‘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.

 

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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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

Being First: A Graduation Legacy

Last week a class of 115 students proudly walked across the stage of our church auditorium to receive their diplomas from a new high school in Washington State.  My son was one of these students in the first graduating class of Nikola Tesla STEM High School.  Naturally it was a proud moment for family and friends in attendance as well as the faculty and staff.

What it means to be firstBeing first, the administration had the opportunity to create a graduation ceremony that was unique and fitting to this academic community of STEM scholars.   The evening had many memorable highlights and surprises.

What it Means to be First

One of the surprises was an essay penned by each of the graduating seniors to the prompt: “What it Means to be First.”  Their essays were alphabetically listed in the program in the order that they would later walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.  It warmed my heart to read my son’s essay while waiting for the ceremony to start.

“Being first can mean going before others into the unknown but can also mean to claim a reward for your efforts.   Being first to graduate from STEM fits both of these definitions.  While I specifically am not the first, I am among them; the entire graduating class is the first.  We will be the first to claim our reward from the school for the years of work we put into our education and the first to leave this school and begin our lives as adults.  Our teachers will be the first to watch us go and the first to be proud for the students they invested years of their lives into.  Our parents will be first to say goodbye as they help us prepare for what lies beyond high school.  And we shall be the first to be grateful for all of these investments of time and energy as we remember the time we spent here for the rest of our lives.”

My son later shared that he easily wrote that essay as an in-class English assignment.  That was significant because many times during the school year he struggled to get a start on his writing assignments.  He would stare at the blank page for long periods of time.  This short essay was a gift to read and re-read knowing that it marked a breakthrough in his writing, and possibly his ADHD barriers to creatively express himself.

STEM 2015 Yearbook

STEM Yearbook

Graduation Speeches that Inspired

Graduations are full of speeches intended to inspire students as they start on their next level of education or venture out into the world.  These speeches were no exception.

We heard from the Superintendent of the school district.  As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed her speech as she compared their journey to chapters in a book and identified the students as authors of their stories.

Student speeches followed.  A pair of students spoke on the phases and milestones that this first class journeyed through to get to this point: school construction, developing clubs and extracurricular activities, defining internship opportunities, naming of the school, and more.  That was followed by two more student addresses.

The second speaker creatively wove famous quotes from 50 other historical speeches and famous movies.  He quoted Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a Dream speech.  He cheered on the graduates exclaiming: “Live long and prosper” and “May the force be with you.” The audience broke into bursts of laughter throughout.  It was highly entertaining.

Below is a short video clip of a few graduation highlights created by the Lake Washington School District.

As much as I enjoyed those speeches, it was the faculty address by my son’s English teacher that meant the most to me.  Throughout her speech she wove the theme of the “Odyssey” by Homer, an ancient Greek poem about Odysseus’ journey home after the fall of Troy.  (The senior class chose to read this because they entered STEM starting with their sophomore year and missed reading it as freshman.)

It wasn’t the story that she told, but the examples she shared of memorable student moments that again hit an accord with me.  That was because his teacher anonymously shared something my son did in class.

Faculty addressA Compassionate Heart

Several weeks prior, to celebrate this teacher’s birthday, she held a Poetry Café.  Students were asked to bring in a favorite poem or one that they wrote and to share it with the class.  That night at the dinner table, our son told us about that day and what he did—heeding to his heart.

At the graduation ceremony, his teacher got choked up when she spoke these words to the audience:

“A quiet student stood in 3rd period, a student not many had heard from.  This was in a Poetry Café.  When the student stood, he stated I don’t have a poem I just want to tell you how much you mean to me.”

I felt the tears start to well up inside me too—proud Mama tears.

This teacher made a difference in my son’s life.  English was not his favorite subject, but English was his favorite class while at STEM.  She was his favorite teacher all three years and made English interesting to him.   When she signed his yearbook days before, she said he always made her smile and referenced the Poetry Café.  She wrote that my son worked so hard and she was extremely proud of him.

GraduationOn the eve of graduation I sent her an email telling her too how much she meant to my son.  She encouraged him throughout his high school struggles with his ADHD and instilled confidence in him.  She believed in him.

