment to the music and Pedro’s proud moment.  However, like audiences across Africa and even in my home that night, Pedro’s music accompanying the final scene brought tears to our eyes.  Tempting Fate has such a powerful and thought-provoking ending.

Post-Movie Celebrity Interviews

After the movie, I took on the role of the press and interviewed each of my guests, I mean celebrities, about the movie. It was at this point that I also revealed their celebrity identities and the significance behind their chosen names. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Sometimes I think my involvement in the movie makes my opinion less than objective. So I had much anticipation in hearing what my honored guests thought of the movie. It was such a blessing to hear their reactions to the movie and its message.

One guest (aka Emma Stone) had never seen a Christian movie before. “The theme of forgiveness really resonated with me, probably because that is what I’m working on in my life. It really hit home. I found it very meaningful and very valuable in my life,” she shared.

Another guest (aka Sandra Bullock) said: “I thought it was great, very touching, pretty deep and pretty real. A great message for all of us.”

Another guest (aka Meryl Streep) was a local pastor who I’ve known for years. Her perspective about the movie was very insightful.

“I thought it (the ending) brought it all together in a very healthy and practical way. Edu had said to others, this is how you live. And then he had to face his own quandary of how to forgive the two people that hurt him the most. So I thought the culmination of all of those stories was very well done…The movie would help people think through their own lives and situations, and where maybe they are not living out the truth that they claim to believe.”

Tempting Fate in a City Near You? 

Since my private viewing party a few months ago, I’ve heard rumors that Tempting Fate will be on a U.S. tour in the fall. It started in Atlanta at Georgia Tech over Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping and praying it comes to Seattle or a city near you. For more information about the U.S. tour or to set up a special viewing at your church, contact info@kevstelgroup.com.

If you can’t attend one of these events, be sure to rent or purchase the movie on Amazon or other streaming movie site.  Pedro’s music and other beautiful music from the movie is also available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and other music sites.

A Lesson in Ending Well

A few months after my father’s passing I wrote a piece dedicated to his final breaths.  It was part of a memoirs in-class exercise to write about a loss.  Still fresh in my grief, I replayed in my mind the night my father died.

As was customary of these exercises, I read it in class.  This one was harder than most as I let the emotions come to the surface—and let my tears do their healing work.

I had forgotten about that piece, but not the events of his passing—as this week marks the 5-year anniversary of my father’s final goodbye.  So the hours surrounding my father’s death linger in my memory today.  It was a beautiful ending to a life lived to its fullest.

My Father’s Last Breaths

At 94, my father is finally ready to go home to be with the Lord.  The family is ready too, as we all hold vigil by his bedside:

  • His wife of 38 years, my stepmother, has been his constant caretaker for the last few years.
  • My older brother John and his wife, Carol, have graciously converted a bedroom in their home to a makeshift hospital room for Dad’s final few weeks of life and hospice care.
  • My younger brother Glen, has flown in from St. Louis hours before. He barely knew our father after the divorce that separated our family over 40 years ago.
  • My stepsister Roni, and her husband, Mark, have rushed to the house after the call that Dad had taken a turn for the worse. They arrive too late for Dad to verbally acknowledge them, but are witness to his dying breaths.
  • Jeff, one of my father’s grandsons has arrived to pay homage to the family patriarch and bravely holds his hand.

I momentarily leave the room to make a call updating my spouse and kids back home in Seattle.  Minutes later I hear my name urgently being called from my father’s room.  I rush to the foot of Dad’s bed as the vigil turns more intense.

Looking around the room I notice my brother Glen is missing.  “Where’s Glen?” I query almost stumbling over my words.  Time is short.

Father and son, final visit.

Glen rests in another room.  Jetlag or not, now is not the time to nap.  Our father is having his last breaths.  I quickly awaken Glen and we return to Dad’s room.

“We are all here now,” I observe silently to myself.  “It’s time.”

Earlier today Dad was discharged from the hospital and put on hospice care at my brother’s home.  The hospice care team trained John and Carol how to administer my father’s medications.  They are gone now, leaving John and Carol challenged to put into action what they just learned.

