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 not is 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?

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.

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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Hidden in Plain Sight at the Gum Wall in Seattle

Any tourist trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike’s Place Market, a few blocks east of the famous Elliott Bay waterfront.  Hidden on the lower level of the Market on Post Alley is a quirky tourist attraction called the Market Theater Gum Wall.  It’s been in the news this week because for the first time in 20 years, the wall underwent a steam cleaning and removal of the estimated 1 million wads of used chewing gum.

Gum Wall

A small portion of the gum wall, measuring 50 feet long and up to 15 feet high.

In 2009 this gum wall was named one of the top five unhygienic sites in the world, second to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.   Another little known fact is that a similar and older gum wall, Bubblegum Alley, exists in San Luis Obispo, California.

But don’t worry!  When the maintenance is complete, tourists and passersby can once again leave their sticky legacy on the city.

Hidden in Plain Sight

What you probably haven’t heard about is the secret treasure known as a geocache that was hidden in plain sight on the gum wall.

But what is a geocache?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices to track the specific GPS coordinates of hidden containers, or geocaches, throughout the world.  Presently, there are 2,744,212 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

The geocache at the gum wall, named “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble,” was a very popular hunt for geocachers.  The online record for this geocache indicates that over 2,800 geocachers logged a visit at this cache since it was hidden in 2010.  Of that number over 25% of the geocachers could not find the cache.  I was one of those, logging the dreaded frown smiley face or DNF (Did Not Find) on my geocaching record.

Where is the geocache?

Can you spot the geocache at this Seattle landmark?

Although I hate to log a ‘DNF’ during my geocaching adventures, this day still holds pleasant memories for me.  It was thanks to Pedro, our host son from Spain, that I decided to search for this geocache.  As a long-time Seattle area resident, I didn’t even know about the gum wall until we started geocaching in 2010.

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

The first year Pedro was in our home, one of the student field trips was to Pike’s Place Market and the gum wall.  Days earlier Pedro went out on his first geocaching adventure with my family.  He was hooked.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out about the geocache at the gum wall until after the field trip.

Pedro at the gum wall, July 2010.

Pedro leaves his gum legacy at this famous Seattle landmark, unaware of the hidden treasure camouflaged on the wall.

When Pedro returned to Seattle the next summer, he was eager to find lots of geocaches, and to surpass my husband’s count of geocaches.  It was a good-natured competition to see who had the most caches by the end of his visit.  Pedro made a gallant try but couldn’t catch up.  He found over 50 caches in four weeks scattered throughout Washington and Oregon.

Back to the day of this hunt…

The day was memorable because it was the day that I took Pedro to The Piano Studio for his recording rehearsal.  We met Martin Buff, the studio owner, and Pedro spent some time getting his fingers used to the 9-foot Steinway Grand Piano.  His actual recording date was a few days later.  What a priceless memory watching this young man’s dreams come true.  Pedro has since gone on to compose music for short and full-feature films like Tempting Fate.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle, June 2011.

After a short rehearsal, we headed into downtown Seattle to geocache.  We found a few geocaches along the waterfront and then went to Pike’s Place Market.  Our goal: to find, or to log a smiley (that’s geocaching lingo) at “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble.”

We were surprised when we arrived at Post Alley and found a photography class set up taking photographs of the wheat paste art on the walls opposite the gum wall.  We walked past the students and tried to use our geocaching stealth and ‘geosense’ to search for the hidden cache on the gum wall.

Hints are provided on the online listing for this geocache, but sadly it didn’t help us spot the camouflaged container that measured about an inch in diameter.   GPS coordinates are fairly accurate most of the time, but with that small of a container and the large brick wall covered with gum, it felt like an impossible task.  Besides, even with gloves on, we really didn’t want to search that closely!

We ended our memorable day with dinner at the waterfront, watching the ferries on Elliott Bay, and planning our next adventure—recording Pedro’s first CD at The Piano Studio.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Restoration of the Hidden Landmark

So what’s next for “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble?”  The geocache listing has temporarily been disabled.  The owner of the cache reported that a physical cache container will be replaced after the wall is cleaned and re-gummification begins.

Since I didn’t find the geocache before, I think this gum wall cleaning is good news for me.  The sooner I return on the hunt for this geocache, the better my odds of finding it.  And then I can turn my DNF to an “I FOUND IT” smiley.  🙂

For more information or to get started on your own geocaching adventures, visit geocaching.com.

