‘Tis Better to have Loved and Lost…

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

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

Better to have loved 2

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

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

A Sentimental Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday Grief

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

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

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

Don’t worry.  Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

‘Tis Better to have Loved & Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messages of love

Words of affirmation and love

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

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

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

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

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

Remembering Mary Ann

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

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have truly been blessed this year.

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

College Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on my Friend

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

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

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

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

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

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

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

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

Finding & Balancing Relationships that Last

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

Won't you be my friend?

Won’t you be my friend?

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

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

One of my Favorite Speakers

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

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

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

Six Categories of Relationships

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

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

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

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

friend-encouragement

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

Guarding Your Heart

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

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

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

Being Selfish?

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

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

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

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

Comrades pressing on together.

Comrades pressing on together.

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

A Glimpse of Eternal Rewards on Earth

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

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

heaven-rewards

What are Eternal Investments?

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

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

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

Relational Investments

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

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

teacher-apple

It is teachers.

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

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

Examples of Eternal Rewards Reaped on Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not your Typical Exchange Student Experience

This week marks the 5th anniversary of meeting Pedro González Arbona, a short-term Spanish exchange student, and his adoption into our family.  Every year at this time, my internal clock reminds me and sends me down memory lane.  That’s because Pedro’s arrival in our home set a series of life-changing events in motion for me emotionally, spiritually, and with my writing.

While our adventures that first summer were fairly typical of the experiences of host families and their students, the relationship that ensued was not typical.  It led to a deep connection between his mother and me as we prepared for our mothers to pass away; it led to launching Pedro’s music and film composing career; and it led to my church mission to Spain last fall.

Welcome poster

Pedro’s welcome poster, July 2010.

Five Years of Celebrations

So for the last four years, I’ve deliberately marked the occasion in some personal way.

Five years later, and I realized I had never publically shared the behind the scenes story of how this all came to be.  Even the way in which Pedro ended up in our home was not the usual course of events that occurs when signing up to host a foreign exchange student. It was a whirlwind of surprises and quick decisions a few short weeks before Pedro arrived in America.

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Rekindling an Old Friendship

The story starts in June 2010.  My oldest son was a senior in high school and auditioned to perform a classical piano piece at the Baccalaureate ceremony.  The evening of his audition, our son shared over dinner that one of the judges was Kris, a family friend from our old neighborhood.  We’d lost touch with each other through the years.  She remembered my son from way back when our kids played together.

After years of no contact, I decided to connect with Kris over email.  That started a nice string of replies back and forth and the rekindling of an old friendship.  My son passed the audition, and we made plans to see each other at the ceremony later that month.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Looking for Host Families

A few days later, Kris sent us an email about Education First (EF), the exchange program that she was in charge of for our area.  She asked us if we would be interested in hosting a student.  44 students from France and Spain were arriving in 4 weeks and they still needed homes for some of the students.

My husband and I had a Finnish exchange student through Rotary International in our home early on in our marriage (over 20 years ago) before we had kids.  It was such a fun experience; we were open to doing it again, and sharing the experience with our now teenage sons.

We had never heard about the EF program.  We learned EF was a short-term program, generally just a few weeks.  Some years the program involved students being in language classes during the day.  Other years the program entailed multiple planned field trips for the students, and lots of unscheduled time to be immersed in the culture and life of their host families. This particular year, was the latter program for 4 weeks in July.

We talked it over as a family and decided to give it a try.  We filled out the application, went through the home interview process, and had our references checked.  Since most everyone in my family had taken some Spanish in school, we requested to host a Spanish male student in our home.  We anxiously awaited word of who our host son would be.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Matching Host Families and Students

Ten days later, I eagerly opened the email that matched families with students.  When I read our host son’s profile, I was surprised to see that he didn’t play the piano.  During the initial interview process, Kris shared that there was definitely at least one student who played the piano and that we would be matched with him.

From the moment the opportunity to host an exchange student came up, I felt God was calling me to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone.  I was excited about welcoming a student into our home, but I was also nervous about it.

So when I noticed that the student assigned to our family did not play the piano, I prayed about what to do.  Was I to blindly trust that this was ‘the student’ for us?  Was I supposed to speak up and make our desires known?

I contacted Kris about our assigned student.  Her response was welcome news.  She made a mistake in assigning the students.  We were supposed to be matched with a young man from Spain who played the piano.  His name was Pedro!