Heightened nerves and anxiety start to surface amongst the family members as we watch and listen to my father’s labored breathing.  It sounds painful—the raspy moaning and gurgle that fills the room with each exhale of his breath. It is the dreaded death rattle.  I’ve heard of this, but never witnessed it before.

We were assured earlier by the hospice nurse that the morphine we administer is taking away his pain.  It is a serious situation, but there are a few times that we joke we want the anxiety medication for ourselves.  It is physically and emotionally difficult to watch.

John and Carol work side by side to care for Dad’s final needs—blotting his mouth with cotton swabs to collect the pooling saliva and dabbing his lips with a lubricant to moisten them.  There are no words, just action—working in harmony—like they’ve done this all their lives.  We do what we have to do in times like this.

Peace after the passing, my stepmother and me.

Glen and I stand at the foot of Dad’s bed watching as if time is standing still.  I take in everything I can into my senses—the smells, the sounds, the sights.  I know this will leave an indelible mark on me.  I want it to be a good memory.  I silently pray and watch.

I am aware of the heightened sense of God’s presence surrounding us.

When my father breathes his last breath, I look up at the clock—8:14.  “Well done, Dad,” I internally tell him. “You held out for one last visit with Glen before you died.”

He is not physically here, but I sense my father’s presence.  He is at peace.

“Thank you Lord for the gift of this beautiful passing.”

An Exercise in Love

Like my mother’s passing the year before, my father’s passing gave me healing and hope.  I wasn’t in fear of my father’s wrath any longer.  In the years before his passing, my heart shifted to see him through a lens of compassion and mercy.  I came to accept him for who he was and not what I wanted him to be.

In the five years since my father’s passing, I’ve watched and prayed for friends who have also made steps toward healing of their childhood and parental wounds.  Each of them entered into the forgiveness process too and were given beautiful passings of their mother or father.

It’s not an easy task to forgive our parents for what we didn’t get or for the real harm they may have caused.

It’s an exercise in love to forgive supernaturally.

And like the above simple piece I wrote to document my father’s final breaths, it’s an investment in ourselves and our loved ones.  When we do that, we pay the blessing forward into our future generations.

Memories of a life that ended well.

Ending Well

As I adjust to my aging, I’m seeing how important it is for us to end well.  I’m grateful both of my parents ended well with peaceful partings from this world.  It wasn’t because they necessarily lived Godly lives or were perfect people.

But maybe, just maybe, it was because God knew the desires of my heart for earthly love from my parents.  As I prayed for them and made overtures toward reconciliation with them, healing and love followed.  And it wasn’t in the tangible way that I would’ve expected.

It was about walking through the pain of forgiveness and trusting God.  In the process He revealed to me a powerful lesson in love: live well to end well.  I’m still working on it.  And maybe you are too.

Along the way I treasure these little reminders of God’s goodness and that He’s not done with me yet.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)

A Father’s Day Message of Hope

The year before my father died I wrote him a long letter for Father’s Day.  It’s not something I’d ever done before.   He was 93 years old, and I felt prompted to speak into matters of the heart with him.  It was a very risky endeavor—because he was not an emotional person and there was a ‘history’ between us.

Me & Dad circa 1962.

My Father History

My parents divorced when I was nine years old.  My mother and us kids moved across the country to live near my mother’s relatives.  My time with my father was then limited to a few summer visits in my teen years.

He was my father in name only for most of my life—and not only to me, but to the kids he also fathered in previous marriages.  That never seemed to bother me though.  He was MY father.  I loved him and longed for his love and acceptance.

While he was absent from most of the milestones in my life and lived thousands of miles away, his presence loomed large in my life in ways unbeknownst to me.

The Healing Journey

When I entered recovery over a decade ago, I started to see the effect of his absence in my life—the absence of real relationship and love.  As I got healing for my inner father wounds and took responsibility for my behavior and choices, I also learned to accept him in his failings.  I grieved what I didn’t get from him and released myself from the guilt I carried around my parent’s divorce (a common by-product of divorce).

