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 wandering 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.

Kairos, the Ultimate Time for Change

It’s the start of another New Year and time for the annual reflection of the last 365 days.  This isn’t another New Year’s post about resolutions or setting goals. What I feel nudged to write about is time.

T-I-M-E, time; but not in a way that you may have ever heard before.

What is time?  Here’s a simple definition of time from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “Time is the thing that is measured as seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc.”  It can be measured on the clock, visible by the movement of the hands sweeping around the numbers or other reference markers.  It is visible as we flip the page on a calendar.  But is that all it is?

kairos-vs-chronos

In ancient Greek, there were two words used to refer to time: chronos and kairos. The definition above is referring to chronos or chronological (literal) time.  Kairos time is the right or opportune time.  Chronos is quantitative, while kairos is qualitative.

Living in Kairos Time

If kairos refers to an opportune time, what would it mean to live life more fully aware of kairos moments in our life? It means using our chronological time to serve a greater good.

In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” In this scripture, Paul is instructing us to redeem the kairos or opportune time.

Each passage of chronological time is the same, every second, every minute, but it doesn’t have the same worth. Kairos time, on the other hand, has greater weight and relevance.  In other words, not every moment of chronos time has the same value.  Some moments are more pleasant, memorable or significant in our life.

opportunity timeUsing our chronos time to discern kairos moments gives life more meaning.

For instance, kairos time may be time spent reaching out to a friend in need. Kairos time may look like time spent with your kids after a long day at work.  Kairos time may be manifested by praying over someone.  It is based on a foundation of love.

Kairos moments have a ripple effect in ways we may never visibly see in chronological time.

When we follow these nudges of the Holy Spirit to act at an opportune time, we can trust God’s timing to prevail in our lives and those we are in relationship with.

Kairos as God’s Timing

Kairos is also commonly used in Christian theology to indicate a time anointed for God to act. It is used approximately 81 times in the New Testament.  One such example is Mark 1:15, “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” Jesus was alerting people to God’s presence in a new and powerful way.

Another example of a kairos moment in history was the birth of Jesus. That kairos moment of God breaking through in human form was so significant it separated chronological time into B.C. and A.D.

I first heard of kairos time in this context when I participated in a spiritual mentoring group. We learned to look for times in our lives when God was breaking through.  We were encouraged to listen more intently to what God was telling us and to spot revelation and God’s perspective on what was happening around us.

We processed these kairos moments together through the lens of biblical and spiritual truths as a way to follow God more closely.  It was a time of great spiritual growth and discernment.

Kairos eternity

“Kairos moments are never neutral; they are either gifts or challenges, and they leave an imprint on us. Learning to recognize kairos moments comes through a decision to want to hear God more clearly, the willingness to learn the language He speaks to us in, and then, aligning our lives to move in that direction.”   Tamara Buchan, founder Reclaim Ministries

A Time for Change

Whether you look at kairos time as a time when God breaks through or an opportune time to make a difference in someone else’s life, being aware of a kairos moment will bring blessings and challenges in your life. You’ll face your fears, be criticized by some, and maybe even fail.  However, you’ll learn more about who you are and learn to move beyond the challenges with courage.

I’ve been more fully aware of my kairos moments for several years. Yet there are still times that I can doubt the direction that God is leading me—especially when it seems impossible.  He continues to grow my trust muscle, stretching it in painful ways—sometimes little by little and other times through big leaps of faith, like my mission to Spain.

As a Follower of Christ the benefit to being aware of kairos time is that it adds a greater depth to our relationship with Jesus. It gives us confidence to walk in obedience and boldly become the person that God created us to be.

Chronological time is a training ground full of kairos moments and opportunities to change and grow our faith.

Kairos time

I’ve learned to trust Him, and you can too.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions; however, my focus for 2016 is to redeem kairos moments for His eternal purpose. May it be the same for you as you learn to stretch your faith in new ways.

 

Joy to the World, Not Just Another Christmas Carol

Did you grow up listening to Christmas music in your home? Does the sound of one of your favorite Christmas carols bring a smile to your face and revive the sights and smells of Christmases past in your mind?

Christmas carolsFa, la, la

Go ahead. No one’s watching (hopefully).  Let’s sing…

Away in a manger no crib for his bed…

Silent night, holy night…

Joy to the World the Lord has come…

I imagine with just a short pause after reading the start of each of those Christmas carols that you could sing the next line to that song, and probably the first verse or the whole song. At least I hope you can.

Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not originally written for Christmas?  It was written by Isaac Watts, a British hymn writer, and first published in 1719.  The song is based on Psalm 98 (verses 4-8) with an intended reference to the Second Coming of Christ, not his first:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy.

