Journeys to Mother Love, One Year Later

When my story, “Walking My Mother Home”, in Journeys to Mother Love was released on August 24, 2012 (one year ago) by Cladach Publishing, I had everything in place to position myself and the book for success.  I had attended writing and marketing seminars, webinars, and conferences, and launched a website and Facebook page.  I was ready to dive into the social media marketing blitz.  I held an open house and book signing as well.  It all fed into my hopes and expectations for financial success.  After all, I had a trip to Spain in my future, and no personal source of income to pay for it.  I was counting on the book sales.

Opening my first box of books, August 2012.

Opening my first box of books, August 2012.

Within days of receipt of my first box of books, I was at church in my sacred space with one copy.  I silently read my story and dedicated it to the Lord.  I asked for his blessings on the book, that my story would touch people’s lives, inspire them on their faith journey, and that none of this ‘fame’ would go to my head—the same as I have done for Pedro since his music went online.

I was grateful.  I was excited.  I was ready for anything.

The Highs and Lows

I have had a lot of amazing highs over the past year, partnering with two other friends who recently published spiritual books, networking at writer’s meetings, and so on.   At times, it was a bit surreal to me.  Yes, there is a bit of notoriety that comes with the territory and interest when people find out I am a writer.  Although I never tire of telling someone the story, if it seems appropriate, or I feel led by the Holy Spirit, I also try to keep it all in perspective.

A friendly book swap between authors, Emiko Hori and me, June 2013.

A friendly book swap between authors, Emiko Hori and me, June 2013.

I’ve had some low points in my first year as a published author as well.   The lows totally caught me off guard and triggered deep feelings inside of me—like feelings of rejection I thought I had already worked through.

Most authors and artists, if they were truly honest, have struggled with that at some point in time.  It is the push and pull of promoting, wanting financial success, and letting go of who buys your book and how many sell.

Paying It Forward

Once I learned to let go of that (and am still learning), I started to have more one on one encounters with people who were interested in the story.  I can remember each and every one.

I try to write a personal note to each person who receives the book and pray for the recipient.  Except for the online sales, I have photos of many people who received the book personally through me.  I photograph many of my inscriptions as well.  They are very personal to me and often feel inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This is but one way I try to pay the blessing forward.  The other is when I give the book away as a gift.  For instance, it resides in the library of Monmouth College, my alma mater—where I graduated with a B.A. in Business Administration, not English.  It is also in the hands of many of the staff at New Life Ministries, out of gratitude for their role in my healing.  I love that I can give something back in this small way.

Paying the blessing forward with Becky Brown of New Life Ministries, February 2013.

Paying the blessing forward with Becky Brown of New Life Ministries, February 2013.

A Year of Gratitude

As I finish this inaugural year as an author, I can look behind me and see God’s hand on each book that was released from my inventory.  I can see how He was chiseling away my inner parts that don’t reflect His image.  In return He has given me the gift of my story and the courage to share it.

Not including e-book sales or those through the publisher or the other authors, I know my story in Journeys to Mother Love resides in the hearts of people throughout the United States in Washington, California, Illinois, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, and abroad in England, France, Mexico, and of course, Spain.  I am thankful for that and any future opportunities that the Lord makes available to share His story.

A friend reading "Journeys to Mother Love" while traveling in England, October 2012.

A friend reading “Journeys to Mother Love” while traveling in England, October 2012.

If you’ve gotten this far in the post, I hope you’ll indulge me the opportunity to thank all who have purchased my book, either directly from me or through Amazon.  I don’t have any knowledge of who the Amazon purchasers are (or receive any proceeds from that). I’d love to know if you bought it online though.  You can comment below or privately contact me through the contact form on my site.

Thank you for every purchase through me or my site, as it allows me to freely give it away to those who I sense really need this story.  Lastly, I appreciate the notes I receive, posts on Facebook, etc.  Please feel free to pass on any comments about the book or my story on my site review page, or support my writing by subscribing to my blog or liking my Facebook page.

Muchas, muchas gracias!

España Update 5 ~ My Host Family

My trip to Spain came to an end several days ago.  Hopefully the blogging about my travels will continue here intermittently for quite some time.  I couldn’t let another day go by though without writing something in appreciation to the family who hosted me these last six weeks.  I hope you enjoy getting to know them a bit as well.

The Importance of Family

From the start of our relationship with Pedro three years ago, I watched him interact with family members back home over Skype and heard stories about his family gatherings.  I was impressed to hear how important family was to him.  On his initial student profile (filled out as part of his application process as an exchange student), Pedro didn’t mark “family oriented” as one of his personality characteristics.  I remember later telling him that was an oversight on his part.  I knew it then and lived it firsthand myself these last six weeks.

Rosa, me, Pedro, and Rafa, my host family for 6 weeks in Spain.

Rosa, me, Pedro, and Rafa, my host family for 6 weeks in Spain.

Over the last three years I’ve heard family member names come up in Skype conversations, received photos of new babies born into the family, and prayed through their trials and tribulations with them.  So besides Pedro’s parents, Rosa and Rafa, I knew I also wanted to meet his other relatives.

The Family Tree

One of our early conversations when we first met Pedro was about his family tree.  It was a very memorable conversation because as he tried to explain the familial relationships, we kept getting confused with the family labels he used.  It was really quite comical as we couldn’t understand how Pedro, who had no siblings, could have nieces and nephews.  It turns out that in Spain, his 1st and 2nd cousins are considered nieces and nephews.

Within days of my arrival in Madrid, the family visits started.  After the first one, Rafa, Pedro’s father, kindly created a family tree to help me navigate all of the names and relationships.  By the time I left Spain last week, I met almost everyone from Rosa’s side of the family, from her one year old great-nephew to her 93-year old father.  I met 26 relatives in all, from Madrid to Seville to Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain.