The more healing I got, the easier it was for me to recognize how his words affected me, and to maintain an adult stance around him.  As I got stronger with my adult voice, I started to respectfully speak up for myself and my beliefs.  I didn’t let his opinions and his lack of empathy dictate my own self-worth.

In short, I grew confident in who I was as a woman and gave my little Ardis the chance to grow up as well.

My father and I had a good relationship the last few years of his life.  He observed how I restored the relationship with my mother and cared for her at the end of her life.  He was genuinely interested in the resulting turnaround in my life.  The healing and forgiveness I experienced at the end of my mother’s life then became a catalyst for me to initiate the same change in our father-daughter relationship.

Fishing with my father on the Columbia River.

A Father’s Day Letter

A few months after my mother passed away, my father’s last surviving sibling passed away.  I was still early on in my grief process over the loss of my mother, and I sensed that my uncle’s death may have been hard for my father too.  I used that as an opportunity to speak to his heart by way of a long letter.  I sent it for Father’s Day that year.

The purpose of the letter was two-fold.  One purpose was to fill him in on the inner healing I was experiencing and how God was revealing more things to me about my mother and the legacy she left me.  The second purpose was to express my forgiveness to him and propose a similar gesture as a lasting legacy for our family.

I was bold in my words, yet compassionate in my plea for family healing.  I prayerfully wrote the letter, releasing the outcome to the Lord and having no expectations of his understanding or emotional shift in his attitudes towards family.

Dad and me at his 90th birthday party.

A Father’s Day Reminder

I believe that letter made all the difference in my father’s ability to go in peace.  He never spoke of the letter, but my step-mother told me he read and re-read it several times.  He was outwardly softening as I think the Lord was inwardly doing a work in him.

He passed away the following year in a beautiful way that brought family together and gave us all peace in his passing.  We honored him with a private family memorial service that gave us closure and more healing.

While Father’s Day can still be a painful reminder to me of what I didn’t get from my earthly father, I’d much rather focus on how the Lord redeemed those years by giving me a heartfelt connection with my father at the end of his life.

I’m thankful the Lord prompted me to go down the path of healing and forgiveness for both of my parents before it was too late.  It has made all the difference in me and helped me to model that kind of healing with others.

2 Corinthians 6:18

I hope and pray that Father’s Day isn’t painful for you as it has been for me at times.  If your father is still alive and your relationship needs work, don’t wait until it’s too late.  Offer forgiveness and love, releasing the outcome to the Lord.  And remember our heavenly Father is with us as a friend, counselor, and Abba Father, regardless of the circumstances with our earthly father.

Nominations Open for Mother of the Year

As Mother’s Day approaches this year I’ve noticed a bit of longing for the times when my kids were young and family plans were made to do something special to celebrate the day.  If something wasn’t planned, you could always count on the school to assign students a Mother’s Day project.

I’ve still got my children’s Mother’s Day projects filed away with their school papers and art projects.  Some have made their way into my scrapbooks and another hangs in my office as a reminder of one of those cherished memories.

An Unlikely Nomination

Many years ago one of those Mother’s Day projects was a major wake-up call for me.  I got to see myself through the eyes of my 11-year-old son, and I didn’t like what I saw.

Each student was given an assignment to write a Mother-of-the-Year nomination for their parent.  It was a good writing assignment for a 4th grader—learning how to structure a one-page paper.

It started out with the three reasons for my nomination.  Then there was a paragraph for each reason to give more background and details.  The final paragraph was a summary of the nomination.

My son started out by nominating me because “she has a great personality, works hard for her job, and lastly she is dedicated to the family.”  It warmed my heart—until I reached the paragraph about my work.  That was when my son’s words hit a nerve.

“My mother stays up late to keep working most of the time.  Normally, it is 2 AM before she goes to bed.  Also there are times where I don’t see my mom until the next morning because she stayed at work.  She does this just to bring money into the family.  If she didn’t have to bring in money then she wouldn’t do these things.”

Hard work is one thing, but I was modeling to my son that working long hours into the night and not seeing him, was acceptable behavior—all for a paycheck.  That may seem innocuous to many people in these days of high tech and high stress jobs.  But his truth about my work habits and unconscious belief system was a glaring red flag.