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

First Contact

Our family had the advantage of knowing a little bit about Pedro and his family by way of the profile sheet that he filled out as part of the EF program.  Right away I sent Pedro an email introduction and family photo.  He quickly replied, sharing his excitement to visit Seattle, and about his love of music and cinema.  He had also looked up our location on Google Maps, said how beautiful it looked, and naturally asked about the rain.

Communication was also then initiated with his parents, Rosa and Rafa.  In our first email from his parents, they told us we “have friends in Spain if you want to come to visit.”  (Three years later I took them up on that offer.)

Several emails followed over the next two weeks before his arrival in our home.  It was a crazy time for us.  Our son was graduating from high school and we had an out of town trip planned to a family wedding.  Somehow I managed to prepare the house and my spirit to welcome this young man into our home in short order.  (I’m sure prayer had something to do with it.)

We had a fun filled 4 weeks together exploring Washington State, and learning about each other’s countries and cultures.  And of course, Pedro played the piano every chance he got.  Unbeknownst to us, he was also playing some of his own compositions, like “Portman,” still one of my favorites.   A few months later, he sent us “Seattle,” a song he composed and dedicated to my family.  (Click to view studio recordings or listen to songs on the media player in right sidebar.)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pedro, at the keyboard at the VIP screening of Tempting Fate, Houston, July 2014.

Pedro, at the keyboard at the VIP screening of Tempting Fate, Houston, July 2014.

A Match Made in Heaven

I’ve never regretted opening up our home to an exchange student or specifically to Pedro.   We were so attached to Pedro, we invited him back the next summer for a personal visit.  Five years later our families still maintain regular contact via email, Skype, or Whatsapp messaging.

It was truly a match made in heaven.

The experience has expanded my definition of family and stretched my heart, my mind, and my faith in amazing ways.  Sometimes the geographical and language barriers make our relationship challenging.  Other times it brings such great joy.

When we agreed to host an exchange student in our home, I never thought I was signing up for this kind of long-term commitment.  But I was open to being used by God; and I trusted Him each step along the way.

I have been immensely blessed by Pedro, Rosa, Rafa, and the rest of his family.  They were a conduit for the Lord’s healing to be manifested with the passing of my mother several months after Pedro returned home.  (That is the story published in Journeys to Mother Love.)  Rosa is my Sister in Christ.  I am a proud benefactor of Pedro’s music (pgarbona.com), and relish our friendship.

Pedro & his American family from Seattle, July 2010, a match made in heaven.

Pedro & his American family from Seattle, July 2010, a match made in heaven.

Be the Blessing

We never know how God is going to use some small act of kindness to bless us or others.  I hope you will give heed the next time He nudges you to do something outside of your comfort zone.  The blessing may just be on the other side of obedience.

Pedro EF

Preparing Our Hearts and Homes for Christmas

I’m not sure why, but this is the first holiday season that I have looked forward to in several years.  I think that started five years ago when my brother, his wife, and me made a cross country trek to visit my mother just before Christmas.  As referenced in my story, “Walking My Mother Home,” in Journeys to Mother Love, it was our final farewell to her.  She survived another Christmas season and passed away in February the next year.  Those two Christmases were the hardest for me, still being in the waiting process.

On Santa's lap, 2001

On Santa’s lap, 2001

Holiday Transitions

It was also during that time our teenage sons were becoming more independent.  The feel of the holidays was changing.  There was no more Christmas wonder, no more believing in Santa Claus, and no more family holiday portraits.  It became harder for me to instill some tradition and holiday spirit into the season.

This year we are preparing for our next layer of parenting and holiday traditions.  Our oldest son Evan graduated from college earlier this year and moved out of state.  We haven’t seen each other since we moved him into his new apartment six months ago.  We already faced Thanksgiving without him.  It was a quiet day with my husband, my youngest son, Cameron, and me.  It was like a super-charged family meal with a small turkey and all the trimmings.

We made the most of it.  The highlight for me was when Cameron asked us each to share what we were thankful for.  He shared that he was thankful for understanding parents (in reference to the challenges he faced adapting to high school with ADD) and that his parents were still together (in reference to his keen awareness of how many of his friends come from broken families).

His response warmed this sentimental mother’s heart.  Even at 17 he gets it!

An Old Tradition

In preparation for Evan’s holiday visit, I am decking the house all out for Christmas, like in years past.  It is a big chore so I enlisted the help of my friend, Stacie, who has spent several holiday meals at our home. While digging through the boxes of decorations, I was reminded of a family tradition of sorts that was handed down from my husband’s father, Ray.

Ray with his new pick-up truck in 1969.