Rosa, outside the summer home in Soller, Mallorca, Spain--for 3 generations.

Rosa, outside the summer home in Soller, Mallorca, Spain–for 3 generations.

Living in a Large Family

Not only did I meet them, I also lived with many of them, at the family summer home in Soller, Mallorca.  This home has been in the family for three generations, and is set up to accommodate sleeping arrangements for over 20 people.  Pedro has spent every August of his life there.  Everyone extended me a warm welcome and treated me like family too.  It was an amazing gift.

In Soller, I got a bird’s eye view into living in a large family.  I witnessed the fellowship amongst adults and friendship between the children.  I observed their gatherings at meals, at the pool, at the beach, and at play.

I was immersed not only in Spain; I was immersed in family living.  Coming from a background of divorced parents and few relatives, there were times I felt inadequate around this large family, not knowing how to fit in, while also trying to overcome the language barrier.

A fond farewell with Pedro's grandfather.

A fond farewell with Pedro’s grandfather.

What I saw day in and day out was a family that put a high value on the children and was bonded in love.  With Carmen, the family matriarch gone, the grandfather is the glue that holds this family together.  It will be a mixed blessing with his passing, as the caregiver role that this family carries is quite heavy.  It was truly a gift to meet him. Although our communication was hampered by the language barrier, he was always trying to communicate with me—repeating the same questions over and over.  I didn’t mind though.  His attention was welcome, and it helped me with my Spanish too.

An Evening to Remember

My final night in Spain was spent at the family home with 19 other people.  It was filled with precious memories as part of this large family: help with my online flight check-in, hanging around the pool, meeting more family, playing board games and late-night Charades.

My parting gift to this family was a signed copy of Journeys to Mother Love, that includes the published story that brought us all together.  It was a poignant and sentimental moment for me—traveling 5,300 miles across the world and coming full circle with the story in my mind.

With my Spanish family on my final night in Spain.

With my Spanish family on my final night in Spain.

A Fond Farewell

I know that God gives us what we need in so many unexpected and special ways when we chose to follow His will and His ways.  When we opened up our home to Pedro, and made him part of our family three years ago, I never dreamed that I would one day be the recipient of that same hospitality.  When I traveled to Spain, I didn’t realize what kind of effect that would have on me—never having a close family or many relatives growing up.  Their kindness touched me in deep ways that even now brings tears to my eyes.

I left Spain with a bigger heart for this family and a deep appreciation for them opening their home and their lives to me.  I miss Spain.  I miss them.  But I know our goodbyes were not the end of this relationship.  It is just adios for now and on to the next chapter of the story that God is weaving between our families.

A parting gift from one of the grandchildren who touched my heart.

A parting gift from one of the grandchildren who touched my heart.

On a Personal Note

I am closing this post with a special thank you to Pedro, Rosa, Rafa, and my entire Spanish family.  Muchas, muchas gracias!  May God richly bless you for the many kindnesses you have shown me.  With love, Ardis

~ If this is your first time visiting my blog, you can start reading about my Spanish travels here.

The Perfect Gift & A Tribute to Friendship

If you follow my blog, you know that Rosa is my kindred spirit and ‘sister’ in Spain, whom I will meet two weeks from now.  I’ve been busy preparing for my trip to Spain, and while I knew Friday was Rosa’s birthday, I didn’t realize that it was her 60th birthday, or that a big family celebration was planned.

Rosa’s milestone birthday party brought up memories for me of my 52nd birthday party (a delayed 50th birthday celebration because of the events surrounding my mother’s passing as referenced in Journeys to Mother Love).  Rosa and Pedro attended that celebration via Skype.

It was a very emotional day for me.  It was my first birthday since my mother passed away.  Pedro surprised me that day with the first of his compositions written personally for me, Ardis’ Song.  I wept as I read aloud a story I had written about the connection with my Spanish family.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

Pedro and Rosa join the birthday celebration via Skype.

This story, “The Perfect Gift”, was the first writing assignment I tackled in my memoir class a few months before my birthday.  It was the one piece I wanted to have published.  To date, “The Perfect Gift” has only been shared at my birthday party and at a few Toastmasters meetings.  It is the piece I hope to share in Spain.

In honor of Rosa’s birthday, I’ve decided to post this short story on my blog.  When you’re done, I’m sure you’ll agree why I consider Rosa my kindred spirit and Sister in Christ, and why I am so excited to meet her.

The Perfect Gift

This was the long-awaited day of Pedro’s return to America.  Pedro was the foreign exchange student that our family hosted for a month the summer before.  Many of the past months were spent preparing for his return to our home.  On Pedro’s first night in America he was tired and jetlagged from his day of traveling.  He tried to stay up as long as possible to get his body in sync with the 9-hour time zone difference.  And of course he didn’t want to break with our tradition of exchanging gifts on his first night in America.

Pedro and the family all gathered in the playroom upstairs—just like last year.  Each family member opened their gifts from Pedro’s family.  I patiently waited as each person opened their gifts.  I had secretly plotted with Pedro over the last few months what to get them.  I was joyful as I watched each person open their gift and genuinely thank Pedro for his family’s thoughtfulness.

I knew as soon as I saw my gift that it would be a special gift—one that would tie our families together but I didn’t know how profoundly God had orchestrated it until later.  Our families had been through so much the last year.  Rosa, Pedro’s mother, and I both lost our mothers.  We had prayed for each other and encouraged each other from across the world—neither one of us speaking the other’s native language but by emailing our communications through an online translator.

The gift was a sterling silver cross pendant embedded with sparkling Swarovski crystals. As I looked at the cross I knew immediately that Rosa had picked it out just for me.  Although Rosa is Catholic and I am Protestant, we both have a strong faith that connects us.  During the several month period when our mothers were dying, Rosa and I sent each other encouraging notes and prayers to help each other through the painful process of watching and waiting for the inevitable to happen.  The cross was a beautiful reminder of how God had brought us together and how our mothers were both at peace as a result of our friendship.

Receiving the perfect gift, June 2011

The next morning as I got dressed and put on the cross, the first wave of its significance hit me.  My thoughts raced back to a visit with my mother in November 2009.  That was my first visit after my mother’s stroke—a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and virtually unable to communicate.  The timing of that trip had been so painstakingly planned as to not interfere with my previous commitments.  I was volunteering to serve at a ministry function and then one week later was my 50th birthday party.  I sandwiched the visit between the two events.  Days before the ministry event my mother had taken a turn for the worst and I feared that I would not make it back home to see her alive.

But my mother miraculously recovered and I was able to complete my ministry obligations.  On the plane ride to St. Louis I couldn’t help but think about what to expect over the next few days.  What state would my mother be in?  Would I be able to handle all of the medical decisions that needed to be made?  Would I be able to emotionally handle seeing my mother after all these years?  I prayed and prayed for God’s guidance and strength to carry me through those next few days.

I recalled how God had abundantly answered my prayers on that trip.  I remembered how after I arrived at my mother’s bedside that God gave me absolute peace about being there and compassion in serving and loving on my mother.  One of those first loving acts was to give my mother the cross pendant that I received for my first communion.  I had treasured that cross for over forty years.  It was a special gift from my Aunt Ardis who was also my Godmother.  My intention was to just let my mother borrow the necklace until I returned home.  I knew I’d never be able to physically part with it.  I also knew that even leaving it on my mother’s neck for the few days while I was there might lead to it getting stolen.  I had learned long ago to never give my mother anything of value because it would always mysteriously disappear from her room at the nursing home.

When the time came to leave, I made the painful decision to stay a few days longer.  There was just too much to do and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my mother.  It was just too soon.  I knew that staying with my mother meant cancelling my 50th birthday party.  It also meant that I would be spending my 50th birthday away from my family and friends.  As I prayed over my decision, God gave me more peace.  My birthday party seemed like a selfish consideration in light of what my mother was going through.  I knew it would be the best thing to do.

I spent my 50th birthday at my mother’s bedside.  I made the final arrangements for the hospice care to start.  I met with the chaplain.  I fed my mother, bought her flowers, read to her and massaged her feet.  It was a very bittersweet day.  I couldn’t help but think about how my mother brought me into the world and cared for me as a baby and now I was doing the same for my mother.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Mom holding my first communion cross.

Every day that I was with my mother I would put the pendant around her neck.  Then at the end of the day, I would take it off again.  I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it on her overnight.  Then came the final good-byes.  It was the evening of my 50th birthday.  I felt God pulling on my heart and telling me to let go of the necklace—to leave it with my mother.  After the events of the last ten days, it seemed silly to even think of keeping it for myself.  So my last act of love for my mother was to give her that cross pendant.  As painful as it was, I told my mother that was my promise to see her again.  I prayed that God would honor that request.  That was the last time I saw that pendant.  Thankfully it was not the last time I saw my mother alive though.

So as I put this new pendant around my neck—the cross I received from Pedro’s family the night before—I felt God telling me that He was rewarding me for sacrificing that first communion cross for my mother.  I knew that God had replaced it with one that would have new meaning and special memories attached with it.  I was overwhelmed with joy at this new revelation.  I couldn’t wait to tell Pedro.  I couldn’t wait to tell Rosa.  While Rosa and I had journeyed together over the last few months as we prepared to bury our mothers, Pedro’s family did not know anything about my giving away my cross.  I truly felt kissed by God.  I was grateful for this tangible gift of His love and how He orchestrated these events.

Almost two weeks had passed since I had received the cross from Pedro’s family.  My family along with Pedro, were now vacationing in central Oregon.  So much had been going on since Pedro’s arrival that I didn’t have an opportunity to Skype with Rosa and personally thank her for her gift.  Pedro would Skype with his parents every few days, but each time I didn’t want to interfere with his family time.  But on this day, I had pre-arranged with Pedro to have some Skype time with Rosa.  Pedro and I sat on the deck of the condo with his ipad revealing video images of his parents 5,300 miles away in Madrid.

I was, of course, wearing the cross that day—as I had almost every day since I received it.  Rosa immediately made mention of it by pointing to my neck.  I didn’t need Pedro to translate that reference, but he did anyway.  I thanked Rosa for the necklace.  Before I could start to relay the story about my first communion cross, Rosa began to tell Pedro the significance of the cross to her and why she picked it out as a gift.  Pedro translated her story to me.  Pedro explained that Rosa’s mother had given her a similar necklace for her 50th birthday.  I was astonished.  I looked at Pedro with surprise in my eyes.

“Did you tell your mother the story about the cross?” I asked him.  “No, no, I didn’t,” he said.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  It only took an instant for that to sink in.  I grew more excited about her gift and about telling Rosa about the connection.  Pedro knew the story, so I told him to relay the story to his mother in Spanish.

I smiled as I clasped the cross in my right hand.  Again, I was recounting all the events of the last year that had happened between us—the miracles that God performed in the passing of our mothers, our friendship across the world and now this simple yet miraculous connection between us.  The cross was a reminder of our love for each other, our love for our mothers and our love for God.  This cross really was the perfect gift.

As we continued on with our skype talking about the sightseeing we had done and the activities of the last few days, I couldn’t help but remember the verse that God had given me each time He gave me one of these special moments to relish.  It was Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That was exactly what I was doing.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

Airport goodbyes, July 2011, the last time we physically (not virtually) saw Pedro.

© 2013 Ardis A. Nelson

The Rest of the Story

This piece went on to birth the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home.”  In fact, the women at my 52nd birthday party prayed over me that day and anointed my writing.  The manuscript was written and submitted one week later.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

For me, this story is still unfolding.  It’s a lot to keep up with on top of my own family commitments and American relationships.  But this I know for sure, God has anointed this Spanish connection from the start and the next part of the story is just beginning.

Reclaiming Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day forever changed for me in May 2010. That was the last time I saw my mother alive.  It was also her last Mother’s Day.  Previous to that day I think the last time we were together on Mother’s Day was my senior year in high school—a span of 35 years.

Happy Mother's DaySeparated by Mental Illness

Over those many years Mother’s Day wasn’t something I looked forward to.  It was a day of obligatory cards or calls. She was remarried (again) and happy it seemed—that is until her husband died.  After that she drifted in and out of mental hospitals and eventually became a ward of the state.

I had tremendous guilt about my relationship with her.  I wanted a mother, but didn’t want her to be my mother.  Due to her mental illness and emotional instability she wasn’t able to teach me how to be a mother myself.  I had to figure it out on my own.  I didn’t hold that against her.  After all, I was pretty self-sufficient in those days.  I just accepted that she was mentally ill.  I chose to distance myself from her physically and emotionally and told myself it was for my own sanity.

Coming Together Again

My final Mother's Day gift to my mom

My final Mother’s Day gift to my mom

When mom had her stroke in 2009, God nudged me back by her side for two visits. The Lord was working on my heart on those trips.  As she lingered on hospice, living day to day with the aid of a feeding tube, God was making it clear His work wasn’t done between us yet.  That led me to that last visit on Mother’s Day 2010.

Between that trip—the last time I saw her alive—and the day she passed away nine months later, Pedro and Rosa, my Spanish family, entered our lives.  And the rest, as they say, is history—forever documented in Journeys to Mother Love.

Mother’s Day Reclaimed

Those first few Mother’s Days after she passed away were hard for me.  I deliberately spent them entrenched with my immediate family, to distract me from those painful reminders.  Now, I celebrate Mother’s Day with Rosa, as my kindred spirit of mother love—although it is one week earlier in Spain.

Mother's Day Gift of LifeAs strange as it may sound, I feel like every day is Mother’s Day to me now.  My mom’s death in February 2011 brought about a rebirth in me that forever changed the way I view my life and Mother’s Day.

It was as if her death brought me life, not because of any burden I was carrying of guilt or shame, as some might do.  It was because I got in touch with pieces of myself that were previously buried deep within me—parts of my identity that weren’t ok to express.   God revealed to me in her passing that I am beautifully and wonderfully made in ways like my mother that I couldn’t bear to embrace before.

So every day really is Mother’s Day to me, because of my gratitude to my mom, and to the Lord for giving me back my life.  I have reclaimed the real purpose of Mother’s Day in my life.  It is the incredible gift that mother’s give to everyone—the gift of life.

Regardless of the status of your relationship with your mother, my wish for you is a Mother’s Day that is filled with pleasant memories and gratitude to the one who gave you life.

Journeys To Mother LoveMore “Journeys to Mother Love” & Free Ebook

If this is the first time you’ve stumbled upon my blog, I encourage you to also check out journeystomotherlove.com, the blog hosted by Cladach Publishing, the publisher of Journeys to Mother Love.  This blog, dedicated to encouraging each other in mother/child relationship healing, is authored by the nine contributors to “Journeys to Mother Love”, and invites others to share their stories.

Now through Monday, May 13, 2013, get your free Kindle ebook of Journeys to Mother Love at Amazon.com.  Since this is free, after you’ve read the book, would you do me and my publisher a huge favor by writing a review? And don’t forget to subscribe, follow, like, pin, press this or share in your favorite social media!

May these stories inspire you on your journey to mother love.  Happy Mother’s Day!

The Call to Speak, Part 2 – Breaking the Ice

I’m sharing my first Toastmasters speech, the icebreaker, on my blog (it’s more like an author reading at this point) as a way to introduce others to my story and hone in on my message.  It is a work in process.  Part 1 of this series is about how the speaking part of my journey started in the first place.

I know in time I will have multiple venues open up to share my story in spiritual and secular settings over the months and years to come.  The objective of this particular speech is to gain interest in my story and start building my audience as I prepare for my pilgrimage to Spain this summer and the next season of my writing.

As you read the speech, envision if you will, Pedro’s music (the young Spanish man in my story) playing in the background and synchronized with the speech.  When you have finished reading it, I’d love it if you would share your personal evaluations of it in the comments below (like my fellow Toastmasters did at the meeting).

First Meeting

Welcoming Pedro into the family, July 2010.

My First Toastmasters Speech

“My name is Ardis Nelson.  I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a blogger, and a follower of Jesus, whose life was radically transformed a few years ago after opening our home to a Spanish young man named Pedro, as part of a short term exchange program.  With Pedro’s engaging personality and eagerness to immerse himself in American culture and history, he quickly became like family.  Our final goodbyes that summer were very painful to me as we had no idea when we would ever see each other again, but we knew the door of his home was always open to my family.

Since that teary goodbye two and a half years ago, many amazing things have happened between our families.  I am finally traveling to Spain this summer to continue my writing and to speak.  I’d like to share a bit of this story with you in hopes of gaining your continued interest of its unfolding.

Shortly after Pedro returned home to Madrid in August 2010, he found out that his grandmother had brain cancer and only had a few months to live.  My mother was also terminally ill, after having suffered a major stroke, and so I started to connect with Rosa, Pedro’s mother, to offer prayer and encouragement as we both prepared for the passing of our mothers.  There was one minor problem though—neither one of us spoke the other’s native language.  But we didn’t let that stop us as we used online translators to communicate via email and bridge the 5,300 mile gap between us.

In January 2011, six months after Pedro’s departure, he unexpectedly sent our family the song “Seattle”, a piece he composed and dedicated to us.  Although he played the piano in our home that previous summer, we had no idea he composed music until we received this song.  Then within days of the receipt of this song, Pedro’s grandmother died. 

Since Pedro’s family was Catholic, I went to a local parish, lit a candle and prayed for their family.  I also prayed for my own mother who had already suffered over a year since her stroke and was living day to day with the aid of a feeding tube.  I surrendered the outcome of the timing of her death and she passed away two weeks later.

Cemetary

Laid to rest, February 2011.

As I worked on my mother’s eulogy, I started to see how I was beautifully made in my mother’s image.  Since she was mentally ill all my life and we were estranged for many years, I had never connected the dots before.  I was afraid that I would someday be labeled mentally ill like my mother and so I cut her out of my life.  I stuffed my emotions and did everything I could to disassociate myself with her.  The ramifications of these revelations were transformational for me.

On the day of my mother’s funeral, on the flight home to Seattle, I started writing about the story that connected our families.  One year later, my story “Walking My Mother Home” was accepted by a publisher and subsequently released in the compilation, Journeys to Mother Love in August 2012.

Meanwhile, Pedro started to send more of his compositions to me and we were planning for his return to Seattle that next summer.  But little did he know I started to play with the idea of taking him into the recording studio for his 18th birthday.  A few weeks before his return, when I offered him the gift of a recorded CD, he divulged a big secret.  Some of the music he performed the previous summer in our home was actually his original music—including my favorite song titled “Portman”.

Pedro’s CD, “Introducing Pedro Gonzalez Arbona”, is now available on itunes, Amazon, Spotify and other online music sites.  Surprisingly, I also now manage the music career of this young international artist.  One of his biggest dreams, to compose movie scores, became a reality last month as he was hired by a professional production company in Spain.  He has completed scoring the music to a short film and has high hopes of continuing with this company on other bigger projects.

I like to think that all of this started because God nudged me to go outside of my comfort zone and open our home to this young man.  When I did that step of obedience, God continued to open up new opportunities for us to connect and invest in each other.  I invested in Rosa at her time of need and she did in me as well.  In return, I invested in her son and his desires to share his music to a broader audience.

On June 24th, I will step on Spanish soil and meet Rosa face to face.  It is a friendship born in sorrow, nurtured in prayer and sealed in love.  As I mentioned earlier, my writing started the day of my mother’s funeral. I know it won’t be complete until I meet Rosa face to face, hear her side of the story and how her faith and family got her through it. Rosa has been learning English to facilitate our communication. I’ve been working on my next book in preparation for our meeting.  It is our gift to each other and a way to honor our mothers.

I’m looking forward to having you journey along with me as I prepare for my trip to Spain and share my story.  Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you tonight.”

Speech EvaluationTime to Evaluate

My speech hit right on target for the 5-7 minute speech range.  I  finished by distributing business cards and a few handouts related to my blog and story.  Each Toastmaster wrote a short evaluation of each speaker’s speech.  Later on in the meeting, evaluators assigned to each speaker provided even more feedback.

So now it’s your turn.  You can’t really evaluate how well I spoke, but you can provide your feedback on the content in the comments below.  If you don’t already follow my blog, the best evaluation or feedback you could provide on this is to subscribe to email updates of my blog posts and join me on my journey to Spain and beyond.

The Call to Speak, Part 1 – A Toast to the Lord

I recently took a bold step forward on my journey toward Spain.  It started six months ago as I was preparing for the release of my book, Journeys to Mother Love.  I spoke at my Open House and shared with the attendees the desires that God placed on my heart to share my story in bigger ways—beyond the book.  I felt God calling me to publicly speak.  The speaking wasn’t just in what you’d consider normal ministry settings, but it was to speak in Spain.

Qualified to Speak?

I’ve been at ease in front of a podium for many years as my responsibilities in my secular jobs included leading large meetings, training employees and supervising staff.  But I didn’t start out that way.  I had fear and insecurity about my ability to speak in those settings.  In time those fears subsided as I became more comfortable in my positions with those companies.  Quite frankly, I was pretty self-sufficient in those days too, not really seeking God’s help, just doing it on my own—without any formal training.

MicrophoneWhen I started serving in ministry, I had to put aside my self-sufficiency and start relying on God.  I overcame my doubts and thinking I was unqualified and unworthy to lead others in their spiritual growth.  As I stepped out of my comfort zone, He reassured me and gave me increasingly bigger opportunities to point people to Him.  But speaking in a foreign country, where I don’t even know the language?  That feels a bit unbelievable to me at times.  I know that God is going before me though, so I continue to trust that He has the venues lining up in the spiritual realms.

My part in all of this is to write the speeches, build my speaking skills and practice in front of a live audience.  With less than four months before I arrive in Spain, I knew I needed to ramp up my speaking skills quickly.  The best way to do that is in the safety of a group of fellow speaking enthusiasts, the Toastmasters.

Confirmation to Speak

Over the last several months, I’ve received repeated confirmations to pursue speaking in Spain as several Spanish contacts have started to cross my path.  The most recent of those was when I looked into joining a Toastmasters group that was forming in my hometown.  It isn’t a normal Toastmasters club, but is a Christian club known as “A Toast to the Lord”.

ToastmastersI first heard about Toastmasters several years ago when a staff member told me about their participation in a group meeting over lunch.  I declined his invitation then, but it must’ve struck a chord with me at some level to remember it all these years later.  Then last summer when I started to work on my branding and platform, my publishing coach, Athena Dean from Book Jolt, recommended that I join Toastmasters.  When I found out that by joining this group I would also be welcomed to speak at Toastmasters clubs in Spain, I eagerly began working on my first speech and joined the club.

The first speech in the training program is the icebreaker.  In less than a day, I wrote the speech, rehearsed it, recorded it and listened to it several times—no nervousness or anxiety.  I took that as a good sign that the story is becoming more integrated into my life.  On the way to the meeting I prayed for confirmation of these next steps on my journey.

One of the benefits of belonging to a Toastmaster’s club are the evaluations received by other Toastmasters.  The written evaluations were definitely confirmation of my next steps as they were full of adjectives that encouraged me to share this inspiring and emotional story.  I won’t share them here, lest you think I am boasting.  As the title of my blog indicates though, He is Making Me Bold.  Any boasting that I do is out of my love for the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  Now with my new role as a Toastmaster, I can boast and toast to the Lord at the same time.

Habla Espanol¿Habla Español?

What about not knowing the language?  I’m focusing my speaking engagements on English speaking venues or those with translators available.  If necessary, I know I can rely on Pedro or Rosa to translate as well.   I’ll also cram in a Spanish refresher course before I step on the plane in June.

Do I still question my qualifications to speak in Spain?  From time to time I do hear that little voice in my head trying to tell me I won’t be ready or that this is all a crazy dream.  But to keep me humble and leaning on Him, I like to recall something I heard when I first started serving in ministry: “God doesn’t call the qualifed, He qualifies the called”.

So while I’m still on American soil, Toastmasters is my next step of obedience as I become more equipped and qualifed to speak in Spain and beyond.  I’m proud to share the microphone, podium, stage or stump with Him.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series to read my speech and evaluate it for yourselves.

A Tribute to Mom, Part 3 – The Music & the Musician

My mother, JoAnn, loved music and gave me a love for it as well.  Neither one of us could read music or play an instrument, but we both had large phonographic record collections (ouch, that dates me).  We also love to dance and sing, although I reserve those times for Sunday morning worship (when I can bury my voice in the crowd) or in the privacy of my own home.

When Pedro, the Spanish young man mentioned in “Walking My Mother Home”,  started playing the piano in our home, it awakened in me my buried love of the same kinds of music that my mother loved, soundtracks from films such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Sting”, to name a few.  Unbeknownst to me, Pedro was interspersing some of his own original piano compositions as well.

Phonograph record & turntable

Phonograph record & turntable

In January 2011, one month before my mother died, Pedro surprised my family by sending us a video of “Seattle”, a song he wrote and dedicated to us.  That was the first I knew of his composing.  This led to my taking Pedro into a recording studio for his 18th birthday to produce his first CD, “Introducing Pedro González Arbona“.

Pedro has become quite an accomplished and prolific composer over the past two years.  He has composed dozens of songs and his music is now available online.  (If you regularly follow my blog, this is not news to you.)  What is news though is that Pedro’s music was recently noticed by a Spanish film production company who has hired him to compose a score for a short film.

“Walking My Mother Home” Soundtrack

Since Pedro’s desire is to compose movie scores, it is only natural that he would compose music that goes along with the story between our families.  He has composed two beautiful songs, “JoAnn’s Song” and “Ardis’s Song”, which I have made into short videos.  The videos (click the links below) compliment my story, “Walking My Mother Home”, published in Journeys to Mother Love.

  • JoAnn’s Song:  The story of the three trips back home to St. Louis to see my mother.
  • Ardis’s Song:  The story of my mother’s funeral ending with my revelations and identity breakthrough.
Pedro rests at the 9-foot Steinway, The Piano Studio, Seattle, July 2011.

Pedro rests at the 9-foot Steinway, The Piano Studio, Seattle, July 2011.

Pedro’s music has become an integral part of my life since my mother died two years ago.  Not only has he written songs for me and my mother, he has also written tributes to my recently deceased father (Van’s Requiem-click link to listen) and Carmen, his grandmother (Bubu-click link to listen), who passed away a few weeks before my mother.

The Fruit of My Labor

It a tremendous gift to watch this young man’s musical talent bloom and grow.  It was fertilized in my home over two years ago.  Like investing in Rosa, Pedro’s mother, as we prepared for the passing of our mothers, I also invested in Pedro.  Both of these people investments have born great fruit.  They have transformed my heart.  And now JoAnn and Carmen are dancing to a new beat together in heaven.

Someday Pedro’s music will be on the big screen.  I’ll be there to applaud his debut with eyes beaming and tears streaming.  Until then, I’m learning to be content in receiving electronic music files of his compositions and partnering with him on his music dreams from 5,300 miles across the world.

If you enjoyed Pedro’s music, please help this aspiring young international artist build an audience and get noticed by clicking the link to like his Facebook page, “Pedro González Arbona”, or share a comment below about his music or the videos.

A Tribute to Mom, Part 2 – Her Final Gift

When I started writing for a public audience, I knew that many of my initial writings and journal would potentially become published.  They were the basis for much of what I wrote in my story “Walking My Mother Home”, published in Journeys to Mother Love.  One year after the acceptance of that story by Cladach Publishing, and to mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I have decided to publically share her eulogy (unedited) as I gave it two years ago today.

It is longer than my normal blog posts, but I hope you’ll indulge me this sentimental opportunity to more publically honor my mother for the sacrifice her life became so that I would be free from the legacy of mental illness.  It was her final gift to me and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Giving the eulogy Mom's Memorial Service, February 2011.

Giving the eulogy Mom’s Memorial Service, February 2011.

And These Were the Words I Spoke

When I think about how my mom impacted my life and the legacy she left me, a variety of things come to mind, some more significant than others.  They have all made me the woman I am today.

I’ll start by sharing a little bit about my favorite times with my mother.  I have many pleasant childhood memories of us living in the Pacific Northwest.  I fell in love with that part of the country as a child and returned to it a few years after I got married.  It has been my home ever since.

When I was young, my family had a trailer and we spent most of our summer weekends at a beautiful state park in Western Washington where I learned how to swim.  After we moved to Portland, we would take the trailer to the Oregon coast.  This is where I hope to scatter her remains.

I have many pleasant memories of her taking us to the beach or to the pool while my father and brother John were out on the boat.  My favorite meal on those trips was always the fresh fried Rainbow Trout.  As an adult I have visited these beautiful places with my children.  Unfortunately, we don’t fish or camp, but I want them to sense the beauty of these majestic places.  Thank you, Mom, for those joyful memories.

My mom gave me my sense of style—always looking for a trinket to accessorize an outfit or to decorate my home.  When her wardrobe turned to hospital type gowns I bought her some scarves to accessorize them so she could have something feminine and special to show off her beauty and individual style.  And today one of those scarves is adorning the flowers.

She also gave me my love of photographs.  I have about 95 pictures lining both sides of the hallway in my home—each school picture of my kids and various family or vacation photos.  I love to take pictures and don’t go very far without my camera.  In fact, my favorite gift to give or receive is a photograph.  I think this ties in well with the sensitive side that I got from my mother.  I used to think I was too sensitive, but now I know that God uniquely wired me this way and it is a gift—something I share with my mother.

Final Remains

Keepsake with final remains.

The most significant impact my mom had on me was instilling in me the love of Jesus.  She was a practicing Catholic and took us to mass and catechism classes every Sunday.  As a young child, I don’t think I enjoyed attending the mass very much.  It seemed long and boring.  I didn’t understand it.  I do have fond memories though of the church changing to a ‘folk mass’ format during those years and really liking that.

When my parent’s marriage started to deteriorate, I also fondly remember the priest, Father Bertram, from the parish taking special interest in us kids.  He would take us out roller skating or to the carnival.  He made us feel very loved.

I left the Catholic Church as a teen and had many years when my faith was pretty non-existent.  Throughout those years, my mom would send me letters with her prayers for me and my family.  All of those prayers were answered when I found my way back to the Lord about 12 years ago.

Today I am forever grateful to her for planting those seeds of faith in me and not giving up on me.  I have a passion for Christ and His ability to transform us if we surrender to His will.  Thank you, Mom.  It is because of your faithfulness that I will join you someday in eternity.

Lastly, I want to share with you my gratitude to God for how he so perfectly ordained the last 18 months of my mother’s life.  My mother had a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed and barely able to speak.  It was a miracle that she survived that stroke.  I believe it was the intercessory prayer of my Aunt Mary, my mother’s sister, that kept her alive so I could see her again.

Since that time we made some very difficult decisions including the decision to put her on a feeding tube.  There were many times that I questioned that decision.  Thankfully though that decision was what opened up the opportunity for me and my brothers, John and Glen, to all see my mom.  We had that family reunion in December 2009.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to see my mom three times since that stroke.  Each time I was able to serve her and love on her in a way that I had never been able to in the past.  These trips were incredibly difficult for me, yet extremely rewarding and joyful at the same time.

Then six months ago, my family opened our home to an exchange student from Madrid.  Our families became fast friends and like family too.  Shortly after Pedro returned to Spain, he found out that his grandmother was dying.  His mother and I have been supporting each other and praying for each other and our mothers ever since.  Even though we don’t speak the same language we do serve the same God.

Pedro’s grandmother passed away 3 weeks ago.  Since Pedro and his family are Catholic, I scheduled a mass to be said for his grandmother.  I also had a mass said for my mother about two weeks ago.  Then a few days ago at the nursing home, someone shared with me, someone who knew her well, how my mother’s countenance changed to a more peaceful state about two weeks ago.  I firmly believe that God answered those prayers.

Cemetary burial of cremated remains. Mom’s final gift to me – freedom of the legacy of mental illness.

At that time, I was also praying that God would make it very clear to me when to return to see my mother—regardless of the outcome.  The time I spent ministering to Pedro’s family throughout their mourning process was really God’s perfect preparation for my mother’s passing.  It wasn’t just what I needed; it was what my mother needed to go in peace.

I’ve been spending time in Catholic mass the last few weeks, lighting candles and shedding tears.  While my heart’s desire may have been to be with her one last time while she was alive, and specifically when she passed, it wasn’t meant to be.  I could chose to be angry at God for that, but instead, I am grateful for the wonderful visits I had with my mom and grateful that I was able to just hop on the plane regardless and honor my mom this one last time.  I praise God for this opportunity, for the strength that He has given me to get through these days and that my mother is now in heaven with Carmen, Pedro’s grandmother.  They are both at peace.

Living Out My New Identity

Giving that eulogy in front of a room full of people I barely knew or didn’t know at all was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.  But like answering the call and writing my manuscript, I knew I had to do it.  It was an act of obedience.

It was a painful process to return home and integrate these new identity revelations into my life.  I accepted the uniqueness that God gifted me with and started seeing the world through the new lens of healing and with hope for the future.  Gone was the fear that I was mentally ill.  Today I am still grounded in my identity and uniqueness and don’t shy away from expressing my sensitivity or my faith.  This blog is one of the fundamental ways in which I maintain that voice.

While I’ve gotten used to being vulnerable in recovery circles and on my blog, it feels pretty risky to share my mother’s eulogy online.  So, if you got this far in the post, I hope you’ll take a moment to ‘like’ this post or share any comments below.  And if your relationship with your mother needs repairing, just remember that it is never too late for reconciliation and forgiveness.  Just pray and partner with God.  He will give you the strength and courage to do it.  (Philippians 4:13).

