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 6-Week Tour of Spain

I can sum up 2013 in one little word, S-P-A-I-N!  It changed me.  It’s a part of me—past, present and future.  So with that in mind, I end my year of blogging, with one final Spanish post.  It is sort of a trip in review, with videos and photos that I haven’t previously shared on my blog. So I’m inviting you to join me, and a few of my friends, on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

¡Bienvenido a España!  (Welcome to Spain!)

Five months to the day I left America headed for Spain, I embarked on another Spanish adventure.  This time I was joined by a small group of friends who were eager to experience Spain for themselves.  We didn’t physically travel to Spain, but we did all have a Spanish adventure.

Last summer I spent 42 days in Spain living with Pedro’s family—a reverse exchange program, so to speak.  It was a journey three years in the making, after first hosting Pedro in our home in Seattle.  Since my published story in Journeys to Mother Love included this family, my trip to Spain was avidly supported by my friends and family.  So naturally I wanted to personally share my experience with them.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

I called this four-hour extravaganza “My Spanish Fiesta.” It was partially in celebration of my birthday, but mostly it was geared at immersing my friends and family in Spain.  Together we explored the sights, sounds, and tastes of Spain.

The Sights of Spain

After the traditional European cheek kiss at the front door, and Spanish greetings, my guests turned their attention to the big screen TV.  Thankfully I didn’t subject them to all 5,000 photos of Spain.  I consolidated it down to a mere 1,000 photos, made into seven videos that related to the various segments of my trip. (Video of the main country of Spain is below.)

We traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Granada, Cordoba, Seville and several locations on the island of Mallorca.  It was a whirlwind of cathedrals, palaces, historic monuments, and tourist attractions.  They also got to meet some of my Spanish family, see where I lived, and get a feel for what it was like to live in Spain and vacation on the Mediterranean.  (Video of the island of Mallorca is below.)

Other notable Spanish sights for the evening were the Spanish flag hanging on the wall and a table full of souvenirs from my trip.  I collected books, jewelry, clothing, hand-painted fans, ceramic pottery, religious statues and mementos, a leather purse, and much, much more.

I was good for the economy of Spain.  “The economic crisis is over,” Pedro declared after seeing everything I bought.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

The Sounds of Spain

Most of the videos included Spanish guitar music by Narciso Yepes and Paco De Lucia, from CDs that were gifts given to me by my Spanish family a few years earlier.  Two of the videos were accompanied by Pedro’s original compositions, one of which was composed while I was in Spain.  When the videos weren’t playing, Spanish music was still filling our senses.

And what kind of music manager would I be if I didn’t also treat my guests to an exclusive video clip from Pedro’s first movie soundtrack, Sed de Amor (Thirst for Love).  When the song “The Last Tear” played, it brought a tear to my eye, just like it did the first time I saw it at my private viewing with Pedro’s family.

The Tastes of Spain

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

The biggest hit of the evening, and hardest part to pull off, was the food.  Since I’m a novice in the kitchen, I usually defer to my good friend Stacie to make the culinary delights for my events.  Using a Spanish cookbook I purchased in Madrid, we carefully chose a varied menu of tapas (small plates) to tantalize my guest’s taste buds.

We shopped at The Spanish Table and the Paris Grocery in Seattle’s Pikes Place Market area for the specialty fare the recipes required.  At the top of my list was Iberian ham—the same kind that U.S. Customs confiscated from my luggage at JFK Airport in New York.  I savored the sight and smell of each freshly cut delicate slice of paper thin Iberian ham.*

A successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

My friend Stacie joined me for a successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

Since my husband truly is ‘el rey de la cocina’ (the king of the kitchen), especially after the recent remodel, he had a major role in the cooking as well.  He made spicy gazpacho and paella to eat, and Sangria, to whet our appetites.  Other tapas included Pan Amb Oli (ham, tomato, olive oil and bread), Mediterranean grilled vegetables, eggs stuffed with tuna, goat’s cheese and onion, and skewers of olives, sundried tomatoes and Spanish cheese.

Goat Cheese Tapa

Goat’s cheese with onion served on bread.

Paella

Seafood paella

Dessert ended with an assortment of Spanish cheeses, quince spread (similar to jelly), fruit and nut breads, grapes, and chocolate turrón.  It was just the light touch we needed to cleanse our palettes for the evening.  Magnifico!

Turron & breads

Fruit & nut breads with chocolate turrón.

