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.

Trusting the Writing Process (Year 4)

Four years. Forty eight months. 208 weeks. 1,460 days. Any which way you describe it; I’ve been mindful and reflective of passing another writing milestone. And I’ve learned a lot about the writer’s life along the way.

4th annivMy 4-Year Blogging Experience

Earlier this month I passed my 4-year blogging anniversary. That’s over 250 posts across three blogs (here, Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau, and Journeys to Mother Love), church devotionals, and guest posts on other author blogs. When I published my first blog post, What’s in a Name, I had no idea where my writing would take me. It just felt like the right time to flex my writing muscle.

In 4 years’ time I’ve written from a Christian perspective about emotional and spiritual healing, recovery, and finding our identity. I’ve dug into my own mother wounds and shared the unexpected beauty that surrounded the passing of my mother and my father. I’ve shared the ups and downs of relationships and the challenges of living with ADHD. I took readers with me on my personal pilgrimage to Spain, my mission to Europe, and shown them the joy of partnering with my musical protégé and friend, Pedro González Arbona on his journey into film composing.

A lot of my original posts were only shared with a handful of friends who I felt safe enough to share my writing with. I recently re-read some of those posts and was surprised at their transparency and inspiration: It Takes Courage, When Life Imitates Art, Leaving a Legacy. The formatting isn’t as polished as my current work, but the content is still relevant and poignant.

A few years ago, I submitted my site for a critique by a literary agent who was focused on marketing. That led to the highest hits on my site in one day. Normally I’d think that was a good thing. But her critique of my site drew the interest of other bloggers to see what not to do. That served as an embarrassing reminder of how brutal the publishing industry can be.

Thanks to the interview with Dan Davies last month, that changed! The post, A Behind the Scenes Look at Tempting Fate with Actor Dan Davies, now holds the single day record, and with it a very pleasant reminder of an entertaining interview.

Blogging

So 4 years of blogging has ended on a positive note! I’ll continue as the Holy Spirit leads me, and maybe tackle a revamp of my blog layout in the coming year.

The Ups and Downs of Traditional Publishing

It was also four years ago that I joined the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association. Membership has its benefits, and one of those is receiving notifications of story submissions. Days after attending my first meeting, I received the notification that set my writing in motion:

“Cladach Publishing is seeking authors with an encouraging personal-experience story of healing in mother/child relationships.”

That story submission, my first manuscript, led to publishing “Walking my Mother Home” in Journeys to Mother Love. It seemed like I was on the fast-track to publishing. I did all the right things: attending conferences, marketing, speaking, blogging, and posting on social media like Facebook. It was a lot of work.

Journeys To Mother LoveWhat got lost along the way was my dream to have my memoir published. Except for an intense month of writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2012, work on my memoir, Emerging from the Cocoon, stopped.

An author friend told me back when all of this started that ‘overnight’ success in the publishing world can have its setbacks. She was right.

The publishing seemed to come relatively easy for me then.  Step by step the opportunities opened one after the other, with the Lord aligning all of the people and places at the right time.

Then He directed my writing endeavors towards Spain. While there are a lot of posts here related to my Spanish connection, there is still a great body of work buried deep in my journal.

Sometimes it haunts me, beckoning to be published, at least from a travel perspective.  (Like today, the anniversary of my departure for Europe on the Celebrate Recovery mission.)  But after returning from that mission (my second pilgrimage of sorts), my writing has remained an inward work in progress.

It left me wondering, “where’s the fruit?”

Trusting the Writing Process

The last year has been the hardest part of my writing journey thus far.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to take a sabbatical from serving in CR leadership. It was a difficult decision, but I knew I needed a break.  I had poured myself into the mission, writing all about it, and also launching the website and blog for that ministry. I needed a season to rest and abide in the Lord (John 15:4). Surprisingly that took me into the next layer of the therapeutic process related to my ADHD. The internal work has been intense and too raw to write about publicly.

What has happened along the way though is that I have started to accept that all of the writing I am doing is the normal path of a writer. It is especially so for someone like me who wants to bring meaning to their work and make it truly authentic.

Maya Angelou quote

I’ve often heard that writing is a process. My path to publishing happened so quickly I skipped over that part. Now I have to experience the process and trust the path that other writers have walked before me.

I’ve learned the importance and significance of solitude. I’ve learned that reflection is a part of the craft.

Writers live a life of discovery and look at the inner experience of it. As such, we often need to distance ourselves from our experiences to be able to get the right perspective on it. That takes time, patience, and perseverance.

