In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

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

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

Déjà Vu

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

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

I waited and prayed for two days.

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

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

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

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

Another Eulogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My aunt praying for my mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Mary and for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

Saying Goodbye to my Mother

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

An Unexpected Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Reality Strikes

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing Well

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

I was numb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Peace with Our Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Spain, Again

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

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

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

A Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

A Difficult Decision

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

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

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

Still Waiting

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

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

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

Not Just a Tourist Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Countdown Begin

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

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

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

Toasting my return to Madrid with Rosa, October 2014.

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

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

A Lesson in Ending Well

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

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

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

My Father’s Last Breaths

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

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

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

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

Father and son, final visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace after the passing, my stepmother and me.

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

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

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

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

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

An Exercise in Love

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

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

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

It’s an exercise in love to forgive supernaturally.

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

Memories of a life that ended well.

Ending Well

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

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

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

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

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

Nominations Open for Mother of the Year

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

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

An Unlikely Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Nomination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bittersweet Birthday Gift

Every year since my mother passed away, I can’t help but think of her on my birthday.  It was on my 50th birthday that I was by her bedside, 2000 miles away from friends and family.  It was a very poignant and bittersweet birthday.  It wasn’t at all how I planned to celebrate turning 50.

50-birthdayJanet, one of my friends had planned a birthday party for me—something I was looking forward to for weeks.  It was going to be a big celebration, with invites to women who had all jointly participated in a series of emotional healing classes.  It was how I really wanted to mark this major birthday milestone in my life.  But God had other plans.

An Unexpected Trip Back Home

I had not seen my mother in several years.  We didn’t have much of a relationship.  Her mental illness had driven a wedge between us.  Over the years it didn’t bother me much—on the surface.  I told myself it was all for the best.  Deep inside though, I carried a lot of guilt and shame around my relationship with my mother.  It was my choice to turn my back on her.

I never knew what it was like to have a mother to confide in, to mentor me, or to teach me how to be a good wife or mother.  I certainly didn’t think I needed one either.

joann-ny-2

My mother, JoAnn, circa 1956.

Then came the dreaded phone call.  You know the one.  When bad news is delivered, shaking your world.

My mother had a major stroke leaving her partially paralyzed and barely able to talk.  Medical decisions were made to give her the care she needed and life returned to status quo.

A few months later, after she had another medical emergency, I felt it was time to go.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but somehow the Lord was getting hold of me.  I needed to be an adult and face not only the difficult end of life decisions for my mother’s sake, but I also had to face my own pain.

A Change of Heart Towards Mom

I arrived in the St. Louis area on a roundtrip ticket with a return flight home a few days before my 50th birthday.  Seeing my mother that first time was difficult.  She didn’t look like herself.  She was pale, thin, and aged.  Years of bedridden medical care and living in a nursing home environment had turned her into a much older looking woman.

Despite her limited ability to speak, her eyes said “I love you.”

My heart ached for her.

My days were split between time with my mother and in meetings with her healthcare team.  Day after day I immersed myself in my mother’s care and living environment.  Occupational speech therapy was underway.  Hospice care was recommended and initiated while I was there.

Every night I talked with friends and family back home.  Their prayers gave me the courage and the strength to carry on each day.

When the time came to leave, I couldn’t bear the thought.  There still seemed like too much to do.  I didn’t know when or if I would see my mother alive again.  I didn’t want any regrets. God was softening my heart toward my mom, giving me compassion and empathy for her.

A family reunion with mom.

A family reunion with mom.

My sister-in-law, Carol, came to the rescue.  She sensed my angst.  Carol made arrangements for me to stay longer and made plans for us (my brother, her and myself) to return in December, for one last family reunion.

When it came to telling Janet about my plans to stay and to cancel my party, she made it easy for me too.  Janet was very understanding and loving.  She offered up prayers and to throw me a party another time, when I was ready.  (That party was five years ago and had a totally different meaning and feel to it.)

A Bittersweet Birthday

When my 50th birthday arrived, the day wasn’t outwardly that much different than any other day of my visit: time with mom, feeding her, gently massaging her feet and legs, talking with her care team.  Inwardly though, God was reminding me of the significance of the day.

It was bittersweet.  I couldn’t help but think that she brought me into the world 50 years ago and cared for me day and night as a baby.  She helped me to start life well.  Now I was returning the gift to her—helping her to end life well.

My final gift to my mother on this trip was the gold cross pendent I received from my godmother for my first communion.  I treasured that gift for decades.  But now, as I left my mother in God’s hands, and returned home, I wanted her to have something to cling to—to remember me.  It was my promise to her to return again.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

A Legacy of Healing

That bittersweet day was eight birthdays ago.  My mother passed away 15 months later.  I made two more trips back home to see her before she died.  Each time her health deteriorated more and more.

That first trip opened my eyes to her suffering.  It opened my heart for the healing between us—much of it never verbally spoken, but shared in the gentle touch of my hands and the tears in our eyes.