I didn’t like the message I was sending my son.

The bigger story behind this was that I was demoted from my job a few months earlier.  That demotion was the catalyst that got me into recovery and out of denial about my work addiction.

By the time I received my son’s Mother’s Day gift, I was making healthy changes in my life and working less hours.  However, the damage had been done.  My son already saw the result.  Thankfully, all of this led to getting more balance in my life and by the next year, I took a leap of faith and left my job.

A New Nomination

I never shared with my son the impact his words had on me.  He was too young to understand.  Now that he is 24 and working in a job that he loves, maybe it is time that we have that talk.

Over the years since leaving that job, my kids have been very much aware of my recovery journey and passion for emotional and spiritual healing.  Back in 2004 when he nominated me for Mother-of-the-Year, I’m sure I didn’t feel very worthy.

The joy of Mother’s Day with my sons, May 2000.

I wonder what he would say now—what either of my son’s would say if they could nominate me now.  I still don’t feel very worthy of something like that.  However, I know that I’ve made a difference in their lives.  While I haven’t been a traditional homemaker type mother, they know that I love them.

And like I did when I left that job over a decade ago, I’ve modeled something I’m much more proud of—leaning on God.  The scripture that helped me through that difficult time is still one of my favorite life verses.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding, seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV

While my son’s Mother’s Day gift that year didn’t initially feel like a gift, it turned out to be one of the most memorable I’ve ever had.  The timing and his words were perfectly orchestrated by God to get my attention and help me to shift my priorities and grow my faith.

What are you modeling to your kids this Mother’s Day?  Are you worthy of The Nomination?

Holy Week, Holy Life

What does it mean to live a holy life?  How do you define it?

Is the holy life reserved for those called or ordained into the priesthood or carry an official license or ministerial degree?

An ‘Unholy’ Life?

It’s been over a year since I returned to full-time work in a secular capacity.  What was initially intended to be a temporary assignment has turned into a more permanent position.  I didn’t realize the affect this would have on my writing or my ministry connections.

At times it feels very unholy.  Is it really unholy or is it just an attitude in my mind?

What makes a life holy?

Is it the exterior dos and don’ts—following the commandments and acting righteous?  Or is it derived from the inner life?  Jesus called out the Pharisee’s on this attitude in Matthew 23:25-26 when he said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Stinging words for sure!  And they were said to the religious leaders of that time.

Defining a Holy Life

Jesus calls us into various forms of ministry in and out of the church.  For this season in my life, I’m called to take my servant attitude and love for others into a rapidly changing office environment, putting aside my desires to write and serve in organized ministry.  While it’s been a difficult pill to swallow, it doesn’t make me or my work unholy or less important than it was before.

So what does a holy life look like?  Here are some things to ponder in seeking to lead a holy life:

Redefining Holiness

Holy Week and Easter gives us a chance to redefine what holiness means to us.  It’s a time to invite Jesus into our inner lives and clean out the cup.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most holy and loving moments in the history of the world.  Will we give it the time and attention that it deserves?  Will we let Jesus deep inside to let us see our holiness from His perspective—what we truly mean to Him?  Will we spend time with Jesus and show Him what He means to us?

Our holiness is not defined by what we do (in or outside of ministry work).  Our holiness is defined by what Jesus did for us on the cross.  He sees us as holy.  And that is what makes us holy—despite our sin, our shame, our brokenness, our imperfections, and our pride.  Our job is to live a life worthy of His love and sacrifice.

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10, NIV)

Let us join together in celebrating our holiness this Resurrection Sunday! Happy Easter!

A Christmas Offering

Today is the eve of Christmas Day!  Whether you celebrate on December 24th or 25th, this is the time in the spiritual calendar set aside to honor and commemorate Jesus!  A day to be thankful and bring worship to our King.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV)

wise-men-searching

Wise Men From the East

The Bible tells us that over 2,000 years ago wise men from the East sought Jesus to bring him gifts.  Who were these wise men?  They were not Jewish priests or prophets.  Some Bible translations refer to them as kings or astrologers, while other sources speculate that they were sorcerers.