Cheese & grapes

Spanish cheeses, grapes & quince spread.

A Final Note

That was my fiesta in a nutshell.  Imagine how it was to savor each morsel and be immersed in the sights and sounds of Spain—without the language barrier, of course.  It was a lot to take in, as was my 6-week journey.  There are many times that I still can’t believe I was in Spain this past summer, or that I was there for so long.  It is like a dream.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my husband for manning the fort while I was gone, and also to him and my sons who suffered through the remodel of our kitchen and two bathrooms at the same time.  Of course, I am deeply indebted to my Spanish family, to whom my fiesta was dedicated.

What happened in Spain in 2013 is behind me, but that trip laid the groundwork for what lies ahead.  God is aligning me with new Spanish connections and planting new visions and dreams for future trips.  In the meantime, I am preparing myself internally for what God wants to do through me here or abroad, and taking one day at a time.

Thanks for joining my little tour of Spain.  I hope you get the opportunity to travel there yourself someday.  If you do, by all means, let me know.  I’d love to compare notes.

Adiós, mi amigos.  See you in 2014!

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

*Jamón Ibérico is made with an ancient breed of pig found on the Iberian Peninsula.  These pigs, known as “Pata Negra,” are believed to descend from the prehistoric Mediterranean wild boar.  These unique pigs are capable of storing more fat, which enables Jamón Ibérico to be cured much longer than traditional ham, resulting in an intense and complex flavor with an unparalleled note of sweetness.  The nuttiness of this ‘meat butter’ comes from the pigs’ exclusive diet of acorns.

You Can’t go Home Again, or Can You?

Have you ever longed to go back to your childhood home—one that your family left many, many years ago?  Did you dare drive around in the neighborhood or maybe even knock on the door in hopes of connecting with the new residents and maybe getting a chance to go inside?   Or maybe your childhood memories were too painful to even think of doing such a thing.

This kind of chance of a lifetime recently presented itself to me—and like so many of these life coincidences; I took it as a sign from God to follow where He was leading me.

Home Sweet HomeIn the Neighborhood

It was on my 54th birthday—also the day that my driver’s license was expiring.  So a trip to the Department of Licensing became a high priority on this day—not something I really had time for or wanted to do.  I made the best of it though, even deciding to wear a special outfit so my ‘mug’ shot might have a chance of being pleasantly memorable.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I took more than a mental note of where I was.  My childhood home was around the corner.  A few weeks earlier, I had pulled out my memoir, still unworked on since last year’s NaNoWriMo.  I began the painful process of re-reading it, but stopped after the first chapter, the chapter about my mother’s nervous breakdown and living in this neighborhood.  After that reading, I felt God nudge me to contact the one last neighbor who I knew still lived in the neighborhood.  But I didn’t act on it.

Or can you?

Or can you?

Although this wasn’t the home or neighborhood I was born in, I knew God was giving me another nudge, on my birthday, to pursue this last link to my childhood.  I’d been to this neighborhood before several times as an adult.  It was one of the first places I visited when my husband and I moved to the state of Washington about 25 years ago.  At that time I went so far as to meet the residents, the people who bought the home from my parents in 1966.

This day’s visit was to the neighbor’s house though.  The name on the mailbox was still the surname of a childhood friend.  Maybe, just maybe, I would get some more insight into the day my mother had her nervous breakdown and our life on that street.

I knocked on the door.  There was no answer.  I was torn.  Should I leave a note under the door?  I just couldn’t believe that God brought me to this doorstep without as much as an answer.

My Childhood Home

So I took the bold step of going next door to my former home.  An elderly woman answered the door.  I told her a bit about who I was, a writer, etc., and asked about the neighbor.  I was surprised when she invited me into the home and even offered me a seat in the living room.

Hiding behind the 50-year old landscaping lies my childhood home.

It was surreal.  I had just written a post about the events of JFK’s assassination on that day—my birthday—50 years ago.  And here I was sitting in the same room where I watched the unfolding of those horrific events in our nation’s history.  I shed a tear or two in the retelling of the significance of that home.

The couple was quite kind to me.  They gave me free reign of the house, asked me things about the property, and what it was like back in those days.  The house seemed much smaller to me than I remembered, but that isn’t unusual in light of the fact I was a mere 3-6 years old when we lived there.

Regarding the neighbor, I found out that he had sold the house and moved out a month ago.  Too bad I didn’t follow that nudge back then, I thought to myself.  But his dementia would’ve precluded his ability to help me anyway.

