A Bittersweet Birthday Gift

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

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

An Unexpected Trip Back Home

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

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

joann-ny-2

My mother, JoAnn, circa 1956.

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

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

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

A Change of Heart Towards Mom

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

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

My heart ached for her.

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

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

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

A family reunion with mom.

A family reunion with mom.

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

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

A Bittersweet Birthday

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

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

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

My 50th birthday with my mother.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

A Legacy of Healing

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up for Air

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Loss

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

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

coffin-rose

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

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

Left-Brain Thinking

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

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

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

left-right

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

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

God’s Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up for Air

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

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

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

swim-air

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

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

‘Tis Better to have Loved and Lost…

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

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

Better to have loved 2

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

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

A Sentimental Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday Grief

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

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

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

Don’t worry.  Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

‘Tis Better to have Loved & Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messages of love

Words of affirmation and love

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

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

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

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

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

Remembering Mary Ann

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

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have truly been blessed this year.

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

College Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on my Friend

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

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

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

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

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

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

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

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

The Last Time I Saw my Mother Alive

Mother’s Day 2015 marks the 5th anniversary of the last time I saw my mother alive.  As I approach this anniversary and invite God into my healing and memories of this day, I am struck by the circumstances surrounding that trip back home to Illinois.

Mom & me, first visit back home, November 2009.

Mom & me, first visit back home, November 2009.

Prompted to Visit one Last Time

As I wrote in “Walking my Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the decision to visit my 79-year-old mother was a difficult one for me.  I kept her at arms-length for most of my adult life due to her mental illness.  The Lord had prompted me in later years to restore that relationship.

I hadn’t seen her on Mother’s Day for decades.  Her stroke ten months prior left her paralyzed and unable to speak.  She had been on hospice for the last six of those months.  The waiting seemed endless to me as my mind would drift to my mother’s suffering 2,000 miles away.

Out of the blue in April 2010 I got a call from a nurse at my mother’s nursing home.  Mom had bruising on her right leg.  It was either a sign of a worsening internal medical condition or uncharacteristically rough treatment by the nursing home staff.  An investigation was underway to determine the cause.  Either way, the answer was not going to be welcome news.

That call was the catalyst that sent me on my journey home to see my mother for the last time.

Not Quite What I Expected

When I arrived at the nursing home to see my Mom on Mother’s Day weekend, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the amount of decline in her medical condition.  The easiest way to describe what I experienced on that visit is to share an email I sent to a pastor at my church after my return.

“Thanks for asking about my mom.  The best I can say about her is that she is stable.  They are trying to keep her comfortable and free of pain.  Her leg is immobilized and will never heal.  They only get her out of bed once a day now—instead of twice—if at all.  She mostly refuses to be fed and is hooked up to a feeding tube.  She’s had that since November, but when I was there then I was able to at least feed her.

It was extremely difficult.  I didn’t realize how much she had deteriorated.  She said my name once.  One of the highlights of my trip was being able to take her only living sibling (a sister) to see her.  While my 50th birthday in November was an amazing day with her, Mother’s Day was quite the opposite.  I’m unsure why God nudged me to go, but I know I gave her some happiness for a brief time.”

My aunt praying for my mother.

My aunt praying for my mother.

Joy and Sorrow

I remember one of the fun things I was able to share with her on this trip was my change of hair color.  My own health condition had improved (chemical sensitivity) and I could color my hair again with a natural hair product.  The last time she saw me my hair was salt and pepper (shades of gray).  This time my hair was a vibrant red, not much dissimilar to her own hair color that I remembered from my youth.  I know it pleased her (and my aunt) to see it.

I left her with two physical gifts for Mother’s Day.  One was a bracelet, and the other was a 10-bead bracelet type rosary known as a decade, to replace the lost rosary I gave her on a previous visit.  They weren’t much, but I wanted to leave her with a small memento of my love and our time together.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

Saying goodbye on this trip was much harder than before.  My siblings and I had such a beautiful visit and parting farewell with her on our last visit.  I didn’t understand why God would allow her to suffer like this.  Leaving then in December 2009, I thought her time was imminent.  Now on this Mother’s Day in 2010, I just wanted it all to end—not for me, but for her.

“Please Lord, let her pass peacefully in her sleep and don’t prolong this any longer,” I prayed as I walked through the hallways of the nursing home on my way to the car.  The next time I would walk these corridors would be to meet staff to plan her memorial service after she passed away nine months later.