Ray with his new pick-up truck in 1969.

I barely knew Ray.  He never officially became my father-in-law, passing away over 30 years ago, a few months before we were married.  For the next several years though, we were fondly reminded of his sense of humor at Christmas.  Ray had a habit of making a note on the outside of some of the Christmas boxes, posting the year, and maybe what the weather was like outside or some comical tidbit of information.  My husband and I started doing the same, usually making a treatise about the weather or maybe a good-natured ribbing of the other’s holiday attitude.

Continuing the Tradition

Those boxes with their notes from Ray are long gone, but my notes have continued and took a new more ‘writerly’ direction in recent years.  I came across some of those notes while decorating.  Stacie and I had a big laugh over some of my notes and reminisced about how we met.

In a phone conversation a few days prior, we pondered what year we met…and there it was in black and white in my entry for January 12, 2007.  We met in one of the classes that I was leading at church, and I had noted that I was preparing the curriculum.  (It was my first class of this nature, so it was a big deal to me.)  We got quite a chuckle out of that.

Meeting Stacie in a spiritual growth class, 2007.

New and old friends from a spiritual growth class at church in 2007.

I went on to read my notes getting a glimpse into our holiday preparations.  Stacie showed up in my notes indirectly again two years later.  I wrote that I was preparing for the women’s retreat at church.  She was at that retreat and mentioned the significance of it to her.  I remembered it very clearly.  Stacie was in a period of transition and heartache at the time.  In a moment of divine intervention, a group of women gathered around her, and laid hands on her in prayer.  We witnessed the Holy Spirit minister to many women at that retreat.

Ministering to Others

Stacie and I worked hard tending to all the decorating details around the house this year.   We laughed and we got a bit teary eyed a few times.  We turned a chore into a celebration of God’s goodness to us over the years.  It all started with a simple holiday tradition of writing a short note to include with my Christmas decorations.  It ministered to us both that day, not only preparing my home, but also our hearts for Christmas.

Thank you Ray!  Maybe the grandsons whom you never met, will carry on that humorous habit.  If not, you left us a legacy through the notes that are tucked away in our Christmas boxes.  Some day when I pass those boxes of decorations on to my kids, maybe it will minister to them too.

What are you doing to prepare your heart and home for Christmas?

Come Hungry to the Table

What are you hungry and thirsty for? Love? Purpose? Connection? Healing? You’ve been invited to the Feast. Will you accept the invitation?

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

Come hungry to the table. You will be satisfied. Come hungry to the table. You will be satisfied.

When I started recovery several years ago, I was hungry. No, I don’t mean that I was literally hungry for food. Although at Thanksgiving time, that would be a natural assumption.

I was hungry for change. The hunger for change didn’t come without the need for healing. Unfortunately, it didn’t (or doesn’t) come overnight.

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On Mission for God, Part 7 ~ Review & Gratitude

I am struggling! It’s not like last year’s return from Spain.  But I am at a loss on what to write about my trip and how to re-engage in my writing discipline since my return two weeks ago.

I’m not sure what’s up with that. Writer’s block?  Writing fatigue from the mission?  Spiritual attack?  Or just plain brain drain from the last eight months of intense planning and preparations?

The one thing I am reminded of is to have an attitude of gratitude. So I cannot help but write a post about how grateful I am to have experienced another trip of a lifetime.

My Week in France

I am grateful for…

  • The Air France strike. My flight from Paris to Lyon was cancelled so I took the high speed train to Grenoble instead.  That provided me with more time to explore Paris.  I attended mass at Notre Dame, stopped by the Eiffel Tower for a quick photo opp, and bought some souvenirs.
  • The invitation from my American missionary friends to come to France to share my testimony at their church. My hosts showered me with their generous hospitality and acclimated me to life in the French Alps.  We explored nearby villages by foot and scoped out some old cemeteries.  They literally took me to new heights (on a perch thousands of feet above the valley and on mountaintops). God took me to new heights spiritually.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony at the Celebrate Recovery meeting In Grenoble. I met women who resonated with my story and shared my desire for spiritual revival in France.

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My Week in Rivas

I am grateful for…

  • The invitation from Pastor Josh Fajardo to come to his church in Rivas and teach about Celebrate Recovery. I hadn’t even met Josh at this time last year.  God beautifully orchestrated all of these steps.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony in front of a Spanish audience. This also provided the opportunity for Rosa and Pedro to attend and hear me speak in their native language.  It was an amazing blessing!
  • The connections that I made with people in the Rivas church, old and new friends, committed to life transformation through Christ.
  • The privilege to announce that the Spanish version of “Walking My Mother Home” was published as a gift to the church in Rivas.
  • The hope of continued partnership with the Fajardo’s, the church in Rivas, and that CR will take root in Spain.