The street sign may have read 'dead end', but the events of the day proved otherwise.

The street sign may have read ‘DEAD END’, but the events of the day proved otherwise.

What Lies Around the Corner?

It was all so unanticipated—to stop by the neighborhood, to knock on their door, and most assuredly to be invited inside.  Their invitation and interest was a precious gift to me, one that I’m not sure they were really able to fully comprehend. Out of my gratitude for their kindness to me, I gave them a signed copy of my book.

Plan as we may, we never really know for sure what lies ahead in our lives from day to day.  What if God is calling us to something just around the corner?  Would you heed to His nudge?  Would you blindly do something that to outsiders may look foolish or presumptuous?

Some may say I have a habit of doing those things.  Others see it as obedience and trusting God when I embrace these chance encounters.  I’m just grateful that He cares enough to give me these little kisses from above, and that others may be inspired to do the same—turning their healing into hope.

In the end, I really was able to go home again.  And that really was the proverbial icing on the cake for my 54th birthday.

The Perfect Gift & A Tribute to Friendship

If you follow my blog, you know that Rosa is my kindred spirit and ‘sister’ in Spain, whom I will meet two weeks from now.  I’ve been busy preparing for my trip to Spain, and while I knew Friday was Rosa’s birthday, I didn’t realize that it was her 60th birthday, or that a big family celebration was planned.

Rosa’s milestone birthday party brought up memories for me of my 52nd birthday party (a delayed 50th birthday celebration because of the events surrounding my mother’s passing as referenced in Journeys to Mother Love).  Rosa and Pedro attended that celebration via Skype.

It was a very emotional day for me.  It was my first birthday since my mother passed away.  Pedro surprised me that day with the first of his compositions written personally for me, Ardis’ Song.  I wept as I read aloud a story I had written about the connection with my Spanish family.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

This story, “The Perfect Gift”, was the first writing assignment I tackled in my memoir class a few months before my birthday.  It was the one piece I wanted to have published.  To date, “The Perfect Gift” has only been shared at my birthday party and at a few Toastmasters meetings.  It is the piece I hope to share in Spain.

In honor of Rosa’s birthday, I’ve decided to post this short story on my blog.  When you’re done, I’m sure you’ll agree why I consider Rosa my kindred spirit and Sister in Christ, and why I am so excited to meet her.

The Perfect Gift

This was the long-awaited day of Pedro’s return to America.  Pedro was the foreign exchange student that our family hosted for a month the summer before.  Many of the past months were spent preparing for his return to our home.  On Pedro’s first night in America he was tired and jetlagged from his day of traveling.  He tried to stay up as long as possible to get his body in sync with the 9-hour time zone difference.  And of course he didn’t want to break with our tradition of exchanging gifts on his first night in America.

Pedro and the family all gathered in the playroom upstairs—just like last year.  Each family member opened their gifts from Pedro’s family.  I patiently waited as each person opened their gifts.  I had secretly plotted with Pedro over the last few months what to get them.  I was joyful as I watched each person open their gift and genuinely thank Pedro for his family’s thoughtfulness.

I knew as soon as I saw my gift that it would be a special gift—one that would tie our families together but I didn’t know how profoundly God had orchestrated it until later.  Our families had been through so much the last year.  Rosa, Pedro’s mother, and I both lost our mothers.  We had prayed for each other and encouraged each other from across the world—neither one of us speaking the other’s native language but by emailing our communications through an online translator.

The gift was a sterling silver cross pendant embedded with sparkling Swarovski crystals. As I looked at the cross I knew immediately that Rosa had picked it out just for me.  Although Rosa is Catholic and I am Protestant, we both have a strong faith that connects us.  During the several month period when our mothers were dying, Rosa and I sent each other encouraging notes and prayers to help each other through the painful process of watching and waiting for the inevitable to happen.  The cross was a beautiful reminder of how God had brought us together and how our mothers were both at peace as a result of our friendship.

Receiving the perfect gift, June 2011

The next morning as I got dressed and put on the cross, the first wave of its significance hit me.  My thoughts raced back to a visit with my mother in November 2009.  That was my first visit after my mother’s stroke—a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and virtually unable to communicate.  The timing of that trip had been so painstakingly planned as to not interfere with my previous commitments.  I was volunteering to serve at a ministry function and then one week later was my 50th birthday party.  I sandwiched the visit between the two events.  Days before the ministry event my mother had taken a turn for the worst and I feared that I would not make it back home to see her alive.

