In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

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

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

Déjà Vu

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

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

I waited and prayed for two days.

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

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

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

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

Another Eulogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My aunt praying for my mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Mary and for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

My Big Mouth

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

Dental Hell

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

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

Once is Not Enough

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

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

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

Not Such Wise Advice

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

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

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

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

Testing My Faith

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

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

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

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

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

My Big Mouth?

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to my Mother

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

An Unexpected Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Reality Strikes

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing Well

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

I was numb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Peace with Our Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Spain, Again

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

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

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

A Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

A Difficult Decision

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

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

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

Still Waiting

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

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

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

Not Just a Tourist Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Countdown Begin

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

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

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

Toasting my return to Madrid with Rosa, October 2014.

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

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

A Reformation Day Call for Unity in the Church

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

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

Photo credit: lutheranreformation.org

The Split in the Church

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

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

Martin Luther also contradicted the Church by claiming:

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

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

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

Drawn to Catholicism

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Jerónimo de Real Church, Madrid, Spain

A Holy Shift

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

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

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

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

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

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Granada, Spain

A Call for Unity

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

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

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

Spain: The Deepening Divide of a Nation

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

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

My Spanish Education

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

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

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

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

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

A History of Oppression

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

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

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

The Catalan flag

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

A Push for Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Declaring Independence or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call for Prayer

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

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

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

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

Will you join me?

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

Red Carpet Event Held to Honor Tempting Fate

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

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

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

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

Tempting Fate Background & Success

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

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

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

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

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

At the Lagos premiere, July 2015.

A Red Carpet Invitation

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

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

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

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

A Surprise Guest Appearance

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

Dan Davies at Lagos premiere.

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

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

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

Watching Tempting Fate

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

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

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

Post-Movie Celebrity Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tempting Fate in a City Near You? 

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

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

A Lesson in Ending Well

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

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

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

My Father’s Last Breaths

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

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

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

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

Father and son, final visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace after the passing, my stepmother and me.

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

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

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

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

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

An Exercise in Love

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

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

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

It’s an exercise in love to forgive supernaturally.

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

Memories of a life that ended well.

Ending Well

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

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

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

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

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

A Father’s Day Message of Hope

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

Me & Dad circa 1962.

My Father History

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

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

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

The Healing Journey

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

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

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

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

Fishing with my father on the Columbia River.

A Father’s Day Letter

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

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

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

Dad and me at his 90th birthday party.

A Father’s Day Reminder

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:18

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

Nominations Open for Mother of the Year

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

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

An Unlikely Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • Returning to Spain

    Arrival on Spanish SoilApril 29th, 2018
    10 days to go.
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    © Ardis A. Nelson and MakingMeBold, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ardis A. Nelson and MakingMeBold with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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