So I’ve come to accept that this season of my writing journey has been about doing the deeper inner work and trusting the process. I know it will be harder for me because of my ADHD. I’m not giving up.

For now, I’m continuing to take notice of what is going on around me and in me through the lens of ADHD. It’s a blessing, or so I’ve been told.

I know I’m worth it.

And so are you. I encourage you, my friends and readers, to take the time to invest in yourself and reflect on your experiences. You don’t have to be a writer. Any writing you do about it will lead to healing and emotional health though.

Thanks for supporting my writing and journeying along with me.  May this blog be a place of encouragement and inspiration on your journey.  May He turn your healing into hope too.

thank-you

Not your Typical Exchange Student Experience

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

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

Welcome poster

Pedro’s welcome poster, July 2010.

Five Years of Celebrations

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

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

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Rekindling an Old Friendship

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

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

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Looking for Host Families

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

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

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

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

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Matching Host Families and Students

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

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

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

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

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

First Contact

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

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

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

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

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

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

A Match Made in Heaven

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

It was truly a match made in heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

Be the Blessing

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

Pedro EF

Being First: A Graduation Legacy

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

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

What it Means to be First

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

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

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

STEM 2015 Yearbook

STEM Yearbook

Graduation Speeches that Inspired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faculty addressA Compassionate Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A School with a Heart

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

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

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

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

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

A Mother’s Day Gift for my Sons & my Readers

The last time I saw my mother alive was five years ago over Mother’s Day weekend.  As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, these trips back home were instrumental to my healing.

My First Manuscript

That story is very sacred to me.  The writing was covered in prayer by my closest friends.  It was written through tears of joy.

“Walking My Mother Home” was my first manuscript submitted to a publisher.  I was nervous about sharing it with the world.  Only a select few ever read the submitted manuscript.  And it wasn’t until Cathy Lawton, the publisher at Cladach Publishing, notified me that they accepted my story that I even read it again myself.

Toasting the acceptance of my manuscript with a friend, January 2012.

Toasting the acceptance of my manuscript with a friend, January 2012.

In 2012, while the book was still being edited, I decided to give the manuscript and an accompanying letter as a gift to my sons for Mother’s Day.  I had a heartfelt conversation with them after my mother’s passing the year before, and tried to explain the significance of what happened to me.  Now with the imminent publishing of the story for the whole world to see, it was time to give them some more personal insight into my healing and my journey to mother love.

A Gift to my Sons

Dear Boys,

As Mother’s Day approached this week, I’ve been reminded many times that the last time I saw my mother alive was on Mother’s Day 2010.  A lot has happened in our lives in the two years since then…

Since you are males, you will probably never understand the bond between a mother and daughter.  But you will marry one day and will have to understand and be caring with your own wife and the relationship that she has with her mother.  I hope and pray that I can have a loving relationship with my daughters-in-law too.

As you know, I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother, not so much by choice, but by natural consequence because of her mental illness.  As my mother neared the end of her life though, God made it very clear to me that I needed closure and restoration with our relationship.  The attached manuscript is that story.

What I hope and pray you will see in this story is the same thing I want others to see—how following God’s will for our lives, through the good and the bad, leads to amazing blessings.  I want you to embrace opportunities when God wants to use you.  It won’t be easy.  But that is where the biggest blessings come into play—when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone and have to rely on Him.  He shows up when we lean on Him.  We just have to trust Him.

So as I start on my writing journey, I wanted you to know that is exactly what I am doing.  I am trusting that God is behind this and that He will use it.

I love you both dearly.  I hope and pray that when you look back at your lives that you will remember that legacy that I want to leave for you.  I want you to trust God and follow Him all the days of your life.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

With all my love,
Mom

With my sons on the Seattle waterfront, Mother's Day 2012.

With my sons on the Seattle waterfront, Mother’s Day 2012.

Paying the Gift Forward

If you already own a copy of Journeys to Mother Love, I’m sure you will agree that mothers of all ages can relate to these stories.  If don’t own the book, you can purchase an autographed copy here.

May your Mother’s Day be filled with blessings and hope from the Creator of motherly love, our Heavenly Father.

Mothers-Day-Flowers

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).

A Letter to Mom

In honor of my new friend Verna Hill Simms’ 94th birthday today, I’m sharing a post she recently wrote on the “Journeys to Mother Love” blog.

Verna writes letters to her deceased mother as well, and is where I first heard of this practice. May her letter to her mother brighten your day and rekindle the connection you have with your mother, physically on earth or in spirit above.

Happy Birthday, Verna! Sending hugs and prayers to you and your family. ~ Ardis

Journeys To Mother Love

DearMother

Dear Mom,

I am writing your birthday letter early this year. I have so much to tell you, and it can’t wait until June. The sad news is Dee had a stroke. I couldn’t talk her into taking better care of her health. She is improving every day. I know how fond you were of her—your first grandchild. I appreciate how much you helped me when she was born 73 years ago.

Now, the good news. Remember I told you I was writing a historical novel? It is finished and accepted by Rockinghorse Publishing, and printed! I bet you would love it. Do you think that is an odd name for a publishing company? I do, but it is easy to remember. Water Under the Bridge is a work of fiction, but a lot of it mirrors our life when we lived in Claypool, Arizona. I tell about the time…

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Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 2

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

Chapter 3 is Verna's story.

Chapter 3 is Verna’s story.

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

Wisdom from an Older Woman

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

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

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

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Writing a Deceased Loved One

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

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

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

Love to you Mom, and Happy Birthday!

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

Don’t Forget

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

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

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

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

Announcement: E-Book for “Walking My Mother Home” Available

I have a big announcement to make that I’ve been keeping a secret for a while–until just the right time! In preparing for my mission to Spain, I was also working in the background on a special writing project.  I announced it at the church in Rivas last week and am now officially announcing it here on my site.

A Writing Dream Fulfilled

It is the completion of the Spanish translation of my story “Walking my Mother Home,” from the compilation Journeys to Mother Love, published by Cladach Publishing in 2012.  There is a long story as to how this all came to be.  As usual it includes surrendering the outcome to the Lord and waiting on His timing.  It is the fulfillment of a writing dream come true for me.

When my manuscript was accepted by my publisher in January 2012, I knew in my heart that the Lord wanted me to share this story beyond an American audience. It only seemed natural that Spanish audiences would resonate with the story as much as Americans have.  So I negotiated the inclusion of the foreign translation rights as part of my contract.

Unforeseen Obstacles to Translating the Story

Later that same year, Pedro, the Spanish exchange student who is a part of this story, agreed to translate it for me. He completed his translation of the story, written out by hand while on holiday in Mallorca.  While he translated the story, he also shared it in Spanish with his family.  They, of course, already knew the story as retold by Pedro and Rosa, but this was my turn to share it with them from my perspective.

optima_TRANSLATION-SPANISHIt was truly a gift to hear Pedro recount to me how interested his grandfather was in the story, hanging on every word. (The story recounts the intersection of his wife’s passing with my mother’s death.)  Unfortunately, that version of the translation was forever lost when Pedro’s computer crashed.  Soon after, Pedro’s music career took off; and I knew he’d never be able to translate the story.

I didn’t have any budget for a professional translator. I wasn’t seeking the Spanish version to sell it online or make any money from the E-book.  My desire was to give the E-book to the church in Rivas and other people in Spain as a gift.  In light of that, I was hoping to get the story translated by someone as a way to support the mission to Spain.

I let go of the how’s and when’s of a Spanish translation ever being done. I kept praying.  I kept asking for help.  God was continuing to stretch me and to build my trust in Him.

free-internet-marketing-ebooksA New Spanish Connection

Then it happened. It happened in such an unexpected way, and it will be used in ways that I never dreamed possible.

Oscar, my Spanish contact at Saddleback Resources, where the Celebrate Recovery materials (Celebremos la Recuperación) are sold and the Spanish version was translated, donated his time to the cause for the mission. Much to my surprise the Spanish version of “Walking My Mother Home” will also be used as a resource for Spanish testimony requests.  I was blown away by Oscar’s generous gift to translate this story, to know that it would be used beyond the mission, and also that it would be ready in time for the mission to Spain (where I am still on location).

This all happened the few weeks prior to my departure on the mission. I added the customary additional pieces to the story, like a Preface, so it would be a more complete book.  Those pieces are part of the Spanish version of the E-book.  (Those pieces are published on the post, English Additions to “Walking My Mother Home” Available.)

Encaminando a Mi Madre a Casa

So it is with great delight and gratitude that I am officially announcing and publishing the Spanish E-book of “Walking My Mother Home.” The Spanish title is Encaminando a Mi Madre a Casa.  It is free for online reading or you can download the PDF.  The link is on my new Spanish page, here.

Walking My Mother Home Spanish version released October 2014.

Walking My Mother Home Spanish version released October 2014.

If you know any people who speak Spanish, please direct them to my new free Spanish E-book, Encaminando a mi Madre a Casa.