I didn’t realize this myself until I traveled to Spain last fall and heard it in a new context.

Going to Church in Spain

I’ve had the privilege of attending several church services in Spain—most of them in a Catholic setting. One particular Mass stands out though.  It was on Columbus Day, Sunday, October 12, 2014.

I was with my friend and hostess Rosa, Pedro’s mother. We attended the Columbus Day parade in downtown Madrid and then walked to Mass at the Parish of Our Lady of Conception (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora).

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora)

It was not my first time at this church. Rosa and I attended a Sunday Mass there the year before too, on my first Sunday in Spain.  I had gone to a weekday Mass at a neighborhood church and also visited a few other churches by then, as well as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, a massive Gothic cathedral from the 13th century.  I had never seen anything like the Toledo Cathedral (below) in my life.

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Our Lady of Conception in Madrid was nowhere near as grand, but as I’ve come to expect, most Catholic churches in Spain are lined with beautiful religious statues and opulent altars. From my uneducated and American perspective, most of these churches look like what I would’ve considered a cathedral.

Singing in Spain

When I attended Mass my first trip to Spain (in the summer of 2013), the churches did not have any choirs or singing—only limited organ music. I was told it was due to the heat.  (Churches are not air-conditioned in Spain.)

On this day (Columbus Day 2014) with Rosa by my side, I was surprised when I noticed a choir singing at the start of Mass. Even though the song was sung in Spanish, the music sounded familiar.  It took me a few lines, humming the tune to myself, before I recognized the song and could put English words to it.  It was “Joy to the World!”

I’d never heard that song sung outside of a Christmas setting. It gave me a new love for the song.

While I couldn’t sing the Spanish words (no hymnal and no projection of the words on a screen), I could sing it silently in my mind in English. It was glorious to hear a favorite Christmas song being sung in this grand church, echoing through the high arched-ceilings, stained glass, and religious statues.

It sounded like the voices of angels. They really were heralding Jesus and singing His praises joyfully to the world.

Take a listen to this Christmas favorite sung in Spanish and see if you agree.  As you listen, picture yourself inside this lovely church too (interior images below).

 Al Mundo Paz (Joy to the World)

Not Just Another Christmas Carol

I once heard it said in church that singing Christian hymns and songs of worship is like praying twice. Stripped of my ability to audibly sing “Joy to the World” in my native tongue, it was like praying it in my mind—and praising Him in my heart.

According to Wikipedia, as of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most published Christmas hymn in North America.  But now you know, as do I, that it isn’t just another Christmas carol.

Here are the lyrics to read or sing, in this new context of glorifying Christ’s Second Coming instead of His first over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Joy to the World
By Isaac Watts

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.

And if you haven’t heard it, here’s a re-mix of the song by Chris Tomlin called “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).”  May your Christmas and New Year be filled with unspeakable joy!

‘Tis Better to have Loved and Lost…

The title for this post comes from a quote by British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).  You’ve no doubt heard the quote before: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

What brings me to this harsh reality at this point in my life?  The death of a loved one?  The end of a significant relationship in my life?

Better to have loved 2

No, it is the loss of some significant mementos in my life, leading to a rather sudden wave of shock and grief.  Some may laugh when I divulge my loss.  But if you have a heart for the sentimental, you will surely understand.

Read on to hear how a seemingly insignificant loss led to such an emotional response…like the death of a loved one.

A Sentimental Practice

The story actually dates back to January 2008 when I started the practice of saving memorable and encouraging voicemail messages on my mobile phone.  The first one was an especially poignant message left by my husband.  The events surrounding that time were a huge catalyst for healing and restoration in our marriage.  Days before that message was left, my husband came home with a dozen roses and a box of chocolates, bent down on one knee and, after 25 years of marriage proposed to me all over again.

That voicemail message from him was like a love letter from years gone by.

Over the course of the next several years I saved dozens of voicemail messages on my phone from family and friends.   There were messages from women who attended the retreat I led.  There were encouraging messages and prayers from friends who supported me in the ministries where I served and at significant milestones in my speaking and writing career.

I remember one friend who left a message the day after I got news of my first manuscript being accepted.  She jokingly called me a “famous author.”  Even now I can get choked up at the thought of that loving message.

The list goes on and on: a cheerful and proud message from my youngest son when he got his first mobile phone, birthday greetings sung by friends, and a rare birthday call from my father who has since passed away.  Some of those messages and prayers got me through some pretty dark times too.