Whoever they were, these things are certainly true: they were in search of the King of the Jews and they brought lavish gifts to worship Him.

Doesn’t that paint a beautiful picture of sacrifice, obedience, and humility?  Does that resonate with you?

Humbling Ourselves

I sometimes wonder why people don’t fully understand the true meaning of Christmas or why people claiming to be Followers of Christ can be so hardhearted when it comes to things of the spirit.  Yes, I know it’s hard—especially with the constant bombardment of activities, pings on our phones, and ‘shoulds’ in our lives.  I stumble and falter at times, and have to confess that I struggle to keep Christ first and foremost in my life.

What I do know to be true from my own walk of faith is that we have to be willing to humble ourselves before God and surrender the burdens that we carry.  Not just once, but day by day, hour by hour, and even minute by minute.

humblequote

Jesus left His heavenly home to save us from our brokenness, self-sufficiency, and selfish ways (sin).  His birth was an offering to mankind.  Jesus offered Himself to us as a baby so that we would offer ourselves to Him.

It’s that simple.

And if we refuse to ever grasp that profound truth and let Jesus fully reside in our hearts (not just our heads), we will never experience the kind of inner peace and joy that He brings into our lives.

Be the Offering

We are to be the offering.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

No one else is worthy of this offering or our praises.  So come let us adore Him, Christ the King.

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11, NIV)

When you read these words, do they bring a smile to your face and gladness in your heart?  Or do they just seem like words on a page?

Do you want a fresh start this Christmas?  To see Jesus in a new way?  To celebrate Christmas as an offering to our King?

Listen and meditate on the words of this song, Christmas Offering.

 

Now, take a moment to bow on bended knee (like the wise men) and pray:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the gift of your son Jesus—the ultimate offering and gift you bestowed on mankind.  I confess my need for Him in my life.  I surrender my self-sufficiency and selfish ways to you and ask for a clean heart this Christmas Day and in the year ahead.  I offer my life to you and ask that you would fill me with the peace that surpasses all understanding.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

What are you putting at the feet of Jesus this Christmas?

A Bittersweet Birthday Gift

Every year since my mother passed away, I can’t help but think of her on my birthday.  It was on my 50th birthday that I was by her bedside, 2000 miles away from friends and family.  It was a very poignant and bittersweet birthday.  It wasn’t at all how I planned to celebrate turning 50.

50-birthdayJanet, one of my friends had planned a birthday party for me—something I was looking forward to for weeks.  It was going to be a big celebration, with invites to women who had all jointly participated in a series of emotional healing classes.  It was how I really wanted to mark this major birthday milestone in my life.  But God had other plans.

An Unexpected Trip Back Home

I had not seen my mother in several years.  We didn’t have much of a relationship.  Her mental illness had driven a wedge between us.  Over the years it didn’t bother me much—on the surface.  I told myself it was all for the best.  Deep inside though, I carried a lot of guilt and shame around my relationship with my mother.  It was my choice to turn my back on her.

I never knew what it was like to have a mother to confide in, to mentor me, or to teach me how to be a good wife or mother.  I certainly didn’t think I needed one either.

joann-ny-2

My mother, JoAnn, circa 1956.

Then came the dreaded phone call.  You know the one.  When bad news is delivered, shaking your world.

My mother had a major stroke leaving her partially paralyzed and barely able to talk.  Medical decisions were made to give her the care she needed and life returned to status quo.

A few months later, after she had another medical emergency, I felt it was time to go.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but somehow the Lord was getting hold of me.  I needed to be an adult and face not only the difficult end of life decisions for my mother’s sake, but I also had to face my own pain.

A Change of Heart Towards Mom

I arrived in the St. Louis area on a roundtrip ticket with a return flight home a few days before my 50th birthday.  Seeing my mother that first time was difficult.  She didn’t look like herself.  She was pale, thin, and aged.  Years of bedridden medical care and living in a nursing home environment had turned her into a much older looking woman.