But my mother miraculously recovered and I was able to complete my ministry obligations.  On the plane ride to St. Louis I couldn’t help but think about what to expect over the next few days.  What state would my mother be in?  Would I be able to handle all of the medical decisions that needed to be made?  Would I be able to emotionally handle seeing my mother after all these years?  I prayed and prayed for God’s guidance and strength to carry me through those next few days.

I recalled how God had abundantly answered my prayers on that trip.  I remembered how after I arrived at my mother’s bedside that God gave me absolute peace about being there and compassion in serving and loving on my mother.  One of those first loving acts was to give my mother the cross pendant that I received for my first communion.  I had treasured that cross for over forty years.  It was a special gift from my Aunt Ardis who was also my Godmother.  My intention was to just let my mother borrow the necklace until I returned home.  I knew I’d never be able to physically part with it.  I also knew that even leaving it on my mother’s neck for the few days while I was there might lead to it getting stolen.  I had learned long ago to never give my mother anything of value because it would always mysteriously disappear from her room at the nursing home.

When the time came to leave, I made the painful decision to stay a few days longer.  There was just too much to do and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my mother.  It was just too soon.  I knew that staying with my mother meant cancelling my 50th birthday party.  It also meant that I would be spending my 50th birthday away from my family and friends.  As I prayed over my decision, God gave me more peace.  My birthday party seemed like a selfish consideration in light of what my mother was going through.  I knew it would be the best thing to do.

I spent my 50th birthday at my mother’s bedside.  I made the final arrangements for the hospice care to start.  I met with the chaplain.  I fed my mother, bought her flowers, read to her and massaged her feet.  It was a very bittersweet day.  I couldn’t help but think about how my mother brought me into the world and cared for me as a baby and now I was doing the same for my mother.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Every day that I was with my mother I would put the pendant around her neck.  Then at the end of the day, I would take it off again.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it on her overnight.  Then came the final good-byes.  It was the evening of my 50th birthday.  I felt God pulling on my heart and telling me to let go of the necklace—to leave it with my mother.  After the events of the last ten days, it seemed silly to even think of keeping it for myself.  So my last act of love for my mother was to give her that cross pendant.  As painful as it was, I told my mother that was my promise to see her again.  I prayed that God would honor that request.  That was the last time I saw that pendant.  Thankfully it was not the last time I saw my mother alive though.

So as I put this new pendant around my neck—the cross I received from Pedro’s family the night before—I felt God telling me that He was rewarding me for sacrificing that first communion cross for my mother.  I knew that God had replaced it with one that would have new meaning and special memories attached with it.  I was overwhelmed with joy at this new revelation.  I couldn’t wait to tell Pedro.  I couldn’t wait to tell Rosa.  While Rosa and I had journeyed together over the last few months as we prepared to bury our mothers, Pedro’s family did not know anything about my giving away my cross.  I truly felt kissed by God.  I was grateful for this tangible gift of His love and how He orchestrated these events.

Almost two weeks had passed since I had received the cross from Pedro’s family.  My family along with Pedro, were now vacationing in central Oregon.  So much had been going on since Pedro’s arrival that I didn’t have an opportunity to Skype with Rosa and personally thank her for her gift.  Pedro would Skype with his parents every few days, but each time I didn’t want to interfere with his family time.  But on this day, I had pre-arranged with Pedro to have some Skype time with Rosa.  Pedro and I sat on the deck of the condo with his ipad revealing video images of his parents 5,300 miles away in Madrid.

I was, of course, wearing the cross that day—as I had almost every day since I received it.  Rosa immediately made mention of it by pointing to my neck.  I didn’t need Pedro to translate that reference, but he did anyway.  I thanked Rosa for the necklace.  Before I could start to relay the story about my first communion cross, Rosa began to tell Pedro the significance of the cross to her and why she picked it out as a gift.  Pedro translated her story to me.  Pedro explained that Rosa’s mother had given her a similar necklace for her 50th birthday.  I was astonished.  I looked at Pedro with surprise in my eyes.

“Did you tell your mother the story about the cross?” I asked him.  “No, no, I didn’t,” he said.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  It only took an instant for that to sink in.  I grew more excited about her gift and about telling Rosa about the connection.  Pedro knew the story, so I told him to relay the story to his mother in Spanish.

