In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

There was another passing of a loved one in my family recently. It was my Aunt Mary, my mother’s younger sister, and last of the siblings in their family. My aunt was included in my published story, “Walking My Mother Home,” in Journeys to Mother Love. She loved my writing. It served to bring us closer together. So I thought it would be fitting to write a piece in her memory.

The 5 siblings: JoAnn (Mom), Mary, Henry, Helen and Ginny, 1974.

Déjà Vu

After my Aunt Mary passed away, I devoted two weeks of my life back home in the St. Louis area with her family. Previous to that, I was unaware that her health had been declining. When I heard of her condition and that she was put on hospice, I immediately called her husband, my Uncle Pete. I felt that all too familiar pull to be there—to be by her bedside, to pray with her and for her—and to help in any way I could.

My initial help was limited to calls to the funeral home and cemetery. When I talked with my uncle, I could tell that my aunt’s time was extremely limited. I wanted to jump on a plane and be there. I began the online search for flights and other travel arrangements. It felt like déjà vu—not knowing when to leave or how long to stay—just like when my mother passed.

I waited and prayed for two days.

Then I got the news that my aunt would probably pass in the next 24 hours. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time so we prayed together. Again, just like when my mother died, my uncle put the phone on speaker. I asked my Uncle Pete and his son Mark, my cousin, to lay their hands on and over my aunt.

We communicated our love to her and asked the Lord to release her from her pain. My Aunt Mary had been unresponsive just prior to our prayer. But then Mark said she squeezed his hand while I prayed. It comforted us to know that she heard our prayer. My Aunt Mary died a few hours later.

I took the red-eye flight to St. Louis that night. The next few days were a blur of appointments and decisions related to the funeral. Both of my parents were cremated, so I hadn’t been down the road of a full-blown funeral and burial before. God was with us as all the pieces fell into place in three days.

One of the things I offered to do was buy the clothes that my aunt would be buried in. She was a very petite woman, much different than myself, but I knew she had a flare for fashion like me and my mother. There were so many cute options for a size 4! I was thrilled to find just the right outfit to bring her back to life, so to speak—in a vibrant coral dress and sweater combination with matching jewelry.

Another Eulogy

When the funeral home found out I was a writer, they asked me to write her obituary. I kindly agreed. I also created her funeral program and offered to do her eulogy. I stayed up late the night before the funeral prayerfully writing it. (More déjà vu and preparation from my mother’s passing.)

I’m honored to stand here today and share a few words about my Aunt Mary–something I never saw myself doing. I didn’t have the benefit of getting to spend my youth living near her and my Uncle Pete. So I didn’t know her well back then.

I have more childhood memories with her sisters, my Aunt Helen and Aunt Ginny. However, I did have the sense as a child that my mother JoAnn and Mary were closer to each other than to their other sisters. That could be because they were closer in age. But as I reflected about who Mary was to me and my memories of her, I realized she was very much like my mother.

Mary was a vibrant attractive woman. Like my mother, she had a flare for fashion and other feminine things like cosmetics. (I say this because I’ve never been like that, but I noticed.) I have this vision of her as a blond bombshell, sort of like Marilyn Monroe. You can see it in some of the early pictures of Mary and Pete. She was a beautiful woman.

Her beauty didn’t go unnoticed by my Uncle Pete either. A few days ago, he told me a cute story about how he met his wife. He said he met Mary at a night club at Scott Air Force Base over 50 years ago. She was out with friends. He saw her walk by him and he knew he wanted to dance with her. So Pete got up the nerve to ask her to dance to a slow song. She agreed. He said he knew then that she was the one.  There was no one else for him.

I only met my aunt and uncle a few times when I was young. When my Uncle Pete was stationed in Alaska my aunt and uncle visited us in Portland, Oregon on their drive to their new home in Anchorage. I think the next time I saw them was after my parents divorced. My mom and us kids were living back in Illinois. I was in high school. They made the rounds visiting family with their young son Mark. A few years later, they were permanently transferred back to Illinois. Unfortunately, I went away to college the same year, so our paths didn’t cross much when Mark was growing up.

When I got married and had kids of my own, Mary and I grew closer, although we were still separated by a great distance because my husband and I lived in the Seattle area. I started the family tradition of sending out an annual Christmas letter and having a family portrait done. Every year she would send me a Christmas card, write a personal note and send some gift money for the kids.

I brought those Christmas cards with me and would like to give you a glimpse into her heart–the heart of a mother, a sister, an aunt.

I tearfully read a few years’ worth of her annual notes to me. My aunt and I both shared a love for Major League Baseball and her notes often included talk about the St. Louis Cardinals or the Seattle Mariners. Some of her notes even mentioned people who were in attendance at the funeral.

Then as I re-entered my mother’s life before she passed 7 years ago, I grew closer to Aunt Mary. You can also tell that from her notes to me. We kept writing at Christmas, but when my writing and publishing started to take off, I would send her paper copies of my writings. She played a big part in healing my relationship with my mother, most notably responding to my plea to go see her in the hospital after her stroke in July 2009. Mary came back with a good report of my mother’s condition. She also prayed over her. I believe God answered her prayer and kept my mother alive long enough for me and my siblings to see her again and to reconcile.

My aunt’s Christmas notes during that time often referenced my mother and my visits back home to see my mom or Mary herself. Reading those annual notes from her was like reliving those visits again. As painful as it was to share those experiences again, it helped me to face going through the same situation with my aunt’s passing.

My aunt praying for my mother.

It felt so familiar to me, yet so different. The events and the decisions on this trip were much more complicated than my mother’s death. Although I wasn’t solely responsible for these decisions, I was helping my uncle and cousin carry the burden.

What was familiar was how God showed up in so many ways. I felt lifted up, confident and equipped to walk with them through their grief and to look at another layer of my own inner healing work.

I think Mary sort of came to adopt me like a daughter to some degree. I never really had a mother-daughter relationship due to my own mother’s mental illness. I did welcome the rare occasions when Mary and I would talk. And I regret not being more available to her as the years passed.

I guess that leads me to why I came. Mary held a special place in my heart. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I was not around her. We could talk about things at a deeper level. As I got my own emotional and spiritual healing, I was able to more fully understand the complexity of her life and the sacrifice she made for her family. It gave me compassion and empathy for her.

So when I heard of the decline in her health, I couldn’t help but come. I wanted to be able to give back one last time to Mary and for Mary, in a meaningful way. She deserves that. I wanted her to finish well.

I was scheduled to fly back home the day after the funeral, but couldn’t bear to leave. I stayed another week with my family to help them as they started the transition to a new season of their lives without their wife and mother.

For Mary and for God

I’m back home now, but my memories of that trip and time spent with my family linger in my mind. At 88 years old, my uncle relied heavily on me. We had several bittersweet conversations. My aunt and uncle were married for almost 51 years. Along with their special needs son, the three were pretty inseparable.

Visiting my mother’s gravesite on her 87th birthday.

When I was with them, I felt a special bond to them and had the confidence and strength to pour into their lives. I couldn’t stop to think about all the work, the decisions, and the seemingly impossible task ahead.

We often prayed together during the trip. I openly shared about God and comforted them in their grief. There were times when I felt Mary’s presence or could hear her voice saying my name, “Ardis Ann.” At one point my Uncle Pete told me that I was sent by his wife and by God. Together we wept. These are the memories I cling to now.

I don’t fully understand why God wired or equipped me to come alongside my uncle and cousin like he did (and continues to do). I trust it is the next step of my own healing process as well as theirs. The Lord seemed to confirm that by burying my aunt just a few spaces away from where my mother and other family are buried (and it was not prearranged).

I cannot urge you enough that if you haven’t done so, please make your burial and end of life wishes known to your family. Prearrange as much as you can, especially if you want to have a full funeral with a visitation, burial, etc. The decisions and costs are huge. It is a big burden to the family to address this in their time of grief.

I am grateful that I could do this for my uncle and cousin, and ultimately for Mary. Just like my mother, my Aunt Mary is a part of me. I look forward to seeing her again soon. With the Hope of Christ and the Resurrection Power of Easter, I know this is true.

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

Saying Goodbye to my Mother

This week marks the 7th anniversary of the passing of my mother. Sadly, those precious memories that forever changed my life are fading. I don’t want to forget them, so I’m writing once again to remember–to keep my loved one’s memories alive–and to honor her.

An Unexpected Call

It was a cold wintery night seven years ago this month that I got the phone call I’d been dreading for years.  Maybe you’ve had one like it too.  It’s the type of call that rocks your world with bad news.

I had just finished attending a weekly support group meeting and was looking forward to visiting my friend Linda afterwards.

As I waited for my car to warm up, I checked my cell phone for messages.  I immediately recognized the phone number captured on the caller ID for a missed call.  It was the nursing home where my mother lived across the country.

I had received several calls from the nursing staff since mom’s stroke 18 months earlier.  At this stage of her health care, my siblings and I had agreed to no more ‘heroic’ measures.  It was the compassionate thing to do—just make her comfortable and as pain-free as possible.

This call—this message—sounded dramatically different.  The message was very sobering: “Your mother’s health is declining.”

My heart sank and my anxiety rose in dramatic proportions as I mustered up the courage to call the nursing home back.

And then Reality Strikes

The nurse’s words hit me like a ton of bricks: “Your mother is not going to make it through the night.”

There were no health care decisions to make.  There was nothing that could be done.  My mother’s body was shutting down.  She was having her last breaths.

When I arrived at the doorstep of Linda’s house, I burst into tears and tried to calmly explain the situation to her.  “My mother’s dying!” I cried.

Linda immediately offered to help and comforted me with her prayers.

Her Spirit filled words cut through the shock, the confusion, and the agony of being separated from my mother by thousands of miles.  It gave me strength to help my mother to finish well.

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

While I was on the phone, Linda made arrangements for me to travel back home to the Midwest on the first available flight in the morning.

By this time, my brother Glen and his wife Betty, who lived locally, had arrived at the nursing home and were at my mother’s bedside.  We spoke through our joint tears.  As the reality of my mother’s state sank in, I turned to prayer to help me calm down and focus on what my mother and brother needed at the moment.  I asked Glen to put his cell phone on the speaker setting, so I could talk to mom and pray over her.

After all these years I don’t remember what was said. But I do remember having a sense that the Lord was speaking through me.  It was a holy moment. Somehow He gave me just the right words to show honor, gratitude and love to my mother in her final hours.

“I love you Mom.  I’ll be there soon.” Those were some of my last words to her.

I longed to be there with her and petitioned the Lord to get back to the Midwest in time.

Finishing Well

I hurried home to pack for my flight.  It was as if time stood still during those late night hours up to her death. I was still awake and packing when my brother called back to tell me that our mother had died.

I was numb.

For months I’d been praying for the Lord to release my mother from her suffering. In the rawness of the news, it didn’t feel like answered prayer. It was more like a dagger had just ripped through my heart, and I was bleeding all over.

“What now? What am I doing?” were the thoughts running through my mind. The urgency of my trip and purpose seemed to have radically shifted in an instant. I wasn’t going to see her alive again. “How would I move forward?”

The purpose of my trip became one of service and honor to my mother.

It was ironic. I hadn’t been there for her over the years. There were so many times she reached out to me and I would barely talk to her or worse yet, I flat out rejected her call. Now I was the one God prompted to step up and allow her to finish well.

My mother had no formal final requests, no will, and no material items of any value. My brothers and I made some decisions for her remains during a previous trip back home. I knew what had to physically be done, so I carried out that plan. However, we had never talked about any sort of service. So when it came to planning a memorial I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. All the pieces effortlessly and miraculously it seemed to me, fell into place: an intimate foot-washing ceremony at the funeral home, a eulogy given at the nursing home memorial service, and a gravesite ceremony–all within 3 days.

Those few days were some of the most painful days in my life, but they were also the most beautiful. I was carried through it by the prayers of friends and family and the love of our heavenly Father.As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the events of that week led to some radical identity revelations. 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 like my mother.  It was replaced with the most amazing love for myself, for others and for God. I was filled with gratitude, joy, and peace.

Making Peace with Our Parents

Over the years since my mother’s passing, I’ve become an advocate for supporting our parents to finish well. I’ve encouraged others to make peace with the past and to work through the pain of forgiveness before it’s too late.

Some people step in to care for an aging parent or to handle their final estate. Others enter into the therapeutic process to help with their grief. Or they may physically move to be closer to an aging parent.

Because I’ve been down this road myself I can empathize with their pain and have a bigger heart for their burden. I’ve been given a spiritual perspective that goes beyond their current circumstances.

I’ve been blessed to comfort, support and pray for them as they walk through this season of life–rewriting their story and that of their parent’s along the way.

So today I write to not only honor the memory of my mother, but to also honor my friends who have lost a parent in recent years.

You did well by your parent and allowed them to finish well. You did well for yourself and are reaping the fruit of obedience. Well done, good and faithful servant.

If you are separated from your parent by bitterness or unforgiveness, I urge you to pray for the Lord to give you a new heart. He will give you the courage and the love to help your parent finish well and to turn your healing into hope.

A Lesson in Ending Well

A few months after my father’s passing I wrote a piece dedicated to his final breaths.  It was part of a memoirs in-class exercise to write about a loss.  Still fresh in my grief, I replayed in my mind the night my father died.

As was customary of these exercises, I read it in class.  This one was harder than most as I let the emotions come to the surface—and let my tears do their healing work.

I had forgotten about that piece, but not the events of his passing—as this week marks the 5-year anniversary of my father’s final goodbye.  So the hours surrounding my father’s death linger in my memory today.  It was a beautiful ending to a life lived to its fullest.

My Father’s Last Breaths

At 94, my father is finally ready to go home to be with the Lord.  The family is ready too, as we all hold vigil by his bedside:

  • His wife of 38 years, my stepmother, has been his constant caretaker for the last few years.
  • My older brother John and his wife, Carol, have graciously converted a bedroom in their home to a makeshift hospital room for Dad’s final few weeks of life and hospice care.
  • My younger brother Glen, has flown in from St. Louis hours before. He barely knew our father after the divorce that separated our family over 40 years ago.
  • My stepsister Roni, and her husband, Mark, have rushed to the house after the call that Dad had taken a turn for the worse. They arrive too late for Dad to verbally acknowledge them, but are witness to his dying breaths.
  • Jeff, one of my father’s grandsons has arrived to pay homage to the family patriarch and bravely holds his hand.

I momentarily leave the room to make a call updating my spouse and kids back home in Seattle.  Minutes later I hear my name urgently being called from my father’s room.  I rush to the foot of Dad’s bed as the vigil turns more intense.

Looking around the room I notice my brother Glen is missing.  “Where’s Glen?” I query almost stumbling over my words.  Time is short.

Father and son, final visit.

Glen rests in another room.  Jetlag or not, now is not the time to nap.  Our father is having his last breaths.  I quickly awaken Glen and we return to Dad’s room.

“We are all here now,” I observe silently to myself.  “It’s time.”

Earlier today Dad was discharged from the hospital and put on hospice care at my brother’s home.  The hospice care team trained John and Carol how to administer my father’s medications.  They are gone now, leaving John and Carol challenged to put into action what they just learned.

Heightened nerves and anxiety start to surface amongst the family members as we watch and listen to my father’s labored breathing.  It sounds painful—the raspy moaning and gurgle that fills the room with each exhale of his breath. It is the dreaded death rattle.  I’ve heard of this, but never witnessed it before.

We were assured earlier by the hospice nurse that the morphine we administer is taking away his pain.  It is a serious situation, but there are a few times that we joke we want the anxiety medication for ourselves.  It is physically and emotionally difficult to watch.

John and Carol work side by side to care for Dad’s final needs—blotting his mouth with cotton swabs to collect the pooling saliva and dabbing his lips with a lubricant to moisten them.  There are no words, just action—working in harmony—like they’ve done this all their lives.  We do what we have to do in times like this.

Peace after the passing, my stepmother and me.

Glen and I stand at the foot of Dad’s bed watching as if time is standing still.  I take in everything I can into my senses—the smells, the sounds, the sights.  I know this will leave an indelible mark on me.  I want it to be a good memory.  I silently pray and watch.

I am aware of the heightened sense of God’s presence surrounding us.

When my father breathes his last breath, I look up at the clock—8:14.  “Well done, Dad,” I internally tell him. “You held out for one last visit with Glen before you died.”

He is not physically here, but I sense my father’s presence.  He is at peace.

“Thank you Lord for the gift of this beautiful passing.”

An Exercise in Love

Like my mother’s passing the year before, my father’s passing gave me healing and hope.  I wasn’t in fear of my father’s wrath any longer.  In the years before his passing, my heart shifted to see him through a lens of compassion and mercy.  I came to accept him for who he was and not what I wanted him to be.

In the five years since my father’s passing, I’ve watched and prayed for friends who have also made steps toward healing of their childhood and parental wounds.  Each of them entered into the forgiveness process too and were given beautiful passings of their mother or father.

It’s not an easy task to forgive our parents for what we didn’t get or for the real harm they may have caused.

It’s an exercise in love to forgive supernaturally.

And like the above simple piece I wrote to document my father’s final breaths, it’s an investment in ourselves and our loved ones.  When we do that, we pay the blessing forward into our future generations.

Memories of a life that ended well.

Ending Well

As I adjust to my aging, I’m seeing how important it is for us to end well.  I’m grateful both of my parents ended well with peaceful partings from this world.  It wasn’t because they necessarily lived Godly lives or were perfect people.

But maybe, just maybe, it was because God knew the desires of my heart for earthly love from my parents.  As I prayed for them and made overtures toward reconciliation with them, healing and love followed.  And it wasn’t in the tangible way that I would’ve expected.

It was about walking through the pain of forgiveness and trusting God.  In the process He revealed to me a powerful lesson in love: live well to end well.  I’m still working on it.  And maybe you are too.

Along the way I treasure these little reminders of God’s goodness and that He’s not done with me yet.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)

A Father’s Day Message of Hope

The year before my father died I wrote him a long letter for Father’s Day.  It’s not something I’d ever done before.   He was 93 years old, and I felt prompted to speak into matters of the heart with him.  It was a very risky endeavor—because he was not an emotional person and there was a ‘history’ between us.

Me & Dad circa 1962.

My Father History

My parents divorced when I was nine years old.  My mother and us kids moved across the country to live near my mother’s relatives.  My time with my father was then limited to a few summer visits in my teen years.

He was my father in name only for most of my life—and not only to me, but to the kids he also fathered in previous marriages.  That never seemed to bother me though.  He was MY father.  I loved him and longed for his love and acceptance.

While he was absent from most of the milestones in my life and lived thousands of miles away, his presence loomed large in my life in ways unbeknownst to me.

The Healing Journey

When I entered recovery over a decade ago, I started to see the effect of his absence in my life—the absence of real relationship and love.  As I got healing for my inner father wounds and took responsibility for my behavior and choices, I also learned to accept him in his failings.  I grieved what I didn’t get from him and released myself from the guilt I carried around my parent’s divorce (a common by-product of divorce).

The more healing I got, the easier it was for me to recognize how his words affected me, and to maintain an adult stance around him.  As I got stronger with my adult voice, I started to respectfully speak up for myself and my beliefs.  I didn’t let his opinions and his lack of empathy dictate my own self-worth.

In short, I grew confident in who I was as a woman and gave my little Ardis the chance to grow up as well.

My father and I had a good relationship the last few years of his life.  He observed how I restored the relationship with my mother and cared for her at the end of her life.  He was genuinely interested in the resulting turnaround in my life.  The healing and forgiveness I experienced at the end of my mother’s life then became a catalyst for me to initiate the same change in our father-daughter relationship.

Fishing with my father on the Columbia River.

A Father’s Day Letter

A few months after my mother passed away, my father’s last surviving sibling passed away.  I was still early on in my grief process over the loss of my mother, and I sensed that my uncle’s death may have been hard for my father too.  I used that as an opportunity to speak to his heart by way of a long letter.  I sent it for Father’s Day that year.

The purpose of the letter was two-fold.  One purpose was to fill him in on the inner healing I was experiencing and how God was revealing more things to me about my mother and the legacy she left me.  The second purpose was to express my forgiveness to him and propose a similar gesture as a lasting legacy for our family.

I was bold in my words, yet compassionate in my plea for family healing.  I prayerfully wrote the letter, releasing the outcome to the Lord and having no expectations of his understanding or emotional shift in his attitudes towards family.

Dad and me at his 90th birthday party.

A Father’s Day Reminder

I believe that letter made all the difference in my father’s ability to go in peace.  He never spoke of the letter, but my step-mother told me he read and re-read it several times.  He was outwardly softening as I think the Lord was inwardly doing a work in him.

He passed away the following year in a beautiful way that brought family together and gave us all peace in his passing.  We honored him with a private family memorial service that gave us closure and more healing.

While Father’s Day can still be a painful reminder to me of what I didn’t get from my earthly father, I’d much rather focus on how the Lord redeemed those years by giving me a heartfelt connection with my father at the end of his life.

I’m thankful the Lord prompted me to go down the path of healing and forgiveness for both of my parents before it was too late.  It has made all the difference in me and helped me to model that kind of healing with others.

2 Corinthians 6:18

I hope and pray that Father’s Day isn’t painful for you as it has been for me at times.  If your father is still alive and your relationship needs work, don’t wait until it’s too late.  Offer forgiveness and love, releasing the outcome to the Lord.  And remember our heavenly Father is with us as a friend, counselor, and Abba Father, regardless of the circumstances with our earthly father.

Nominations Open for Mother of the Year

As Mother’s Day approaches this year I’ve noticed a bit of longing for the times when my kids were young and family plans were made to do something special to celebrate the day.  If something wasn’t planned, you could always count on the school to assign students a Mother’s Day project.

I’ve still got my children’s Mother’s Day projects filed away with their school papers and art projects.  Some have made their way into my scrapbooks and another hangs in my office as a reminder of one of those cherished memories.

An Unlikely Nomination

Many years ago one of those Mother’s Day projects was a major wake-up call for me.  I got to see myself through the eyes of my 11-year-old son, and I didn’t like what I saw.

Each student was given an assignment to write a Mother-of-the-Year nomination for their parent.  It was a good writing assignment for a 4th grader—learning how to structure a one-page paper.

It started out with the three reasons for my nomination.  Then there was a paragraph for each reason to give more background and details.  The final paragraph was a summary of the nomination.

My son started out by nominating me because “she has a great personality, works hard for her job, and lastly she is dedicated to the family.”  It warmed my heart—until I reached the paragraph about my work.  That was when my son’s words hit a nerve.

“My mother stays up late to keep working most of the time.  Normally, it is 2 AM before she goes to bed.  Also there are times where I don’t see my mom until the next morning because she stayed at work.  She does this just to bring money into the family.  If she didn’t have to bring in money then she wouldn’t do these things.”

Hard work is one thing, but I was modeling to my son that working long hours into the night and not seeing him, was acceptable behavior—all for a paycheck.  That may seem innocuous to many people in these days of high tech and high stress jobs.  But his truth about my work habits and unconscious belief system was a glaring red flag.

I didn’t like the message I was sending my son.

The bigger story behind this was that I was demoted from my job a few months earlier.  That demotion was the catalyst that got me into recovery and out of denial about my work addiction.

By the time I received my son’s Mother’s Day gift, I was making healthy changes in my life and working less hours.  However, the damage had been done.  My son already saw the result.  Thankfully, all of this led to getting more balance in my life and by the next year, I took a leap of faith and left my job.

A New Nomination

I never shared with my son the impact his words had on me.  He was too young to understand.  Now that he is 24 and working in a job that he loves, maybe it is time that we have that talk.

Over the years since leaving that job, my kids have been very much aware of my recovery journey and passion for emotional and spiritual healing.  Back in 2004 when he nominated me for Mother-of-the-Year, I’m sure I didn’t feel very worthy.

The joy of Mother’s Day with my sons, May 2000.

I wonder what he would say now—what either of my son’s would say if they could nominate me now.  I still don’t feel very worthy of something like that.  However, I know that I’ve made a difference in their lives.  While I haven’t been a traditional homemaker type mother, they know that I love them.

And like I did when I left that job over a decade ago, I’ve modeled something I’m much more proud of—leaning on God.  The scripture that helped me through that difficult time is still one of my favorite life verses.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding, seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV

While my son’s Mother’s Day gift that year didn’t initially feel like a gift, it turned out to be one of the most memorable I’ve ever had.  The timing and his words were perfectly orchestrated by God to get my attention and help me to shift my priorities and grow my faith.

What are you modeling to your kids this Mother’s Day?  Are you worthy of The Nomination?

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.

Kairos, the Ultimate Time for Change

It’s the start of another New Year and time for the annual reflection of the last 365 days.  This isn’t another New Year’s post about resolutions or setting goals. What I feel nudged to write about is time.

T-I-M-E, time; but not in a way that you may have ever heard before.

What is time?  Here’s a simple definition of time from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “Time is the thing that is measured as seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc.”  It can be measured on the clock, visible by the movement of the hands sweeping around the numbers or other reference markers.  It is visible as we flip the page on a calendar.  But is that all it is?

kairos-vs-chronos

In ancient Greek, there were two words used to refer to time: chronos and kairos. The definition above is referring to chronos or chronological (literal) time.  Kairos time is the right or opportune time.  Chronos is quantitative, while kairos is qualitative.

Living in Kairos Time

If kairos refers to an opportune time, what would it mean to live life more fully aware of kairos moments in our life? It means using our chronological time to serve a greater good.

In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” In this scripture, Paul is instructing us to redeem the kairos or opportune time.

Each passage of chronological time is the same, every second, every minute, but it doesn’t have the same worth. Kairos time, on the other hand, has greater weight and relevance.  In other words, not every moment of chronos time has the same value.  Some moments are more pleasant, memorable or significant in our life.

opportunity timeUsing our chronos time to discern kairos moments gives life more meaning.

For instance, kairos time may be time spent reaching out to a friend in need. Kairos time may look like time spent with your kids after a long day at work.  Kairos time may be manifested by praying over someone.  It is based on a foundation of love.

Kairos moments have a ripple effect in ways we may never visibly see in chronological time.

When we follow these nudges of the Holy Spirit to act at an opportune time, we can trust God’s timing to prevail in our lives and those we are in relationship with.

Kairos as God’s Timing

Kairos is also commonly used in Christian theology to indicate a time anointed for God to act. It is used approximately 81 times in the New Testament.  One such example is Mark 1:15, “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” Jesus was alerting people to God’s presence in a new and powerful way.

Another example of a kairos moment in history was the birth of Jesus. That kairos moment of God breaking through in human form was so significant it separated chronological time into B.C. and A.D.

I first heard of kairos time in this context when I participated in a spiritual mentoring group. We learned to look for times in our lives when God was breaking through.  We were encouraged to listen more intently to what God was telling us and to spot revelation and God’s perspective on what was happening around us.

We processed these kairos moments together through the lens of biblical and spiritual truths as a way to follow God more closely.  It was a time of great spiritual growth and discernment.

Kairos eternity

“Kairos moments are never neutral; they are either gifts or challenges, and they leave an imprint on us. Learning to recognize kairos moments comes through a decision to want to hear God more clearly, the willingness to learn the language He speaks to us in, and then, aligning our lives to move in that direction.”   Tamara Buchan, founder Reclaim Ministries

A Time for Change

Whether you look at kairos time as a time when God breaks through or an opportune time to make a difference in someone else’s life, being aware of a kairos moment will bring blessings and challenges in your life. You’ll face your fears, be criticized by some, and maybe even fail.  However, you’ll learn more about who you are and learn to move beyond the challenges with courage.

I’ve been more fully aware of my kairos moments for several years. Yet there are still times that I can doubt the direction that God is leading me—especially when it seems impossible.  He continues to grow my trust muscle, stretching it in painful ways—sometimes little by little and other times through big leaps of faith, like my mission to Spain.

As a Follower of Christ the benefit to being aware of kairos time is that it adds a greater depth to our relationship with Jesus. It gives us confidence to walk in obedience and boldly become the person that God created us to be.

Chronological time is a training ground full of kairos moments and opportunities to change and grow our faith.

Kairos time

I’ve learned to trust Him, and you can too.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions; however, my focus for 2016 is to redeem kairos moments for His eternal purpose. May it be the same for you as you learn to stretch your faith in new ways.

 

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

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

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

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

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

Remembering Mary Ann

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

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have truly been blessed this year.

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

College Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on my Friend

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

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

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

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

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

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

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

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

The Blessing of ‘Imperfect’ Children

While praying for my son during an interview for his first job, I received word that this post about prayer was accepted by my publisher. Soon after, I heard my son got the job! Love these little reminders of the importance of praying for our children. Make it a habit and see how God blesses your children.

Journeys To Mother Love

Pre-school-graduation What a challenge and a blessing, walking with Cameron from preschool graduation (above) to Class of 2015 graduate.

For those of us who have children with learning disabilities, educational milestones like a high school or college graduation are especially significant. It is a very proud moment indeed, one that celebrates the journey as much as the goal.

My youngest son was diagnosed with ADHD at the onset of high school, and was greatly challenged by a rigorous curriculum at a new school in our district. He persevered and recently received his diploma as part of the first graduating class at his high school.

What I’ve been struck with in hindsight is how eager I was to compare my son’s journey to his older brother. These two intelligent boys forged their own educational paths through different schools. The older one started school at a very early age and rarely needed any…

View original post 463 more words

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.

  • 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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