Despite her limited ability to speak, her eyes said “I love you.”

My heart ached for her.

My days were split between time with my mother and in meetings with her healthcare team.  Day after day I immersed myself in my mother’s care and living environment.  Occupational speech therapy was underway.  Hospice care was recommended and initiated while I was there.

Every night I talked with friends and family back home.  Their prayers gave me the courage and the strength to carry on each day.

When the time came to leave, I couldn’t bear the thought.  There still seemed like too much to do.  I didn’t know when or if I would see my mother alive again.  I didn’t want any regrets. God was softening my heart toward my mom, giving me compassion and empathy for her.

A family reunion with mom.

A family reunion with mom.

My sister-in-law, Carol, came to the rescue.  She sensed my angst.  Carol made arrangements for me to stay longer and made plans for us (my brother, her and myself) to return in December, for one last family reunion.

When it came to telling Janet about my plans to stay and to cancel my party, she made it easy for me too.  Janet was very understanding and loving.  She offered up prayers and to throw me a party another time, when I was ready.  (That party was five years ago and had a totally different meaning and feel to it.)

A Bittersweet Birthday

When my 50th birthday arrived, the day wasn’t outwardly that much different than any other day of my visit: time with mom, feeding her, gently massaging her feet and legs, talking with her care team.  Inwardly though, God was reminding me of the significance of the day.

It was bittersweet.  I couldn’t help but think that she brought me into the world 50 years ago and cared for me day and night as a baby.  She helped me to start life well.  Now I was returning the gift to her—helping her to end life well.

My final gift to my mother on this trip was the gold cross pendent I received from my godmother for my first communion.  I treasured that gift for decades.  But now, as I left my mother in God’s hands, and returned home, I wanted her to have something to cling to—to remember me.  It was my promise to her to return again.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

A Legacy of Healing

That bittersweet day was eight birthdays ago.  My mother passed away 15 months later.  I made two more trips back home to see her before she died.  Each time her health deteriorated more and more.

That first trip opened my eyes to her suffering.  It opened my heart for the healing between us—much of it never verbally spoken, but shared in the gentle touch of my hands and the tears in our eyes.

So on my birthday, I feel especially close to her.  She didn’t know it then, but she gave me the most memorable birthday gift.  And for me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s the gift I give to others who are also helping their parents end well.  But really it’s the gift we give ourselves, if we are open to walking through the pain and turning healing to hope.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT)

For more on this story, purchase a copy of Journeys to Mother Love, through my site, or through your favorite book seller.

2016 Presidential Election: Driving us to Drink

One more week!!!  I know I’m not the only person who is fed up with this presidential election cycle.  It happens every four years about this time.  Usually it’s the commercials.  This year though it’s the actual candidates themselves—making snide remarks about each other and calling each other a liar.  It’s all over the mainstream media, the internet, social media, and was even on the presidential debates.  I’ve spent much of these past few months sorely disappointed in both political parties and frustrated by the choice of presidential candidates.

Getty images

Getty images

I’m not one to partake in political posts here or on social media.  So before I delve into this personally uncharted territory, I decided to share some memorable voting experiences—because we all need some encouraging reminders of why we put so much consideration in the voting process.

Personal Voting Experiences

The first election I was old enough to vote in was 1980 when President Jimmy Carter was running for re-election against Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.  I was in my senior year in college.  I was glad to be voting and exercising my civic duty.

However, I didn’t vote for either of those candidates.  Instead I voted for independent candidate John Anderson.  I’ll never forget on the morning of the election, my boyfriend (and future husband), called to dissuade me from voting for Anderson.  He told me I was throwing away my vote.

vote-countsAs a first-time voter, I didn’t follow politics much.  So maybe I did throw away my vote.  But to me it was about the principle.  Three election cycles later, in 1992, my husband and I both got fed up with the status quo and seriously considered jumping ship (away from our Party) to vote for independent candidate Ross Perot.  His nearly 19% of the popular vote split the Republican Party and significantly contributed to putting Bill Clinton in the Whitehouse.