I smiled as I clasped the cross in my right hand.  Again, I was recounting all the events of the last year that had happened between us—the miracles that God performed in the passing of our mothers, our friendship across the world and now this simple yet miraculous connection between us.  The cross was a reminder of our love for each other, our love for our mothers and our love for God.  This cross really was the perfect gift.

As we continued on with our skype talking about the sightseeing we had done and the activities of the last few days, I couldn’t help but remember the verse that God had given me each time He gave me one of these special moments to relish.  It was Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That was exactly what I was doing.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

© 2013 Ardis A. Nelson

The Rest of the Story

This piece went on to birth the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home.”  In fact, the women at my 52nd birthday party prayed over me that day and anointed my writing.  The manuscript was written and submitted one week later.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

For me, this story is still unfolding.  It’s a lot to keep up with on top of my own family commitments and American relationships.  But this I know for sure, God has anointed this Spanish connection from the start and the next part of the story is just beginning.

Dad & Mom ~ Birthday Reflections

When I logged on to my computer Wednesday morning my Outlook calendar reminded me that it was my father’s birthday—his first since he passed away last summer.  He would’ve been 95.  I gave his eulogy and wrote a series of posts about his passing while in the midst of my grief and processing.   In those posts I recounted how beautiful his passing was and about the family healing that resulted.

Nine months have passed and we have all returned to our busy lives in various parts of the country.  My stepmother has meticulously cleaned out the house and my father’s belongings.  She invested in some long overdue major house repairs.  Earlier this month her son permanently moved into their home.  It is her time to be cared for and rest easy after several years of being my father’s primary caregiver.

Remembering Dad

In years past, I would call my father on his birthday or sometimes send him a card.  He wasn’t a sentimental person so that didn’t matter to him.  In a strange sort of way though, I felt closer to my father this week than on prior birthdays.

My father's rosary

My father’s rosary

My father’s birthday fell on a Wednesday, the day that I regularly attend a church service and devote a large block of time in prayer.  Although not Catholic, I keep his rosary with me during these times.  Yesterday as I clutched it and prayed, I sensed his presence and his peace.

When the family went through my father’s personal belongings, I was surprised to find the rosary.  He turned away from his Catholic roots many, many years ago.  Dad was a born again Christian, yet he still had his rosary—although he probably forgot about it long ago.  It was broken and not much to look at—black with small wooden beads.

All of my siblings and family are now Protestant (we were raised Catholic) so I knew no one would want it.  Since the Catholic Church played such a significant role in my mother’s peaceful passing and my healing, I knew I couldn’t let it be discarded.

Remembering Mom

Much like Wednesday’s remembrance of my father, I mark my mother’s birthday with pleasant memories of her.  I don’t have either of the rosaries I bought her on my trips back home.  Both were lost.  The only mementos I received after she died was a bracelet I bought her for Mother’s Day—the last time I saw her alive—and a remnant of the chain from the first communion cross pendant I gave her on my 50th birthday.

My mother's chain & bracelet

My mother’s chain & bracelet

Mom’s first posthumous birthday also fell on a Wednesday, soon after I had started my personal weekly prayer vigils two years ago.  Her birthday was only a few weeks after she died.

I vividly remember that day because after my prayer time, I had a beautiful song waiting for me on my phone (via email) from Pedro.  It was “Rome”, the second song I knew he composed.  He sent it out of the blue, not knowing it was my mother’s birthday.  It immediately brought tears to my eyes due to its sheer beauty and the perfect timing of its receipt.  That song was a precious gift, which for me, is forever linked to my healing and my mother’s passing.

Still Grieving?

I think I can comfortably say that my grieving for my father is done.  When the time is right and I return to the house he called home for the last 35+ years, I suspect a new wave of sadness will hit me.  Then when I step on Spanish soil in two months, and meet Rosa face to face, more tears will be shed over the passing of our mothers and how God has beautifully connected us.

Two deaths.  Two eulogies.  In two years.  And now two posthumous birthdays that I privately celebrate with gratitude to God for the perfect way He orchestrated my parent’s passings and the healing in my life.  I think that’s worth some quiet time of reflection, don’t you?

Birthday Thankfulness

A-R-D-I-S.  I haven’t always liked my name.  In grade school I was the recipient of many taunts as classmates manipulated it into something very unflattering.  Over the years though, I have come to love it and embrace it as part of my uniqueness.  Ardis means fervent–having or showing emotional warmth, ferver or passion.  I am very grateful that God has grown me into that name in recent years.