Beauty from Ashes

My prayer wasn’t really answered as I had hoped.  God did orchestrate a beautiful passing for her though.  My brother Glen and his wife were by her side.  I was able to pray over her through the phone.  She felt my love as she left this earth, and she had it with her those long months as she waited for the Lord to take her home.

When I returned back to Illinois to bury my mother in February 2011, the staff at the nursing home gave me her personal affects.  After residing there for seven years, my mother barely owned anything, and there was nothing of intrinsic value.  One trinket that did make it home with me was the bracelet I bought her for Mother’s Day.  It now resides on my dresser inside the prayer box that holds some of her remains.

IMG_2436

The bracelet is tarnished and broken, similar to how I felt throughout much of my life.  But on that day in February 2011, I felt peace and joy.  Her passing helped me to see that she didn’t leave me a legacy of mental illness as I feared, but one of hope and healing.  That is what I treasure on Mother’s Day and every day since her passing.  God restored beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3) and turned my mourning into gladness (Jeremiah 31:13).

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!

Remembering Wanda

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

Remembering Wanda 01

A toast to our courageous cheerleader!

Celebrating Wanda

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

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

The Art of Scrapbooking

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

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

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

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

A Tribute to Wanda

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

IMG_3712

Pedro’s scrapbook inscription.

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

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

IMG_7089

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

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

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

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

Wanda's granddaughter

Wanda’s newborn granddaughter.

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

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

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

Remembering Wanda 06

Wanda’s Croppers

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

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

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

Wanda was one of those wonders we will always remember.

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

In Search of a Mother’s Love

There is a hunger inside of me sometimes.  We are all born with it—the desire for love and relationship.  From an early age we are taught in life how and who fills that need.  It is generally filled by our parents.  In most cases, the responsibility falls on the mother.  But what if that mother isn’t equipped to take on that role or isn’t capable of bonding with the child?  What happens to the inner need?

Longing for LoveThe Longing for Love

The need doesn’t go away; we just find other ways to fill that emptiness and hunger for love and relationship—in either healthy or unhealthy ways.  I didn’t know that or understand the affects that my mother’s mental illness had on me until about ten years ago when my unhealthy ways of relating and compulsive behaviors finally caught up with me.

I’ve done a lot of healing work and spiritual growth in that last decade.  I now serve in a ministry where I can come alongside others who are also struggling with the hurts from the past and seeing themselves as God sees them.  Even though I know with my whole heart that Jesus came to give me life and ultimately fill my need for love, there are still times when life can get me down.

I still have a longing to be known and to know others.  It is a longing for deep relationship.  It is the search for a mother’s love that was lost.

Looking for Love

I’ve lived my whole life this way—being self-sufficient without close siblings and without involvement and emotional attachment from my parents.  I didn’t know what I was missing because I didn’t experience it.  Now, after a decade of healing and recovery work, I know.  I know because I have started to more intensely experience the loss of the women in my life who helped me to heal.

michelle-ventor-reason-season-lifetime1When I started recovery, I had virtually no female friends—only a few through work.  I didn’t know how to be a real friend.  As I started my recovery journey, I observed real authentic vulnerability in other women.  I was hungry for that.  I let down my walls and embraced this new way of relating.  There was freedom gained by not being a secret or thinking that I was the only one who experienced that depth of pain.

Those bonds formed felt sacred to me.  They became my mother, my sisters and my daughters.  Those relationships have been hard to let go of over the years.  Insert the ever increasing presence of social media, and I begin to wonder who my friends really are.  Do I want quality in my relationships or do I want quantity?  I choose quality, but that has its cost too, as it’s hard to fit in the time to maintain the intimacy.

Missing my Mother

Mother’s Day 2014 marks four years since I last saw my mother alive.  Her passing and end of life forgiveness poured love back into me in a whole new way—her love and God’s love.  And still the loss of never getting to know her as a person keeps me searching at times for the love and mentoring of a mother.  My inner child (my little Ardis) still longs for my real mother’s love.

look_into_the_mirrorI wish I could’ve had more time with her.  She’s generally not far away though.  If I slow down long enough to look for her, she stares back at me in the mirror, smiles, and tells me that she loves me.  The knowledge and hope that I will see her again in eternity makes the longing fade into the distance once more.

May your Mother’s Day be filled with the love of your family or other important people in your life.

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.

  • 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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