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My Week in Madrid

I am grateful for…

  • The generous hospitality showered on me by my Spanish family, Rafa, Rosa and Pedro.
  • The hours of walking around Madrid and being able to physically keep up with it all. Some of my walks took me to sights I saw last year, but this time around I was able to appreciate them more fully and explore more leisurely.
  • The opportunity to visit and pray in several local churches.  I treasured each one and especially being able to attend mass multiple times.
  • The comfort and safety I felt with my family and in Madrid. I was able to explore one day on my own, taking the subway, meeting new people, walking to new places, and dining out by myself.  It gave me great freedom to experience Madrid in a new way.
  • The short visit with Pedro’s extended family allowing me to reconnect with a niece who stole my heart last summer and Pedro’s grandfather. We enjoyed the giving and receiving of gifts.
  • The ability to give signed copies of my Spanish story to Pedro’s family and that it can now be shared electronically with other friends and family.
  • The closure and peace I had leaving my Spanish family. I have no idea when I will see them again, but I am trusting the Lord to bring us together in His timing.

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Most of All

I am grateful…

  • To the Lord for allowing me to be His Hands and Feet on the ground in France and Spain, and for perfectly putting all of the pieces into place for me to go on this mission of hope. I am grateful that He stretched me outside of my comfort zone and has grown my faith in new life-giving ways.
  • To everyone who prayed for the mission (before, during or after) and for all of the generous donations that allowed me to follow God’s call to Spain.
  • To Timberlake Church for donating $1500 to cover the cost of CR launch materials for Free Methodist churches in Spain.
  • To the CR leader team at Pine Lake Covenant Church for sponsoring and supporting this mission across the globe.
  • And, to my family for taking care of the household for three weeks and supporting my call to Spain.

thank-you

Yes, today is Halloween, but let’s not forget to be thankful for the blessings in our lives. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving.  Let’s start a season of thanks-living.  What are you thankful for?

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Looking for updates on the CR mission to Spain, check out the blog post series on the ministry site where I serve,  celebraterecoveryontheplateau.org or re-blogged here.

English Additions to “Walking My Mother Home” Available

As I mentioned in my announcement about the E-book of “Walking My Mother Home,” it was a writing dream come true for me to publish my story in Spanish. I wanted it to be a complete book, with Preface, Foreword, etc.  So I had to write those additional English pieces in order to have them translated into Spanish.

Writing the Additions

In my quest to determine how best to compile a more complete E-book, I researched the parts of a book, and reviewed books by some of my favorite authors and published friends. My writing plopped me right back into the throes of my story—the grief, the joy, and the miraculous way that God has been tying this season of my life all together.  And it was all beautifully orchestrated in time to share on my mission in Spain (and the church in Rivas).

It was also especially poignant for me to share it with my Spanish family while there. Last year, I left them with a signed copy of Journeys to Mother Love.  It was more a symbolic and sentimental gesture than anything else because most of the family couldn’t read it.  However, while I was in Spain last week, I had copies of the Spanish book printed and bound.  I personalized and signed each one for family members.  My only disappointment was that I couldn’t give the books to them personally.

‘Foreword’ Thinking

When it came to determining who would write the Foreword that was an easy decision. It had to be Pedro.  We had that discussion a few years ago.  I was getting ready to work on my memoir in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

In doing other writing research, I came across references to the movie “Finding Forrester” as a good writer’s story.  It is about a writing relationship between Forrester, a Pulitzer Prize author (played by Sean Connery), and his unlikely protégé, Jamal.  The ending scene of the movie spoke volumes to me. Watch the first two minutes of the scene to see why, Letter to Jamal.

“Jamal: Opens the letter.
Forrester: Dear Jamal, Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed. You need to know that while I knew so very early that you would realize your dreams, I never imagined I would once again realize my own. Seasons change young man, and while I may have waited until the winter of my life, to see the things I’ve seen this past year, there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.”

Role reversal, Pedro signing the Foreword of my personal copy of the book.

Role reversal, Pedro signing the Foreword of my personal copy of the book.

I found Ardis in the process of coming alongside my mother as she prepared to leave this earth, and in my relationship with my Spanish family. Pedro was a big catalyst in my following my writing dreams back then.  Like Forrester’s posthumous request to Jamal, I knew that someday Pedro would write my Foreword.  I told him then of my desire, not knowing how or when the right time or context would present itself.  Now was God’s perfect timing. (Muchas gracias, Pedro!)