I contributed a post about my birthday reflections on journeystomotherlove.com.  I hope you enjoy it reblogged here.

Birthday Thankfulness.

Thanksgiving Beyond America

Ever since working through my 12 steps for my recovery issues eight years ago, I have adopted an attitude of gratitude in my life—not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. One of the things I am most grateful for over the past few years is my relationship with Pedro and his Spanish family. For Thanksgiving (and as a gift for my birthday—also Thanksgiving day), Pedro has agreed to share his Thanksgiving thoughts from the perspective of a Spaniard.

Ardis:  When was the first time you came to America and what was your impression?

Pedro & his parents in New York, 2009

Pedro:  I came to America for the first time in 2009 for Easter. I went with my parents and some friends to New York, and we all had such a good impression of this country. I could not say why, but we all thought exactly the same thing: Europeans and Americans are different, but we have a lot in common.

Ardis:  And then you returned?

Pedro:  Yes, that summer I went to L.A. to spend a month learning English. My visit to L.A. confirmed that my first thoughts about America were true. This is why I decided to return the next year, and I had the good luck to meet the Nelson family: Ardis, Curt, Evan and Cameron.

We spent a wonderful month travelling through Washington State, and sharing our cultures in a wonderful process. In the next year, when I returned, they had an amazing present for my 18th birthday: a recording session in a studio. We shared another wonderful month and we have continued keeping in touch.

Ardis:  Yes, thanks to the internet, keeping in touch has been very easy. Why is studying in America or learning English so important to you?

Pedro:  Now that the world is globalized, it is required for almost every company to know English. In Spain there are hundreds of international companies which use English as their first language. I’m studying Law and Business Administration, so it is especially important for me to have a good English level. This is why I took English classes since I was 8 years old or studying abroad in Ireland, L.A. or Seattle.

One of the best things about studying abroad is the possibility to immerse yourself in another culture. You have a different experience meeting new people, new places…and when you return home, you start perceiving how different everything is. It is a strange feeling.

Ardis:  That sounds exciting Pedro! I can hardly wait to experience that for myself next summer when I visit Spain*. What about life in Spain? Americans hear in the media how bad things are with the economy in Spain and Europe overall. How does that affect you and your daily life?

Pedro:  Things are very bad here in Europe. Spain and Greece have the worse economy of all countries in the world. It is believed that we will not fully recover to our 2008, pre-crisis economy, for many years. Fortunately, I live in an area where the crisis’ impact is not very hard. In my family there are 4 people who lost their jobs. So, while I don’t feel the Spanish economic woes in my daily life, I notice its effect in my environment.

Ardis:  Does Spain celebrate a similar day of giving thanks?

Pedro:  In Spain this day doesn’t exist, but we all know it is good to remember what gifts we have received and their meaning.

Ardis:  Now that you have such strong family connections in America, how would you reflect on this American holiday?

Pedro:  Thanksgiving Day is a very special day where we have to stop from our daily life and look for what things we are thankful for. When I look back because of the Thanksgiving Day, I cannot say anything but how thankful I am. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be born in a wonderful family, to have the possibility to study what I like, to have met the Nelson family…there is a very long list, so I don´t want to bore the reader. This is why I thank God for giving me this wonderful life around wonderful people. I only can suggest that because of this day, everyone should try to be grateful.

Ardis:  Well said, Pedro.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with America!

Pedro & Ardis in the recording studio, July 2011

I hope you enjoyed this interview with a cross-cultural perspective. I know my life has been enriched and expanded by having a relationship with a family 5,300 miles across the globe.

Last year for my birthday, Pedro wrote me a song.  I also celebrated my first birthday since my mother passed with friends who have prayed for me on my ‘journey to mother love’.  I will leave you with a music video from that day combined with Pedro’s beautiful song, Ardis’s Song (click link). Pedro’s music is just one of the many things I am grateful for.

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136.1 (NIV)

*I did experience the cultural differences, food, places, and people that Pedro referenced in the summer of 2013. To read about my first-hand experiences in Spain, check out Adjusting to Life in Spain or The Spanish Lifestyle.