Then a few days ago I made one final stop at the school to see this teacher and give her a personalized copy of my book, Journeys to Mother Love.  We talked about the Poetry Café again.  She went on to share that one female student in the class told the teacher several times how touched she was by what my son said and that it made her cry (like it did the teacher).

My son has that way about him—kind, compassionate, and caring.  Someday a young woman will look past his shy demeanor, connect with him on more than a surface level, and sparks will fly, but not yet.

His teacher and I parted ways with a hug and tears welling up in our eyes.  Oh, to be a teacher and collect those special memories—knowing that they made a difference in a student’s life.

A School with a Heart

Back to the graduation…following the faculty address by my son’s English teacher, the student’s ceremoniously walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.  With a small group of graduates, they were able to add another memorable highlight to the ceremony.  There wasn’t one person who shook the hand of each student or even a rotation of teachers handing out diplomas.  Somehow they arranged it so that students received their diplomas from a teacher of their choice.  He proudly smiled for the photographer and received his diploma from his English teacher.

IMG_2619Before the customary switching of the tassel from one side of the mortar board hat to the other, another surprise awaited the parents of these fine graduates.  They had each written their parents a thank you note (another English assignment).  They were challenged to quickly find their parents in the crowd, give them the note, and return to their seats.  (You can’t do that in a large high school!)  More tears were shed in reading our son’s hand written note thanking us for our understanding of all he went through to complete high school and that he was grateful for how he was raised.

For the last three years of my son’s life, he forged a path of firsts with the other students at this school.  In a world that is continually more and more focused on ‘likes,’ attention on achievements, and social media presence, it’s nice to see that my son has his head in the right place…and that is in his heart.

I’m proud that is the legacy he left Nikola Tesla STEM High School.

Congratulations STEM Class of 2015 Graduates!  And thank you teachers and faculty for making STEM a school with a heart.

The Graduation Road Less Traveled

Today is a bittersweet day for me and my family.  My youngest child will be walking across the stage and receiving his high school diploma.  What is so significant to me about this is how he got to this place and time—all of the obstacles he overcame, and how he did it his way.

My son forged his own path to graduation.  It wasn’t the same journey as his brother four years earlier, or the way that I had envisioned it over the years.

Like the ending line in the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, my son took the road less traveled.  And in so doing, he was a pioneer of the spirit.

Senior portrait

My son, a pioneer of the spirit.

Following in his Brother’s Footsteps

In parenting our only other child, his older brother, we got caught up in the competitive race for the coveted prize of his attendance at one of the best engineering schools in the country.  Thankfully God had other plans.

Being our first born child, we didn’t know what to expect.  When we noticed his giftedness at a very early age, we sought and were granted a waiver to put him in Kindergarten a year earlier than his peers.  He ended up settling into the gifted program and taking a rigorous AP and honors course load throughout school.  Those choices led him to a few different schools in the district, not our neighborhood school.

When our youngest child entered the school system, we made the tough decision to place him in the elementary school where his brother attended.  He also followed his brother into the same extracurricular activities: baseball, piano, and chess.  He eventually dropped out of those and developed his love for music by playing the flute, saxophone, and drums.

Once his brother went on to junior high, my youngest son switched schools and attended the school in our neighborhood.  It wasn’t long after that we noticed his school difficulties surface.  I was not overly concerned, but couldn’t help but wonder, is there something else going on here?  It was unfair to compare him to his older brother, and I thought his occasional struggles were more ‘normal.’  Things got worse for him in junior high.

When it came time to go to high school, we decided to check out several of the high schools in the district.  He wasn’t interested in the high school his brother attended.  The large high school that most students in the neighborhood attended didn’t excite him either.

We attributed some of his school problems with lack of motivation.  So we felt it would be better for him to be in a school with smaller classes and a learning environment that more closely matched his interests.  A new school had opened up in the district and was accepting students on a lottery basis.  This school was specifically geared to a STEM based education (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics).  Living in the high tech corridor of the Seattle Eastside, this was a magnet for local kids, as was proven by the standing room only audience at the information night for this new school.

School Pioneers

Our son was accepted into the STEM school and started in the fall.  It was also at this time that the school district was converting middle schools to junior high schools and all high schools to a 4-year format.  The STEM school was launched with incoming freshmen and sophomore classes.  My son would be in the first graduating class of the school—the class of 2015!