So on my birthday, I feel especially close to her.  She didn’t know it then, but she gave me the most memorable birthday gift.  And for me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s the gift I give to others who are also helping their parents end well.  But really it’s the gift we give ourselves, if we are open to walking through the pain and turning healing to hope.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT)

For more on this story, purchase a copy of Journeys to Mother Love, through my site, or through your favorite book seller.

Coming Up for Air

Blind trust… that’s what it takes to weather a wilderness season—like the Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert.  The Lord was preparing them for something greater, but first they had to learn to trust Him.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

I’ve been in the wilderness most of this year. It didn’t start out that way. I recently got a glimmer of hope, a flicker of inspiration, and decided it’s time to surface for some air, so to speak, to bring some Light into the Darkness.

An Unexpected Loss

Earlier this year my life took an unexpected turn when I returned to full-time work to manage a major computer conversion project at my husband’s office. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision led to putting my writing on hold.  It was subtle at first, no time to blog led to no motivation or inspiration to blog. That led to no journaling. There were no words. It was as if my writing died and along with it I lost my voice.

It was like I lost my best friend.  I went through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The only thing missing for this dearly departed loved one was a funeral.

coffin-rose

Work, work, work—the long days, week after week, and month after month caught up with me—physically and emotionally.

When I finally realized it and things began to stabilize, I started to put in boundaries around the number of days I worked and inserted some much needed self-care.  Even with that I’ve found it very hard to write.  My writing muscle is weak and, like exercise, I need to start working out that muscle again!

Left-Brain Thinking

I got some interesting insight into my dilemma about a month ago while reading The Seven Mountain Prophesy by Johnny Enlow.  This book reveals prayer strategies for the seven mountains or sectors of society of every nation of the earth: media, government, education, economy, religion, celebration, and family.  As a prayer intercessor, this keenly interested me.

It was in the chapter on education that I had a profound revelation about my work habits and inability to write.

Left-brain thinking, when it becomes dominant, squeezes out the things of the Spirit of God.  The right brain isn’t the kingdom of God, but it’s the part of the brain God created to be open to respond to His ways.  It’s the chimney through which faith is accessed.  You can quote all the scriptures on faith and understand the logic of faith, but only the right brain can tap into the actual substance of faith.

left-right

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  My thinking was dominated by my left brain.  Day after day, I was sucked into the challenges at work.  I couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about it.  The work consumed me, much like an addiction.  Or so I wondered at times.

Addiction?  Passion?  Or ADHD?  All I can say is that it is a struggle for me—a constant battle for balance.  It is most assuredly fed by my ADHD and my difficulty in switching gears.  (A common symptom for people with ADHD is a broken internal ‘gear-shifter’ due to chemical imbalances in the brain.)

God’s Thinking

Old habits die hard.  I was governed by my left brain for decades.  Everything was logical, analytical, and rational—until I got into recovery over 12 years ago.

In recovery I started to see and experience things from God’s perspective, like the Beatitudes and their upside down thinking:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3-6

be-stillWhen Jesus came into the world, he challenged people to use their right brain—to see things from God’s perspective and to live by faith.  He challenged the Pharisees and biblical scholars of his day.

He turned water into wine.  He walked on water.  He fed 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread.  To top it all off, he had more food leftover than when he started.  These are things of the Spirit and are derived when we open ourselves up to getting in touch with the invisible things of God.

Coming Up for Air

Throughout this year even though I’ve been consumed with the situation at work, I’ve protected my weekly appointment time with God.  It kept me sane, refreshed and focused on the bigger purpose of why I was called out of retirement back to secular work.  My prayer times also gave me a break from left-brain thinking.  That alone wasn’t enough to inspire me to write though.

With new boundaries in place and a greater attempt at balancing my life, I hope to invest in some writing time again.  It’s been a five-year journey, so maybe I really needed a break.

Like the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert learning to trust God, I too have been leaning on Him and learning to trust.  I sense my time in the desert may be coming to an end or at least I’ve reached a temporary oasis.  The Lord has given me some new inspiration and brought meaning out of this wilderness season.

swim-air

So with this post, I am officially coming up for air and hope to surface more regularly, taking bigger gulps of air and the Spirit of God in the process.

If you’re in a wilderness season, don’t despair. God is nearer than you think.  I’d love to hear how He is stretching your trust muscle.  May this serve as inspiration and hope on your journey.

Kairos, the Ultimate Time for Change

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

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

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

kairos-vs-chronos

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

Living in Kairos Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kairos as God’s Timing

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

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

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

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

Kairos eternity

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

A Time for Change

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

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

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

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

Kairos time

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

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

 

A Grateful Lesson in Letting go of our Children

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

Journeys To Mother Love

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

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

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

It’s a timeless lesson in love and sacrifice.

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

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

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Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

  • WELCOME to my site!

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

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

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    Arrival on Spanish SoilApril 29th, 2018
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