A Tribute to Mom, Part 1 – Answering the Call to Write

Today marks the second anniversary of my mother’s passing and with it come the bittersweet memories of the events that led to her death.  My healing took a huge step forward the days immediately following her passing.  The identity revelations and significance of that healing were painstakingly shared in my mother’s eulogy.  (See Part 2 of this series to read more.)

While flying home later that day, the Lord nudged me to start writing about all of these miraculous things.  And so my manuscript, “Walking My Mother Home”, published in Journeys to Mother Love, was born that day in my journal on the flight home from St. Louis.

My Mom, circa 1955

My Mom, circa 1955

Fast forward one year later to January 2012.  When my grief was still fresh, I wrote and submitted my manuscript to Cladach Publishing.  As a new writer, I had many doubts about my ability to write that piece. Yet I knew when I submitted the manuscript that this story had to be told.  I released the outcome of that submission, as I had the timing of my mother’s death the year before.

Confirmation of the Call 

The day I received notice from Cladach Publishing that my story was accepted was like a kiss from heaven above and confirmation of the call to write.  The timing was perfect, January 30th—sandwiched between the anniversaries of both Rosa’s and my mother’s passings.  It was a gift from God to be able to honor our mothers in this poignant way with the publishing of our story.

I never dreamed any of these things were possible.  In fact, as I prepared for my mother’s passing, one of the main things I somewhat selfishly desired was for my life to get back to normal.  Earlier this week while in a period of self-care and reflection, it all seemed to hit me, and I let the tears flow.  The death of my mother brought nothing close to normalcy in my life.  I was radically transformed from the inside out.  My family and I have both had to adapt to these changes.  Quite honestly, as glamorous as it may seem at times, it hasn’t been easy.

A New Normal

I have accepted that the writing, the speaking, the sharing of my story and my Spanish connection are part of my new normal.  It was a gift that I was open to receiving when I released my mother’s life to the Lord two years ago.  So I blindly answered the call to write in honor of my mother and in obedience to Him.

My Mom, a silver haired beauty.

My Mom, a silver haired beauty.

I never take for granted that the Lord put all these steps in motion on my journey.  He placed the desire to write on my heart many, many years ago.  When the timing was right, He gave me a story that would touch the lives of others in similar situations.  I have received many comments and feedback on how this story (and the book in general) has touched people’s lives.  When the times are rough, that is what I remember most.  It reminds me that God is using my pain for His glory.

Whether our stories are publically shared in print or privately amongst friends, our stories of faith are a gift from God.  Be ready to share your story of healing, never forget, and watch God redeem it.  You never know how He will use it or when.

Expectant Hope, Part 2 – Spain Revealing

I’ve been longing to see Spain and meet Rosa, Pedro’s mother, for over two years.  I’ve been filled with expectant hope for this trip of a lifetime.  Last April, when a dear friend bought my mother’s wedding ring, securing the funds for my airfare to Spain, my dream became more real.  Except for the general time frame of the trip, no concrete plans were set until now.

Making My Plans

On New Year’s Day, I started to research flights and monitor airfares.  It has been an overwhelming process for me with lots of decisions.  Over the past two and a half years I’ve become accustomed to living in two different time zones, nine hours apart, and communicating across the internet.  The difficulty in planning  my trip was also compounded by the language barrier.  In the end, it became a family affair with Pedro and both of his parents assisting with my arrangements.

I AM GOING TO SPAIN THIS SUMMER!  I have my tickets!  The reality is finally starting to settle in.  So today I am revealing my official countdown to the day Rosa and I meet—June 24th—in 149 days.  Coincidentally my plans became final on January 24th, exactly five months to the day I will arrive in Spain.  June 24th is also the date that Pedro arrived on his return trip to Seattle two years ago.  So the date feels anointed to me.

Counting down the days until I meet Rosa, Pedro's mother, in Spain, this summer.

Counting down the days until I meet Rosa, Pedro’s mother, in Spain, this summer.

The Significance of This Trip

If you’ve been following my blog or read my story in Journeys to Mother Love you know why this trip is so significant to me.  The stage was set for this trip when my mother died two years ago—just three short weeks after Rosa’s mother died.  As we encouraged each other and prayed for each other during this painful time, our hearts were inexplicably bonded.

My writing started the day of my mother’s funeral.  I know it won’t be complete until I meet Rosa face to face, hear her side of the story and how her faith and family got her through it.  Rosa has been learning English to facilitate our communication.  I’ve been working on the book in preparation for our meeting.  It is our gift to each other and a way to honor our mothers.

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing more about my plans.  For now, I can reveal that this is not a typical trip.  It is a pilgrimage for me with deep spiritual significance.  I will be staying for 5 weeks with Pedro’s family and one week on my own to write.  My time will be split between Madrid, in the center of Spain, and Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, where they have their summer home.  It is a dream come true.  I am blessed to be able to write about all of this.  It is hard work, but it is also a labor of love.

Tears of Joy

Falling Rain

Madrid forecast, June 24, 2013, 100% chance of rain showers, concentrated around the airport.

Pedro teases me that the forecast in Madrid on June 24th will be unseasonably rainy.  He is referring to my tears, and those of his mother, as we meet for the first time.  I welcome those tears because they are a sign of my love for this family, my devotion to the Lord and the joy that has been restored in my soul.  So bring on the rain!  I’ll be armed with a box of tissue and an umbrella (just in case).

I am filled with expectant hope of the summer to come.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey by following my blog, liking my Facebook page, or investing in my trip by purchasing Journeys to Mother Love through this site.

Viva España and praise the Lord!

  • 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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