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

These new students were educational pioneers in the district and had to endure some growing pains in the process.  For example, while the school building was still under construction the first semester, the school was co-located on the campus of the big neighborhood high school.

It was hard for the students and the school community to define its own culture and identity.  With the school half completed, after the Christmas holiday break, the students and faculty moved into their brand new campus and started to create their own academic community.

The course load was rigorous, much like the academic classes that his brother took in high school.  From our earliest meetings with the school administration, we and other parents were assured there would be other less rigorous class options for students.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  My son struggled to make it through the first quarter of his sophomore year.  We heard stories of kids dropping out of the school and returning to their neighborhood high schools.

Despite my son’s recent diagnosis with ADHD, he wanted to be at this school, and was determined to make it work.  There were times along the journey that we had conversations about transferring to another school.

It was a painful decision for all of us.  When does the parent have the final say?  How do you know what is best for your child?  Each time he came back to his desire to stay, accepting that it would be a challenge.

During a recent conversation with my son about his tenure at this school, I asked him if he had to do it all over again what he would do.  He acknowledged that going to his neighborhood high school would’ve been a lot easier for him.  But he didn’t miss a beat in saying that the STEM school was good for his character development.  He wasn’t wrapped up in his GPA or the college competition.  He was content that he graduated, made good friends, and was learning more about his abilities.

A Graduation Homecoming

I’m not going to apologize for using my blog to publish a bit about the story of my son’s journey to graduation.  I see it as a major milestone in his life.  My husband and I are both proud of him, like any parent is of their graduating senior.  It is particularly poignant to me because it feels like a joint effort.  I know many of my friends and family have prayed for him and us during his high school years.  Those prayers made a difference in getting us to this point.  (Thank you!  You know who you are!)

What I haven’t lost sight of in the process is where his graduation ceremony will take place tonight.  It’s not at the school.  They don’t have the space for this type of event.  The graduation will be held at our church.  It was in this same church that my son learned about Jesus, accepted Christ as His Savior, was baptized, and has attended all his life.

It adds to the bittersweet nature of the event for me.  And it serves as a reminder that the Lord has been at my son’s side the entire time.

My son is a Pioneer.

He is a STEM Scholar.

He is unique, gifted, and talented in many ways.

He found his own way.  He took the road less traveled to do it.  To quote Robert Frost again:

…and that has made all the difference.

I’m grateful he did.  Congratulations Son!

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

A Love Letter to God

I’m a big proponent of letter writing—for healing, for building relationship, for encouragement, for love, and for getting in touch with one’s heart.  I’ve shared several sample letters to family here or on my publisher’s blog like A Letter to My MomA Letter on Leaving the Nest, or most recently Keeping Our Loved Ones’ Memories Alive.

This post involves a different slant to the letter writing therapeutic tool that I recommend.  It is for our spiritual growth.

letter to godA Delicate Balancing Act in Recovery

In a women’s recovery group that I co-lead, an assignment was recently given to write a thank you letter to God.  The Step Study group was at the mid-point in the 4th Step, where we “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

As you can imagine Step 4 is a painful process.  We are unearthing and writing down the ugly things we’ve done or what’s been done to us in the past.  Scary, yet freeing stuff—and not for the faint of heart—which is why we do it in the structured community of a Step Study group.

The thank you letter to God was assigned to help participant’s look beyond the pain of the past and to see the good side—to assist in balancing the good with the bad.  I was so touched by one woman’s letter that I asked for her permission to share it with my readers.

It is really poetic.  So please read it slowly, like a poem, and let the words gently stir your heart.

A Love Letter to God

“Dear Beyond-belief loving and merciful Lover of my soul,

Words cannot express the magnitude of the blessings you have heaped upon me—and that doesn’t even account for the blessings for which I am oblivious about.  I am left in awe!

Me, a worm, with my ugly sin and unworthiness—yet You purchased me with the blood of Your only begotten Son—so that I may be a daughter of the King of the Universe, to live where the streets are made of gold, the gates are pearly, and precious stones abound.  And I even have a crown, a special name, which is engraved in the palm of Your hand and You rejoice over me with singing…

How can it be that lowly me would be accepted as an heir in Your kingdom?