Please note: The English version of “Walking My Mother Home” is only available in the compilation, Journeys to Mother Love. Paperback or e-book versions are available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Cladach Publishing.  Autographed copies are available through my site by clicking here.

On Mission for God, Part 4 ~ The Birth of the Call

At a recent Mission presentation at a local recovery meeting, I spoke about how my call was birthed while praying in Spain last summer.  But the seeds for Celebrate Recovery (CR) in Spain were planted two years prior.  I was flooded with emotions as I prepared for the presentation and pieced together all of the events and circumstances that led me to this time in my life.

Starbucks SignThe First Meeting

Friday, October 7, 2011—I sat in a Starbucks coffee shop meeting Marvin and Lisa Klein.*  They were missionaries from my church who were serving in France.  We had never met before, although my children had donated to their mission years ago when they were in Sunday school.  The Klein’s were on sabbatical for one year in the States.  They were forming a leadership team to launch Celebrate Recovery at my church, heard about me and my experience with CR, and asked to meet.

I knew going into this meeting that the ultimate intent for the Klein’s was to get experience so they could launch CR in Grenoble, France, their new home.  I told the Klein’s about my Spanish connection with Pedro, the exchange student who stayed with us the previous two summers.  I told them about my desire to visit Spain one day to meet Pedro’s mother Rosa, and their family.  I told him a bit about our family’s story, which at that time in my life God was calling me to write and have published.

Marvin told me that I would one day share my testimony in France.  I was flattered, and excited about the prospect, but only took him half seriously.  I was more interested in sharing the story in Spain.  However, with a Protestant population of only 1%, it seemed that would never happen..

An Education in Religious History

It was after that meeting that I started to get an understanding of the spiritual climate in Spain.  I didn’t realize that the Protestant Reformation had never made it to Spain.  I heard from some that any church outside of the Roman Catholic Church was considered a cult.  Those were shocking words to me.  I had a wonderful relationship with my Spanish family.  We had a mutual acceptance of each other’s faith—Catholic and Protestant.  And in fact, it was our faith that bonded our families with the painful passing of Rosa’s and my mothers, who were both practicing Catholics.

After those conversations I never really considered that CR would ever launch in Spain.  I just knew that I would someday visit Spain and meet Rosa.  Marvin and I went on to serve together on the team that launched CR the following year.  The Kleins’ returned to France in preparation to launch CR at their home church in Grenoble.

Reformation Map

Since that time I’ve studied more about the Protestant Reformation and the history of the Church in Spain.  I also experienced the difference in the spiritual environment firsthand while traveling there for six weeks last summer.  All of this eventually (and quite unexpectedly) led to the mission in the fall and the partnership with Marvin to teach CR in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid.

Expanding the Call to France

I had originally hoped to visit France last summer and give my testimony in Grenoble.  When that didn’t work out, I gave up the thought of ever going to France.  One year later, the Lord has made provision for me to speak in Grenoble.  And I don’t know any French—now that is scary!

As further confirmation of my call, Marvin is working on the French translation of my published story, “Walking my Mother Home.”  I will be providing complimentary copies of the novella to members of the Kleins’ church when I speak there later this month.  That is very exciting news indeed!

The view from the Klein's home in Grenoble, France.

The view from the Klein’s home in Grenoble, France.

The seed for planting CR in Spain (and my speaking in France) was planted when I met the Kleins’ at that Starbucks in Redmond, WA, three years ago.  It had to lie dormant before it could germinate and see the light of day.  On October 7, 2014, exactly three years later, Marvin, Lisa, and me will all be in Madrid, and have plans to celebrate at a Starbucks there.

It just goes to show that you never know what door God is going to open next or how He will use you or your story.  I’m learning to never say never, and to dream BIG, because God is always bigger than my never.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20, NIV)

Only 3 more weeks until I leave on my mission!

Only 3 more weeks until I leave on my mission!

Mission Update

I’m so grateful for the continued receipt of donations for this mission, including an offering when I spoke at the local CR meeting.  I’m sharing the call again later today at the PLCC Mission Board meeting.

I’ll be stepping on Spanish soil with my French missionary partners one month from today, so it’s not too late to support this mission.  In fact, now IS the time to help put me over the top in my fund raising goal of $3,000.

To donate to the Celebrate Recovery mission and plant new seeds of hope into France and Spain, click here.  To be added to the list for prayer updates, fill out the contact form on my site.  Thank you so much!  Every little bit helps.

*For more information about the Klein’s and their ministry in France, check out their latest missionary newsletter.

  • 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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