I’d Like to Thank…

The other part of these additional writing pieces that I am excited about publishing are my acknowledgments to those who made publishing my story possible. The list of names was too long to detail and translate on the page, but if you were a close part of my life during the writing process, you know you have my gratitude for your prayers and encouragement.  (You know who you are.)  Below is an excerpt of my acknowledgements:

First and foremost, I thank God for prompting me to write and submit this story for publishing. He healed me, and He gets the credit. He is using my pain for His glory and I am eternally grateful for that.

Thank you pen

Second, I am indebted to the bi-lingual expertise and selfless donation of time and energy by Oscar Farfan (Saddleback Church, CA) for the Spanish version.  I am grateful for his making this story available to a new audience of readers, and for having it ready in time for release while on my Celebrate Recovery mission in the fall of 2014.

I am also grateful to:

  • Cathy Lawton, publisher at Cladach Publishing, for seeing the value in this story, accepting it and granting me permission to translate it into other languages.
  • My Celebrate Recovery community at Pine Lake Covenant Church, for their steadfast support throughout the writing process and for approval of the CR mission to Europe.
  • My prayer partners, mentors and pastors who encouraged and supported my healing and writing journey.
  • My Spanish family, especially Rosa, Rafa, and Pedro, for extending their friendship and love across cultural, language, and religious differences, and for being such an integral part of my healing process.
  • My husband and sons, for their patience, understanding, and love as I pursued my writing dreams and the call into missions.

Book Dedication

Finally, I dedicated my story to someone who without their acceptance of me and my friendship would not have put the healing steps into motion. It is to Rosa, Pedro’s mother.Book dedication

The Complete Story

So today, it is with great pleasure that I am sharing those additional pieces to “Walking My Mother Home” in English. If you’ve already read the story, I encourage you to sit back and read it again with the bookends of the Preface, Foreword by Pedro, (then “Walking My Mother Home” from Journeys to Mother Love published by Cladach Publishing) and the Epilogue. You’ll be glad you did. I’ll be including these pieces with each book that I sell from now on.

PREFACE to Walking My Mother Home

FOREWORD to Walking My Mother Home

EPILOGUE to Walking My Mother Home

May this story inspire you on your journey and turn your healing into hope.

 

 

 

Remembering Wanda

The community of women that I scrapbook with lost our fearless leader Wanda rather suddenly earlier this month.  Going out in style, Wanda passed away on National Scrapbook Day.  She had just laid her husband to rest a few months earlier after serving as his primary caregiver for several years.  We were all looking forward to this new season of Wanda’s life, where she could rest and relax.  But that wasn’t part of God’s plan.

Remembering Wanda 01

A toast to our courageous cheerleader!

Celebrating Wanda

Today I will be attending Wanda’s memorial service.  But a few weeks ago, one of her best friends, and a fellow scrapbooker, opened her home to our scrapbooking community, Wanda’s Croppers, to celebrate Wanda and to share stories of her life.  It was a beautiful evening with wonderful food accompanied by a champagne toast to her.

We all shared stores about Wanda going back as far as 40 years when she first met her husband, although most of us met her in the past two decades.  Tears and laughter intersected as we grieved and celebrated her life.

The Art of Scrapbooking

As a writer who is also passionate about scrapbooking, my blog has become a reflection of both crafts.  I spend time searching out just the right image, captioning them when needed and writing stories that I hope inspire and intrigue others.  My scrapbooks aren’t just photos stuck to a page; they are stories and works of art.  These creative endeavors go hand in hand for me.  So Wanda shows up in a small way every time I publish a new post.

Digital scrapbooking page courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Digital scrapbooking page at a retreat with Wanda, courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Wanda was a courageous, caring and Godly woman who inspired us to share our legacy and family heritage through the art of scrapbooking.  Her legacy touched hundreds if not thousands of people as the passion of storytelling through digital and handmade scrapbooks will be passed down for generations to come.  She left a mark on us all.

A Tribute to Wanda

When Wanda’s croppers got together a few weeks ago, I wrote my thoughts down on paper in advance.  Below is my tribute to Wanda from what I shared that night.  I hope it gives you some inspiration to consider your legacy and treasure the moments you have with those you love.

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Pedro’s scrapbook inscription.