Truly, eternity is not long enough to thank you for the perfect plan of salvation, the undeserving grace, mercy, love and forgiveness.

Forever in the care of Your loving and gentle arms,
Me”

Lovely, isn’t it?  Where do words like this—words of deep gratitude and awe—come from?  Truly they were Holy Spirit inspired.

Thankful in all Circumstances

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances.”  It is not an easy thing to do.  We have to choose to do it despite how we feel.  It is taking our act of faith to a higher level, and thereby allowing God to work more freely in our lives.

1-thessalonians-5-18

When was the last time you thanked God for the blessings in your life?

When was the last time you thanked Him for the simple pleasures?

For the miracles?

Or for the hardships? (Especially the hardships?)

You don’t have to be in a recovery program (like Celebrate Recovery) or working through the 12 Steps to exercise your will to be thankful in all circumstances.

Take some quiet time today or one day this week to let the Holy Spirit move you to write a love letter to God.  You’ll be amazed by the gifted writer that is hiding inside your soul.

Thank you Ruth for letting me share your letter.  May it inspire others to see the love of our Heavenly Father in their lives.

Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my 3rd annual letter to my mother after her passing, and shared an excerpt.  Does writing a letter to a deceased loved one seem like an odd thing to do?  I wondered that myself.

Chapter 3 is Verna's story.

Chapter 3 is Verna’s story.

I got the idea from Verna Hill Simms, author (Water Under the Bridge) and contributor to Journeys to Mother Love (along with me).  In her story, “Take Care of Your Mother,” she described how she writes a letter to her deceased mother every year on her mother’s birthday.  At the time our book was published, she had written over 30 letters.

Wisdom from an Older Woman

I reached out to Verna, who will be 94 next month, to ask about her annual practice.  We had never communicated in the past, so I was delighted to receive such a timely and thoughtful response to my email.  Here is Verna’s response:

“I write to Mother because she loved getting mail and I do too. I feel it is another way I can keep her memory alive for my daughters and grandchildren. Hopefully after I am gone the letters will be read and perhaps kept. I have a few letters my mother wrote to her sister around the time I was born and one my paternal grandmother wrote when I was 2 or 3 and I prize them.”

“Keep her memories alive!”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell.  Writing to our deceased loved ones is a way of keeping their memories alive.  It is not just for our benefit, but as in Verna’s case, maybe our letters can be handed down and treasured by future generations as well.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

My mother lived her last seven years in nursing homes.  I took up writing letters to her.  She couldn’t easily read them and so the nursing staff would read them to her.  Because of her health, she couldn’t write back to me. (I received a few of my cards and letters to her with her personal belongings after she passed away.)

letterI have a stack of letters from my mother dating back to my days in college.  I have read them from time to time.  I didn’t appreciate them much in my youth, but now I have a new lens—one of a mother whose children are leaving the nest and is learning to let go.  Her letters comfort me, as I see her love for me in new ways.  They keep her memories alive.

My letter writing has also turned to Rosa, Pedro’s mother, in Spain, commencing with the terminal diagnosis of her mother four years ago.  Rosa and I still communicate through the aid of an online translator in our letters across the globe.  These letters keep our relationship alive though 5,300 miles apart.

Unfortunately, letter writing is becoming a lost art.  It is sadly being replaced by short bursts of text messages beeping on our phones!  (But that is a whole other blog post.)

Benefits of Writing a Deceased Loved One

Because I started this practice of writing my deceased mother for continued healing of my mother/daughter wound, there are parts of my letters that are too personal to publically share or pass on to my family.  However, my annual letters are definitely a way to keep my mother’s memories alive.  It is a way to honor her life and her legacy by taking time out of my busy schedule to spend deliberate and thoughtful time with her.

When I asked my therapist about this practice she gave me lots of clarity and insight on why this is definitely a healthy practice, and worth continuing.  Since my mother had a nervous breakdown when I was 6-years-old, I never really got to know her as a person, nor as an adult.  By writing my mother now,

  • I am letting my mother get to know me.
  • I am having an adult conversation with her.
  • I am building my empathy as I see her through the eyes of an adult.
  • I am identifying who I am and learning more about myself.
  • I am having a relationship with her spirit, not the mentally ill woman she was. (It even feels sacred!)

Love to you Mom, and Happy Birthday!

Hearing these things gave me more confidence in pursuing this annual tribute to my mother.  We weren’t close while she was alive.  Her nervous breakdown when she was 35 years old changed the trajectory of our lives, separating us emotionally for the rest of her life.

Don’t Forget

I don’t want to forget her.  I don’t want to forget the legacy that she left me.  So I choose to keep that alive by writing her every year.  More than that, I am writing about it here on my blog, to inspire others to likewise turn healing into hope.

My mother would’ve been 84 last week.  Happy birthday Mom!  It’s been great getting to know you!________________________________________________________________________________

Verna Hill-SimmsMore about Verna: Verna Hill Simms, started her writing career at the age of 80 after answering a small ad in her local newspaper to form a writers group.  She joined the Jefferson County (Missouri) Writer’s Society, saying it has been one of the best decisions she ever made.

Verna’s book, Water Under the Bridge, is a historical novel, published by Rocking Horse Publishing in March 2014.  Her book is mostly fiction, but a lot of the story mirrors the life she led in the 1920s along with her friends.  Water Under the Bridge is available in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  For more about Verna’s journey into publishing, click here.

Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 1

Every year I mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing by writing her a letter.  For the past two years I’ve published excerpts of those letters online to model healing and vulnerability, and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.  Those posts still rank among the most popular posts I’ve written.

JVB TributePreparing to Write

This year’s letter, written on the eve of the 4th anniversary of her passing, was just as hard to write as the few before.  I warned my family days in advance that I would need some time to myself to do this annual practice.  I had hoped to get away and work on the tribute scrapbook I started after her passing, but those plans fell through as well.

My family went out for the evening leaving me alone with my laptop and Zoe, our miniature Schnauzer and my faithful companion.  In the past I had written her about the changes I was going through internally, and the decision I made to take medication for my ADHD.  The latter decision was only possible because I had finally dealt with my fears of medication due in part to what I witnessed in her lifelong struggle with mental illness and psychiatric drugs.

What to Write About

This year, I pondered why I was writing her again.  Was it a healthy thing to do—write a letter to a deceased person?  I knew that letter writing was a good tool for healing.  I used it before in my spiritual and recovery related classes.  But what was the purpose in writing an annual letter?  I sat with that indecision briefly, prayed about what was on my heart, and proceeded to pen my longest letter yet to my mother.  (It seems I had a lot to say!)

Our happy family, before mom’s nervous breakdown, circa 1964.

Growing up without the emotional stability and attachment from my mother has left me longing in many areas of my life.  I’ve gotten some of those maternal needs met through my Sisters in Christ and my long journey to love with my stepmother as well.  Questions still linger though that are specific to my family of origin and what I didn’t get from her.

For instance, my mother spent many years seeing a psychiatrist.  She never shared what happened in those sessions.  I do know it was something that she looked forward to every week.  I’ve re-entered the therapeutic process myself to deal with the effects of my ADHD and to support my son’s similar struggles.  I too have come to look forward to those weekly visits and have more empathy for what my mother must’ve been going through.  I imagine it was her lifeline, as my counseling sometimes feels like it is for me.

Reading my Letter

I chose to read my letter to my counselor and ask her my nagging question:  “Is this healthy?”

She loved my question and enjoys watching how I am integrating the challenges I am facing as I come to terms with my ADHD.  Her response to my question was a resounding “yes!”  She went on to explain how my letters are catalysts for continued healing from my mother wound (by offering my forgiveness) and is bringing great revelation into who I am as a person (and connecting it to my mother).  Those were welcome words to someone who at times feels like I am walking around in a state of disequilibrium.

The main point I finished my letter with was how my mother’s faith changed mine as well:

“The faith steps that I took to minister to you in your final months, and to bury you, gave me such a depth of trust in the Lord.  It brought me back to Him in ways that I wouldn’t have possibly considered in the past.

It led me to Spain (and France), not just to meet Rosa and see the sights, but to pray for His people there.  He prepared me for that and met me there…

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

Prayers sent heavenward in the French Alps, Sept. 2014.