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.

Finding & Balancing Relationships that Last

How many friends do you have? 20, 50, 100, 200, 300 or more? Well, maybe if you are counting friends on Facebook you can say you have hundreds of friends. But I’m not talking about Facebook friends! Social media is not an indication of real friendship.

Won't you be my friend?

Won’t you be my friend?

I mean true friends—people with whom you can share your fears, your struggles, your hopes, and your dreams.  People who will pray for you and encourage you through the ups and downs of life.

Unlike many of my posts, this is not a reflective piece.  It is educational.  I hope it challenges you, as it has me, in the way you think about your relationships and who you invite into your circle of friendship.

One of my Favorite Speakers

Last summer, I attended the Celebrate Recovery (CR) Summit at Saddleback Church, California, in preparation for my mission to Europe. One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. John Townsend, a New York Times bestselling author, business consultant, leadership coach, and Christian psychologist. (John and Dr. Henry Cloud have been annual speakers at the CR Summit since it started over 20 years ago.)

Dr. Townsend wove his testimony into a talk about the six categories of relationship—the six ‘Cs’. Some of these principles are in his book How to be a Best Friend Forever and will also be in his forthcoming book The Entitlement Cure.

A few years ago, Dr. Townsend was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a temporary condition that affected the muscle control on the left side of his face. It was a wake-up call for him to reevaluate his workaholic lifestyle and who he was spending his time with. While his talk was geared to an audience of 3,000 Celebrate Recovery leaders, it was pertinent to anyone who wants to live well and succeed in their relationships.

Six Categories of Relationships

As you read this list of relationship categories, think about the people around you and where they may fall on the list. Our relationships should be focused heavily on the first 2-3 categories.

  1. Coaches—We need people with an expertise we don’t have. Examples of a coach would be a spiritual mentor, pastor, or a life coach. A coach is there for you, not for themselves. They can help you to see your blind spots, where your priorities aren’t properly aligned, and where you are not thinking right. (In CR lingo, this would be a sponsor.)
  2. Comrades—These are people who are in the growth process with you. They want to get better. They support you, and you support them. You challenge each other. It is not necessarily 50/50. There will be times when you rely on them more, or vice versa. It is organic and results in a give and take relationship. (In CR lingo, this would be an accountability partner.)
  3. Casuals—These are nice people that you pass the time with, maybe like your neighbors, or people from church. They are generally not into growth, but may be hungry for it. You can risk small amounts of vulnerability with them, and see if they are hungry for it. Often times they don’t know they need it because they’ve not witnessed it before. Casuals are a drafting pool for finding comrades.
  4. Care—These are people you have compassion for. They may be in a domestic violence shelter or be mentally ill. They have nothing to offer you, but you have a lot to offer them. It feels good to be in this kind of relationship; it is caring, but is not reciprocal.
  5. Chronics—These are victims—people who are whiny, full of blame, and clueless. They don’t want to change. They are attracted to people of Light because of their safety, truth and grace.
  6. Contaminants—These people are dark, toxic, judging, controlling, and destructive. They know what they are doing. We need to protect ourselves from these people.

Are you ‘top heavy’ or ‘bottom heavy’ on your relationship scale?

If your relationships are draining you, then you are spending too much time with people who are not pouring anything back into you. That is not healthy and leads to burnout.

friend-encouragement

Do you have a balance of supportive relationships in your life?

Guarding Your Heart

What John found out about himself is that as much as he liked to have his freedom, he realized that he needed to have some coaches around him. So he took a friend’s advice and hired an advisory board of people he trusted to help him with his priorities and to work more efficiently.

As hard as this was for him, he also realized it was biblical. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” He shifted his attention to the top three categories.  The fruit of those decisions led to John opening the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Huntington University, Indiana, a few days ago.

Dr. Townsend went on to say that Christians often confuse the ‘Care’ for the ‘Comrades.’ Because it feels good to care for others, we can mistake those we care for as our friends. These are hard lessons to learn. I know because I’ve been there before myself, and have gone through some painful pruning in my relationships as well.

Being Selfish?

John encourages people to push past the feelings of guilt.  To keep from getting emotionally drained, he recommends having a 30-minute conversation with three people once a week—at a minimum.  These are not conversations about what you did (like the feeding frenzy on social media).