At Nineteen

My oldest child turned nineteen a few days ago.  I know it sounds cliché, but I wonder where the time has gone. 
Evan is finishing up his sophomore year of college and celebrated his second birthday away from home last week.  Prior to his moving on campus, his birthday was a day we would always do something special for.  Over the years, we would usually go out for a family dinner on his birthday and have a party for him most years too. 
I vividly remember each one because I made a small scrapbook for him of each of his birthdays from the day he was born to his 17th birthday.  The scrapbook was my gift to him for his 18th birthday—the first one away from home.  As our firstborn, we provided some pretty elaborate birthday parties for him.  I can’t imagine Evan not remembering his parties or the attention we lavished on him.
WP_20140525_032
In comparison, I don’t think I ever had a birthday party growing up.  I remember going to a friend’s house for her party when I was about five years old.  I was in awe of the event and how she was showered with so much attention.  The only celebration I can remember was when I was about eight years old.  There weren’t any kids invited to the house, but I remember having a German chocolate cake—my favorite.  It was a memorable occasion because my parents remembered that small detail about me.  
I was nineteen too when I finished my sophomore year of college.  I was attending a small liberal arts college 200 miles away from home.  I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year housesitting for a professor and working on campus.   I loved my independence.  Looking back now, I’m sure that decision must’ve caused my mother much pain as I also chose to never live at home again.  But I know God opened that opportunity to protect me from the dysfunctional environment back home.
Thankfully, my son will return home again this summer.  We will adapt to having another mouth to feed and watching him come and go on his own schedule.  It is the new rhythm of letting go.  I am choosing to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
And so how do you make a birthday memorable after so many well documented parties and dinner outings?  You turn to the simple. 
At NineteenTo celebrate Evan’s 19th birthday, we didn’t shower him with attention, parties and presents like we did in the past.  He came home for the weekend and enjoyed some family time.  It was nothing fancy—dinner on the grill, video games with his brother and a bit of TV with the family.  And for the first time ever, I made it just a bit more memorable (for me anyway), by baking him a birthday cake.  Proving that even at 19, parents do still have a few tricks left up their sleeve.
So for this mom, who tries hard to make her kids’ birthdays special, simple was a good change.  And less really was more. 

Overtaken By Blessings

Yesterday I officially celebrated my 50th birthday with an anointed group of 12 dear friends.  It wasn’t really my 50th birthday as I turn 52 tomorrow.  That’s because two years ago when I was ‘supposed’ to be celebrating my 50th birthday with friends, some painful life circumstances intervened that pushed my celebration to a very low priority.

52 B-day 00036 5x7

My mother, JoAnn, whom I had rarely communicated with over the past few years, had a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed and virtually unable to communicate.  God was doing some major heart surgery on me as he called me to spend my ‘first’ 50th birthday at the feet of my mother.  It was very humbling and bittersweet.  She gave me life and now I sensed that I was giving it back to her.

JoAnn never recovered from that stroke and she never regained her voice.  Her life continued to deteriorate until the Lord finally took her home in February of this year.  So yesterday’s birthday celebration was my rescheduled 50th birthday party—my first birthday since she passed.

Yesterday’s party wasn’t a party in the traditional sense of fun and games or cake and ice cream.  It was a celebration with connecting hearts, inspiration, hope, tears and laughter too.  It was a celebration of life’s richness, healing and transformation.  It was a celebration of how God does turn our mourning into gladness—not just for me but for my new family in Spain as well.  It was my gratitude to God and the people in my life who have helped me carry my burden these past two years.

Joined via Skype by Pedro and Rosa from Spain.

Joined via Skype by Pedro and Rosa from Spain.

Today I embark on the start of a new journey and I am carrying a new burden.  It is the responsibility that God has placed on my heart to write this story.  It is not a small task.  It will require lots of discipline and the openness to relive and process all of the pain and the joy over and over again.  I know that God will see me through it.  My purpose is clear.

My devotional reading for yesterday, titled Overtaken By Blessings, couldn’t have been more appropriately timed by God: And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:2)  I have been overtaken by blessings.  I am on the mountain top.  While I know I can’t stay there, I can choose to carry His love for me in my heart and to gratefully remember that I am going down this path for Him—one day at a time.

  • 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
    Vamos a España!
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 544 other followers

  • Recent Posts

  • Ardis A Nelson ~ Writer ~ Speaker

  • Most Popular Topics

  • Journeys to Mother Love

  • What I Write About

  • Songs Composed by Pedro Gonzalez Arbona

  • Copyright Notice

    © 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.

%d bloggers like this: