A Lenten Journey Surprise

As I’ve done the last few years, I prepared for Easter with a Lenten fast from alcohol and sweets.  What was different this year was that much to my surprise my 16-year-old son decided to observe a fast as well.

lenten-journeyHow it all Began

About the same time that Lent began, my son and I started a new bedtime routine.  We read a daily devotional and then prayed together.  On the evening of Ash Wednesday, he asked me about the ashes on my forehead which led to a conversation about Lent.  (By the way, observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, is not exclusively for Catholics as some mistakenly believe.)

The next day after school he announced he was giving up video games for Lent!  My heart leapt for joy at his sacrificial offering.  I don’t remember what I said that night.  I didn’t ask him about giving anything up himself.  When he told me his decision the next day, he was excited.

My husband and I have had discussions with our son about the amount of time he spends on video games in the past.  Sometimes those discussions turned pretty heated, and he’d lose his gaming privileges.  We’ve also suggested alternative ways of using his leisure time.  Nothing else ever seemed to interest him.

And that's not all of it!

My son’s video game collection–and that’s not even all of it!

However, as Lent started my son was excited to share his choice—and even recognized how hard it would be.  Those first few days he admitted to me that his thoughts would turn to gaming.  He learned to turn his attention elsewhere — sometimes to God, and other times to his studies.  Those thoughts diminished over time.

The End of the Journey

As the 40-day journey grew closer to Holy Week, we talked about what he would do after Easter.  Would he return to his old gaming behavior?  Would he continue his fast?  I shared with him my previous Lent experiences—ranging from returning to immediate gratification with candy on Easter Sunday to abstaining for a prolonged period.  He has opted to return in moderation.

What excites me about this year’s pilgrimage to Easter is not so much that he stopped gaming, it’s that he (and us together) started a great ritual of connecting at the end of the day.  I would often forget, and he’d remind me to join him for our devotional and prayer time.  He also started reading the Bible again and occasionally writing in a journal.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

In God’s Timing

I know a lot of this is only possible because my son made a decision to try medication again for his ADHD a few months ago.  He is a changed person.

The medication has given him access to areas of his brain that before were preventing his behaviors from aligning with his desires.  It has allowed him to establish new homework routines, focus on his studies, become more social and succeed in school.  In turn, he is now making more adult decisions and able to find a part of his self that was inaccessible before.

I’m very thankful that we went down this road with him.  I’m grateful that he persevered over the last few years.  I praise God for His timing in all of this (yet again!) and how my son is actively pursuing his relationship with Him.  I’m also glad that I was able to model something to him in the past and that he caught that behavior on his own.

Surprised by God

I had hoped that my son would actually write this post for me (another thing we talked about during Lent), but he is busy with his studies.  He did, however, quickly volunteered to help with the photos and captions.

Surprised by GodWhen I asked him what he’d like to share about his Lenten Journey, he said, “It was a beneficial experience for me.  It helped me to know God better and do well in school.”  That’s a lot to get out of a 16-year-old who is filled with new hope and finding his way in life.

As far as my fast, I’m still abstaining—for now.  I’m embracing the joy of getting to know my son in a deeper way.  That was my Lenten surprise.

Did God surprise you on your journey toward Easter?  I’d love to hear your story.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

 

A Love Letter to Mom & Annual Tribute

I’ve come to annually mark the passing of my mother by writing her a letter.  This year I was at my annual winter scrapbooking retreat amongst friends—just like I was the day before I got word of my mother’s passing in 2011.  Again I was working on my mother’s tribute album.

Tribute AlbumSetting the Stage to Write

Three years later this scrapbook remains part of my healing process as it retraces my steps before and after she died—the visits back home, meeting with her health care providers, making end-of-life decisions, giving her eulogy, and burying her remains.  It is the visual story that was eventually published in Journeys to Mother Love.  It is a beautiful tribute album—not necessarily for others’ eyes, but something between my mother and me.

This year the anniversary letter was harder to write than last year.  After my arrival at the retreat, I was told that Wanda, the woman who has organized and run these retreats over the years, wasn’t going to be joining us.  Her husband who suffered with Parkinson’s had taken a turn for the worse and was put on hospice.  His end of life was very near.  It hit us all by surprise, and gave us an opportunity to privately lift her in prayer and share our own feelings about this sad turn of events.

Final goodbyesFor me the timing hit too close to home as our discussion turned to end-of-life decisions and the role women often provide in caring for our loved ones.  On the outside I was listening to the conversation, but in my mind I was back at my mother’s side caring for her at the nursing home on one of my visits back home.  It was as if my bittersweet memories from before were now being lived out by Wanda and her family.  Sadly, her husband passed away a few days later.

Embracing the Grief

It was in that context of grief, that my letter to my mother freely flowed through my fingers to the keyboard, and with it a few well-earned tears.  I know my mom can’t physically answer my letter, but something tells me she’ll find a way to let me know she received it.

Below is an excerpt of that letter.  I hope it inspires you to do the same for someone you love—past or present—and let your healing turn to hope.

Mom and kidsA Love Letter to Mom

“Dear Mom,

I admire your perseverance. You lived a long life. Fate hit you a terrible blow when you suffered your nervous breakdown at the age of 35, and me as well, when I was six. Our journeys to emotional healing both started that day.

Now 48 years later I am approaching mine in a new way, with a different battle plan in place. No more white-knuckling it. I am choosing to take medication (for my ADHD).

…Anyway, Mom, the point of all this is that your passing put all of the pieces together for me to even consider this route for me, and for my son (who also has ADHD).  I am now an advocate for him.  I am an advocate for myself.  I am learning more about ADHD and how to help both of us.

I don’t know what lies ahead for us as we journey down this road on medication.  I don’t know what it was like for you.  I’m saddened that I never got to talk to you about any of this.  I’m saddened that I didn’t get to know you as an adult.  I’m saddened I didn’t really get to know you.

But I wanted you to know that as horrible as your life was for so many years after the nervous breakdown, the divorce, in and out of mental hospitals, etc. that it has served to help me to fight for myself and my son now. I am more open to trying and exploring how I can lead a more normal life with the support of medication.  I am taking back control of my life and my emotional health.

So I thank you Mom for not leaving me a legacy of mental illness.  You left me a gift that I get to integrate into my life.  That gift is the gift of perseverance and hope in the Lord through all things. 

I know what I am going through is important and life changing.  I know there are many others like me who have also suffered in silence as they lived in the shadow of mental illness.

I love you Mom.  Thank you for persevering to the end and giving life back to me in the process.

Love,
Ardis”

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Updated 6/1/2014: Wanda’s husband passed away a few days after the scrapbooking weekend. Through a sad turn of events, Wanda also passed away a few months later. Remembering Wanda is the tribute I wrote to our dear friend and scrapbooking mentor.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

A Tribute to Mom, Part 2 – Her Final Gift

This week marks the 3-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Last year I shared her eulogy on my blog. It continues to be the post with the most hits (interest). I am sharing it again to commemorate the sacrifice my mother’s life became for me. May it inspire you to turn your healing into hope.

Making Me Bold

When I started writing for a public audience, I knew that many of my initial writings and journal would potentially become published.  They were the basis for much of what I wrote in my story “Walking My Mother Home”, published in “Journeys to Mother Love”.  One year after the acceptance of that story by Cladach Publishing, and to mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing,

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Life Lessons From the Seahawks

I am not a football fan per se, as I referenced in my last post, but the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl victory last Sunday and the legacy they are leaving, warrants another post.

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Inaugurating a New Football Dynasty

Ever since that victory, our city (Seattle) has been going crazy, crazier than before.  No one could possibly predict that the Seahawks would dominate the Broncos with what appeared to be such ease, by outscoring them 43-8.  For Seahawks fans, it was the icing on the cake, as it helped to erase the wounds from our first and last Super Bowl appearance in 2006, when so many Seattleites still believe they (we) were robbed of a Championship title due to poor officiating.

Seattle hasn’t won a World Championship title since the former Seattle SuperSonics NBA team won in 1979.  There has been a lot of fan heartache in this town in the last 38 years.  Wednesday’s mass crowds estimated at 750,000 people lining the streets for the Seahawks victory parade, put an end to the waiting and the disappointment.  It brought (or fed) Seahawks and 12th Man fever.  It brought the national spotlight to our city and our team.  It brought hope for the start of a football dynasty in the decade to come.  And it feels good…

Onward to Century Link Field (Photo by Rod Mar)

Onward to Century Link Field (Photo by Rod Mar)

The 12th Man Factor

How does a team like this command such attention and respect from the community?  How does it garner so much support from their fans?  It is because the Seahawks have cultivated a relationship with their fans and given them first class status by virtually putting them right on the field with the players.  They are The 12th Man!

Certainly you’ve heard about The 12th Man.  It is the collective name given to Seahawks fans.  Opposing teams dread playing against the Seahawks at our Century Link home field because we hold the Guinness World Record for crowd noise, a mere 137.6 decibels.

I’m not as crazy as most fans.  On the day of the victory parade, I chose to watch from the comfort of my home instead of standing outside in subfreezing temperatures for hours.

One friend who attended shared her thoughts with me:  “I observed how nice people are to each other if they have one thing in common – Seahawks.  It’s really touching seeing the emotions going around.  It was awesome and thanks to the Seahawks for getting families and communities together.”  Well said.

12th man flag Space Needle

The Seattle Space Needle is awash in Seahawks colors, with the 12th Man flag flying proudly. (Photo credit: Anthony May, antmayphoto.com)

Life Lessons

Putting all of the hype and hysteria aside, there are some real lessons to be learned by watching the Seattle Seahawks this season, or merely by watching the Super Bowl.  I’m not talking about football lessons and strategies specifically.  I am talking about lessons that can be applied in life.

  1. Why not us?
    By now, you heard this phrase repeated all over the media.  When Russell Wilson, Seahawks 25-year-old starting quarterback, was interviewed in pre-game and post-game shows, he repeatedly shared the philosophy handed down to him by his father, “Why not you, Russell?”  At 5’11” he was an unlikely professional prospect, but his father instilled a positive influence and confidence in Russell from an early age.  Russell shared that with his teammates throughout the season.  It permeated the culture of the Seahawks.
  2. Loyal Fans
    The Seahawks have fostered an environment of loud and proud fans with the honoring of The 12th Man by hoisting the logo ‘12’ flag at each home game.  This prominent display acknowledges the role the Seahawks fans contribute to a positive home game advantage.  The fans and players are united and bonded with a winning focus for each game—at home or elsewhere.  The 12th Man was a relevant factor in the Super Bowl, with fans not only from Seattle supporting the Seahawks, but also residents from the New York and New Jersey areas where the game was played.
  3. Team approach
    The Seahawks players modeled a team approach to winning.  Each game was viewed as a championship game.  The players were a collective force to be reckoned with—one game at a time.   In most of the interviews I viewed or articles I read it was pretty obvious that there were no egos behind the scenes or individual attempts to steal the limelight.  They led with positivity and humility.
  4. Gratitude
    The Seahawks were not only grateful to their 12th Man contingent, they were also grateful to God.  Russell Wilson (and other Seahawks) have made their faith evident in some very powerful youtube videos. He has openly expressed how he is using the talent God has given him and encourages the same in others.  His first televised words after the Super Bowl were:  “It’s a true, true a blessing.  God is so good.”  His gratitude runs beyond his faith though as he also gives back with weekly visits to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

These are just a few of the lessons and the role modeling that the Seattle Seahawks have imparted on their journey to become the 2014 NFL World Champions.*

(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

When we embrace these positive characteristics and attitude, we can influence our world and our lives for good. And like the Seahawks and their 12th Man tribe, we all need a support team around us to encourage us, build us up when we fall, and keep our focus on our goals for success.

WHY NOT YOU?!

Congratulations to the 2014 NFL World Champion Seahawks, and thanks indeed for bringing unity in our community.

Seattle vs Parade Population

*No offense to Peyton Manning, the Broncos team, or their run for the Championship title. They may have modeled or exuded some of these same winning characteristics.  But for now, let’s just allow the Seahawks and Seattle to bask in the limelight and the thrill of victory.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

A few days before Christmas, while in the throes of the holiday rush, I dedicated some rare bedtime reading to a book given to me by my friend Debbie.  The book was a short memoir by her sister, and best friend, Shelly, published posthumously.  Debbie lost her sister to cancer on Christmas Day last year.

I’ve watched Debbie bravely live beyond her grief, especially over the past few months while serving together in ministry.  It is in honor of Shelly’s memory and Debbie’s family grief that I am writing this post.

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

The Cancer that Saved Me*

Shelly’s book, “The Cancer That Saved Me,” is a chronicle of her 19-month journey through cancer treatment, from diagnosis to her passing.  I didn’t read it to learn about cancer treatment, although I did get a better understanding of the medical process, I read it to get a sense for what Debbie went through—as a way of identifying more with her grief.

I had also heard Debbie recount how Shelly was full of spirit and that her battle was having a profound effect on their family.  Shelly’s ability to lean on God was giving back to the family and giving them the courage and strength to be there for Shelly.

A few pages into Shelly’s book, I didn’t think I was going to be able to read it.  The Forward of the book gripped me.  Below is an excerpt:

“I no longer ask, ‘why me?’  I now say ‘thank you.’  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I now feel ‘blessed’ for every day.  Through God’s grace, I am alive, and although my body may be broken, it was my spirit that was broken before I got cancer.  God has given me ‘time.’  I may have a little hiccup in my giddy up, but I amble along every day giving thanks for all my blessings.  Ironically, I did not see them when I was healthy.”

One of the things that struck me is her statement about God giving her time.  When I read that I think of how most people don’t know when or how we are going to leave this earth.  Shelly was given a gift of time to prepare—to be aware of the gift of life—to turn to the Lord with her remaining time, and to develop an attitude of gratitude and worship.  Yes, even in the face of death—or especially in the face of death.

DoveLeaving a Legacy

Life isn’t fair.  It doesn’t seem right for a 51 year-old woman who was full of life to be taken from her family so soon and in such short order.  But through it all, God’s purposes did prevail.  With Shelly’s passing and limited publishing of her story, she was able to leave a legacy greater than her love for animals and her family.

Shelly left a legacy of restoration in her heart, love for the Lord, and hope for the future.  Her renewed commitment to God helped her to face each day.  She knew she was not alone in her battle.  That gave her great peace.  I see that same legacy of God’s comfort and love in Debbie every time I see her because she proudly wears it and shares it as well.

We each have a date sometime in the future that the Lord will call us home to be with Him.  We can live our lives for ourselves, or we can live them for God, leaving a legacy that is full of His Light, His Love and His Hope.  Shelly did that, finishing well.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

We all long to be home for Christmas–to be with our earthly family and friends.  But it doesn’t always work out that way due to distance, finances, broken relationships, and more.  We also innately long for our heavenly home, where peace will reign.  Revelation 21:4 tells us it will be a place of no more mourning, or crying or pain.

On Christmas Day 2012, God got a beautiful present when Shelly joined Him in heaven.  Shelly got a gift too, as she was freed from the cancer that ravaged her body, and united with her heavenly Father.

On Christmas Day 2013, the family turned over the calendar of first-year milestones in their grief process.  Just like anyone who loses a friend or family member at Christmas time, their holidays will be filled with sorrow and hope.  Their grief will continue in invisible ways for years to come, dissipating over time.  Shelly’s final legacy will see them through it—and us as well, if we are open to living a life dedicated to following God.

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*“The Cancer that Saved me”, by Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, is not available online.  In lieu of payment for the book, donations are gladly accepted and forwarded to the Swedish Hospital Uncompensated Care Program/Oncology Department through her family.  There is a nominal charge of $4.50 for shipping.  You can request a copy or more information by contacting Debbie@gowise.org

Not Just Another Wives’ Tale

The year was 1983.  It was a very memorable year for me.  I got married, my husband graduated from chiropractic college, we moved to his hometown back in Illinois, bought the family home, and started his chiropractic practice in the rural town of Sandwich, Illinois.  It was an exciting and stressful time in our lives.

Activator MethodsThe Chiropractic Wife

While studying for the CPA exam, I was also working with my husband to build his practice.  I was learning about chiropractic, how to navigate the ins and outs of insurance billing, and how to manage the front desk operations.  Unfortunately I didn’t pass that exam, and I took it more than once.  I gave up my dream of being a CPA and caught my husband’s dream.  I became the typical chiropractic wife—devoted to chiropractic and to my husband’s business.

For the early years of our marriage we led a blissful life, working long hours to build the practice and traveling across country to chiropractic conferences.  His second year out of chiropractic college, he decided to change from the more traditional manual (hands-on) adjusting technique to a more gentle technique called Activator Methods.  From that point on he has devoted nearly all of his patient treatment to the Activator technique.

30 Years Later

We no longer live in Illinois, and I no longer work for my husband, but have done so at varying times of our marriage.  We live in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington where my husband started another practice based on the Activator technique.  He is an Advanced Proficiency rated doctor.  Way back when my husband started using the Activator technique I knew that someday he would be up front teaching.  Someday is here.

My husband, Dr. Curtis Nelson, teaching at the Phoenix Activator seminar.

My husband, Dr. Curtis Nelson, teaching at the Phoenix Activator seminar.

I am so proud of my husband and the platform teaching role he now holds in his profession.  (He has been an assistant teacher for many years.)  His new teaching role started last spring.  Last month, I got to travel with him to a conference for the first time in years.  I wasn’t the typical chiropractic wife, but I knew it was time for me to step back into the role of wife to my husband, who just happens to be a chiropractor.  The timing couldn’t have been more God anointed for me.

Weekend in Arizona

A chiropractic couple we’ve known for those 30 years recently moved to Seattle and is starting over with a practice here.  The husband, Dr. Ed Shepherd, has been teaching at Activator conferences for years.  So we joined the Shepherds for a weekend trip to Phoenix where the men taught and the women played.  My friend Cheryl and I explored the Red Rock Country of Sedona one day and the Chihuly Exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix the next.  Breath-taking views abound.  The heat reminded me of Spain, but the views were definitely the Southwest.

Cheryl and me on the way to Sedona.

Cheryl and me on the way to Sedona.

On Saturday night, spouses were invited to join the teaching doctors for dinner with the co-founder and CEO of Activator Methods, Dr. Arlan Fuhr, and his wife, Judi.  I was torn.  I wanted to explore Sedona and have a leisurely dinner with Cheryl.  Cheryl, who works with her husband, wanted to return to Phoenix and join the chiropractic dinner party.  Sedona would have to wait until another trip.

When seated at the dinner table, I had the unexpected honor of sitting closest to Dr. Fuhr (aside from his wife).  An introvert by nature and not up to date on the status of the chiropractic profession or advances in Activator, I felt a bit awkward.  With a heart for Spain, I asked him about Activator in Europe, and specifically in Spain.

Dinner with the Fuhr's and the other chiropractic instructors.

Dinner with the Fuhr’s and the other chiropractic instructors.

I was surprised to learn that the Fuhr’s were on their way to Madrid in just a few days.  I was even more shocked and excited to hear he was teaching Activator to the first chiropractic graduates in an accredited program in Spain.  Naturally I brought up my summer travels to Spain, and in time, how my story in Journeys to Mother Love is connected to Spain.

In God’s Timing

By the end of the weekend, Dr. Fuhr had an autographed copy of my book in his hands for him and Judi.  It brought a tear to my eye to give away this copy of my book.  I know it landed in good hands.  I know it is an indirect expansion of my Spanish connection.  I know it was not coincidence at this point in my life to have this encounter.  It felt like a kiss from Above.

Dr. Fuhr and me, expanding my Spanish connection.

Dr. Fuhr and me, expanding my Spanish connection.

It took 30 years for my husband to step into his role as an Activator instructor.  My role is no longer as a business partner in his practice.  It is now as a spousal supporter of his professional career.  I have my own career now in writing and indirectly in ministry to the people of Spain.  The two intersected in a restaurant in Phoenix in a way that only God could’ve orchestrated.

It’s not just another old wives’ tale.  God’s timing was once again, perfect.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Chihuly glass art exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

Chihuly glass art exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

Practicing an Attitude of Gratitude

Is the glass half empty or half full?  That rhetorical question is commonly asked to determine if you are an optimist or a pessimist.  If you responded that the glass is half empty, some would say you are a pessimist.  If you answered that the glass is half full, common opinion would indicate that you are an optimist.

Half empty or half full?

Half empty or half full?

In either case, I bring this question up in light of the Thanksgiving holiday when Americans proclaim what they are thankful for—generally around a family feast.

You don’t need to reserve your gratitude for an annual date on the calendar.  For those of us who live our lives around the 12-Steps and Recovery Principles, gratitude is a way of life.  However, it is not something we generally felt when we entered recovery.

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

Most people start recovery far from being grateful for the situation they find themselves in.  They may walk through the door of their first meeting because they are desperate for answers to the circumstances they are experiencing in their lives.  Or maybe they are at a bottom, like I was.  Whatever the reason, gratefulness probably isn’t on the list of character traits that friends would say they have–or at least not near the top.

I was a pessimist for most of my adult life—until I entered into the recovery process.  Now at times it is hard to keep me quiet about my gratitude for recovery (specifically Celebrate Recovery), and what the Lord has done in me and through me.

Gratitude heartYou don’t have to be in a recovery program to develop an attitude of gratitude.  The change doesn’t happen overnight.  It is a process that builds inside of us, as we consciously choose to change our thinking.  (The lesson on gratitude is taught as part of Step 11—We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.)

Start small.  Take baby steps.  God will slowly give you glimpses into people, events, and things He has placed in your life that you can be grateful for.

The Benefits of Gratitude

Here are just some of the benefits of developing an attitude of gratitude (based on an acrostic for the word gratitude):

G-ets us out of our heads
R-eminds us of His gifts to us
A-djusts our attitude in a positive direction
T-ransforming power
I-ntegrates God’s love in our hearts
T-hankful despite our circumstances
U-tilizes our gifts for His Kingdom
D-raws others to us
E-ternal perspective
 

So it doesn’t matter if you identify yourself as a pessimist or an optimist, you can become a genuinely grateful person when you start to practice an attitude of gratitude.

I am grateful forPracticing What I Preach

In light of that, I’d like to say that I am thankful for the followers and readers of my blog, and for each purchase of my book.  I am grateful to be able to share my writing and trust that God is using it to inspire others.

I am grateful for this season of my life—the highs and the lows.  I am grateful for my family and my circle of friends who encourage and support me.  They lift me up at times when I can’t.  I am very grateful for my Spanish family and their generous hospitality to me.  I am forever grateful to my heavenly Father, who got my attention eleven years ago, brought me to my knees, redeemed my pain, and blessed me in ways I never dreamed possible.

I hope and pray this Thanksgiving will be the first day of an ongoing commitment to develop an attitude of gratitude in your life.  You can start now by posting what you are grateful for in the comments below.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

JFK Assassination, One Girl’s Grief

You don’t have to be a history buff to know that Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (commonly referred to as JFK).  The magazine stands at the grocery check-out counter are filled with commemorative editions of that painful time in American history.  Television programs are airing with their historical accounts as well.

One of many magazines and books I've collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

One of many magazines and books I’ve collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

50 Years Ago in Dallas

It was a day that changed America; maybe not much different than the events of 9-11 are for this generation.  Kennedy’s assassination also marked the loss of a sense of safety and security in our lives.  It was a time when Americans came face to face with evil in our country—the first signs of terrorism on our soil, so to speak.

The assassination of JFK sent shock and grief into our nation and the world.  All eyes turned to America.  In 1963, television news wasn’t the 24/7 force that it is today.  It was in its infancy stages.  In fact, the first televised presidential debates were held between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

For four days in our nation’s history, November 22-25, 1963, people were glued to their television sets.  We watched clips of the unfolding of the story: the President’s body flying back to Washington DC, people filing past his body lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, the horse-drawn carriage of the flag-draped coffin slowly proceeding to Arlington National cemetery.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

In the midst of this sorrow, we also watched the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of JFK, by Jack Ruby on live television.  Then there was the emblazoned image of little 3-year old John F. Kennedy, Jr., saluting the coffin as it passed by in front of him.  It was definitely a grief that shook our nation.

50 Years Ago in Seattle

What if that day was also the much anticipated birthday of a bubbly 4-year old girl?  Maybe the grief of the nation was also the grief that shook this young girl who desperately desired and wanted the attention and love of her own parents.  Instead her wants and desires were overshadowed by the grief of our nation.

Kennedy's body lies in state--a grief that shook the nation.

Kennedy’s body lies in state–a grief that shook the nation.

What if the disappointments that surfaced on that day for that little girl went on to fuel and magnify other losses, and the belief that she was unimportant and unloved?  What if a few years later, that same little girl, watches as her mother is taken away after suffering a nervous breakdown?

What if she keeps longing for answers to what happened and why, but she doesn’t get resolution?  These are sad things to think about, for sure.  I know because that little girl was me.

Unanswered Questions?

I, like the rest of the world, will probably never know the real answer or motives behind what happened 50 years ago in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Yet as my 54th birthday quickly approaches, I’m getting answers to some questions that my 4-year old Ardis has been longing to know.  It is a gift from above to finally get more clarity on my life and move forward with it.

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

So I look at the passing of another year’s reminder of the assassination of JFK through a different lens.  It is through the lens of someone who carries 11-22 as a joyful marker of her birth, while also still processing the reminders of a painful childhood.  I’m grateful that the Lord is giving me the ability to hold both of those realities in the palm of my hand and know that He is turning my healing into hope.

The Reality of Culture Shock

I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss.  After my summer in Spain, I’d have to say that ignorance is definitely not bliss.

With all the physical, mental, and spiritual preparation I did for my trip, I never once thought to research what it was like to live in a foreign country.  I heard of culture shock, didn’t really know anything about it except for the general term, and didn’t think for a moment that it was something I needed to be aware of.

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture--constant visual reminders that I wasn't in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture–constant visual reminders that I wasn’t in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

What is Culture Shock?

Merriam-Webster.com defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”

All the while I was in Spain; there were no outward signs of culture shock.  I thought I was adjusting well to all of the changes in environment (except the heat).  My host family repeatedly told me how well I fit in with the Spanish lifestyle.  But inside there was something much deeper going on.  I pushed the anxiety and the doubts about what I was going through aside.  I took each day as a new day to experience Spain, and document everything I could in any free moment I could steal away to myself.

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

My Quest for Answers

After I returned home, I did some research on what it is like to physically live in a foreign country.  I found out that culture shock is a real psychological phenomenon.  I stumbled upon it while doing research for some of my earlier posts about Spain.

There is a lot on the internet about culture shock, and this is not intended to a be a lesson about it.  I did find out though that there are four phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery.  Clearly I never made it to a point of mastery, but was definitely trying to quickly adapt through the other three phases.  Another source listed them as stages: wonder, frustration, depression and acceptance.  Just as surprising to me was finding out about reverse culture shock.  All of this explains why I had a hard time re-entering my life in the U.S. and also explains the bouts of depression I experienced.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

In my quest for answers to what I had gone through, I started to follow blogs of other non-natives living in Spain.  I found sites from ex-pats living in Spain, ESL teachers, pilgrims journeying on the Way of St. James, and the like.  It was a relief to be able to observe their experiences, communicate with them, and most importantly to know that I was not alone in what I was going through.

I’ve also spoken with some missionary friends.  One pointed me to an article on “trailing spouse syndrome”.  I had never heard of that either, but reading that served as another relief for my emotionally weary soul.

Brave or Naïve?

Many people have told me that I was brave to go to Spain alone like that.  Every time someone said that I thought, “but I won’t be alone.”  I was going to live with people I already knew.  Little did I know how this would affect me.

I think that since Pedro, our Spanish host son, so easily adapted to family life in America, and never said anything or showed any evidence of his own culture shock, I just took it for granted that my transition would be smooth as well.  He fit in with us so easily; I think I forgot he was Spanish.

Being brave? No, it's just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

Being brave? No, it’s just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

I am so grateful to my Spanish family for hosting me and opening up my eyes to life in their country.  I miss Spain.  I miss my Spanish family—all 26 of them.  I know I’ll return someday and am already planting those seeds for a trip with my husband.

So was I brave or naïve in journeying to Spain for six weeks last summer?  It was definitely brave!  I have no regrets—only gratitude to my heavenly Father for the experience, the lessons, the love, and the hope He has given me for how He wants to use it for His glory.

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods--pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods–pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

The Little Girl Inside

When I was a little girl, I was captivated by the movie, “The Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews.  Although I was only six years old at the time, I loved the music and knew all of the songs by heart.  It was one of the few movies I actually got to see in the theater.  Soon after its release, my mother had her nervous breakdown and we stopped going to the theater.

1965 movie soundtrack for "The Sound of Music"

1965 movie soundtrack for “The Sound of Music”

Our Home was Alive…with “The Sound of Music”

Pedro, our Spanish host son, played “The Sound of Music” on the piano in our home the first summer we met.  His interest in that music along with my love for the movie landed my family at an outdoor theater in the mountainous setting near Leavenworth, WA—a Bavarian themed village.  It was a gift for his 17th birthday and it was a bucket list item for me.

When Pedro played that music in our home, it awakened in me deep feelings from my childhood.  My father was a strict disciplinarian.  I grew up in fear of his anger and his belt.  He didn’t show his love or give us words of encouragement.

Watching “The Sound of Music” as an adult I can almost relate to how the Von Trapp family children were treated—standing at attention at the sound of a whistle, etc.  Captain Von Trapp, their father, treated them like they were soldiers in the military, not like his children.  When Maria, played by Julie Andrews, entered their lives, play became a normal part of their day.

Ever since my mother died almost three years ago, I have gotten in touch with the part of me that wants to come out and play—the part of me that says it’s ok to laugh, it’s ok to dance, and it’s ok to sing.  It’s a part of who I am, but for years thought it meant I was doomed to end up crazy like my mother.

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

Playtime in Spain

That playful and unabashed side of me turned up in Spain this past summer.  I lived it up, maybe more than I should’ve at times, but I didn’t want to have any regrets about this trip of a lifetime.

One of my most precious memories in Spain involved “The Sound of Music”.  I lived with my Spanish family in their vacation home on Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, for ten days at the end of my trip.  I had already broken the ice and felt more comfortable with Pedro’s younger cousins by this time.  (See Mothering Inadequacies.)

Sitting on the edge of the pool one afternoon, I watched some of the children swimming and diving.  All of a sudden, a few of the girls started to sing “Do Re Mi” in English.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  These children barely knew any English yet they were singing this wonderful song from the musical.

I took that as my cue to join with the sing-a-long.  They did a double take on my cue and delighted in my participation.  Unfortunately it was the only song that we both knew in English.  Nonetheless, it turned into a fun-filled adventure with them creating a theater (teatro) production with me as their poolside audience.

The stage is set for the children's poolside theater performance.

The stage is set for the children’s poolside theater performance.

Getting in Touch with my Inner Child

In years past, I might not have even noticed the urge to sing with the children.  If I did, I would’ve definitely fought it.  I felt free in a lot of ways while I was in Spain.  Was it because of the love and generosity of this family?  Or maybe it was just out of gratitude to my heavenly Father for giving me something so special in this moment of time.

My little girl is slowly being integrated into this adult body that I have.  She is learning that it is ok to take risks, to use her voice, to love more fully, and to sing without abandon (in worship or in the privacy of my home or car).

My inner child, circa 1966

My inner child, circa 1966

I’m giving her lots of room to experience the emotions of a turbulent childhood and to grieve the loss of a mother that she never really knew.  My tears and my laughter are a beautiful gift that I am giving myself as I embrace this new season of self-discovery.

What about you?  Have you gotten in touch with your inner child lately?  Are you experiencing all that God intends for your life?  Healing is just around the corner when you invite God into the process.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out. (Proverbs 20:5, NLT)

This post was shared on Create with Joy/Friendship Fridays.

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

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