The conversation needs to be about you, your life, your soul, and your feelings.  It’s about how you are experiencing life.  If you are a high performing leader, like those in CR, this is especially important as they have high performing needs.

This may sound selfish, but it is really a matter of investing in yourself so that you can minister to others—in your family, your community, or your church. The intent is to live well and end well in life.

It’s not a competition with a sprint to the finish line collecting as many friends on social media as we can along the way. It’s a marathon; and the prize is an eternal reward for the healthy care we have given to ourselves and others throughout our lives.

Comrades pressing on together.

Comrades pressing on together.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:14, NIV)

A Glimpse of Eternal Rewards on Earth

We’ve all heard someone say “you can’t take it with you” referring to either our money or our possessions when we die. Or maybe that is your own personal philosophy and serves as a justification to spend your money unwisely.

We also know that accumulating a big bank account does not guarantee a place in heaven, and it doesn’t assure us rewards in heaven either. For Jesus tells us, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

heaven-rewards

What are Eternal Investments?

Christians all want eternal rewards in heaven. But how do we invest eternally while we are still here in the physical world?

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is telling us that our treasures in heaven will be based on the intangible things, the things that spring from our heart. If you have money to give, then by all means give generously to charity. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). It isn’t just money, but it is the giving of our time and our talents.

Relational Investments

I personally make deposits into my heavenly bank account by investing in relationships. That is not my motivation, but it is where my heart is—in deep conversation—the kind that brings healing and hope to others on their journey.

I recently got a glimpse into how I think an entire profession sows their seeds into heavenly treasures and gets to see the fruit in the here and now as well. No, it’s not with pastors, priests, or those called into Christian ministry.

teacher-apple

It is teachers.

Teachers invest in their students in so many intangible ways. You cannot hold an education, although you can hold a diploma. You can also see the tangible awards, trophies, and the certificates of achievement. However, the real fruit of an education is the result that it bears from hours and hours of learning. It is the knowledge and experience that their students integrate into their lives.

How and when do teachers get that physical glimpse of their eternal rewards here on earth? They get it each time a student recognizes their teacher for their investment in the student’s life. It’s particularly prevalent at the end of the school year when a student presents a gift to their teacher. I think the real rewards are reaped though when a student returns years later to visit their alma mater.

Examples of Eternal Rewards Reaped on Earth

When my son graduated from high school earlier this year, I delighted in hearing about how he gave some of his teachers those returns on their investment. One day he stood up in class and shared how much his teacher meant to him. Her yearbook message to him confirmed how much it meant to her.

My son & his band teacher at their final junior high school concert.

My son & his band teacher at their final junior high school concert.

Then after he graduated, he went back to his junior high school and visited his favorite teacher. She had mentored and encouraged my son’s love for music. After eight years, he is still playing the flute.

We don’t always know the impact we may have on someone in this lifetime. I do believe that when I get to heaven, I will find out. I will meet people I don’t even know who were indirectly affected by something I said, wrote, or did. As I sow seeds of righteousness into my sons and how I raise them, I expect I will also meet future generations of my family who benefited from those investments of my time and energy.

What are you doing to sow seeds into eternity? You don’t have to be a teacher, a writer, or a mother. You just have to be open to letting the Holy Spirit nudge you to reach out to others.

The Blessing of ‘Imperfect’ Children

While praying for my son during an interview for his first job, I received word that this post about prayer was accepted by my publisher. Soon after, I heard my son got the job! Love these little reminders of the importance of praying for our children. Make it a habit and see how God blesses your children.

Journeys To Mother Love

Pre-school-graduation What a challenge and a blessing, walking with Cameron from preschool graduation (above) to Class of 2015 graduate.

For those of us who have children with learning disabilities, educational milestones like a high school or college graduation are especially significant. It is a very proud moment indeed, one that celebrates the journey as much as the goal.

My youngest son was diagnosed with ADHD at the onset of high school, and was greatly challenged by a rigorous curriculum at a new school in our district. He persevered and recently received his diploma as part of the first graduating class at his high school.

What I’ve been struck with in hindsight is how eager I was to compare my son’s journey to his older brother. These two intelligent boys forged their own educational paths through different schools. The older one started school at a very early age and rarely needed any…

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  • 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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