Many messages revolved around the time of my mother’s illness and passing.  There were urgent messages from the nursing home regarding my mother’s condition and several poignant words of encouragement and prayers when she passed away.  It was the prayers of these women who got me through those painful days of traveling home to bury my mother and give her eulogy.

All of those messages disappeared in an instant…a dagger to my heart.

Black Friday Grief

It happened over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend—Black Friday!!!  Yes, it was a dark Black Friday to me.

I made the arduous decision to upgrade my phone AND change mobile service providers at the same time.  It was the latter that killed the messages.

Black-FridayAs my husband and I sat in the provider’s store, they made every assurance to me that everything would move over to the new phone.

Don’t worry.  Famous last words.

In my heart and my mind though, I knew it wouldn’t be so.  My mind raced through my most important apps and how I use my phone.  Then it hit me, and I asked the dreaded question, “What about my voicemail messages?”

The service rep had no idea the magnitude of the bad news he was imparting on me.  But my husband did.

I had to leave the store for fear of breaking down in public.  I rushed through the mall to the other carrier’s store—the one we were leaving.  They confirmed my worst fear.  It was too late.  The messages were gone forever!

Gone were the love letters from friends and family.  Gone were the prayers of hope.  Gone were the voices from people in my past.

‘Tis Better to have Loved & Lost

Lest you think this is really no big deal, it might help to mention that my #1 love language is words of affirmation (as described in Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages”).  The other four love languages are quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

I give words of affirmation to others and feel most loved when I receive it as well.

So it wasn’t a small matter to me.  I grieved over the loss of those messages.  However, I’m not alone in my grieving of such things.

I recalled a friend who recently lost her mobile phone.  She didn’t have her photos backed up or stored online.  They were gone forever.  She had just returned from a family reunion, seeing her grandchildren and her ailing mother.  She proudly showed off her family photos.  A few weeks later her mother passed away, making the loss of those precious photos even more painful.

Another friend shared how she had deleted voicemail messages from her mother who is now deceased.  Over a year after her mother’s passing, it still brought a tear to her eye as she recalled those memories of her mother’s voice.

When I talked more about the significance of these messages and my grief with my husband, he referenced the above quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  I think that was his way of trying to ease my pain.  Lucky for him it had already subsided by that point.  (By the way, don’t share that quote with anyone in the early stages of grief.  It’s like putting salt on a wound.)

As a writer, hearing that quote at that very moment helped me to reframe this grief episode in my life and in my writing.  It REALLY is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

I have loved well, and been loved well by my friends and family over the past several years.  They were the voices I turned to for encouragement, to keep seeking His will for my life and step out of my comfort zone—using my voice to speak and write in ways I never dreamed possible.  I can’t imagine where I would be today without that love and support.  They helped to sustain me.

Messages of love

Words of affirmation and love

Looking at the list of lost calls (yes, I do have screenshots of my visual voice mailbox), I can hear most of them in my mind.  They are not really gone because I have integrated the essence of their love and words of affirmation into my heart and spirit.  I don’t need to lean on them like I did in the past.

Any tears that come to mind now are not of the loss, but are of the beauty, love, and thoughtfulness of these people whom I treasure.  I’m feeling loved.  That love, like the Love of our Heavenly Father, has equipped me to freely give it back to others.

On that note, I gotta wrap this up.  It’s time to pass the love on with words of affirmation to others who need it, including my thoughtful and supportive readers.  Thanks for cheering me on, leaving comments and liking my posts.  May the love I have in my heart for you, inspire you to turn healing into hope.

12/11/2015 Update:  Do you watch “The Middle” on ABC? I laughed so hard when I watched this week’s episode.  One of the kids accidentally deleted all of the family digital photos on the computer (not backed up, of course).  The family then goes on a hunt to find a box of the old printed photos.  The storyline hit way to close to home after writing this post and losing my voicemail messages the week before.

Hope you enjoy this little bit of holiday humor on “The Middle,” Frankie weeps after losing all her photos.

 

A Grateful Lesson in Letting go of our Children

If you have grown kids, I’m sure you can relate to this feeling of gratitude. Another timeless parenting lesson in love, sacrifice, and letting go.

Journeys To Mother Love

Letting go of our children reaps a harvest in unexpected ways.

As much as I want it too, time doesn’t stand still. In fact as we age I’ve found that it actually seems to move at a faster pace. Kids grow up, graduate from college, leave the nest, and settle into a new life as they seek independence and start a career or family.

Whether our children choose to live nearby, across the state, or across the country, we will be faced with challenges to our parenting and our ability to let go.

It’s a timeless lesson in love and sacrifice.

My older son graduated from college a few years ago and, because of a lucrative job offer, immediately moved out of state. There was no time for transition between the two major milestones.

It was a crazy time for my husband and me as parents. We experienced the pride of his graduation and excitement for his new life. We packed…

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On Red Alert for the Spiritual Needs in France

My heart was heavy this morning as I awoke to more news about the awful terrorist attacks in Paris yesterday. As an American, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the attacks on our country on 9/11/2001.

Horrific.  Senseless.  Pure evil.

Pray for Paris

Where were you when…?

Will this be another day in history that we point to like 9/11 saying, “Where were you when you heard the news of the Friday the 13th Paris terrorist attacks?”

Late yesterday afternoon while waiting in the reception room for a chiropractic appointment, to pass the time I scanned Facebook on my cell phone. As seems to be more and more the case lately, that is where I hear of this sort of breaking news.

Friends were posting updates to pray for Paris. My attention quickly switched to the internet for the latest news, but was interrupted when I was called in to see my doctor for an adjustment followed by a well-deserved massage appointment.

Then late in the day my attention returned to the events across the world while watching a network news show dedicated to this topic. I’m not one to watch these sorts of shows, usually focused on sensational journalism and high profile events. However, this was different because I have a connection to Paris and France in general.

Paris police

My French Connection

Ever since my mission to France last fall, the people and this country have more meaning and significance to me and in my prayer life.

I was only in Paris for a few hours between connections while traveling to Grenoble, France where I stayed with my missionary partners and spoke at their church.

I could’ve bypassed Paris, made a shorter layover, etc. However, when I started booking my travel arrangements, I felt God press upon me to visit Notre Dame and to pray for the people of France.

There were many obstacles that I overcame to do that, including averting the Air France strike while traveling. Through God’s providence and against all physical odds, I arrived on the footsteps of Notre Dame Cathedral five minutes before the noon Mass.

I prayer-walked through the cathedral and through the streets of Paris that day. It was a spiritual high for me.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

After having such a spiritual experience in Paris last fall, the sense of darkness hit me again last night as I watched the scenes from Paris: images of people’s bodies lying in the streets covered with white sheets, police cordoning off and guarding areas like armed militia, and hearing eye witness accounts of what happened.

Before I arrived in Paris last fall, I researched the religious history of France. I was aghast at the religious wars that were fought in this country. It led to a huge divide in the country.

Even today there is still animosity and emotional wounds carried down through family generations between Catholics and Protestants in France. This has led to apathy for organized religion in general and a dramatic decline in church attendance.

The Ongoing Battle

Centuries ago, the blood of the martyrs was splattered throughout this country. Yesterday new blood was splattered on the streets of Paris—unsuspecting victims in a new battle.

My heart aches. In my mind I pray more fervently.

Centuries ago the Huguenots fought for their religious beliefs against the kings and queens of France. The battle lines were drawn. There were persecutions, forced conversions, and ostracisms from society.

Today Parisians, Americans, and people across the world are also caught up in an invisible battle for our souls. It is terrorist attacks like the one yesterday that remind us of the evil intentions of cowardly soldiers who secretly plot against our society.

Their tactic is fear. They are being misled by the biggest enemy we have.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44, NIV)

One of many memorial sites cropping up in Paris.

One of many memorial sites cropping up in Paris.

On Red Alert to Pray

As Christians, we are called to put on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our strategy is to fight our battles in prayer first. Let’s not be misled by the lies of the Enemy.

It is the Blood of Jesus that overcomes the blood that is splattered across the land in countries across the world.

I am praying for the comfort of the families affected by these horrible crimes against humanity. Like a security alert system that sounds a loud signal of imminent danger, I am also on red alert to pray for God’s power to be poured out on the people of France, for a spiritual awakening and renewal of their Christian faith.

Let us all pray as we feel led for the spiritual and physical needs in France.

In times of tragedy, cry out to God. He will hear you.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:6, NIV)

He is listening now to our prayers and petitions for France.

To read about the Paris attacks from the perspective of my colleagues in France, click here.

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

I recently heard of another friend losing their battle to cancer. Her name was Mary Ann. She was a part of the group of friends I hung around with back in Illinois at Monmouth College. We were all feeling a loss as the news trickled across Facebook last week.

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

Mary Ann was a brave woman fighting for her life against cancer. Fighting that is until about two months ago when she found out that her cancer had spread to her liver. She posted on Facebook: “We have decided to move to hospice care instead of putting me through more debilitating treatments that could possibly shorten what time I have left to spend with friends and family.”

That post sent shock, sympathy, and sadness through our college network of mutual friends. She was in my thoughts and prayers ever since.

Remembering Mary Ann

As I reflected on my friendship with Mary Ann, a woman of Chinese descent, I dug out old Christmas cards and annual holiday portraits from a filing drawer neatly organized and stuffed full of such items from friends and family over the years. It’s one of those things that my husband would probably prefer that I get rid of. But on that night they served me well to pay tribute to my old college friend.

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

Mary Ann was young—a mere 56 years old when she passed away. She found love later in life than most of the college gang, marrying her husband Jerry 16 years after graduation.  By that time I had already moved to Seattle and had a 2-week old baby. A trip back to Illinois for the wedding was not possible. They vacationed in Seattle once, and we spent some time sightseeing with them.

In 2005, Jerry and Mary Ann adopted a baby girl from China. Every year since then she sent photos of their darling daughter. At first it was photos of their small family, but it soon turned to photos just of her daughter.

One year she wrote how she loved receiving our annual letter and wanted to do the same herself. Multiple times she indicated her desire to start scrapbooking. I don’t think she ever did. But she did tell me one year that she was hooked on rubberstamping. The year that they adopted their daughter, she sent a nice typed letter describing the adoption process:

Mary Ann family After a year of completing various paperwork for the U.S. and Chinese governments and 6 months waiting for a referral, Jerry and I traveled to China in February of this year to receive our daughter.

We spent about 2½ weeks in China waiting for passports and visas for her. During that time, we did a little sightseeing and spent time getting to know each other. We were lucky to be able to spend a day visiting the childhood village of Mary Ann’s father taking lots of video and photographs to bring home to her dad and siblings.

It has been a fun year watching our daughter grow and learn things on her own and from her cousins. We have been discovering all the family-friendly places in the area.

We have truly been blessed this year.

My heart aches for this young girl now, just entering puberty and without a mother to see her through the years of seeking her own identity and independence. I pray that the Lord will heal her heart over time.

College Memories

Mary Ann and all of my Monmouth College cronies have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Earlier this summer I was working on some page layouts in my scrapbook from our 25-year reunion. That was in 2006, and was the last time I saw Mary Ann.

That reunion was a marvelous experience for us all. I had been in Seattle for almost 20 years by then. It was before Facebook and social media was popular. Our main contact was through holiday cards and letters or an occasional email. Being back together after so many years was a priceless experience. We shared memories of the past and laughed so hard at times I cried. It was like we had never parted. (Below are some memories from that reunion weekend.)

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I miss those days—days when we didn’t have to carry such heavy burdens and responsibilities, days when we lived, dined, studied, and played together. We were a creative bunch—involved in the college newspaper, yearbook, radio station (me), theater, or music.

The one thing many of us had in common was meeting at the Christian fellowship group, Ichthus, our freshman year.  It also helped that the girls all lived on the same floor in McMichael Hall. We became best buddies.

Mary Ann was only at Monmouth for two years. She was in a nursing program that required a transfer to Rush University in Chicago after her sophomore year. But she returned on occasional visits and remained close to several group members.

When marriage entered the picture for us, some of these girlfriends were in each other’s wedding parties. At my wedding in 1983, Mary Ann greeted guests as they arrived and had them sign the guest register.

Final Thoughts on my Friend

My parting thoughts of Mary Ann go back to an email exchange we had about a month ago. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to write her about the healing aspects of writing.

I want to encourage you to write as you feel led for your family, leaving them something that will help them when you are gone.  Maybe you could write a letter for your daughter on her wedding day, or other significant milestone.  I know it won’t be easy.  But please rest assured that whatever you do, it will bring them closer to you and keep your memory and love for them alive.

I was glad to hear back that the hospice people were helping her to write. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Ann passed away a week after that communication.

Writing this now doesn’t feel particularly eloquent. (I wonder what grade my former English professor would give me.)  But with the recent knowledge of Mary Ann’s passing several weeks ago, I felt compelled to write—to somehow give back a little bit of Mary Ann—to her friends and family, or just to the old gang from Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

I don’t know the kind of impact my life has had on these friends and comrades from the past. I know I’m not the same person that I was back then—none of us are. Although we are thousands of miles apart and our lives have rarely intersected over the last few decades since college graduation, I know we all treasure the memories of that special time in life that we shared together.

The next time we gather together at a reunion, we will all have a hole in our hearts and sadness to share over her parting. We lost a true gem of a woman when Mary Ann passed away. She was caring, gentle, funny, and most of all brave.  If I close my eyes and think of her, I can still hear her cute giggle.  It brings a smile to my lips and tears to my eyes.

Mary Ann, your brightness shines from Above on those whose lives you touched. Rest in Peace, my our friend.

  • 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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