“Pedro, May this book serve as a remembrance of the wonderful adventures we shared together in 2010 and mark the start of a summer filled with wonder and awe.  Remember—that is what the Lord tells us to do—not to live in the past, but to give us hope for the future and to keep us grounded in His promises.  I hope this book serves as a spiritual marker of the wonderful things that God has in store for us if we are open to His leading.”

That is an inscription that I wrote on the inside cover of a digital scrapbook that I gave to Pedro after the first summer he spent with our family.  How I toiled over that album.  It was my first one with the Creative Memories software.  I was rushing at the last minute to upload the files hours before my precious coupon would expire on New Year’s Eve.  And Wanda helped me all along the way as she did with subsequent albums as well.

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Always at ease behind the camera, and planning that next scrapbooking page in our minds.

That is what Wanda was all about, helping us to preserve our memories—and our stories.  So tonight I want to share with you some of my memories of Wanda and what she meant to me.

First of all, I have to admit that the news of her passing hit me pretty hard—surprisingly so.  I didn’t consider myself close friends with Wanda like many of you here are.  But I greatly admired her.  She was a kind and giving soul.

When Pedro’s CD was released, she was one of the first to buy it.  She told me how much she enjoyed playing it on her drives over the mountains.  She let me play Pedro’s music and sell it at the crops and retreats.  The same was true with my book.

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CD and book display at one of Wanda’s crops.

I’ll never forget attending her first Open House when she returned back to Western Washington.  She took time out of the event to sit down with me and tell me how moved she was by my story.  She actually apologized for not saying something to me sooner.  No apology was needed.  But she wanted me to know.  She wanted to have that connecting time.

When Creative Memories (CM) filed for bankruptcy, I reached out to Wanda to pray for her and for the business.  I knew it was her passion and financial provision.  None of us wanted CM to close its doors, and we didn’t want Wanda to be cut off from her livelihood.  I knew what it was like to be a CM consultant.  Back when I started scrapbooking, I signed up to be a CM consultant for a few years.

She worked hard at her business.  A former teacher, she was the perfect consultant—always doing crop talks and teaching us new tricks and tips.  There was never any hard sell or pressure.  She was just interested in keeping us motivated to keep working on our scrapbooks.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Wanda was our leader—a cheerleader to be more exact.  She fed us, wined us, dined us, and nurtured the parts of us that connected to our families or whatever scrapbooking project we were immersed in.  She knew it was important to us and she made it important to her too.

My heart aches for the loss of this woman and the community of memory keepers that she mentored and invested in in sacrificial ways.  She will be missed in so many ways by her family and friends.  But this group of women will miss her in an entirely different way with a grief that will connect us beyond tonight and beyond Wanda’s public memorial.

Every time we get together again to scrapbook Wanda will be there in spirit.  It will be hard to not notice that empty void that she once filled.  We unexpectedly got a glimpse into that in February as we gathered at a retreat while Wanda was caring for her husband who had just been put on hospice.  He died a few days later.  We never imagined that this would soon be her fate as well.

Wanda's granddaughter

Wanda’s newborn granddaughter.

I thank God that He took her in such a beautiful way, how He timed her departure to be with her husband so quickly, and to see her first grandchild days before she passed away.  The time between those few hours when we got the shocking news of her cancer and her passing were surreal to me.  It was hard to pray for her when I knew all hope was gone for her recovery.  But I prayed for her family and what they were all going through.  And then her son gave us all a gift when he posted her tribute on Facebook hours after she passed away.  It was as if God wrapped it up with a bow Himself.

Tonight, I’m very grateful that this gathering was planned for us so that we can openly celebrate and grieve the loss of this friend who was so passionate about life, about her family, about her faith, and also about scrapbooking.  I know she is looking down from above at us now.  I think she is probably taking photos of the entire event and planning a 2-page spread that she can show off to her new friends in heaven.  So let’s all stop, look up, and smile for her camera one last time.

Save us a place at the crop in heaven Wanda!  We miss you!

Remembering Wanda 06

Wanda’s Croppers

Today’s memorial service will be surreal once more to be together with Wanda’s Croppers and not have her there with us.  I think it will bring us together in a way that maybe scrapbooking couldn’t—in our shared grief.  Some of us will create scrapbooking pages in tribute to her.  I am choosing to write and craft this tribute to her.

In closing, I’m sharing with you the same scripture I inscribed on Pedro’s scrapbook:

He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.  Psalm 111:4

Wanda was one of those wonders we will always remember.

This post is happily shared with Christian Mommy Blogger/Felllowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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

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