Voter Education ~ A Family Affair

When we had children, we taught them about political philosophies and included them in the election process as much as possible.  Each of our sons attended a Washington State primary caucus with us to see the election process at work.

Before Washington State changed to mailing ballots, the boys sometimes joined us at the polling station.  They were eager to cast their votes on the children’s ballot: favorite pet, sport, breakfast, and so on.  (I don’t ever remember hearing those results though.)

Our oldest son also had a memorable experience on Election Day, November 7, 2000.  It was the year of the Bush/Gore presidential race.  My son did a presentation at school for his 3rd grade class, like a reporter.  His topic was the Election Day news.  He reported about the election process and polling results: Gov. Bush with a lead over Al Gore of 5-7 points of the popular vote.

My son pondering his vote, November 2000.

My son pondering his vote, November 2000.

My son, along with our nation, got quite an education in the election process that year.  No one could’ve predicted the election aftermath that ensued.  (Remember the hanging chads in Florida?)

November 8, 2000, the day after the election, was a memorable day in our family for another reason.  It was my husband’s birthday.  When he went to bed on Election Day evening, he thought that he got his birthday wish—a victory for George W. Bush.  He was sorely disappointed to wake up the next day to news that the election results were being contested.

My husband has the same sort of dilemma again this year.  Election Day is his birthday.  He knows what he wants for his birthday.  As much as I’d like to give that to him, I have no control over the election results.

2016: The Hardest Voting Decision Ever

At times during this election cycle I found myself vacillating between candidates.  I’m used to looking to a moral compass to give me confidence and peace in my decision.  It has made for some interesting political conversations in our home.  I can’t be swayed though.

I’ve come to believe that this election cycle is the hardest one ever for women.  I would love to see a woman President of the United States.  But I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton.  As a woman, I’m also offended by Donald Trump’s remarks and reported past actions against women.  Is he contrite?  Is he a changed man?

I know I’m not providing any real debate or intellectual reason to vote either way.  My point is that I believe this presidential election is particularly difficult for women voters.  Something I don’t think that either candidate understands.

electionSo what are we women to do?

Driven to Drink

I don’t know about you, but this election has driven me to drink.  Not alcohol.  I mean to drink in the Holy Spirit—to pray for discernment on who to vote for—and for the good of our country.

This is what the Lord has pressed upon me.

  1. It’s not about who I vote for; it’s about how I approach the voting process.
  2. I don’t have to worry about making a ‘wrong’ decision, because He is ultimately in control.
  3. Since God is in control, I need to vote for who I believe the Holy Spirit can do the most work in and through.

All three of these points lead me back to prayer and drinking in the Spirit.

A Lesson from King Nebuchadnezzar

I’m reminded of an Old Testament story in Daniel 4 about Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon.  He was the most powerful ruler on earth.  He believed he was a god and demanded to be worshiped.  Daniel was an aide to the king, widely known for his Godly wisdom and would interpret the king’s dreams for him.

In one dream, Daniel foresaw that the king would be removed from his throne and would live in the wild like an animal.  One year later, the dream was fulfilled.  God judged Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and arrogance by afflicting him with madness, and driving him from human society.  Nebuchadnezzar lived there until he learned “that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.” (Daniel 4:25, NLT)

nebuchadnezzar

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:33-37, NIV)

Humbling the ‘Prouditians’

At times, I can’t help but liken either of the two presidential candidates to Nebuchadnezzar: above the law, full of pride, arrogant, and grandiose thinking.

I’ve heard some say that their vote for president will go to whomever they consider is the lesser of two evils.  Rest assured, whoever wins this election, God can turn them from their ‘evil’ ways.

vote-prayWhich of these ‘prouditians’, Trump or Clinton, is more likely to be humbled (like Nebuchadnezzar) by this election process and the responsibilities of Commander in Chief?  Which candidate will God use for His purpose?  I don’t have the answers, but I know the One who does.

This election cycle has driven me to drink of the Spirit, for discernment on who to vote for, and to request the Lord’s favor on our country in the aftermath of the election.

Will you join me in praying for our country—and drink in the Spirit before you vote?

Coming Up for Air

Blind trust… that’s what it takes to weather a wilderness season—like the Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert.  The Lord was preparing them for something greater, but first they had to learn to trust Him.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

I’ve been in the wilderness most of this year. It didn’t start out that way. I recently got a glimmer of hope, a flicker of inspiration, and decided it’s time to surface for some air, so to speak, to bring some Light into the Darkness.

An Unexpected Loss

Earlier this year my life took an unexpected turn when I returned to full-time work to manage a major computer conversion project at my husband’s office. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision led to putting my writing on hold.  It was subtle at first, no time to blog led to no motivation or inspiration to blog. That led to no journaling. There were no words. It was as if my writing died and along with it I lost my voice.

It was like I lost my best friend.  I went through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The only thing missing for this dearly departed loved one was a funeral.

coffin-rose

Work, work, work—the long days, week after week, and month after month caught up with me—physically and emotionally.

When I finally realized it and things began to stabilize, I started to put in boundaries around the number of days I worked and inserted some much needed self-care.  Even with that I’ve found it very hard to write.  My writing muscle is weak and, like exercise, I need to start working out that muscle again!

Left-Brain Thinking

I got some interesting insight into my dilemma about a month ago while reading The Seven Mountain Prophesy by Johnny Enlow.  This book reveals prayer strategies for the seven mountains or sectors of society of every nation of the earth: media, government, education, economy, religion, celebration, and family.  As a prayer intercessor, this keenly interested me.

It was in the chapter on education that I had a profound revelation about my work habits and inability to write.

Left-brain thinking, when it becomes dominant, squeezes out the things of the Spirit of God.  The right brain isn’t the kingdom of God, but it’s the part of the brain God created to be open to respond to His ways.  It’s the chimney through which faith is accessed.  You can quote all the scriptures on faith and understand the logic of faith, but only the right brain can tap into the actual substance of faith.

left-right

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  My thinking was dominated by my left brain.  Day after day, I was sucked into the challenges at work.  I couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about it.  The work consumed me, much like an addiction.  Or so I wondered at times.

Addiction?  Passion?  Or ADHD?  All I can say is that it is a struggle for me—a constant battle for balance.  It is most assuredly fed by my ADHD and my difficulty in switching gears.  (A common symptom for people with ADHD is a broken internal ‘gear-shifter’ due to chemical imbalances in the brain.)

God’s Thinking

Old habits die hard.  I was governed by my left brain for decades.  Everything was logical, analytical, and rational—until I got into recovery over 12 years ago.

In recovery I started to see and experience things from God’s perspective, like the Beatitudes and their upside down thinking:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3-6

be-stillWhen Jesus came into the world, he challenged people to use their right brain—to see things from God’s perspective and to live by faith.  He challenged the Pharisees and biblical scholars of his day.

He turned water into wine.  He walked on water.  He fed 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread.  To top it all off, he had more food leftover than when he started.  These are things of the Spirit and are derived when we open ourselves up to getting in touch with the invisible things of God.

Coming Up for Air

Throughout this year even though I’ve been consumed with the situation at work, I’ve protected my weekly appointment time with God.  It kept me sane, refreshed and focused on the bigger purpose of why I was called out of retirement back to secular work.  My prayer times also gave me a break from left-brain thinking.  That alone wasn’t enough to inspire me to write though.

With new boundaries in place and a greater attempt at balancing my life, I hope to invest in some writing time again.  It’s been a five-year journey, so maybe I really needed a break.

Like the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert learning to trust God, I too have been leaning on Him and learning to trust.  I sense my time in the desert may be coming to an end or at least I’ve reached a temporary oasis.  The Lord has given me some new inspiration and brought meaning out of this wilderness season.

swim-air

So with this post, I am officially coming up for air and hope to surface more regularly, taking bigger gulps of air and the Spirit of God in the process.

If you’re in a wilderness season, don’t despair. God is nearer than you think.  I’d love to hear how He is stretching your trust muscle.  May this serve as inspiration and hope on your journey.

  • WELCOME to my site!

    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.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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