…If I have any legacy or fruit of righteousness that will grow in those countries, you will have it too.  Your faith planted the seeds for me.  I hope you are privy to that now and have a glimpse into what lies ahead for the Church. 

…Thank you Mom for your faith, for investing in me when I was young, and fighting the good fight until the end.  Your story is important.  I pray that in time, I can share it to a larger audience, and that it inspires others to embrace forgiveness and healing so that they too may live with the eternal Hope that comes from Above.

Love,
Ardis”

In Part 2 of this post series, I’ll address other benefits of this annual practice and introduce you to another author who has been doing this for over 30 years.

Super Bowl 49: Dealing with the Agony of Defeat

I stayed up late into the night after my husband went to sleep on Super Bowl Sunday.  I surfed the internet and flipped the channels on the TV remote control for any news I could possibly find to help console me.  As strange as it may sound, I was grieving the loss suffered by our hometown heroes, the Seattle Seahawks, in Super Bowl 49.

SB49 score

It was heartbreaking!  With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by the New England Patriots’ wide receiver Malcolm Butler on the 1-yard line.  The game was over.

Final score: Patriot’s 28, Seahawks 24!

Grieving the Loss

Shock, disbelief and disappointment filled the homes and hearts of the ’12s’, loyal Seahawks fans, across the city, the state, the nation, and the world.

Facebook was filled with posts from friends who were disappointed.  Most of them were also filled with gratitude for our team and the amazing season they gave us.  Some were quick to jump on the bandwagon of questioning the last call and why the ball was not given to Marshawn Lynch—letting their frustrations out on Facebook.  That play and that decision will be debated for years—and probably never forgotten.

MLynch SB49 comment

I didn’t feel like writing after Sunday’s game like I did two weeks ago, or like I did after last year’s Super Bowl game.  I was too numb and in a state of shock.  My emotions were also in a bit of a roller coaster.  At one point, I even wondered if I was living in some sort of dream.  Did that really just happen?

I soon realized I was rapidly experiencing the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  They are not just stages that we go through over the loss of a loved one.  It is what we experience in any type of significant or unexpected loss.

High Hopes for a Victory

I guess I had some pretty high hopes around that game.

Why was that?  The Seattle Seahawks have a great team of talented players and coaches.  That is for sure.  It was also their never give up attitude, their optimism, and how they connected as a team—like a band of brothers.  More than that though, it is because this team commanded such a high regard for its fan support (the 12s) and they openly shared about their faith in God.

RSherman tweet

I’m sad for the Seahawks players.  I’m sad for the community.

I’m also incredibly proud of the national spotlight that this team has brought to our city.  I’m proud of the sense of unity and passion that has been ignited in our community.

Facing our Failures

Naturally in the post-game interviews, the players were somber.  Yet I also saw tremendous courage, dignity, and humility as responsibility was taken for the plays and decisions made in the game.

The Seattle Seahawks are a class act.  (Yes, I saw the mini-brawl on the field.  Bruce Irvin was quick to apologize to the press and on social media.)

Two weeks ago in the NFC Championship game, the Seahawks stopped the Green Bay Packers from stealing the game and our 12th man joy.  On Super Bowl Sunday, it was the New England Patriots who ‘stole’ the game from us with their miraculous interception.  (Some might say that it was karma, but I don’t believe in that.)  We weren’t cheated out of a victory like in 2006 when the referees made some very questionable calls.  This was a fair loss.

Nonetheless, it was deflating; and it robbed the 12s of their much anticipated joy.

What do we do after a defeat of this magnitude?  Do we hide and lick our wounds?  Or do we stand tall and move forward facing the challenges that surround us?

RWilson FB post

How we move on with life through the trials and tribulations is what shapes us, defines us, and builds our character.  From what I’ve seen of our Seahawks, I believe they will persevere this storm and come back even stronger.

God is Still Good

The Seahawks gave us both the incredible thrill of victory and the painful agony of defeat.  And they are still winners who are worthy of our 12th man support, on and off the field.  They are leaders and heroes!

Thank you Seattle Seahawks for such an exciting season of football, for playing your hearts out, for bringing pride to our community, and for displaying grace under fire.

Whether we win or lose, God is still good!

  • 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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